Tuesday, 29 April 2008

If you not vote "No" you go to jail: TPDC member


27 Apr 2008 - Khaw-zar Sub-Township Peace and Development Council (TPDC) members are exhorting people to vote "Yes" for those voting "No" would be sentenced to jail.

Recently the Khaw-zar TPDC held a meeting with village headmen and pressurised the headmen to keep a close watch on those who vote "No".

According to Khaw-zar Townhsip residents, the town quarter headmen, Nai Halike has been going round telling people what the TPDC wants from residents. He also told them to vote "Yes" if they don't want to be interrogated and sent to jail.

"Many residents are scared of the pressure and many have decided to vote "Yes" to avoid being questioned and jailed," a resident told IMNA.

New Mon State Party (NMSP) members and retired members in the town are also being pressurised to vote "Yes" and the party members are unhappy about it

According to a NMSP leader, the party has formulated a policy to vote against the constitution which was drafted by the Burmese junta for 14 years.

Because of this, party members are trying to avoid staying in the area.

Similar to Khaw-zar township, two village headmen in Ye township also threatened villagers to vote "Yes" or else they will be sentenced to two years in jail.

Two Years for "No" Votes

A rumor has been spreading throughout Arakan State that casting a "No" vote in the upcoming referendum on 10 May will be met with a two year prison sentence, said a trader from Kyaukpru Township.

"We, all villagers, do not want to cast "Yes" votes, but we are anxious for our security because there is information that the military authority will punish with two years in prison anyone who casts a "No" vote in the referendum," he said.

There is no official confirmation of the truth of this information, but it is being spread throughout the state.

The trader said, "We do not know if it is true or not, but the news is spreading in our area. All villagers will cast "Yes" votes in the referendum due to fear of punishment if they cast "No" votes."

A source from Sittwe said it is true that the rumor is spreading in Arakan State and people in rural areas in Arakan will vote "Yes" in the referendum due to fear that the authority will take action if they vote against the proposed draft constitution.

But, the source added, most people in urban areas in Arakan State, including Sittwe, Kyaukpru, and Taungup, will still cast "No" votes in the referendum, despite the rumors that have been spreading.

There is speculation that army authorities in Arakan State created the rumor of the two-year prison sentences themselves behind closed doors to spread in Arakan State through government supporters.

At the same time, the high authority has sent many referendum campaigners to villages around Arakan State to mobilize people to cast "Yes" votes at the polls.

Narinjara News

Army Stops Toll Collection in Western Burma

The Burmese army has stopped its collection of tolls from local traders and has been allowing traders to move freely without paying fees in western Burma, with the likely intent of luring traders to cast "Yes" votes in the upcoming referendum, according to one woman trader who refused to be named.

The woman said, "We had to pay at least three army outposts previously along the border when we came to Bangladesh from northern Arakan State, but now we do not need to pay any amount of ransom to the camps for passing border points."

She also added, "The army is now dealing with traders very softly, which is very different from previous times, and I suppose it is to lure our people to cast "Yes" votes."

There are many army outposts stationed in the border area in Paletwa Township in southern Chin State, to monitor people who travel back and forth between Burma, Bangladesh, and India.

"We had to pay 500 kyats per trader to each army camp when we crossed the camps going to the neighboring countries Bangladesh and India. But the army authority is not collecting the toll from us at present. It has been arranged by authorities after the water festival."

The army authority is not only allowing traders to pass without paying tolls, but they are also allowing traders to pass without any harassment.

The woman said, "Really, army personnel behavior is changed right now and it is very different than it was previously. Some army officials told us in a friendly way to cast "Yes" votes in the referendum, and the explained to us that the referendum is very important for the future of Burma. If the constitution is approved by the Burmese people, they will get the same opportunities to move freely anywhere in the future."

Many traders are now arriving with Burmese goods in Bangladesh after the authorities have stopped collecting tolls and are allowing them to visit the neighboring countries freely.

Narinjara News

Prisoner dies in Akyab jail

Rathedaung, Arkan State: A prisoner died in Akyab jail (Sittwe) in the capital of Arakan State on April 19 deprived of proper treatment.

He was identified as Azizullah (30) son of Abul Hussain from Zu Pyin of Rathedaung Township, Arakan State, said a relative of the victim.

He had an enmity with Abul Hair of the same villager for three years. So, he filed a case in the Rathedaung police station against Azizullah. However, Azizullah was living elsewhere to evade arrest but was arrested by police in January 2007.

Later, he was transferred to Akyab jail from Rathedaung police station. He was suffering from fever but did not get proper medical treatment. On April 19, he died in Akyab jail, said a relative of the victim.

His body was not handed over to his relatives and buried in Akyab city.

Source: Kaladan Press

Kachin students and women stand alone in opposing constitution

By Shyamal Sarkar
Kachin News

In Kachin State, Myitkyina University students are in the forefront in opposing the Burmese military junta's referendum to approve the constitution. The students movement, which has been on for a long time on various issues like demanding a halt to dams among other things, gained momentum over the referendum issue from the end of March this year.

The activists have launched a vigorous poster campaign to make people aware of the terrible effects of approving the draft constitution, which seeks to legitimize and perpetuate military rule in Burma where the Tatmadaw will continue to rule the roost in a different garb.

Starting end of March Myitkyina University students have been pasting hundreds of posters exhorting people to vote "No" in Burma's referendum to approve the constitution on May 10, in major townships of Kachin State in Northern Burma.

A-4 sized anti-constitution referendum posters have come into play against the powerful junta. Students operating under the cover of darkness pasted the first of a series of posters in crowded areas in Myitkyina and Waingmaw Townships. People came across the posters in the morning.

In the first phase in March more than 500 posters were pasted in different areas of Myitkyina. Another 100 odd posters were put up in six major quarters in Waingmaw. Markets, office complexes and areas adjacent to police stations were the prime targets. Posters were pasted in areas where people could not miss it. Behind the poster movement is the All Kachin Students Union (AKSU) operating inside Burma. The organization was formed just before the September Saffron Revolution in 2007.

The junta authorities responded to the poster movement by posting soldiers and policemen inside and outside the Myitkyina University campus.

It's a see saw battle that has been on between largely the student community and the junta authorities. Even before the posters began to appear early in March, Brig-Gen Thein Zaw, Minister of Communication, Post and Telegraph visited Myitkyina and mobilised several Kachin Christian churches in his referendum campaign.

After a gap of 10 days or so, several posters encouraging people to "Vote No" in the referendum once again surfaced on April 5 in Myitkyina the capital of Kachin State.

Again A-4 size posters were in use. This time 'The attitude of Kachins' was written on the posters in bold letters. Along with the referendum clause the five-point charter of demands on the posters said (1) No more military government; (2) Vote 'No' in the constitutional referendum; (3) No Myitsone and Chibwe dams; (4) Immediately release all political prisoners and (5) Begin 'Tripartite dialogue'.

The posters appeared at the Kachin State Peace and Development Council office, Township Immigration Office, Township Court Office, City Hall, Township Telecommunication Office, Township Government Hospital, Kachin Baptist Convention office, in some Christian churches downtown, Basic State High Schools No.(1), (2) and (3) and Basic Middle Schools No.(4) and (6).

The posters were a mixed bag with some reading 'Just Say No'. They were seen in the markets, traffic police offices, railway station and some Buddhist monasteries in the township.

Ironically, after a 10-day gap 'Vote No' posters and handouts started reappearing in the three major townships in Kachin State. This time again about 500 of A-4 size posters and handouts were pasted and distributed in Myitkyina Township, Waingmaw Township and Bhamo Township. In Myitkyina entrance walls of the government hospital, the Kachin Traditional Manau Park in Shatapru Quarter and road side walls and high schools in Du Mare, Tatkone and Manhkring Quarters were splattered with posters.

With the campaign snowballing, five days later, the student activists were back again sticking vote 'No' posters in more towns in Northern Burma. Exhorting people to reject the draft constitution the posters and handouts this time around were pasted and distributed in Myitkyina Township, Bhamo Township, N'mawk town, Waingmaw Township, Shwego town, Mogaung Township and Phakant Township.

The Kachin Women's Association Thailand (KWAT) have thrown in their lot with the students and have urged people to cast the "No" vote in the ensuing referendum. The women have explained why the constitution should be rejected. It has pointed out the constitution had been drafted with handpicked people of the junta and did not reflect the people's desire. Neither did it represent the opinions and attitudes of the 1990 election winning parties and ethnic leaders.

In a campaign letter the KWAT said the constitution is merely designed to legitimise and perpetuate military rule in Burma. From the point of view of Burmese women, they will continue to suffer from injustices, discrimination and violence including sexual violence if the constitution is approved.

The KWAT also pointed out that Kachin people have suffered for over 45 years under a ruthless military dictatorship. The suffering will only be prolonged if the junta has the constitution in place by hoodwinking the people of the country. The women's organisation has urged people to go the polling booths and resoundingly cast a "No" vote for the sake of democracy sometime in the future.

The junta on the other hand is continuing with its vigorous campaign to garner "Yes" votes. It is using a ploy to mislead people and trying to tell people that if they wished for democracy they should go to the polling booths and cast their votes in favour of the constitution. "If you and I do not vote, democracy will move further and further away from us," is their campaign line. If people do not support the referendum, democracy will be a distant dream, pro junta groups have been going around saying. To ensure victory the junta has not been above taking recourse to unfair means. It has included thousands of underage people in Northern Burma in the voters' list it has prepared.

Surprising as it may seem, the AKSU and the KWAT are getting no support from the ceasefire Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) which still continues to toe the junta's line. As for the people, they are unable to come out in the open in support of the students and the women's organization, scared as they are of incurring the wrath of the military junta. No dissidence is overt in Burma, repressed as the population is. So opposition to the junta on any issue has to be covert in nature such as that of the AKSU and the KWAT.

(The author is a veteran journalist from India and has been in major newspapers as a Reporter, Deputy Chief of Bureau, News Coordinator, Op-ed and Edit writer.)

Junta forcibly sets up polling stations

The Burmese military junta in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State is forcibly setting up polling stations and making people shift, a source said.

The authorities are setting up polling stations in schools and other places where people usually gather. The polling stations are being set up for people to vote in the May 10 referendum to approve the national constitution.

"The authorities have ordered shifting of small roadside shops in Thidar quarter, beside the Myitkyina hospital to construct the polling station," said a resident. "Mostly government servants live in Thidar and the small market remains open at night," a resident added.

On the other hand, the authorities have allowed residents to cast votes in advance with the copy of the national identity card. Now voters who planned to cast the "No" note are worried.

Meanwhile, guards at the polling station have been making rounds of the town, an eyewitness said.

Kachin News

Opposition accuses junta of intimidating people to vote 'Yes' in Tanintharyi

By Phanida
Mizzima News

28 April 2008 - Even as the referendum to approve the constitution approaches local Burmese military junta authorities are on a overdrive in some townships in Tanintharyi division intimidating people to cast the 'Yes' vote, the opposition said.

This intimidation and coercion is being done on the directive of the Armed Forces Commander-in-Chief's office, the Directorate of Army, in Khamaukyi, Botepyin, Kawthaung, Pulaw, Tavoy and Thayetchaung townships and villages, the Thai based National Referendum Monitoring Organization alleged.

It is learnt that as part of the instruction, Regional Command Commanders, Military Operation Command Commanders, Regional Operation Command Commanders and Commanders of all three arms of the armed forces (Army, Navy, Air Force) are visiting the areas under their commands and intimidating and mobilising local people and ceasefire groups to cast the 'Yes' vote in the forthcoming referendum.

The National Referendum Monitoring Organization was formed on the Thai-Burma border at the end of March and comprises exile based organizations viz. Ethnic Nationalities Council (ENC), exile coalition government (NCGUB), National Council of Union of Burma (NCUB), Women's League of Burma (WLB), Federation of Democratic Burma (FDB), Student and Youth Congress of Burma (SYCB) and the Ethnic Forum.

The members of Village Peace and Development Council (PDCs) are coercing and intimidating the villagers living along the Tanintharyi river valley to call back their fellow villagers from their hideouts and to tell them to cast the 'Yes' vote in the referendum, otherwise their villages will be burnt down and forcibly relocated to other places, the monitoring organization in exile said.

"We would like to profoundly urge the people to tick X on the ballot papers. And then the people should wait until the polling stations are closed and they must be present when the vote counting starts. They must ensure the votes be counted before them, in the presence of the voters. They must rally around the vote counting stations and show their strength thwart vote rigging. In this way the SPDC (junta) cannot harm them. It will be possible if we do it harmoniously and unitedly," U Khun Myat Htun, MP-elect and a member of monitoring organization added.

Chevron accused of complicity in junta's brutality in Myanmar

Bangkok (M&C)- The American energy corporation Chevron's partnership with Myanmar's military junta has contributed to the regime's human rights abuses on 'hundreds, if not thousands' of people, said a human rights watchdog Tuesday.

EarthRights International claimed in a report that soldiers guarding a Chevron pipeline that takes natural offshore gas through to Thailand were so brutal as to expose the corporation to 'massive potential liabilities in US courts.'

The report dismisses Chevron's claims that its presence - bringing development projects - benefits the people as a flimsy public relations band-aid.

'Any benefits Chevron brings are dwarfed by the terror and pain inflicted by the military. Throwing a little money around makes little practical difference to the people,' said Kate Redford, EarthRights' US director, speaking at a press conference in Bangkok.

Chevron, which denies the allegations, joined the so-called Yadana project in 2005 when it purchased Unocal Corporation. Shortly before its takeover Unocal paid compensation to settle a lawsuit in the US over abuses perpetrated around the Yadana project.

The report claims the army forced villagers to work for nothing, including building military infrastructure, and generally oversaw project security with a reign of fear.

'The victims number hundreds if not thousands, judging from how many people are coming across' the border into Thailand, Redford said.

Soldiers have regularly been alleged to take advantage of their privileged position under an authoritarian regime to rape and murder with impunity, the report added. EarthRights said more than 70 witnesses were interviewed for the report.

The Yadana project provides the cash-strapped military, who have ruled since a 1962 coup, with critical foreign currency, taking in 1 billion dollars in revenues in 2007 alone. The military government spends remarkably little on education and healthcare, but an estimated 40 per cent of its budget on the military, the report added.

The French oil company Total owns 31 per cent of the Tadana scheme which it operates. Chevron took over Unocal's 28 per cent stake, although the US government has banned new investments since 1997. The Thai and Myanmar state energy companies are also partners in the project.

Chevron has issued statements denying these charges, claiming that its presence actually reduces the incidence of human rights abuses where it operates.

EarthRights said that Chevron's launch of its 'The Power Of Human Energy' publicity campaign last year, around the time that massive public protests against military rule were building up in Myanmar, was cynical.

'If Chevron thinks they can distract the international community with public relations gimmicks they should think again,' said Marco Simmons, EarthRights legal director.

Myanmar PM to get neighborly welcome in Thailand with home-cooked dinner by Thai leader

BANGKOK, Thailand (IHT): Thailand's leader planned to cook dinner for the visiting Myanmar prime minister Tuesday at the start of a visit expected to include talks about the military-ruled country's coming referendum on a long-awaited constitution.

Thailand has publicly pledged its support for Myanmar's draft constitution, ignoring an international uproar over the charter that many countries call a sham designed to cement military rule.

"Myanmar is holding a referendum on the constitution May 10. It is regarded as a step toward democracy in Myanmar," Foreign Minister Noppadol Pattama told reporters before Myanmar Prime Minister Thein Sein's arrival for a three-day visit.

Thailand disagrees with the U.S. and European Union approach of pressuring Myanmar to make democratic reforms by imposing sanctions, Noppadol said, adding that Thailand prefers a policy of "constructive engagement" with its neighbor.

In a show of neighborly good will, Thailand's Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej has invited Thein Sein to dinner Tuesday at his home.

"Prime Minister Samak said he will cook for the Myanmar prime minister by himself, but he refused to reveal the menu," said government spokesman Wichianchote Sukchotrat.

Samak, the former host of a TV cooking show, is an accomplished chef of Thai food and has enjoyed sampling the delicacies of local markets on trips around Southeast Asia since becoming prime minister in February.

Thein Sein was scheduled to hold official talks with Samak on Wednesday followed by an audience with King Bhumibol Adulyadej , the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The two prime ministers were expected to discuss Myanmar's referendum, cross-border drug trafficking and illegal immigration, Noppadol said.

Earlier this month, 54 Myanmar migrants suffocated in an unventilated truck while being smuggled into Thailand, a magnet for millions of migrants from its poorer neighbors.

Also Wednesday, the two leaders planned to sign an agreement on contract farming projects Thailand hopes to set up in Myanmar for rubber and palm oil plantations, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Before returning to Myanmar on Thursday, the visiting prime minister will tour some of the king's agricultural projects in the northern province of Chiang Rai, part of the so-called Golden Triangle that was once the world's largest opium poppy cultivating region. The Golden Triangle spanned parts of Thailand, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam.

Myanmar nationals have three-day extension to vote on constitution

Singapore - Myanmar nationals living in Singapore have until Friday to vote on their country's draft constitution drawn up by the military regime, a notice at the embassy said. Voting started Friday and was originally scheduled to end Tuesday. The notice of the three-day extension was posted on the embassy gates.

Nearly 2,000 people showed up to vote Sunday, many wearing red T- shirts and baseball caps emblazoned with "No." Fewer than 100 got to vote.

The embassy refused to allow anyone wearing the shirts or caps inside.

The three-day extension was heartening to those who have repeatedly but unsuccessfully tried to vote.

"This is the kind of flexible approach that we want the embassy to take," Moe Kyaw Thu, a 30-year-old administrative executive, told The Straits Times.

Despite three previous failed attempts, he vowed: "I'll try again."

Other Myanmar nationals said they were denied entrance to the embassy because they did not have an invitation or were not on a list, but had brought their passports.

Voting is being held in Singapore as well as Thailand, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan ahead of a referendum on May 10, Myanmar's first in 18 years.

Myanmar's military leaders say the new constitution will pave the way for democratic elections in 2010, but pro-democracy groups and analysts maintain it simply gives more power to the junta.

Most queried said they will vote no.

"It will only benefit the military, not the people," said Ja Naw, 32, an engineer.

The Myanmar community in Singapore numbers about 50,000 people.

Police have been standing guard outside the embassy, and there have been no disturbances. Outdoor demonstrations are prohibited in Singapore without a police permit.

International condemnation of Myanmar's regime has mounted since soldiers were deployed in September to violently end anti-government protests.

Source: Earth Times

Forced advance 'Yes' voting in Bhamo

By Myo Gyi
Mizzima News

Monday, 28 April 2008 - Local authorities of the Burmese junta in Bhamo, Kachin State summoned senior citizens and those who have lost their national ID cards to the Ward Peace and Development Council (PDC) offices and forced them to cast the 'Yes' vote in the constitutional referendum.

The local authorities of Myenu Ward PDC office visited houses of people over 50 years of age on April 27 and invited them to their office. Then they forced them to cast the 'Yes' vote for the referendum.

"Yes, this morning we were called by Ward PDC office Chairman and USDA officials. They called only senior citizens," a local resident who had cast the vote told Mizzima.

There were about 20 people who were called to Myenu Ward PDC office. Because of pressure by PDC office Chairman, all had to cast the 'Yes' vote except a granny who cast 'No' vote.

"All had to cast the 'Yes' vote as the Chairman forced us to do so. Only a granny cast 'No'. And then the Chairman threatened her by saying 'will you take responsibility for this vote' and the granny replied yes and left the office," the resident added.

The authorities issued ballot papers but there were no ballot boxes there. The voters had to tick'Yes'and these ballot papers were collected by the authorities.

Similarly, Daw Ohn who had to cast a vote in advance told Mizzima that Tharzi Ward PDC Chairman U Maung Maung Tar personally visited those who had lost ID cards or had no ID cards on April 24 to come and collect these ID cards. When they reached the office to collect the ID cards, they were issued ballot papers instead and had to cast the 'Yes' vote in advance.

"I applied for the new ID card against my lost card. The Chairman of Tharzi PDC U Maung Maung Tar came and called me to the office at Bulldozer height in eastern Tharzi," she said.

Bulldozer height is in eastern Tharzi ward where bulldozers and other heavy construction machinery are kept.

She elaborated on how she was called to Ward PDC office behind the Timber Corporation complex and had to cast 'Yes' vote.

"Bulldozer Ward PDC Chairman U Brem Taung first told us that all those who have no ID cards or had lost their cards must vote in advance. Then he issued ballot papers to us. When we asked what to do with the papers he asked us to tick only 'Yes' on the paper. Then I had to tick 'Yes'. Then we were issued the temporary ID card in white colour," she added.

There was an old Chinese woman among those who had to cast the 'Yes' vote in advance at the Tharzi ward PDC office.

"There were over 20 people at the PDC office. I don't know how other people voted on that day. But I found a Chinese woman casting her vote by giving her thumb impression and then ticking 'Yes' on the ballot paper," she further said.

The authorities compiled an eligible voters' list in Bhamo for the national referendum since early February by visiting each house. Those who had no ID cards or had lost them had to register with the authorities and some of them were issued temporary cards later.

Besides making the utmost effort to get the 'Yes' vote for the referendum, junta's Post and Telegraph Minister Brig. Gen. Thein Zaw has started his own campaign in Kachin State since the 22nd of this month by intimidating voters, a local resident said. He is also the Secretary of Kachin State 'Union Solidarity and Development Association' (USDA).

"He visited the villages one by one east of Irrawaddy River, such as Pa Pau, Mamaling, Sing Ken, Maing Kar among others. Now he is in villages near Mo Le creek. Then he will proceed to Phakant," this local resident added.

Brig. Gen. Thein Zaw bribed voters with used cloth bales and coerced them to cast 'Yes' vote. He further said that all the votes will be turned to 'Yes' even though voters cast the 'No' vote in the referendum.

Ko Mar Tan from Washaung village said that their village PDC Chairman Sin Wa Naung threatened the villagers also to cast the 'Yes' vote.

"Chairman U Sin Wa Naw intimidated the villagers himself. He said that all 'No' voters will be punished with years in prison and a fine of Kyat 100,000. All the villagers are living in fear," he said.

The National League for Democracy (NLD) issued a statement and pointed out that the constitutional referendum would not be free and fair so they have demand that independent international observers monitor the voting.

Similarly the UN Secretary General Mr. Ban Ki-Moon and UN special Rapporteur for Human Rights Mr. Pinheiro also demanded that international observers be allowed to monitor the referendum. But the junta turned down all these requests saying that they had had enough experience and expertise from the 1990 general election so they don't need any outside assistance.

Vote 'Yes' or 'No'?

By Mizzima News
Friday, 25 April 2008

A reader sent a letter to Mizzima arguing why Burmese should vote 'No' in the upcoming May 10 referendum on the draft constitution.

Here are the reasons he outlines:

* Amendment of the constitution is rigid, requiring 75 percent of the legislature to propose any changes and requires all eligible voters to support the motion in a referendum. This gives a chance to the military to rule the country forever.

* Provides opportunity for the military to declare a state-of-emergency anytime it wants. This gives the military enormous power to bypass all the laws and nullifies the role of civilian government.

* Does not provide for the separation of powers.

* Military commander-in-chief has final say on decisions.

* Military is a state within the state.

* Reserves 25 percent of seats in both houses for the armed forces.

* Drafted by non-elected assembly.

* Requires the President to have a military background.

* Fails to address ethnic interests.

* Undertaken in a spirit of inequality and unfairness with respect to participating political groups in the national convention.

* Lack of consideration and welcoming of proposals from ethnic groups who participated in the national convention in the hope that their interests would be heard.

* No trust in SPDC's [government's] goodwill to the country as it has a history in power replete with dishonesty.

Junta likely to control Internet connection sector-wise

By Mizzima News
Monday, 28 April 2008

Rangoon – The Burmese military junta plans to block flow of information by controlling the internet during the ensuing referendum on May 10, a source in the government said.

The government is likely to cut-off internet connection from the server sector-wise. The source added.

An official from the Myanmar Communication Department, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Mizzima that the government is likely to divide internet users into three categories – Public Access Centers, Commercial usages, and the Hotel and Tourism sector – and control and filter accordingly.

They will first block flow of information from 'Public Access Centre' (PAC) as soon as government information, facts and photographs are leaked from these sources. However, commercial and official usages are likely to remain untouched.

But if government information continues to leak, it is likely that the commercial sector will also be terminated in the second phase.

"In this way, they can easily find out from which source, the information is being leaked. Moreover, they can avoid criticism from the international community for the news blackout by disconnecting the internet," an observer in Rangoon, who monitors the junta's internet control, said.

He added that the government is likely to control the internet in two ways - a total cut off and reducing the bandwidth - to slow down flow of information.

In the meantime, internet users in Rangoon and other metro cities complained internet speed has slowed down drastically.

During September's saffron revolution, internet based commercial activities including tourism incurred heavy losses in terms of millions of US dollars when the government blocked the internet, which is the main source of information outflow from Burma to the outside world.

Villagers paint cross signs on walls, reject constitution

By Maung Dee
Mizzima News

Monday, 28 April 2008 - New Delhi - In an act of open defiance, villagers in central Burma's Myingyan Township have painted their walls and fencings with a cross, symbolizing 'No', rejecting the junta's draft constitution in the May 10 referendum.

Eyewitnesses said, on Saturday, they saw the cross signs painted with lime and tar in most of the fencings and walls of the villagers in Lingyi and Darkyun in Myigyan township of Mandalay division.

"These villagers also had their walls pasted with a paper that has the word 'No' written on it. They also painted and pasted it on the walls of Buddhist monasteries. Almost all the people in the villages had the wall writings," a local resident, who is also a member of a secretly formed referendum monitoring group, told Mizzima.

Following this, two cars loaded with township officials and about 10 policemen came to the villages and inspected the wall writings. However, he said they could not cull further information.

Meanwhile, in an act of appeasement to the junta, a fishing company named "We are Burmese", has begun distributing basic rations such as rice and oil to local residents in the area, as part of a campaign to win supporting votes for the junta, local residents said.

"The company owner Tin Win, has distributed a bag of rice and a tin of edible oil to every household in Yengan village in Taungthar township in Mandalay division, saying they are distributing the ration so that the people would support the draft constitution," said the local.

"He also announced with megaphones in the village that if the villagers vote 'Yes' in the forthcoming referendum, the company would continue providing rations for the villagers," he added.

In a separate incident, local residents said municipal authorities of Myingyan town urged slum dwellers in the town's slum, Nwagudan, to cast 'Yes' votes in return for exempting them from housing tax. But the authorities threatened them that they would be driven out from the locality if they cast a 'No' in the referendum.

Overseas Burmese Protest Constitution

The Irrawaddy News-AP

Thousands of exiled and expatriate Burmese people have been gathering outside Burmese embassies around the world to express dissatisfaction with the military government’s constitutional referendum.

Voting has already begun in some countries ahead of the May 10 referendum. While some were allowed into their respective embassies to cast their votes, others were turned away by officials.

The protests were mostly launched by Burmese nationals—both those who can vote and those with no voting rights in the referendum—at their respective embassies in several countries, including Canada, Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, South Korea and Thailand.

The biggest demonstration was held in Singapore on Sunday where some 2,500 protesters—many wearing red t-shirts with the word “No” emblazoned on the front—gathered outside the Burmese embassy and protested against the draft constitution.

Sources in Singapore said that even some Burmese people who were invited to vote in the national referendum by the embassy were denied the right by authorities when they went into the embassy to vote.

More than 40,000 Burmese people are currently living in Singapore, about 10,000 of who were officially invited by authorities to vote in the referendum, said sources.

The Burmese regime has stipulated that only citizens with legitimate documents, such as Burmese passports, can vote overseas, a ruling that excludes most political exiles and refugees.

Meanwhile, some 230 Burmese expatriates living in Japan staged a mock referendum on Sunday outside the Burmese embassy in Tokyo, criticizing the draft constitution as a ploy to keep the ruling junta in power.

The Burmese embassy had mailed letters earlier this month to more than 2,000 of its citizens in Japan, inviting them to vote on the proposed constitution in a two-day advance poll held over the weekend at the embassy, Japanese police and the foreign ministry said. However, fewer than 100 people had voted at the embassy as of Sunday afternoon, according to a count by the protesters.

About 100 Burmese citizens in Malaysia, including political activists, migrant workers and people from ethnic minorities, gathered in front of the Burmese embassy on Saturday wearing colorful traditional costumes displaying the word “No” and demanding the right to vote.

An estimated 500,000 Burmese people are living in Malaysia, about 180,000 of who possess legal documents. No official count for voters was available from the embassy.

About 100 protesters, including activists, migrant workers, students and ethnic minority people, gathered outside the Burmese embassy in Bangkok for about 30 minutes on Sunday.

The demonstrators, organized by the Joint Action Committee for Democracy in Burma, chanted slogans against the May 10 referendum. A statement from the umbrella committee for the dozen dissident organizations said the constitution was drawn up solely by pro-junta groups and would give the military great powers in any future government.

An estimated 360,000 registered Burmese migrants and 1.2 million unregistered migrants in Thailand were denied their voting rights.

Meanwhile, about 60 Burmese people in Seoul, the South Korean capital, gathered outside the Burmese embassy on Sunday to protest against the junta-written draft constitution, many wearing white shirts bearing the words “Vote No” and the logo of a cross. According to Yan Naing Htun, a Seoul-based Burmese activist, the protesters set up two artificial ballot boxes and urged people to vote “No” in the referendum.

In the United States, sources estimated that up to 100 people participated in the referendum in New York. It is estimated that the New York's Permanent Mission of Burma has some 500 registered voters.

The Burmese embassy in Washington, D.C. was the only other place in the US where Burmese citizens were able to vote in the referendum. Unlike New York, the voting process in Washington was opened for three days—Friday, Saturday and Sunday—from April 25 to 27.

Pro-democracy groups who were holding a protest outside the embassy claimed the turnout was very low. Out of the 1,500 registered voters, a little more than 150 people are believed to have cast their votes so far, with one day remaining.

Meanwhile, Kyaw Zaw Wai, a protester in Canada’s capital, Ottawa, said that more than 100 Burmese citizens from Toronto and Ottawa, including ethnic Karen, Chin, and Arakanese people, protested against the constitution for three and half hours in front of the Burmese embassy in Ottawa.

Several supporters from Tibetan, Indonesian and Vietnamese communities in Ottawa also joined the demonstration to show their solidarity with the people of Burma, said Kyaw Zaw Wai.

Kyaw Zaw Wai said, “I believe we delivered a very strong message to the military regime."

(Lalit K Jha contributed to this article from New York.)

UNSC Deadlocked on Burma

The Irrawaddy News

The Security Council remains deadlocked on a presidential statement on Burma even as diplomats of the 15-member UN body met last week for the second time in a month.

Diplomatic sources told The Irrawaddy that representatives from the Security Council member nations met on Thursday to discuss the second draft proposed by three permanent members—the United States, Britain and France.

A copy of the second draft obtained by The Irrawaddy reflects the urgency on the part of the three Western powers as time seems to be fast running out in the run-up to the May 10 referendum on the draft constitution, which is heavily loaded in favor of the Burmese military junta.

However, it appears that the two staunch supporters of the military junta—veto-wielding China and Russia—are in no hurry and continue to block any effort for a discussion or move to get the non-binding presidential statement passed by the Security Council.

With both groups apparently reluctant to change their respective stands, diplomatic sources said the next meeting on the US-proposed presidential statement would be held at the ambassadorial level.

However, it is not clear when the permanent representatives of the 15-member Security Council would be meeting on the issue of Burma.

While there is little change between the two drafts of the presidential statements except for the replacement of words here and there, the second draft circulated among the member nations last week urged the Burmese military government and all parties concerned to co-operate fully with the United Nations.

Given that the time is running out, the proposed presidential statement urges the Burmese junta to take on an "urgent basis," instead of a "timely manner" (as was in the previous draft)," concrete, meaningful steps" that result in genuine, "substantive" (added this time) dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi and all concerned parties and ethnic groups in order to achieve an inclusive national reconciliation with the direct support of the United Nations.

Except for these minor amendments, there has not been any change between the two drafts, which China and Russia have opposed.

Referring to the May 10 referendum, the draft statement calls on the junta to make the process all inclusive and credible by allowing full participation of all political actors, including Suu Kyi.

It reminds the Burmese regime of its commitment to have a free and fair referendum in which all parties will be allowed to participate on equal terms. The statement stresses that this commitment must be followed by action, including the guarantee of freedoms of expression, association and assembly in the political process leading up to the referendum, as well as independent monitoring of the vote counting.

Last week, the US ambassador to the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad, acknowledged that their efforts to send a strong message to the military junta had not yet been successful.

Expressing frustration at the Russian and Chinese vetoes, Khalilzad said, "The Council cannot be silent—should not be silent—in the face of what has happened and what has not happened."

Suu Kyi’s Party Launches Vote ‘No’ Tour

The Irrawaddy News

The National League for Democracy (NLD), the party of Burma’s democracy icon, Aung San Suu Kyi, is taking its vote “No” campaign across the county even as the regime is warning opposition forces to cease anti-referendum efforts.

Win Naing, a NLD spokesperson, told The Irrawaddy on Monday that leading members of the party were traveling to other cities to explain the party’s position on the constitution and the referendum.

“At the moment, we can campaign in at least five regions of the country—it is what we can do under the oppressive conditions created by the authorities,” he said.

“The NLD also plans to monitor the voting in the country as long as we can,” said Win Naing. “The party will also explain how to vote ‘No’ to the people of Burma through members in rural and urban areas. Our position is that people should vote against the unjust and undemocratic constitution in the referendum.”

Kyaw Hsan, the minister of information and a central secretary of the Union Solidarity and Development Association, traveled to Sagaing Division in northern Burma on April 21, the junta’s mouthpiece, Myanma Alin’s reported on Monday. He called on local people to vote “yes” in the referendum and vowed the constitution would guarantee stability, development and democracy.

Meanwhile in Rangoon, the largest city in Burma, security was tightened by authorities.
“There are police in civilian clothes and uniforms along with Swan Ah-shin at bus stops in Rangoon both in downtown areas and outside of downtown,” a student in Rangoon said. “Some of them were holding batons and some were holding guns.”

Rumors were circulating that the authorities would set up CCTV cameras at polling booths to allow them to determine who voted “Yes” or “No,” said a taxi driver in Rangoon. “So I am now thinking whether I should go to vote, because I don’t want to vote ‘Yes’ but I don’t want authorities to know how I voted.”

Sources said vote “No” campaigns by dissident groups could be found across the city. “I saw a group of students distributing vote ‘No’ leaflets in Tamwe Township,” said a shop owner.

One opposition group, The All Burma Federation of Student Union, released a statement on Monday supporting the vote “No” campaign and launched its own house-to-house, underground campaign across the country.

“There are more than 10 young organizations that are campaigning to vote against the constitution,” said Tun Myint Aung of the 88 Generation Students group.

“Activists will try to monitor voting on May 10,” he said. “Then everyone will know if the junta cheated and how they cheated.”

The well-known comedians, the Moustache Brothers, are conducting a vote “No” campaign in their nightly performances in Mandalay, the second largest city, using a visual gag of crossing their arms over their chests, a tourist told The Irrawaddy.

"The military junta is doing its utmost to encourage everyone to vote 'Yes' on May 10 and endorse the constitution,” says Par Par Lay, one of the Moustache Brothers. “But the Moustache Brothers would like everyone to know that they will vote 'No' in the referendum.”

“This is a sham constitution that the junta is trying to force onto us,” he says. “If we vote 'Yes,' democracy will never come to Burma."

Par Par Lay and Lu Maw, his fellow comedian, were both imprisoned for seven years during the 1990s. Par Par Lay was jailed again for more than one month during the 2007 civil uprising.

Inside Burma April briefer

Alert! We received information from inside Burma that some monks and students gathered at the famous Shwedagon Pagoda in the morning of 26/4/08 and a group of 100 people also protested in Tamwe Bazaar in Rangoon in the morning. Yesterday on April 27, some people gathered in Botataung and Moegaung Pagodas in Rangoon. Security people were seen posted in the areas and people dispersed in the evening. There were also reports of monks being asked to get out of buses and return to their monasteries and some security forces were taking post at some monasteries that barred monks from leaving the compounds.

Since Friday on 25th April, people inside had been seen gathering in some public areas, and pasting and distribution of stickers and leaflets in protest of drafted constitution were also seen in some areas in Rangoon. These activities indicate that momentum inside Burma is gradually rising and people are determined to show their dissent to the regime once again. And we would sincerely like to urge our friends around the world again to be vigilant on Burma at this very important time!

As the time to referendum approaching within a little over ten days, the military regime is stepping up its propaganda of "Yes" campaign for the referendum. Besides, arrests, intimidation and brutal beating continue to occur to democracy and human rights activists as well as to the members of main opposition leaders. There are some concerns expressed that some young activists are detained and tortured harshly but since they are not well-known like Min Ko Naing, they suffer in silent. We have seen arrests of young Musicians like Rappers, Zeyar Thaw and Yan Yan Chan of ACID music band already.

Some provincial and state military commanders even join the "Yes" campaign and promising the public to obtain mobile phones if they vote in favor for drafted constitution. At the same time, civil servants are warned that they would face 'the sack' if they vote against the constitution in the referendum. The attacks and vandalism to several homes of opposition party's members increased dramatically while the authorities raided the homes of NLD members in Mandalay and Rangoon. The attacks were carried out by the assailants who were on the motorbikes. This makes it clear that who are the assailants since no ordinary people in Burma are allowed to ride motorbike but only the members of USDA and the regime's thugs can possess and ride motorbike around towns.

The regime's desperate tactics running vote "Yes" campaign:

The regime is using all means to campaign the people of Burma to vote "Yes" for its constitutional referendum on May 10. All state-run media carried campaign vote "Yes" messages while the members of USDA and Swan-arr-shin were wearing T-shirts with pro-constitution messages. Leaders from the Mon National Democratic Front (MNDF) commented that the regime is just desperate to have the draft constitution approved at any cost even though people of Burma do not want to accept it. Many people including MNDF inside Burma are waiting to see how the regime would do with the result of the referendum. The state-run MRTV has been running programs attracting people to vote but some in Mon State explained that it is not going to be secret voting and therefore people are scared to vote "No". The regime had also ordered the government employees to sign a pledge that they would vote "Yes". Government staff are told to cooperate with the Referendum Holding Commission (RHC) and urged to vote "Yes".

Meanwhile, the Deputy Home Minister, Brig-Gen Phone Swe was visiting Maungdaw, Arakan State on 20/4/08 and held a meeting with many local village administrative councils to mobilize people to vote "Yes" in the referendum. About 750 village chairmen and clerks were gathered in 3 hours meeting in which the Brig-Gen Phone Swe asked the meeting attendees about anyone in the area going against the referendum. Many in Arakan State speculated that the Deputy Home Minister's visit to Maungdaw was arranged after finding out that Arakanese people will be boycotting the referendum by refusing to go to the polls. Phone Swe visited Buthidaung and Rathidaung as well.

Stepping up with luring people to vote, some military commanders had joined the "Yes" campaign. Maj-Gen Ohn Myint, the head of the Northern Command and also a chairman of the Kachin State Peace and Development Council (KSPDC) had toured Kachin State and urged local authorities and members of the USDA to persuade local residents to vote for the drafted constitution. According to a resident in Myitkyina, capital of Kachin State, persuading people to vote "Yes" included promise of mobile phone if anyone votes in favor and legal action – fines or imprisonment, was being threatened to those who go against the constitution.

The regime is also wooing rural people in Chibwe, Northern Burma by selling rice and salt distribution for locals with discounted prices. Local civilians and government servants can buy a sack of milled rice at 18,000 Kyat (US $ 16) and a package of salt for 250 Kyat. According to residents of Chibwe, these are being sold at 50 per cent discount. There are over 10,000 people in Chibwe town and the people rely on government jobs and cultivation of paddy in the surrounding mountains, the residents added.

The chairman of the Rangoon Division Peace and Development Council, Brig-Gen Hla Htay Win and Home Minster Maung Oo ordered members of township and ward peace and development councils to lobby residents to vote in favor of the constitution. Spokesman of the Shan State Army – South (SSA-South), Sai Lao Hseng, said that local authorities were using threats to force people to vote "Yes" in the referendum.

An aggressive "Yes" campaign claimed the life of a USDA member, Tun Thein (26), in Sittwe, Arakan State who was stabbed several times with a knife by Tun Lin, a 19 year old young man. The young man is in police custody. Members of USDA have not just been vigorously campaigning "Yes" vote for the referendum but also attacking and harassing several activists and NLD members in this town.

Myitkyina residents issued temporary national card by USDA:
Residents in Myitkyina were issued with national ID cards but of temporary nature by the USDA members who collected thousands of Kyats to issue out the IDs to people. The regime had also ordered to those who received temporary cards to cast "Yes" vote in the referendum. The residents were also told not to go anywhere before the referendum.

Mon State sees both campaigns "Yes" and "No" strongly:

Towns of Southern Mon State – Moulmein, Ye, Mudon and Thanphyuzayat – saw strong campaign to vote "Yes" by the regime and its backed organizations and "No" fliers by democracy activists were seen in public areas but were later removed by the authorities. For many residents in these towns, this was the very first time they have seen such campaigns. Village headmen were warned by their higher authorities that they would be held responsible if "No" result come out of their territory. Local authorities in towns and remote areas of Mon State were ordered that the schools should be turned into polling stations.

People's Opinions:

Almost everyone in Burma is saying whatever you vote in the referendum will come out "Yes" anyway but they are determined to express their feeling in discontent with the military regime which cannot bring the country to a more prosperous society instead poorer than ever. Many people are aware that the regime not only plans out well until 2010 elections but it has planned out beyond 2010 by instigating terror in the public. Many people talk about the polling booths which will not be of secret voting and concern that there will be repercussion if they vote "No". Vote counting is also to be done with the last 10 people voting at the polling booths and the total and final result will be announced from the new capital, Naypyidaw. Critics commented that this is to rig the votes indefinitely compared to 1990 elections where the final results were announced at each polling station.

Polling stations opened for oversea Burmese:

Outside the country, as the time gets closer, the regime has been ordering its embassies in some Asian countries to open up polling stations for Burmese citizens living abroad. Burmese embassies in South Korea, Singapore, Japan, Thailand, and Malaysia have already opened to Burmese people who live and work abroad to vote for the constitutional referendum. The embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia urged the Burmese who possess passports or work permits (180,000 out of 500,000 Burmese living in Malaysia have legal documents) to vote at the embassy from 19th – 27th April. About 50,000 Burmese are currently living in Singapore and most of them have legal documents. Burmese embassy in Singapore will accept voting from 26th to 29th April and the embassy in South Korea suggested the citizens to vote on 27th April and has been lobbying people to support the regime's written constitution by voting "Yes".

Ongoing Arrests, Assaults & Harassment:

Some activists who opposed the regime's constitution were attacked and harassed by unknown assailants who believed to be the regime's backed thugs from the USDA and Swan-arr-shin group.

A leading human rights activist, Myint Aye and a member of the NLD and Tin Yu were attacked separately in Rangoon. Other NLD members, Thi Han, Win Thein and U Myint Hlaing (72) were also beaten up by thugs in Rangoon in separately accounts just last week that U Myint Hlaing needed to be hospitalized after the incident.

Two NLD members, Myint Soe and Aung Ko Ko, in Mandalay were attacked on 20/4/08. Three NLD members in South Dagon Myothit in Rangoon were raided by more than a dozen of unidentified officials on 22/4/08. Homes of Lay Lwin, Ma Cho and Thin Soe were searched thoroughly. Several NLD members in North Okkalapa Township were harassed as they walked home.

Recently, two NLD members, Thi Han and U Myint Hlaing (72), in Rangoon were assaulted. NLD members in Arakan State and Irrawaddy Division were harassed and assaulted by assailants for their political activities.

Another NLD member, Tin Win, was arrested for wearing "No" message on his T-shirt, and one NLD party official was also arrested in Rangoon for putting up a "No" poster.

Some NLD members arrested during Water Festival still remained in detention:
Since the last week of Burmese Buddhist New Year, at least 60 people had been arrested in Sittwe, Arakan State for wearing T-shirts with "No" word. According to the NLD Arakan State, around 30 people were released but about 20 are still remained in detention.

Min Ko Naing could go blind:

Well-known student leader of the 88' Generation Students Group, Min Ko Naing, could go blind as the authorities refused to permit him to see an eye specialist on 22/4/08. US State Department spokesman, Tom Casey said "We condemn the failure of Burma's authorities to provide proper medical treatment to a number to a number of prisoners, who may suffer irreparable damages due to the lack of prompt medical attention". Min Ko Naing will not be the first political activists to loose the eye sight as a result of the regime's refusal to give permission to see proper doctors. Some NLD leaders have lost their eye sights due to same problem and another student leader of GSG, Hla Myo Naung may likely to face the same fate.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's health:

Meanwhile, the main opposition party's spokesman, Nyan Win, reiterated about the health of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who has not been seen by her physician since January.

Two bomb blasts in Rangoon:

Rangoon downtown was shaken by two bomb blasts on 20/4/08 – one at 36th Street in Kyauktada Township and another one went off at 32nd Street near Traders Hotel one hour apart from each other. Series of bombs have been detonated since early this year and there was a grenade explosion in Lacha township in Southern Shan State during the traditional new year festival. The military regime had warned in early April that terrorists might be executing bombings as the time to the referendum is closing in.

Karen villagers driven out from villages due to army offensive:

According to reports from the Free Burma Rangers (FBR) and the Committee for Internally Displaced Karen People (CIDKP), about 2,000 villagers were forced out of their villages in Mon and Kyauk Gyi Township since March due to ongoing army offensive by the military regime. Another around 2,000 villagers in Papun District have also been forced to flee into the jungle as a joint campaign against ethnic Karen armed groups was launched by Military Operations Commands 4 and 16 in northern Karen State.

Burmese detainees in Malaysia stormed immigration office & set ablaze:

Some 72 Burmese who had been detained in a camp located in Lenggeng State, just outside of Kuala Lumpur forced their way to an administrative office and set it ablaze after hearing that they had been denied asylum in a third country. Malaysia has 39,000 refugees from Burma registered with the UNHCR and 13,000 and 12,000 (out of 39,000) are of Rohingya Muslim minority and other minority ethnic groups respectively, including Chin, Rakhine and Burman.

Shorter stays proposed to curb visitors from Burma:

Thailand's officials had proposed a shorter stay (from one week to one day) for everyone visiting Thailand from Burma in Ranong after the death of 54 migrants who tried to make to Phuket Island to work as migrant workers. The proposal was made at a meeting between the Thai and Burmese officials. Fourteen of 67 survivors from suffocation ordeal which killed 54 Burmese migrant workers in badly ventilated truck are being held at the Ranong's Immigration office as witnesses.

Diplomatic and Trade Ties with Burma

Thailand ~ Thailand sealed a successful deal with Burma to develop a deep-sea port at Tavoy on the Andaman Sea coast. According to Hong Kong-based logistics expert, the port will be of convenient to Thais as it will be capable of handling ocean-going oil tankers and within easy reach of the Bangkok region.

India ~ India also obtained the deal with Burma to redevelop the old rice port of Sittwe on the edge of Bay of Bengal.

China ~ China is also working on a major new port construction at Kyauk Phyu on Ramree Island which will necessitate a 1,500-kilometre highway and similar length pipeline to reach Kunming, the capital of China's bordering Yunnan Province.

International effort on Burma

US ~ The US had used stronger words against the regime in Burma in their newly drafted statement and circulated within the UN for not freeing and permitting to get proper medical treatment for the political prisoners. The statement included the regrets on slow progress taken by the regime in complying with the UNSC's demands for political dialogue and release of all political prisoners. US is hoping that the UN Security Council (UNSC) will unanimously agree on the drafted statement. US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad told reporters that the statement was to send "a strong message to the regime but also to the people of Burma and to the world".

British ~ British Ambassador John Sawers also supported the new statement and said that "I think it's important that the council express itself before the referendum."

France ~ France's Human Rights Minister, Rama Yade, said on 25/4/08 on her 3-days visit to Cambodia that she hopes Burma's referendum on a new constitution will be held under clear and transparent conditions while pointing out that the military regime had rejected the UN Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari's offer of a team of foreign observers at the referendum.

This is all for the last week of April Burma briefer.

In solidarity,

The Burma Partnership Secretariat

Helping those who can't help themselves

Manpower teams up with UNHCR to provide new hope for refugee children

Bagkok Post - Life for the children at the Ban Tham Hin refugee camp has become less grim now that they have playground, learning centre and sports equipment were donated by Manpower, an international recruitment company, together with corporate partners including Microsoft, Nike, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Merce and Co., and Right to Play, and are part of the company's support for the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).

According to UNHCR, there are currently more than 21 million refugees in 116 countries, and more than nine million of them are children and young people who have fled their homelands.

UNHCR started the ''Nine Million'' campaign to encourage support for education, health care and sport for refugee children around the world.

According to general manager Simon Anthony Matthews of Manpower (Thailand), Manpower is one of the main supporters of the Nine Million campaign. Its offices in 73 countries have joined forces with customers and local communities to hold charity events to raise funds for refugee children.

According to Htoo Saw, vice-president of the Ban Tham Hin refugee camp, the children there face many hardships. ''Despite their despair, the thing that can bring them a better future is the chance for them to learn and play,'' he said. ''The power of education will provide the opportunity to unlock their imagination and inner creativity.''

The learning centre, playground and sports equipment are like a testing ground for children at Ban Tham Hin because they help them learn new things, see the beauty of the things around them and learn how to live with others, said Matthews.

''In addition, the children realise that they still have people in this world who care, and want to help them, and particularly to give them the opportunity to develop their skills. Their efforts will give these unfortunate children the inspiration to live their lives with purpose, hopes and dreams for their futures.''

Junta blamed for stunting Burmese output

By Amy Kazmin in Bangkok

April 28 2008 (FT) - In the late 1930s, Burma, then under British colonial rule, was the world’s largest rice exporter, sending 3.3m tonnes a year from its fertile Irrawaddy delta to foreign markets, mainly in neighbouring India.

Despite vast tracts of potential paddy land and abundant water, Burma is now a marginal player in the global rice market. Its farmers, and their output, have been hit by chronic neglect of rural infrastructure and misguided controls to ensure cheap urban food.

While no reliable data are available, economists and rice experts say Burmese rice production is just a fraction of its potential. Fertile paddy land is lying fallow and irrigation channels are silting up, while farmers sink deeper into poverty.

“Here is this gold mine – this huge potential – which Burma is sitting on, but it’s just not performing,” says Sean Turnell, editor of Burma Economics Watch. “It’s another example of how Burma’s problems are not its alone.”

Since the 1960s Burmese farmers have been forced to sell a significant quantity of their rice harvests to state authorities at below-market prices, while the regime tightly controls exports and restricts domestic rice movements. The generals’ rationale for these policies has been to ensure cheap rice to feed the army and civil servants, and to keep urban rice prices down.

But economists say these punitive policies have so deeply impoverished farmers that today they have no resources – or incentive – to invest in fertiliser, high-yielding seeds or other modern inputs that could greatly boost their rice output.

“Their farmers refuse to grow rice,” says Thai rice exporter Vichai Sriprasert, who has tried to advise the regime to loosen control over the rice sector. “They only want to grow enough for themselves to eat.”

In 2003 the junta did lurch towards liberalisation, abolishing the “compulsory quota system” that required farmers to give a fixed quantity of paddy, based on their landholdings, to the state each year.

But according to industry experts, local military commanders still routinely restrict the movement of rice out of rice-growing areas, causing local prices to crash and letting the government buy rice on the cheap.

While the junta also technically ended the state’s monopoly on exporting rice in 2003, only a handful of regime cronies were permitted to enter the trade, which in effect remains under tight state control

Yet Mr Vichai says Burma could re-emerge as a big force on the global rice market, if the regime ever relaxed controls and let paddy farmers make a fair profit from their labour. “If you just give farmers the incentives, everything would change,” he says. “Once they free up the market, they can be number one again in the world.”