Thursday, 19 June 2008

One monk and three activists members arrested by USDA members

By Nay Thwin - Mizzima

19 June 2008, Chiang Mai – Members of the 'Union Solidarity and Development Association' (USDA) raided the National League for Democracy (NLD) party headquarters where the 63rd birthday celebrations of pro-democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was going to be held. They arrested a monk and three persons from the office.

The USDA members forcibly entered the party headquarters a few hours ago when about 700 NLD members were going to commence the birthday celebrations and took away a monk and three men from the office.

"We released birds after offering alms to monks. The members shouted 'Long live Daw Aung San Suu Kyi'. Then the USDA members entered our office and took away four people. They are U Tun Myint, a monk and three other persons," Nyan Win, party spokesperson, said.

About 1,000 policemen, armed riot police and USDA members were deployed around the party headquarters.

"There are about 1,000 personnel around our office with five to seven Toyota Dyna light trucks. We also saw many police cars," an eyewitness said.

The confrontation between NLD members and authorities took place since alms food was offered this morning to over 200 monks and nuns. The party headquarters had to be closed temporarily.

"Yes, we had to close our office for a while. We will offer alms shortly and have completed the Tuesday alms offering. We haven't yet offered alms for today," a NLD Youth member said.

Negotiations between the authorities and NLD leaders is in progress when Mizzima last contacted them at 12:30 BST.

Though the party invited five monks to offer alms at about 10:30 to 11 a.m. BST to observe the 63rd birthday of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the monks could not come to office as the authorities blocked their way, U Nyan Win said.

The Imprisoned Voice of Freedom

The Irrawaddy News

Everyone knows where Aung San Suu Kyi is spending her 63rd birthday today. But as millions of her supporters around the world mark the occasion, no one can say when she will be released from the family home that has been her prison for most of the past 19 years.

I still remember a conversation I had with Suu Kyi in late 1999, during one of her brief interludes of freedom. We met at the Rangoon headquarters of her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD). Two youth members of the NLD were also there. We discussed politics and our experiences as political prisoners, as well as our plans for our future education.

I can clearly recall her sobering advice at that time: that we should be prepared for a “lifelong struggle” to restore democracy to Burma.

It already feels like a lifetime has passed since then.

A few months after I met her, she was put under house arrest again. Today, almost a decade later, she is still in detention. She has been a prisoner for nearly 13 of the past 19 years.

On May 27, five years after she was taken into custody following the infamous Depayin massacre that left many of her followers dead, her detention was extended again.

When she will be released is as uncertain as the future of Burma itself. After 46 years of iron-fisted military rule, Burma seems to be perpetually on the verge of collapse. No one knows when the next crisis will strike. But one thing seems certain: The fate of Burma and its most famous prisoner of conscience are inextricably intertwined.

For the moment, the junta still holds the reins. And that means that Suu Kyi will probably not see freedom before 2010, when the regime plans to hold an election that it has no intention of losing. By that time, she will be 65 years old—twenty years older than she was when her party delivered the junta a humiliating defeat in the country’s last general election.

The regime never honored the results of the 1990 election, but it is expected to welcome the outcome of the 2010 vote. As in the constitutional referendum held in May, the junta’s victory is guaranteed.

The draft constitution, which was supposedly supported by 92 percent of the population, sets aside 25 percent of parliamentary seats for military appointees. It is also highly likely that the regime will form a political party and field candidates with strong military backing.

If the junta can achieve its goal of rewriting history—erasing the two decades that it has ruled as a reviled and illegitimate regime and starting afresh with an electoral and constitutional mandate, however dubious—it may see fit to release Suu Kyi.

But this is far from certain. The regime knows from past experience that Suu Kyi’s influence is not easily eclipsed.

When she was released from her first six-year period of house arrest in 1995, crowds flocked to her home each Saturday to hear her speak. Her talks on political subjects threatened to revive the people’s democratic aspirations, and so she was once again removed from the public eye.

In 2002, Suu Kyi was released again. Sure enough, her magnetism proved to be undiminished. Her travels around the country attracted immense attention.

Desperate to contain her popular appeal, the regime masterminded an attack on her motorcade in Depayin, Sagaing Division, on May 30, 2003. She survived the carefully orchestrated assault, but many of her supporters did not.

Even after the regime had shown the extent to which it was willing to go to remove her from Burma’s political equation, Suu Kyi remained firmly committed to dialogue.

In an article written several years later, Razali Ismail, the former United Nations envoy to Burma, recounted a conversation he had with Suu Kyi a few days after the Depayin incident: “She said that she was prepared to turn the page for the sake of the people and reconciliation, saying she was still prepared to talk to the government.”

It is almost bizarre, in light of such evidence of Suu Kyi’s willingness to forgive the regime for the many indignities that it has inflicted upon her over the past two decades, to listen to charges that she has been inflexible in her dealings with the ruling generals.

There are even some who ask if her unwavering principles, determination and courage have become political liabilities for Burma. They seem to imply that the country would be better off with an opposition leader who didn’t make the regime look so nasty and brutish by contrast.

Many of Suu Kyi’s supporters have commented that she has the power to bring out the best in people. Is it possible that she also brings out the worst in her opponents? But it seems almost grotesquely unfair to suggest that she’s to blame for the junta’s poor public image.

What makes Suu Kyi so appealing to many, and so appalling to some, is that she speaks the simple truth. She disarms people with her candor. But the generals know that lies are all they have, so they continue to attack her.

Not everyone who criticizes Suu Kyi is attacking her. But what some of her critics have in common with the regime is that they tend to ignore the facts in favor of a view which suggests that Burma is a permanent basket case, with or without military rule.

Some say that Suu Kyi’s Burman ethnicity, which she shares with most of the ruling generals, makes her equally unfit to rule a country as ethnically diverse as Burma. She herself has never shied away from the complex issue of ethnic politics. Indeed, she has always been clear that talks with the regime should include representatives of Burma’s many ethnic minorities.

Suu Kyi has never spoken of the ethnic issue as if it were a secondary matter, although her energies have always been directed primarily at restoring democracy. Far from treating the ethnic issue as unimportant, she has always envisioned democracy as a means of addressing the legitimate aspirations of various ethnic groups.

In this, she is worlds apart from both the junta and many so-called “Burma experts.” While the regime believes that force is the only way to hold the country together, some academics argue that the country is doomed to fall apart. Suu Kyi rejects both militarism and pessimism as political dead ends.

Is Suu Kyi guilty, then, of unfounded optimism about the future of Burma? Not at all.

In 1990, the NLD won over 80 percent of the seats in parliament. Even more significantly, the party’s support was strong not only in Burman-dominated cities such as Rangoon and Mandalay, but also in ethnic states.

In eastern Karen State, the NLD won 71 percent of seats; in northern Kachin State, it took 73 percent. Southeastern Mon State gave the party 80 percent support. In Shan State, the NLD won over 39 percent, while in Karenni State it won 50 percent. In western Arakan and Chin states, it won over 34 and 30 percent, respectively.

What does this prove? That Burma’s people, regardless of ethnicity, want democracy and see it as a means of improving their lives. That was true in 1990, and it is true today.

But Suu Kyi’s appeal has never been based on false promises, so the people of Burma also know that even if they get what they want most—freedom from a brutal dictatorship—there will still be challenges ahead.

Nearly a decade ago, Suu Kyi warned me that the road ahead would not be easy. Perhaps it wasn’t what I wanted to hear at the time. But now her words ring truer than ever, even though the voice that spoke them has been silenced—for how long, nobody knows.

7 Supporters Of Myanmar Democracy Leader Arrested -Party

YANGON (Nasdaq-AFP)--Seven supporters of Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi were arrested Thursday as they shouted for her release during a brief protest to mark her 63rd birthday, her party said.

More than 100 people had gathered outside the headquarters of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party to give food to monks to mark her birthday.

After making their religious offerings, some of her supporters began shouting: "Release Daw Aung San Suu Kyi now!" One man held a placard denouncing the regime's response to the devastating cyclone last month which killed tens of thousands of people.

"The storm disaster is a problem. Living is a problem," his sign read.

They were only allowed to shout for a few minutes before a pro-junta militia confronted them. Seven people were later arrested, party members told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of their safety.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner, who is the junta's main challenger, was first detained in 1989. She has spent most of the years since as a prisoner at her sprawling Yangon home, with only brief spells of freedom.

Aung San Suu Kyi led the NLD to a landslide victory in 1990 elections, but it was never allowed to take office.

Aung San Suu Kyi's 63rd Birthday today: Burma monks urges UN Security Council to safeguard Burmese people

Rangoon, 19 June, ( UN Security Council and the Council of the European Union should take responsibility to protect the people of Burma when they meet today in New York and Brussels, on the 63rd birthday of the imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize Recipient Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, urged All Burma Monks’ Alliance from Rangoon Burma in its appeal.

According to the statement released by All Burma Monks’ Alliance -

(1) Today, on June 19, 2008, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will again have to spend her 63rd birthday in detention alone. She and her party members were attacked by thousands of civilian militias, organized and supported by the Burmese military junta, on the night of May 30, 2003, at nearby Depayin Township in central Burma. Although she escaped from the assassination attempt, scores of her party members were brutally killed, and she was arrested by the military junta, along with U Tin Oo, Vice Chairman of the National League for Democracy, and put in detention since then.

Recently, on May 27, 2008, the military junta extended her detention again for the sixth year. We wish her all the best and thank her for her leadership and her unity with the people of Burma. Even though the junta tries to isolate her from us, she is always with us. However the junta tries to undermine her, she is still the leader of Burma’s democracy movement. Any political solution without her involvement will be meaningless and unsustainable.

(2) On her birthday, June 19, 2008, the UN Security Council will hold a debate on women, peace and security. U.S. Secretary of State Dr. Condoleezza Rice will chair the debate, as the United States holds the Presidency of the UN Security Council for June 2008.

The debate will focus on UNSC Resolution 1325, which was passed unanimously on 31 October 2000. We would like to request Secretary Rice and other members of the Council to pay attention to the plight of women in Burma.

Among the two thousands and more political prisoners in Burma, at least 154 are women activists. Burmese military troops are raping with impunity ethnic women and girls, some as young as eight years old. In the frontier areas, the Burmese military uses women as porters during the day and sex slaves at nights. Among the 2.5 million populations who were severely affected by the Cyclone Nargis and ignored by the junta, at least 50% are women and among them are over 35,000 extremely vulnerable pregnant women. We call for the UN Security Council to take effective action to stop the humanitarian crises in Burma, created by the Burmese military junta.

(3) Also today, 27 Heads of State from the Council of the European Union will meet in Brussels and discuss the EU’s role in international affairs. We would like to call for leaders of European Union to continue to assist Burma’s democracy movement led by detained leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. The Burmese military junta has used the devastated situation of the people of Burma after the attack of Cyclone Nargis to consolidate its grip on power, and to exploit the generosity of the international community for its own benefit. The actions of the junta leave millions of people to die from starvation and infectious diseases in the delta region, while blocking relief efforts and assistance offered by the international community. We request the EU to bring Than Shwe, leader of Burmese military junta, before the International Criminal Court to be tried for his crimes against humanity, as recommended by the European Parliament.

(4) Some international actors assume that this is the time to save the lives, not to talk about the politics. Some even think that any harsh words or actions against the generals will jeopardize their humanitarian effort. This is totally wrong, morally, principally and practically. The Burmese military junta and their policies are responsible for all bad things happening in Burma, all the crises overloading the shoulders of the people of Burma. UN Human Rights Commissioner Ms. Louise Arbor said on June 2, 2008 “in the case of Myanmar, the obstruction to the deployment of such assistance illustrates the invidious effects of long-standing international tolerance for human rights violations that made such obstruction possible.”

She is exactly right. Long-standing tolerance by the international community of human rights violations in Burma made the Burmese military junta believe that they have a license to kill and they have nothing to fear. This is the time for the international community to stand up and protect the people of Burma, by applying unanimous and maximum pressure against the Burmese military, including a global arms embargo and coordinated financial and banking sanctions against the generals, their families and their crony businessmen.

- Asian Tribune -

Myanmar monks urge EU to bring junta to war crimes court

Relief Web

BANGKOK, June 19, 2008 (AFP) - Activist monks called Thursday on the European Union to bring Myanmar's junta leader Than Shwe before an international criminal court to face charges of crimes against humanity.

The call was made in a statement on the 63rd birthday of Myanmar's detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was again marking the occasion alone and under house arrest in Yangon.

The All Burma Monks' Alliance, which claims to have organised mass protests against the regime last September, said Than Shwe should face trial for blocking relief supplies to victims of last month's devastating cyclone.

They also called for an international arms embargo and financial sanctions against the generals.

Cyclone Nargis killed more than 133,000 people when it struck the country formerly known as Burma nearly seven weeks ago, leaving 2.4 million in need of humanitarian aid.

The regime stonewalled international efforts to deliver aid for weeks after the storm, and continues to limit the work of foreign disaster experts.

'The actions of the junta leave millions of people to die from starvation and infectious diseases in the delta region, while blocking relief efforts and assistance offered by the international community,' the group said in a statement received in Bangkok.

'We request the EU to bring Than Shwe, leader of the Burmese military junta, before the International Criminal Court to be tried for his crimes against humanity, as recommended by the European Parliament,' it said.

The European Parliament last month approved a non-binding resolution saying the regime could face charges at the court if they 'continue to prevent aid from reaching those in danger.'

France first raised the idea that Myanmar's actions could constitute crimes against humanity, a charge normally used to prosecute war crimes such as genocide.

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates accused the regime of 'criminal neglect,' while British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called the junta's actions 'inhuman.'

The monks' group, which operates underground, claims to be one of the organising forces behind last year's mass protests, which were violently broken up when security forces shot and beat people in the streets.

At least 31 people died and 74 remain missing, while hundreds more were imprisoned, according to the United Nations.

Pro-Myanmar junta gang hits Suu Kyi birthday rally

Straits Times

YANGON - PRO-JUNTA thugs broke up a rally by supporters of Myanmar's democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi on Thursday, detaining several people shouting slogans demanding her release on her 63rd birthday, witnesses said.

They said at least six truckloads of Swan-Arr-Shin, or 'Masters of Force", gang members waded into the crowd outside the dilapidated headquarters of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) in the former capital, Yangon.

'We saw some of them slapping and beating NLD members,' said one witness who saw several people taken away.

Police cordoned off roads leading to the rally where the NLD members had shouted slogans demanding the immediate release of Ms Suu Kyi and more than 1,100 political prisoners believed to be behind bars in the former Burma.

Ms Suu Kyi's confinement in her lakeside home in Yangon was extended in May despite international pleas to the generals to end her latest stretch of detention, which began in May 2003.

The Nobel peace laureate has now been confined for more than 12 of the past 18 years, with her telephone line cut and visitors severely restricted. -- REUTERS

Myanmar: UN Human Rights Council condemns ‘ongoing systematic violations’

18 June 2008 – The United Nations Human Rights Council today condemned “ongoing systematic violations of human rights” in Myanmar and called on the Government to stop making politically motivated arrests and to release all political prisoners immediately.

In a resolution adopted without a vote, the Council also called on the Government of Myanmar to fully implement commitments it made to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that it would grant relief workers “immediate, full and unhindered access” to people in need in the wake of last month’s catastrophic Cyclone Nargis.

It called on the Government to refrain from sending victims of the disaster back to areas where they would not have access to emergency relief, and to ensure that any returns are voluntary, safe and carried out with dignity.

The resolution, introduced before the Geneva-based Council by the European Union, also condemned the recruitment of child soldiers by both Government forces and non-State armed groups and urged “an absolute an immediate stop of this appalling activity.”

In addition, it called for an independent investigation into reports of human rights violations, including enforced disappearances, arbitrary detentions, acts of torture and forced labour, and called for those responsible for such crimes to be brought to justice.

The resolution also called on the Government “to engage in a real process of dialogue and national reconciliation with the full and genuine participation of representatives of all political parties and ethnic groups who have been excluded from the political process.”

Introducing the resolution on behalf of the EU, Slovenian representative Andrej Logar said previous resolutions had not been implemented by Myanmar and many political prisoners remained in detention.

The recent constitutional referendum was conducted in complete disregard of basic standards on such issues as freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, he said.

Myanmar’s representative U Wunna Maung Lwin described the resolution as politically motivated and lopsided and said powerful States were trying to influence matters through political interference.

The representative said Myanmar was working with the international community in the response effort to Cyclone Nargis, which struck the country on 2-3 May, and was also making efforts on the political front, such as with the recent holding of the constitutional referendum.

Meanwhile, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon briefed the General Assembly today on his recent trip to Myanmar, saying that overall the relief effort there is continuing to improve and to be scaled up.

More than 134,000 people are dead or missing as a result of Cyclone Nargis and the subsequent tidal wave, and as many as 2.4 million people were affected and now need humanitarian assistance.

In his address to Assembly members, Mr. Ban stressed that the humanitarian tragedy wrought by the cyclone should not be politicized, and he plans to remain focused on the issue, drawing on the efforts of his Special Adviser, Ibrahim Gambari.

The Secretary-General also covered other issues in his remarks to the Assembly, including his latest travels, the most recent developments in the global food crisis and the situation in Zimbabwe.


Suu Kyi celebrates birthday with no hope of being freed soon

Larry Jagan

18 June 2008 - Millions of people throughout the world will mark the birthday of Burma's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi on June 19. The co-ordinated campaign around the world, which will take place in almost every major city in Asia, Australia, Europe and North America, is trying to highlight the plight of one of the world's best known freedom fighters, languishing under house arrest in her lakeside residence in Rangoon.

But Burma's military rulers are likely to remain totally unmoved by the millions of Burmese and international protesters demanding her immediate release. "They can jump up and down and make as much noise as they like, General Than Shwe couldn't careless," according to a senior government official. As a matter of principle, the ruling junta will not be pressured into being conciliatory.

Aung San Suu Kyi has spent 13 of the last 19 years in detention. She is currently spending her third term under house arrest. The regime locked her up again after a brutal attack on her and her entourage as they were travelling in the north of the country in May 2003. She has been in detention ever since, and in the last four years she has been in virtual solitary confinement, seeing her doctor irregularly and meeting the UN envoy, Ibrahim Gambari five times in the last two years.

For the Burmese people, trampled for more than forty years by a repressive military regime, Aung San Suu Kyi represents their aspirations, and above all their desire for freedom and democracy. She was placed under house arrest the first time ten months before her party, the National League for Democracy overwhelmingly won the national elections – but was never allowed to form a government.

The irony is that Aung San Suu Kyi herself would probably disapprove of the world making a fuss over her birthday. She has continuously shunned personal attention. And even when her husband and sons accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, her acceptance speech smuggled out of the country at the time said it was not for her alone, but for all Burmese people in their struggle for democracy.

There has always been a self-effacing touch to Aung San Suu Kyi. Since her return to Rangoon to look after her ill mother in 1987, she has always put her personal concerns aside for the sake of the Burmese people.

"I draw inspiration from the courage and sacrifice of the ordinary Burmese people," she often said to me in interviews on the phone during the few years she was freed from house arrest for the first time in 10 July 1995, after six years under house arrest.

But Burma's military leader, senior General Than Shwe cannot even tolerate hearing her name. "The mere mention of her name sends the old man into a silent rage," according to a senior military source close to the top General.

Asia's foreign ministers were warned by their Burmese counterpart at the ASEAN summit in Phnom Penh in 2002 to avoid mentioning her name in his presence. The former intelligence chief General Khin Nyunt frequently warned the UN envoy Razali Ismail to minimise the mention of Aung San Suu Kyi's name in front of the top general.

Indonesia's foreign minister Dr Hasan Wirajuda confided to UN officials that there was a marked change in Than Shwe's demeanour when he mentioned Aung San Suu Kyi. "His eyes glazed over and his facial muscles tensed; clearly our discussion had come to an end," he reportedly said.

This remains one of the key obstacles to resolving Burma's political deadlock. Burma's top generals are not interested in a concrete dialogue with the pro-democracy leader. "We've been trying to get them to the negotiating table for 14 years but they have never been keen on the idea," she told me the last time we met in March 2003.

Aung San Suu Kyi on the other hand has repeatedly offered to discuss the country's political future with the Generals. Everything is negotiable if they start meaningful talks, she told me weeks before she was detained for the third time more than two years ago following an attack on her and her entourage by pro-government thugs in what is now called Black Friday.

"We are in opposition to each other at the moment but we should work together for the sake of the country. We certainly bare no grudges against them. We are not out for vengeance. We want to reach the kind of settlement which will be beneficial to everybody, including the members of the military," Aung San Suu Kyi said to me in one of her last interviews before her fateful trip in 2003.

During Aung San Suu Kyi's second long period of house arrest, after she was detained trying to travel out of Rangoon in late 2000, the regime started tentative contact with the pro-democracy leader. The secret talks were largely brokered by the then UN special envoy for Burma Razali Ismail. Although this contact was never really substantive, it raised hopes inside Burma and abroad that political reform may be the agenda.

A process of national reconciliation was started, ostensibly involving senior representatives of the military regime, pro-democracy leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi, and the ethnic rebel groups, many of whom have been fighting for some form of autonomy for more than five decades.

At the time there were high hopes, although many leading Burmese dissidents abroad and diplomats in Rangoon remained highly sceptical, believing the Burmese generals had no intentions of negotiating and were only concerned about hanging on to power at any cost.

In 2001 the Singaporean Prime Minister, Goh Chok Tong told me privately that the generals were incorrigible and would never give up power voluntarily. Most Asian leaders probably did not disagree with the eminent Singaporean politician at the time – or even now -- but all of them preferred to coax Burma's top military leaders to change, rather than pressure them.

Even East Timor's president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Jose Ramos Horta has suggested that pressuring the Generals in Rangoon was counter-productive. "Threats and deadlines have had no affect on the junta except hardening their position and forcing them to retreat into isolation," he told me several years ago.

But Aung San Suu has persisted trying to convince the regime that she at least was prepared to negotiate and that meant making concessions. "What we've always said is that dialogue is not a competition," she told me as we chatted in Rangoon over two years ago.

"We don't want a dialogue in order to find out who is the better person, or which is the smarter organisation. We have always said that the only winner, if we settle down to negotiations, the only winner, will be the country," she said.

Aung San Suu Kyi has repeatedly made conciliatory gestures towards the regime. As the daughter of the independence hero and founder of modern Burma, General Aung San, she understands the military mentality and is prepared to work with them.

"We have genuine goodwill towards the Burmese military. I personally look upon it with a certain amount of affection because of my father and I want it to have an honourable position in the country," she told me as we sat together talking at the NLD headquarters, weeks before the regime showed its true colours.

During yet another "honey-moon" period, after the new Prime Minister, General Khin Nyunt announced the seven-stage road map to democracy and the regime started plans to reconvene the National Convention to draft a new constitution, there was a glimmer of hope that Burma's military leaders may at long last include Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD in the process.

In 2004, at the suggestion of the Chinese, Aung San Suu Kyi even wrote to Than Shwe suggesting that they put the past behind them and move forward in a new era of cooperation. It fell on deaf ears.

Burma's top general is convinced that by keeping Aung San Suu Kyi in detention he can marginalise her and reduce her influence in the country. It is a vain hope as the protests and parties across the world will testify to. Aung San Suu Kyi is not only a massive icon in Burma, but throughout the globe.

Shortly after Kofi Annan took over as the UN secretary general he had to find some-one to lead the UN Commission on Human Rights. "I have a great idea, he told a close mutual friend, we'll make Aung San Suu Kyi the head of the human rights commission." Whether he really meant it or not we may never know.

But of course Aung San Suu Kyi who at the time had just been released from house arrest for the first time would never have taken the post as her over-riding commitment is to the cause of democracy in Burma.

At this point of time, with Burma having experienced its worst natural disaster in living memory, the detained opposition leader's thoughts will definitely be with those victims who have lost everything in the devastating cyclone that hit Burma more than six weeks ago. Their suffering has been made all the worse by the military's slow response to the disaster and their attempt to completely control the current relief efforts and any reconstruction plan in the future.

The contrast between the diminutive democracy hero and the generals in charge of Burma has never been so stark. Following what would be Aung San Syy Kyi's lead if she was free or able to talk, the NLD has offered to put aside their differences with the regime in the interests of working together to provide relief to more than three million victims, many of whom are still waiting to receive fresh water and food, and after that help with the rehabilitation and reconstruction phase.

Instead, Than Shwe and his fellow generals remain steadfast in believing they can do it alone. The horrible irony of course is that their secretive approach to ruling the country in part resulted in the damage being greater than it might have been, Warnings were not broadcast to the Delta or Rangoon before the cyclone hit – though the regime knew for days that the storm was brewing.

On the eve of the cyclone hitting Burma, government officials were ordered not say anything publicly – instructions from Than Shwe himself, according to government sources. Instead one civil servant, U Tun Lwin the director general of the meteorology department, when he was told directly by a government minister not to issue a public warning because it would cause people to panic, sent a warning SMS to as many of his friends in Rangoon as possible after midnight.

Air force fighters and private passenger planes, from Bagan Air – believed to be a joint venture between Than Shwe's family and the Burmese business tycoon Tay Ze -- and Air Mandalay were moved the evening before the cyclone from Rangoon airport to Mandalay for safety.

"This is symptomatic of the military leaders' total disregard for the safety of ordinary citizens and placing the protection of the military's interest above all else," a Burmese government official told Mizzima on condition anonymity.

For Burma's top general, Than Shwe, there is no need to compromise. This is symptomatic of the absurd irrationality that prevails amongst the military rulers. When any other national leader would be looking to promote national reconciliation and reconsolidation – the junta remains interested only in their own survival and holding onto political power, no matter how petty this is, when Burma is facing such a mammoth catastrophe.

The last time I met Aung Sann Suu Kyi – the last foreign journalist to talk to her before the ill-fated trip up-country -- we talked about the sort of Burma that could emerge if there was real political change and democracy. "You'll be exhausted because of so many things going on, because it's a dynamic country, she mused.

"At the same time I would very much like Burma to retain some of its traditional charm which has something to do with the fact that we are not as frantic as other countries. In some ways perhaps the fact that we are developing later than other countries can become an asset in a sense, that we learn from the mistakes of other countries and we learn how to get the best out of development while avoiding some of the worst aspects," she said.

Now more than ever the Burmese military regime should take heed of her continual offers to work together and solve Burma's problems. In the midst of perhaps the worse horror to have befallen Burma, it is time for Than Shwe to listen. Aung San Suu Kyi has repeatedly made conciliatory gestures towards the regime. As the daughter of the independence hero and founder of modern Burma, General Aung San, she understands the military mentality and is prepared to work with them.

But Than Shwe believes he does not need her and that unseen she will fade away. Nothing could be further from the truth. Aung San Suu Kyi is undeterred by the years of incarceration. When I met her on the day she was released last time – 6th May 2002, she confided that the isolation have given her plenty of time to read, reflect and meditate.

During the last five years of isolation in her Rangoon residence, I am certain she continues to draw inspiration from her father and the sacrifices of the Burmese people. "I always have been strengthened and inspired by my father. Even now, sometimes when I go over his old speeches, they are as relevant now as they were then -- he was indeed a man of vision," she confided to me as I left the NLD headquarters.

"He was a truly inspirational. I am also proud of the fact that he gained nothing. He gave but he didn't take anything from the nation. He gave the country a lot and took nothing from it. I am very proud of that and that inspires me," she said. It is a pity that the current leaders of the army, which General Aung San founded, cannot find the same inspiration, at a time when the country needs it most.

As she sits alone in her Rangoon residence now, I am certain she is continuing to draw inspiration from her father and the sacrifices of the Burmese people. She would be keen to help and is probably fretting that she cannot. It is the intransigence of the generals that is now not only delaying the return of democracy to Burma, but perhaps putting millions of lives at risk.

Now Burma's top general should at least talk directly to Aung San Suu Kyi and see how she could help the reconstruction effort. They would of course need to put genuine political dialogue with the NLD on the table in the future. But the opposition leaders' commitment to improving the lives of the Burmese people would no doubt mean she was prepared to compromise in the interests of getting the whole international aid effort into full swing.

Volunteers burying storm victims arrested

Nam Davies
Mizzima - 18 June 2008

New Delhi – The 'Myanmar Tribune' journal chief editor Aung Kyaw San and at least six of his colleagues who had buried cyclone victims in devastated areas were arrested on June 14 by the authorities.

The volunteer grave diggers of 'Myanmar Tribune', CEO Aung Kyaw San (45) and six of his colleagues buried the remains of a number of cyclone victims in Bogale Township, Irrawaddy Division. They were detained last Saturday.

"Aung Kyaw San has not yet been released. We heard that he was arrested in Bogale but is now transferred to Rangoon. His wife is worrying about him since she does not know his whereabouts. She is asking many people about her husband unaware where he has been kept," a person close to the family said.

"He made frequent visits to Bogale. He made about three trips. He was arrested during his last visit. We heard that his colleagues arrested along with him were released yesterday," he added.

Though the reason behind the arrest is not known, literary and journalist circles criticized the authorities for hindering relief operations by volunteers, questioning and arresting volunteers.

"It's good to see the volunteers helping cyclone victims where the authorities have not done much. They are complementing the government's job on their own. Hindering and banning relief operations being conducted by the volunteers will worsen the suffering of cyclone victims," the editor of a weekly journal said.
Aung Kyaw San stopped publishing his 'Myanmar Tribune' weekly journal due to various reasons and engaged in volunteer work of burying the dead after the cyclone.

NLD calls for parliament to be convened


The National League for Democracy, Burma's main opposition political party urged the military junta yet again to convene Parliament to solve the political dilemma the country is facing.

The statement issued by the NLD said the country is facing a national crisis in the aftermath of the devastation wrought by Cyclone Nargis. And it needs to be tackled at the earliest.

"The Parliament legally exists. When we talk about national crisis, it means not only economic crisis but also the legitimacy of the constitution. We need the Parliament to solve this environment of crisis in a legal manner," Thein Nyunt of the party's information department said.

"We want international aid to effectively tackle the devastation caused by Cyclone Nargis and to reach succour to the victims," he added.

The statement said that the damage caused by the cyclone is far too big and needs the help of international experts. Aid is needed because Burma alone cannot handle the reconstruction.

Severe inflation and the run away increase in prices of essential commodities are interlaced with the political crisis and no country in the world can ignore this, it said.

Is Cyclone Aftermath Creating a Burmese Civil Society?

The Irrawaddy News

The aftermath of Cyclone Nargis has produced a number of local private relief groups in a country where civil society is under strict scrutiny by the authorities—giving rise to the question: could this phenomenon grow into some kind of social structure?

Shortly after the cyclone struck, a Laputta Township youth group, previously involved in offering funeral services for poor people, set up a cyclone relief team, together with local monks.

They collected funds and rice from better-off people and rice merchants in the township and opened emergency relief centers at monasteries and schools in Laputta, one of the worst hit areas,

On day one of the cyclone, the young people and the monks made rice soup for hundreds of survivors, at a time when no aid had reached the area from state authorities or international relief agencies.

“The local relief workers in Laputta are also themselves cyclone victims,” Aye Kyu, a Laputta physician told The Irrawaddy in early May. “In this disaster, nobody, such as government agencies and others, could help us. So victims needed to stand up by themselves, and help each other as well as save themselves,”

Local relief efforts weren’t confined to Laputta and the Irrawaddy Delta—the desire to help spread across the country.

“Our group started with five people,” said a young Rangoon doctor. “We didn’t collect money, food and other supplies, but just told our relatives and friends that we would go to the Irrawaddy Delta to help people there. Then people who know us donated cash, rice and other relief items for the survivors.”

Some local relief initiatives grew to scores of volunteer workers.

“These civic groups born in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis are unlike civil society in western countries,” said Khin Zaw Win, a Burmese researcher in Rangoon. “They are rooted in goodwill, replacing the irresponsible people.”

One large relief group, the Free Funeral Services Society, led by Burmese actor Kyaw Thu, has 150 volunteers and 50 staffers, according to its official website. The group visited more than 100 Irrawaddy Delta villages with aid.

The Nargis Action Group Myanmar, a sister organization of an education company, Myanmar E-gress, led by Nay Win Maung, a Burmese journalist with good connections to the military elite, has 100 volunteer workers in four townships in the Delta, according to its Web site.

Burmese émigrés add their weight to relief efforts, using their access to blogs and Web sites.

One group, the Myanmar-Burma Emergency Aid Network, based in Burma, Singapore and Britain, started up with 70 volunteers, who took relief supplies to 44 cyclone-hit villages.

“It’s been overwhelmingly impressive what local organizations, medical groups and some businessmen have done,” Ruth Bradley Jones, second secretary in the British Embassy in Rangoon, told The New York Times. “They are the true heroes of the relief effort.”

Such praise doesn’t impress the Burmese regime, which puts difficulties in the way of civic groups, many of which are denied official registration and lack legal basis.

While registered and well-connected groups, such as Myanmar E-gree, are officially approved, the activities of a relief group of 400 volunteers led by Burmese satirist Zarganar have been restricted by the authorities, and on June 4 Zarganar was arrested.

His detention was followed by the arrest of more than a dozen other local relief workers. “From this step, it is too early to talk about the growth of a Burmese civil society,” said Khin Zaw Win.

New Hydropower Dam to Displace Thousands

The Irrawaddy News

More than 3,500 people, including many ethnic Kayan in southern Shan State in eastern Burma, will be displaced by a new dam being built in the Pyinmana hills, according to the Kayan Women’s Union.

The Kayan Women’s Union released a report, “Drowning the Green Ghosts of Kayanland,” on Wednesday saying the Upper Paunglaung Dam will flood 12 villages and submerge more than 5,000 acres of fertile farm land about 26 miles east of Burma’s new capital at Naypyidaw.

Mu Kayan, a spokesperson of the Kayan Women’s Union, said, “Forty years ago, we Kayan people lost our sacred lands to provide electricity to Rangoon. Now the dwelling places of our guardian spirits will again be submerged to power Naypyidaw.”

About 140 megawatts of electricity will be generated by the 99-meter high Upper Paunglaung Dam, whose construction will also provide additional water to increase the generating capacity of the Lower Paunglaung Dam, completed in March 2005, which provides electrical power to Naypyidaw.

The Upper Paunglaung Dam is scheduled to be completed in December 2009.

The Upper Paunglaung Dam is being built by the Yunnan Machinery and Export Co Ltd, one of 24 major hydropower dams planned or under construction in Burma by Chinese companies, said the report.

Meanwhile, reports of human rights abuses including forced labor have increased in local villages near the dam’s construction site, according to the report. The Burmese army provides security in the dam area.

The secretary of Burma Rivers Network, Aung Ngyeh, who is also a Karenni environmentalist, said, “Burmese soldiers are deployed at the dam site. The army has forcibly called local villagers to the construction site and asked them to serve as laborers. The Burmese army also bans villagers from working on their farms. Villagers can’t do their own work because they have to work for the army.”

The Burmese army’s deployment along the Paunglaung River is in direct contravention of the ceasefire agreement between the Kayan New Land Party (KNLP) and the military regime in 1994, according to the report.

The KNLP was formed in 1964 to protest the construction of Burma’s first major hydropower project, the Mobye Dam in Karenni State, which flooded more than 100 villages and displaced many Kayan and Padaung, many of whom became refugees in Thailand. More than 8,000 people in Pekhon, including many Kayan, were also forcibly displaced in southern Shan State by the Mobye Dam.

Kayan people are an indigenous ethnic minority living in an area bordering southern Shan State, northern Karenni State and northern Karen State. The total population is estimated at around 200,000 comprising four ethnic subgroups, the largest being Padaung.

Local Activists Blast Relief Effort

The Irrawaddy News

Burmese humanitarian activists have complained that the distribution of aid to cyclone survivors is uncoordinated and is restricted to people in urban areas.

A well-known activist from Mandalay, Than Myint Soe, said on Tuesday that private donors and international aid agencies are not cooperating or sharing information while distributing aid to cyclone survivors in the Irrawaddy delta.

“The villages near roads or along the rivers get assistance,” the social activist said. “But rural villages located far from roads and rivers haven’t received any food, clothes or even fresh water.”

Than Myint Soe, a coordinator for the Mandalay Charity Group for Nargis, added: “What is the point of not sharing your information? The organizations and private donors are simply not coordinating their assistance.”

He said that Mandalay Charity Group for Nargis, which he founded along with businessmen, doctors and philanthropists from Mandalay, had delivered upward of 160 million kyat (US $136,750), including food, clothes and emergency aid to an estimated 90,000 cyclone survivors in Dedaye and Pyapon townships.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Tuesday, Than Myint Soe said that the makeshift charity planned to build schools in Dedaye and Pyapon, as well as high brick walls as barriers in case of floods in the future.

“Well constructed buildings and strong walls can save lives,” he said. “When I traveled to Dedaye and Pyapon to deliver supplies, I could see that the villagers that survived the cyclone winds and the tidal wave took shelter in well-built structures.”

Nyi Lynn Seck, a 29-year-old blogger and social activist from Rangoon who, along with four colleagues, formed a makeshift group which they called “Handy Myanmar Youths to reconstruct homes in the delta, said that to date they have built more than 100 houses, or what they call “budget huts,” for cyclone survivors in the Laputta area.

However, the activist complained that corrupt local officials were siphoning off many of their building materials and that their disaster management skills were inefficient.

“I was disappointed because some villages did not receive the materials we tried to supply,” Nyi Lynn Seck said. “Officials from the Ward and Village Peace and Development Council stole them. For example, they gave us proposals for 10 x12-foot huts, but they took materials and tools to build 15 x 30-foot houses,” he said.

An urgent concern is the high price and scarcity of materials and tools, Nyi Lynn Seck said, noting in his blog that they were having trouble finding wood to build “budget huts” in Laputta.

He said that another setback to aid distribution was the disorganized method the Burmese military government relied on. He said the authorities did not use a computerized system for the logistics of the disaster management and that they only worked on paper, so much of the help was “delayed, forged and wasted.”

In Bogalay, rebuilding and rehabilitation has still not been initiated in remote villages of the township, according to a Buddhist monk who spoke to The Irrawaddy on Wednesday.

The monk said that the Htoo Company, the junta-linked contractors with a monopoly on rights to rebuild in the cyclone-ravaged Bogalay area, had constructed only roofing shelters supported by poles at a state school in the village of Ahkare Gyi in Bogalay Township, but that no buildings had yet been constructed.

Regime Steps Up Crackdown on Private Cyclone Relief Efforts

The Irrawaddy News

Despite assurances of free access by private donors to cyclone-devastated areas of Burma, the military government continues to arrest individuals taking aid to survivors of the May 2-3 storm.

Ten donors have been arrested since the beginning of this month, according to the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP).

The arrested aid workers were identified as Zarganar, Zaw Thet Htwe, Ein Khine Oo, Myat Thu, Yin Yin Wine, Tin Tin Cho, Ko Zaw, Tin Maung Oo, Ni Mo Hlaing and Toe Kyaw Hlaing. Zarganar is Burma’s most popular satirist and an outspoken critic of the regime.

Toe Kyaw Hlaing, a former 88 Generation Students leader, was the latest donor to be arrested. He was detained on Tuesday after returning to Rangoon from the Irrawaddy Delta.

AAPP Secretary Tate Naing said: “The arrests are now increasing, especially of people actively helping cyclone survivors. We don’t know the reasons for the arrests.”

Tate Naing said family members were not being informed of the arrests.

Six of those arrested—Myat Thu, Yin Yin Wine, Tin Tin Cho, Ko Zaw, Tin Maung Oo and Ni Mo Hlaing—are being held by the police special branch in Rangoon’s Sanchaung Township. They were detained on June 12.

Zaw Thet Htwe, a journalist and private aid worker, and Ein Khine Oo were arrested last weekend.

Zarganar ran a group of voluntary relief workers, but one of them said they had suspended their aid efforts because of the regime crackdown.

Since the cyclone, the regime mouthpiece, The New Light of Myanmar, has been carrying a slogan on its back page stating: “Everybody may make donations freely. Everybody may make donations to any person or any area.”