Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Looming "Vote No" messages in Little Myanmar Island

By Joe Moe

Almost 100,000 Burmese nationals in Singapore are looming to cast a "Vote No" at the forthcoming constitutional referendum in which the military is occupying 25% of the seats in parliament.

Kyaw Swe Thint, First Secretary of the Union of Myanmar Embassy to Singapore sent quietly an uncommon letter through the post to Burmese residents in Singapore inviting them to attend the embassy to vote for the upcoming referendum.

The “Vote NO” messaging campaign, Singapore island-wide via SMS text messaging, popular service amongst the Burmese bloggers and news agencies has started to flow around the world.

"Dear All, Kyaw Swe Thint, First Secretary to the Burma embassy in Singapore issued notification about voting for constitution dated 10 April 08, inviting all Burmese in Singapore to attend the embassy for voting any day from April 25 - 29 between 9am to 5pm. Either you received the letter or not, please attend the embassy and vote for "NO". "Be united for the Freedom of Burma". "We must win".

The announcement from the First Secretary clearly confirmed those who identify as Myanmar citizens eligible to cast a vote at the office of Myanmar embassy which is located at 15, Saint Martin's Drive, Orchard Road, starting from 25 to 29 April from 9:00a.m to 5:00p.m.

Singapore is the first country for overseas Burmese people to cast their vote officially for the constitutional referendum amongst the other countries.

How Can the Constitutional Referendum be Monitored?

Burmese and Ethnics in majority are concerned about the monitoring of the voting event in Burma and Singapore.

It is now clear that many people in Singapore will cast a "No" vote against the military government's constitutional referendum by the end of April at the Myanmar Embassy.

On April 13, the word "No" appeared at several locations in Singapore, whilst Burmese people celebrated water festival at Toa Payoh Burmese Buddhist Temple and Eunos Mingala Vihara (Buddhist Temple).

A "No" vote is required, said the NLD, because the draft constitution was written by "hand-picked puppets" of the military government and lacks basic principles of democracy and human rights. The NLD was the major winner in the 1990 general elections.

Meanwhile, a small group of people inside and outside Burma have expressed support for the draft. However, there is little likelihood of a real debate between "No" and "Yes" groups at this stage.

If the "Vote No" campaign gained significant momentum, there's always the possibility that the junta might cancel the referendum, or if the referendum proceeds, that the election results will be rigged by the junta's so-called poll-watchers, including the Union Solidarity and Development Association.

Because the junta has banned outside poll-watchers, it's up to the NLD and other groups to try to monitor the referendum as well as they can.
A proposal to allow international observers to monitor the referendum by UN Special Envoy to Burma Ibrahim Gambari in March was rejected outright by the military authorities.

"We are a sovereign country," they said. "We have done these things before without international help."

Gambari told news agencies in a recent exclusive interview: "Our position is that their situation has been the subject of international concern, so [there is a need] to enhance the credibility of the process, to meet the exercise of their sovereign right to ask for help. Technical assistance or even independent monitors need not come from the UN—it could be from international monitors or neighboring countries or from friendly countries."

There is no chance the junta will change its mind and accept the UN's proposal.

Therefore, the NLD and other activist groups have the impossible task of trying to monitor the election. They risk severe penalties if they are seen to be obstructing the referendum process because of the junta's new law, enacted in February and signed by junta Snr-Gen Than Shwe, provides for up to three years imprisonment and a fine for anyone who distributes statements or posters or who makes a speech against the referendum.

An NLD member was arrested on Sunday for possessing a NLD party statement calling for a "No" vote, according to party spokesperson Nyan Win.

The junta has created a situation that prohibits any effective monitoring of the referendum. To do so, risks imprisonment. Opposition groups have again been out maneuvered by the wily generals.

The "Vote No" campaign is likely to produce the desired results, but the question is will the referendum's official outcome reflect the people's vote, or—more likely—what the generals want?

Original News sources:
BBC Burmese and from the various bloggers
http://www.ko-htike.blogspot.com/
http://myochitmyanmar.blogspot.com/
http://linletkyalsin.blogspot.com/ and
http://arzarni.blogspot.com/


Enjoying Burmese New Year as a fictitious outlet from dictatorship nightmares

By Burmakin

In accordance with Buddha's biography written by Ven. U Visitta,the first Burmese scholar to memorize all tripitika text (All Theravada scriptures), the real new year day in Buddhism is the full-moon day of Kason (the birthday of Buddha in the third week of May), the vivacious transition period from the scorching summer to the and renovating rainy season.

It is a paradoxical fact that the Burmese Buddhists have a new year day at the beginning of the last month of the Buddha's calendar instead of the actual new year day after the actual last month.This is another upside-down matrix created by wicked Burmese ancient kings (since Pagan) who wanted to hold their long-live power like today's nasty military government.

As Burmese wrongly celebrate the new year day in the old year,the monarchs believed that there would not be new comings in the new year on the ground of the cosmic astrological power to hold that the effects of the symbolism will last throughout (washing the old ones at the old time and becomes the old ones again in the same old time- water festival, thus no change when the new year time actually comes. In Burmese words, Burmese people have been put under "inferior star" by the dictators who rule them and who always want to hold the "superior star" over the people.

Burmese will probably regard the enjoyment of Thingyan as an opportunity for their outlet from those nightmares of military dictatorship. In reality, they are going for an outlet where there is virtually no outlet. So is the situation of Burmese in sham referendum today what the junta is going to hold. Ostensibly and superficially, it could be assumed that Burmese could vote and could make a choice now. Actually, Burmese are forced to do a choice where there is actually no choice for them.

No tidy answer to labor pinch

By Electa Draper
The Denver Post


April 15, 2008 - Immigrant workers from Mexico sort potatoes at the Spud Seller Inc. in Monte Vista last week. Growers say they face their worst labor shortage in years. But an idea to match those jobs to refugees from Myanmar now located in Denver has many detractors. (Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post)

Help Wanted: San Luis Valley crop growers and shippers desperately seek workers and are willing to recruit Myanmar refugees in Denver eager for jobs and a return to agrarian roots.

It sounds as if it could be a neat solution to two problems. Instead, it has created a backlash.

The mayor of a town in the valley has misgivings. The director of the health care system there has them, too. And the head of the immigrant resource center in Alamosa doesn't think it is a good idea.

"We don't want to go where there is a problem, where they don't want us," said Rocky Martin, leader of a Denver community of about 325 Karen, an ethnic minority displaced by Myanmar's military junta.

The story of the Karen and the San Luis Valley underscores the gap between an immigration policy that discourages the use of migrant workers and an agricultural economy that makes it nearly impossible to use anyone else.

In the valley, the result is labor shortages of up to 50 percent for some growers and shippers.

Mike Abeyta, manager of the Worley & McCullough Inc. potato warehouse, has about 42 workers. He'd like 55 to 60.

"This is the worst I've seen it in five years," he said of the labor crunch.

"The Karen love to work, from what I understand," Abeyta said. "And we need the help."

A raid by immigration officials on undocumented workers last April winnowed the valley's already thin ranks of farm workers. Some spinach and lettuce growers are cutting plantings in half. Others are switching to wheat or alfalfa and other more automated crops.

"We have a chronic labor shortage. It never goes away," said Jim Ehrlich, director of the Colorado Potato Administrative Committee in Monte Vista.

In the valley, agribusiness accounted for 30 percent or more of the jobs in Conejos, Costilla, Rio Grande and Saguache counties in 2005, compared with 4 percent of jobs statewide, according to the Colorado Department of Agriculture.

State legislation in 2007 beefed up documentation requirements for legal workers.

The new law discourages many established migratory workers, even legal ones, from getting entangled in Colorado's paper labyrinth, labor and agriculture officials say.

"The new law was a good thing in that it tightened everything up — our industry does not want to hire illegal workers — but it didn't find a solution to our labor problems," Ehrlich said. The Karen were seen as one of those solutions.

Martin went to the valley last fall to scope out work opportunities for the Karen but left deflated of hope.

The Karen, although legal, don't speak much English. Nor are they conversant in the valley's second language, Spanish, as Mexican and Guatemalan workers are, officials said.

"We only want to go where people are willing to work with us," Martin said.

Gideon Kaw, a 29-year-old Karen refugee who resettled in Denver three years ago, said the refugees are adaptable and grateful to be anywhere in the United States — "after running all our lives from killing."

Many Karen, an ethnic minority accounting for about 7 percent of Myanmar's population, have been stuck in refugee camps for up to two decades.

Myanmar, known as Burma until 1989, is ruled by a military regime that stands accused of human-rights abuses including the violent displacement of more than 500,000 people.

Denver, while a haven, has presented an economic struggle for resettled Karen.

Without English skills, many receive low wages and often less than full-time hours in service and manufacturing jobs.

"Wherever you get a job, you follow the job," Kaw said. "You have to feed your family."

Nevertheless, he and other Karen have come to feel that moving to the San Luis Valley would be a mistake.

The relocation proposal found support among Colorado rural housing officials with vacant farm-worker housing. Labor officials found it worthy of consideration. But otherwise, there was resistance.

"We'd rather keep the people who have been working here forever, rather than introduce a new population we know nothing about," said Margaret Salazar, director of Valley-Wide Health Systems in Alamosa.

The traditional labor supply to which Valley-Wide is accustomed, however, has dried up.

In the San Luis Valley in 2007, the number of migratory field workers that employers reported fell 200 from the previous year's 400 to 450, said Betty Velasquez, southern regional director of the Colorado Workforce Center.

Still, Center's mayor, Adeline Sanchez, said she is reluctant to bring the Karen to the San Luis Valley. Sanchez said matching up willing workers to pleading employers is simply not enough of an answer.

"We just need to be sure any people we're bringing in are not getting false hopes," Sanchez said. "I'm not for using people for our purposes. We want something for their futures, too."

Part of the resistance to a Karen relocation is the suspicion that it's a short-term solution to labor shortages, but one that doesn't address the underlying problems of low wages.

"If the Karen are seen as the quick fix, (lawmakers) could say there is no need for immigration reform or living wages," said Flora Archuleta, the executive director of the Alamosa-based San Luis Valley Immigrant Resources Center.

"I don't want them to come in and be abused," Archuleta said.

The demanding farm labor pays about $7 to $12 an hour, with the higher rate generally reserved for skilled machinery operators, Abeyta said.

"The growers are going to have to recognize the fact — and many of them already do — that they have to pay more," Ehrlich said.

Bringing in the Karen — who would face low wages, seasonal work, no health insurance and limited services — "just perpetuates poverty in the valley," said Mitch Garcia, a Valley-Wide Health official.

Paul Stein, coordinator of the Colorado Refugee Services Program, agrees.

"I'm opposed to refugees suddenly being viewed as a replacement for migrant workers," Stein said. "The San Luis Valley would never be part of our plans because of the economy and lack of community resources."

Last year, the state hosted 1,085 refugees, including the 325 from Myanmar, and most stay in the Denver metro area where 70 percent of programs and services are located, Stein said. The relocation of the Karen to the small communities of the San Luis Valley would guarantee their isolation, not integration, he said.

"They've already lost their country. They've lost family. Their sense of loss is profound," Stein said. "We want the opportunity for their children to move out of the fields and into some economic opportunity."

Staff writer Nancy Lofholm contributed to this report. Electa Draper: 303-954-1276 or edraper@denverpost.com

Suu Kyi can vote in Myanmar charter poll, her party says

YANGON (AFP) - Myanmar's detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has the right to vote in a referendum next month on a military-backed constitution, her political party said Tuesday.

"According to the law, (Aung San Suu Kyi) has the right to vote at the referendum as her detention was not a court order or sentence," said Nyan Win, spokesman for the National League for Democracy (NLD).

"It was just an administrative function," he told AFP.

Aung San Suu Kyi has spent 12 of the past 18 years locked away by the ruling military junta in her sprawling lakeside home in Yangon.

Her latest period of detention began in 2003 after a deadly attack on her convoy by supporters of the junta, and has been periodically extended since, with little sign that the generals plan to free her.

The regime has called a referendum on May 10 on the proposed new charter, which they claim will -- if approved -- lead to general elections in 2010.

Under the new constitution, which was drafted by a committee hand-picked by the junta, Aung San Suu Kyi would be barred from running for office because she was married to a foreigner, Michael Aris, a British citizen who died in 1999.

People convicted of a crime by a court are not allowed to vote in the referendum, but detainees who have not faced trial can cast a ballot.

There are currently about 1,850 political prisoners in Myanmar, at least 700 of whom were arrested after anti-junta demonstrations last September, which the military crushed, killing at least 31 people, the UN says.

Next month's referendum will be the first balloting in Myanmar since 1990, when Aung San Suu Kyi led the NLD to a landslide victory, which was never recognised by the junta.

The NLD and other activists are calling for a "No" vote on the charter, which analysts say simply enshrines the military's role.

Source: AFP

Burma Regime Denounced For Giving Selves Immunity

Wednesday, 16 April 2008
Press Release: Global Justice Center


International Lawyers Denounce Attempt By Myanmar Regime To Give Themselves Immunity From Criminal Prosecutions And Renew Call For Criminal Investigation

The Myanmar regime, guilty of the most serious crimes of concern to the international community, has revealed that it is seeking to give itself constitutional immunity from prosecution for those crimes. The Burma Lawyers' Council, the Global Justice Center and the Burma Justice Committee denounce this attempt by the regime to avoid accountability. The recently distributed final version of the Constitution being put to a "referendum" on May 10th, 2008 now includes in Chapter XIV "Transitory Provisions," Article No. 445, stating, "No legal action shall be taken against those (either individuals or groups who are members of SLORC and SPDC) who officially carried out their duties according to their responsibilities." This immunity is invalid under international law and cannot be accepted by the international community.

There is ample evidence that the military regime has committed war crimes, crimes against humanity and potentially even genocide through forced relocation, torture, rape, enforced disappearances and extermination. Perpetrators of these, the most serious of crimes, are not eligible for amnesty under international law. Moreover, the global community has a commitment under the Responsibility to Protect Doctrine, Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security and Resolution 1674 on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, to hold the regime accountable for the crimes committed against the people of Burma. In seeking an amnesty, the military regime recognizes that it has committed serious crimes and needs amnesty for what it has done and is doing. The regime cannot, however, simply give itself immunity as it is seeking to do.

The constitutional amnesty is another example of how the regime abuses the law as it seeks to solidify the military's rule of oppression through a fa├žade of legality. As stated by U Aung Htoo, Secretary General of the Burma Lawyers' Council "Rule of law must replace military might. This Constitution and its illegal amnesty provision cannot bring sustainable peace to Burma."

The Burma Lawyers' Council, Global Justice Center and Burma Justice Committee therefore today make clear:

The military regime must immediately desist from committing further crimes against the people of Burma;

The military regime's constitutional process and intended amnesty fails to comply with any of the applicable international legal norms and will not have any force as a matter of law either internationally or for the future within Burma; and

As a matter of international law, the U.N. Security Council should create an Independent Commission of Inquiry to investigate the crimes and pursue criminal accountability of those members of the military regime who have committed international crimes.

Source: Scoop NZ

Burma's Referendum: A Fruitless Attempt of the Military Junta

By Zin Linn

Bangkok 16 April, 2008 (Asiantribune.com)
: People of Burma have been disappointed with the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and his Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari, with SG because he has failed to call for the Security Council action on Burma and with Gambari because he has been misleading the world body in support of the undisciplined military regime.

On 31 March, Members of Parliament elected in the 1990 General Elections but prevented from taking office by the country's junta issued an appeal to lawmakers all over the world. Their message was: reject the military-ordained new constitution of Burma. The appeal signed by 14 MPs 'elect' said both Ban Ki-moon and Ibrahim Gambari have failed in the mission expected of them. "We expected them to pressurise the Junta into yielding for national reconciliation but their efforts are unproductive". About the Security Council also the appeal had some harsh comment. "This highest authoritative body of the United Nations has failed to take an effective and timely action to stop one-sided acts of the SPDC (State Peace and Development Council) and to facilitate real national reconciliation and democratization in Burma".

Four days earlier, on March 27, marking the 63rd Armed Forces Day, Senior General Than Shwe (75), made a 15-minute nationwide radio and television speech giving hint of 'May Referendum' on the draft constitution but did not state when the new statute would be available for public scrutiny. He was not also honourably silent on the dates for the referendum. Indications are that the referendum will take place in May. He however said that the civilians would take the reins of government after elections in 2010, once a constitution is approved giving broad powers to the military.

The constitution is a part of the junta's seven-step roadmap to democracy. It emerged out of the National Convention, which was a farce in itself. Opponents of the regime, such as the National League for Democracy, led by the detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, were excluded from the drafting process, which took 14 years.

Critics have termed the new statute as a trick to consolidate the military's supremacy. Nonetheless, Year 2008 may become an important watershed for the democracy movement in Burma because of the farcical Referendum. For the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), legitimacy to the Constitution is a priority..

The Junta is going out of its way to court the support of ASEAN and other neighbouring countries especially China and India for its constitutional makeover. At the same time it is riding roughshod over the National League for Democracy (NLD) which is the only challenger to its supremacy at home. Aung San Suu Kyi will not be allowed to contest in the elections scheduled for 2010, the Junta made it clear already.

On May 27, the Burma's opposition groups will observe the 18th anniversary of NLD's significant victory in the 1990 General Elections. NLD had won 392 of the 485 seats on offer in Parliament. NLD allies, the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) won 23 seats and the Arakan League for Democracy (ALD) bagged 11 seats in what was certainly one of the free and fair elections that had taken place in the South-East Asia region. But, the SPDC's authoritative generals, especially Sen. Gen. Than Shwe, adamantly refuse to honour the 1990 Elections' result. Than Shwe is unwilling even to talk to Aung San Suu Kyi.

A constitution is a contract between the people and the government of a nation. Only a statute that is willingly accepted by the people will endure the test of time. The National League for Democracy believes that if genuine multi-party democracy is to be established in Burma, a constitution based on democratic principles is an absolute necessity.

The NLD was set up to usher in a genuine democratic system which lives up to the aspirations of the people and contributes to building a strong Union of Burma. It believes that the state derives its power from the people. And a democratic nation must have the rule of law and a constitution that guarantees human rights, and basic freedoms - of worship, expression and association. Moreover, the NLD believes that the foundation for a strong, lasting and prosperous union has to be laid through a national convention where all the ethnic groups of Burma are represented and decide collectively the destiny of the nation. The landslide victory in 1990 was a public endorsement of what all the NLD has come to stand for.

Unfortunately, SPDC and its earlier incarnation, State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) practiced means fair and foul to undo the electoral verdict. First, it invalidated the result, and then it sacked the MPs. They were also disqualified them from standing for elections again. When the MPs resisted pressure to resign, false cases were slapped and they were thrown into jail. Once this exercise was complete and 200 members were eased out, the Junta said "Parliament is not being constituted as we don't have enough elected members".

Approximately 100 of the 426 elected MPs passed away in the past 18 years. Three MPs died in police custody. Tin Maung Win, NLD MP of Khayan Constituency (1), Rangoon Division, passed away on January18, 1991 in the notorious Insein Prison. Hla Than from Coco Islands Constituency (also Rangoon Division) died on August 2, 1996 at the guard ward in Rangoon General Hospital. Saw Win (a.k.a) Kyaw Zaw Lin, who had won Htee Lin Constituency (Magwe Division) on Aug 7, 1998 in Thayawaddy Prison.

Three law makers passed away soon after their release from jail. Kyaw Min of Bassein West Constituency (Irrawaddy Division), died of liver cirrhosis on July1, 1999 in Rangoon General Hospital. San San Win, who represents the Ahlon Constituency (Rangoon Division), passed away in 2000 and Hla Maung who had won Kyainseikkyi seat from Karen State died November 27, 2003.

Win Ko who represented Ye Oo Constituency (Sagaing Division), was assassinated in Kunming, China, on Nov 1, 1992 and Hla Pe, (Pyaw Bwe Constituency, Mandalay Division), was eliminated on the outskirts of Bangkok on June 16, 1993. At least 12 law makers are languishing in the Junta's notorious prison. And the appeals by the international community -United Nations General Assembly including for their release have gone in vain. In fact, there are some 1000 political prisoners. They include the 1991 Nobel Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi.

Myint Thein, a Member of Parliament and spokesman for NLD who was jailed repeatedly, died at age 62 in Singapore on 29 March. He was last detained in Yangon's notorious Insein Prison on Sep 27, 2007, after the peaceful protests led by Buddhist monks ended in a brutal crackdown. Myint Thein had been in declining health while he was incarcerated and he had to be hospitalized upon his release on Oct 30, 2007. Frequent detentions and lack of medical treatment and inadequate food in prison made him sick.

Suu Kyi and NLD stand for dialogue as they firmly believe in Gandhian values and concepts. But the Junta has cold shouldered NLD and ignored its dialogue offer. So NLD has no place at the National Convention the Junta had convened. The second-largest pro-democracy party, the Shan National League for Democracy (SNLD), did not turn up dubbing the convention as undemocratic. The United Nationalities Alliance (UNA), which represents the ethnic parties of Shans, Karens, Kachins, Chins, Arakans, Mons and Karennis also declared ahead of the convention that they would not go to the forum in the absence of the NLD.

It goes without saying that minus NLD, the junta's seven-step roadmap becomes a farce with no genuine democratic principles and objectives. SPDC's roadmap has three foremost objectives. First whitewash the junta's crimes against humanity including the premeditated massacre at Depayin. Second do away with the result of the 1990 General Elections. Third persuade regional governments to support a sugar-coated military-monopolized parliament as a legislative body of Burma.

However, present situation in Burma shows that the military junta has been adamantly marching along the anti-democracy road. For instance, the junta continues to detain and imprison nearly 2,000 political prisoners, including Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest on and off since 1990, leaders of the '88 Generation Students such as Min Ko Naing, Ko Ko Gyi, Hla Myo Naung, Mee Mee, Aung Thu, Ko Ko and political leaders such as Shan leader Hkun Htun Oo and U Win Tin, a prominent journalist and executive member of the NLD, who at 78 has been languishing in prison since July 4, 1989.

Moreover, Su Su Nway, a member of the NLD, has been kept in custody in notorious Insein Jail since November 2007, following a peaceful demonstration. She received the 2006 Humphrey Freedom Award from the Canada-based group, Rights and Democracy, for her human rights activities. She was arrested in 2005 and 2007. Many political prisoners are reportedly seriously ill and receive only rudimentary health care. The International Committee of the Red Cross has been denied free access to conduct confidential prison visits since December 2005. Arrests and intimidation of political activists and journalists in Burma have been going on for two decades.

The state-run newspaper, the New Light of Myanmar, said the arrests were made by peace-loving people to prevent instigators from trying to cause insecurity and strife. The '88 Generation Students' group condemned the action. It is improper and immoral to assault, perturb, harass and detain those demonstrating peacefully for change. The student group urged the government to start dialogue with the detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi for the sake of national reconciliation.

Earlier than the 18th anniversary of Burma's 1990 General Elections which falls on 27 May 2008, the key regional players, China, India, Japan and ASEAN, should recognize their obligation to Burma. They must urge SPDC to give up its fruitless policies and unproductive plans. If the junta is reluctant to recognize the will of its own people, the consequences that follow may not be to its likings. People's will cannot be wished away nor their aspirations just as the verdict in a popular election cannot be brushed aside endlessly.

People believe that the decision to hold a referendum this May is a fruitless attempt of Sen. Gen. Than Shwe. It will be hard to convince the country's voters that it was not a controversial constitution written by pro-military delegates. On the contrary, Than Shwe has declared a war not only on the people of Burma but also towards the world body by neglecting the UN's decisions. Than Shwe dares enough to challenge Ban Ki-moon as if he knew of rival's weakness. It is time Ban puts a thinking cap and takes a fresh look at the Burma question in its entirety.

- Asian Tribune -

ASEAN-Japan complete Comprehensive EPA

April 15, 2008 (Indonesia) - The ten Governments of Brunei Darussalam, the Kingdom of Cambodia, the Republic of Indonesia, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Malaysia, the Union of Myanmar, the Republic of the Philippines, the Republic of Singapore, the Kingdom of Thailand, and the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam, Member States of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and the Government of Japan have completed the signing of the Agreement on Comprehensive Economic Partnership among Member States of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and Japan.“

The AJCEP Agreement is comprehensive in scope, covering such fields as trade in goods, trade in services, investment, and economic cooperation.

The signing has been completed by authorized Ministers in the capitals of respective countries. As a next step, ASEAN Member States and Japan will start their respective domestic procedures necessary for entry into force of the Agreement and notify their completion of such domestic procedures to the other countries.

The AJCEP Agreement will enter into force on the first day of the second month following the date by which such notifications have been made by Japan and at least one ASEAN Member State, for those signatory States that have made such notifications by this date.

ASEAN Member States and Japan look forward to the early entry into force of the AJCEP Agreement, which will provide a strong impetus for further invigoration of trade and investment in the region.

Association of Southeast Asian Nations

Source: Fibre 2 Fashion

Myanmar Detains at Least 20 Activists

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) -- Myanmar's military junta detained more than 20 activists as they walked through the northwestern city of Sittwe in a peaceful rally against the country's proposed constitution, an opposition party spokesman said Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Myo Nyunt, a youth member of the opposition party and a close aide of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, was arrested at his grandmother's home near Yangon, said Nyan Win, spokesman for the National League for Democracy. He was taken from his home near Yangon on Tuesday morning.

He was given a 15-day prison sentence by a court for failing to report to authorities when he spent a night at someone else's house, Nyan Win said.

In Myanmar, the law requires that a person inform local authorities when staying overnight at a house where they are not listed as a member. But Nyan Win said Myo Nyunt was sentenced because he was an active member of the party.

The arrests came ahead of the country's May 10 referendum on a new constitution that critics say was drafted to perpetuate military rule.

The NLD has urged voters to reject the charter because it was drafted without any input from the junta's critics and the country's pro-democracy movement.

The protesters were wearing T-shirts printed with the word "No," during a 5-day festival to celebrate Myanmar's traditional New Year's holiday.

Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine state in western Myanmar is known for its strong anti-military sentiment. It was the city where Buddhist monks first joined anti-junta rallies that swelled into nationwide protests last September. At least 31 people were killed when the military crushed the protests, sparking global outrage.

On Sunday, some youth activists in suburban Yangon were reprimanded by authorities and warned not to wear the "No" T-shirts, said a member of the NLD who asked not to be named for fear of official reprisal.

"Arrests of NLD members and intimidation against opponents of the regime's draft constitution are becoming more frequent," Nyan Win said, adding that several activists have also been attacked by unidentified assailants.

Last week, the NLD called on international observers to take part in the referendum. Junta officials rejected the idea of international observers when it was proposed by United Nations special envoy Ibrahim Gambari last month.

The proposed constitution would ban anyone who enjoyed the rights and privileges of a foreign citizen from holding public office. This would keep Suu Kyi out of government because her late husband was a Briton.

The proposed charter allots 25 percent of the seats in both houses of Parliament to the military.

It also stipulates that no amendments to the charter can be made without the consent of more than 75 percent of lawmakers, making changes unlikely unless supported by military representatives.

The constitutional referendum is supposed to be followed by a general election in 2010.

Myanmar has been without a constitution since 1988, when the current junta took power and scrapped the previous charter after violently quashing mass pro-democracy demonstrations.

(This version CORRECTS that activist was arrested at his grandmother's house)