Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Junta Forcing Migrants Home for Referendum

The Irrawaddy News

Burma’s military government is organizing a census of Burmese families in southern Shan State with a view to forcing migrant workers to return to their hometowns to vote in May, say family members of workers employed in Thailand.

Earlier this month, according to sources form southern Shan State, local authorities and the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) drew up a plan to register all Burmese citizens for voting in the constitutional referendum in May.

Residents in southern Shan State said the authorities were demanding that family members contact migrant workers and tell them to come back and vote in the referendum. “The USDA and the local authorities are forcing the families to call back their relatives,” said a resident from Ponpakyin, southern Shan State.

“If the worker can’t come and fails to vote in May, the authorities will take them off the census list,” said another source from Ponpakyin.

"The local authorities are collecting the names of people who need temporary identity cards, which they will then use as a supporting list for the referendum," said a resident in Mong Pan, southern Shan State.

A migrant worker in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, said that she and her friends will not return to their hometowns to vote in the referendum. “My mother was asked by the local authorities to call me to go back, but I can’t,” she said on condition of anonymity.

“My trip home isn’t easy,” the woman said. “The cost of returning to my hometown is 6,000 to 10,000 baht (US $188 to $313), which is three months salary.

Everyone over 18 is being issued a temporary national identity card, a doctor from Tachilek in Shan State said. "The temporary national identity cards issued by the immigration office are mainly for citizens to vote in the upcoming referendum.”

According to a resident of Ponpakyin, many young people who live near the Thai border go to work in Thailand after they finish their education. “Most youths, like me, come and work in Thailand because there are not enough jobs for us in Burma,” she said.

Hundreds of thousands of Burmese citizens live in Thailand. According to MAP foundation in Chiang Mai, 95 percent of the 121,488 workers who are registering for work permits in Chiang Mai are ethnic Shan.

DVB Under Fire for Independent Stance

The Irrawaddy News

As the exiled Democratic Voice of Burma matures into a seasoned news organization, serving audiences in Burma and abroad, some exiled politicians criticized its “independence” last week, calling for more advocacy views and opinions representing political opposition groups.

During a panel discussion on exiled media organized by the Democratic Voice of Burma in Bangkok last week, a lively debate emerged around DVB’s independent radio and television broadcast stations.

DVB was founded in 1992 by Burmese opposition groups and leading politicians in exile.

It became independent in 2003, with a commitment to become a professional news broadcast organization. Opposition group members no longer serve on its board of directors.

A non-profit organization based in Norway, it is operated by a Burmese staff. Its television station, created in 2005, was an influential source of news and information during the 2007 uprising.

Maung Maung, the general secretary of the National Council of Union of Burma, in a prepared speech, said Burmese opposition groups need a media outlet that clearly represents their views and visions.

“The democratic movement needs media that will spell out our political stands, priorities and actions to the people of Burma and the international community in a consistent way,” he said.

Maung Maung’s views found some support among some exiled politicians during the debate.

Maung Maung said he had been told many times that DVB donors insist on an ‘independent media’ operation at board meetings, but when the DVB was founded it clearly represented opposition political views. “Why has it changed?” he asked.

The DVB is “our radio station [opposition groups],” he said, adding, “It was accepted and acknowledged within Burma as the voice of democracy.”

“Daw Suu (Aung San Suu Kyi) supported the DVB for being the leading exiled broadcast media for democracy in Burma,” he said.

Responding to Maung Maung’s views, Aye Chan Naing, one of the founders of the DVB, said, “We are not going anywhere,” meaning that DVB is committed to the democracy movement, but he said it can best serve the movement by operating independently from opposition groups.

Khin Maung Win, a DVB manager, said that in the past, news and editorial content were heavily censored by the exiled Burmese government and some DVB operations were overly dependent on outside groups.

“We had to wait for a signature from a minister before we could buy batteries to operate the broadcasting equipment,” he said. “We have to be honest to our audience.”

One foreign observer said he believed the Burmese exiled media has “grown up,” but some exiled politicians continue to live in the Stone Age.

A number of Western diplomats and donors at the conference expressed dismay at Maung Maung’s views.

“It is worrying for Burma’s future [if exiled politicians come into power],” said one Western diplomat.

If the DVB doesn’t serve the needs of the opposition political groups, Maung Maung said he will set up a broadcast facility to advocate the views of opposition groups.

Junta’s Snub Signals Failure of Gambari’s Mission

The Irrawaddy News

Burma’s military junta has spoken: there will be no role for the United Nations in determining the course of the country’s political transition to what it calls a “disciplined democracy.”

This is the message that the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) sent to the international community and the Burmese people through its treatment of the UN special envoy to Burma, Ibrahim Gambari.

The Nigerian diplomat, who has just completed his fifth visit to Burma, proposed a more inclusive process of political change in the country, and offered to send monitors to ensure that the outcome of the junta’s planned referendum on a draft constitution is accepted as legitimate. The junta said no to both suggestions.

Gambari met with National League for Democracy (NLD) leader Aung San Suu Kyi twice during his five-day trip, but was denied a meeting with the junta’s supreme leader, Snr-Gen Than Shwe. Instead, he met with members of the regime’s “Spokes Authoritative Team,” consisting of Information Minister Brig-Gen Kyaw Hsan, Foreign Minister Nyan Win and Culture Minister Maj-Gen Khin Aung Myint.

There were also brief meetings with other NLD leaders, representatives of ethnic groups, and officials from the pro-junta Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) and National Unity Party (NUP).

As he did during Gambari’s last visit to Burma in November 2007, Kyaw Hsan used the occasion of his latest meeting with the UN representative to send a clear message that the junta does not appreciate international interference in its affairs.

The state-run mouthpiece, The New Light of Myanmar, published the full text of Kyaw Hsan’s indignant reaction to Gambari’s role in releasing a statement from Aung San Suu Kyi following his last visit.

“Sadly, you went beyond your mandate,” said the information minister in his carefully worded reproach. “Some even believe that that you prepared the statement in advance and released it after coordinating with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi,” he added.

He went on to accuse the UN envoy of trying to “frame a pattern desired by western countries.”

Kyaw Hsan also took issue with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s calls for a more inclusive constitution-drafting process, pointing out that the NLD walked out of the National Convention two years after it first convened in 1993.

The constitution, finally completed last year, is in no further need of revision, insisted Kyaw Hsan. “The majority of the people do not demand to amend it,” he told Gambari.
But analysts say that most of delegates at the convention were handpicked by the junta and only a few representatives from political parties were allowed to attend the convention. Before the NLD walked out of the National Convention in November 2005, only 99 of the 702 delegates were elected officials.

After meeting with Kyaw Hsan’s team, Gambari met with a member of the commission responsible for holding the referendum, Thaung Nyunt, who flatly rejected a proposal for international monitoring of the forthcoming referendum in May.

“U Thaung Nyunt replied that holding the referendum for the constitution is within the State sovereignty. Besides, there were no instances of foreign observers monitoring events like a referendum,” said a report in The New Light of Myanmar.

U Lwin, secretary of the NLD, told The Irrawaddy on Saturday that Gambari explained to his party that he came to Burma with a mandate from the UN Security Council.

“He also told us about his meetings with the regime officials on previous days,” said U Lwin, who declined to provide any further details.

Meanwhile, observers in Burma said that the junta’s snub of Gambari showed that the generals were not interested in listening to the international community.

“It is very clear that they [the junta] will do everything their own way. No matter what the international community says, they negate all voices,” said a Burmese political observer in Rangoon, adding that the chances of a national reconciliation talks taking place now are non-existent.

“It is time for Burma’s people to decide how to react to the junta,” he added.

Other observers said it was time for the international community to send a stronger message to the junta through a UN Security Council resolution.

Aye Thar Aung, an Arakan leader, told The Irrawaddy on Saturday that the military junta will only cooperate with proposals which support their stands. “Dialogues between Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the junta official, Aung Kyi, were just a kind of cosmetic approach under pressure from Burmese people and the international community,” he said.

“The UN Security Council should really do something,” he added.

Larry Jagan, a British journalist who specializes in reporting on Burmese issues, also said that the junta has clearly demonstrated its indifference to international opinion.

“It is clear from Kyaw Hsan’s lecture that the regime is little interested in the international community’s concerns,” Jagan told The Irrawaddy on Saturday. “The UN is not being imaginative enough to try and expand a UN role around Mr Gambari. So I think the UN role in Burma in the area of mediation is effectively finished,” he said.

“What they would be worried about is the Burma issue will be raised again in the United Nations Security Council,” Jagan added.

Zimbabwe wanted isolation, says C’wealth chief

March 11, 2008, LONDON - Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnon likened Zimbabwe yesterday to North Korea or Myanmar, saying the southern African country wanted to be isolated. McKinnon, who steps down next month after eight years at the helm of the 53-nation group of mostly ex-British colonies, said the Commonwealth had done all it could over Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe left the Commonwealth in 2003 and calls the organisation a stooge of British neo-imperialism. He is standing for re-election on March 29, accused by rivals of wrecking Zimbabwe's economy.

The United Nations, the World Bank, Britain and the United States had also done all they could over Zimbabwe, McKinnon said. "Everyone was limited by what Zimbabwe did or did not want to do," he told reporters at an event marking Commonwealth Day.

"Regretfully, Zimbabwe, for many countries, has pushed themselves into this situation not dissimilar to Myanmar or North Korea where they just want to be isolated," he said.

North Korea agreed last year to dismantle its nuclear programme in exchange for aid and steps to end its isolation. Myanmar's military rulers remain cut off from the West.

U.N. Special Envoy Fails To Meet Myanmar Leader

(RTTNews) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon's special envoy to Myanmar, Ibrahim Gambari, ended his latest and third visit to the military ruled country without meeting junta leader Than Shwe.

However, Gambari was allowed to meet with Nobel peace prizewinner Aung San Suu Kyi on Saturday and again Monday as well as the information minister, Brigadier General Kyaw Hsan, and several junior ministers, but requests for talks with top generals were declined.

No details on Gambari's talks Suu Kyi and Hsan have been released and Gambari also did not make any comments before boarding the flight to Singapore.

During his trip, Gambari had hoped to discuss the junta's recent announcement that it would hold a referendum in May on its plans to move towards democracy. The process is due to lead to democratic elections in 2010, although opposition groups have cast doubt on whether the government will stick to its pledges.

Gambari arrived in Singapore late Monday on his way to Senegal to brief U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon, who will be in the African country this week, his spokeswoman, Hua Jiang said.

Gambari has been pressing Myanmar's authorities for political reforms and to include the Nobel peace prizewinner in its plans to hold a referendum in May that is meant to pave the way for multiparty elections in 2010.

The junta, however, has publicly rebuffed Gambari's calls for political reforms and also rejected his call for independent observers to monitor a referendum on the new constitution.

It also refused to consider amending the constitution to allow Aung San Suu Kyi to take part in proposed elections and accused Gambari of being biased in favor of Aung San Suu Kyi.

This was Gambari's third visit to Burma since the security forces waged a bloody crackdown on anti-government protests led by Buddhist monks in September, when the United Nations estimates at least 31 people were killed.

Source: Nasdaq News

UN envoy wraps up Myanmar visit by meeting with democracy leader Suu Kyi

March 11, 2008 - YANGON, Myanmar (AP): The U.N.'s special envoy to Myanmar met detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi before wrapping up his latest trip to the military-ruled country, a visit marred by the junta chief's refusal to meet him.

Ibrahim Gambari met Suu Kyi for almost an hour Monday at a state guest house near her lakeside home in Yangon, Myanmar's largest city. Gambari had also met Saturday with Suu Kyi, who has been detained for 12 of the past 18 years. Details of the meeting have not be made public.

After the session with Suu Kyi, Gambari met for a second time with the regime's information minister, Kyaw Hsan, according to state radio and television.

Gambari failed to meet with junta chairman Senior Gen. Than Shwe, though such a meeting had been described by the United Nations as one of the main goals of Gambari's five-day visit.

Than Shwe also refused to meet Gambari during his last visit in November.

During Gambari's visit, the junta rejected U.N. suggestions that it amend its "roadmap to democracy" to include input from the country's pro-democracy movement and other parties.

It also turned down other suggestions to foster political reconciliation, such as accelerating a dialogue with Suu Kyi and freeing political prisoners.

"The junta's roadmap process is the most suitable and appropriate method toward achieving a smooth and peaceful transition toward democracy," Kyaw Hsan was quoted as saying Monday on state television.

Kyaw Hsan, who headed the team set up to talk to Gambari about the democratization process, said the government has taken all necessary measures to make Myanmar's political transition process all inclusive.

"If the U.N. cooperates with the process, Myanmar will be able to achieve its democratic goal desired by the U.N., the international community, the people and dissidents," he said.

Gambari departed late Monday, according to a statement from the U.N. office in Myanmar, which added that he will be reporting on his mission to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The U.N. released no details about Gambari's meetings.

Gambari arrived in Myanmar last Thursday on his third mission to broker political reconciliation efforts and urge democratic reforms since the junta's crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in September sparked a global outcry.

Source: International Herald Tribune

Myanmar's monks still seething

By Ed Cropley
Editing by Michael Battye and Megan Goldin

March 11, 2008, MANDALAY, Myanmar - Beneath the veneer of serenity and religious devotion, Myanmar's maroon-robed Buddhist monks, the engine of the protests six months ago against the ruling junta, are seething with rage.

Some talk impetuously of revolution. Others even say they are ready to lay down their lives in a repeat showdown between the monkhood, the former Burma's highest moral authority, and the raw might of the military.

But pro-democracy campaigners and even some monks admit the regime's bloody crackdown on the September marches has broken the clandestine network that, albeit briefly, turned the country's 500,000 Buddhist monks into a potent political force.

Even the approach of the numerologically auspicious August 8, 2008 -- the 20th anniversary of the brutally suppressed 8-8-88 anti-junta uprising -- looks unlikely to precipitate another challenge to 46 years of unbroken army rule.

"There are no plans being made because most of the active monks are in prison or have fled," a leading member of the pro-democracy underground told Reuters at a safe house in Yangon, the former capital.

Among the 80 people the junta says it is still holding after the protests are 21 monks, including 27-year-old U Gambira, a leader of the All-Burmese Monks Alliance which played a prominent role in the marches.

Human rights group Amnesty International said in January that 700 people arrested in the crackdown remained behind bars.


Despite the arrests, the southeast Asian nation's monasteries, some of which are home to as many as 3,000 mainly young men at any one time, remain political tinder-boxes that could re-ignite at the slightest provocation.

At least 31 people were killed when the junta sent in troops to crush the marches in September, but this United Nations death toll does not include any monks, despite reports of several beaten to death when soldiers stormed monasteries in Yangon and elsewhere.

Dissident Web sites also posted pictures of mutilated corpses of what appeared to be monks, spurring the deepest possible outrage amongst clergy and lay people alike.

No monks interviewed by Reuters in the religious centres of Yangon, Mandalay and nearby Sagaing said they had lifted their ban on accepting alms from members of the military junta or their families.

Known as "patam nikkuijana kamma" or "turning over the alms bowl" in Pali, the ancient language of the Theravada Buddhist priesthood, the 2,500-year-old rite is similar to the Christian notion of excommunication and is taken very seriously.

It can be rescinded at any moment if the perceived wrong-doers apologize and mend their ways -- something the generals have steadfastly refused to do.

"If they do not apologize, we will start our movement," a young monk from the coastal city of Sittwe told Reuters, claiming to lead a network of 1,000 monks and students wanting an end to falling living standards and galloping inflation.

"People are getting angrier and angrier. Their suffering is worsening day by day and they cannot tolerate it any more," he told Reuters at a secret location in Yangon.

"If there is another uprising, the soldiers will shoot to kill and there will be another bloodbath. But I am prepared to go to prison or be killed."

Others have no more stomach for a fight.

"I hope it doesn't happen again. The country is peaceful now," one Mandalay monk said.


Although many monasteries were closed at the height of the crackdown and thousands of monks disappeared either to prison or back to their home towns and villages, most have been allowed to reopen.

However, three dissident establishments in Yangon remain locked and in Mandalay, Myanmar's religious heart, monks at several large monasteries said numbers were 20-30 percent lower than before the crackdown.

The junta has also called in scores of senior abbots, telling them to keep in check their young charges.

"Our abbot told us not to protest again. He told us that they'll shoot and we'll die. What can we do? We have no arms," a 23-year-old at a large Mandalay monastery said. "But if we get the chance, we will do it again. This government is no good."

In the central town of Pakokku, where heavy-handed treatment of monks by soldiers and pro-junta thugs in early September triggered the nationwide monastic revolt, the regime appears to be taking steps to ensure against a repeat.

Regime agents are undercover in the monasteries and a reviled local gang leader known as "Mr. 2 by 1", after the 2-inch thick wooden baton with which he beat monks and protesters, is behind bars to avoid inciting protests, one resident said.

Source: Reuters

Burmese monk's mission to tell world how it is

By Connie Levett

March 10, 2008
- THE Burmese junta mobilised a powerful new adversary when it brutally suppressed the monks' uprising in September, igniting monks worldwide to campaign to force a change of government.

The monk Pannya Vamsa, co-founder of the International Burmese Monks Organisation, has called on Australia to support sanctions, co-ordinate with other governments for a unified response and use its influence on China, Burma's most important backer and arms supplier, to improve civil rights and allow democratic progress.

Pannya Vamsa, 79, in Australia on a two-week speaking tour, has had a working relationship with the regime in the past. For 50 years he has promoted Buddhism internationally and received honours from the regime in 1994 and 1998. He set up a monks' educational training centre in Rangoon in the 1990s and built 15 temples in the United States, East Asia, Europe and Australasia.

Now he is campaigning to overthrow the military government. In 2002 the Government took over his Rangoon training centre because "they were afraid of it", Pannya Vamsa said. "They [the regime] liked me; I never liked them," he said of his previous co-operation. "When governments ask what to do, I say you have to choose between good and evil.

"The Burmese Government is wrong in every field - religiously, socially and commercially. They cannot handle the [country], there is not enough to eat, and they make divisions."

The International Burmese Monks Association was formed on October 27 last year after the arrest and detention of thousands of monks by the army in the wake of the peaceful uprising.

"In Burma, the present situation, the monks say, 'We cannot do anything. The military government is torturing and killing, and we cannot live peacefully. Help us tell the world leaders, political and religious, what is happening,"' he said.

There are an estimated 400,000 to 500,000 monks and nuns in Burma, the same as the number of soldiers. "We think about 100 monks were killed and thousands of monks and nuns were arrested [last September]," Pannya Vamsa said.

After the uprising the regime closed the monasteries in and around Rangoon, detained senior monks and sent the novices back to their villages. "In Rangoon now about 10 per cent of the monks are left," Pannya Vamsa said.

"In Mandalay [the second largest city] there are about 40 per cent." Monks who tried to return were investigated, their faces checked against the photographs of the marches to see if they were involved in the protests, he said.

Pannya Vamsa dismissed the junta's referendum in May to approve a new constitution as "probably a trick" and predicted there would be another uprising. "They torture so much, people cannot stand it. There is no limitation; they nearly explode. They have tolerated it for so many years. It is not just wishful thinking. Feelings first, actions later."

He said the uprising in September had resulted in one big change: people worldwide were once again aware of and cared about what was happening in Burma.

Oppression in homeland leads men on Walk for Freedom

By Tammy Malgesini
The East Oregonian

A world away from the United States, Athien and Zaw, originally from Burma, embarked on a 3,000-mile walk March 1 from Portland, en route to New York and then Washington, D.C.

Athien, who has been in the United States, left Burma in 1988 - first fleeing to Thailand and then the U.S.

After working as a fabricator in Tualatin, Athien met Zaw, who was a janitor at the Oregon State Hospital, left their jobs to march to meet the Secretary General of the United Nations.

"I (am) walking for my country - for the people want democracy and freedom," he said in a cell phone conversation. "We are campaigning to make change."

The men will present a petition to the office of the Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, calling for freedom and human rights in Burma. Supporters can add their name to the petition on the Walk for Freedom Web site.

The two passed through Arlington Saturday afternoon, making their way down Interstate 84 waving an American flag and a flag representing Burma's democracy movement.

"We can't show (the democracy flag) in my country or they will open fire and here it's OK," he explained. "In the United States, it's a democratic, free country."

Athien lost his family in Burma, located in Southeast Asia, in 1988.

"Anyone who wanted democracy and freedom had peace movement," Athien said. "It was (a) peaceful demonstration, but the government opened fire and 3,000 people died."

As far as Athien knows, his sister is the only one who survived, however, he hasn't had any contact with her since 1988.

Zaw, 27, left Burma when he was seven years old. Although he didn't understand the political situation, he now joins others to fight for freedom in his home land.

The men hope to arrive in at the United Nations on Aug. 8, the 20th anniversary of the Aug. 8, 1988 protests in Burma.

Zaw and Athien take turns walking and driving a white Ford Explorer. They will depart from Boardman around 10 a.m. today to continue their journey. For more information about Walk for Freedom, visit http://88portland.wordpress.com