Friday, 20 June 2008

Natural disasters in Myanmar and Sichuan: Emergency relief and prevention, Switzerland's two trump cards

On two recent occasions, Swiss Humanitarian Aid once again proved its availability and effectiveness, intervening simultaneously after two particularly lethal disasters: the cyclone Nargis in Myanmar, and the earthquake that devastated Sichuan in China. In both of these countries, the SDC had been active long before the disasters.

The SDC has been present in Myanmar for several years. Together with Swiss and local partner organisations it has been funding – at a level of CHF 3.5 to 4 million per year – and implementing programmes concerned with health, water, food security, protection of displaced persons, and prevention of human trafficking. Nearly one million people, including a large number of small-scale farmers, are benefiting from this assistance, which is concentrated in the eastern part of the country and in the refugee camps located in neighbouring Thailand.

The support provided to China is of an entirely different nature. Between 2005 and 2007, the SDC implemented a project establishing a preventive alarm system in the event of flooding in the region of the Yangtse River. This project was carried out in collaboration with the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment, a specialised private company, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, and the relevant Chinese authorities.

The snowball principle

Most importantly, however, in 2002, the SDC, in collaboration with the Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sport, launched a large-scale programme for training specialised earthquake rescuers. The underlying idea of the programme is simple, but effective: it is based on the snowball principle. The programme consisted in training trainers who, in their turn, would then be able to train rescuers located in regions exposed to high seismic risks. The programme also included training of search and rescue dog handlers, in collaboration with ORARIS, a private partner specialising in canine education.

In this programme, as well, Chinese authorities were closely involved in both theoretical and practical training – a chief success factor in any process of transfer of know-how. Speaking of which, a brand new training centre has just been inaugurated in Beijing. Currently, over twenty trainers are operational. They have trained some 200 rescuers who were able to intervene directly to assist the victims of the earthquake of past 12 May.

Relief Web

Junta halts gold mining temporarily in Nam San Yang

Kachin News

Gold mining areas in Nam San Yang village, 50 miles southeast of Myitkyina, in Waingmaw Township has been temporarily halted by Burmese military junta authorities in Kachin State, northern Burma. The areas are near the KIO business centre and its headquarters in Laiza. The closure has come into effect since last week, a source said.

The reason behind the closure of the gold mining areas in Nam San Yang has to do with the friction between the Burmese authorities in Nam San Yang and Chinese gold miners, said a resident in Myitkyina, who recently came from the area.

Chinese gold miners were mining in the areas without permission from the Burmese authorities. They were also extending the mining area affecting other gold miners. The other gold miners complained about it leading to the temporary closure, said a resident.

Chinese gold miners have already applied for permission from the authorities but have not received official permission yet, added a resident.

Nam San Yang village is one of the best gold mining areas and mining started here in 2007. The area is controlled by both the Burmese Army and the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO).

According to villagers of Nam San Yang, some villagers who owned farms in the area sold out their farm land for mining to the gold mining company. They sold one acre for 10 million Kyat (est. US $ 8,889) while some sold for 20 million Kyat (est. US $ 17,778).

Once some farmers sold out their farm others followed suit because with mining in the area the soil cannot be used to grow rice, a villager said.

Junta resumes plantations for biofuel post referendum

Kachin News

Burma's ruling military junta has resumed its state-project of growing castor oil trees (Jatropha curcas) for biofuel production by using local civilians without paying them wages in Northern Burma post the constitutional referendum in May, according to the locals.

In this morning's heavy monsoon downpour in Myitkyina Township the capital of Kachin State, hundreds of residents had to plant thousands of castor oil trees (Physic nut trees) also called Jet Suu in Burmese in the open space in their quarters, Myitkyina residents told KNG today.

According to eyewitnesses, they saw over a hundred civilians with knives and mattocks in Du Mare (Du Kahtawng), Shatapru and Tatkone quarters planting Physic nut saplings in their quarters between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. Burma Standard Time in heavy rain.

A resident in Du Mare said, "This morning over a hundred residents from our quarters planted more than 4,000 Physic nut saplings in the free space between Du Mare and the other two quarters on the same side --- Jan Mai Kawng and Edin quarters on the eastern side of the railway."

He added, Du Mare residents had also planted Physic nut saplings yesterday in the same areas and only 10 residents in each block in Du Mare were asked to plant saplings every time by the administrators of Quarter Peace and Development Council (QPDC).

All villages and quarter administrators in the township have been warned by the Township Peace and Development Council (TPDC) to avoid the Physic nut plantation activities with the masses, a source close to TPDC said.

Local administrators of villages and quarters said, they had been ordered to apply less than 10 civilians in each plantation sector because the junta was worried about media attention if it used a mass of people rather than small numbers of people.

Last year in Myitkyina, residents were called and paid wages for growing the Physic nut saplings by the authorities but this year they have not been paid--- the residents have turned into forced labourers, a local in Myitkyina added.

According to the report titled "Biofuel by Decree" released on May 1 by the Thailand-based Ethnic Community Development Forum (ECDF), Burma's ruling junta has planned to grow eight million acres of Physic nut trees for biofuel production throughout the country.

Under this project, Burma's Supremo, Senior General Than Shwe has instructed that each state and division in the country must cultivate 500,000 acres within three years, the ECDF report said. Burma has seven states and seven divisions.

The full report Biofuel by Decree: Unmasking Burma's Bio-energy Fiasco by the Ethnic Community Development Forum can be viewed at:

Police visit detained NLD members’ families

Jun 20, 2008 (DVB)–Police officers and members of the Union Solidarity and Development Association warned the families of National League for Democracy members detained yesterday not to talk to anyone about the arrests.

Dr Win Naing, the NLD’s Rangoon division information coordinator, confirmed the names of the 10 people arrested yesterday during an event held to mark party leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s 63rd birthday.

An NLD member who witnessed the incident yesterday named those detained as Bahan NLD secretary Ko Htun Myint, Hlaing Tharyar NLD campaigning wing member U Hla Aye, Ko Maung Maung Thein of Mingalardon, an unnamed woman and a monk now identified as U Myint Swe.

Win Naing added the names of Bahan NLD joint secretary U Soe Oak, U San Baw and U Chit Khin of Ton Tay, U Maung Sein of Insein and Wah Khe Ma NLD deputy chairman U Htay Aung to this list.

The ten were arrested at NLD headquarters yesterday after members of Swan Arr Shin and the USDA turned up at the event and began beating members of the crowd.

Win Naing said police officers and USDA members had visited the detainees’ families later in the day.

"Police and USDA members went to the houses of those who were arrested yesterday evening and informed their families of the arrests,” he said.

“They warned them not to talk to anyone about it."

The NLD coordinator blamed the government for the authorities’ heavy-handed actions in suppressing the event.

"Some of the people were not arrested in front of the NLD headquarters, but while they were travelling to the event site," he said.

"This unlawful act of the USDA and SAS members who beat up and arrested our members was under direction from the government."

Reporting by Naw Say Phaw

Junta continues tightening security outside NLD office

By Myint Maung & Phanida
Mizzima News - 20 June 2008

The Burmese military junta authorities have beefed up security in front of the office of the opposition party – the National League for Democracy - in the former capital Rangoon. Eyewitnesses said that at least seven military trucks were seen in front of the NLD office.

An eyewitness said at least 50 officers, believed to be from the military intelligence, are seen loitering in front of the NLD office in Shwegondine Street in Bahan Township, while several soldiers, policemen and Swan Arr Shin members, were seen in seven military, police and prison trucks on the edge of the street.

Eyewitness also said several other military trucks full of soldiers, policemen and Swan Arr Shin have been spotted stationed on the rear and surrounding roads of the NLD office.

An NLD youth leader, who is currently attending the party's bi-annual meeting at the NLD headquarters, said he had seen about eight trucks with fully equipped soldiers on the Yetharshea Street, east of the NLD office.

"I believe security has been beefed up because of our bi-annual meeting today. We are now here discussing and reviewing the experiences of Burma's referendum in May," the youth leader told Mizzima over telephone.

NLD's spokesperson Nyan Win said, authorities have continued tightening security in front of the office since Thursday, when several party youths were arrested for demanding the release of detained party leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on her 63rd birthday.

Nyan Win said while over a dozen youths were arrested out of the nearly 700 protesters, the party could so far identify only ten of the youths.

"So far we don't know where they have been taken to and we have not been informed. This is a shear act of violence on us [NLD], as those arresting our youths do not have any authority to do so," Nyan Win said.

On Thursday, following an official gathering to mark detained party General Secretary Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's 63rd birthday at the NLD office, several youth members of the party staged a protest in front of the office calling for the immediate release of their leader.

However, the protest was short-lived, when members of the junta-backed civil organizations Swan Arr Shin and Union Solidarity and Development Committee (USDA) intervened and arrested several key members of the NLD-youth, Nyan Win said.

"They [authorities] are doing whatever they want, arresting, investigating and beating people up," Dr. Win Naing, a member of the NLD's information and communication committee, told Mizzima.

Birthday present for Daw Suu: Waves of 'Saffron Revolution'

By Nay Than Maung
Mizzima News

I didn't realize that the article that I wrote last fall would be significant and be a precious moment in my life. After retiring from the media world and living as a student in North Carolina State, Mizzima editor Ko Sein Win who was a classmate in media training conducted in Cambodia seven years ago, pressed me to write an article for his media. It was no doubt Ko Sein Win created a remarkable opportunity for me to write a Burma related article after a three-year lull.

At that time, hundreds of monks were marching in procession by reciting Metta sutra in Rangoon's monsoon rain and wind. The monk-led protest, tirelessly and assiduously striving for sweeping compassion across Burma, in rain soaked robes, was the most thrilling and exciting moment for me as well as to the modern history of Burma.

As I was watching this Metta (Love) reciting movement in full excitement at my home, the protesting monks met pro-democracy icon Daw Aung San Suu Kyi who was under house arrest at her residence-turned-prison with Metta in the environment of incarceration. The monks saw her standing at her door step on that very day 23rd September 2007. At that moment, I realized that I'd got enough inspiration to write an article.

The compassion clad movement was the climactic moment in the 19-year long non-violent democratic movement led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi which seemed to be the prelude of forthcoming surging tidal wave of our democratic movement. I couldn't help recollecting the images of peaceful democratic transformation movement in East Europe, (countries once under the now defunct USSR).

The monks led protest calling the rulers to stop violence was the sequel of incidents where the regime brutally beat up monks, the most revered in Burmese society, in Pakokku two weeks ago. This incident sparked the nationwide movement drawing all the people in joining the protest, calling for sweeping political change and writing the modern history of Burma, was in fact, compassion head-butt against the brick wall.

The 2003 Red Rose revolution in Georgia, 2004 Orange Revolution in Ukraine, 2005 Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan are the sequels of the famous 1989 'Velvet Revolution' in Czech Republic, transforming to democratic states from totalitarian regimes. All these movements are firmly impressed in my head. Then I realized we need to symbolize our movement also with the images of flowers and colours, soon after that, I wrote my article.

In that article, I wrote,

"……Colours and flowers revolutions have started from systematic and peaceful defiance by the student movements and anti-communist movements…."

"The successful Velvet Revolution in Czech Republic was the encouragement to the newly emerged republics of former USSR to free from the yoke of communism.'Red Rose Revolution' in 2003 in Georgia compelled the corrupt President Eduard Shevardnadze who led the country to total economic chaos, had to enter into negotiations with the opposition leader brokered by the Russian government, and had to step down. The people were supporting the opposition leader, holding the red roses in their hands, and protesting against the rule of the existing government. Finally the peaceful red rose revolution succeeded. After one year, the pro-democracy forces in Ukraine started their struggle to topple the pro-Russia President by wearing orange ribbons which was later popularly known as 'orange revolution'. The electoral crisis created by controversial vote counting and massive electoral fraud made opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko an overwhelming success.

"In 2005, the Tulip Revolution which toppled the President Askar Akayev occurred in Kyrgyzstan. Like other colour or flower revolutions, the dictator President and his family was toppled and had to flee to Russia. At first, the world media referred this popular movement as Pink, Lemon, Silk and Daffodil revolutions. But the toppled president himself referred this movement as Tulip revolution and warned the people not to wage colour revolution against his administration."

"The reason why we referred this movement of democracy loving and democracy longing people as 'saffron revolution' because it was representing the faith (Sasana) of most monks, laity, students and people in Burma; young and brave fighting peacock; the conscious citizens who own yellow paddy fields across the country which will make our country prosperous and free from the current crisis.

Mizzima posted my article the same day, 23rd September. I wrote the same in English under the title 'Yellow Revolution' and was posted in Irrawaddy and Mizzima websites consecutively. After two days, London Times first referred the series of this movement as 'Saffron'. On 25th September, former US Charge d affaires in Rangoon Ms. Prescilla referred this movement as 'Yellow Revolution' in VOA Burmese Service.

During these days, the people and students joined the monk-led movement actively and enthusiastically. The number of demonstrators increased to hundreds of thousands from tens of thousands who took to the streets. The international media such as Boston Globe, United Press International, Washington Post, Economics magazine and Burma expert columnist Larry Jagan first referred this movement as 'Saffron'.

But until that time, the Burmese media had not yet referred the movement as 'Saffron'. Mizzima first used the headline 'The Saffron Revolution has started' on 24th September. Then 'New Era' followed suit on 1st October, Saya Maung Swanyi on 2nd October in Moemakha, and BBC Burmese Service first referred the movement as 'Saffron Revolution' on October 4th. Since then, the people have accepted their September movement as 'Saffron Revolution'. Though the words 'Yellow' and 'Saffron' are different in English, it is the same in Burmese and it is more appropriate to use 'Saffron'.

A friend of mine in Thailand warned me that the Chinese government was very much concerned over the christening of this movement as 'Saffron Revolution'. It is not surprising to see the Chinese government was worrying about coining the term with another colour revolution in the backyard of their country while they are still licking the wounds left by the Great Cultural Revolution and its nightmares. The colour revolutions occurred in Central Asia toppled the communist governments which made the Chinese government understandably nervous and cautious. But this is the serious mistake of the Chinese government not able to comprehend clearly about the nature and phenomenon of Burma.

It is time to continue the struggle to fulfill the unfinished task of the Saffron Revolution. Some are reluctant to use 'Saffron Revolution' as the movement died down due to the brutal suppression of the regime on the halfway to 'democracy' goal. Some preferred to use the term 'revolution' only after complete victory. But we should understand one thing very clearly that we could have laid the foundation of a 'peaceful and non-violent movement' firmly through love and compassion, which firmly believes in compassion and refused to see opponents as an enemy, need striving together for establishing a new era filled with democracy, justice and equality.

In fact, this movement follows the doctrines of Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi, follows the Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's doctrine of peaceful democratic transformation which could deeply impress the peaceful non-violent way in the hearts and heads of many pro-democracy forces. This is the hallmark of this movement. This is the great success for all of us.

We have crossed the 20-year long journey. We have covered a great distance in this long journey. We are still marching towards our goal through various experiences and different encounters in these 20 years. We are building our future democratic state with compassion and knowledge based on our tears and sweat.

This is the sole birthday present we can give to our beloved leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. The lone candle we can light on her birthday cake is the eternal truth for all of us. If she is the icon of Saffron Revolution, we must be the saffron flames so that our future will be bright.

The Thugs are Back in Action

The Irrawaddy News

After a welcome absence from the public scene in the past few months, the ugly thugs of Burma’s two pro-government militia movements, the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) and its sister group, Swan Ah Shin (“Masters of Force”), are back on the streets.

They turned out in force on Thursday for a birthday party—pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi was 63. They were in no mood to celebrate, however. Their aim was to break up any display of popular support for a courageous woman caged by the regime in her own home.

The thugs attacked a rally by Suu Kyi’s supporters outside the Rangoon office of her National League for Democracy, detaining more than a dozen.

Although it’s not clear whether the unprovoked and brutal attack was launched on government orders, the regime’s hand can be seen behind most of the criminal activities of the USDA and Swan Ah Shin.

In a report to the UN Human Rights Council last December, the former UN special rapporteur on Burma, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, said the “violent actions” of the USDA and Swan Ah Shin are taken “with government acquiescence or approval.” The report accused the regime of complicity in the groups’ abuses and of negligence in failing to prevent them and punish those responsible.

Suu Kyi’s current term of house arrest began after members of the group ambushed a convoy of her supporters in May 2003, killing many of them. The groups were also active in helping to suppress the popular demonstrations last August and September.

“The USDA and Swan Ah Shin have played an increasingly important role in suppressing civilian dissent”, Donald M Seekins, Professor of Southeast Asian Studies at Meio University in Japan, wrote in a report. He accused the two movements of involvement in the attacks on Suu Kyi and her supporters in May 2003 and the suppression of last year’s demonstrations.

The regime often attempts to define the USDA and Swan Ah Shin as two distinctly separate groups.

“After the September demonstrations, the authorities often explained during meetings with businesspeople that the two groups are not same, saying the USDA is a civic organization and Swan Ah Shin are people who have the responsibility to prevent unrest,” said a Rangoon businessman who has ties to the USDA.

He said Swan Ah Shin was answerable to both local authorities and the USDA, relying on them for financing.

The two groups recruit their members from different social strata. While USDA members tend to be civil servants, teachers, students and businesspeople, Swan Ah Shin attracts a criminal class of membership.

Members of Swan Ah Shin were paid between 2,000 kyat and 3,000 kyat (US $1.5 and $2.3) to help break up last year’s demonstrations.

Members of both groups receive basic military training and instruction in crowd control from the army and police.

When demonstrations and popular protests arise, thugs from the two movements are rapidly on the scene. But, like the Burmese army, they were conspicuous by their absence when a real crisis, Cyclone Nargis, hit the country.

"Last time [in August and September, 2007], they came here, just like ants, from where I don't know," a Rangoon resident told Reuters in early May. "Now I can't see any."

Urgent funding needed for WFP helicopters to assist in Myanmar

YANGON (RW)– A critical shortage of funds for a helicopter operation providing essential logistical support to nearly 50 aid agencies is threatening the relief effort for 2.4 million survivors of Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar, the United Nations World Food Programme warned today.

"WFP is leading the way in moving life-saving supplies to distressed communities by boat, truck and air – but it will all grind to a halt by the end of this month unless we get additional funding now," said Chris Kaye, WFP Country Director for Myanmar.

To date, only just over half of the US$50 million required for the logistical operation has been secured and much of this money has already been spent on barges, boats, rivercraft and basic infrastructure needed to reach cyclone survivors in remote, hard-hit villages across the Irrawaddy Delta. The devastation means that the only way of bringing relief to the survivors is by air and waterborne craft which are expensive to contract and run.

The helicopters – now using additional slings to deliver water purification units and tanks to villages and communities in the Delta – have been able to provide more relief items to people living in the worst affected areas.

"The helicopters have reached several villages which had received no help at all during the six weeks since the Cyclone struck," said Kaye, adding that WFP relies mainly on boats and rivercraft for delivering most of the food and humanitarian assistance.

WFP's emergency operation to provide food assistance to 750,000 people in Myanmar is also struggling for funds, after receiving only 45 percent of the US$69.5 million required. Currently there is only sufficient funding to provide one month's ration of rice (one of five items in the food basket) to 750,000 people. To date, a total of 676,000 people in the Delta have received food assistance from WFP.

Overall, since the first helicopter began its rotations on 2 June, 60 locations in the Delta have been reached. Yesterday, helicopter flights reached Ngapudaw Island on the west coast of the Delta region, to settlements accessible only by sea-going vessels approaching from the west.

Besides WFP-supplied food, consisting mostly of high-energy biscuits and rice, helicopter flights have delivered aid for UNICEF, CARE and Merlin that have included shelter materials water purification units and hygiene kits. Medical teams supported by Merlin have also been flown to remote village where they have been able to provide emergency clinics.

Additional flights have deployed teams of humanitarian workers currently undertaking the joint UN-ASEAN and Government of Myanmar Assessment of Cyclone Nargis's damage across the Delta.

The helicopters have also carried out two medical evacuations of Delta inhabitants, including airlifting a small child suffering from serious dengue fever from Bogale to Yangon.

"These helicopters show how the UN can bring immediate help to the people of Myanmar," said Erika Joergensen, WFP Deputy Regional Director. "We appeal to donors to maintain their generosity towards WFP's emergency logistics and telecommunications operations, which our fellow humanitarian agencies depend on to save lives.."

Following authorization by the Government of Myanmar on 16 May, WFP mobilised a fleet of 10 helicopters to help deliver food and other relief supplies to victims of Cyclone Nargis.

As the lead agency for logistics coordination and the supply of operational logistics capacity for the UN and non-governmental organisations working in Myanmar, WFP has received 59 percent of the US$50.5 million it requires. Donations have been received from: UK ($9.9 million); UN CERF, Common Funds and Agencies ($4.2 million); Australia ($3.7 million); European Commission ($3.1 million); United States ($4 million); Canada ($2 million); Denmark ($1.4 million); Norway ($970,000); Finland ($620,000).

WFP's emergency operation to provide food assistance to 755,000 people requires US$69.5 million and has a current shortfall of 55 percent. Donors include: European Commission ($7.8 million); UN CERF, Common Funds and Agencies ($5 million); United States ($3.4 million); Australia ($2.8 million); Japan ($2.5 million); Canada ($2.7 million); Germany ($1.6 million); Private donors ($1.1 million); Switzerland ($960,000); Italy ($780,000) Spain ($780,000); Finland ($620,000); OPEC ($500,000); Luxembourg ($200,000); Greece ($200,000) and Korea ($100,000) and Lithuania ($27,000).

Recent video footage from Myanmar is available by contacting Jonathan Dumont in Rome on +39 06 6513 3152 (

WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency: this year, WFP plans to feed more than 90 million people in around 80 countries.

WFP now provides RSS feeds to help journalists keep up with the latest press releases, videos and photos as they are published on For more details see:

For more information please contact (email address:

Chris Kaye, WFP Country Director and Representative, Myanmar, Tel. +95 1 546198 ext 2100, Cell. +959 510 8161,

Hakan Tongkul, WFP Deputy Director, Myanmar, Tel. +95 1 546 198 ext 2101

Paul Risley, WFP Bangkok, Tel. +66-2-6554115, Cell. +66-81-701-9208

Brenda Barton, Deputy Director Communications, WFP/Rome, Tel. +39-06-65132602, Cell. +39-3472582217 (ISDN line available)

Myanmar's junta announces small reshuffle of Cabinet and military posts

YANGON, Myanmar (IHT): Myanmar's junta reshuffled three of its top-ranked officials Friday, giving one of the key ministers in charge of cyclone relief work more time to focus on his job.

The reshuffle, which had been rumored for weeks, was announced on state-run radio and television Friday. No explanation was given, as is customary for Myanmar's secretive military regime. The changes did not involve any officials with influence on policy decisions.

One of the key ministers handling post-cyclone management, Resettlement Minister Maj. Gen. Maung Maung Swe, previously held two Cabinet posts. His other portfolio, minister of immigration and population, was given to Maj. Gen. Saw Lwin.

The U.N. estimates that 2.4 million people were affected by the May 2-3 cyclone, which killed more than 78,000 and left another 56,000 missing.

The junta has faced worldwide criticism for failing to speed relief to survivors, but foreign aid agencies say that a widely feared second wave of deaths from disease and starvation has so far not occurred.

Maung Maung Swe has been one of the junta's point men for coordinating with U.N. officials and diplomats in cyclone relief work. The change apparently was to allow him to concentrate on relief efforts and was not viewed as a demotion since he had only been expected to hold the immigration Cabinet portfolio until a replacement could be found, said officials who spoke on customary condition of anonymity.

Saw Lwin was previously one of the government's two industry ministers. That job, called Industry Minister Two, was transferred to Vice Admiral Soe Thein, the navy's commander in chief.

Naming a senior military commander to a lower-ranking Cabinet post is unusual, but Soe Thein is approaching 60, the age of retirement for a navy chief, said officials who spoke on customary condition of anonymity.

A new navy commander was not immediately named.

Where are Burma’s neighbours?

May 8, 2008 - In the days since Cyclone Nargis passed through Burma on May 2 and 3, bringing a tidal surge with it to the delta region that has literally swept away hundreds of villages, it has become painfully obvious that the country’s government is completely unable to deal with what has happened.

In the immediate aftermath of the storm, local residents in somewhat affected areas, including Rangoon, banded together to do everything from clearing roads to distributing emergency supplies of water and food. In many rural areas, monks have taken charge as thousands of people have converged on monasteries, which are among the sturdiest buildings and which often have stockpiles of donated wood, food and other necessities.

The lack of any official presence in these parts has been striking in a country where government agents, in and out of uniform, are normally omnipresent. But the absurdity, ineptitude and persistent greed that characterize so much administrative conduct in Burma have in some areas become most apparent after soldiers, police and bureaucrats have finally turned up.

In one part of Rangoon, a fistfight reportedly broke out when outraged locals saw that water tankers were delivering supplies to the homes of council members and military officers but not to anyone else.

At Pazundaung, a unit of soldiers went to nearby houses to ask for machetes with which to cut fallen trees. Their commander demanded a car to oversee his men and shopkeepers were called upon to give chains with which to drag timber from the road.

In the worst affected areas, flattened villages and ruined crops are still littered with bodies and not a single person has turned up to assist. Many places, such as Laputta, remain partly submerged and the numbers of the dead and missing not yet entered into the daily rising tallies.

So where are Burma’s neighbors? Not long after the storm struck, the Association of Southeast Asian Nation’s secretary-general, the former foreign minister of Thailand, Surin Pitsuwan, called on the other nine member states to give generously, and hoped the same of its partners, which include heavyweights China, South Korea and Japan. (See news of his latest statement.)

His appeal seems to have fallen on deaf ears. The amount of assistance so far offered from all of these countries has been paltry, to put it kindly: limited to some bundles of cash to government bank accounts and a few planeloads of supplies, or in India’s case, a couple of boatloads; given the size of the disaster, hardly worthy of comment.

The absence of any significant response from China, India, South Korea, Japan and Thailand is shocking. China and India have been vying over the country for both strategic and economic reasons for years; Japan and South Korea have longstanding business and personal links, and the distance from thriving Bangkok to the worst-affected areas is less than that from most other parts of Burma. Yet none have demonstrated any meaningful will to assist in the recovery, and have so far limited themselves to token gestures.

The trivial amount of support extended to a country that is half paralyzed and facing the prospect of both famine and epidemic disease is in marked contrast to that which followed the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the effects of which were comparable in scale to Cyclone Nargis but spread over a wider area. Then, people from affected countries were the recipients of enormous amounts of goodwill and assistance from all over the world and from within the region.

The tsunami recovery work went well beyond flying a few planeloads of supplies into the hands of waiting officials and going home. It envisaged rebuilding with a view to better preparing for similar future events. It included the giving of training and gear to build up a corpus of specialized people and equipment in Thailand and Indonesia especially.

So why haven’t these people or their stuff been sent to Burma? Perhaps the governments responsible will excuse themselves by pointing out that, among other things, there have been delays in the granting of visas for United Nations rescue coordinating staff, as the military is chary to have too many persons nosing around its country from all sorts of backgrounds and whom it can’t readily control. This not least of all as it insists upon going ahead with the charade of a constitutional referendum in most parts of the country this Saturday, including many that the storm hit.

But this is no excuse, because people coming through bilateral arrangements from the Philippines or Korea, for instance, will not encounter the same size and number of obstacles as those put before international agencies and Western prospective donors. It is exactly for this reason that these countries have such an important lead role to play; one that they have thus far disregarded.

A team of medical specialists dispatched from Beijing under government auspices would be highly unlikely to encounter the same sort of resistance that a similarly skilled and equipped team from the United States would meet. A group of Thai engineers will not find the same sorts of difficulties in getting into Burma and moving around it as a group from Paris or Brussels. And anyhow, they are only a one-hour flight away.

At a time that ASEAN is supposedly transforming itself from a security-cum-economic bloc into something more substantive, at a time that China is struggling to show itself off to the world in advance of an already embattled Olympics, at a time that India is insisting upon a seat at the U.N. Security Council as a new world power, if these countries together keep dragging their feet and fail to act energetically to help millions of people within a stone’s throw of their borders, then shame on them, and woe to everything that they falsely claim to represent.

Source: Where are Burma’s neighbours?

No show trials for protestors

Over a week ago, the Asian Human Rights Commission issued an appeal on behalf of U Ohn Than, who is imprisoned in Kamti in upper Burma. The 60-year-old was among the few who protested last August against the government’s unannounced dramatic increase in fuel prices, precipitating the historic monk-led revolt in September.

Ohn Than went out alone, standing opposite the U.S. Embassy in the center of Rangoon with a placard that called for United Nations’ intervention and pleaded for the armed forces and police to join in efforts to topple the junta. (VIDEO)

His protest did not last long. Within a few minutes an unidentified vehicle pulled up and a group of men threw him inside and drove away. For the public, that was it. For Ohn Than, it was only the beginning.

Ohn Than was not taken to a police station, as required by Burma’s penal code, but to a special army barracks that was used to house thousands, similarly detained without charge or procedure, in the coming days and weeks. He was kept there, a non-detainee in a non-prison.

Several months later, at the end of January, Ohn Than was finally charged with sedition, which requires that the prosecutor prove that Ohn Than had provoked “hatred or contempt” for the government, or had attempted to “excite disaffection” toward it.

Under other circumstances, this may be a difficult task, but Ohn Than was tried in a closed court, unable to present witnesses, and was denied a lawyer, making the prosecutor’s job less onerous.

Still, Ohn Than did his best to argue a case, cross-examining nine witnesses, all of them state officials and government thugs, and asking questions that were consequently struck from the record when the judge found them impertinent.

In his defense, Ohn Than said that he had not intended to incite hatred toward the state and pointed out that the wording of his silently-held placard was simply calling for democracy instead of dictatorship, and for the armed forces to uphold their dignity by siding with the people.

He also noted that a government-backed group had held a rally near the same spot in February. None of the hundred or so that had gathered had been charged with any offence. He had assumed that he had the right to do as they did.

In the end, it seemed Ohn Than’s words were of no import. The judge skipped lightly over the facts and handed down the required sentence.

Dictators have long relied upon pliable judiciaries to deal with political opponents or former allies, and in this respect Burmese courts are unremarkable. Still, whereas in many countries the courts have been used for rehearsed public performances of justice, it is not the case in Burma.

In Moscow, show trials under Stalin were highly scripted; in Beijing, the Gang of Four trial (shown above) was an important part of a public and political catharsis. In each case, the performances were paramount. The law mattered little.

What is striking about the trials in Burma today is that neither the performance nor the law matters. They go on without fanfare or outside interest and no purpose other than the illegal imprisonment of persons who were already illegally imprisoned, without anyone to witness their parodies of justice other than the performers themselves.

Ultimately, it is this lack of audience that makes these trials particularly disturbing. Unable to operate with integrity, Burma’s courts do not even serve as a locale shaping and exhibiting state propaganda. Their judgments, having been stripped of both coherence and relevance, are disinterested in the police’s attention to the law, the presence of the prosecutor’s evidence, or the defendant’s defense. There is no sound, no fury, and no significance.

No significance, that is, other than the significance of absence. For a few fleeting moments, U Ohn Than was visible on the streets outside the embassy. There was no other opportunity: no television camera recorded his testimony to the court; no newspaper declared in print the passing of his life sentence. His was the role of an actor in an uncelebrated farce, a farce repeated daily.

Source: No Show Trials for Protestors

USAID Provides Additional aid to Burma Cyclone Victims

By Daya Gamage

Washington, D.C. 20 June ( The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is providing an additional $3 million to the UN World Food Program to support its logistical operations in Burma, which have dispatched more than 2,649 metric tons of humanitarian assistance to those in need in the wake of Cyclone Nargis.

The total USAID contribution to WFP for logistical support in Burma is $4 million to date.

The UN World Food Program WFP) manages the UN Joint Logistics Common Pipeline through which relief supplies, provided by the international community, are distributed to the Burmese people. In support of their logistics operation, the UN World Food Program has established five logistical hubs in the cyclone-affected area from which they distribute relief commodities and food assistance by barge, small boat, trucks and helicopters.

"The international humanitarian community has come to rely on the UN World Food Program logistics operation to provide assistance to the Burmese people, and we are pleased to offer this much needed additional support for the relief efforts," said USAID Administrator Henrietta Fore.

To date, USAID has provided more than $31.4 million in emergency assistance in response to the devastation caused by Cyclone Nargis. This, combined with the $9.5 million in assistance from the Department of Defense (DOD), brings the total USG assistance to Burma to $40.9 million.

Rice Discusses Burma with Ban

The Irrawaddy News

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Thursday to discuss the current humanitarian crisis in Burma and the UN-led international efforts for restoration of democracy in the country.

In New York for a day to chair a special meeting of the UN Security Council on “women, peace and security,” Secretary Rice discussed Burma with the UN secretary-general along with several other pressing issues, a senior diplomat told The Irrawaddy. No other details of the meeting pertaining to Burma were immediately available.

“Instead of being allowed to take office as the elected leader of Burma's government, Aung San Suu Kyi is marking her birthday this very day under house arrest,” Rice said.

Rice was referring to the general election in 1990 when Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won an overwhelming majority of seats. Instead of handing over power to her, the military junta detained her and she has since spent most of her life under house arrest.

During her speech, Rice identified Burma as one of the countries where “unimaginable brutality” is inflicted upon women.

In Burma, soldiers have regularly raped women and girls even as young as eight years old, she said.

The continued detention of Aung San Suu Kyi was raised by other speakers during the UNSC meeting. British Attorney-General Patricia Scotland called for her immediate release and that she be allowed to play a full part in Burma's political process.

“It is fitting to remember her when discussing women, peace and security, and to remember that many ordinary Burmese women had often borne the brunt of violence, persecution and economic deprivation imposed on them by the military government,” Scotland said.

Responding to the charges of member countries during the Security Council meeting, the Burmese ambassador to the UN, Than Swe, said he “categorically rejected” what he said were “unfounded allegations” of sexual violence leveled against Burma’s armed forces by groups associated with insurgents.

Urging Security Council members to “avoid politicization of the issue,” Than Swe said his country's traditions, culture and values strongly favored efforts to promote gender equality, and they contributed strongly to the government's endeavors to protect women and girls from gender-based violence, including sexual exploitation and abuses.

“Peace and stability now prevail in almost all corners of Myanmar [Burma], significantly improving the daily life of civilians, particularly women and children,” he claimed.

At the end of the day-long deliberations, the 15-member Security Council passed a resolution, which noted that “rape and other forms of sexual violence can constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity or constitute acts with respect to genocide.”

Expressing deep concern over violence and sexual abuse of women and children trapped in war zones, the Security Council demanded “immediate and complete cessation by all parties to armed conflict of all acts of sexual violence against civilians.”

Petition Filed Against Detention of Suu Kyi

The Irrawaddy News

Claiming that the continued detention of Aung San Suu Kyi is illegal and in violation of international law, Freedom Now, a Washington-based rights organization, has filed a petition against the Burmese military government at the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

“The petition makes clear that the Burmese junta is in clear violations of their own law—as well as the international law—in continuing to detain Aung San Suu Kyi under the State Protection Law 1975,” Jared Genser, president of Freedom Now and lead attorney for Suu Kyi, told The Irrawaddy.

Under article 10 (b) of the Burmese State Protection Law 1975, a person who is a “threat to the sovereignty and security of the State and the peace of the people” can be detained for up to five years, but by no more than one year at a time.

“That time period has expired and now there is no basis to hold her,” Genser said.

Filed on June 18, on the eve of Suu Kyi’s 63rd birthday, the petition demanded her immediate release and “in the absence of [her] immediate release, [that] she be charged and put on trail, and be given a fair trial with access to counsel, with independent judiciary with all of her rights and due process that any detainee under any legal system deserves.”

Referring to previous judgments by this UN working group, Genser said the UN has said on four prior occasions that that under Burmese law, article 10 (b) of the 1975 State Protection Law, the junta is in violation of international standards and therefore continuing to detain her under that law is illegal.

“This petition is an attempt to get the fifth judgment from the UN that she is being held illegally and in violation of international law,” he said.

“Of course, by itself, that judgment is not enforceable. You need to combine this with political and public relations pressure,” Genser observed.

“We use this petition as a means to reinforce that the United Nations cares deeply about her detention and is trying to do whatever it can to bring that detention to an end and that obviously needs to be combined with further pressure and support from the international community,” he added.

Security still tight at NLD headquarter

Nay Thwin
Mizzima News

19 June 2008, Chiang Mai – The Burmese military junta is not taking chances on Aung San Suu Kyi's 63rd birthday. Even after the National League for Democracy (NLD) leader's birthday celebrations came to a conclusion, security around the party headquarters remained tight.

The authorities deployed about 1,000 policemen, riot police, 'Union Solidarity and Development Association' (USDA) and 'Swanahshin' members around the party headquarters this morning. And then some of them forcibly entered the party office and arrested a monk and three party members. Nevertheless the party continued the function as planned and successfully concluded it at about 2 p.m. But the security cordon is still in place.

"The authorities have not eased the security cordon. There are still over 1,000 security personnel deployed around our party office. Many USDA members, police and 'Swanahshin' members are stationed near Shwedagon pagoda and Oak Street. Riot police personnel were deployed at the Home Ministry's prayer hall near Shwedagon pagoda with about 10 Toyota Dyna light trucks. Many heavy trucks are kept out of sight near Shwedagon pagoda," a NLD Youth wing member said.

The NLD headquarters was temporarily closed to avoid confrontation with the authorities.

Similarly security was beefed up in many key places in Rangoon such as Town Hall, Shwegondaing junction, Myenigone junction and Hledan junction, a local resident said.

"Each security unit comprised of three personnel. Convoys of police cars are patrolling the city to scare away the people. There is a heavy security cordon near Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's residence where she is under house arrest," an eyewitness said.

The vehicles carrying about 30 police personnel armed with batons and shields are patrolling the city while security personnel in mufti are monitoring the place near Traders' Hotel, the local resident said.

USDA members forcibly entered the party headquarters and arrested NLD Youth members this morning.

"They entered the office and took away our party members. The Dyna light trucks screeched to a halt in front of the party headquarters and took away party members who were chanting for the well being of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Party members from some townships took refuge in the party office. The authorities arrested and took away some youth members who were in charge of security duty at the party headquarters," an eyewitness.

The birthday party celebrations included giving educational stipend to family members of political prisoners at the function attended by over 700 people. The party gave Kyat 30,000 each and stationery to a total of 74 students.

But the alms offering programme failed as the five monks invited from 'Pantita Yarma monestary' (Shwe taungone Sasana Yeiktha) could not come to the party office in time as junta officials pressured them not to go.

Survivors Try to Come to Terms with Their Loss

The Irrawaddy News

Monasteries in Burma have long been revered as a place of refuge and healing and last month's devastating cyclone—which left more than 130,000 people dead or missing when it slammed into the country's Irrawaddy Delta—was no exception.

"Villagers ran to the monastery. They had nowhere to go," Sayadaw U Ti Lawka, head monk of the Maha Thein Kyaung monastery in the village of Taung Kaung in Kawhmu Township, told IRIN.

At the height of the cyclone, villagers and monks alike sought refuge behind the monastery's ancient stone walls, staying two days before returning to their homes.

"The government hasn't been back in this village after delivering some sacks of rice for the monastery. Now we rely greatly on private donors for our daily sustenance," he said.

Of the 400 houses in the village, only 20 are still standing, including two of the four houses inside the monastery. The villagers have taken advantage of the abundance of bamboo and palm trees felled by the cyclone to reconstruct their homes.

Today, Sayadaw U Ti Lawka and the rest of Taung Kaung's residents are hoping to rebuild their lives as quickly as possible.

But not everyone has the courage to move on.

Daw Saw Mya, 80, is still haunted by memories of the cyclone and trembles with fear that it might happen again whenever she hears the wind or a light drizzle begins.

She was in her hut in the village with her youngest son when the category four storm struck.

"I held on to a bamboo branch the whole night and didn't let go until the morning. Then my son carried me to his house only to find that it had been demolished," she said.

Rebuilding efforts

Such stories are common throughout the cyclone-affected area, almost the size of Austria.

In the village of Hnakhaung Chaung, in Rangoon Division, some 150 people were killed and all 105 houses destroyed.

Even now, more than six weeks later, many of the bodies of those who perished have yet to be found—and most likely will not be.

But the villagers of Hnakhaung Chaung are already busy trying to reconstruct their homes.

Like other villagers in the area, residents have received the staple relief package of a mosquito net, a blanket and tarpaulin, as well as some cooking ingredients.

In addition, some private donors have offered residents farming equipment and tools—just in time for planting this year's paddy fields.

However, most are not so lucky.

Pho Htaung, a 46-year-old farmer from the village, lost seven members of his family, including his niece, in the cyclone.

"My niece is in good hands now and is at peace," Pho Htaung said. "We who survived are the ones suffering and troubled as to how to survive and live our lives after the cyclone."

Warning unheeded

Some residents recall how one day before the cyclone struck, one of the villagers hurried back from the main town of Kungyangone after hearing an announcement on the radio that a cyclone was about to hit the delta.

But nobody took his warning seriously and he was told to relax and take it easy. It hit the next night instead, leaving some 2.4 million destitute.

Pho Htaung's brother, who is also a monk in the village monastery, was the first to begin helping victims of Nargis, distributing food and relief until new supplies could be brought in.

"We are all taking precautionary measures now," said Pho Htaung. "Each house has an elevated level made out of bamboo so when the water rises again we can just run up there to avoid drowning."

The Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) is a news service that forms part of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). But this report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations.

Brown, Sarkozy Call for Immediate Release of Suu Kyi

The Irrawaddy News

Britain and France demanded Thursday that Burma's regime release pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, as she marked her 63rd birthday under house arrest.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy said that her release is essential.

Suu Kyi has spent more than 12 of the last 18 years under detention, since her party swept national elections in 1990. Military rulers refused to honor the results.

"You have sacrificed your freedom for the freedom of others. You have shown exceptional courage and dedication to your people. Your release from house arrest and your freedom to participate in Burma's political future remain essential," the leaders said in a joint letter to Suu Kyi.

Brown and Sarkozy met in Paris on Thursday, before a European Union summit in Brussels, Belgium.

In their letter, Brown and Sarkozy also deplored Burma's response to the May 2-3 Cyclone, Nargis, which Burma's ruling junta says killed more than 78,000 people and left another 56,000 people missing.

The men said it was regrettable that Burmese people "already deprived of basic human freedoms and economic opportunities, have fallen victim to such a major natural disaster."

Their letter rebuked the military regime in Burma for failing to take up sufficient offers of aid.

Sarkozy and Brown criticized the junta's decision to hold a referendum on a new constitution in the aftermath of the cyclone.

The constitution, which gives the military broad powers, was overwhelmingly approved in the national referendum held on May 10, about a week after the cyclone.

"We believe the recent referendum lacks credibility as a genuine reflection of the people's will and the new constitution cannot provide a sound basis for Burma's future political development," the European leaders said.

In Hard Times, Pawnshops Thrive

The Irrawaddy News

A 13-year-old student wearing a school blouse and a faded green longyi shyly approached the owner of the Yadana Pawnshop on Moe Kaung Street in eastern Dagon Myothit.

Pale and very thin, the girl slowly removed a packet from her ragged school bag and handed it to the woman pawnbroker, who unfolded a tattered, faded, longyi. She inspected it carefully, before speaking.

"300 kyat [0.40 cents]," she said. The girl’s eyes turned sad.

"Aunty, please give me 500 kyat,” she said. “Today I have to pay school fees."

The pawnbroker looked at the girl and then silently began folding the longyi. Finished, she carefully wrote out a receipt.

Through a small window, she handed the student 500 kyat and a crisp, white receipt.

The girl smiled. She put the kyat and receipt into her school bag and walked outside into the rain. She could remain in school for one more term.

The men and women waiting in the pawnshop had watched the exchange with sympathy. They were also customers with hopes of getting a few kyat to meet their immediate needs. Some needed bus fare to get to work; some needed money for rice; some needed medicine.

Many people in Burma go to pawnbrokers each day now carrying clothes or cooking utensils to pawn for enough money to get through the day. They are mostly day laborers who are paid small salaries at each day’s end. Some would return that evening to buy back whatever they pawned in the morning, only to return in a few days’ time to pawn the object again.

"After Cyclone Nargis, the most pawned items are clothes and cooking utensils,” said a pawnshop owner in Hlaing Tharyar Township. “Mostly women’s longyi and cooking pots. Most people who pawn things are daily wage earners with low living standards or civil servants in low ranks." "

“Every morning, I have to find money for bus fares," a mason from Ward 21 in Hlaing Tharyar Township told The Irrawaddy. He was working regularly at a construction site in downtown Rangoon and had to commute to work.

A pawnbroker with a shop near Insein Market, said: "When the houses collapsed in the cyclone and a lot of people lost their jobs, they turned to the pawnshops. I had roughly 60 to 100 customers before, but now about 200 to 300 people come regularly.”

A civil servant at the Defense Textile Mill said, "Twelve days after I’m paid the money runs out, and then I have to run to the pawnshop for daily food.”

Pawnshops are among the most successful businesses in Rangoon, according to an official at the Yangon Municipal Committee. He said Rangoon had 137 registered pawnshops in 2000-2001; 169 in 2001-2002; 162 from 2002-2004; 189 in 2004-2005; 214 in 2005-2006; 250 in 2006-2007; and 256 pawnshops in 2008.

A pawnshop owner must bid for a registration license. Owners say the winners are those who pay the largest bribes.

"The license fee is 5 million kyat [about US $4,237] and the bribe is 2 million kyat [$1,695], so totally it costs about 7 million kyat [$5,929] for a license," said a pawnbroker in Hlaing Tharyar Township.

The license fee varies in each township, rising to around 8 million kyat [$6,776] for a downtown township location, according to owners.

Pawnshop owners say you need about 200 million kyat [$169,500] to start a top-line pawnshop, which essentially functions as a small loan business. Many unlicensed pawnshops are springing up, they say, drawing many regular customers away from registered pawnshops.

But for now—with the Burmese economy reeling from the cyclone’s impact and more people out of work—pawnshops everywhere are thriving with customers trying to get through one more day in a life of unrelieved hardship.

Arrested: Volunteers Who Bury the Dead

Twenty-six members of “The Group that Buries the Dead”
pose for a picture prior to the arrest of seven of the group’s members on June 14.

The Irrawaddy News

Seven Burmese civilian volunteer aid workers, members of a team known as “The Group that Buries the Dead,” were arrested on June 14, following their efforts to bury victims of Cyclone Nargis.

Among those arrested are Lin Htet Naing, Hnin Pwint Wei, Hein Yazar Tun and Aung Kyaw San, the group’s leader, according to Tun Myint Aung, a member of the 88 Generation Students Group. Three unidentified volunteers in the group were also arrested.

Aung Kyaw San, the chief editor of the Myanmar Tribune weekly journal, and his volunteer team of several dozen people undertook the grim task of removing some of the many corpses that still lie in the rivers and fields throughout the Irrawaddy delta.

The bodies, which had badly decomposed since the cyclone struck on May 2-3, were given simple cremation or burial rites.

“They worked to clean up the bodies around Bogalay,” an aid worker close to the group told The Irrawaddy on Thursday. "The authorities have not done much about the corpses. They volunteered to do the government's job on their own.”

Bogalay Township, one of hardest-hit areas, had tens of thousands of corpses littering the rivers, streams and fields, according to the volunteer aid worker.

“When they returned from Bogalay to Rangoon on June 14 their vehicle was stopped at a checkpoint in Pyapon Township,” he said. “They looked at their identity cards and arrested them.”

Two of those arrested, Lin Htet Naing and Hnin Pwint Wei, are leading members of the All Burma Federation of Students’ Unions. They went into hiding last year when Burma’s military government started its crackdown on monks and political activists following the civil demonstrations in September.

Even-handed approach is best tactic on human rights

By Alison Maitland

June 20 2008 (FT) - On a grey March morning three years ago Greg Regaignon, a human rights researcher, headed into New York City for breakfast at Tiffany's. Michael Kowalski, chief executive of the world famous jeweller, had invited him in to discuss its revised position on acquiring gems from Burma.

Their meeting followed a report in Professional Jeweler, a trade publication, that Tiffany planned to resume sourcing gems from Burma in line with a US Customs ruling that they were exempt from a ban on Burmese imports if cut and polished elsewhere. Mr Regaignon, New-York-based head of research at the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, had spotted the article and sought confirmation from Tiffany.

The centre, a non-profit organisation that raises awareness of companies' human rights impacts around the world, posted both the article and Tiffany's response on its website and included both in its weekly newsletter. Thus alerted, the US Campaign for Burma raised concerns with Tiffany, Mr Regaignon says. Two days later Tiffany said it would not buy gems from Burma after all, a decision that drew plaudits from activists.

On the discussion with Mr Kowalski, Mr Regaignon says: "We met in his office for an hour and it was plain he is extremely engaged in these issues. He was very concerned, probably not surprisingly given Tiffany's brand equity, and it seemed to me he was personally committed to operating in a responsible way." He says many big jewellers have followed Tiffany's lead.

The centre's publication of not only the allegation but also the company's response is typical of the even-handed approach it takes in shining a light on companies' human rights practices, good and bad. Since it was established in 2002 it has won a big following among companies, governments, investors, non-government organisations and journalists. Its multilingual website, , covers 4,000 companies in 180 countries and receives 1.5m hits a month. The free weekly update is e-mailed to nearly 6,000 influential subscribers worldwide.

Funded by individuals and foundations, the centre has an international advisory network chaired by Mary Robinson, former United Nations high commissioner for human rights and president of Ireland. John Ruggie, the UN secretary-general's special representative on business and human rights, requested space on the website to publish his policy framework, presented to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva this month, together with related documents and responses.

"It is right to be balanced and impartial," says Chris Avery, a US-born international human rights lawyer who launched the website from his London flat in 2000 before founding the centre in the city's West End in 2002. "But in a purely tactical way it also means companies are much more willing to be open and respond if they think you are approaching them fairly."

About 75 per cent of companies respond to requests for comment about human rights allegations, twice the level he expected. The rate is 100 per cent for companies based in South Africa. Even companies based in China, less used to contacts with NGOs, have a 50 per cent response rate.

"A lot of companies end up thanking us because we print their entire response, which journalists often aren't able to do," says Mr Avery. Another reason the response rate is high, he says, is that often the companies will have featured on the website before, but on that occasion for good practice in human rights.

Unusually, the centre makes a point of tracking the human rights records of companies without a high public profile.It has a global network of researchers who speak local languages and understand the markets.

"We're not necessarily going after the latest big international story related to business, but under-the-radar stories that may not be getting attention and companies that may be keeping their heads down and letting the media focus on Nike, Shell and the other big players," says Mr Avery. "Our goal is to move closer towards the time when every company feels its human rights conduct is being watched."

Another case it has covered involved allegations by Rafael Marques, a leading Angolan journalist and human rights advocate, of "profoundly sadistic" abuse of artisanal miners by security guards protecting diamond mining operations in the Cuango region. Mr Marques alleged the guards used shovels, clubs and machetes to torture their victims, sometimes fatally.

With considerable difficulty, the centre obtained responses from the five diamond companies that employed the security companies: Endiama, ITM Mining, Lazare Kaplan International, Lev Leviev and Odebrecht. Mr Marques, who then issued rejoinders to some responses, says international exposure help-ed stir debate on the industry and security measures in Ang-ola. Two companies invited him in to discuss his concerns.

"It is a good example of how we are a catalyst and ultimately the key role is played by human rights defenders on the ground," says Mr Avery. "We can give them that international attention and a bit of leverage that helps them to have access to the company.

"It also helps a company that doesn't want this issue to continue in an international setting and looks for ways to meet with local people for the first time."

14 arrested after Suu Kyi birthday protest in Myanmar

Straits Times

YANGON - Fourteen people were arrested after a pro-junta militia broke up a protest calling for the release of Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a security official said on Friday.

Dozens of Ms Aung San Suu Kyi's supporters staged a small protest on Thursday to mark her 63rd birthday, which she spent alone and under house arrest.

A pro-junta militia broke up the small rally outside the headquarters of Ms Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party, beating some of the protesters, witnesses said.

Fourteen people - including a Buddhist monk - were arrested, according to a Myanmar security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorised to speak to reporters.

Party spokesman Nyan Win, who was not at the protest, said he could only confirm four arrests. He had no details about the condition of the detainees.

The protesters had gathered early on Thursday to mark the Nobel Peace Prize winner's birthday by making religious offerings to Buddhist monks and nuns.

Later, a small group on the pavement began shouting for Ms Aung San Suu Kyi's freedom, but the militia broke up the protest within minutes.

The opposition leader has spent more than 12 years confined to her rambling lakeside home, where she is allowed no contact with the outside world.

The military regime has long ignored international demands for her freedom, which were renewed on Thursday by Britain, France and the United States. -- AFP

EU denounces call to flog Burma's Suu Kyi

Radio Australia

Members of the European Parliament have denounced Burmese newspapers that said detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi should be flogged.

A resolution adapted on the Nobel Peace Prize winner's 63rd birthday on Thursday says any such action is a crime against humanity.

On June 11 official newspapers of the Burmese military regime called for the public flogging of Aung San Suu Kyi.

The resolution says junta refuses to distance itself from this disgraceful suggestion,

EU deputies also called for a tightening of sanctions against the regime.

Meanwhile, Canada says it will take an additional 1,300 Karen refugees from the Thai-Burma border.

Since 2006, Canada has accepted 2,600 Karens for resettlement.

Canadian Immigration Minister, Diane Finley, says the newest arrivals, expected later this year through 2009, are relatives of the first wave of refugees.

Almost 140,000 Karen refugees have been living in Thai refugee camps for up to 20 years.

The minority ethnic group fled their country in 1995 following a major offensive by the junta against the Karen National Union.

Let’s start a campaign to kick out Than Shwe

San Oo Aung's Blog

Let’s start a campaign to kick out Than Shwe and his thugs by showing our hatred and disapproval to them and reveal to the world that Myanmar Tatmadaw is the illegal ruler of our country, Burma.

Showing our hatred to SPDC and cohorts is another step forward for us from the ineffective nonviolent civil disobedience campaign.

We must start the campaign by brainwashing all the people with a propaganda barrage that it is disgraceful to be associated with the SPDC Junta and its affiliated groups that disguised as civilians. Myanmar/Burma needs self consciences people that hate this cruel military government.

We all have an obligation to devote our life to fighting for justice and the present time of SPDC shouting the victory success as if more then 92% of us had supported them and as if it has effectively nullify the 1990 NLD’s election win. We all have a responsibility not to give those injustices our practical support by keeping quiet, remained submissive, obedient, loyal and subservient.

Philosopher-cum-thinker John Saul in his book, ‘The Unconscious Civilization’ wrote:

“Conformism, loyalty and silence are so admired and rewarded.” Yes those keep quiet could be rewarded for their well behaviour or decorum. They could get some left-overs after the SPDC Cohorts’ big feast. Hatred in our heart and mind is not very effective although it is better than loving to cooperate as the collaborators hoping to get a chance to lick the left over bones!

Nowadays the popular saying is “To walk the talk” but I hereby wish to state that
  • “We need to walk our THOUGHTS”.

  • We are already talking about starting a civil disobedience or to start a revolution.

  • We should plan and consider various methods as a “diversity of tactics”.

  • To be effective, tactics must be carefully chosen, taking into account SPDC and Burmese political and cultural circumstances, and we need to plan different tactical approaches as part of a larger plan or strategy to overthrown them.
Nonviolence civil disobedience is good during the colonial days but it tends to give very slow results or used to achieve political changes much later only. And we all know that Colonial Masters were gentlemen, respect the Human Rights and there was the Rule of Law then.

But the present Than Shwe led SPDC thugs are inhumane, never respect Human Rights and they rule by the law of jungle. They even fail to observe the International Law of engagement, in the Ethnic Minority areas, which is the guiding principle of each and every war. For the SPDC, might is always right and power and law come out from the barrel of the gun only. Worse of all is even that the law of the jungle coming out of the SPDC guns are ever changing according to their whims and fancies.
  1. During times of war, hatred becomes quite respectable, even though it has to masquerade often under the guise of patriotism. (Howard Thurman)

  2. Without something to hate, we should lose the very spring of thought and action. (William Hazlitt)

  3. Don’t be afraid to go out on a limb. That’s where the fruit is. (H. Jackson Browne)

  4. Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. (Helen Keller)

  5. With courage you will dare to take risks, have the strength to be compassionate, and the wisdom to be humble. Courage is the foundation of integrity. (Keshavan Nair)
So I hereby wish to propose one method of civil disobedience to show our hatred to the SPDC and cohorts. This is defined as material defiance under nonviolence civil disobedience.

A. Target the following persons and properties:
  1. SPDC army vehicles.
  2. Police cars.
  3. Kyant Phut and SPDC Government affiliated organizations’ vehicles.
  4. SPDC propaganda sign boards around the country.
B. What to do? Try to vandalize or deface or spoil or ruin or damage or dent or scratch or disfigure or mutilate or graze or sabotage them by any of the following means.
  1. Throw dirty water or mud.
  2. Throw old engine oil.
  3. Throw animal blood.
  4. Throw eggs, better if rotten.
  5. Throw tomato, better if rotten.
  6. Not very nice to write but if dare to do, throw waste or organic waste or even shits packages or urine packages.
C. Those who are brave enough, target any SPDC soldier, police, Kyant Phut or their relatives and do the above acts.

You can do it in the markets, on the roads in the town or on the rural roads or while they are guarding at the gate posts.

There may be some revenge mass punishments on the people around that area but those sabotaging acts of hatred may start the circle of hatred.

Their ammunition and firing power is too big to fight one by one as noble Knights.

At least they may know that we, most of the citizens hate them and are against them.

No need to be ashamed. Anyone doing these is not cowards. We all would regard those acts as very brave acts against the very powerful enemy.
  • There came a time when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. (Anais Nin)

  • So we all citizens of Burma should not just quietly let the iron grip of SPDC squeeze and crush us.

  • Let free the democracy to blossom with our safe civil disobedience struggle. Now SPDC is attacking relentlessly on NLD and Ethnic Minorities.
“The best defence is attack”. That was a very popular saying in football. Our best defence for now is to attack back. These SPDC thugs are very brave to attack Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and NLD because they are strictly adhering to their non-violence methods.
  1. One doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time. (Andre Gide)

  2. Non-poisonous snakes are not even respected by the children. If we are weak, we are always exposed to the exploitations of the bullies and thuds. See what SPDC and Kyant Phuts are doing on NLD leaders including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. We have to prepare and strengthen our-selves physically, intellectually, economically, socially, mentally, spiritually etc.
  3. We must always hope for the best and prepare for the worst.

  4. Victory is for those dare to try again and again. Perseverance is the key-word for success.
Actually power comes from within.
  1. If we all have confidence, self respect, and if strongly believe that we are not a simple weak person, but we are brave willing to work hard and ready to sacrifice, one day will surely progress, there is definitely a very bright future of crowning with the success.

  2. Inner spiritual strength is more important and always guides the outer physical power.

  3. Even if we are weak physically, inner spiritual and mental strength and power will guide, train and convert it to become powerful.
If you think my plan is some form of violence and could not accept, just read this great Philosopher’s thoughts:
  1. “A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable but more useful than a life spent in doing nothing.” (George Bernard Shaw)

  2. The important thing is this: To be able at any moment to sacrifice what we are for what we could become. (Charles DuBois)

  3. We must take some risk to get to our destination of Democratic Secular Federal Union of Burma.


Who was there to help?

Christopher Smith
Mizzima News

19 June 2008 - In a squalid, bare room dozens of survivors from Cyclone Nargis sat and laid upon the concrete and thin mats of a monastery in Burma's afflicted Rangoon Division – the complex's hti standing ominously and noticeably askew. Just shy of a week after the devastating storm, the monastery and its remaining monks were supplying what relief they could. And what relief the monastery was in a position to supply, was not nearly adequate.

This is a scene that played itself out seemingly ad infinitum throughout Rangoon and Irrawaddy Divisions in the immediate wake of the storm, which hit Burma's delta region with all its force on May 2nd.

Commonly the most permanent structures in villages otherwise dominated by bamboo and thatch homes, monasteries became the de facto destination of refugees and the natural focus of any aid operations. Further, if there was any slight inclination in the topography of the region, it was typically the local monastery that occupied the relative higher ground, providing another obvious reason for villagers to seek shelter inside. However, in those immediate days after Nargis, to speak of the monastic community being able to effectively administer a relief operation and thorough cleaning-up campaign would be to distort reality.

I cannot recall a single monastery whose roof did not leak and whose grounds did not suffer major damage, its temporary residents exposed to the elements of Burma's rapidly approaching monsoon season. Pools of stagnant water, quickly depleting, were often the sole source of water for those in need. Rice soup had to be consumed as being the only available option. When the rice soup was depleted in one location, refugees were forced to visit next nearest alternative for their meals. Debris, the remnants and reminders of the fateful day nearly a week previously remained strewn across monastic grounds and throughout devastated communities.

Monasteries and their occupants were crying out for assistance, forcing the refugees that could to come to the side of major roads to plead for help.

At this time soldiers could be seen in the center of the delta's major towns. Literally the centers, a hundred meters either way and there would be no sign of the military – or of any semblance of a government. Outlying villages, and their monasteries, were left to fend entirely for themselves. The only presence of the military government was commonly a recruited informer whose job it ostensibly was to inform the government of any visitors.

The relief supplies the military were able and willing to offer the local population were miniscule – a packet of noodles here, a few kilograms of rice for an entire family for a week there. Again, there was a failure in both quantity and distribution system.

As the days passed and mid-May approached, the military steadily advanced and enhanced its presence along the delta's main thoroughfares and in the population centers, in the process increasingly restricting access to storm ravaged areas. Soldiers could be seen cutting away giant trees dislodged from the earth and painstakingly piling heaps of debris. But just off the main roads, the people still suffered and were ignored.

Meanwhile, assistance to populations and monasteries in need began to trickle in. The Rangoon-based Metta Development Foundation, no longer officially a Buddhist organization but still defining its mission as one of loving kindness, set about on the momentous task of delivering aid to approximately 115,000 communities it identified as vulnerable. Monastic communities from Rangoon and further afield also sent relief supplies. But the effort was led by the people, not a single faith. Concerned citizens, media outlets, mosques and businesses came to provide what relief possible.

Three weeks after the cyclone struck, and after the natural disaster drew the attention of the world and a visit from United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, a United Nations report claimed that over a million victims of the storm had still yet to be reached. Certainly Burmese authorities had not reached them, and without any outside assistance it is dubious what comfort local monasteries could provide other than a watery bed and companionship in a time of sorrow.

Now, as June starts to fade, there are increasing voices being raised of local organizations and specifically monastic communities having taken the lead in relief and rehabilitation following Nargis. The truth is, nobody had the capacity or was in a position to effectively deliver the help necessary in the critical first half of May.

The fields and shoreline of the delta remained littered with not only the decaying flesh of animals and laypersons, but those of the sangha as well. Water and food were often scarce, and monks could also be seen scrounging for what help and assistance could be found.

Owing to a feeble transportation infrastructure, one which the government now vows to drastically upgrade, and the slothlike response and interest of the military to establish a logistical presence throughout afflicted regions, material support and assistance was hard to come by for hundreds of thousands of people, regardless of whether or not they were draped in saffron.

This does not speak poorly of the sangha. Entire communities were, if not utterly destroyed, then left with a fraction of its structures and residents. Food stores, animals and tools simply 'flew away', as the local population would muse. Ground reality made it virtually impossible for any actors in the region to jump to the lead in the immediate days to follow; the Burmese Naval base on Hyine Gyi Island lay in ruin.

Help had to come from outside the delta. And the lead needed to be taken by the government, and they failed to do so. They were the only possibility of a conduit to effectively reaching hundreds of thousands of people in a timely manner.

A lack of government institutions and legitimacy throughout the region factored into the plight of the cyclone's survivors, the geography of the region and poor development played no minor role, and domestic and international politics sealed the fate of any hoped for rapid response.

The fact is, in the crucial days after Nargis there was arguably no organization, let alone government, positioned to offer relief remotely approaching the levels mandated. And the further one ventured into the delta, the worse the situation became. Providing time effective relief in the face of such a disaster would have been trying for any country and government; for Burma, it proved an impossible feat.

Thus is the plight of present day Burma. It can only be hoped that the epitaph of the tens of thousands lost will provide the final script as to why change must one day come.