Thursday, 13 March 2008

Four Burmese soldiers defect to KNU

Mon Son, IMNA

March 12, 2008 - Discrimination, lack of promotion opportunities and employment benefits in the Burmese Army has caused desertions and defection to the Karen National Union (KNU), said four deserters.

Four Burmese soldiers deserted the Infantry Battalion IB No. 410 because they were discriminated against in the military camp, said the soldiers. They could not tolerate the maltreatment so they escaped from the military camp, they added.

The four soldiers arrived at KNU brigade No. 6 wearing Burmese Army uniforms on February 26, said KNU Captain Htat Nay in Three Pagoda Pass (TPP).

According to the Captain, the defectors are from IB No. 410, Zaw Min Tun (27) military identity 309279 with a MA4+79, Corporal Soe Tie Ha (24) MI 81887 with a MA1, Corporal Zan Tun Hlang (24) MI 127495 with a MA3 and solider Tein Min Hike (25) MI 321642 with a MAG-420 and a M79.

Corporal Soe Tie Ha was arrested and recruited by the army when he was only 14 years old and has been a soldier for 10 years.

"I think the soldiers look honest, they don't seem suspicious to us. Also, we gave 30,000 kyat to each solider because they joined the KNU," KNU Army Captain Htat Nay said.

The Captain said that the soldiers joined the KNU and wanted to fight the Burmese military government. Nine Burmese soldiers defected to the KNU last year while five soldiers joined this year.

"Many Burmese soldiers have been joining the KNU; however they have not betrayed the KNU," he added.

USDA exploits water project to recruit members

By Aye Nai

Mar 12, 2008 (DVB)–The Union Solidarity and Development Association in New Dagon township has been claiming credit for water provision in the area to coerce local ward residents into joining the USDA.

The USDA in ward 9 on the eastern side of New Dagon township has been collecting money from each household to connect underground water pipes to their houses, locals said.

But now USDA members are telling them they must join the USDA in return for having the water pipes installed.

The locals have been angered by this development, saying that the USDA’s demands for credit for the work are unreasonable when it was the ward residents who had to pay for the pipes.

Junta slammed; Beijing offered slight reprieve

Mizzima News
March 12, 2008

The U.S., in a report released yesterday, has confronted Burma's generals with a 20,000 word indictment of human rights violations committed by the junta last year.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Tuesday welcomed the arrival of the Department's 2007 study into the situation of human rights around the world, which found Burma to be one of last year's most prolific abusers of people's rights.

"Burma's abysmal human rights record continued to worsen," reads the report.

"Throughout the year, the regime continued to commit extra-judicial killings and was responsible for disappearances, arbitrary and indefinite detentions, rape, and torture."

"Countries in which power was concentrated in the hands of unaccountable rulers remain the most systematic human rights violators. Here we would cite North Korea, Burma, Iran, Syria, Zimbabwe, Cuba, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Eritrea and Sudan," according to Jonathan Farrar, Acting Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, speaking at a press release yesterday in Washington D.C.

Describing an atmosphere of impunity for rights abusers, the study's multitude of findings includes disappearances, torture and the lack of freedom for association and press.

"The government continued to use force to prohibit all public speech critical of the regime by all persons, including by persons elected to parliament in 1990 and leaders of political parties," state the authors, a description only reconfirmed by the recently announced Referendum Law which makes publicly speaking on the referendum ahead of May's poll a crime punishable by imprisonment and/or fine.

Refuting the junta's claim that there are no political prisoners in Burma, the State Department refers to eyewitness testimony to the contrary, in which politically active persons were routinely confined and "subjected to beatings and severe mistreatment by common criminals."

Democratic governance, argues the volume, is the best means for securing human rights. And the release lists three components the U.S. believes critical to just and democratic governance: 1) a free and fair electoral processes 2) accountable, representative institutions, and 3) a vibrant, independent civil society.

Unexpectedly, an argument can be made for China being the big winner of this year's annual release.

Despite a lengthy portfolio of violations in China, and the report stating that "China's overall human rights record remained poor in 2007," the Asian giant was controversially removed from the list of the world's most egregious offenders.

Instead, China finds itself in an alternative category "listed under a section dealing with authoritarian countries undergoing economic reform where the democratic political reform has not kept pace," commented Farrar.

"Some authoritarian countries that are undergoing economic reform have experienced rapid social change, but have not undertaken democratic political reform and continue to deny their citizens basic human rights and fundamental freedoms. China remains a case in point," continued the Assistant Secretary.

Also yesterday in Washington, Sean McCormack, spokesperson for the State Department, in response to a question regarding China's continued rights abuses and the 2008 Olympics, responded, "We believe the Olympics are a sporting event, but it is also an important international event at which time it can put its best face forward to the world."

The message, focusing on the athletic aspect of the Olympics, is consistent with the long-held position of the White House that the Games should be understood predominantly as a sporting event.

Burmese activists, however, remain outspoken in urging the United States to boycott the Beijing Games, as China is held to play a crucial role in financing, arming and protecting Burma's generals.

The 2007 human rights study does not link China with abuses in Burma, and even notes on one occasion an effective China-Burma joint operation in combating human trafficking.

Than Shwe rumored to be hospitalized

Mizzima News
March 12, 2008

March 12, 2008, New Delhi – Burma's Ministry of Information has brushed aside rumors that Head of State Senior General Than Shwe's health is failing and that he is currently hospitalized.

Rumors have been circulating Rangoon and among exile Burmese communities that Than Shwe's health is deteriorating and that he is receiving medical treatment at Rangoon's No. 2 Military Hospital.

A source close to the military establishment in Rangoon said, "I heard that his health has been deteriorating for about a week."

Similarly, rumors are spreading among the Burmese exile community that Than Shwe is suffering from colon cancer for which he is currently receiving treatment.

The rumor is spreading rapidly via blogs operated by Burmese bloggers both inside and outside the country.

Burmese bloggers have posted several messages claiming that Than Shwe has undergone medical treatment for colon cancer at the No. 2 Military Hospital in Rangoon.

While the information could not be independently verified, an official at the Burmese Ministry of Information dismissed the rumor, saying, "No, he is not hospitalized and he is in good health."

However Burma's military strongman has long been reported to be suffering from ill-health and several important meetings, including the junta's quarterly meetings, had been previously postponed due to speculation of his fragile condition.

Rangoon Division Ordered to Support Referendum


March 12, 2008 - The Burmese regime is ordering local authorities in Rangoon to persuade residents to support the national referendum in May, according to informed sources in the former capital.

Local authorities in Rangoon, such as the Township Peace and Development Council and the Ward Peace and Development Council, were officially asked earlier this week by the chairman of Rangoon Division Peace and Development Council, Brig-Gen Hla Htay Win, and Home Minister Maung Oo to lobby local residents to vote “Yes” at the national referendum, said the sources.

However, it was unclear how and when the process to lobby residents would be implemented.

Meanwhile, in Rangoon and Mandalay, pro-democracy activists, including monks, have recently launched an anti-referendum campaign, distributing leaflets criticizing the referendum and urging people to vote “No” in May, according to sources.

Within the last two months, the authorities have issued temporary citizen identity cards to local residents in several townships in Rangoon and asked for their support in the upcoming referendum on the state’s draft constitution.

The temporary citizen identity cards have been issued in townships such as Hlaing Tharyar, North Dagon and Kyeemyindine in Rangoon.

Burma’s military government announced on February 9 that a national referendum would be held in May and multi-party elections in 2010.

The regime also enacted a new law calling for up to three years imprisonment and 100,000 kyat (US $91) fines for offenders who distribute statements, posters or who make speeches against the referendum. The law also bans monks and nuns from voting.

Meanwhile, Burmese authorities are campaigning residents in Kawthaung Province in southernmost Burma to vote “Yes” in May’s national referendum, said local residents.

The residents in Kawthaung said that local authorities and the Ministry of Immigration and Population have been compiling a list of voters—over 18 years old— since early March and have been trying to persuade local residents to support the national referendum.

Maung Tu, a resident in Kawthaung told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday, “The authorities asked us to gather in their offices or schools and collected our names. They also asked us to vote ‘Yes’ in the referendum.”

According to Kawthaung residents, the authorities also told locals that they would only issue citizen cards to residents who vote ‘Yes’ in the referendum.

Some residents have said that they would do what the authorities asked, because they want identity cards from the authorities, said Maung Tu.

A woman in Kawthaung said, “I would vote ‘Yes’ in the national referendum if I were forcibly asked to by the authorities, because our daily survival is more important than anything else.”

She added that she expected many residents would follow the authorities’ instructions even though they were unclear about the draft constitution and the voting system.

Earlier this month, the Burmese authorities issued temporary citizen cards to ceasefire groups: the Kachin Independence Organization and its military wing, the Kachin Independence Army; the United Wa State Army; the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army; and the New Mon State Party, according to ceasefire sources.

Residents in Mandalay, Myitkyina and Arakan State also reported that local authorities there were collecting family registration information.

Veteran Journalist Calls for People Power to Oust Regime


March 12, 2008 - Less than a week after an unsuccessful visit to Burma by UN Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari, one of the country’s most respected journalists has made an extraordinary appeal for a “people power” uprising to end the ruling regime’s stranglehold on power.

In a recorded message addressed to Burmese both inside and outside the country, Ludu Sein Win, a prominent journalist and former political prisoner, said that he believed that force was the only way to end more than four decades of military rule.

“In the entire history of the world, there has never been a dictator who willingly gave up power once he had it firmly in his hands,” he said in his message, recorded in the former capital, Rangoon.

“And there are no countries in the world which have gained liberation though the help of the United Nations,” he added, in apparent reference to the failed efforts of the UN special envoy, who left the country on Monday after being chastised by the ruling generals for “bias” in favor of the democratic opposition.

Describing the deepening political, social and economic crisis facing the country, the sixty-eight-year-old veteran journalist warned the Burmese people that it was futile to pin their hopes for a better future on the diplomatic efforts of the international community.

“Don’t waste your time dreaming about dialogue and considering help from the UN Security Council,” he said. “We already have the power to force out the military dictatorship. That power is the force and strength of every Burmese citizen.”

In the wake of last September’s monk-led protests, which attracted worldwide attention, the time is right to launch a renewed effort to overthrow military rule, the veteran journalist insisted.

Ludu Sein Win has experienced more than his fair share of trouble at the hands of the country’s ruling dictators.

He began his distinguished career as a young reporter for the Mandalay-based left-wing newspaper, Ludu (“The People”), launched in 1946. As the publication’s Rangoon bureau chief, he was arrested at the age of 27 and sentenced without trial to 13 years in prison, during which he was tortured by the authorities. He then spent an additional two years confined on Coco Island, a penal colony located about 430 km southwest of Rangoon in the Indian Ocean.

He is one of Burma’s most outspoken advocates of independent media, and is the author of many books on the basic theory and ethics of journalism. He is also popular as a prolific writer of books on issues relating to young people.

A virtual protest in a virtual Burma

Did you know is blocked in Burma? (source: OpenNet Initiative) Burmese surfers can't access information as freely as you can. It's a worrying thought isn't it?

Full Report:

UN expert says unlawful arrests in Myanmar accelerating

March 12, 2008, GENEVA (AFP) - Some 1,850 political prisoners are behind bars as of January in Myanmar, as the government "accelerated" rather than stopped unlawful arrests, a United Nations report said Wednesday.

"Rather than stop unlawful arrests, the government had accelerated them," according to the report by UN expert Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, which said that initial indications by Myanmar's military junta of a willingness to address human rights abuses has "disappeared."

In the study to be presented to the UN Human Rights Council on Thursday, Pinheiro said he continues to get reports of arrests made in relation to massive anti-government demonstrations last year -- even as a culture of impunity reigns in Myanmar.

According to information received, at least 70 individuals were arrested, with some 62 still detained since his last visit to Myanmar in November, said Pinheiro, who is ending a seven-year mandate as special rapporteur.

He also received allegations of abuse relating to the arrests, including death in custody and arrests without warrants, the study said.

The government crackdown on last year's August-September demonstrations, combined with increased military deployment in some ethnic areas have helped open "new fronts in the patterns of human rights abuses," the report said.

In economic and social sectors as well, there have been "marked signs of deterioration," said the study which also denounced "serious violations of medical neutrality."

Moreover violations of ethnic minorities, including extrajudicial killings, attacks on civilians and forced displacement continue to be reported in the eastern Myanmar state of Kayin, it said.

The report also described a culture of impunity as a key obstacle, with those perpetrating torture, forced labour, sexual violence and the recruitment of child soldiers often going unpunished.

Pinheiro's report is based on information from independent sources, since he has not been able to return to Myanmar for a follow-up mission since his five-day November visit.

The rapporteur urged Myanmar's junta to rapidly release all physically vulnerable political prisoners, saying it would be seen "as a good-faith gesture that would help to pave the way to democratization and reconciliation."

A separate report published by the US State Department Tuesday ranked Myanmar along with North Korea among the world's worst human rights violators.

Steve's simple spiel

By Alan Howe

March 13, 2008 (Herald-Sun)- CHINA has some unpleasant friends - Burma, North Korea and Sudan spring to mind.

But their national flags will flutter as the world's athletes walk into the stadium at the start of the Beijing Olympics. Just like they did in Sydney.

Anyway, we play cricket with Zimbabwe, and we are quite happy to do business with Burma and Sudan.

We should remember that as calls for a boycott of the Beijing Games grow louder.

Steven Spielberg announced last month that he was withdrawing his services as artistic director of the Games' opening and closing ceremonies in protest at China's inaction on the genocide in Darfur.

He's been listening to that dill Mia Farrow, who had been urging the same.

You remember Mia. She once tried to adopt half of Vietnam and gave her until-then grateful kids names such as Lark Song, Summer Song and Satchel.

I'd be speaking to their newsagent and finding out why Spielberg and Farrow's papers haven't been delivered for the past 40 years.

It's taken a long time for them to find their conscience.

Where were Hollywood's big names when the Red Guards were murdering intellectuals and artists in the 1960s?

Darfur is a disaster. And the lying Sudanese Government is arming and supplying the Janjaweed militia, who are murdering non-Arabs in the west of the country.

China pretty much keeps Sudan as a satellite state while buying most of its oil. Like the West, to a lesser degree, has kept Saudi Arabia for the same purposes for many decades.

But Sudan's problems are rooted in overpopulation, starvation and endless drought and it is oversimplifying things to blame just its present, brutal regime.

China, with its great influence in that country, could do more.

Like we could have done more after the Indonesian invasion of East Timor, where perhaps hundreds of thousands were killed as the brave little nation was brought murderously into line by its bigger neighbour.

The intellectually lazy Archbishop of Canterbury, spiritual adviser to Australia's head of state the Queen, visited Darfur, witnessed the killings and managed not to criticise the Sudanese Government.

Perhaps Spielberg could boycott Anglican nations, refuse to show his films there and never again visit England or Australia. Wouldn't bother me.

China has a brutal streak, as any Tibetan will tell. Some Iraqis may say the same of us as we continue to insist they are ready for democracy.

And we are still fighting what became the Taliban in Afghanistan after the West armed locals to the teeth following the Soviet invasion of 1979.

Diplomacy is taking care of your strategic interests, and we do it as well as the Americans and the Chinese.

But that is not the only reason we should be wary of those who would have us boycott the Beijing Games.

China is not just the standout economy of the developing world; it has raised its people's standard of living faster than any country in living memory.

The Beijing Olympics is the new China's coming of age.

And like anyone who makes their majority, they'll have done it with regrets and mistakes. Some of them may even live with you.

Mia Farrow says China should listen to world opinion. China is one quarter of world opinion.

Freedoms will creep upon the burgeoning middle classes of the Middle Kingdom before we know it, and its 1.3 billion people need not insist on knowledge of the world -- it will arrive on their desks on computers made in their own country.

If only we could say the same.

A new post-Communist China is emerging and it looks nothing like the cruel, monolithic country built by Chairman Mao.

But while its markets have been freed, its government still seeks to control the population in ways we find distasteful.

But you can't control the thoughts of more than a billion people and if democracy appeals to them then a change is gonna come.

Myanmar biofuel effort raises doubts

By Ed Cropley

March 12, 2008 (Reuters)- PYAW GAN, Myanmar: They may look leafless and lifeless, but Kyaw Sinnt is certain that his nut trees are the key to Myanmar's chronic energy shortage.

Others are less sure, saying the junta's plan to turn the country into a biofuel plantation producing physic nuts is yet another example of the ill-conceived central planning that has crippled a once promising economy.

"Everybody can take part and it's good for the environment," Kyaw Sinnt said, standing next to a small patch of the sticklike shrubs in Pyaw Gan, a bamboo hut village typical of the parched region southwest of Mandalay.

Fortunately for Pyaw Gan's residents, the plants, also known as jatropha, are drought-resistant, and energy experts consider them a very promising source of biofuel because they do not displace food crops like sugar or corn.

In mid-2006, the State Peace and Development Council, as the junta is formally known, decreed that every farmer with 0.4 hectares, or an acre, was required to plant 200 physic nut seeds around the perimeter of the plot.

Even though farmers were required to buy the seeds from the government for 800 kyat, or 60 U.S. cents, about half a day's wages for a manual laborer, the effort has produced visible results.

Now, jatropha groves can be seen across the country, from deserted roadsides in the central plains to deforested hills near the Chinese border and in window-boxes in the heart of Yangon, the commercial capital.

A year ago, a senior Energy Ministry official was telling oil industry executives in Singapore that 2.8 million hectares of plantation would be "in full swing" by mid-2007 and that biodiesel exports would follow quickly.

Such results would represent a major turnaround for a country that imported $600 million in oil products in 2006 and slashed diesel subsidies last August, provoking the biggest anti-government protests in 19 years.

But it is not clear that the generals have kept their side of the bargain and built the refining plants necessary to turn the nuts into biodiesel. Several conglomerates with close ties to the regime have announced plans to get involved, but progress on actually producing biodiesel is not evident, either.

A government minister has even suggested that people simply grind the nuts in their own homes and then pour the resultant oily residue straight into their fuel tanks.

Some analysts have their doubts.

"How these jatropha acreages will be converted into biodiesel has not yet been determined, since Burma lacks anything like the capacity to refine physic nuts into useable fuel," said Sean Turnell of Macquarie University. "The whole episode is illustrative of a more profound and pervasive system of centralized and often irrational decision making that lies at the heart of Burmese agriculture."

There certainly does not seem to be anything remotely like a processing plant anywhere near Pyaw Gan, which is unreachable by vehicle during the wet season.

"It's a complete waste of time," said one businessman in the town of Nyaung U, who did not wish to be named for fear of recrimination. "There is no processing plant, and if there was, it would cost four times as much as normal diesel. It's all for show, just like our wonderful new irrigation channels that never have any water because they never turn the pumps on."

Doubting the junta's stated motive, ordinary Burmese have come up with their own theories. The most popular, but not necessarily the most credible, is that it is all a wordplay plan by the superstitious generals to negate the spiritual power of Aung San Suu Kyi, the detained opposition leader and Nobel Peace laureate .

In Burmese, physic nuts are roughly pronounced chay soo, which is very close to an inversion of Aung San Suu Kyi's shortened name, pronounced soo chee.

Source: International Herald Tribune

Burma's sham constitution

By Tom Fawthrop

The junta's announcement that it will put its tailor-made constitution to the vote should not deceive anyone

March 12, 2008 - Any remaining illusion that Burma's ruling junta might make any concessions to UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari (now in Rangoon), and permit some semblance of opposition participation, has been well and truly demolished by the uncompromising stand of the generals in the last few days.

The Burmese regime has firmly rejected the UN proposal for serious dialogue, and amendments to the draft constitution. Information minister Brig-Gen Kyaw Hsan, who met with Gambari on March 7, said it was "impossible to revise or rewrite" a government-drafted constitution that will be submitted to a national referendum in May. Once again, the UN envoy has been humiliated by never even getting near a senior general.

Hopes for a normalisation in Burma were triggered by the recent announcement of general election to be held in 2010. The last election was 1990.

In September 2007, there was a global outcry over the killing of Buddhist monks and other protestors, and the brutal suppression of peaceful mass demonstrations to end more than 40 years of military rule.

Western governments professed a renewed determination to use sanctions against the regime. The UN security council appointed Gambari, to promote reform and reconciliation in the wake of widespread bloodshed in the streets and temples. The UN reported 31 dead, but human rights bodies have placed death toll figures far higher.

The Buddhist monks have been stopped from marching. Many were detained last September - others shot dead by the junta's bullets. Many temples have almost been emptied of saffron-robed monks. Thousands are still in hiding, arrests continue. UN diplomacy and Asean's policy of "constructive engagement" have clearly failed to bring about any significant changes.

This new constitution is a very old saga - 14 years and six months in the making to be precise - perhaps a candidate for Guinness Book of World Records. Dating back to the 1990 general election, which was won overwhelmingly by the NLD - National League for Democracy led by Aung San Suu Kyi, their revered leader and Nobel laureate and still under house arrest.

The generals changed the rules, ignored the results and instead proceeded to organize the drafting of a new constitution, which began in 1993 and continued till 1996, when the NLD walked out in protest. Since then all delegates have been selected by the generals.

So what are the citizens of Burma being offered with this constitution? Certainly not civilian rule. The generals have arrogated to themselves the leading political role. According to the draft constitution, the commander in chief of the armed forces is entitled to fill 110 seats in the 440-seat parliament with appointees from the ranks of the armed forces. And in the event of a "state of emergency," the commander in chief will assume full legislative, executive and judicial powers.

It allows stringent restrictions on any activities deemed "inimical to national unity" which covers a whole gamut of criticism and dissent. Civilians will be permitted to enter parliament, but only if they show due deference to the men in uniform.

San Suu Kyi is excluded from running for the presidency by virtue of her marriage to British scholar Michael Aris. Not surprisingly, opponents of the regime have dismissed it as a sham.

Monks and the opposition are calling for a "no" vote. There are indications that the regime will try to coerce a "yes" vote by threats of punishment against those who either boycott the referendum, or vote no.

The Rangoon regime expects that once the referendum is passed, China, India and South-East Asian countries that provide Burma with vital economic investment and financial support, will accept this as evidence of a return to the rule of law. China has already endorsed the referendum as a "positive step".

Inside the Asean 10-nation grouping, Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia hotly oppose western sanctions, which is understandable given their interest in extracting maximum commercial profit from resource-rich Burma. Their concern is not democracy or human rights, but the return to stability inside the country.

Burma at the beginning of the 1960s was one of southeast Asia's leaders and one of the best-educated. It was far ahead of neighbouring Thailand and Singapore. Then came the 1962 military coup and the nation was plunged into four decades of darkness.

In spite of western calls for sanctions, there are still glaring loopholes. US oil giant Chevron is exempt from US sanctions on a legal technicality (the so-called grandfather clause). French oil company Total is also spared partly thanks to Bernard Kouchner's special report in their favour, prior to becoming President Sarkozy's foreign minister.

More pressure could be brought to bear on Asean countries to opt for a tougher line on their delinquent member - Burma. The UN also has to accept that diplomacy is not going to work without some kind of sanctions. U Awbata, a dissident Buddhist monk who fled from Burma after the crackdown, says the world community should support an arms embargo.
"I would like to appeal to the international community here today to work together and urge those countries selling arms to Burma to stop them from doing so," he told a recent human rights conference in Jakarta.

Nobody should be fooled by this figleaf of sham constitutionalism that the Burmese generals are doing anything more than pursuing a strategy to parry and deflect pressure from the outside world and prolong their stay in power.

After 46 years of seeing their beautiful country reduced to one of the region's poorest, its teak forests and natural resources decimated by its neighbours, its health and education systems starved of funding, and HIV/Aids reaching epidemic proportions - surely the people of Burma deserve a break?

A constitution tailored to the needs of the junta is no solution At all. A break for the Burmese and all the ethnic minorities means nothing less than a permanent break from military rule.