Saturday, 1 March 2008

Arakan Rohingya National Organisation (ARNO) Arakan


Press release
Statement on the SPDC’s referendum

Arakan Rohingya National Organisation strongly condemns the State Peace and Development Council for its announcement of 1/2008, 2/2008, and 3/2008 about holding of referendum on its draft constitution in May 2008.

The draft constitution of the ruling military SPDC has in legality, as it has not been properly made with the mandate of the people of Burma and, as such, it has not reflected their political aspiration.

SPDC’s plan to put this draft for referendum is an injudicious attempt with an evil design to lengthen and establish dictatorship and militarism in the country. It is a total disregard to the country’s democracy movement, outcries of the Burmese people, and is an affront to the international opinion and reaction.

We firmly believe that the main problem in Burma is a political issue coupled with chauvinism and racial discrimination and is to be resolved through political dialogue and national reconciliation involving all peoples of the country, including the ethnic Rohingya.

We urge upon all compatriots to be firmly united in purpose, dedication and action, irrespective of race, ethnic origin, culture and religion -- and foil this vindictive attempt of the SPDC by exploring all practicable avenues.

Last not the least, we call upon all to cast negative votes in the event of conducting so-called referendum.

Central Committee
Arakan Rohingya National Organisation
Arakan, Burma.
Dated: 29th February 2008

Forced attendance at Brig-Gen Thein Zaw's referendum campaign


Residents of a Kachin village face severe threats by village authorities if they are absent from the welcome ceremony of Brig-Gen Thein Zaw, Minister of Communication, Posts and Telegraphs of the Burmese regime on his referendum campaign today in Kachin State, Northern Burma, villagers said.

All villagers in Mayan village, about 25 miles south of Myitkyina Township the capital of Kachin State on the Myitkyina-Mandalay railway have received this threat from the pro-junta village administrative chairman (Ka-Ya-Ka), Lawhkum Zau Hkawng. Residents who are absent at the ceremony will be driven away from the village and be taken into custody, said villagers.

Again, families who have not painted their fences near the main road with white cement will be fined Kyat 50,000 (est. US $ 41) per family by the chairman Lawhkum Zau Hkawng, the villagers added.

Yesterday, villagers in each family were not only forced to decorate the village the whole day but were also ordered to rehearse the Kachin traditional dance called "Htawng Ka" for greeting the Minister Brig-Gen Thein Zaw, according to villagers.

Kachin News - February 29, 2008

NLD chair charged for holding forced labour report

by Aye Nai

Feb 27, 2008 (DVB)–The National League for Democracy chairperson in San Chaung township, Rangoon division, has been charged with threatening national stability for holding information on forced labour.

NLD chairperson U Thet Wei was arrested on 19 February after authorities tried to seize a memory stick from him containing information about the Burmese’ government’s forced labour practices to be reported to the International Labour Organisation.

Thet Wei was previously arrested on 9 January at a court hearing at Kyauktada township court for solo protestor U Ohn Than.

In an interview with DVB on 13 February, Thet Wei said he had asked police sergeant Hla Phone during the hearing if he could talk to Ohn Than.

“During our talk, U Ohn Than handed me a letter he had written, and I thought it was just a letter to his family and accepted it,” Thet Wei said.

“But Hla Phone saw it and tried to grab it from me, and that’s when the problems started.”

Thet Wei said that Hla Phone then asked him to go to the police station.

“So I handed my wallet, identity card and a memory stick containing documents about the ILO to U Ohn Than’s daughter,” Thet Wei said.

“But Hla Phone tried to seize the memory stick, so I told them it only contained documents about the ILO that have nothing to do with him.”

When Thet Wei tried to stop his memory stick being taken and asked to see a warrant, he was charged with harassing an officer on duty and intimidation.

Thet Wei went to court on 19 February to face these charges, but was arrested again during this court hearing.

The court rejected one of the original charges, but added additional charges relating to dissemination of sensitive material that could undermine national stability, according to his wife, Daw Than Than.

“The new charges are all about the memory stick,” Daw Than Than said.

“He was supposed to drop it in at the ILO after the court hearing but he never made it there and they took it from him.”

Thet Wei, a 50-year-old former political prisoner, is now being held in Pabedan police station.

He is due to appear in court on 4 March to hear the latest charges against him.

The SPDC agreed with the ILO in February 2007 that incidences of forced labour can be freely reported to the ILO and that those who report these cases should not face harassment or arrest.

Assassination in Burmese politics

By Kyaw Zwa Moe

In the history of modern Burma, dozens of ethnic and Burmese leaders have met their end at the hands of assassins, the latest being the Karen leader Mahn Sha

The definition of "politics" in dictionaries lacks one more description. That description fits both ancient and modern times. It applies to both the East and the West. And it is blind to creed and colour. It is the art of assassination.

From American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr and US president John F Kennedy in the 1960s, to former premier Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan last December, assassination fits squarely into the definition of politics.

Burmese politics is no exception. Its latest victim is Mahn Sha, a Karen rebel leader.

On Valentine's Day, two cold-blooded gunmen walked into Mahn Sha's house in Mae Sot, near Thailand's border with Burma, and shot him in the heart after greeting him in the Karen language. "Ha ler gay [good evening]," they said. Then they drove away.

Mahn Sha's organisation condemned the splinter groups - the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) and the Karen National Liberation Army Peace Council (KNLAPC), which are now allied with the Burmese military government - for the killing.

Mahn Sha was general-secretary of the Karen National Union, one of the longest surviving rebel groups in Southeast Asia, struggling for autonomy since 1949.

He was respected among opposition groups as one of Burma's most broad-minded and committed ethnic leaders. But rival groups saw him as a hardliner for his unwavering refusal to compromise with the military regime, which has never given autonomy to ethnic minorities.

His assassination was based on political motives. Once again, Burma has lost a leader of vision.

Like Mahn Sha, dozens of other Burmese leaders in the country's modern history have met their end at the hands of assassins.

The most historically significant assassination happened at 10.37am on July 19, 1947, just six months before Burma gained its independence from Britain.

National hero Aung San, father of detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and eight colleagues were assassinated by U Saw, a rival right-wing politician, and his followers. U Saw was Aung San's main rival for the premiership of independent Burma. Many observers believed that some British army officers supplied at least some weapons to U Saw. It was a great loss and the whole country was plunged into grief. July 19 has become known as Martyrs' Day.

It was a bad omen for the country's future. Since then, assassinations have become a familiar feature of Burmese political life: politicians on the left kill those on the right, who in turn kill their left-wing opponents; the government kills rebels, and rebels kill people in government; Karen fighters kill each other over ceasefire agreements; members of one ethnic group kill members of another; rivals kill rivals.

Another assassinated Karen leader was Saw Ba U Gyi, father of the Karen resistance movement, who was killed in 1950 by Burmese government troops in an ambush in a town close to the Thai-Burmese border.

Ba U Gyi was a minister of revenue in 1937, when the country was still under British rule. Karens said that the authorities never allowed the body of Ba U Gyi to be buried because the government was afraid his tomb might become a political focal point for ethnic separatists. The body was reportedly thrown into the sea. How can the Karen people ever forgive the assassination of their revolutionary father?

Sometimes the politics of assassination follows logic: friends of enemies may be regarded as enemies, just as an enemy's enemy can be counted as a friend. But sometimes assassination makes no sense at all.

Bo Let Ya was a leftist-turned-rightist who was killed by the anti-communist Karen National Union, near the Thai-Burmese border in 1978. Reports said Let Ya was killed when he was asked to surrender to the KNU.

Three Kachin who were prominent leaders in the Kachin resistance were also killed. Pungshwi Zau Seng and brothers Zau Seng and Zau Tu were assassinated together in 1975, as a result of a power struggle with fellow members of the Kachin Independence Organisation. The assassin was later killed by other leaders of the organisation.

After Ne Win staged a coup in 1962, there were more such assassinations. Sao Shwe Thaike, the first president of Burma after it gained independence in 1948, was believed to have been killed while in detention. The former president, who was a Shan sawbwa (local chieftain), was taken away at bayonet point by government soldiers. At least one other Shan chieftain was believed to have been killed after the coup.

In politics, there is no father and son. Bo Yan Aung was executed after being named a traitor by his party. His son, a fellow Communist Party member, was among those who condemned him. Before his father died, he said, "I wish I could kill him myself."

Today, assassination seems to be less common than in the past, and the current government rarely resorts to assassination against opposition leaders.

But democracy leader Daw Suu Kyi has been targeted a couple of times. The most striking incident occurred on May 30, 2003. A motorcade carrying Daw Suu Kyi was ambushed in Depayin, northern Burma, by members of the junta-backed civic organisation, the Union Solidarity and Development Association.

She narrowly escaped after her driver sped up the car to escape the mob. Daw Suu Kyi and her party's deputy leader, Tin Oo, were both injured and later placed under house arrest. Opposition groups said dozens of Daw Suu Kyi's supporters were beaten to death in the attack.

No one can read the minds of the current military leaders, so it is impossible to rule out the possibility that they may one day make another attempt to finish off their enemies once and for all.

And no one has been a greater thorn in the side of the generals than Nobel-laureate Daw Suu Kyi. Since she entered Burmese politics in 1988, the generals have faced a lot of difficulties in handling her because of her fame in the international community.

As assassination means killing important leaders, we can say that all those who have been assassinated in Burma were people who contributed something important to the country. If the young Aung San hadn't been killed, Burma might have been a very different country today. Like him, Mahn Sha might have been an even more important leader of his people if he had lived to see a genuine union of Burma.

Brig-Gen Jonny, commander of Brigade 7 of the Karen National Liberation Army, the military wing of the KNU, told The Irrawaddy after the assassination of Mahn Sha: "All this is enough to make the Burmese government very happy. We Karen people should be unified. If we are divided, we will never achieve self-determination and the rights we demand."

The big question is if the KNU leadership can unify itself or not. Over the past decade, the effectiveness of the KNU has diminished. Its revolution seems to have turned into a storm in its own tea cup. No new blood is ready to replace KNU leaders like Mahn Sha. It means a new vision and policy ideas are lacking.

A senior KNU official has said that two more senior KNU military leaders are on the hit lists of the KNU splinter group, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army. They are Gen Mu Tu, the commander-in-chief of the KNU's military wing, and Brig-Gen Jonny.

Meanwhile, Mahn Sha's organisation searches for the assassins of its leader. And it is not difficult to imagine what they hope to achieve: revenge.

Kyaw Zwa Moe is Managing Editor of The Irrawaddy Publishing Group. (
Sourced: Bangkok Post

Exile Groups Oppose Referendum

Seven leading Burmese opposition groups, including ethnic organizations and an umbrella women’s group, released a joint statement on Thursday calling on citizens in Burma to oppose May’s referendum on the draft constitution on the basis that it is unlawful and one-sided.

The seven groups involved are: the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma; the National Council of the Union of Burma; the Forum for Democracy in Burma; the Students and Youth Congress of Burma; Nationalities Youth Forum; the Ethnic Nationalities Council; and the Women’s League of Burma. Read Full Report:
Exile Groups Oppose Referendum

Burma’s Referendum—‘History is Repeating Itself’

By WAI MOE - The Irrawaddy News

The lack of official tolerance of dissidents in Burma and of openness gives rise to concern that the planned constitutional referendum will not be free and fair. The top junta generals seem too confident about the likely result.

Chapter III of the law providing for the referendum law determines that a referendum commission is to be formed. But the legislation does not make clear how the members of the commission and sub-commissions will be chosen or whether the selection process will be free and fair.

The law provides for the formation of sub-commissions for states and divisions. District divisions will have 15 members, ward or village sub-commissions five to 20 members.

Chapter VII of the legislation says that if a situation requiring a dissolution of referendum voting for any treason, the ward or village-tract sub-commissions may dissolve some polling booths or all polling booths within their area.

“This section is really stupid,” a Rangoon political observer told The Irrawaddy. “The referendum law is full of tricks allowing the regime to do as it pleases.”

Burma’s main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), in a special statement on the law on Thursday, said the junta’s approach, excluding opposition voices, lacked legitimacy and badly affected the national reconciliation process.

“The NLD won more than 80 percent of parliamentary seats in the 1990 election,” said the NLD. The statement pointed out that a decree passed by the regime after the 1990 election, known as 1/90, said the work of writing a constitution would be undertaken by those elected in the 1990 poll.

Critics point out that those who led the National Convention and the constitution drafting committee would now also lead the referendum commission. That meant that the junta denied an inclusive process in drafting the constitution and transition to democracy, ignoring the reaction of the international community.

In a reaction to the referendum law, the US said on Thursday that the path to national reconciliation in Burma lies in the release of political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, and the establishment of a meaningful dialogue between the junta leadership, democratic forces and ethnic minorities leading to a transition to democracy.

“A credible political transition in Burma must be inclusive and transparent. It must involve universal suffrage, secrecy and security of the ballot, and freedom of speech and association, among other internationally accepted standards,” said US State Department Spokesman Tom Casey.

Thein Nyunt, a lawyer, told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that he noticed the junta referendum law is quite similar to legislation in the early 1970s providing for a referendum in 1973.

“Under the previous law, anyone who was against the referendum could be sentenced to one year’s imprisonment,” he said. “But now people can receive three years imprisonment under the terms of the present law.”

The junta has also not withdrawn decree 5/96, which threatens opponents of the constitution with prison terms of up 20 years. “Unless the 5/96 decree is withdrawn, we cannot say the referendum will be free and fair,” Thein Nyunt said.

Many Burmese say no referendum or election can be held while the junta ignores the voice of the majority. “After soldiers beat and killed monks on the streets last September, this call for a referendum on the junta’s agenda is humiliating,” said a Rangoon school teacher.

In the 1990 poll, local, respected people were able to participate in the election commissions and sub-commissions. But, according reports in Burma, members of the junta-backed mass organization, Union Solitary and Development Association (USDA), will make up the referendum commissions and sub-commissions.

A journalist in Rangoon, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the referendum law seems to close the door on the country’s dissidents, and a new generation will now have to live under repressive rule.

The question arises: how can the junta be so confident in the referendum after its brutal crackdown on the September 2007 demonstrations?

The junta displayed a similar confidence in the 1990 election, believing the pro- junta National Unity Party would win handsomely. Its confidence now is based on the official claim that the USDA has 24 million members, making up about two thirds of Burma’s electorate.

Aung Kyaw Zaw, a Burmese political analyst based on the Sino-Burma border said the large number of USDA members among Burma’s 32 million voters “could make the generals think they have the upper hand in the referendum and election. History is repeating itself.”

Aung Kyaw Zaw said it was “out of question” that students, teachers and civil servants had been forced to join the USDA.

Analysts at home and abroad say that the junta plans for a constitutional referendum and a general election are intended to give an impression of legitimacy and credibility before the international community.

“The referendum is just a fake process, something the junta is doing to try and legitimize itself,” said a Thai scholar who specializes on Burma-Thailand history. “If the constitution is approved by a majority, the junta would have the legitimacy to remain in power and change the country inn their own way.”

“It would also be a good excuse or reason to prevent the UN or other countries intervening in Burma’s internal affairs,” said the scholar, speaking under condition of anonymity.

NLD Sues Junta


Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) has attempted to sue the ruling junta over the government’s failure to adhere to an existing law and decree that specifies that elected representatives from the 1990 elections should be responsible for drafting the constitution, according to a party official on Friday.

Nyan Win, a leading spokesman for the NLD, told The Irrawaddy on Friday that the party filed a lawsuit against the ruling junta at the high court in Rangoon. “According to the electoral law of 1989 and decree 1/90, the junta has a responsibility to call a people’s parliamentary meeting with the elected representatives from the 1990 general election,” he said.

However, the military junta has never called a parliamentary meeting, and now the ruling generals have announced laws—1/2008 and 2/2008—for the referendum on a new constitution and fresh elections. This shows that the junta broke its promise as well as the law itself, said Nyan Win.

The high court in Rangoon, however, denied accepting a lawsuit by the NLD against the ruling junta. “The authorities at the high court took more than one hour. But later staff came and told us that they cannot accept the lawsuit,” Nyan Win said.

He added that the NLD told the court that the junta’s failure to call parliament was a national affair and that the case against the ruling junta was a matter of asking the court to respect the people’s voice.

The NLD had expected the court to reject the lawsuit, but the party proceeded because it wanted to adhere to the rule of law in the country, the spokesman said.
In a special statement on Thursday, the NLD dismissed the national referendum on the draft constitution, which is planned for May, because of its lack of legitimacy.

In the statement, the NLD said the draft constitution was “not inclusive and unclear,” because the Burmese military regime had not heeded the calls of the international community and the United Nations.

The statement also said that the planned national referendum would not be free and fair because the junta broke its promise to discuss the drafting of the new constitution with the representatives elected in the 1990 parliamentary elections.

The international community, including the UN and the United States, also called on the Burmese military junta to put in place conditions for "inclusive and transparent" voting, ahead of the constitutional referendum set for May.

Tom Casey, a US State Department spokesman, said in a statement on Thursday that a credible political transition in Burma must be inclusive and transparent.

“It must involve universal suffrage, secrecy and security of the ballot, and freedom of speech and association, among other internationally accepted standards,” he added.

Where giants jostle

March 1, 2008 - Northern Burma is being transformed by China and India. Hamish McDonald reports from behind the bamboo curtain. Photographs by Kate Geraghty.

Sittwe is a mouldering port of 200,000 people on the neglected Arakan coast of Burma, visited by a few foreigners heading upriver to the ruined pagodas and palaces of an ancient kingdom inland. In five years from now, it promises to be transformed into one of the strategic hubs of Asia, figuring in the calculations of planners and analysts all the way to Washington.

"Think of it as a new Panama Canal," says one well-connected businessman in Rangoon.

A multibillion-dollar deepwater port on a nearby island will receive giant oil tankers from the Middle East and Africa, pumping their cargoes into pipelines that will stretch inland to energy-hungry China, avoiding the choke points of the Strait of Malacca controlled by the US Navy and its allies. Other pipelines will take natural gas from the huge reserves being defined off the Arakan coast and Burma's Gulf of Martaban.

Meanwhile, the Indian Special Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar has just been in Rangoon, nailing down agreement on a new all-weather highway from India's Imphal via Kalemyo to Mandalay, which by 2010 will give India's restive and isolated north-eastern states an alternative outlet to the tenuous route to Kolkata through the "bird's neck" of territory along the Brahmaputra valley.

Across the top of Burma, the Indians are also pouring huge investments into restoring the World War II "Stillwell Road" that once took supplies to the Chinese nationalists fighting the Japanese, relinking the Indian town of Ledo to Myitkyina, north of Mandalay, from where the road leads into China.

At Sittwe, India is also contesting Chinese dominance or any plans to add this port to Beijing's "string of pearls", strategic ports across the Indian Ocean. India plans to dredge the Kaladan River flowing to Sittwe from the north and turn it into a transport corridor for its isolated state of Mizoram.

India is quietly trying to warn Burma's ruling generals about the dangers of too close an embrace by China, a traditional enemy.

"There are sufficient reasons to suspect the junta would prefer to contain, if possible, the overwhelming influence of China," says the veteran New Delhi diplomatic analyst Subhash Chakravarti, a confidant of successive Indian prime ministers. "Its natural choice to seek to do so is to encourage a larger Indian presence in the country."

In return, Burma is helping India suppress its own insurgencies.

"India is hopelessly vulnerable to tribal insurgency in its north-east frontier," Chakravarti says. "We can hardly ensure security there without full co-operation with Burma, which has lately been a splendid success. As a result, India's earlier open criticism of the junta [in diplomatic statements and on All India Radio] is more muted."

But so far, China is winning hands down. Recently, New Delhi was stunned when the Burmese junta ruled that gas from the massive Block A-1 field, being opened up by two Indian state energy firms with South Korea's Daewoo group, would be sold to China instead of going to India by undersea pipeline, and probably (diplomats in Rangoon say) at concessional prices.

We crossed from the gleaming Chinese border city of Ruili into Burma, escorted by a travel agent designated by the Burmese Government. From boom-time China, which had mobile phone coverage and automatic teller machines even in this far corner, it was a short walk into the 1970s: shabby shops fronting shanty houses; old ex-Japanese cars; cycles.

Down the old Burma Road and through five checkpoints to the town of Lashio, where our travel agent minder left us, the economic invasion by China was apparent all around.

Just outside Burma's border town of Muse, facing Ruili, long convoys of 10- and 12-wheel trucks rolled into an export-import checking station extending over a kilometre in length. Stacks of teak logs from Burma's forests waited marked and graded in a lumber yard, ready for shipment into China.

Truckloads of watermelons and other high-value produce, grown by Chinese farmers on rented land with hired Burmese labour, were heading towards China, while young Burmese men, sheepish at being photographed, were driving smuggled Chinese-made motorcycles without numberplates down towards Mandalay. Vast tracts of land, some controlled by the Tatmadaw (Burma's military), were planted with sugar cane, pineapples and cassava (for biofuel) for sale or processing in China.

Later, on the Irrawaddy River outside Bhamo, another town close to China, our boat was packed with polythene-wrapped motorbikes, probably brought across the small, locals-only border crossing nearby.

The Burma Road from the Chinese border to Mandalay is now the toll-collecting fiefdom of Asia World, a construction company run by Stephen Law, son of the former heroin warlord Lo Hsin Han, who was brought into the fold by the junta in 1992 and given the road concession as reward.

Deep in the Shan hills off the road, the Burmese authorities claim to have reduced the opium-growing area to a small fraction of its heyday when the Cold War gave a measure of protection to the country's anti-communist regime. The main illegal game is now the amphetamine laboratories hidden in the eastern corner of Shan state.

But this is well out of sight, like the casinos and brothels that used to attract customers from Chinese border towns slipping across on day passes. Locals in Muse said these had shifted to northern Laos.

In this consciously cleaned-up relationship, China's links with Burma are more pervasive than any simple trade-off of munitions and diplomatic backing for the Burmese generals in return for oil and timber (at the official level) and drugs and trafficked women (in the black markets).

As well as being the planned outlet to the Indian Ocean, Burma has become an open market for China's hungry entrepreneurs and traders, like Mr Lin from the manufacturing powerhouse of Wenzhou. He crossed the border with us on the way to his factory in Rangoon, where 40 Burmese workers earning the equivalent of $30 a month make metal shop awnings and shutters.

In the former British hill station of Maymyo (now Pyin Oo Lwin), one of the 5000 Chinese residents celebrating the lunar new year at the town's Chinese pagoda said the Chinese had emerged in 1996 from intense suspicion provoked by Beijing's Cultural Revolution-era support for the now defunct Burmese communist parties (which included a cross-border invasion in 1968-71). "Things are much better now," he said, to the sound of firecrackers.

In the tourist town of Bagan, an ethnic Chinese businessman talked of plans to help open a Confucius Institute in Burma, part of Beijing's drive for "soft power" by teaching its language and culture. Of Burma's efforts to persuade the world it is moving to democracy, he said: " I hope it doesn't happen. As long as this country doesn't open to the Western countries, people like me will benefit from the strong China-Burma relationship."

FOR the Sittwe plans to materialise, very big natural and political obstacles have to be overcome. For one thing, northern Burma and China's neighbouring Yunnan are cut by soaring mountain ranges running north-south to the eastern end of the Himalayas, with massive rivers such as the Salween and Mekong cutting into chasms thousands of metres deep. Putting roads and pipelines across this country will be fraught with engineering obstacles and expense.

Right from the Arakan shoreline, Burma teems with ethnic groups that have many reasons to hate the ruling junta and disrupt its economic underpinnings.

North of Sittwe live as many as 1.5 million Muslims known as the Rohingya who are denied citizenship or ethnic identity in Burma and neighbouring Bangladesh. Subject to harsh surveillance and restrictions (including a requirement to get permits for local travel), the Rohingya would seem a fertile recruiting ground for violent groups.

Further inland, the Tatmadaw has run a network of local truces with a score of rebel armies and their splinter groups since the mid-1990s, often giving them a slice of cross-border duty collection.

On a road junction between Myitkyina and Bhamo, leading off to a small frontier post, was a large two-storey office signposted as

belonging to the Kachin Independence Organisation, a former separatist movement that signed a truce in 1994.

In the small town of Hsipaw we encountered General Saing Lo, the weather-beaten chief of the Shan State Army, which ended hostilities in 1996. He was supervising a tournament among his men at the local Dodhtawaddy Tennis Club to celebrate Shan Independence Day, his new-model Toyota LandCruiser parked outside with his army's sticker on the windscreen. "Did you watch the Australian Open?" he asked. "We could only see it on a DVD here."

The deals have allowed the Tatmadaw to focus its efforts on crushing the remaining holdout rebel groups along the Thai border, based among the ethnic Karen, Karenni, Shan and Mon. More than doubled in size since the 1988 student uprising, the Tatmadaw is now 450,000 strong and rated as one of the most capable armies in the region.

In recent years, mainstream offensive units have kept up the pressure on the rebels in an unrelenting "four cuts" strategy aimed at denying them food, money, information and recruits. The civilian population has borne the brunt of this pressure, maintained now through the wet and dry seasons, with some 140,000 people pushed into refugee camps. The Karen have just suffered a devastating blow in the assassination of their promising new leader, Pado Manh Sha, in the Thai border town of Mae Sot, apparently by a hit squad who fled into Burma.

While the population remains among the most miserably poor in Asia, the Tatmadaw sequesters between 40 and 70 per cent of government revenue, plus cuts from business associates, and is re-equipping itself with modern arms including MiG-29 fighters from Russia, better artillery and communications.

Western intelligence agencies are intrigued by reopened negotiations with Russia for a small nuclear reactor, satellite images of uranium mining and a mysterious delivery of containers by North Korean ships that Burma insists were just allowed to make port calls as "vessels in distress".

One question is whether the ethnic minorities can be permanently bought off or whether new splinter groups will emerge to pose a violent challenge, if only to shake the money tree. A bigger mystery is the ultimate stability of the deeply unpopular Tatmadaw regime and whether it can rely indefinitely on violent suppression.

Security in the central belt of the country north from Rangoon depends on a pervasive and permanent counterinsurgency-style campaign against its own people, involving thousands of Military Intelligence personnel running informer networks and muscle squads throughout the country.

Random checks are mounted on ordinary households for unregistered guests and jailing is automatic for any lapses. Official tirades assail the "lies from the skies" broadcast by Voice of America, the BBC and the Democratic Voice of Burma, which recently began direct satellite TV signals.

Diplomats say the apparent hesitation to crack down on protests sparked by fuel price rises in August and September was deliberate, not a sign of weakness. The delay allowed a massive intelligence operation in which thousands of undercover agents took pictures and identified demonstrators and sympathisers.

Two of the generals said in some reports to have refused to order troops to open fire on crowds have since been promoted, hardly a sign of dissent. Rank-and-file troops showed no hesitation storming monasteries across the country in the midnight crackdown of September 26 against what they were told were "fake monks" acting "contrary to their dharma [spiritual duty]". About 4000 monks and known dissidents were hauled off, of whom most were released after two weeks. About 1100 political prisoners are still in jails and labour camps around the country.

Little escapes the military. On February 12, Burma's official Union Day, the Herald took some photographs of a brass band of the Tatmadaw's White Arrow Division in Bhamo practising by a public road. Three hours later we were hauled off a boat down the Irrawaddy and held for two hours while officers studied our cameras, radioed headquarters for instructions and finally deleted what images of the band they could find. "Anything about the army is very sensitive at this time," an officer explained through a local high-school English teacher called in to interpret.

Than Shwe, the "senior general" heading the State Peace and Development Council (as the junta calls itself), has a firm grip, though at 76 he is showing the effects of diabetes and minor strokes. A former chief of psychological warfare, he employs terror and surprise. In October 2004 he mounted a lightning internal putsch against his powerful but unsuspecting intelligence chief, General Khin Nyunt, now serving a 44-year jail sentence. Just recently, on December 31, Than Shwe underwent an operation for pancreatic cancer in Singapore, leaving the country for two weeks without any move against him.

Although the junta is not sentimental about its dumped leaders (the founding general Ne Win died in 2002 with no state funeral, his daughter in jail and the family banned from publishing eulogies), its power transitions have been bloodless so far. Its No. 3 general, Shwe Mann, 60, is poised as heir apparent.

ON the tarmac at Rangoon's airport sit two new Airbus passenger jets, painted in the white and turquoise colours of the private carrier Air Bagan. The planes began a regular service to Singapore last October, but two weeks later were grounded when a Singapore bank withdrew the purchase credit from the company.

Tay Za, 40, the owner of Air Bagan, is the most visible victim of the "targeted sanctions" imposed by several Western countries after the September crackdown, including Australia, which lists 418 senior regime figures, family members and associates for denial of banking facilities. Described by one Rangoon-based diplomat as the "junta's No. business crony", his Htoo Trading group is said to have a son of General Shwe Mann on its board and to be the channel for Russian military sales, although Tay Za denies any government connections or illegitimate activities.

It was an early strike for a largely untested weapon, showing that the risk of a US Treasury black-listing was enough even for banks in Singapore, a notorious private banking sanctuary for South-East Asia's dubious characters and a member of the Association of South-East Asian Nations cautious about the regional group's no-interference taboo, to cut off a rich Burmese customer.

On February 9, the junta chief Than Shwe surprised diplomats and even tightly controlled local newspapers by announcing that a referendum on a new constitution would be held in May, followed by multiparty general elections in 2010, putting some dates on a vague "road map" to democracy talked about for 14 years.

Subsequent details contain fewer surprises. Enshrining no fewer than 104 "basic principles" laid down by Than Shwe, the constitution will give overwhelming powers to the president, a quarter of seats in the legislature to the military and bar the Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi from standing because she had been married to a foreigner.

Some welcome this as movement of sorts, at least formalising some non-government politics. But with Suu Kyi and the ageing clutch of ex-generals running her National League for Democracy under house arrest and most of the "1988 Generation" of former student leaders back in jail, prospects for anything but a sham democracy are thin.

Many expect the junta to quickly form some token opposition parties to its own civilian cheer squad, the Union Solidarity and Development Association, which claims to have 25 million members (out of Burma's 54 million people). After the shock of the last elections - held in 1990, in which Suu Kyi's party won more than 60 per cent of the vote (a result ignored) - fewer chances will be taken.

But if Than Shwe's decision results from external pressure, it probably came from China, whose leaders have urged the regime to speed up democratisation and which could be worried that Burma will join Darfur on the list of blackmail acupuncture points for the Beijing Olympics.

Western governments are trying to influence China and, to some extent, India to go further. The line is that the stability apparently guaranteed by the Burmese generals is fragile: with the civilian economy running down, poverty widespread in a country once the rice bowl of Asia, HIV and avian influenza menacing and an education system that once attracted students from other regional countries deliberately dumbed down under military rule, Burma could descend into chaos.

But this is close to the argument the West uses to try to persuade China's communists to relax their own monopoly on power. And the same nightmare breakdown scenario is used by the influential historian Thant Myint-U, to argue in his book The River of Lost Footsteps for a policy of engagement, not isolation.

Sanctions don't work against generals who care nothing for the outside world and are obsessed with the risk of multi-ethnic Burma falling apart. "There are no easy options, no quick fixes, no grand strategies that will create democracy in Burma overnight or even over several years," Thant Myint-U wrote. "If Burma were less isolated, if there were more trade, more engagement - more tourism in particular - and this were coupled with a desire by the government for greater economic reform, a rebuilding of state institutions, and slow opening up of space for civil society, then perhaps the condition for political change would emerge over the next decade or so."

But the Tatmadaw, at least, is taking seriously Western fantasies about military intervention. During our journey we asked often whether Sylvester Stallone's new Rambo movie, a gory tale of a rescue mission into Burma, has any underground currency. "Please, you not ask," said one pirate DVD peddler in Rangoon. "The Government not laugh. Four years jail."

Sydney Morning Herald

Burma: Blogger Begins Second Month of Detention, Internet Closely Monitored

"Nay Phone Latt has been unjustly held for a month,"

February 29, 2008 - Text of press release in English by Paris-based media freedom organization Reporters Sans Frontieres on 28 February

Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association today condemned increased government monitoring of the Internet and a deterioration in online connections, as well as the continuing detention of Nay Phone Latt, a blogger and owner of two Rangoon Internet cafes who was arrested on 29 January.

"Nay Phone Latt has been unjustly held for a month," the two organizations said. "He was initially accused of undermining morality under the Emergency Provision Act, a very vague charge that allows the military government to arrest anyone spreading ideas that challenge its policies. He is now alleged to have been in possession of a film it considers contrary to its ideology and faces up to three years in prison. We call for his release."

He was initially charged under section 5 (J) of the 1950 Emergency Provision Act, which punishes anyone who "causes or intends to disrupt the morality or the behaviour of a group of people or the general public, or to disrupt the security or the reconstruction of stability of the union."

But according to his family, a new charge has been brought against him under the Television and Video Law (http://www.blc- that gives the government control over political content and provides for a sentence of up to three years in prison for offenders.

It appears that Nay Phone Latt has been charged under section 32 b of this law, which punishes "copying, distributing, hiring or exhibiting videotape that has no video censor certificate," because he had a video of a traditional Burmese play called A-Nyeint performed by the theatre company Thu-Lay-Thi. Its performances are currently banned in Burma.

Meanwhile, in a move to step up control of internet cafes, owners have been required since January to keep the records of their clients' online activity and deliver them each week to a special police unit at the department of information. At the same time, according to Irrawady (, a publication produced by Burmese exiles in Thailand, "the Burmese regime's network of informers are now focusing their attention on Internet cafes, which are replacing traditional teashops as places where people can discreetly share their views with others."

Internet connections have also become much slower, possibly to discourage Internet users from downloading large files such as photos and videos. Observed for the past few weeks, this slowness also prevents the use of software designed to circumvent censorship.

Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association also call on the authorities to explain the continuing detention of Myanmar Nation editor Thet Zin and his office manager, Sein Win Maung. Police arrested them during a raid on the magazine's office on 15 February after reportedly finding they had downloaded forbidden documents from internet but no official reason has been given. The office has been closed.

Originally published by Reporters Sans Frontieres press release, Paris, in English 28 Feb 08.
(c) 2008 BBC Monitoring Media. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning.
All rights Reserved. -
Source: BBC Monitoring Media

Global day of prayer for Burma

London 01 March, ( - Christian Solidarity Worldwide is to co-host a Day of Prayer for Burma at the Emmanuel Centre, London, (nearest tubes: Victoria and Westminster) from 10am-4pm on Saturday 8 March, as part of an international initiative.

The Global Day of Prayer for Burma is an annual event initiated in 1997 by Christians Concerned for Burma at the request of Burma’s democracy leader, Nobel Peace Prize recipient Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. On Sunday 9 March churches around the world are urged to pray for Burma during their services.

On Saturday 8 March, it is hoped that several hundred people will join in the prayer day hosted by CSW, Partners Relief and Development, Karen Aid and the Committee for Internally Displaced Karen People (CIDKP).

Speakers include Oddny Gumaer, author of a new book on Burma called Displaced Reflections and co-founder of Partners Relief and Development, a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) working with Internally Displaced People in eastern Burma.

Benedict Rogers, CSW’s Advocacy Officer for South Asia and author of A Land Without Evil: Stopping the Genocide of Burma’s Karen People, will also speak. Rogers has made over 20 visits to Burma and its borderlands, including the Karen, Karenni, Shan and Mon peoples on the Thai-Burmese border, the Chin people on the India-Burma border and the Kachin on the China-Burma border. He has recently returned from visiting the Thai-Burmese border and Burmese refugees in Malaysia.

CSW’s Advocacy Director Tina Lambert said: “The Global Day of Prayer for Burma is a crucial event for focusing people’s thoughts and hearts on the crisis in Burma. With recent events including the regime’s brutal crackdown on protests last September, continuing offensives against civilians in Karen State and further human rights violations in all parts of the country, prayer for Burma is now even more vital than ever.

Added to this the assassination of the Karen leader Padoh Mahn Sha Lah Phan, and the regime’s efforts to rubber-stamp its rule by introducing a sham constitution through a sham referendum, which would exclude Burma’s major democratic and ethnic representatives, make it so important for churches around the world to remember Burma, and we hope many people will be able to join us in this important event in London.”

Weekend Beat/ LIFESTYLE & MORE: Documentary filmmaker aims to alert audiences to the plight of the Burmese


March 1, 2008 - The death of Japanese journalist Kenji Nagai five months ago in Myanmar (Burma) put the country right in the center of Japan's radar. Irene Marty, a Swiss journalist, hopes the release of her documentary "In the Shadows of the Pagodas" in Tokyo on March 15 will offer residents further opportunity to understand a country that has lived under a military regime for the past 46 years.

The government is accused of atrocities that range from the persecution of ethnic minorities to, according to a 2002 Human Rights Watch report, having the highest number of child soldiers in the world. Myanmar ranked 164th out of 168 countries on the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index in 2006.

Marty, 49, expresses fear for all those who marched last year in the first uprising against the regime since 1988.

Saying the regime uses torture and slave labor as weapons of choice against dissenters, Marty is disappointed by the international community's failure to make a significant effort to determine the whereabouts of the monks and civilians who were arrested in September's clampdown. "What still shocks me nowadays is that there is still so little wondering or questioning about where these monks are now," she says. "Some monasteries are empty--they have been closed down--they are guarded by the military. But where did all these monks go?"

It is this same concern and energy that courses through her documentary, and that over four years helped her gain the trust of those living in the inhospitable rain forest between Thailand and Myanmar.

The freelance filmmaker worked for German and Swiss television networks before setting up her own company, Kairos Film, in 1991.

But of all of her work, Marty says this film is particularly personal. "I have made films of American Indians. I have made films in Africa, in Russia--always covering hot issues, but nothing ever before caught my heart so much."

During her first visit to Myanmar in 1981, she had no idea of the regime's brutality. On her second visit in 1998, she re-encountered a family who now trusted her enough to tell her about the dark shadows that dominated the "land of a thousand pagodas." She says: "I was ashamed that as a journalist and a documentary filmmaker I didn't know what was happening there. I returned to Switzerland and began to do research."

Marty's studies convinced her that as "no one was speaking about the ordinary farmers" in Myanmar, the film shooting, set to take place from 2001-2003, would focus on ordinary people's lives.

The film also moves from the colors and bustle of the country's "tourist corridor" to a more sinister reality. Along the way the narration gives way to intimate testimonies from residents of camps just kilometers from the front line of the world's longest running civil war. It charts the regime's impact on the Karen, Shan and other ethnic groups, who eke out a day-to-day existence of fear and struggle on the edge of the world's attention.

The film is shot in locations so remote that exiled Burmese communities have been shocked to discover the persecution documented by the film. Since it was made, it has been used by the United Nations as evidence of abuse in the region.

Children face the camera and talk about watching their parents' murders and of their dreams to one day become soldiers so they can fight the military. Students talk about their decision to become freedom fighters.

Marty posed as part of a tourist promotion team to get past the ban on foreign journalists, and later undertook frequent illegal visits in the border regions. The film also coincided with her own struggle against cancer, but her determination never faltered, she says.

"When it comes to Burma, the brutality is so huge I found that many times people would not believe me. This gave me strength to go on. The gasoline (that drove me) was my promise to the people and I had to keep my promise to bring it to the world."

If silence and suppression are the tools of this regime, then listening to the oppressed and amplifying their voices just might be the beginning of the cure.

* * *

The film opens March 15 at Uplink X in Tokyo's Shibuya.
For more information, visit <>
(IHT/Asahi: March 1,2008)