Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Prisoners offered sentence reductions to vote Yes

Apr 2, 2008 (DVB)–Prison authorities in Insein prison are reportedly trying to convince inmates to support the national referendum in May in exchange for an early release.

According to a family member who visited an inmate yesterday, prison authorities have told prisoners their sentences could be reduced if they will vote in favour of the new constitution after their release.

“They’re collecting the prisoners’ ID card numbers and telling them they will reduce their prison sentences if they support the national referendum after their release,” the family member said.

Under the referendum law introduced in February, people serving prison terms for any offence are ineligible to vote while they are detained.

Reporting by Naw Say Phaw

Senior Abbots Request Security During Monk Exams

2 April 2008, Sittwe: Senior abbots in Sittwe, most of whom support the military government, requested a security deployment from the authority be sent to Sittwe during the monks' examination to be held on 2 April, said a monk who refused to be named.

The request was made on Friday by senior abbots during a meeting regarding the monks' exam between Sittwe Township chairman and the abbots, after rumors of demonstrations began spreading in Sittwe.

The monk said, "There is a rumor in Sittwe that monks will stage a demonstration during the exam, so the senior abbots requested the authority deploy additional security forces in Sittwe."

The security in Sittwe is likely to be tightened again by the authority upon the abbots' request, in light of the Saffron Revolution protests that happened last fall.

The monk, who was in attendance at the meeting, said, "It will be impossible for demonstrations to emerge in Sittwe during the period of the monks' exam, because the authority is preparing to deploy additional security forces in many key places in Sittwe."

In addition to the spreading rumors that a demonstration will be staged by monks in Sittwe, the number of monks registering for the exams has also decreased from last years numbers.

The monk said, "I think 20 or 30 percent of monks will be enrolling in this year's exam, and many monks have neglected to participate in the exam this year."

According to a source close to monks, about 1,000 Arakanese monks will participate in this year's exam in Sittwe, whereas last year saw nearly 3,000 monks participating.

The examinee rate has been reduced this year for two reasons. The first is that many of the monks who were pushed back to their respective villages by authorities after the monk-led Saffron Revolution do not want to return to Sittwe during this crucial period for fear of arrest. The second reason is that many monks want to boycott the government-backed exam after the military government killed many monks and civilians, and arrested many more, during and after last year's protests.

Narinjara News

Monastery, Home Raided in Sittwe

2 April 2008, Sittwe: Burmese police raided one monastery and the home of a politician in Sittwe, the capital of Arakan State, on 28 and 29 March, for political reasons, said one politician who refused to be named.

He said, "The first raid took place at U Kway Balu's home, also known as U San Shwe Oo, on 28 March, and is related to the referendum. Some local people near his home spoke out against the government supporters mobilizing people for the upcoming referendum on the draft constitution."

U Kway Balu is a well-known senior politician and his residence is located in Wra Gri Mrauk in Sittwe. During the raid, U Kway Baly was not home and the police force did not seize any anti-referendum documents from his house.

"It is a consequence of people against the referendum. U Kway Balu is not related to those people who went against the pro-government activists during the referendum organizing. But the police team raided his house because the authorities thought he was behind those people's actions."

On 28 March, members of the Myanmar Women's Organization mobilized local people in the area to meet at a Dhama hall at Haintha monastery to support the referendum. Some local elders asked the pro-referendum organizers how they were supposed to support the referendum without knowledge of the draft constitution, and the told the women that if they wanted their support, they should first give them the draft constitution.

The women organizers complained of the incident to the high authority, and the police team subsequently raided U Kway Balu's house.

On 29 March, a monastery in Sittwe was also raided by a police team led by Inspector San Shwe Maung, but no arrests were made.

A witness said the police team raided a monastery in town known as "two lions" monastery, in Lamadaw Taung ward, in the early hours of the morning. The raid was reportedly conducted by a police team looking for a monk who led the September Saffron Revolution.

Authorities in Arakan State are now preparing to crack down on anti-referendum activists and many politicians and monks in Sittwe are being closely watched by intelligence and police forces currently.

Narinjara News

Dhaka - Naypyidaw Border Talks End Without Decision

April 2, 2008, Dhaka: The two-day talks by the technical committees on the redrawing of the maritime boundary between Bangladesh and Myanmar were finished in Dhaka on Tuesday without any major decision being reached, according to a report.

The two sides have agreed to carry out a joint survey of the sea boundary, and to meet in Rangoon sometime in June to reach a final decision.

MAK Mahmood, additional foreign secretary and chief of the Bangladesh delegation said, "We would meet again in Myanmar to resolve all issues."

"The process is to be continued and the dialogue between the two neighbors will go on. The agreement has not yet reached a consensus on all issues," said a Bangladesh official.

Bangladesh and Burma resumed the boundary talks after a break of 22 years. The two countries met on maritime borders to finalize their rights to the sea in the continental shelf under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Burma needs to delineate sea borders by 2009, per the UNCLOS, while Bangladesh will have to draw its borders by 2011.

The sea delimitation is important for both Bangladesh and Burma, as both countries have been planning to conduct oil and gas exploration in the Bay of Bengal.

The ten-member Burmese team, led by Commodore Maung Oo Lwin, met with Bangladesh Foreign Affairs Secretary Md Touhid Hossain in his offices yesterday, and the Burmese team is expected to leave Dhaka to return home today.

Anti-Referendum Flyers Spread in Southern Arakan

April 2, 2008. Taungup: Anti-referendum flyers have been spreading in some townships in southern Arakan but no one knows who is responsible for the distribution in the area.

A local resident told Narinjara yesterday over the phone that the authority always blames the opposition politicians when such incidents take place in the area, but this time he heard the plan was being conducted by ordinary people. In the township, the sentiment of people against the military government is high due to the hardship of daily life, so the people are creating the anti-referendum flyers and distributing them in the area.

The anti-referendum flyers were distributed secretly by unknown individuals in Taungup three days ago, as well as on the motor road between Taungup and Thandwe; both townships are located in southern Arakan.

In the flyers, the anonymous protestors urged the public not to cast "yes" votes in the referendum because the constitution is not to the advantage of the Burmese people, and will only allow the Burmese army to rule the country continually. People are urged to be united against the upcoming referendum.

Another source from Taungup said that the dissatisfaction of the Arakanes people with the military government has been increasing by the day because people are facing more and more hardships in surviving. They added that at any time the discontent may explode and the peoples' revolution could emerge again in Burma.

Narinjara News

Rights violation still rampant in Burma: Amnesty International

Nem Davies
Mizzima News
April 1, 2008

New Delhi – Amnesty International is of the opinion that Burma's military junta continues to commit deliberate and systematic human rights violations despite international condemnation.

Mr. Mukul Sharma, India based AI Director said human rights violations by the Burmese regime continues to be visible and evidence indicates that the junta is engaging in various ways to commit violations.

"What we are seeing is that human rights violation in Burma continues in different ways despite so much criticism and international pressure. And the kind of security that restricts the Burmese population to preserve its human rights, we would like to see in one prison, it is not there in place," Sharma said.

In a statement issued on Monday, the AI said the Burmese junta has tried and sentenced at least 40 protesters including seven monks during the six months after the September saffron revolution.

Sharma said, the junta after brutally crushing peaceful demonstrations in September, arrested several protesters and tried them under various sections of assorted acts in prison.

"It is a violation of each and every right, not only the violation of freedom of expression. It also violates the right to live with dignity, it is violation of the right to live in peace, and in a secure atmosphere," he added.

Meanwhile, Bo Kyi, Joint Secretary of the Thailand based Association of Assistance to Political Prisoners-Burma (AAPPB) said at least 600 people were arrested in connection with the September revolution and are continuing to face trial without access to legal recourse.

"About 600 protesters are being tried in courts and some are still under detention without trial. These persons have been charged with various cases under various sections to get remand and judicial custody," Bo Kyi said.

"These prisoners do not have access to protection of the law at all. Besides, the authorities manipulate the laws to charge these prisoners. These are the shocking grievances of the people," he added.

The AI, in its statement, urged the Burmese government to allow the UN Human Right special envoy, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, to visit the country for further investigation in accordance with the Human Rights Council resolution.

Bo Myint, an activist, who fled Burma to Thailand after being detained for six days by the authorities for participating in the September protests, said, he faced severe torture in the hands of Burmese Army.

"I was kicked in my face and beaten on my head with police batons. And also they beat me on my back," Bo Myint said.

"This is sheer violation of human rights. I still feel extremely sad when I recollect how I was treated in their hands. We are not criminals who committed a theft or are dacoits," he added.

USDA a stooge of Burmese junta: Opposition researchers

Mizzima News
April 2, 2008

In order to maintain its illegitimate stranglehold on the country, the Burmese military junta has created Burma's only civil society group the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) to use it to shore up its reign, an opposition group said.

The Thailand based Network for Democracy and Development in a report released on Monday said, the junta effectively uses the USDA to suppress opposition activities. It called the civil organization a stooge of the junta.

Htay Aung from Research and Documentation department of NDD said, "The organization is at the forefront in attacking and defaming pro-democracy and opposition activists who are struggling against the evil military dictatorship."

"The USDA even resorts to violence against opposition groups in many cases and support the junta in perpetuating its power," Htay Aung said.

The report, titled 'USDA or Pillar of Military Dictatorship', documented details of how USDA members brutally attacked Burmese pro-democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's motorcade on May 30, 2003 at Depeyin in central Burma, and the monk led protest in Pakokku in August 2007 and saffron revolution in September 2007.

The 100-page report includes five chapters which details the USDA's involvement in various fields including education, economics and government departments. The report says USDA members are used to organize sham mass rallies, mass meetings against opposition groups, and in support of the junta's plans.

The NDD said the report was compiled on the information based on interviews with 20 USDA members and first had accounts of former USDA members, who fled to the Thai-Burmese border.

"We present in this report how the USDA is preparing for the ensuing constitutional referendum and gearing up for holding the general elections in 2010," Htay Aung said.

The Burmese military regime inaugurated the national convention for the first time on January 9, 1993. The USDA was formed within two weeks of the inauguration of national convention and was registered as a social organization, not a political one.

The NDD further said that facts reveal that in the past 15 years the USDA has been used as a tool by the junta for the perpetuation of its power despite the claim of being just a national organization.

Constitutional Power in the Hands of Commander in Chief

The Irrawaddy

April 1, 2008 - Is something always better than nothing? If that’s the case, the Burmese people might be better off soon. The draft constitution for the military-ruled country that has had no constitution for 20 years surfaced last week.

The draft surfaced unofficially, and still has yet to be made public. The exact date and details of the May referendum haven’t yet been announced either.

Though the draft constitution stipulates that the president is the head of state, the first analyses of the draft constitution show that the real power to run the country is given to the military commander in chief, instead of vesting it in the people under the basic tenets of a democratic system.

The commander in chief, according to the draft constitution, is given the power to appoint 25 percent of the seats in both the upper and lower houses of parliament with handpicked military officials.

To be specific, 110 members of the 440-seat lower house, called People’s Parliament, and 56 members of the 224-seat upper house, called National Parliament, will be filled by military officials chosen by the commander in chief.

In essence, that means the appointed members are above the law. Their loyalty is to the commander in chief. With that clause alone, the constitution is undemocratic, but that’s not all.

Three vice president positions would be filled by a presidential electoral college comprised of members selected by the People’s Parliament, the National Parliament and the group of military officials in both houses of parliament who were appointed by the commander in chief. The electoral college would then elect a president from among the three vice presidents.

Thus, at least one military appointee will definitely become a vice president. That vice president could even be elected president because a clause in Chapter 3 of the draft constitution requires the president to be acquainted with not only political, administrative, economic but also military affairs of state.

The draft constitution says the commander in chief will also occupy a position on the same level as that of the two vice presidents.

The draft constitution clearly differs from Burma’s previous constitutions, in 1947 and 1974, when it states in Chapter 1, titled “State Fundamental Principles,” that the state is constituted to enable the armed forces to “participate in the national political leadership role of the State.” The draft constitution also has a chapter titled “Tatmadaw” (armed forces) which is new in Burma’s constitutional history.

In that chapter, it’s stated that parliament has no right to oversee military affairs, including defense spending.

Under the draft constitution, “The Tatmadaw has the right to independently administer all affairs concerning the armed forces.” The commander in chief is also given full control over military justice.

In Chapter 12, “Amendment of the Constitution,” it’s stated that a proposed amendment must be sponsored by at least 20 percent of parliament members, to be followed by a parliamentary vote that would require more than 75 percent support before the proposed amendment could be put to a national referendum.

More than 50 percent of voters would then have to approve the amendment before it could become law.

With 25 percent of the seats of parliament going to the military, it would be impossible to pass an amendment that was not supported by the commander in chief.

Moreover, in the chapter on the powers of the tatmadaw, it stated that the armed forces bear responsibility for “safeguarding the State Constitution.” That principle could be invoked at any time to prevent amendments that the military sees as inimical to its interests.

And in the event of a “state of emergency,” which the military is given the authority to declare at any time, the commander in chief would assume full legislative, executive and judicial powers.

Clearly, the draft constitution gives the commander in chief and the armed forces the dominate role and the real power.

The May referendum will determine if the Burmese people believe something is better than nothing. They have suffered under decades of military rule without a constitution.

If the draft constitution is approved in May—as flawed as it is— how might the lives of the Burmese people be improved?

Burma gas deal

April 2, 2008 - PETROLEUM :PTT Exploration and Production Plc said yesterday that it expected to sign a deal with CNOOC Ltd of China later this month to swap stakes of gas fields in Burma.

"We should sign a contract with CNOOC within this month," said CEO Anon Sirisaengtaksin.

PTTEP said in February that it would swap its 20%stake in Burma's offshore Block M3 and M4 for the A4 and C1 blocks held by CNOOC. PTTEP also owns 100% of the offshore Block M9, which is still under exploration in the Gulf of Martaban.

The company said in August last year that it planned to spend $1 billion on Block M9 and was looking for financial and technical partners to help share the costs of developing it.

PTTEP shares closed yesterday at 153 baht, up two baht, in trade worth 430.08 million baht.

REUTERS-Bangkok Post

Burma: Protesters Jailed After Secret Trials

Press Release: Terry Evans
April 2, 2008

Last September Buddhist monks spearheaded the biggest anti-Government protests in Burma in nearly 20 years. Officially, more than 3000 people were arrested during the crackdown by the military junta, which violently suppressed the demonstrations by firing on protesters.

Yesterday Amnesty International said in a statement yesterday that at least 700 were still behind bars, and at least 40 of them have been jailed after secret trials.The human rights group said its research found protesters had been convicted for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression and assembly. "Three people were sentenced merely for giving water to monks on the street," Amnesty's statement said.

The organisation urged the United Nations Security Council to pass a resolution reflecting the world's concerns over the country, after a visit by the UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari last month yielded no progress on human rights.

Leaked Burma constitution grants continued army power

April 2, 2008 - Leaked copies of Burma's proposed new constitution show the military will maintain sweeping powers.

The leaked copies are in the form of green paperbacks and are secretly circulating in the main city of Rangoon.

The ruling junta plans to bring the constitution to a referendum in May, in anticipation of elections slated for 2010.

The public has had no chance to review the final draft, and a handful of leaked copies of the 194-page document are the only versions so far available.

A copy obtained by the AFP newsagency shows that while the constitution will set up a civilian government, and grant civil rights to the people, it is peppered with caveats that allow the military to easily re-assert direct control.

The document shows detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi is clearly barred from the presidency, and she will be unlikely to qualify even for a parliamentary seat.

Existing security laws used to jail political dissidents and suppress dissent will remain in effect.

One quarter of the seats in parliament are reserved for the armed forces, and the president is required to be well acquainted with military affairs.

Source: ABC Radio Australia

Armed group steals monk's corpse

April 2, 2008 (AFP)- AN armed group raided a Buddhist shrine in eastern Burma and stole the corpse of a revered monk whose body had been displayed as a holy relic in a glass coffin, an official said today.

The Buddhist monk Sayadaw Wi Na Ya, who died four years ago, was worshipped like a saint because he was believed to have attained the highest state of enlightenment.

After his death, his body was placed on display at his residence at Thamanya Hill in eastern Karen state.

Buddhists from across Burma and neighbouring Thailand came to pray at his coffin.

But an unidentified armed group stole his corpse late yesterday, without leaving any demands or explanation.

A local official said by telephone that an ethnic rebel group may have taken the body.

"We are still investigating the case. We heard members of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Association took it. But they have no right to do so," he said.

The DKBA is allied with the country's ruling junta, and sometimes battles other ethnic Karen rebels as a proxy force for the regime.

"No one knows where they are taking it to and what for," said one resident in the nearby town of Hpaan.

More than 80 per cent of the people in Burma are Buddhist, and many believe that holy men like the monk provide protection to their followers even after death.

The military regime last September waged a deadly crackdown on Buddhist monks in Rangoon, where they led the biggest pro-democracy protests seen in nearly 20 years.

At least 31 people were killed, according to the United Nations, and the violence shocked many of the Buddhist faithful in Burma, who believe monks are untouchable.