Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Off Topic

11-year-old marries 10-year-old cousin

March 19, 2008 - An 11-year-old boy has married his 10-year-old cousin in the ultra-conservative Muslim kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Mohammed al-Rashidi and his unidentified cousin will seal the marriage they contracted under the sharia laws of Islam and move in together after a ceremony to take place in the summer, Al-Shams newspaper reports today.

"I am ready for this marriage. It will help me study better," Mohammed, who goes to primary school in the northern province of Hail, was quoted as saying by Al-Shams.

"I invite all my classmates to do like me," the boy said, adding that he wanted to "crown a love story through marriage".

The schoolboy's father, Muraizak al-Rashidi, told the newspaper he was busy sending out invitations for a summer celebration to seal the marriage.

Dahim al-Jaber, the headmaster at Mohammed's school, said marriage at such a young age was "inappropriate" but wished the couple a happy life together.

Jeg's: we start early do we? Playing domino on the wedding night - in Middle East custom if the wedding is not consumed on the wedding night, the marriage is a failure... ooops
I consider this child abuse...


U Gambira held in solitary confinement

By Aye Nai

Mar 18, 2008 (DVB)–All-Burmese Monks Alliance leader U Gambira has been put in solitary confinement in Insein prison, where he is currently being held, according to family members.

U Gambira’s sister Ma Khin Thu Htay, who visited him on Monday in Insein prison, said the 27-year-old monk had been put into solitary confinement in a cell inside the prison's main ward on 14 March for unknown reasons.

"During my visit to him yesterday, he told me he was moved into cell (4) of the main prison's ward (1) by himself on 14 March at around 5.30pm," she said.

"He said he had no idea why they had put him in solitary confinement."

U Gambira was arrested by government authorities in Magwe division's Sintgaing township on 4 November 2007 for his role in leading public protests in September.

He was later sent to Insein prison in the former capital Rangoon where he was charged with violations under section 17/1 of the Unlawful Associations Act, section 13/1 of the Burma Immigration (Emergency Provisions) Act for illegal movement across borders, and article 5(j) of the Emergency Provisions Act.

Khin Thu Htay said it is likely that the charges under sections 13/1 and 17/1 will be dropped as Alone township court, where these charges are being heard, has not extended U Gambira’s remand.

She added that Hlaing township court, which is handling the hearing for his alleged violation of article 5(j), cancelled his court hearing on Monday.

Khin Thu Htay said that her brother and other monks in Insein prison were continuing to respect the boycott against government officials.

"U Gambira said all the monks detained in Insein prison are still chanting metta, the main activity of the monk protesters during the events of September, and still practicing their boycott of communicating with government authorities," she said.

Monks at a number of monasteries in Burma have taken part in the boycott against the government, with some refusing alms donations from regime officials or passing them on to the poor, and others opting out of government-run monk exams.

The ABMA released a statement on 18 March urging Burmese monks to boycott the government-run Pahtamabyan Dhamma Sriya exams for monks, and not to forget the junta’s brutal treatment of monks during the crackdown on public demonstrations last year.

Burmese Monks Call for Exam, Constitution Boycott

The Irrawaddy News

March 18, 2008 - Burmese Buddhist monks will take part in a broadly based boycott of state-run examinations which are scheduled to start on March 24, according to monks inside Burma.

The All Burma Monks Alliance (ABMA) released a statement on Tuesday calling on all Buddhist monks and citizens to remember the September 2007 crackdown and boycott the state-run examinations and May’s referendum on the constitution.

Many monks living in monasteries in Rangoon, Mandalay, Pakokku, Pegu Division and Arakan State have joined the symbolic protest against the military government for its bloody crackdown on the civil uprising in 2007.

Ashin Mandala, a monk in the New Masoeyein Monastery in Mandalay, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday, “No monks in new and old Masoeyein monasteries will sit for the exams because of the September crackdown.”

About 4,000 monks live in New Masoeyein Monastery and Old Masoeyein monastery, he said. Many monks form other monasteries in Mandalay including Mya Taung Monastery and Maha Withutayon Monastery will also boycott the exams.

Monks in Baw-di-Man-Dai Monastery in Pakokku in Magwe Division will not take the exam because they are still enforcing patta ni kozana kan, a refusal to accept alms from members of the armed forces and their families, a senior monk at the monastery told The Irrawaddy.

Pakokku was the location of a bloody clash between Buddhist monks and Burmese security forces, in which several monks were beaten with batons and rifle butts.

Many monks are still exercising patta ni kozana kan in protest of the bloody suppression of the peaceful demonstrations, in which at least 31 protesters died.

U Pyinya Zawta, a leader of the underground monks alliance group, said, “In support of the protesters and monks who were arrested, we urge all monks in Burma not to sit for the state exams. We also want citizens to show bravery and vote “No” in the referendum.”

Suppression of democracy activists and religious leaders will be worse if the draft constitution is approved, he said.

“They [Burmese generals] are ruling the country informally, yet they dare to brutally suppress citizens and religious leaders,” he said. “If the constitution is officially enforced, then the overall situation will be worse.”

“So long as the junta is in power, the Burmese people will never be liberated from suppression,” said U Pyinya Zawta.

On February 9, the military regime announced the referendum will be held in May and a multi-party election in 2010.

Meanwhile, a number of protesters who were arrested during the uprising, including monks, went to court on Monday in Bahan Township in Rangoon. They were charged under article 505 (B), which involves a threat to the government’s stability, said Aung Thein, a Burmese lawyer.

“If found guilty, they [monks and protesters] will face two years imprisonment,” he said.

Meanwhile, pro-democracy activists in Rangoon are facing increased pressure from the buildup of security forces last week, according to dissident sources.

On Sunday, two pro-democracy activists—Kyaw Ko Ko and Nyan Linn Aung, both members of the All Burma Federation of Students Unions—were arrested by authorities, according to a statement released on Tuesday by the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma).

Also, one leader and more than a dozen members of a dissident group known as Generation Wave were arrested recently.

Rangoon authorities raided the home of Kyaw Kyaw, a leading member, and later arrested him and eight of his colleagues at their hiding place, said a Rangoon source. Since March 6, about 18 members of the group have been arrested.

Grassroots Members Question NLD’s Stance on Referendum

The Irrawaddy News

March 18, 2008 - Several grassroots members of the National League for Democracy (NLD), elected members of parliament and the Committee Representing the People’s Parliament (CRPP) have openly rejected the constitutional referendum to be held in May, according to Aye Thar Aung, secretary of the CRPP.

However, Aye Thar Aung criticized the NLD’s ambiguous stance toward the referendum. “The NLD should tell people whether they should go to the polling stations and vote ‘No’ or boycott the process entirely,” he said, adding that the NLD was the key player in the Burmese political arena.

Rangoon-based observers said that the grassroots NLD members were raising serious concerns and there would be more pressure on the NLD leaders to identify their policy regarding the constitutional referendum.

The observers said the NLD grassroots members will continue to condemn the regime's draft constitution, rejecting the government’s Road Map and advocating a “Vote No” campaign.

An NLD member from Kyaukpadaung in Mandalay Division said that members of the NLD’s divisional levels met recently in Mandalay to discuss the referendum. However, he could not provide further details of the meeting.

A source close to the NLD told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday: “Most NLD members want the current NLD leadership to remain at the forefront of the democracy movement.

“However, the fact that the monks led the September uprising is an indication that the NLD was not playing a leading role,” he added.

NLD spokesman Nyan Win reportedly said that the party didn't think the referendum was the final fight.

“We will probably release a specific statement later about the constitutional referendum,” Nyan Win told The Irrawaddy by phone on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Burmese intellectuals continue to debate and second guess the NLD’s dilemma. A five-page pamphlet written by a leading Burmese academic is being distributed among Burma observers inside and outside the country. The pamphlet examines the NLD leadership’s role with regard to the constitutional referendum.

Last week, Ludu Sein Win, a prominent journalist and former political prisoner, addressed a recorded message to Burmese both inside and outside the country, totally rejecting the referendum. He said that neither dialogue nor the UN Security Council would help the political situation.

Thai PM Ignored the Other Side of the Coin

The Irrawaddy News

Tuesday, March 18, 2008 - Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej brought that information out of Burma last week after an official goodwill visit. Nothing about his statement is wrong, and I personally believe it’s true: The generals meditate.

But the prime minister failed to answer a key question, “What are the generals meditating on?” I believe the generals meditate on things that would horrify true Buddhists.

First, the top generals probably meditate on how to rid themselves of their sins, or karma, after ordering security troops to shoot, kill and beat Buddhist monks in the September 2007 uprising.

Second, they meditate on how to rule the country forever, how to pass on power to the next generation of the military.

Actually, Burma’s top generals have seriously been in deep meditation since 1988 on how to wash away the karma of killing 3,000 innocent people during the country’s pro-democracy uprising.

The Thai prime minister also said, “They (Burmese leaders) say the country lives in peace.”

If the prime minister and his delegation had been a little more sensitive when they signed their trade agreements (Thailand is Burma’s third largest trading partner), they would have seen the spirits and ghosts of Burmese freedom fighters who sacrificed themselves while trying to win freedom for the Burmese people.

The Thai prime minister also said, “Killings and suppressions are normal there [Burma], but we have to understand the facts. The general view of this country has always been one-sided, but there are two sides to a coin.”
Is Samak saying killings and suppression should be accepted? He totally ignored the other side of the coin, the side that shows the people’s suffering and human rights abuses.

Will the Burmese people now see the Thai government as a good friend of their enemy, the junta? How will they answer the question, “Is Thailand a good neighbor?
In terms of foreign policy, it’s a strategic mistake to place too much emphasis on friendship and cooperation between two governments at the expense of the people.

Doing the right thing in terms of friendship and cooperation between the people of both countries is more important and long lasting.

The current Thai government’s “neighborly engagement” policy needs to be directed not only at Burma’s government but also at the Burmese people.

Of course it’s understandable that Samak’s government wants to promote friendship, cooperation and strengthen economic ties with neighboring countries, including Burma.

It’s understandable that Thailand needs to do business deals with the junta, especially in the areas of natural gas and hydro energy. But there’s a wise way to do business deals while also promoting human rights.

Thai governments often act as if they have no real power when dealing with Burma. Blindly supporting the military regime only guarantees that serious issues including refugees and migrant workers will continue.

Yes, Samak should remember a coin has two sides. He should send a clear message to the Burmese people that Thailand wants to do business deals with Burma, but it is first and foremost a friend of the people.

Thailand must not be viewed by the Burmese people as a neighbor that is insensitive to the democracy movement in their country. Thailand should be an eternal friend of the people, truly a good neighbor.

The UN Considers its Options on Burma - Analysis

The Irrawaddy News

March 18, 2008 - The UN special envoy for Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, met the UN General Assembly president, Srgjan Kerim, on Monday and briefed him on his recent trip to Burma and the progress of his efforts to nudge the country towards a restoration of democracy and protection of human rights.

Gambari is also scheduled to brief the powerful 15-member UN Security Council on Tuesday. He is expected to give a frank assessment of the current situation in Burma and to outline what the international community can do, in his view, to ensure that the junta addresses the demands of the international community, including calls for the release of pro-democracy leader Suu Kyi and other political prisoners.

Gambari ended his third visit to Burma in a little over six months on March 10. During his visit, the UN envoy met Aung San Suu Kyi and several senior military officials. However, he made little visible progress towards achieving the goals set by the UN Security Council through its presidential statement in October.

Now that the approach of “dialogue and accommodation” has demonstrably failed, the United Nations appears to be set to review its Burma policy.

A UN diplomat privy to a meeting between Gambari and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in Dakar, Senegal last week told The Irrawaddy that the UN is now reevaluating its approach to Burma. “That is what the purpose (of the meeting) was,” the diplomat said.

During his meeting with the UN secretary-general, Gambari is believed to have conceded that he has been unable to get things moving in Burma.

The junta’s public snubbing of the UN envoy, which was widely reported by the official media, made it clear to Gambari that his approach of accommodating the generals in an effort to engage them in a dialogue on ways to move forward has not worked.

Despite several rounds of discussions with junta leaders and military officials in Burma and countless trips to capitals around the world over the past six months, Gambari has been unable to accomplish any of the goals set by himself, by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, or by the Security Council.

Nonetheless, following his meeting with Gambari, the UN General Assembly President Srgjan Kerim expressed confidence in the work of the special envoy. He also issued a statement calling for “serious engagement and strong commitment” from all parties to further national reconciliation.

Kerim said he was encouraged by the fact that the UN envoy was able to meet with key figures, including Suu Kyi, as well as with representatives of the Referendum Convening Commission and the Constitution Drafting Committee.

The General Assembly president also said that he hoped the Burmese regime would be open to giving the UN a monitoring role in an upcoming referendum on the new draft constitution, even though the military junta has already rejected the proposal.

Now that Gambari’s efforts have failed to yield any favorable results, UN diplomats are brainstorming what the world body’s next policy towards Burma should be.

But neither the UN nor member states that have taken a strong pro-democracy stance have a “plan B” on which they can move immediately. Given the interest of key neighboring countries and the pro-junta position of Russia and China inside the Security Council, it is unlikely that a consensus on a new UN policy towards Burma will emerge anytime soon.

Following his briefing with the Security Council, Gambari is also expected to participate in a meeting of the secretary-general’s Friends of Burma group later this week. These meetings, officials said, would set the ground for preparing a new policy on Burma.

Those closely watching these developments said that time is running out, as the referendum on the junta-drafted constitution is scheduled to take place in May, and the world body has still taken no effective measures to ensure that pro-democracy forces and ethnic groups are given a voice. They also point out that the junta must release Suu Kyi and enter into a time-bound dialogue with her.

But whether the UN can pressure the generals to make any concessions, with Russia and China possibly blocking any efforts to impose sterner measures against the regime, is the million-dollar question. Russia, which holds the presidency of Security Council for the month of March, is unlikely to allow the 15-member body to take any strong stance against the junta, as advocated by pro-democracy supporters.

Reflecting the views of millions of Burmese, however, three Security Council members—the United States, Britain and France—are now expected to push for a binding resolution against Burma. This means that the generals may soon be forced to listen to the language of confrontation—a language they understand much better than the more conciliatory noises now coming out of the United Nations.

Off the radar

By Steve Crawshaw
Comment is Free

Since the end of the September 2007 protests, the world has taken its eyes off Burma. As a result the generals are able to carry on regardless

March 18, 2008 - None of this should have been a surprise. The Burmese generals sent Ibrahim Gambari away empty-handed. The military rulers treated Gambari, special envoy to Burma and under secretary general of the UN, with unconcealed contempt.

Gambari - who is due to report back to the security council in the next few days - was not allowed to meet General Than Shwe or other senior leaders when he visited Burma this month. He met with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, in a (presumably bugged) government guest house. But the regime refused to make any of the concessions that Gambari asked for, including international observers and technical support for the May referendum on the generals' draft constitution aimed at cementing their hold on power. Instead, they described the ultra-cautious Gambari as "biased".

The question now is: will the world finally wake up to the dangerous games which the Burmese generals like to play? Right now, there is depressingly little sign of that.

For a few brief moments, while gunfire echoed around Rangoon last September, world leaders sat up and took notice - just as the lethal violence in Lhasa in recent days has forced politicians partly to acknowledge the human rights nightmare of Tibet for the first time in many years. In response to the Burmese crackdown, there was outspoken criticism of a government which was (again) murdering its citizens on its streets. Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, declared his abhorrence, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations expressed "revulsion", and even the UN security council, after much grinding of diplomatic teeth, agreed to "strongly deplore" the killing.

Once the immediate violence was off the television screens, however, things went back to business as usual. Than Shwe and his fellow generals made a few symbolic concessions - including perfunctory meetings with Aung San Suu Kyi and allowing Gambari into the country. Key governments, such as China and India, began to insist that things were now on the right track, and that further pressure would be inappropriate. Little has happened since, as Burma quickly faded from the international agenda.

Burma is a country which yearns for things to be different. In the past 30 years, I have lived and worked in many countries where the secret police hold sway. Never, however, have I seen the combined fear and astonishing defiance that one encounters in Burma. The mass protests led by monks last year gave voice to that defiance. The courage of ordinary Burmese people deserves support and pressure on the regime - including, for example, targeted measures such as banking sanctions and travel bans on the leadership.

Now Burma's ruling generals are hoping to divert attention by laying out an alleged roadmap to democracy, including the announcement of a referendum on a draft constitution in May followed by elections in 2010. But what meaning can a referendum have when public debate is prohibited and a casual word of criticism can land you a long prison sentence?

How can the will of the people be known when much of the political opposition, including Aung San Suu Kyi, the charismatic, Nobel prize-winning leader of the National League for Democracy, is in prison or under house arrest? How can a vote be held on a constitution for all of Burma's people when members of many ethnic groups are excluded from the process? How can a vote take place without an electoral roll, a census, or an independent election commission?

The generals also want to make people forget how little regard they have for human life. Burma remains among the worst violators of the international prohibition against child soldiers. In the border areas where armed conflict with ethnic groups continues, the army commits widespread summary executions and rapes and uses forced labour.

Outside armed conflict areas, the situation also remains bleak. An unknown number remain in detention following the brutal suppression of last year's pro-democracy protests. Torture is widespread. Last month two more journalists were arrested and held without charge for collecting information about the international response to last year's crackdown. The sad irony is that the international response of late has been: not much.

The Beijing Olympics begin on August 8 2008, 20 years to the day after mass demonstrations in Burma led to the slaughter of thousands. China has enormous commercial and political clout in Burma, but is determined not to use that influence to benefit the Burmese people. China helped Gambari gain a visa to get back into Burma, but, as we saw again in recent days, that tiny step changes little or nothing on the ground.

China seems determined to allow the generals a free pass, even though the underlying instability caused by the continuing repression does China little good. Anti-Chinese sentiment inside Burma is running high, partly because of a perception that China is turning a blind eye to the generals' crimes.

South Africa, a current security council member, lards its speeches on Burma with implausible words like "optimistic", "progress", "encouraging" and "significant impact." Meanwhile, the 14-government "group of friends", which Ban Ki-moon set up, has met just twice to "review developments" to little obvious effect.

The way forward is not a sham referendum, but a substantive dialogue with the political opposition and ethnic groups, the release of an estimated 1,800 political prisoners, a free press, and room for ordinary people to meet and talk freely. The population needs an end to fear and violence.

Burma stands at a turning point: 2008 could be the year of change for the better. But that will not happen unless powerful players - at the security council and in the region - make clear that the time for waiting is over. After decades of repressive rule, the Burmese people deserve no less.

SA decision on Burma questioned - 15 Jan'07

Mail and Guardian SA
Cape Town, South Africa

15 January 2007

South Africa's decision to join China and Russia in voting against a United Nations Security Council resolution -- calling on the military junta in Burma to stop human rights abuses, including ethnic killings, rapes and forced labour -- has been questioned by the Democratic Alliance (DA).

The motion -- put to the council on the weekend -- was proposed by the United States.

DA chief whip and foreign affairs spokesperson Douglas Gibson said in a statement on Monday: "South Africa's first significant vote since taking up its non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council raises a question -- will South Africa ever meet a dictator it does not like?"

Gibson suggested that the decision appeared to be a continuation of South Africa's "quiet diplomacy" approach to dictatorships and their human rights abuses.

Gibson noted that South Africa's UN envoy, Dumisani Kumalo, was at pains to point out that South Africa was indeed concerned about the situation in Burma, but did not feel that a strongly worded resolution was the appropriate way of engaging with the government in that country.

Gibson said while he may have a point in this case, this "softly-softly" approach brings back uncomfortable memories of previous situations where South Africa should have taken a tough stance against dictatorship, electoral fraud and human rights abuses, but chose instead to adopt a mild line.

"In the case of Zimbabwe, South Africa's 'quiet diplomacy' has been an outright failure, and one wonders when South Africa will realise that Africa and the world is looking to it to lead the way when it comes to taking tough measures against misgovernance on our own back doorstep."

South Africa's Security Council vote on Burma "can only leave those who are campaigning for human rights and good governance with an uncomfortable feeling of déjà vu. Several human rights organisations have expressed alarm and surprise at the way South Africa voted."

"Our delegation at the UN must be careful not to send the wrong message to the world about where we stand on issues of misgovernance and human rights abuses," charged Gibson.

Prior to the vote, Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu warned that he would be deeply disappointed if South Africa voted against a non-punitive resolution. He told Business Day that the history of the struggle meant South Africa should side with people "who are victims of one of the most repressive regimes".

Tutu and former Czech president Vaclav Havel commissioned a report two years ago that recommended a UN resolution criticising Burma's military government. -- I-Net Bridge