Thursday, 12 June 2008

US City Declares August 8 ‘Burma Day’

The Irrawaddy News
June 12, 2008

Expressing solidarity with the people of Burma and their relentless struggle to fight for democratic rights, a university city in California has decided to observe August 8 as “Burma Day.”

Although Berkeley—located in northern California to the east of the San Francisco Bay—does not have much of a Burmese population, the city council at its meeting on Tuesday, June 10, unanimously passed a series of resolutions expressing strong solidarity with the people of Burma.

In the US Congress, the city is represented by Congresswoman Barbara Lee, a well-known advocate of the restoration of democracy in Burma at Capitol Hill.

Commending the people of Burma for 46 years of struggle against a brutal dictatorship and honoring the 20th anniversary of the 1988 popular uprising, the Berkeley City Council in its resolution declared August 8 as “Burma Day.”

Under Berkeley’s new resolution, on August 8, every year, the city of Berkeley will raise the national flag of Burma and the city will continue to raise the Burmese national flag until a "genuine democracy" is restored in Burma. The flag for this ceremony will be provided by the Burmese American Democracy Alliance.

"By these actions, the Council of the City of Berkeley will help promote the 8/8/88 commemorations held by the Burmese American Democratic Alliance, the Buddhist Peace Fellowship and other allies," said the resolution, which was tabled by the Peace and Justice Commission of the city council.

Berkeley City Council also thanked Congresswoman Barbara Lee for writing to US President George W Bush, urging him not to attend the Beijing Olympics because of its pro-junta policies on Burma.

The resolution further urged Lee and senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein to do whatever they could to ensure aid is delivered to Burma, with or without the junta's permission, using any means possible except military invasion or force.

Copies of the resolution are to be sent to Liu Qi, the president of the Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee; and its main sponsors Coca-Cola, McDonald's, General Electric, Johnson & Johnson, Kodak, Visa, Lenovo, Panasonic, Samsung, Manulife Financial, Atos Origin and Omega.

The letter to these companies will communicate Berkeley's opposition to human rights violations by the Chinese government and its opposition to the political cover that these companies give the Chinese government through their sponsorship of the Olympics in China.

Burma Red Tape Delays Cyclone Aid, Agencies Say

The Irrawaddy News - AP

Ten thousand pregnant women among Burma's estimated 2.4 million cyclone survivors are in urgent need of proper care, a UN official said Wednesday, as fresh questions were raised about the government's willingness to accept foreign assistance.

International aid agencies are expressing concern over new and complicated guidelines established by Burma's government for carrying out assistance programs to victims of last month's cyclone.

The guidelines, distributed on Tuesday by the government at a meeting with UN agencies and private humanitarian organizations, would require a large amount of paperwork and repeated contacts with national and local government agencies.

The new guidelines require most activities by the foreign agencies to be cleared with not only the relevant government ministry and local authorities concerned, but also with the so-called Tripartite Core Group, comprising representatives of the government, UN agencies and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, of which Burma is a member.

In response, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent societies said the humanitarian community was expressing concerns that "additional steps for seeking approval may unnecessarily delay the relief response."

"The meeting was assured by the concerned ministries that this would not be the case and that delays would definitely not be a consequence of the approval process outlined," the IFRC said in a report issued on Wednesday.

Amanda Pitt, a spokeswoman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said at a press conference in Bangkok, Thailand, that UN agencies were currently assessing the new guidelines.

At the same press conference, a spokesman for the United Nations Population Fund said pregnant women in the cyclone-affected areas of Burma were facing increased health risks.

The maternal mortality rate in Burma even before the storm was 380 per 100,000 births—almost four times the rate in neighboring Thailand and 60 times the rate in Japan, said William A. Ryan.

More than 100 women give birth every day in the area affected by the cyclone, he said.

"The destruction of health centers and the loss of midwives have greatly increased the risks," said Ryan. "It is clear that many pregnant women do not have anywhere to go to deliver with skilled assistance."

He said the wrecked health facilities need to be rebuilt with the capacity to handle emergency obstetrics.

Ryan said that compared to many other countries, Burma has a fairly high number of births attended by midwives—but the comparison is to other countries that are desperately poor.

Foreign aid organizations have faced a series of hurdles in trying to provide help for victims of the May 2-3 storm, starting with the government's reluctance to grant anything but a handful of visas to foreign helpers.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last month traveled to Burma to meet with the chief of the ruling junta, Snr-Gen Than Shwe, who agreed to allow aid workers into the affected area "regardless of nationality," according to Ban. The general also agreed to allow the UN to bring in 10 helicopters to fly supplies to the hard-hit Irrawaddy delta.

Although the helicopters have been allowed in—with some delay—aid agencies say the government has continued dragging its feet over visa applications and allowing foreigners access to the most devastated areas.

The UN estimates that Cyclone Nargis affected 2.4 million people and that more than 1 million of them, mostly in the Irrawaddy delta, still need help. The cyclone killed at least 78,000 people, according to the government.

Although the government says the relief operations have now reached the post-emergency recovery phase, aid agencies are concerned that many people still are lacking necessities.

"What we're concerned about is premature returns to areas where the services are not yet in a position to be used, to try and make sure we can reach people the best we can no matter where they are," said the UN's Pitt.

France Hurtubise of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent societies said providing shelter remains a priority. According to the organization, only 107,000 of some 341,000 households had received shelter kits, which are supposed to include two tarpaulins each.

Aid agencies project that tarpaulin supplies will fall short of demand in the coming weeks, in part because of the competing need for such supplies for victims of China's May 12 earthquake.

The Troops Have Arrived at Last, but Where’s the Aid? - Comment

Irrawaddy News

June 12, 2008 - Burma’s men in uniform are now to be seen in the areas of the country devastated by Cyclone Nargis, which left up to 2.5 million people in urgent need of food, water and shelter. But the troops aren’t there to help these victims. Instead of aid, they bring only fear and oppression to the survivors.

In contrast with the impressive way neighboring China responded to the disastrous earthquake there, Burmese troops reacted to their own country’s disaster sluggishly and cold-heartedly.

While Chinese soldiers are working hard to save the lives of earthquake victims, the Burmese army is still shunning the responsibility of collecting the dead, identifying them and giving them a proper funeral according to their religious traditions. Thousands of dead bodies still lie in the sodden rice paddies, fields and waterways of Burma’s Irrawaddy delta.

The Burmese army has also stepped up a campaign to evict displaced citizens from refugee shelters and, in the latest, most disgusting development, is forcing survivors to perform unskilled labor for military infrastructure projects, such as helicopter landing places, in exchange for food.

London-based Amnesty International said last week that the Burmese authorities in several cyclone-hit areas continue to divert aid despite the junta's pledge to crack down on the problem.

All this misery stems from the actions of one man, the junta’s infamous leader, Snr-Gen Than Shwe. After Cyclone Nargis hit the Irrawaddy delta, he knew exactly who to appoint to head the military mission in the region: Brig-Gen Maung Maung Aye, commander of Light Infantry Division (LID) 66, based in Pegu Division’s Pyay Township.

Maung Maung Aye earned the aging leader’s trust and respect after he played a key role in the suppression of last September’s monk-led protests. According to sources close to the military, it was Maung Maung Aye who gave the order to carry out raids on monasteries and fire on protesting monks and other demonstrators.

As commanding officer of Infantry Battalion 70 in Pegu Division and Karen State in the early 2000s, Maung Maung Aye became notorious for his use of forced labor, routinely press-ganging civilians into road construction and to clear roadsides of vegetation, army sources told The Irrawaddy.

This time, the cyclone survivors in the delta have had to endure his three LID 66 tactical operation commands—Tactical Command 661, led by Col Aung Tun and based in Myaung Mya Township; Tactical Command 662, led by Col Htwe Hla and based in Mawlamyinegyun Township; and Tactical Command 663, led by Col Han Nyunt and based in Kyaiklat Township.

Meanwhile, Burma's government has established total control over the international aid agencies’ efforts to carry out assistance programs for victims of last month's cyclone. Guidelines, distributed on Tuesday by the government at a meeting with UN agencies and private humanitarian organizations, would require a large amount of paperwork and repeated contacts with national and local government agencies.

Disaster management is a recognized dimension of government responsibility. The Burmese regime is proving itself to be totaling lacking in the skills of disaster management—which encompass all aspects of planning for and responding to disasters, including analysis, vulnerability reduction (preparedness), prevention, mitigation, response, recovery and rehabilitation.

Throughout the world, since disasters pose significant challenges to governance, it is not possible for local governments alone to take care of all the relief responses.
There is a need for active participation by international aid workers, volunteers, non-governmental organization staffers and the wider civil society.

The needs of the victims of Cyclone Nargis mean nothing, however, to Than Shwe, whose attention is focused only on building a "strong, efficient, modern and patriotic" army and cementing the unity of the military as an "essential" for maintaining his tight grip on power.

Because of the junta’s mishandling and mismanagement, there is no hope of a dramatic increase in the amount of aid being delivered to those facing starvation and disease. This is a great human tragedy.

Asean workshop warned against overly ambitious human rights body

By Deutsche Presse Agentur-NMM

Singapore - Too much ambition could easily scuttle the establishment of an Asean human rights body, a workshop on forming the agency was warned Thursday.

"Let us have no illusions that the road ahead will be easy," Raymond Lim, Singapore's second minister for foreign affairs, said in outlining what lies ahead for the high-level panel that is to draft the "terms of reference" for the rights body on the sidelines of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean) Minister Meeting in July.

Leaders of 10-member Asean - which includes Myanmar, one of the nations most criticised in the world for its human rights record - pledged to set up the human rights body when they signed the organisation's first charter in November. The charter would also make Asean a legal entity, set democracy as a regional goal and turn the bloc into a single market by 2015.

But its lack of an effective enforcement mechanism, continuation of decision-making by consensus and retention of Asean's tenet of no intervention in members' affairs have been the focus of widespread criticism.

"We are engaged in an unprecedented enterprise for Asean," Lim said in the keynote address. "We should cross the river by feeling the stones beneath our feet."

"We should allow the functions of this human rights body to evolve," he said at the meeting in Singapore, which now holds the rotating Asean chairmanship. "Too much ambition can as easily scuttle this important project as too little."

Burma's bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in September overshadowed the November summit.

It threatens to haunt the next meeting as well, analysts said, after its military junta initially refused international aid and stalled on granting visas to aid workers after the May 2-3 Cyclone Nargis, which left 133,000 people dead or missing, as well as the continuation of house arrest for Nobel Peace Prize laureate and pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

"A few years ago, it would have been difficult to imagine that Asean would commit itself to establishing a human rights body of any kind," Lim told the participants, including Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan and Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn, chairman of a working group for the human rights mechanism.

Lim stressed the importance of ensuring the body is credible and meaningful to its members, adding, "We must be realistic. However, a direction has been set from which there is no turning back."

An Asean-level human rights commission could push for more effective implementation of rules and norms concerning human rights, said Viti, a law professor at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University.

Although Asean was essentially a political organisation driven by economics, it could still address human rights issues in a "creative, innovative and meaningful manner," said Vitit, who is also the UN's special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea.//dpa

ASEAN team gains 'full access' to Burma

Southeast Asian and UN experts will have full access to cyclone-devastated parts of Burma, where more than a million people have still not received any foreign help, ASEAN says.

"Now we have 250-plus of our, what we call our post-Nargis assessment teams, in the Delta, in the Rangoon division, in the south and they will be doing the full assessment and they will have full access to the affected region," Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan told reporters in Singapore.

"I think if we look at that, it's already a great achievement and we will try to maintain that momentum.

"We have been given full cooperation and support by the authorities in Burma."

Cyclone Nargis pounded the southwest Irrawaddy Delta and the main city of Rangoon on May 2-3 leaving more than 133,000 people dead or missing.

ASEAN said last week that the Emergency Rapid Assessment Team had begun to deploy in the delta region to start a long-awaited examination of the needs of millions of people affected by the storm.

It said then that its advance teams, ferried by UN World Food Program helicopter, would compile a first-hand "progress report" for an ASEAN Roundtable meeting in Rangoon on June 24.

Surin said there were no doubts that the team would be able to do its job adequately and with credibility, "coming up with a report that would be taken up by all parties in order to be the basis of rehabilitation and reconstruction later on."

Inciting international outrage, Burma's isolated military regime had largely barred foreign aid workers from gaining access to the delta, which bore the brunt of the cyclone.

Relief workers slowly moved into the region in late May after the junta started to ease restrictions on access, and asked fellow ASEAN nations to coordinate the international relief effort.

ASEAN has often been criticised for failing to act firmly against Burma, a member country which has frequently embarrassed its neighbours with its refusal to shift towards democracy.

"I think ASEAN has made a very, very significant step in trying to connect the international community through ASEAN with Burma on the humanitarian mission," Surin said, describing it as a confidence-building measure.

"So I think we realise that this is very precious."

The United Nations estimates that while 2.4 million people need emergency aid, about one million have not yet received any foreign assistance.

The ASEAN team is working under a tripartite arrangement with the United Nations and the Burma government.

One Southeast Asian diplomat in Rangoon said last week that the team would finish its work by month's end, although ASEAN says its findings will only be released in mid-July.

"We expect them to meet a lot of difficulties, with many parts of the delta remaining physically difficult to reach by road or boats," the diplomat said.

"We are hoping we may be able to fill in the gaps, although we realise there is a big void in terms of aid to be filled."

Surin said things had been going "very well" on the ground.

"Certainly there are rooms for improvement but we are working on that and we have been assured that, yes, we will work together until the mission is accomplished," he said on the sidelines of a meeting about human rights in ASEAN.

The deployment of the ASEAN team last week came a day after the United States gave up trying to convince the junta to allow aid-laden warships stationed off the delta to deliver their vital supplies.

Source: AAP-SBS

Police seize misappropriated aid in Kha Yan

Jun 10, 2008 (DVB)–Police raiding a house in Kha Yan township on 27 May recovered international relief supplies intended for cyclone survivors, according to a Kha Yan resident.

Township Peace and Development Council chairperson Hla Thaung was alleged to have secretly stored the aid in office guard Aye Hlaing’s house instead of distributing it to cyclone victims.

“Police found 27 different kinds of supplies made in the USA including waterproof torches, lighters, tanned fish and so on,” the Kha Yan resident said.

“Aye Hlaing was asked why these items were in his house. He said he was given them and that’s why he had kept them,” he went on.

“He also told the police that other people were sharing the aid as well.”

The secretary and the police tried to prosecute Hla Thaung for misappropriation of aid but the chairperson denied the charges.

“Hla Thaung once told ward Peace and Development Council chairpersons that they could distribute aid to whoever they wanted and also that they could use it for themselves,” the resident said.

DVB was told that cyclone survivors in Kha Yan township did not receive as much aid as they should have done because ward PDC authorities shared it with their relatives and USDA members before distributing it to local residents.

“In the villages, every person got one pyi [approximately 4 kg] of rice and in urban area each person got three pyi,” the resident said.

“They were badly affected by the cyclone but none of them received any good quality supplies,” he complained.

“When the generals came, the local authorities showed them nice tents and said the cyclone survivors were staying there but those tents disappeared once the generals left. None of the refugees was given a nice tent.”

Reporting by Khin Hnin Htet

NLD appeals against Daw Suu’s detention

Jun 11, 2008 (DVB)–The National League for Democracy has submitted an appeal to senior government members against the extension of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's house arrest, the pro-democracy party said yesterday.

NLD information officer U Nyan Win said the party had sent a letter signed by group chairperson U Aung Shwe to government officials in Naypyidaw.

The NLD claimed in a statement issued on Monday that the party leader’s continued detention was unfair and against Burmese law.

“If the State Peace and Development Council believes that the extension of the detention of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was in accordance with the law, we ask the authorities to accept the appeal and open the case in accordance with the law,” the statement said.

The military regime extended the detention of the Noble Peace Prize laureate for another year on 27 May.

According to a 1975 law on the protection of the state from “destructive elements” under which she has been detained, a person can only be held without charge or trial for a maximum of five years.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi finished her five-year term on 24 May.

“We demand that the SPDC accept our appeal against Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s detention. We are ready for the court hearing,” said NLD Special Information Committee member U Thein Nyunt.

“If the authorities deny our request it will be obvious that they are breaking their own law.”

An article in the state media today countered claims that the detention was illegal, claiming that “subversive elements” could be held for up to six years, subject to the approval of government ministers.

The NLD’s Nyan Win said similar claims by the Burmese ambassador to the United Nations, U Wunna Maung Lwin, were unfounded.

"As far as I understand, U Wunna Maung Lwin was only saying what he was told to say, and in fact he didn't seem to understand what he was talking about," Nyan Win said.

"We are now challenging the government and pointing out that its extension of Daw Suu’s house arrest is not according to the law," he said.

"They should release Daw Suu if they can't prove this wrong – making random comments at random times carries no legal weight."

The NLD statement also declared the detention of NLD vice chairperson U Tin Oo, Kyauk Tan MP-elect Dr Than Nyein and Mayangone MP-elect Dr May Win Myint illegal.

The military junta has kept Daw Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest since the Depayin massacre of May 2003 in which dozens of her supporters were beaten to death by regime-backed civilians.

Reporting by Khin Hnin Htet and Aye Nai

Remote villagers lacking proper medical treatment

Jun 11, 2008 (DVB)–Cyclone survivors in 14 small villages in remote areas of Dadaye township, Irrawaddy division, have had no access to medical treatment for wounds sustained during the cyclone, aid workers said.

Soe Naing, a private relief worker who has recently come back from the area, said local villagers had to treat their own injuries due to the lack of proper medical supplies.

“I saw villagers with wounds from insect bites, with broken shoulders and ribs, and with bruises on their backs and chests,” Soe Naing said.

“They are just using local herbal medicine to treat themselves. It is unpleasant to see them.”

Soe Naing and a group of friends collected relief supplies and went to Danyingone and other villages a few days ago to distribute aid among refugees.

The villages are located approximately three hours by boat from Dadaye town.

Soe Naing said the health problems were being exacerbated by the conditions on the ground, with bodies still uncollected around the village one month after the cyclone hit.

“They haven’t been provided with enough supplies and are currently facing a shortage of drinking water,” said Soe Naing.

“Their health conditions will get worse if they don’t get access to proper medical care soon because of the environment they are in.”

Reporting by Khin Hnin Htet

Local troops evict cyclone victims in Bogalay

Jun 11, 2008 (DVB)–Cyclone victims currently sheltering in temporary camps in Bogalay township were forced out of their camps by local troops, refugees told a DVB reporter who recently visited the area.

One cyclone victim said the refugees were given a few supplies and ordered to leave the camps.

“We were given one plastic sheet for each family, five packs of noodle for each person, some beans and a small bottle of cooking oil,” he said.

“Then the commander said, ‘We have given you your travel needs, so get out and go home!’ We all had to pack our stuff and run away.”

DVB’s reporter also found out that while in the camps refugees had to provide unpaid labour to carry relief supplies that were intended for them but which they never received.

The cyclone victims said that local authorities had confiscated all the valuable and tasty food supplies such as biscuits and tanned fish.

“We had to carry iron boxes but I don’t know what was inside. We also had to carry condensed milk, raw milk, tanned meat, snacks and so on that I had never seen or tasted in all my 47 years, but we never received them,” said the victim.

“Out of the international aid we were given, the local army unit took all the tents and food supplies.”

Reporting by Moe Aye

Constitution and the role of citizens - Comment

By Aung Htoo

Jun 11, 2008 (DVB)–The constitution of a country must be directly relevant to the real life of citizens living in that country. Otherwise, it is just a useless piece of paper.

The people of Burma have recently suffered the worst cyclone in the country’s history. Victims have yet to receive effective aid distribution a month after the cyclone devastated the country because the military regime has used its absolute power to obstruct international aid. As a result, a large number of people continue to die and hundreds of thousands of others continue to bear enormous hardship.

Nine days after Cyclone Nargis struck Burma, a powerful earthquake hit southwest China with a devastating impact on people’s lives – thousands were killed, an unknown number of people were buried under rubble, and buildings were wiped out. But the government of China immediately began effective relief operations to save the lives of its own citizens, and also accepted international aid within a few days of the disaster. United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon recently congratulated China for its impressive earthquake relief efforts.

Why did Burma and China respond differently to their natural disasters? It would be wrong to think it was because the Chinese leaders are kind and Burma’s generals are cruel. It was instead because of the different political systems and constitutions in the two countries.

The backbone of China’s political system is the political party. In particular, the axis of the political system in China is the Communist Party of China, a very influential political party that was founded in 1921. Under the leadership of the CPC the entire country was organised to fight against the feudal system and liberated from the yoke of feudalism.

However, CPC leaders recognised that the party had made mistakes when it led the Cultural Revolution in China between 1956 and 1966. Chinese legal experts have also remarked that the foundations of rule of law in the country were destroyed during the revolutionary period. Later, after Deng Xiaoping’s four modernisation ideologies were implemented in 1974, the CPC focused on policies related to the rule of law. When the CPC was placed under the country’s 1982 constitution, the party structure was not the same as it was during the 1958-61 famine.

Professor Shin Guminh from Shanghai University’s Social Science Department pointed out that, in the system practised in China, “The country’s policies are developed by the CPC organisations. Opportunities for public participation in policy making process are also created. So, first of all, basic principles for different policies can be found in the speeches and addresses of CPC Central Committee and Politburo leaders. Second, government officials compile details of policies in formal written language and third, the National People’s Congress adopts them as laws.”

Ordinary citizens in China have the rights to participate in CPC’s policy making process. Government officials have to respect and follow party policies. After a policy has become a law, all (including the CPC, the government and the army) will have to obey it. Article 29 of the Constitution of the People's Republic of China clearly states “all armed forces belong to the people”; thus, the Chinese army is under the administration of civilian government and the leadership of the CPC.

The Chinese government had to take care of its citizens when the earthquake hit the country because a political system was established in accordance with the constitution, which forced the government to pay serious attention to the suffering of its own people. Since there was a strong political party system in favour of civic rule the army would have to follow policies and implement working programmes adopted by the people’s party.

A quick study with regard to political systems can also be made of another of Burma’s neighbours, India.

A strong multiparty system based on democratic principles can be found in India. The 123-year-old Congress Party is still thriving. The Bharatiya Janata Party, Congress and Communist parties have taken leading roles in India’s policy making processes. The Indian army has always been under the supervision of those political parties.

Both Burma’s large neighbours, China and India, have stability and economic growth recognised by the international community. It is not generals who have brought this recognition, but the political parties that have taken the lead in policy making. They have gained this recognition due to the long-term establishment of political party systems in their countries.

Opposition leaders and parties were severely repressed in the period between 1975 and 1979 when a government led by prime minister Indra Ghandi ruled India. However, opposition leaders were well protected by a federal court with independent judiciary power granted by the then constitution. The people’s political party system is still strong in Indian society.

Unfortunately, there have been problems in the people’s political party system in Burma since the country proclaimed its independence in 1948. In 1962, the military staged a coup to seize power and the political party system was destroyed. Later, military leaders founded the Burmese Socialist Programme Party as a civic party but in reality it was led by the military. As a result, during the pro-democracy uprising in Burma in 1988, the BSPP was thrown out by people’s power. The National League for Democracy, a civic party, emerged after the military took power again in 1988 but it has been constantly repressed by the junta. The civic party has never been able to influence the policies of the military regime.

In this critical and fragile time for the people of Burma after the cyclone, a handful of military leaders are obstructing the delivery of international aid, and using the aid shipments that manage to get in for their own benefit, namely to prolong the military dictatorship.

In fact, tens of thousands of soldiers’ family members and relatives were among those affected by the cyclone. But neither the civic party nor ordinary soldiers have had the rights to participate in making policies on the receipt of international aid. They are not granted the right to do so because the people’s political party system is still being crushed. Ordinary citizens and soldiers can give their opinions only when a people’s political party system is in operation.

The current state constitution written by the military regime will continue to destroy the people’s political party system in Burma, in particular due to Article 404, which states, "The aim of a political party must be non-disintegration of the union, non-disintegration of national solidarity and perpetuation of sovereignty".

A people’s political party system ought to aim to reflect the people’s political will. Limitations on what kind of political objectives a political party should and should not have are a means of eliminating the people’s political party system.

There will be no other country in the world like Burma where political parties are severely restricted by the governing body under the state constitution. The first victims of Article 404 will be political parties linked to ceasefire organisations. Then, the next target will be the NLD. It’s a fair guess that the NLD will be pressured until the party is dissolved.

The military regime’s Referendum Commission announced that the state constitution had been adopted with 92.48% of eligible voters casting their votes in favour of the charter. It is hard to believe that the vast majority of the voters supported the Constitution because, in reality, many of them did not have a chance to read it and many others did not even see it prior to the referendum. Despite strong domestic and international criticism, the military regime has adopted its constitution by force against the wishes of its citizens, and thus it is certain that the junta will continue along its own path.

The people of Burma will progressively suffer not only from future natural disasters but also from the severe repression of the military dictators if the country has to follow the current constitution that does not reflect the interests of the citizens.

Aung Htoo is the general secretary of the Burma Lawyers’ Council

Many child survivors traumatised

Mizzima News

11 June 2008 - Chiang Mai – Many children who survived the killer Cyclone Nargis are traumatised having witnessed their near and dear ones dying, an international aid agency working with children said.

Children are the most vulnerable group among the survivors of the cyclone and most of them are struggling to overcome the trauma that deeply affects them, James East, World Vision's Regional Communication Director in Bangkok said.

"Many children are suffering from trauma," East told Mizzima on Wednesday.

East said more than 10 aid agencies and International NGOs including the World Vision, the UN Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and Save the Children has formed a task force to assist children.

"We have some places in cyclone hit regions where the children can play games. These are 'Child-friendly Spaces', to serve as a safe and protective environment for the displaced children," East said.

East said while there could be no estimate of the number children affected by the cyclone so far, at least 2,000 children whose parents are missing have been identified in Rangoon division, and 32 children have been registered as those of missing parents in Bogale town in the Irrawaddy delta.

Though the Irrawaddy delta was hardest hit by the cyclone, the UNICEF said it is yet to confirm on the number of unaccompanied children or whose parents are missing.

Alexander Krueger, UNICEF child protection officer of the East Asia and Pacific regional office in Bangkok said a task force has been established to help the children trace their family.

"Until the process of tracing them is complete, it would be hard to say how many orphans there are," Krueger said.

But he said so far there are a few hundred children that are separated from their parents and less than 100 of them are unaccompanied.

Burmese aid workers and volunteers, who have been helping cyclone survivors, said children and kids are seen begging on the streets.

However, several children were also seen sitting idly with a 'blank-look' on their faces, a sign of being traumatized, a Burmese aid worker, working with an international aid agency said.

"Some of the kids do not know where their parents are, and are looking for them. But some said they saw their parents drowning," the aid worker, who had been helping cyclone survivors in the Irrawaddy delta told Mizzima last week.

East said for temporary relief, the task force has established several 'Child-friendly-Spaces' -- camps where children could learn, play and be fed, while their parents are busy struggling to overcome their miseries.

"We have about 44 'Child Friendly Spaces' in the Irrawaddy and Rangoon division," where kids can go and play and try to forget about the past, East said.

In May, head of Burma's ruling junta Senior General Than Shwe, during an inspection trip to the Cyclone-ravaged Irrawaddy delta, instructed local authorities to build orphanages for children, who lost their parents in the Cyclone, in Pyapon and Laputta townships of the Irrawaddy delta.

But Aid agencies said putting children into orphanages is not the best solution as children find friendlier environment to live in among their relatives or even with foster parents, who are willing to adopt them.

Krueger of the UNICEF said the Burmese government had talked about "building orphanages for child survivors and some unaccompanied children have been placed in institutions already."

Krueger, however, said the plan may be acceptable for children only if it is for a temporary situation and asserted that the UNICEF sees institutionalization of children as the very last resort when efforts to trace the family or to find relatives or people known to the child fails.

"UNICEF has been advocating with the Government of Myanmar [Burma] to promote family-based care solutions," Krueger added.

Burmese people have large and extended families and in the long run helping children connect with their extended family would be the best way to help children who have lost their parents, East said.

Save the Children, a group that has been helping cyclone survivors immediately after it the cyclone struck on May 2 and 3, however, said children are safest in schools as it allows them to mix with their friends and helps in forgetting their past.

"Education is vital, and it becomes even more important in the aftermath of an emergency when families are trying to regain some sense of normal life for their children," Andrew Kirkwood, Save the Children's Country Director, said in a statement.

"Schools are a safe place for children, allowing them to be with other children, to play and to begin dealing with the trauma they have experienced," Kirkwood said.

Additional reporting by Mungpi

NLD says new constitution null and void

By Nay Thwin
Mizzima News

11 June 2008 - The National League for Democracy (NLD) issued a statement today which said the new constitution promulgated and enacted by the military regime is 'legally void' due to the unlawful activities committed.

This latest statement issued by NLD is its first position paper on the controversial legality of the constitution presented to the people at home and abroad and also the debut for further actions that will be taken by the party, NLD said yesterday.

"The special statement is the first of our actions that will be taken later. It is the presentation of our position to the people in Burma and also to the international community including the UN which observed the referendum to see whether it was free and fair or not. This is the first step of our party in taking legal actions against the constitution which cannot be accepted as it is unlawful even in accordance with the law of land", Thein Nyunt, spokesman on constitutional law affairs, told Mizzima.

Almost two weeks after the junta announced that the constitution has been enacted and promulgated by over 92 per cent of YES votes polled in the referendum; the special announcement issued by NLD says the result of referendum which was held on May 10 and 24 is unlawful.

According to the reports sent by the divisional, township and ward level party offices, and other evidences, "the regime blatantly violated the 'secret vote', the backbone of the referendum law", the NLD alleged.

"The authorities exercised coercion, intimidation, cheating, misled and put undue influence in the referendum by violating the National Referendum Law and Rules that were enacted by it to get 'YES' votes. There was blatant violations of the 'secret vote system', the backbone of the referendum law and rules", the special statement said.

Similarly the party called the regime for admitting appeal case against the continued detention of party General Secretary Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

"The continuation of the detention of our party GS Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is unlawful. We are ready to present full legal grounds against the detention. If they think the case holds water, the SPDC (regime) should admit our appeal case challenging the detention order in a trial court. We present it on full legal grounds", Nyan Win, party spokesman said.

The regime did not respond to similar attempts for an appeal against the detention order so the party issued a statement in advance, he added.

The Burmese democracy icon, who will turn 63 on the 19th of June, has spent almost 13 years in detention in the last 19 years. The regime extended her detention order for another one year on 27th May and she is still under house arrest.

The criticism of the UN, US and EU reemerged after a period of silence on the Burma issue since Cyclone Nargis struck Burma on May 2 and 3.

The US administration supported the report of the UN Special rapporteur on Human Rights which said in its conclusion that the referendum held by the regime is far from credible.

The first report of the new UN special rapporteur of human rights on Burma which was prepared by Tomás Ojea Quintana and published last week says, "the referendum lacks credibility, wide acceptability and is ambiguous".

The US government spokesman Sean McCormack said, "The US government urges the junta to release all political prisoners including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and engage in dialogue with democracy leaders and ethnic leaders which will pave way for transition to democracy".

The special envoy to Burma appointed by EU Piero Fassino said, "We cannot forget the political crisis in Burma".

The US and EU governments supported the pro-democracy struggle in Burma and have imposed economic sanctions against Burma for violation of human rights in the country for a long time.

Irregularities found in polling that NLD pointed out
  1. The authorities let all the different levels of their administrative units and government backed organizations free campaign for YES votes, but the party workers who were campaigning for NO votes were arrested, interrogated, their campaign materials seized and intimidated under Law 5/96 and National Referendum Law.

  2. The absentee votes (votes in advance) were distributed to all polling stations in advance in quota and managed to get the YES votes in accordance with the pre-set quotas.

  3. The authorities forcibly collected these absentee votes from government employees, workers, cyclone victims and local people by violating their National Referendum Law. The law stipulates that such votes can be collected in advance if and only if the voters are out of station on the polling date, sick and aged.

  4. The authorities intimidated the voters by saying that they will be sentenced to three years' in prison with Kyat 100,000 as fine, fired from their jobs, rusticated from schools, affecting their businesses if they vote NO and jeopardizing the secret ballot system by exposing those who vote NO in one way or another in polling stations.

  5. The police in uniform, the authorities, and the persons of government-backed organizations were present in and around the polling stations.

  6. The police allowed the voters who would vote YES only in the polling station and forcibly expelled those who would vote NO.

  7. The voters had to cast the ballot papers which have already been ticked YES by the poll station officials.

  8. Only a member of each household could come and poll by representing all remaining family members.

  9. The eligible voters were grouped in designated numbers and the pro-government representative of each group cast all votes by representing other voters in this group.

  10. The polling station officials cast YES votes representing the voters who didn't turn up on the poll date by taking their names from the poll register.

  11. The referendum commission members cast extra YES votes.

  12. The polling stations closed before 4 p.m. in violation of the referendum law.

  13. Independent observation was not allowed in vote counting at all levels of referendum commissions.

  14. Burning and destroying the NO votes.

Burma will not face food-shortage: Junta minister

Mizzima News

Mungpi, 11 June 2008 - New Delhi – A senior minister of the Burmese military junta has denied reports that the country will suffer from shortage of food after Cyclone Nargis lashed the country's fertile Irrawaddy delta region last month.

The Burmese junta's official mouthpiece, the New Light of Myanmar, on Wednesday quoted the Minister of National Planning and Economic Development U Soe Tha, as saying that reports of Burma running short of food are groundless.

The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) warned in May that there could be shortage of food in the country unless rice plantation begins immediately in the Irrawaddy delta, which was the worst affected by the deadly cyclone on May 2 and 3.

Soe Tha, the junta minister, however, said the reports were 'groundless information' saying that Burma's total rice production cannot be hampered because of the damages caused by the cyclone in the Irrawaddy delta.

"The rice output in the cyclone-affected areas in Ayeyawady [Irrawaddy] and Yangon [Rangoon] divisions made up only 2.3 per cent of the nation's total rice output," the New Light of Myanmar quoted Soe Tha as saying.

"The uncultivable acreage is barely 1 per cent of that of the whole nation," the report added.

But the FAO in a statement on May 14 said the five states and divisions hit by the cyclone produce "65 percent of the countries rice, and have about 50 percent of all irrigated areas."

According to FAO, 16 percent of the 3.2 million acres of agricultural land in the delta has been severely damaged.

While the FAO had said that rice cultivation should start at the beginning of June, most farmers in the Irrawaddy delta seem to find it difficult to work in the field, aid workers said.

A farmer in Rangoon division's Kun Chan Kone township told Mizzima earlier that tilling the fields and preparing for cultivation is almost impossible as they have lost most of their cattle.

While the government has promised to supply power-tillers and tractors to farmers, he said, "It is like a dream, we never see the tractors coming."

The farmer added that most of them have lost interest working in the fields as they are now struggling to survive.

"We cannot think of working in the fields as it has left us so many memories before the cyclone hit us," the farmer said.

Sean Turnell, Professor of Economics at Macquarie University in Australia, said Burma's rice shortage might even have regional impact, as Burma has not only been self-sufficient but was also exporting rice in the past.

"It is likely to have an impact in the region because Burma will now need to import rice," Turnell told Mizzima in an earlier interview.

Turnell further said Burma will not only suffer from food insecurity but will also suffer a long term impact on its gradually deteriorating economy.

"It is impossible for Burma to make a come back in terms of economy even within a few years," Turnell said.

Turnell said Burma's economy, which is mainly dependent on agriculture and forestry products, would take time to recover but the government's restrictions on assistance could delay it much longer.

A Burmese forester, a specialised academic from the Burmese Ministry of Forestry, told Mizzima that recovering from the damage, particularly in the forests, caused by the cyclone could take decades.

"The rehabilitation programmes will take decades no matter what agency or organization is undertaking the tasks because we have to follow the natural phenomena of natural succession plus artificial regeneration," the forester said.

Intelligence officials assigned to keep eye on TCG

Mizzima News, 12 June 2008 - The Burmese military junta has assigned over two dozen intelligence officials to accompany a joint mission of the Tripartite Core Group to access the damage in cyclone-affected Irrawaddy delta and Rangoon division, according to sources close to the mission.

"Most senior Burmese officials are frustrated with the military government's move to carry out intelligence surveillance on the Post-Nargis Joint Assessment (PONJA)," said sources from the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation, part of the Tripartite Core Group (TCG) to access the cyclone damage.

The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, UN agencies and Burmese officials from different ministries, known as the Core Group was formed with the help of ASEAN last month for assistance to the cyclone victims.

The sources said most intelligence personnel were from the Ministry of Home Affairs, adding that many previously-designated members of the teams in the mission were left out to make way for the intelligence officials.

The views came in the wake of the inaugural ceremony of the mission held on Tuesday at Chatrium Hotel in Rangoon, attended by Kyaw Thu, the Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Chairman of TCG.

Accompanying the mission is ASEAN secretary general and Thai Foreign Minister Mr. Surin Pitsuwan.

On the same day, the military junta also sent to the devastated areas of the Irrawaddy Division more than 250 members of pro-government organization the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA).

Observers said some of the USDA members would act as government informers, adding that the military government is still suspicious of foreign aid workers even after four US navy ships left without delivering relief supplies because of the junta's unfounded apprehensions.

A Rangoon-based resident said local authorities in the ward and township levels in Rangoon and Irrawaddy divisions have been ordered not to allow any foreigner to go into residential areas without prior permission.

"The Myanmar government was expected to allow more foreign aid staff to come in as agreed but it has not done so though the international community is still being patient with the junta," he said on condition of anonymity.

More than a month after the cyclone lashed Burma on May 2 and 3, leaving 133,000 dead or missing, the United Nations estimates that more than one million people still have not received any international relief assistance.

The assessment team will determine the quantity of food required, clean water and temporary shelter for 2.4 million survivors along with the cost of reconstruction of houses, schools and reviving the agriculture-based economy, according to U.N.

About 250 experts of the team under the leadership of the Core Group headed for Irrawaddy delta on Tuesday in trucks, boats and helicopters for a survey.