Tuesday, 15 April 2008


By Methawee
Pattaya Daily News

The recent death of the 54 Burmese migrants in a container in Ranong, on April 10 represents, but the tip of the iceberg. Human rights lawyers and labour rights activists in Thailand say that violence against Burmese migrant workers is on the increase. They accuse Thai authorities of doing too little to protect Burmese working in Thailand.

The Migrant Worker Group, a coalition of NGOs, cited at least documented 10 cases in which more than 100 people had died being transported to Thailand in the past year. Since the beginning of 2008, scores of Rohingya Muslims from Burma have drowned in the Andaman Sea in an attempt to reach Southern Thailand, However, rather than help, Thai PM Samak Sundaravej has recently announced he will detain them on a deserted island to deter more arrivals.

"These preventable deaths are the tragic result of people fleeing repression and poverty in Burma, only to find abuse and exploitation in Thailand. Thai policies denying migrants basic rights contribute to such tragedies and urgently need to be revised or scrapped. These deaths put Thai authorities squarely on notice that reform cannot wait," said Elaine Pearson, Deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

Over 2 million Burmese migrants are estimated to be working in Thailand, less than 500,000 of them legally. Yet the numbers rise steadily—the lure of jobs and the hope of a better life outweighs all the uncertainty and threat of physical danger, murder and exploitation that these people suffer.

Nearly 20,000 registered Burmese migrant workers work in the Mae Sot area of Thailand's Tak border province with Myanmar, where cases of abuse are particularly high. Moe Swe, head of the Yaung Chi Oo Workers Association in Mae Sot, said because migrant workers were reluctant to get involved with the police, many incidents go unreported. Unregistered migrants fear deportation if they complain to the authorities

800 cases of abuse, including murder and rape, were reported to the Seafarers Union of Burma from mid-2006 to November 2007. Union member Ko Ko Aung maintained 30% of the reported cases involved murder. It appears some Thai employers resort to murder, rather than pay their migrant workers.

Adults are not the only victims of Burma's instability, children are also represented. Here estimates are vague, there being no official statistics, but NGOs cite 20,000 as a generally accepted figure. The economic crisis and instability in Burma is driving hordes of Burmese children into hard labour, begging and the sex trade, claims exiled Burmese rights groups. Paw Ray, the chairperson of the BMWEC, which operates nearly 50 schools for children of Burmese migrant workers in Mae Sot maintains "there's no security and no protection for migrant workers or their children. Neither the authorities nor employers can give them security."

With many Thais avoiding mundane, dirty and dangerous work in agriculture, fishing and construction, and Myanmar's generals refusing to improve their crippled economy, Thai officials say the influx of cheap, migrant labour will continue.

However, most Thais are unaware of the positive contributions that migrant workers make for Thailand. Estimates of their contributions amount to Bt370 billion, or about 6.2 per cent of Thailand's GDP and the average unskilled migrant earns between 50 and 80% of the average unskilled Thai. Yet it appears as if the Thai political leaders, captains of industry and ordinary citizens - who most benefit directly or indirectly from migrant labour - have conspired to suppress such information. Those who benefit most in the absence of any genuine attempt to regulate the inflow of migrants from Burma, Cambodia and Laos are unscrupulous Thai employers bent on exploiting labour to maximise profits.

And Thailand continues to treat these people with utter contempt and prejudice. In fact, it appears the more Thailand comes to depend on migrant workers for its economic and social well-being, the worse the Thai people treat them.

Successive governments, including the outgoing Surayud government, have been complicit in the systematic exploitation of migrants, for failure to secure borders, and lax enforcement of laws relating to immigrants and their employers.

Human Rights Watch maintains "If Thailand's labour laws were followed across the board, fewer migrants would resort to illegal crossings or be susceptible to trafficking, and could travel and work with basic rights under law." They continue

"It's time for the Thai and Burmese governments to implement transparent measures that protect the lives and basic rights of migrant workers."

A country with no hope?

Bangkok Post

April 15, 2008 - The military dictatorship which runs Burma is taking new steps to tighten its already fearful grip on that sad country.

What is most outrageous about this campaign of control by the generals is the claim that its policies will be put to a vote in just under four weeks. The world has seen many free elections, and some whose honesty was questionable. The upcoming vote in Burma will be neither. The so-called national referendum on the military junta's constitution is a laughable charade which hopefully will hoodwink no one into thinking the Burmese regime's polls bear much resemblance to an actual national election.

The May 10 referendum announced by the military junta reverses almost every detail of a free election. The constitution which is the focus of the polls took years to write, but never was debated by the public. A carefully chosen and military-sequestered "national convention" was nothing but a highly controlled rubber-stamp committee. The junta dictated each word of the document. Citizens who want to know what is in the 194-page document being voted on next month have to pay about 30 baht to see it; only government-run bookstores are allowed to distribute it.

The military has already begun a campaign of fear about the polls. Last week, the army and police began a familiar campaign to beat up and warn Burmese trying to organise a "Vote No" campaign. The main opposition leader remains locked up and barred from political activity. In case of doubt, Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi is also banned from speaking because she once was married to a foreigner. In fact, the military regime has been conducting constant warnings against speaking with foreigners. It also has warned all embassies in Rangoon against what it calls political involvement.

In Burma, speaking with an opposition member is proof in the generals' eyes of "abetting some local political parties to destabilise the country". Many countries ask outsiders to observe their elections as a sort of seal of approval of honesty. The Burmese rudely rejected UN offers of help to organise the referendum.

Last week, the junta ruled there would be no poll observers at all, except for soldiers, of course. The opposition National League for Democracy, minus the voice of its leader Daw Suu Kyi, asked for poll observers, preferably foreign. Without the natural checks and balances of outside observers, the NLD noted, the referendum could not be fair. Anyone suggesting that soldiers could not count the votes honestly clearly was trying to undermine the Burmese military's plan to move towards democracy.

Next month, the military will cite the referendum as a full mandate to hold power in Burma. A parliament is due to be selected in 2010, at an election as free and fair as the one scheduled for May 10. In Burma, the policy continues to be: no steps forward and two steps back. While citizens are asked to participate in a sham election, they also suffer from the worse-run economy in the region, without hope of prosperity. The generals have effectively encouraged a million Burmese to flee to Thailand and work for a pittance. Burma has become a country almost without hope.

Myanmar: Refugee voices - Venerable U Kovida testifies before Human Rights Caucus

Source: Refugees International - Relief Web
Date: 14 Apr 2008

On April 10, Refugees International hosted the Venerable U Kovida in Washington, DC as he testified before the House of Representatives' Human Rights Caucus. Ven. Kovida is a Burmese monk who helped lead the September protests in his home country. He was recently resettled to the United States as a refugee after a harrowing escape from Burma to Thailand. The following is the text of his testimony:

Respected Congressmen, staff members, Ladies and Gentlemen.

I would like, first of all, to offer my sincere thanks to all of you who have given me a chance to share what I have experienced and those who are here to listen and pay attention to what I have to say.

Secondly, I would like to thank the President of the United States and the American people for giving me this opportunity to explain the predicament and dire situation the people are facing in Burma on behalf of our leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the oppressed Burmese.

I am, as you all know, one of the participants during the so-called 'Saffron-Revolution' in September 2007. Burma is infamous for its violation of Basic Human Rights, disrespect to the freedom of religion, one of the least developed and poorest countries in the world with the lowest living standard where the civil war has been going on for the past 50 years.

These are the reason why we, people of Burma, have wanted a change in the government system. We have wanted to have a higher living standard, and lived in a better and developed country. The people in Burma have struggled and fought for change since 1962. We have struggled and fought to achieve such change throughout the history and the demonstrations and protests in 1962, 1974, 1988, 1996, 2003, and 2007 are significant. But all of our voices, pleas and struggles were answered by the brutality of the military government which used weapons, brutal suppressions, torture, and imprisonments.

The international community witnessed the brutal suppression of monks who demonstrated peacefully in September 2007. But there have been many incidents of oppressions, violation and torture that have been going on inside Burma without anyone knowing for many decades.

What I would like to point out here in the harmless and helpless Burmese have very high hope and are depending on the assistance and intervention from the United Nations and the international community in the past 20 years. Sadly and unfortunately, there hasn't been any positive effect on the people of Burma. There were so many decisions by the United Nations. There were many UN representatives who have visited Burma, but the future looks bleak. We were greatly discouraged by the fact that the Security Council merely suggested the military which was killing its own people and monks, to engage in talks. What I am saying to you now is exactly what the people of Burma would like to speak out.

Ladies and gentlemen, the people of Burma are not only suffering from extreme poverty, hardship, sub-standard in health care, education and social services but also facing oppression by the military government on a daily basis. When monks in Burma understood, realized, and felt the hardship the people had to go through, we decided to protest peacefully on behalf of the people. And everyone knows how we were dealt with. We appreciate that you are trying to oppose the constitution drafted by the military and its hand-picked representatives. We strongly support your effort at the UN to reject any referendum and constitutions without the participation of all people concerned.

Right now the military government is planning to have a constitutional referendum in May. In many areas in Burma, people are illegally forced as well as offered financial incentives to vote. In other area, people are threatened. Some of the activists were brutally beaten up by unknown assailants very recently. The closer the May referendum is, the more scared and concerned the people are about their safety and security. Securities have been tightened inside Rangoon. Police and security forces are deployed on the main streets of Rangoon.

Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to emphasize the fact that we need help and assistance in order to change the government system in Burma. We cannot accept the constitutional referendum and planned general election in 2010 organized by the military government which totally ignored the results of people voices in 1990 general election, and whose sole aim is to prolong and ensure the military influence in Burma politics for many more years to come. We strongly urge you to reject any effort by the military government to legitimize itself.

In conclusion, I would like to thank once again the international community, governments and administrations, respected congressman as well as the people who love democracy and who are supporting our course. I thank Refugees International to facilitate my appearance here at the congress.

A Paradox of Bulletocracy and Representative Democracy in Burma

By Naing Ko Ko

April 15, 2008 - Whilst in the post Saffron Revolution period the military regime in Burma has announced referendum in May 2008, for a new constitution and an election to be held in 2010, it is really a model for continuation of the ‘bulletocracy’ dominated by military generals for more than a decade.

Simultaneously, both pro and con debates on the referendum /constitution have occurred in the horizon of Burma domestic politics, with statements welcoming and rejecting from foreign policy elites, particularly from neighboring countries of China, Thailand, India and Western liberal democracies.

In addition, a polarization of views has also appeared among the democracy activists: those who have applied a "VoteNo" approach and those who have advocated a "NoVote" position towards the military plotted referendum. Burma's "Wuthering-Heights-elites", branding themselves as a so-called "third-force", will utilize "VoteYes" in this referendum. Some of them are secretly importing a bulletocracy- transitional-model to the Burma political landscape while ignoring the emancipation theory.

There is a point where questions and answers need to be formulated beyond the referendum, constitution and upcoming election in 2010 by the opposition movers and shakers of Burma. They must frame a strategic policy beyond the referendum/election in 2010 rather than following with "the waves of can't do approaches" and the "upper-structure-transforming" paths.

Politics means a struggle over power. One of the key political dilemmas of Burma is who should run the state political power? Will Burma political power be run by democratically elected representatives or the military dominated bulletocray? Technically speaking, how will a Burma transition be achieved? Will it be a development-theory-based-regime shift, neo-Gramscism based social entrepreneurs led mass movement, or Leninism based bottom to top power-structure reform and army-struggle?

But whatever theories and school of thoughts we are debating, the reality of present Burma politics is that the generals turned civilian-elites are aiming to run the state power politics for more decades, instead of transferring legitimate political power to the elected representatives. It is an obvious fact that the regime wants to maintain the status quo, and its power firmly based on army and economy. The opposition needs to challenge and fragment the SPDC's power structure and domain both domestically and internationally.

There are no comprehensive policy-platforms on how to apply a regime-change model for Burma after the referendum and election, either from within the SPDC military generals and democratic power-crusaders, or from the multilateral and transnational agencies such as United Nation Security Council (UNSC), European Union (E.U), World Bank (WB), International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Asean.

Obviously, there is a little option for domestic challengers to voting against the referendum, and thus go in line with "VoteNo" approaches. However, transnational activists have a lot more choices of strategies to counterattack the junta' plotted bulletocracy-model.

Power crusaders must think about the approaches beyond the referendum and election on the processes of transitional regime. It is not an appropriate time to claim "VoteYes", "dialogue" and "national reconciliation". As an internal strategy it is time to focus on mass mobilization and emancipation theory to achieve regime change in Burma and, on international fronts, it is a strategically and essential to delegitimize the SPDC' political legitimacy and sovereignty.

Even though the regime has formulated this military dominated constitution to get "VoteYes", the mass mobilization and power of powerless can override a constitution proposal which has no room for human sovereignty or human dignity. The people of Burma are demanding genuine people freedom and political liberalization, not century long military hegemonization and bulletocracy. It is worth noting that General McArthur drafted the Japanese constitution within a week at his desk on a warship, and there is no written constitution in the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Israel. It is significant that the international businessman and transoceanic investors are not interested in a regime run economy.

There are no economic incentives and interests for such multinational business firms in Burma due to the junta's poorly designed monetary and fiscal policy. Moreover, the Junta is losing leverage in their bargaining relations with multinational firms, because of Burma's low standard of transportation, out of date bureaucracy, poor communication infrastructure, and its notorious political image as a military dictatorship.

Both the military-driven-transitional style and the elite-driven- transition model ignore the significance of emancipation theory, the people participatory process and Neo-Gramscism in politics. What I would especially like to point to the Burma' Wuthering Height' elites, is that it is a time of human sovereignty, political freedom and human security, not "something is better than nothing" and "can't do" approaches.

Moreover, I would like to say to the Burma' Wuthering Height' elites that Burma is neither a talking-shop nor a business firm. Remember: the more educated you are, the more moral responsibility you have to society. You all have a moral responsibility to help the people of Burma get out from under this military oppression and build a knowledge-based society. Those who are modern intellectuals living in Burma or exile should not be a simply talkers, but must be directors and entrepreneurs who assist national-building, political liberalization, and society.

The mass mobilization and the emancipation approaches may take a long time and it will not happen overnight in Burma. Grand revolution and regime change, which occurred with the power of the people power and the power of powerless, have changed many modern histories and political landscapes in this world.

In order to stop the bulletocray and establish representative democracy, it is an essential agenda that to deliver 'can-do-minded', 'human sovereignty' to the people of Burma. Burma needs multidimensional disciplines and theory approaches for the democratization process.

Naing Ko Ko is a postgraduate scholarship student in the Department of Political Studies at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. He is a former political prisoner.

- Asian Tribune -

Burma's Referendum and Election Woes : Is there a way out for the opposition?

By Sai Wansai

April 15, 2008 - It shouldn't be a surprise for the Burmese military juntas exclusion or barring of Aung San Suu Kyi from participation in the forth-coming election, which is due to be held in 2010, following the constitutional referendum targeted in May of this year.

"The Fundamental Principles and Detailed Basic Principles", adopted by the National Convention, under chapter 3, The Head of State, sub-heading Qualifications of the President and Vice-Presidents states, The President of the Union himself, parents, spouse, children and their spouses shall not owe allegiance to a foreign power, shall not be subject of a foreign power or citizen of a foreign country.

They shall not be persons entitled to the rights and privileges of a subject or citizen of a foreign country. It further stresses in the same section, that The President of the Union shall be well acquainted with affairs of State such as political, administrative, economic and military affairs.

In other words, it is designed to exclude Aung San Suu Kyi for she wont be able to meet the qualifications stated in detailed basic principles by the junta.

It is not a secret that the junta is bent on monopolising the state power by all means and barring Aung San Suu Kyi from the electoral process becomes a necessity. And as an extension, obstructing her National League for Democracy (NLD), Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) and other vocal political parties from participation in the election are definitely in the juntas agenda. For they are considered undesirable, due to the commitment to genuine federalism and are against the military dominated, dictatorial rule. The NLD, together with SNLD and other ethnic political parties, garnered 98 percent of the vote and won a landslide nation-wide election in 1990. The junta-back National Unity Party (NUP) received only 2 percent vote.

From the junta perspective, this suppose to be an ideal solution to get rid of all political opposition for good and install or hand over political decision-making power to Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), which is its brainchild and functions as military-backed thugs to harass the opposition. Also there are indications to transform it to a full fledged political organisation to stand for election in 2010. This scenario would soon unfold, under the rubric of its so-called disciplined and flourishing democracy, which actually could only be termed as a military dominated rule.

This boils down to the point of what could the democratic opposition do to counter this juntas go-it-alone stance, which predictably would be endorsed by countries like China, India and most ASEAN states, perhaps with the exception of Indonesia and the Philippines, which are quite vocal against the juntas stalling tactics, undemocratic stance and heavy-handedness against the population and opposition.

Unfortunately, this junta's orchestral show is the only game in town, where the United Nations could get involve and also exert some influence, if there is ever a chance to change the hard-line attitude of the Burmese junta. The same is also true to the democratic opposition camp and the ethnic political and resistance groups. It goes without saying that it takes two to tango, but the junta is determined as ever to carry it out alone. Its logic is that the main opposition groups were invited to participate in the National Convention (NC), but had thrown away their chances and walked out of the ongoing process. Thus, it is not the juntas fault to have to continue it with available individuals and groups, which readily agree to go along with the junta. Little does it mention or admit to the public that almost all participants of the NC are hand-picked and actually are not allowed to deviate from juntas prescribed road map. With the few exception counter proposals from cease-fire group quarters and some vocal non-Burman ethnic groups, which however were rejected, the juntas draft constitution was programmed to be adopted.

The stage is now set for constitutional referendum in May, which is just three months away and peculiar enough, the public has still not seen the draft. Some Burma watchers reasoned that the junta might not be confident enough to publicise it immediately, for fear of international backlash and public scrutiny. The juntas blue print is known to be fatally flawed, when one goes through its publicised basic principles or guidelines for constitutional drafting.

Against this backdrop, the opposition in general have only two choices: One is to reject the constitutional referendum with no vote or totally boycott the process; and the other would be to demand, preferably through the UN General Secretary's good office and international mediators, for a more favourable political climate. This would include an unconditional release of all political prisoners, nation-wide cease-fire, and lifting of all restrictions imposed on existing political parties. If such an atmosphere could be negotiated, the reviewing of juntas constitutional draft leading to reasonable adjustment or amendment, in all-inclusive and open manners, could become a possibility, which will encompass the peoples aspiration in a wider sense. The draft will then be credible enough, at least, as an acceptable, transitional one and would be ready for referendum.

On Wednesday, the United States national security spokesman Gordon Johndroe urged the ruling junta to "start from scratch." He said, "That is - meaning: the barring of Aung San Suu Kyi from entering the election - hardly the definition of free and fair elections. The junta needs to start from scratch with a real draft constitution that actually passes the laugh test,"

Whether the junta would hold on to its hard-line position against all odds, coupled with such critical view and refuse to accommodate the call for democratic change or make sensible concession according to wish and aspiration of the people is anybodys guess.

Sai Wansai is the General Secretary of the Shan Democratic Union (SDU)

- Asian Tribune -

U.N. rights expert calls Myanmar vote plan "surreal"

By David Brunnstrom

April 14, 2008 - BRUSSELS (Reuters) - A United Nations investigator dismissed Myanmar's plans for a May 10 constitutional referendum as "surreal" on Monday and said he saw no credible moves towards political transition in the military-ruled country.

"The government continues detaining people and repressing people who are trying to do some campaigning for a 'no' in the referendum," Paulo Sergio Pinheiro said in an interview.

Myanmar's main opposition party last week urged that there be international observers of the referendum and said people campaigning against a new, military-backed charter were being assaulted and their materials seized.

"How can you have a referendum when you make repression against those that are intending to say 'no'? This is completely surreal," Pinheiro, the U.N. special rapporteur on Myanmar, told Reuters.

Speaking in Brussels, Pinheiro said Myanmar had seen none of the liberalization of political transitions in Asia, Latin America, Eastern or Southern Europe.

"I don't see the most basic requirements," he said.

"If you say a real political transition process is taking place in Myanmar, this would be almost offensive to countries in Asia like the Philippines and Indonesia or Thailand that passed through a transition process to democracy."

Pinheiro, a Brazilian law professor who has held his independent post since 2000, will hand over to Argentine lawyer Tomas Ojea Quintana at the end of the month.


He said there had been some progress in his time in gaining access for aid agencies, but his parting assessment would be "gloomy": "You don't have freedom of association, freedom of expression, freedom of organization, or functioning of parties."

"You cannot have a political transition if you keep almost 2,000 political prisoners and you continue the crackdown after the repression of the end of last year," he said.

Pinheiro said he had not been allowed a visa to return to Myanmar since a November visit and no response to requests for information on the whereabouts of 700 people missing since a crackdown on monk-led anti-government protests in September.

He estimated the number of people killed in that crackdown at least 31, against an official figure of 15.

The junta, which tightly controls Myanmar's media, has urged the country's 53 million people to back the charter, a key step in the military's seven-point "road map to democracy" meant to culminate in multiparty elections in 2010.

Pinheiro said the constitutional process could not be considered democratic given that all delegates of the constitutional assembly had been picked by the government.

He termed "a great mistake" provisions in the document excluding figures like detained Nobel Prize-winning opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from the political process and retaining 25 percent of parliamentary seats for the military.

The charter, dismissed by Western critics as a ploy to entrench 46 years of army rule, also gives the commander in chief the right to suspend the constitution at will.

"I don't think the population knows what it will mean to vote 'yes' or 'no'," Pinheiro said, adding it would be a "very bad sign" if the junta did not accept international observers.

"I will end my mandate saying that this is not a democratic political transition," he said.

(Editing by Charles Dick)

AP Interview: Myanmar vote needs international observers, says UN investigator

April 14, 2008 (IHT)- BRUSSELS, Belgium: Myanmar's planned referendum on a new constitution will be reduced to a mere "ritual" unless international observers are allowed to monitor the vote, a U.N. human rights investigator said Monday.

The military regime in Myanmar will need to allow the opposition to organize and allow more free speech rights for the May 10 referendum to have any credibility, said Paulo Sergio Pinheiro.

"How can you have a referendum without any of the basic freedoms?" he asked in an interview. "It would be important to have international observers to validate the referendum, because if not it would be just a ritual without real content."

Opponents of Myanmar's junta say the new constitution is designed to perpetuate military rule.

Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party has also called for international observers and says the referendum "cannot be free and fair" because the rules are stacked against the opposition.

Pinheiro said he had received reports of supporters of a "no" vote in the referendum being detained.

"How can you believe in this referendum?" Pinheiro told The Associated Press on the sidelines of a visit to the European Parliament. "I haven't seen any sign of liberalization," he complained.

Junta officials rejected the idea of international observers when it was proposed to them by U.N. special envoy Ibrahim Gambari in a meeting last month. State media said it was decided there was no precedent for it and it infringed on Myanmar's sovereignty.

Pinheiro said there was little sign the regime would lift its ban on him visiting the country before he steps down at the end of this month after seven years as the U.N. human rights investigator. "Hope, always I try to have, but I'm not expecting that the government will give me a visa in the next two weeks."

The Myanmar authorities have refused to allow Pinheiro back into the country since November following his criticism of the government's deadly crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators.

Suu Kyi's NLD has urged voters to reject the proposed constitution because it was drafted under the junta's direct control, without any input from the country's pro-democracy movement. The draft constitution will be adopted if more than half of eligible voters approve it in the referendum.

The constitutional referendum is supposed to be followed by a general election in 2010, but the charter allows the military to keep wide powers and effectively prevent Suu Kyi from holding public office.

Her party won the last general elections in 1990, but the military refused to hand over power, instead stepping up its repression of dissidents. Suu Kyi, who is currently under house arrest, has been in detention without trial for more than 12 of the past 18 years.

The junta has resisted international pressure to make democratic reforms and quashed pro-democracy protests last September. The U.N. estimates at least 31 people were killed in the crackdown and thousands more were detained.

Myanmar accuses Red Cross of helping rebels

By Aung Hla Tun

April 4, 2008 (Reuters)-YANGON
, Myanmar's military rulers hit back on Wednesday at rare public criticism from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), accusing the humanitarian agency of secret ties to guerrillas.

"The authorities found out evidences that personnel of the five regional offices of the ICRC had clandestine relations with insurgent groups," said Than Than Nwe, president of the Myanmar Women's Affairs Federation.

Than Than Nwe, wife of Prime Minister Soe Win, made her comments at an official Women's Day ceremony on Tuesday and reported in the former Burma's state-controlled Burmese and English-language newspapers the following day.

The Geneva-based ICRC issued a rare public censure of Myanmar last week, accusing the junta of serious abuses against civilians and prisoners, including forcing them to serve as army porters walking ahead of soldiers through minefields.

The ICRC says it has also been unable to visit any of Myanmar's estimated 1,100 political prisoners since late 2005 because the authorities have refused to allow ICRC staff to conduct meetings in private.

It has also closed three humanitarian offices near ethnic conflict areas this year, citing government restrictions.

Than Than Nwe said the ICRC chose to visit only "prisoners who were in the list given by anti-government groups at home and abroad" and invariably stirred up trouble.

"Separate meetings with such prisoners were followed by unrest and protests at the jails in consequence," the New Light of Myanmar, the junta's main English-language mouthpiece, quoted her as saying.

"Such activities harmed State's sovereignty, stability, peace and prevalence of law and order, so the authorities had to lay down new procedures," she said.

Since gaining independence from Britain in 1948, the Southeast Asian nation has been riven by dozens of guerrilla conflicts with ethnic minorities seeking either autonomy or independence.

Many of these intensified after the army seized power in 1962 and established military rule that has endured to this day.

The junta signed ceasefires with many rebel groups during the 1990s, although the three largest militias -- the Karen National Liberation Army, the Karenni National Progressive Party and the Shan State Army -- refuse to lay down their weapons.

State media reported last month that "terrorist insurgents" had killed 27 people in two attacks on buses in Karen and Karenni areas.

Official newspapers frequently rail against "internal and external terrorists" or "destructive elements", junta shorthand for the opposition National League for Democracy and exiled political groups.