Saturday, 5 April 2008

NLD issues referendum guidelines

Reporting by Htet Aung Kyaw and Aye Nai
Democratic Voice of Burma

Apr 4, 2008 (DVB)–The National League for Democracy has issued guidelines on the upcoming national referendum, and laid out its reasons for urging people to vote against the constitution.

NLD special information unit member U Thein Nyunt said the party had called on people to vote against the constitution because it was not written in accordance with democratic principles, but instead reflected the military regime’s own priorities.

The NLD guidelines advise people on the practicalities of voting in the referendum, including registering to vote and information on the polling stations.

The party also summarizes some of the key points it opposes in the draft constitution, such as the requirement for the president and vice president to have military knowledge and the allotting of 25 percent of parliamentary seats to the military.

The constitution also reportedly calls for civilian representatives to give up their seat in parliament if they take up a ministerial post, a requirement that does not apply to military representatives.

In addition, all armed forces are required to be under the control of the military chief, who is authorised to take power in a state of emergency under the draft, the NLD said.

Noting the campaigns run by the government and Union Solidarity and Development Association to encourage people to vote Yes in the referendum, Thein Nyunt said NLD should also have the right to mount their own campaign.

The NLD released a statement on 2 April calling on people to vote No in the national referendum in May.

A number of other pro-democracy groups have also urged people to vote against the constitution, while some have called for a boycott or sabotage of the referendum.

The government and its supporters have been using incentives and pressure to convince voters to support the constitution.

Censors restrict media reporting on referendum

Reporting by Maung Too
Democratic Voice of Burma

The Burmese state censor board has issued strict instructions to the print media on how the upcoming national referendum should be reported, journalists said.

A journalist in Rangoon said some journals had decided not to write about the referendum at all rather than comply with the restrictive guidelines.

“We cannot write anything about the national referendum by ourselves,” the journalist said.

“We can publish articles about the national referendum written according to the instructions given by the censor board but we can't write it in our own way," he said.

“We are only allowed to write about the national referendum in the way it is described in the [state-run] New Light of Myanmar. So we just decided not to bother.”

Veteran journalist U Sein Hla Oo said the Burmese media has a responsibility to publish stories on the national referendum.

"Journalists in Burma now have a huge responsibility to report news about the national referendum,” he said.

“But it will be difficult for them as there is no press freedom in Burma."

Sein Hla Oo said the situation contrasted with the referendum in 1974, when the media was allowed to publish news stories in the run-up to the vote.

NLD targets undecided voters

Reporting by Naw Say Phaw
Democratic Voice of Burma

Apr 4, 2008 (DVB)–The National League for Democracy will target voters who are uninterested in the referendum or undecided and try to persuade them to vote “No”, a party spokesperson said.

NLD spokesperson U Nyan Win said the party hoped to convince people to make their votes count.

"The National League for Democracy and its supporters intend to convince people who are not interested in voting in the referendum to vote 'No',” he said.

“We consider speaking out and giving one's opinion is a courageous thing."

A resident of Pazundaung township, Rangoon, said he and his family would vote against the constitution.

"I have made up my mind. I will definitely go to one of those voting polls and put in a 'No' vote. My whole family is going to do that," he said.

But others are sceptical and see little point in voting in the referendum, despite being opposed to the new constitution.

One resident of Bohtataung, Rangoon, who said he was not interested in the referendum, is the sort of person the NLD hopes to convince.

"I have no interest in the referendum that is to be held in May, and I am not going to vote,” he said.

“But if I did, I'd put in a 'No' vote. This government has done nothing right in the past and that hasn’t changed now. If I vote 'Yes' to the referendum, that'll be like supporting them.”

Another Bohtataung resident said he did not believe his vote would change anything.

"Even if I vote 'No' in the referendum, the government is still going to do what they want. I am not voting on this one," he said.

The NLD issued a statement on 2 April calling on the people of Burma to vote against the draft constitution in the May referendum.

The party has also issued guidelines laying out its reasons for opposing the constitution and giving practical information on voting procedures.

NLD banned from visiting prisoners

By Naw Say Phaw
Democratic Voice of Burma

An assistance programme run by the National League for Democracy providing food and other necessities to inmates of Insein prison has been stopped by new regulations, an NLD member said.

The NLD had been visiting about 50 people held at the prison, including around 30 monks who were arrested after the September 2007 demonstrations, to provide them with packages containing food and other items.

The NLD member said most of the monks were from the well-known Ngway Kyar Yan, Shwe Taung and Maggin monasteries and the detained laypeople were from Arakan State, Shan state and Magwe division and so their own families found it difficult to visit them.

But now prison authorities have banned non-family members from visiting the detainees or giving parcels.

“We have been doing this to give assistance to monks and detainees from areas outside Rangoon as it was impossible for their families to come visit them regularly,” the NLD member said.

“On Tuesday, the Insein prison authorities set out a new regulation concerning prison visits, which says that only family members are now allowed to visit the detainees.”

People threatened to support the draft constitution

By U Sein Kyi/ Lieng Lern
Shan Herald Agency for News

Local authorities are ordering the people to support the new constitutional referendum in May, with threats on those who might say no to the draft, according to residents of Namkham Township, on the Sino-Burma border.

On 31 March 2008 at 2 pm, Township Peace and Development Council (TPDC) chairman U Tin Hlaing held a meeting at (TPDC) office with headmen from 30 village tracts. One village tract had to be represented by at least 1 person.

"U Tin Hlaing explained to the villagers how to vote in May for constitutional referendum and how the local authorities would observe them [people]", said a local.

"The local authorities will check the ballots after the polling station is closed. If they [local authorities] find out who is against the draft constitution they will detain him/ her to be interrogated immediately why he/ she is opposing it," said the source.

In Burma, local authorities in every state are urging people to renew ID cards to support the new constitutional referendum to be held in May 2008 and the general election to be held in 2010.

A respected politician from southern Shan State has counseled that the constitutional referendum should not be boycotted 'at least for the sake of one’s own safety and well being. "However, according to the referendum law promulgated on 26 February, secret ballot is allowed and votes will be immediately counted after voting in the presence of the voters.

“If so,” he advises, “we should all vote.” As for saying yes or no to the draft constitution, “which 99.9% of the people have never seen,” let alone understand the contents, "The core of the constitution is the continuation of the military rule. Please ask yourself if you want it? If you do, just mark ‘Yes’. If you don’t want it, just mark ‘No’."

Government corruption fuels famine in Chin state

By Solomon
Mizzima News

April 4, 2008 - The ongoing acute food shortage in Chin state of western Burma is exacerbated through the corruption of local authorities, a Chin human rights group reports.

The Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) on Thursday said that the famine in Chin state, resulting from a scarcity of food, is worsened by local authorities who hinder and seize humanitarian aid intended for the local people.

CHRO said local authorities in Paletwa Township of Chin state in January seized more than 300 bags of rice donated by a Roman Catholic Church as relief aid for famine victims.

Besides this confiscation, another 150 bags on February of rice donated by the Church of the Province of Myanmar were also seized and sold for profit by the same local authorities.

"A mandatory purchasing order was imposed on residents of Paletwa by the authorities, instructing them to buy the seized rice at an overpriced rate," CHRO said in a statement released on Thursday.

Tera, a representative of CHRO based in India's Mizoram state bordering Burma, said, "The Chairman of the local township peace and development council led the seizure of rice bags and later resold the confiscated rice to local people at an overpriced rate."

While a bag of rice in a normal market costs approximately $16, authorities ordered locals to buy the seized rice at a rate of approximately $18 per bag, Tera added.

Since the beginning of 2008, people in Chin state have reportedly suffered from a dire shortage of food. According to Chin folklore, the famine occurs once every 50 years, when rats are released into the fields and consume all food.

Tera related that there are about 100 villages in Paletwa Township and about 600 villagers from more than 40 villages have fled to the Indian border seeking relief from the famine.

Victor Biak Lian, a member of CHRO's Board of Directors said, "This is very cruel action from the Burmese authority. Even if they refuse to help the local villagers, they should not add to their grievances."

He added that CHRO plans to come up with an alternative way to help people with food aid.

CHRO also called on the international community as well as humanitarian aid groups to come to the assistance of the Chin people, who are currently going hungry due to the confluence of famine and ongoing persecution from authorities.

Fatal accident as health workers flee Burma army

Mizzima News
April 4, 2008

Chiang Mai – Five people are hospitalized with severe burns, and a seven year-old girl is dead, as the vehicle they were riding in to escape army troops overturned on a steep hillside in eastern Burma.

The incident resulted as members of a joint Displaced Persons Response Network (DPRN) and Karen Department of Health & Welfare (KDHW) mission procured transportation away from advancing Burmese army troops operating in close proximity to where teams were providing education on and vaccination against polio.

According to a DPRN report, a tractor and cart were taking two female KDHW staff to their village inside Lu Pleh Township of Karen state when the accident occurred. "While traveling to the village the tractor passed through a large burn area. It is believed the driver became confused in the heat and smoke, and overturned the tractor on the steep hillside, spilling the occupants into the fire," states DPRN.

Those involved in the accident were part of a larger mission to vaccinate internally displaced people in Burma from polio in Lu Pleh Township, Paีan District. The endeavor was, however, brought to a halt only two days into operations as word came to the teams of the presence of Burmese army troops in the region.

Healthcare workers, after successfully vaccinating 82 children in one village on March 28, were forced to conceal their medicine and health records and flee to the jungle ahead of approaching Burmese army troops. Three other teams were obligated to act likewise, as similar reports of oncoming army units reached them.

The five burn victims, all taken to Mae Sot General Hospital just across the border in Thailand, are listed as: the driver, age 33, burns to 100 percent of the body; his son, age 9, with burns to 60 percent of his body; a village healthcare worker, 15 years old, with burns to 75 percent of the body; and two female healthcare workers with KDHW, both age 18, with burns to 90 percent and 75 percent of their bodies, respectively.

The driver's seven year-old daughter perished at the scene of the accident from burns suffered.

Prior to the tragic episode, the joint undertaking was able to teach village healthcare workers how to vaccinate against polio and fill out polio vaccination records. In one village, a day before the accident, a team successfully vaccinated nearly 200 children.

Each of the burn victims is expected to recover except for the driver, whose condition is unknown prior to a scheduled operation.

This latest round of vaccinations was the second phase of a DPRN program, the initial phase having commenced in Hpa-an District in December of last year. That portion of the program was successfully completed in February, vaccinating 1,200 internally displaced children.

In 2007, over a dozen cases of polio were reported in Burma, the first such incidences in five years. If vaccinated, polio is preventable.

Journalist Kyemon U Thaung Dies in US Exile

The Irrawaddy

The well-known Burmese journalist Kyemon U Thaung, who wrote under the name Aung Bala, has died in hospital in the United States, at the age of 82.

His death was reported by the Thailand-based New Era journal, where he was chief editor. The journal, which is produced in the US, printed in Thailand and distributed clandestinely in Burma, said he passed away on Thursday in hospital in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

U Thaung was born on October 4, 1926, in Nyaung U Township, Mandalay Division, the son of Thar Phan and Daw Oak. His childhood name was Tin Maung.

U Thaung began his journalism career in 1947 as a reporter for The Burma Times in Rangoon, advancing rapidly to become chief editor in 1951, at the age of 25.

Six years later, in 1957, he started his own daily newspaper, Kyemon (The Mirror).

His open criticism of Gen Ne Win, who seized power in 1962, earned him a prison sentence in 1964. He and three of his editorial staff were imprisoned without trial, and Kyemon was nationalized.

After his release from prison in 1967, U Thaung was given a bureaucratic post in the Ministry of Information by Gen Ne Win. But his licence to write was revoked when he again criticized the dictator in his writings.

After 10 years at the Ministry of Information, U Thaung was allowed to go to the United States to work as a feature writer for a small newspaper in Washington, Missouri, The Missourian. However, his critical writings—in particular an article in Reader’s Digest about his three years in jail—led the Burmese authorities to revoke his passport. He was granted political asylum in the US.

U Thaung was an outspoken critic of military rule in Burma, writing numerous articles, essays and books, and taking part in pro-democracy meetings around the world. At his home in exile, he wrote some 30 books, under the penname Aung Bala, including the best-sellers “General Ne Win and His Executioners” (1990) and “A Journalist, a General and an Army in Burma” (1995).

U Thaung is survived by his wife, Tin Tin Win and five children, all of whom live in the US.

US Concerned over North Korea Missile Sales to Burma

The Irrawaddy

The United States said Thursday it would take the matter seriously if there are any indications of North Korea selling rocket launchers to Burma, though the US State Department could not confirm the report that appeared in the Japanese media on Wednesday.

“We've seen those reports, but we don't have any information that would be able to substantiate them,” State Department spokesman Tom Casey told reporters in Washington.

“Certainly, though, we would take seriously any indications that there have been violations of the various sanctions that were imposed on North Korea after its nuclear test the previous year,” Casey said.

The Japanese NHK public broadcast reported Wednesday that North Korea has been selling rocket launchers to Burma in violation of UN sanctions imposed against North Korea after it conducted nuclear tests in 2006.

Quoting the NHK report, news agencies reported the sale of rocket launchers was being handled by an unnamed Singapore trading country. No other immediate details were available however.

Htay Aung, a Burmese military researcher based in Thailand, told The Irrawaddy on Friday the Burmese military junta is seeking arms and other military equipment anywhere in the world to upgrade its Tatmadaw (armed forces).

“North Korea is one country among them,” he said. “But what we see is that Naypyidaw’s military upgrading seems to aim at external threats rather than internal ones, because the generals don’t need these kind of rockets to attack guerrilla groups. It is not useful for guerrilla warfare.”

Htay Aung added he heard that the Burmese army had set up new artillery, such as howitzers and rocket-launchers, along Burma’s eastern border. “Of course, the Royal Thai Army is scanning every footstep of the Burmese army,” Htay Aung added. “It means there is an ongoing arms race between Thailand and Burma in silence.”

Burmese-North Korean military ties are said to have been reestablished in 1999 when members of the Burmese junta paid a low-profile visit to the rogue state. The junta sent a delegation to North Korea secretly again in November 2000 for a meeting with high-ranking officials of North Korea’s the People’s Armed Forces. A North Korean delegation led by Deputy Foreign Minister Park Kil-yon met with his counterpart, Khin Maung Win, in June 2001.

Military analysts say the North Korean regime has provided weapons, military technology transfers and expertise in underground tunneling used for concealing secret military installations and, since 2002, dozens of North Korean technicians have worked for the Tatmadaw.

Burma and North Korea restored diplomatic ties last year ending a diplomatic crisis after North Korean special agents assassinated 18 South Korean officials, including four cabinet ministers, who were on a delegation to Burma in 1983.

More Opposition Activists Attacked by Thugs

The Irrawaddy

Pro-democracy activists continue to be attacked by thugs in Rangoon as Burmese authorities tighten control on opposition groups ahead of the constitutional referendum in May, according to National League for Democracy (NLD) sources.

Tin Yu, a member of the NLD in Hlaing Tharyar Township, was attacked on Thursday evening by thugs carrying batons as he walked home from a bus stop. He was admitted to hospital where he received 50 stitches in the face.

Tin Yu was arrested following the September demonstrations for talking to Burmese shortwave radio operators in foreign countries. He was later released.

“The current situation seems to be one in which pro-democracy activists are being systematically attacked by thugs,” said a NLD youth leader in the township. “The attacks are believed to be the work of the pro-junta Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) and its militia, the Swan Ah-shin.”

The USDA and Swan Ah-shin were behind the brutal attacks on Buddhist monks in August and September 2007, as well as the ambush of Aung San Suu Kyi’s convoy in Depayin in Sagaing Division in northern Burma in May 2003, in which a score of people were killed.

The attack on Tin Yu was the third on pro-democracy activists in Rangoon this week.

On Monday, Myint Hlaing, the NLD chairman in Hlaing Tharyar Township in Rangoon, was assaulted near his home. A leading human rights activist, Myint Aye, was attacked by thugs last week in Sanchaung Township in Rangoon. Both men were hospitalized with head injuries following the attacks.

“The junta’s use of thugs to attack pro-democracy and human rights activists means it is driving the country down a dangerous road in the future,” said Aye Thar Aung, the secretary of the Committee Representing the People’s Parliament. “We condemn these backward acts.”

He said special police and informers in civilian clothes are always around his home, and his guests are photographed when they visit.

Meanwhile a NLD member from Thingangyun Township in Rangoon was arrested on Thursday night at his home. on Sunday, at least six NLD activists were arrested in Rangoon.