Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Chinese presence in Myanmar uneasy

One News TVNZ

March 12, 2008 - Few people can claim justifiably to understand the relationship between Myanmar's secretive military rulers and China, their key trading partner, arms supplier and diplomatic ally.

But if the man on the street in Mandalay is anything to go by, it will be one ranging from mistrust to resentment to outright loathing, suggesting Beijing's much-vaunted "influence" over its pariah neighbour may be smaller than imagined.

Even though the former Burma's second city is one of the few places where the economy appears to be going somewhere, thanks mainly to Chinese capital and enterprise, most locals feel they are on the wrong side of a deeply exploitative equation.

"The Chinese give us plastic, and they take our teak and gems," one senior Buddhist monk in Sagaing, a town 20 km west of Mandalay, told Reuters. "They give us one thing, but then take two."

Lu Maw, one of Mandalay's famed "Moustache Brothers" comedy trio, reflects the views of many when he says the city, now home to as many nondescript Chinese hotels as ancient Buddhist monasteries, should be renamed "Capital of Yunnan", China's nearest province.

"I don't want to discriminate against the Chinese, but..." he says, before launching into a series of jokes accusing businessmen from southwest China of making millions selling heroin or doing dodgy deals with even dodgier Burmese generals.

General xenophobia?

Whether street-level xenophobia translates into official outlook and policy is, of course, a moot point, especially when it comes to reading the minds of Myanmar's military junta, one of the world's most closed regimes.

The only clues are hearsay and anecdote, such as that of the junta's number two man Maung Aye, who has spent much of his military career fighting Beijing-backed communists, ordering shop signs to be taken down if Chinese lettering appeared above the Burmese.

But the question of anti-Chinese sentiment is an important one, given the West's almost total reliance on Beijing since September's anti-junta protests to coax the generals towards political and economic reform after 46 years of military rule.

Beijing is also acutely aware of the issue as it tries to buy billions of dollars of Myanmar natural gas - gas that most of its 53 million people think should be used to address the chronic energy shortages that sat at the heart of last year's protests.

An acquiescent and stable Myanmar is also strategically vital to Beijing's plans for an oil pipeline running from the Andaman Sea via Mandalay to Yunnan to mitigate China's reliance on crude shipments through the Strait of Malacca.

"Our policy is to encourage Chinese companies to 'go out', whether it's to Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar or wherever," Yunnan Communist Party chief Bai Enpei told Reuters on the sidelines of China's annual parliament meeting this month.

"Historically in Southeast Asia there has been a problem in places where there are a lot of ethnic Chinese. But relations are gradually getting better," he said.

"We cannot just go in and earn other people's money, selling stuff and taking over projects. It must be win-win."

Kept in dark

At the height of September's crackdown, Yangon-based diplomats say China did indeed pull out all the stops to get United Nations special envoy Ibrahim Gambari into the country.

Beyond that, the amount of pressure Beijing can bring to bear on Myanmar's recalcitrant generals is open to question.

China's curious admission last May that it had been kept in the dark about the junta's 2005 move to a new capital - and its distinctly unflattering account of the place - fuelled speculation that Beijing may not enjoy privileged access.

Some diplomats also dispute the argument that the generals should or could use the Chinese Communist Party's establishment of a free market without ceding any political control as a blueprint for reform.

"The ability of China to influence the junta is way overplayed," one Yangon-based diplomat said. "People say they should get the generals to 'do a China or a Vietnam' and relax their grip over the economy without ceding any political power.

"But they forget that it's the junta's stranglehold over every single money-making enterprise in the country which is their power," said the diplomat, who asked not to be named.

"They control everything, right down to the number of cars imported each year."

Farmers forced to relocate to villages

By Naw Say Phaw

Mar 11, 2008 (DVB)–Local authorities in Rangoon division’s Hle Gu township have forced farmers who live in huts on their farmlands to relocate to villages, leaving them unable to continue tending their crops, locals said.

A Hle Gu local said about 300 farmers from Shan Tal Gyi and Ma-au villages have been ordered to move back to their villages by their village authorities, who claimed it was for security reasons.

“The authorities made the farmers to sign an acknowledgment of their relocation to the villages,” the local said.

“It said that the farmers will be responsible for the consequences if they remain on their farmlands.”

The authorities’ order to relocate will cause major difficulties for the farmers, who need to stay on their farms during the cropping season to monitor their crops.

“They need to stay on their farms to do the necessary maintenance on their crops,” the Hle Gu local said.

“The farmers were very sad after hearing the authorities’ order to move back to the villages.”

Hle Gu township authorities were unavailable for comment.

Burmese Family Escapes Bangladesh

Narinjara News

March 11, 2008 - Cox’s Bazar: A family of four escaped to Bangladesh from Burma on Monday to apply for refugee status with the UNHCR after the Burmese military authority tried to arrest them for their involvement in the Saffron Revolution, reports one of the family members.

"We have come here to avoid arrest by the authority because I was involved in the Saffron Revolution," said Ma Moe Sanda.

Ma Moe Sanda, aged 41, hails from Yan Kin Township in Rangoon and was the selling manager of a company that had close associations with high-ranking officials in the Burmese military government.

Ma Moe said, "I am Buddhist, how can I be silent without any voice over the authority's killing of the monks. So I was involved in the demonstration to protest the government authorities that killed the monks."

Ma Moe San was transferred to Sittwe from Rangoon by her employer after the Saffron Revolution ended due to her involvement in the protests.

"The company wanted to fire me from my job but this was impossible in Rangoon because there are some human rights defenders there, and the media is also more active there than any other place in Burma. The company was also afraid of damaging its reputation, to the authorities transferred me to Sittwe," Ma Moe said.

When Ma Moe arrived in Sittwe to serve at her job, the company managed to take action against her by lodging false accusations.

"I was fired from the job a few days after I arrived in Sittwe and the company authority complained to the police station with false charges against me. So I left Sittwe for Bangladesh in a machine boat to find refuge in the neighboring country," she said.

Ma Moe, who is a Burman national, came to Bangladesh with her three-year-old son, eighteen-month-old son, and her husband Hla Tun Naing.

The family is currently staying in the district border town of Cox's Bazar and they will travel to Dhaka in the next few days to apply to the UNHCR for recognition as refugees.

Burma’s Generals Drunk on Political Power

The Irrawaddy News

The United Nations has offered the Burmese junta a political cocktail that could have
given the embattled country a way out of its political deadlock.

The ingredients were simple: The UN special envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, urged the junta to allow opposition groups a role in creating a draft constitution, allow independent monitors to observe a constitutional referendum and offer an inclusive, fair election representing all political views.

The junta declined.

In fact, the generals have already brewed up their own political cocktail and are offering it to the Burmese people in the constitutional referendum in May:

—A rigged draft constitution designed to enshrine the military as rulers in a “democratic” Burma.

—No guarantees to a fair and inclusive election in 2010 and the power to nullify the constitution at any time.

The Burmese people know the junta’s political cocktail is poison.
“It is impossible to review or rewrite the constitution which was drawn up with the participation of delegates from all walks of life,” Information Minister Brig-Gen Kyaw Hsan told Gambari on Friday in Rangoon, according to the state-run media.
What he failed to mention was that all the delegates were handpicked by the junta. Pro-democracy and ethnic opposition groups were not allowed to participate.

The military government also rebuffed the idea of independent poll observers as an infringement on “state sovereignty.”

The junta took the gloves off on Gambari’s last visit, telling him coldly that he was biased in favor of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest for 12 of the past 18 years and is barred from running in the election.

Kyaw Hsan told Gambari that Burma has no political prisoners and that Suu Kyi was detained because she tried to disrupt the stability of the country. Actually, there are about 1,800 political prisoners in Burma.

The minister also criticized Gambari for his trips to other countries to seek support for political reform in Burma.

“Sadly, you went beyond your mandate,” he was told. “Hence, the majority of people are criticizing it as a biased act.”

Finally, in effect dismissing Gambari’s future usefullness, Kyaw Hsan said that if Gambari continued to encourage the junta to meet Western calls for reform, “We are concerned that your task of offering impartial advice may be undermined.”

Gambari departed Burma on Monday and will soon brief UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Whatever that briefing says, one thing is clear: the generals are in a state of denial.

In fact, Gambari’s mission is over diplomatically. The junta has stacked the political deck. Domestic events will have to play themselves out now—for good or bad.

In reality, the UN has no further role to play in Burma. There’s no hope of reconciliation talks; no hope for broader political participation by the people. Sadly, there may be no hope of avoiding another civil uprising and more bloodshed and arrests.

You can see the sad state of events in Burma as the ending of an era going back to the 1988 uprising, in which the National League for Democracy (NLD) played such an important role. The NLD won the 1990 elections by a landslide, nullified by the generals. The NLD leadership has run out of energy and failed to come up with a new political vision.

So far, the NLD has failed to take a clear stand on the constitutional referendum and elections, perhaps partly because it doesn’t even know if it will be allowed to participate in the election.

In the 2007 uprising, the Burmese people, in effect, became the leaders of the political opposition, guided by a dedicated group of activist monks from across the country.

The Burmese people seem to sense that it’s up to them now. The tragedy is that if they express any critical views about the draft constitution, the elections or the regime, they may be imprisoned. Without any means to influence the junta, there are really only two options: political protests and courage.

The constitutional referendum in May could be a flash point. Will the people feel they have been allowed to cast their votes freely and fairly?

Any attempt by the junta or its affiliated political and civic groups to steal the referendum will spark a clash between the military and the people more dangerous than the 2007 uprising.

If the election is free and fair, the Burmese people will reject the junta’s poisonous political cocktail, knowing it will poison their national pride and be a death sentence for Burma’s future generations.

The generals are clearly living in self-denial, drunk on their own power, in total denial of even the most basic principles of fairness and democracy.

But like all drunks, there will come a day—perhaps in May—when they may be awakened by the Burmese people and forced to face reality.

Bush Says US Will Not Abandon Burma

The Irrawaddy News

President George W Bush said on Monday the United States would continue to work till the “tide of freedom reaches the Burmese shores.”

Bush, addressing a meeting honoring Women’s History Month at the White House with his wife, Laura Bush, said, “America honors women like Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma.”

Praising Suu Kyi for her courage and commitment to the people of Burma, Bush said: “Her only crime was to lead a political party that enjoys the overwhelming support of the Burmese people. During the long and lonely years of Daw Suu Kyi's imprisonment, the people of Burma have suffered with her.” Suu Kyi has been under house arrest for 12 of the last 18 years.

“Her courage and her writings have inspired millions, and in so doing, have put fear to the hearts of the leaders of the Burmese junta,” Bush said.

Bush noted that the military regime has called a referendum in May to ratify a dangerously flawed constitution—one that bars Suu Kyi from running for political office.

Bush said: “Aung San Suu Kyi has said to the American people: ‘Please use your liberty to promote ours.’ We're doing all we can, and we will continue to do so until the tide of freedom reaches the Burmese shores and frees this good, strong woman.”

The US has imposed a series of economic sanctions against the military junta in the last seven months.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also praised the Burmese leader on the occasion of International Women’s Day.

“We acknowledge the bravery of Aung Sung Suu Kyi in Burma,” Rice said.

Along with Suu Kyi, Bush also honored the wife of jailed Belarus opposition leader Alexander Kozulin, Irina Kozulin, who died of cancer last month; and ailing Cuban dissident Marta Beatrmz Roque Cabello.

Is Mon Leader Negotiating Disarmament?

The Irrawaddy News

March 11, 2008 - The army chief of the ethnic Mon ceasefire group, the New Mon State Party (NMSP), has recently engaged in disarmament talks with the Burmese military government, according to Mon sources.

Gen Aung Naing was supposedly visiting Rangoon for medical treatment, said a Mon source close to the NMSP who spoke to The Irrawaddy on condition of anonymity. However, it is believed that Aung Naing was holding meetings with junta officials.

The source added that Gen Aung Naing is an influential leader in the NMSP, but doesn’t agree with the political stand his party has taken against the junta’s planned referendum in May.

The military government announced a referendum on its draft constitution in May, followed by national elections in 2010.

Gen Aung Naing, aged 67, became the leader of the Mon National Liberation Army, the military wing of the NMSP, in 2006.

One of his close colleagues quoted him as saying, “We were weak, so we cannot fight the military government with guns. The political issues can only be solved through talks at the table.”

Nai ong Ma-nge, a spokesperson for the NMSP, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday: “He told us he was going to Rangoon for health reasons. However, we lost communication with him on February 4. We don’t know where he is. We heard some rumors among the Mon community that he is secretly negotiating disarmament with the Burmese government, but we can’t confirm it.”

Nai Santhorn, the chairman of the Mon Unity League (MUL), based in Thailand, said: “He may be looking out for himself. The government may give him some incentive—that would be the main reason for him to give up arms.”

There are 32 central committee members in the NMSP. Within the executive committee, there are eight members including Gen Aung Naing. He joined the NMSP in 1967. His family lives in Sangkhlaburi, Thailand.

Mon political analysts are worried that the party could be weakened if such an important key player gave up arms and that it could impact the unity of the party and its army.

The NMSP signed a ceasefire agreement with the military government in 1995. In spite of this, there have been no political advancements in over a decade and the regime has continued a campaign of human rights abuses in Mon State.

In 2003, the party attended a national constitutional convention held by the regime, but left after a proposal to federalize Burma was rejected. Later the party simply sent observers to the convention.

The group released a statement against the junta’s referendum in early March, citing fears that the process would strengthen the regime by giving it the veneer of democracy without resulting in any actual changes.

Observers Split over Junta’s Constitution

The Irrawaddy News

March 11, 2008 - The majority of Burmese people, whether at home or abroad, regard the military government’s constitution as a door shut in the face of national reconciliation. However, views vary on how to approach the current political situation.

In a confidential e-mail distributed among Burma observers and recently obtained by The Irrawaddy, Dr Nay Win Maung, publisher of Living Color magazine and The Voice weekly in Rangoon, wrote that the crucial decision for Aung San Suu Kyi is whether to offer Snr-Gen Than Shwe a way out of the deadlock.

By Suu Kyi saying no to the referendum, it shows a lack of willingness to let Than Shwe escape—it’s somehow like boxing him “into the corner,” wrote Nay Win Maung in the email message on February 23.

“Again, this may lead to another political deadlock,” he warned.

Nay Win Maung belongs to the so-called “Third Force” in Burma—a group founded during the International Burma Studies (IBS) conference in Singapore in mid-2006 that is neither pro-junta nor pro-opposition. The group includes Dr Khin Zaw Win, a former political prisoner. They advocate engagement and a business-friendly policy with the junta, and are anti-sanctions.

He also said that regardless of whatever the outcome of the referendum, it was certain that the constitution would ultimately be rectified.

This takes us “back to square one,” said Nay Win Maung. Everyone should understand that Than Shwe will not accept any deal, or way out, offered by Suu Kyi or her party, the National League for Democracy.

“This time Burmese people should be smart enough and set their emotions aside, so as not to [create] another deadlock,” he said.

Nay Win Maung did offer six suggestions to Suu Kyi and the NLD. He urged Suu Kyi to endorse the constitution. He also requested the NLD to focus on the election, essentially to make sure the NLD are not “disenfranchised.”

“Daw Aung San Suu Kyi should provide a goodwill gesture in [giving Than Shwe a way out] by saying yes to the constitution,” he said.

In his fourth suggestion he said that in order to ensure a free and fair election and a strong opposition, the NLD must declare that they are only going to contest half of the seats in both chambers—in a way, sending a signal to the regime that their objective is to be merely the opposition.

He also suggested that Suu Kyi “learn to differentiate between genuine opposition politics and confrontational politics,” so she can build a shadow government.

In his final comment, Nay Win Maung said that Suu Kyi could strengthen her organization while serving in the opposition for five years.

Nay Win Maung’s e-mail was sent to several prominent politicians, including ethnic leaders in exile.

Nay Win Maung was not available for comment when The Irrawaddy called his office on Tuesday.

Aung Naing Oo, a Burmese political commentator living in exile, told The Irrawaddy that this approach is an option to break through the deadlock in the country.

“We have to stop living in the past,” he said. “It only prolongs the deadlock and conflict.”

Meanwhile, Win Min, a Burmese political analyst in Thailand, said that Suu Kyi and the NLD should endorse the constitution on the condition that the generals lift the ban on Suu Kyi from running in the upcoming election. He said that even if the NLD is prepared to act as opposition, the junta may still not tolerate having a strong opposition in the country.

Win Min also said that although the constitution is the junta’s own draft, other parties will get 75 percent of the people’s parliament. “The junta wants to be ‘old wine in a new bottle’; then they will legitimize their repression of the Burmese people. If the junta wants the opposition to endorse their rule, they must compromise for national reconciliation,” he said.

One of the secretaries of the National Council of the Union of Burma, Aung Moe Zaw, said, “Some experts think endorsing the constitution is better than nothing. But people will not see it like this. People want to see a long-term guarantee for their future—real democracy and freedom.”

“If the NLD endorses this unjust constitution, people in Burma will object,” he added. “People will go their own way.”

India, Burma conclude secretary level talks

Mizzima News

March 11, 2008 - New Delhi - In yet another sign of warming up to each other in terms of bilateral relations, India and Burma on Monday concluded a secretary level talk in New Delhi.

Both India and Burma, during the 14th National Level Meeting, agreed to strengthen cooperation in areas of security and border management along the common border.

The Burmese delegation to the meeting was led by Deputy Minister for Home Affairs Brig. General Phone Swe and the Indian delegation was led by Union Home Secretary, Shri Madhukar Gupta.

During the meeting, both sides discussed various issues of mutual concern including security, drug trafficking and border management, according to a press statement released by Indian Ministry of Home Affairs.

India and Burma have regularly held bilateral meetings on various levels including head of the state meetings, since the visit by Burmese head of state and military supremo Snr. Gen Than Shwe to New Delhi in October 2004.

According to India's Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), Burma's second military strongman Vice Snr. General Maung Aye will visit New Delhi in the first week of April to sign an agreement with India to build a multi-modal transport project in western Burma.

Sources at the MEA said India will invest a US $ 100 million for the Kaladan multimodal project, while Burma will contribute US $ 10 million and free land.

Despite criticism by the west, particularly the US and EU, which has imposed stern financial and economic sanctions on the Burmese junta, India continues to engage the Burmese generals under the banner of its 'Look East policy' and 'national interest'.

Junta to make propaganda film on draft constitution

Mizzima News

March 11, 2008 - Burma's Information Ministry is toying with the idea of making a propaganda film on the process of drafting the constitution, which will enshrine the military's role in Burma's future, a reliable source said.

Several prominent Burmese film stars are likely to play the characters, and the junta is trying to find actors and actresses to star in the film. The movie will reflect the junta's stand and obduracy in rejecting suggestions by the international community.

While it is still not clear who will direct and star in the movie, sources in the Burmese film industry explained the obvious script of the film.

The film, apparently, will be circulated among villagers of a typical Burmese village, which has no chiefs for a period of time. The villagers, however, found themselves being intruded upon by neighbouring villages, when they plan to choose a Chief to rule over them.

Despite advices and suggestions by neighbouring villagers on how they should chose their Chiefs and the criteria they set for a Chief, the villagers have their own way in choosing their chief.

While the film has no direct mention of the referendum and its draft constitution, it draws parallels with the junta's constitution, which was drafted by the junta with its hand-picked delegates. The junta in its draft constitution has ensured that the military automatically obtains 25 percent of seats in parliament, allowing the military and its back-ups to be included at the decision making level in all ministries.

The constitution further draws a line for the civilian government not to interfere in military expenditure but keeps a provision for the military to stage a coup anytime it deems necessary.

"The crux of the movie is that the villagers are saying 'this is our village, and we will choose in whatever way we want'. And the military is saying the same 'this is the country I am ruling, and I will rule as I like," a source in the Burmese film industry said.

Sources said, the film will be completed in March and will be aired in May by state-owned televisions – Myanmar TV and Myawaddy.

Burma's ruling junta has rejected the United Nations suggestions to implement a process of national reconciliation by kicking starting a tripartite dialogue, where the military, the Burmese opposition led by detained Nobel peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and leaders of ethnic nationalities should participate.

The junta, besides rejecting the international community's suggestions, has announced that it will hold a referendum on its draft constitution in May and general elections in 2010 as part of its planned roadmap to democracy.

Despite an overwhelming victory by Burma's opposition party – the National League for Democracy – in the last general elections in 1990, the ruling junta has refused to honour the results and has prolonged its rule.

Junta turns to bribery to bolster ranks

Maung Dee
Mizzima News

March 11, 2008 - In an apparent move to gain popularity with the people, the Burmese junta backed civil organization, Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), has begun distributing loans to its members.

Local residents in the Rangoon suburb of Dagon Myothit said the Township USDA office has offered loans to its members, tempting people with monetary incentives to join its ranks.

A local resident, who spoke to Mizzima on condition of anonymity, said the USDA has been handing out loans of 30,000 to 50,000 Kyats ($27 to $45), with the understanding that only those enlisting with the USDA are entitled to such disbursements.

"With most people living in poverty, many people are starting to accept the loan. It is a kind of lure for those who want to take the loan," the resident commented.

Meanwhile, sources said the junta-backed civil organizations Myanmar Maternity and Child Welfare Association (MMCWA) and Myanmar Women Affairs Federation (MWAF) have also begun providing loans to its members.

While providing loans to members in the impoverished Southeast Asian nation may seem a noble act, critics said the junta's puppet organizations – USDA, MMCWA and MWAF – might be used to bait people into becoming members and support the junta's upcoming constitutional referendum in May.

A local resident of Dagon Myothit expressed his concern that the organizations might have a hidden agenda – say to support the referendum – behind the seemingly noble act.

He added that besides providing loans there are instances in Dagon Myothit where USDA officials threaten people into seeking membership.

USDA officials, who control the water supply in the east of Dagon Myothit Township, have threatened local residents with the possibility of losing their water supply unless they register themselves as members of the organization, continued the resident.

"The officials threatened the people, saying that if they are not members of the USDA they will cut off the water supply," the local remarked.

USDA, MMCWA and MWAF, formed to support the ruling junta, are the only civil organizations allowed in Burma. And critics say these organizations are manipulated by the government and are used as tools to suppress any dissident movement.

Htay Aung, a Thailand based Burmese analyst and researcher at the Network for Democracy and Development, said there have been other instances where the junta-backed organizations provided loans to its members, but all such offerings came with a hidden agenda.

"This time it could be to gain support for the junta's referendum," Htay Aung told Mizzima.

Burma's ruling junta has announced that it will hold a referendum on a draft constitution in May followed by a general election in 2010 as part of its planned "roadmap to democracy."

However the United Nations as well as much of the international community has joined Burmese opposition groups, including Burma's main political party – National League for Democracy, led by detained Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi – in calling the junta's upcoming referendum a sham, as it lacks independent third party monitoring.

But the ruling junta, who has plainly rejected the international community's call for independent monitoring of the referendum, has indicated it is determined to complete its planned roadmap as scheduled.

Htay Aung said the junta, as declared, is using various means to ensure that it gains the necessary votes in the referendum to support its constitution.

"The junta will do everything to ensure they get what they want. All plans are underway and they will try to post a kind of 'free and fair' label on the polling," Htay Aung prospered.

He added that by the actual polling day the junta hopes to have ensured that all its supporters are voting in favor of the referendum. But in the event that the requisite number of votes are not secured the junta still will not let the referendum fail.

Dead end for UN envoy to Burma

By Larry Jagan
Mizzima News
March 11, 2008

The United Nations Special Advisor to Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, has left Rangoon empty-handed after a five-day visit.

He is now on his way to Senegal in Africa to brief the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

"There has been no progress on any of the substantive issues raised by the envoy," a Western diplomat in Rangoon told Mizzima.

According to an Asian diplomat who closely follows Burmese affairs, "There is no other interpretation possible. This visit was an abject failure."

"This probably means the end of Mr Gambari's efforts to mediate in Burma's national reconciliation process," he added.

But Ban Ki-moon has already tried to counter this obvious conclusion. "There was some progress but we have not been able to achieve as much we had hoped," Ban told reporters at UN headquarters in New York before he left for Africa.

His top priority during his trip was to press the regime to include Aung San Suu Kyi and the pro-democracy opposition in the political process, he told Mizzima in an exclusive interview by phone during his short stop-over in Singapore, before he flew onto Rangoon last week.

"I will continue to press the Myanmar [Burmese] government to engage with Aung San Suu Kyi in a substantive dialogue in order to produce a positive outcome that will promote an all-inclusive and transparent process," he said.

This was the envoy's third visit to Burma since the brutal crackdown on monk-led mass demonstrations last September. More importantly, it followed the Burmese government's completion of the country's new constitution and its announcement of plans to hold a referendum in May and new multi-party elections in 2010.

"Than Shwe's decision to set a time-table for the road-map was a strategic move to block both Maung Aye – his deputy -- from assuming power later, and the international community, especially Gambari, from playing a role in the process," said the Asian diplomat.

The UN envoy knew he faced a daunting task trying to persuade the regime to heed the international community's concerns, but remained undeterred when he spoke to Mizzima on the eve of his visit.

"I will continue my consultations in Myanmar and follow up on a number of recommendations I left with the government during my last trip in November 2007," he said.

"These include immediate steps to address the human rights situation; progress on time-bound dialogue between the government and Aung San Suu Kyi; the forthcoming referendum and the electoral process; economic and humanitarian issues; as well as a more regularised process of engagement with the Secretary General's good offices," he explained.

Gambari knew he had a tough task ahead of him. The recommendations he made last time he was in Rangoon have been virtually ignored or only partially implemented. These included the appointment of a liaison minister to meet regularly with the detained opposition leader – but few meetings have actually taken place.

Gambari also suggested that it was essential for Aung San Suu Kyi to meet other members of her party, especially the central executive committee, and anyone else she may want to consult. This request also obviously fell on deaf ears. The opposition leader has only been allowed to meet NLD members twice since Gambari's last visit.

Gambari had also asked the junta for permission to set up his own office in Rangoon, with regular contact with the detained opposition leader, according to UN sources.

But instead of Gambari making any headway on these issues, he found the regime totally intransigent, and unprepared to listen, let alone make any concessions. In two meetings with the government spokesman, the Information Minister General Kyaw Hsan effectively humiliated the envoy.

In the first meeting the minister chided him for not being impartial and being a stooge of the West. At the same time he dismissed all the envoy's recommendations as pointless and unnecessary, especially the need for the UN to have its own liaison office in Rangoon.

Essentially the regime's message to the UN was crystal clear: "supporting criticism and sanctions instead of providing assistance means hindering and disrupting the country's efforts to achieve democracy."

"To speak frankly, the road we have been taking is the correct and most suitable one for our country," Kyaw Hsan told Gambari in their second meeting broadcast on state television.

"We are firmly convinced that it is the best way and it will ensure a smooth and peaceful transition to democracy for our country," Kyaw Hsan, a Brigadier General, said.

The door is always open to the UN to continue its mediation efforts, he also told the UN envoy. But warned him: "We are anticipating …Your Excellency's constructive reporting when you arrive back home."

That effectively means the junta only wants the UN envoy to endorse the roadmap and the announced time-table as it is. Gambari was urged by Chinese authorities to accept the constitution and the roadmap when he visited Beijing lat month, according to a UN insider.

But there are other signs that the regime is not in the least interested in the UN's offer of mediation. Last month, when Ban Ki-moon and Kofi Annan were negotiating and mediating in Kenya's political crisis, a foreign news agency article on the subject in the Myanmar Times was spiked by the censors. The only story they could run was a report that said the unrest had led to a sharp fall in tea production, according to a Western diplomat who knows the editors well.

Now that Gambari has left Rangoon without any apparent concessions, the UN will have to seriously ponder its next step.

"For me, failure is not an option, otherwise the UN would have failed and this will have negative consequences for the role of the organisation in terms of mediation, conflict prevention and peaceful resolution of conflicts not only in Myanmar but throughout the world," Gambari told Mizzima prior to his latest visit.

Naypyitaw fire leaves two injured, destroys 300 houses

By Than Htike Oo
Mizzima News

March 11, 2008; Chiang Mai – A devastating fire broke out in three wards of Leway, Naypyitaw on March 9 at 2 p.m. injuring two and destroying 325 houses. Half the town was razed to the ground before the blaze could be brought under control.

The fire started from the household of Daw Khin Nyo in No. 5 Ward, Leway Township, Mandalay Division. Then it spread north to No. 6 Ward and Inbu Ward. It was brought under control at about 4:20 p.m.

Twenty fire tenders from Pyinmana, Leway, Tatkon, Swa, Myohla and Thargara Townships rushed to the scene and extinguished the fire.

This is the first ever fire after government offices were shifted to the new capital city. The Naypyitaw regional command commander and Minister of Progress of Border Areas & National Races & Development Affairs Col. Than Nyunt arrived at the scene later.

Naypyitaw comprises three townships -- Pyinmana, Leway and Tatkon.

"The fire tenders in Leway are out of order. About 20 fire tenders from Naypyitaw arrived in Leway after the fire had destroyed almost half of the town. One of the fire tenders in Leway is out of order. Another fire tender had no water and had to be pushed to the site of the fire. The situation is worse than it should be," a local resident in Naypyitaw said.
The New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported that the relief centres were opened at Sasana Beikman in No. 3 Ward and in a primary school in No. 6 Ward. But local residents said that some fire victims are living in makeshift huts built in the rice fields and the meal packages are being sent to them by well wishers from other wards in the township.

US says Myanmar's human rights record getting worse

March 11, 2008 - Washington (AP-IHT):
Myanmar's already bad human rights record got worse last year, the United States said Tuesday.

Myanmar, also called Burma, committed extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detentions, rape and torture, the State Department said in an annual report on human rights practices around the world.

The report also said that Vietnam's crackdown on dissent has constrained civil society. In Thailand, the report said, the government was working to return to elected government after a 2006 coup and to investigate extrajudicial killings and disappearances.

The report said that unlawful killings in the Philippines "by elements of the security services and political killings, including killings of journalists, by a variety of actors, continued to be a major problem."

The government stepped up efforts to investigate cases, the report said, but "many went unsolved and unpunished. Concerns about impunity persisted."

Myanmar's military-run government killed and arrested pro-democracy protesters in September, drawing international criticism.

The report said that despite promises of dialogue, the government "did not honor its commitment to begin a genuine discussion with the democratic opposition and ethnic minority groups."

Myanmar has been military-ruled since 1962. The current junta seized power in 1988 and refused to honor the results of a 1990 general election won by the opposition.

UN envoy’s visit shows momentum slipping on Myanmar

Gulf Times

BANGKOK: UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari’s seeming failure to press the Myanmar junta toward reform has underlined the loss in diplomatic momentum since last year’s bloody crackdown on protests, analysts say.

Gambari arrived in Myanmar last Thursday hoping to persuade the regime to include detained democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi in plans for a constitutional referendum in May designed to pave the way for elections in 2010.

But with support from regional allies such as China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), the generals have pressed on with a “roadmap to democracy” that the West has decried as a sham.

“What the Burmese military has done is what the Chinese and Asean and even the Indians wanted to see in Burma - the continuation of the roadmap, and for the first time in 20 years there is a timeframe,” said Thailand-based Myanmar expert Aung Naing Oo, referring to the nation by its former name.

Gambari left Myanmar late Monday having twice been rebuffed by the junta on his third visit there since pictures of last September’s violent crackdown on Buddhist monk-led street protests went around the world.

The generals refused to amend the constitution and rejected an offer of UN technical assistance and foreign observers during the referendum.

At least 31 people died last September, according to the United Nations, although Human Rights Watch has put the toll at more than 100, and the world outcry was swift and unified – a consensus that has since fractured.

While China, Russia and some Southeast Asian nations call the referendum a step in the right direction, the US and other Western countries say it aims to entrench the military’s role.

The constitution would bar Aung San Suu Kyi from elections because she was married to a foreigner, while a new law limits her party’s ability to campaign by criminalising public speeches and leaflets about the referendum.

Aung Naing Oo said the split has left Myanmar holding all the cards, with the UN empty-handed.

“I honestly don’t have any hope in the UN’s intervention,” he added. “The Burmese junta knows they have the Chinese protecting them at the UN Security Council.”

The apparent snubs to Gambari, who was also accused on this visit of being biased in favour of the opposition, also show the junta is increasingly immune to the fickle demands of the international community, said Zarni, a visiting fellow at Britain’s Oxford University who goes by one name.

“The last thing the regime would want to do is appear to be appeasing the international community, be it the Chinese or the Americans,” he said.

“These guys draw inspirations from such regimes as Cuba, Venezuela, Iran, North Korea etc, which stand up to what they all consider as ‘neo-imperialist’ West.”

Gambari did, however, meet Aung San Suu Kyi twice during his visit, a rare contact with the outside world for the Nobel peace prize winner who has spent 12 of the last 18 years under house arrest.

Aung San Suu Kyi led her National League for Democracy party to a storming election victory in 1990, but the military - which has ruled Myanmar in some form since 1962 - refused to recognise the result.

But the envoy was denied access to senior junta figures, with junta leader Senior General Than Shwe inaccessible in the isolated capital Naypyidaw.

Win Min, a Thailand - based analyst attached to Chiang Mai University, said the only way to bring genuine democratic reform to Myanmar was for the UN Security Council to take harsh action unanimously.
“Only then the regime will listen,” he said.

However, Zarni said, Myanmar was no longer top of the world’s agenda.
The West’s sanctions were simply angering the regime without affecting the top leadership, he added, while China was not keen on forcing Myanmar on to a path to democracy that they themselves did not follow.

“The only silver lining in all this is the regime is not declaring this UN engagement process, whatever it’s worth, dead or unwelcome,” he said. – AFP

Free Them Now, Sein Win Maung and Thet Zin


Again, Burmese military regimes slap the faces of Rangoon based media and journalists. Like previous seizure, this time also, two journalists were taken away without clear reason and pertinent charges. They are U Sein Win Maung, office manager and U Thet Zin, editor who publishing weekly Myanmar Nations Journal until then.

Authorities raided Myanmar Nations' office on 15 February 2008 and took them out leaving office closed and threatened. It was just obvious that they didn't commit any crime but except working with true facts and information. The authorities said they found videotape of September Saffron Revolution and official report of UN' Human Right Council. It was said they might being charged with Printer and Registration Act. However neither of these two materials they found there are likely to be against this illogical Act.

Since September Monk- led Saffron Revolution, there were 4 detainees happened to be in notorious Insein Prison related to media and magazine. Saw Wai, poet, accused of his encoded poem was detained in January 2008, then followed by Nay Phone Latt, blogger and author having no accusation. Within just one month later, regimes step up to next targets and rough up its own citizens.

Nobody know how exactly they were detained and when they will face what type of alleged charges in where. What went wrong with these detained journalists and media men? Nothing !

Very obviously, authorities, they are the one who commit crime and abuse to people.

Please lift your hand to help hopeless detained journalists and political prisoners in Burma.

They are waiting for outside world from their prison cells.

Aung San Suu Kyi Meets UN Envoy, What Happened

Aung Din, Jeremy Woodrum, Jennifer Quigley, Thelma Young

Dear Friend,

We typically use this email list to distribute calls for action on how you can help the world's only imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi and the people of Burma.

However, many of you have been asking us what happened in Burma over the past weekend, so we wanted to send a special note.

Aung San Suu Kyi was seen in public when the United Nations Secretary General's envoy to Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, traveled to Burma.

His trip was the 35th trip by a UN envoy to Burma since 1990, but his mission was the same: to convince Burma's generals to participate in peaceful negotiations with Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma's ethnic groups. In one form or another, 31 consecutive UN resolutions have called for these "talks" to start for nearly two decades. The goal of the "talks" is to create a framework for a transition to democracy.

Like previous trips by UN envoys, the military regime rejected all the UN proposals. The UN trip failed.

Frankly, we expected this to happen. We have watched how the military regime defies the UN at every turn for quite some time, and this trip was no different.

The main reason the regime is able to refuse to honor UN calls for change is that they know there will be no consequences from the UN. The only body at the UN that is capable of enforcing resolutions is the UN Security Council, but China has completely paralyzed the Security Council with its veto power. 10 Nobel Peace Prize recipients have called for the UN Security Council to impose a ban on all arms sales to Burma, but because of China's threat of a veto, the Council has only issued a non-binding, weak statement. Meanwhile, China has provided the military regime with billions of dollars in weapons and hundreds of millions of dollars in aid.

As a result, the UN is making the same mistakes the world made on Rwanda, Darfur, and elsewhere. In the meantime, the regime has carried out awful human rights abuses against the people of Burma, which you know about. It is shameful that in todays' world one single country can hobble the entire United Nations, but that is exactly what is happening.

What You Can Do

Clearly, we need to be doing more to focus attention and pressure on China. That is one reason why we are asking people to turn off their televisions and not watch the Beijing Olympics. China very much cares about the Olympics and its reputation, and it appears that the only way we can get China's attention is to call for everyday American people (and others throughout the world) to signal our frustration by refusing to watch the Olympics. You can sign up here today to pledge to become one of 1 million people that will turn off your televisions and do something instead of watching the Olympics. We have an easy online tool that allows you to ask your friends and family to refuse to endorse the Beijing Olympics as well.

Feel free to write to us with any questions or ideas you have. We have to do a lot more to convince China to support peace instead of underwriting tyranny in Burma. If we work together, we can make it happen.

Aung Din, Jeremy Woodrum, Jennifer Quigley, Thelma Young

Please support 1991 Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi and the struggle for freedom and democracy in Burma.

Urgent action ­ Ban Ki-moon ­ Go To Burma!

By Anna Roberts

Ban Ki-moon – Go To Burma!
Email UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon now calling on him to go to Burma.

On Monday 10th March the UN Envoy to Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, left Burma empty handed after the regime rejected every proposal he made for restoring democracy in Burma.

It was the 35th visit to Burma by a UN envoy in the past 18 years, and there has not been a single reform to show for any of them. In fact, the human rights situation has got much worse.

We can’t have another 18 years of suffering in Burma, another 18 years of torture, rape and ethnic cleansing.

It is time the UN woke up to the fact that this regime has been lying to UN envoys for almost two decades. It does not want reform and it is not interested in democracy.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon should take over the process. He should have the backing of a binding Security Council resolution, which under international law will force the regime to reform.

Take action here.

Thank you

Anna Roberts
The Burma Campaign UK

Invitation to 20th Anniversary of Burma Human Rights Day

13th March 2008 is 20th Anniversary of Burma's Human Rights Day. We, Burmese Democratic Movement Association – UK (BDMA-UK) is holding a commemoration with the program below. Therefore we would like to invite you to come and show your solidarity with us.




Canadian Friends of Burma (CFOB)
Press Conference on Parliament Hill

Thursday, March 13th at 9:30 a.m. Canadian Friends of Burma and Liberal MP Larry Bagnell will hold a press conference to discuss the appalling treatment of Burma's political prisoners.

At present there are close to 2000 democratic politicians and political activists held in prison across Burma and dozens more are unaccounted for and presumed detained or murdered.

Speaking at the press conference along with MP Larry Bagnell and a representative from Amnesty International will be Tha Zul Ceu, former Political Prisoner in Burma, Zaw Wai Kyaw of the Burma Buddhist Association of Ontario and Research Director Kevin McLeod from Canadian Friends of Burma.

Political prisoners live through incredible violations of their human rights. During interrogations and detention, they face torture and ill treatment, and it is reported that the various establishments where they remain imprisoned lack adequate food and water, proper bedding, are overcrowded and the ventilation is poor.

The press conference will be held in partnership with the Thailand based NGO Assistance Association for Political Prisoners Burma (AAPP). AAPP is headed by two former Burmese political prisoners: Ko Tate Naing and Bo Kyi.

Date: Thursday, March 13th, 2008
Time: 9AM
Location: Parliament Hill

For more information please contact CFOB at or 613-237-8056
or AAPP Burma at Email (
or Zaw Wai Kyaw Burma Buddhist Association of Ontario 416-358-2318