Friday, 21 March 2008

Junta approves FM station for Mandalay

By Solomon & Than Htike Oo
Mizzima News
March 20, 2008

Burma's ruling junta has granted a rare permission to operate a Mandalay-based radio program to Forever Group, a business consortium thought to be closely aligned with Burma's generals.

Forever Group, one of Burma's few multi-media companies and widely believed to have close connections with the junta's Information Minister Brigadier General Kyaw Hsan, will commence production on April 3, a staff from the company said.

The source added that Forever Group will head the business interest, which is a joint venture between the company and the Mandalay City Development Committee (MCDC).

In Burma, with the junta keeping tight control over media operations, only a few companies, who maintain close relations with the ruling generals, enjoy the opportunity to operate.

Forever Group, which launched the television channel MRTV – 4 in 2005 in collaboration with Myanmar TV, is widely rumored to be owned by the son of the junta's Information Minister.

However the company source denied the rumor, saying, "Most of the company shares are owned by a private businessman named Win Maw."

Meanwhile, a Rangoon-based journalist said that Dr. Tin Tun Oo is also one of several other businessmen holding shares of Forever Group.

Dr. Tin Tun Oo additionally holds a stake in one of Burma's leading English weeklies, The Myanmar Times, which is run by Australian businessman Ross Dunkley, who in turn obtained his publishing license through former partner Sonny Swe.

Sonny Swe was stripped of his license when he was arrested in 2004 along with his father, then Burmese Prime Minister and Intelligence Chief Khin Nyunt.

While it is unclear what, if any, involvement Kyaw Hsan's son has with Forever Group, Rangoon-based journalists say it is likely that the Burmese Information Minister's son maintains a stake in the group.

"Forever and Kyaw Hsan maintain a very cozy relationship, so it is possible that the Minister might have a stake in the company," a Rangoon-based journalist, who wished to remain anonymous, told Mizzima.

Mandalay City FM, which follows Yangon City FM as the country's second FM station, will begin airing a daily program on April 17 on the frequency 91.9MHz.

Forever Group, established in 1995, is involved in a number of government multi-media projects, including the building and maintaining of the MRTV-3 website.

Additionally, Forever Group offers computer training courses in both Rangoon and Mandalay.

The company source said the new FM station will mainly broadcast entertainment and music programs, with a range extending at least 50 miles beyond Mandalay city.

Veteran Burmese writer banned from writing again

By Nem Davies
Mizzima News

March 20, 2008 - New Delhi – The infamous Burmese censors are at work again and have banned veteran Burmese writer Ludu Sein Win from publishing his works. The writer who has faced several bans in the past has once again been targeted.

Ludu Sein Win, who has been critical of the Burmese military junta, was banned from publishing his articles in two of Rangoon's Weeklies – 'Akhwint Alan Journal' and 'Weekly Eleven Journal' – sources in the Burmese literary community said.

The authorities might have targeted him for his recently circulated audio file in which he spoke critically of the ruling junta, the sources said.

"That is the most likely reason for banning his works. His articles were not included in both the journals. But Saya [Ludu Sein Win] did not say anything about it," an editor of a local journal told Mizzima.

In early March, Ludu Sein Win, in his letter to revolutionary comrades, said there are no dictators who abandon power by themselves and urged the people to uproot the legacy of military rule in Burma.

While the Burmese censorship board has not sent a notice to Ludu Sein Win banning his articles, Ludu Sein Win said that he is unshaken by the junta's acts, sources in the literary community said.

Many literary figures in Burma express their gratitude and respect for Ludu Sein Win, who is known for his outstanding works as well as commitment to adhere to the truth.

"Saya always stands for truth. We in the literary circle praise him and admire him for his work and his stance. We support his stand because he is always so upright," a Burmese writer, who wished not to be named, told Mizzima.

In a similar instance, Ludu Sein Win was banned from publishing his writings for a month for contributing an article, titled 'The Burmese People Can't Wait Much Longer', to the International Herald Tribune, in May 2006.

Is West Toning down Criticism of China over Tibet? - Opinion

The Irrawaddy News -

March 20, 2008 - When it comes to speaking out on Tibet, China has just got too much economic clout for western powers to talk too loudly.

In contrast to western condemnation of a crackdown on demonstrations in Burma last year, western criticism of China's handling of protests in Tibet have been much more muted, analysts say.

"There's a tendency in Washington to make a China exception'," said John Tkacik, China expert at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative US think tank.

"Things we would whack Burma, Sudan or Uzbekistan for, we want to ignore when China does them," he said.

The US and other western nations called for restraint after a crackdown on anti-government protests in Tibet in which Chinese authorities said 13 had been killed, while exiled Tibetans put the death toll at around 100.

But expressions of concern have stopped there.

"There's a general unwillingness of governments to speak out on human rights violations involving China," said Corinna-Barbara Francis, a China researcher at human rights group Amnesty International in London.

"A lot has to do with this perception that has emerged of an all-powerful, influential presence of China which I think is exaggerated and goes beyond its economic clout," she said.

With economic growth of 10 percent or more a year since 2003, China now has the world's fourth biggest economy and may be on track to overtake the US as the world's largest economy within a couple of decades.

It has been doing deals around the world to secure supplies of oil and metals—notably when state-owned Aluminum Corp of China teamed up with US aluminum producer Alcoa in February to buy a US $14 billion stake in mining giant Rio Tinto.

Analysts argue that Tibet, which Chinese troops marched into in 1950, has never enjoyed much international support even when it launched a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959, prompting the flight of its spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

Then, long before China's economic boom, the West saw Beijing as a potential Cold War ally against the Soviet Union.

And although Tibet's ancient Buddhist culture won sympathy from many individual westerners, its remoteness and poverty gave it no international clout.

But a traditional western "hands off" approach to Tibet has been underscored this time around by the increasing economic interdependence between the US and China.


The anti-government protests in Tibet come at a particularly delicate time, as Washington battles a credit crunch and a falling dollar, and looks to China to bail it out.

China has about $1.5 trillion of foreign exchange reserves, a large proportion of which are in dollar-denominated bonds. If China stopped buying, the dollar would likely fall sharply.

China's new investment fund pumped $5 billion into Morgan Stanley in December after the US investment bank posted $9.4 billion of losses in sub-prime mortgages and other assets.

The economic interdependence is not however only one-way. China relies on US and western markets to buy its exports which underpin its healthy trade surplus. The US trade gap with China soared to a record $256 billion in 2007.

This has prompted some to argue that the US and others could take a tougher stand with China.

Gerrit van der Wees, from the Formosan Association for Public Affairs in Washington, which lobbies for Taiwan's separate identity in international affairs, said the US felt it had to be more accommodating to China.

"But, in our view, that doesn't mean giving in to what China says and does, which is what the US has been doing a little bit too much over the past year," he added.

China's economic lure, however, seems to be strong, not just for the US but the European Union.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said on a visit to China in January that Britain was open to Chinese trade and investment and pitched for China's new $200 billion sovereign wealth fund to open an office in London.

French firms sealed $30 billion of deals during President Nicolas Sarkozy's visit to China last November.

Referendum Sub-commissions Formed by Local Authorities

The Irrawaddy News

March 20, 2008 - Burma’s military government has organized township sub-commissions to prepare for the referendum on the constitution in May, staffed mainly with officials from the townships’ ruling councils and regime supporters, USDA sources say.

The junta did not include executive members of its mass organization, the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), on the local sub-commissions.

USDA sources told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that local authorities formed sub-commissions recently made up of the head of each Township Peace and Development Council and Village Peace and Development Council. Officials of township administrations will serve as secretaries of sub-commissions across the country.

Sources said USDA executive members from townships were told by authorities they would not be named to the sub-commissions, but regular USDA members would be appointed instead.

Officials from immigration offices and other government services would also be included on the sub-commissions, a source close to the USDA said.

Authorities have still not released any detailed information about the May referendum voting process to sub-commission members, said the source.

The regime’s main referendum commission is chaired by Aung Toe, the chief of justice and head of the constitution drafting committee.

According to a news report in the state-run Myanma Alin on Thursday, a central secretary of the USDA, Brig-Gen Kyaw Hsan, who is also the information minister, met with members of the USDA from Mingalar Thaung Nyunt Township in Rangoon.

The election commission and sub-commissions appointed during the 1990 nationwide election included local residents and ordinary citizens. Local observers say the current sub-commissions do not represent a cross-section of the public.

Meanwhile, the United Nations Special Envoy to Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, briefed the UN Security Council on March 18 on his latest trip to Burma. He expressed disappointment in the outcome but vowed to keep the crisis on the Security Council’s agenda.

“Whereas each of my previous visits produced some results that could be built upon, it is a source of disappointment that this latest visit did not yield any immediate tangible outcome,” Gambari told the 15-member council.

The UN’s proposals for Burma included an inclusive national reconciliation process with UN involvement; genuine dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi; and measures to address political, human rights, economic and humanitarian issues. The ruling junta snubbed the UN proposals during Gambari’s visit.

The US Ambassador to the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad, told reporters, “We are disappointed by the lack of any concrete achievement.” Gambari’s visited to the Southeast Asian country from March 6 to 10.

Referendum: “No” Vote Gaining Momentum

The Irrawaddy News

March 20, 2008 - A vote “No” movement is gaining momentum throughout Burma as the May referendum date—still yet to be announced—draws near.

Various activists and citizens in Rangoon, Mandalay and Kachin and Arakan states are urging the public to take a stand against the military-crafted draft constitution, which has still not been made public.

The military regime announced on February 9 it would hold a national referendum on the draft constitution in May and a multi-party election in 2010.

Public reaction to the referendum has been colored by the 2007 uprising, in which the UN said at least 31 protesters including monks were killed by security forces.

Nyi Nyi, a businessman in Sittwe in Arakan State, said, “There is no reason to support the junta. I will not vote “Yes” in the referendum because there is no justice.”

A resident in Mandalay, the second largest city, predicted that almost all Mandalay citizens would vote “No” in the referendum.

“It’s not because they don’t understand the constitution,” he said, “but because they dislike the military regime.”

Even government staffers are saying they will vote ‘No,’” he said.

An elderly housewife in Sittwe was coy when asked by The Irrawaddy how she would vote. “I’ve decided to vote, but it is early to tell,” she said. “Let’s see when we vote. You will realize what I mean.”

In Myitkyina, many residents told The Irrawaddy that they would vote “No,” while others said they would boycott the referendum.

Ma Brang said, “I will vote ‘No.’ Many people—almost all—in Myitkyina think like me.”

Another Myitkyina resident said, “I will not vote in the referendum. If authorities try to talk to me, I’m ready to complain to them.”

He said the constitution process was a “fake” and it failed to guarantee the rights of ethnic groups in Burma. The constitution will only guarantee that the junta is able to hold on to power, he said.

A Rangoon resident told The Irrawaddy that most of his friends are prepared to vote “No” while others they will boycott the referendum.

“For me, I will not support the referendum for sure. I’m deciding whether to vote “No” or not to vote.”

Meanwhile, Burmese activists in Rangoon have launched new anti-government campaigns against the national referendum, urging people to boycott the referendum.

Activists have also distributed VCDs filled with jokes aimed at the junta’s referendum by the well-known a-nyeint comedy troupe, Thee Lay Thee & Say Young Sone.

Meanwhile, the Burmese regime has launched its own publicity campaigns in support of a “Yes” vote on the referendum.

In early March, local authorities in Rangoon, including the Township Peace and Development Council and the Ward Peace and Development Council, were ordered to lobby residents to vote “Yes” by the chairman of the Rangoon division of the Peace and Development Council, Brig-Gen Hla Htay Win, and Home Minister Maung Oo, according to sources in the former capital.

Local authorities in Rangoon and other regions, especially in ethnic states, have also offered temporary citizen identification cards to adults while urging them to vote “Yes,” sources said.

Some residents who have openly spoken out against the referendum have been threatened by authorities, sources told The Irrawaddy.

The regime recently enacted a new law that calls for up to three years imprisonment and a 100,000 kyat (US $91) fine for anyone convicted of making anti-government statements or distributing posters opposing the referendum. The law also bans monks and nuns from voting.

Despite the restrictions, a Burmese migrant worker in Singapore, who asked for anonymity, said, “I will vote in the referendum because if I don’t vote, I will loose my vote. But I will vote “No.”

Meanwhile, the All Burma Monks Alliance released a statement this week calling on all citizens and Buddhist monks to remember the September 2007 crackdown and to boycott the May referendum and the state-run religious examinations to be held this month.