Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Family Commits Suicide to Escape Hunger

Narinajara - 6/24/2008

Sittwe: A three-member family in Sittwe, the capital of Arakan State, committed suicide by taking poison after they had been suffering from hunger, according to a relative.

He said, "I was very sorry when I saw the tragedy that took place on June 16."

The family died after eating rice that was mixed with poison at 11 am on the day, at their house in Ghaha Gi Line, Plot 11, in Sittwe's Mingan Ward.

According to a local source, local people rushed to the house soon after they heard that the family was taking poison, but when they reached the home, the family members were already laying dead near their rice plates.

The deceased family members have been identified as U Maung Ba Oo, 39 years old, his eight-year-old daughter, and five-year-old son. U Maung Ba Oo worked as a rickshaw puller in Sittwe.

The relative said that U Maung Ba Oo first mixed the poison in his daughter's rice and fed her, and then fed poison rice to his son. He mixed his own rice with the poison at ate it last.

Before committing suicide, U Maung Ba Oo and his children had been facing starvation for many days because the money he was earning was insufficient for their survival.

An elder said that a rickshaw puller's daily income is around 900 to 1,000 kyat per day in Sittwe, and that it is not enough for three people to survive on. So rickshaw puller Maung Ba Oo chose the way of suicide.

It was also learned that U Maung Ba Oo's wife passed away last year and he had been raising his son and daughter on his own.#

Junta supremo praises protégé in Kachin State

Kachin News

The Burmese ruling junta supremo Snr-Gen. Than Shwe is all praise for one of his protégés the Northern Command Commander Maj-Gen. Ohn Myint. He has been promoted to Commander of No. 1 Bureau of Special Operation for upper Burma in the recent reshuffle, a local military source said.

Sources close to Maj-Gen Ohn Myint said, Snr-Gen Than Shwe praised the Kachin State commander saying “He is a reliable man except when he is drunk.”

After nearly three years' of ruling Kachin State, Commander Ohn Myint not only successfully pressurized all Kachin ceasefire groups to support the constitutional referendum in May but also divided and ruled the Kachin ceasefire groups, said local military analysts.

Commander Ohn Myint's notable success was that he pressurized the strongest Kachin ceasefire group, the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) militarily, politically and economically from 2005 to now.

On May 7, 2008 at 3 a.m. Maj-Gen. Ohn Myint went to the KIO Headquarters in Laiza in a heavily armed military convoy from Northern Command in Myitkyina the capital of Kachin State and forced the KIO to shift from its neutral stand and support the referendum.

The KIO's main sources of income -- businesses such as logging, gold mining and Myitkyina-Laiza border trade were often blocked on the orders of Maj-Gen. Ohn Myint, KIO officials said.

Another milestone for the commander is that he helped set up the Rawang militia group called the Rebellion Resistance Force led (RRF) by a local businessman Tanggu Dang (Ah Dang) in Hkaunglangfu (Hkawnglanghpu) in Putao District with direct military, financial and political support in early 2006.

Earlier, Ah Dang and about 25 followers were members of another Kachin peace group, the New Democratic Army-Kachin (NDA-K). They split from the NDA-K with their weapons.

Maj-Gen. Ohn Myint also played a key role in an unsuccessful coup in the NDA-K to remove the leader Zahkung Ting Ying on September 14, 2005 by his rival former General Secretary Layawk Zelum and businessman Lauwa Zawng Hkawng, sources close to NDA-K said.

During Commander Maj-Gen. Ohn Myint's leadership in Kachin State, he successfully pressurized the KIO politically and partly scaled down the KIO's economic power, local sources said.

Labourers forced to work on seized cyclone lands

Jun 24, 2008 (DVB)–Government authorities have forced unemployed people across Burma to work for low pay cultivating farmlands seized from cyclone victims in the Irrawaddy delta, according to locals.

A resident of Bogalay told DVB daily paid labourers from Mandalay had been brought to the township in military trucks in recent days by people wearing Union Solidarity and Development Association clothing to work on farmlands seized by the authorities after their owners were killed during the cyclone in May.

"Apparently the labourers were told they were to give assistance to farmers in devastated areas," said the Bogalay resident.

"The people are from Mandalay – the authorities demanded one person from each household in their neighbourhood."

He said government authorities had claimed ownership of farmlands left without owners after the cyclone but they have also been seizing land belonging to farmers who survived the cyclone.

"They were also seizing plots owned by farmers who are still alive, which are located in between the ownerless lands," he said.

He added that more labourers had been brought into the area from Rangoon's Hlaing Tharyar township with a promise of 10,000 kyat for a day's work, but they were only given 1000 kyat a day after starting work on the Bogalay farms.

"Between 400 and 500 labourers were seen this morning at the port area – they said they had to sign agreement letters with the authorities and they couldn’t leave until they finished all the work," he said.

"They want to go back to their homes now but they have no money to travel and they don't get proper meals either – some even had their ID cards taken away by the officials."

A resident of Hlaing Tharyar township said the local USDA had been persuading people in the township to go and work in the Irrawaddy delta.

"A female USDA member in ward 14 told people here the labourers would be paid 10,000 kyat a day for cleaning out shrimp breeding tanks in the Irrawaddy delta," the resident said.

"Of the first group of about 100 people who went to work there, 90 people have already come back here as they couldn't stand the rotting smell and the presence of the spirits of lost souls."

Reporting by Naw Say Phaw

Status of Zarganar and Zaw Thet Htway unknown

Jun 24, 2008 (DVB)–The whereabouts of detained prominent comedian and social activist Zarganar and sports writer Zaw Thet Htway are still unknown, according to their relatives.

Rangoon’s Western District police commissioner and other local officials took Zarganar from his house on 4 June. The police chief said they would hold him for two days to investigate if he had been involved in any political activity but he has not returned home since.

“It has been over two weeks since my son was arrested but I still don’t know where he is and why he was detained,” said Daw Kyin Oo, the comedian’s mother.

Zaw Thet Htway was arrested in Minbu on 13 June while visiting his mother who had suffered a stroke. On his arrival into town local authorities told him to leave until he received further notice.

“My husband was only helping distribute aid to cyclone victims and focusing on his own business,” said the writer’s wife May Zaw.

“He has never been involved in any political activity so I thought he would be released within days. I am worried about him since I haven’t heard anything from him.”

Houses belonging to Zarganar and Zaw Thet Htway were thoroughly searched around the time of their arrests and authorities confiscated computers and other documents.

The comedian and the writer were had been working on relief efforts for cyclone-affected people in Rangoon and Irrawaddy divisions before they were detained.

Daw Kyi Oo said the arrest of her son and other private donors had disrupted the flow of aid to refugees.

“There is a shortage of supplies in warehouses and it has become difficult to continue with relief work because of the arrest of Zarganar, Zaw Thet Htway and others who were leading relief operations,” she said.

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 storm.

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, ten donors including Zarganar and Zaw Thet Htway have been arrested since the beginning of June.

Reporting by Htet Aung Kyaw and Yee May Aung

ABFSU aid workers remain in detention

Jun 23, 2008 (DVB)–All Burma Federation of Student Unions released a statement on Friday expressing concern about seven ABFSU members arrested by government authorities while clearing dead bodies in the Irrawaddy delta.

The ABFSU said seven of its members, including group leaders Ko Linn Htet Naing and Ma Hnin Pwint Wei, were among the group of 19 people arrested in Bogalay township's Thukhawady village while collecting bodies of cyclone victims.

Ko Linn Htet Naing and Ma Hnin Pwint Wei had been in hiding from government forces since their involvement in last September's Saffron Revolution.

The other ABFSU members identified were Ko Shane Yazar Htun, Ko Phone Pyit Kywe and Ma Khin Nyein Chan Soe.

The 12 members of the group who were not from the ABFSU were later released by the authorities but the ABFSU members were held in Bassein prison.

An ABFSU member said people were afraid to show support for his colleagues.

"They are now facing problems getting their daily meal as no one dares to deliver food to them in detention – the authorities have threatened that they could be arrested too," he said.

"The government officials said the arrest was made due to information they received about the ABFSU members who had come to clear the bodies."

The group’s statement called for the immediate and conditional release of ABFSU leader Ko Kyaw Ko Ko and all other political prisoners and of all aid workers arrested after Cyclone Nargis, including Ko Linn Htet Naing and Ma Hnin Pwint Wei.

The ABFSU also strongly denounced the government’s sabotage of private aid work by arresting volunteers as a “cold-blooded crime”.

Reporting by Htet Aung Kyaw

Youth activist faces unlawful association charges - Zayar Thaw

Jun 23, 2008 (DVB)–Zayar Thaw, a member of the popular hip-hop group Acid and leader of the youth activist group Generation Wave, was brought to court on Friday to face charges under the Unlawful Association Act.

Zayar Thaw’s aunt said her nephew seemed to be in good spirits when he appeared at Lanmadaw township court.

"He said he had done what he believed was right and that he wasn’t afraid to be punished for it," she said.

"When he was first arrested, rumours were going round that he had been detained on drugs charges and he was so sad to hear that. But now it's all been cleared up."

Zayar Thaw is being tried along with five other people who face the same charge, his aunt said.

U Aung Kyi and Daw Aye Aye Generation Wave Naing will act as defence lawyers for Zayar Thaw, Aung Zay Phyoe, Arkar Bo and Thiha Win Tin.

Wai Lwin Myoe and Yan Naing Thu will be defended respectively by U Myo Myint and U Win Tin, resident lawyers at Lanmadaw court.

Zayar Thaw’s aunt said he had also been charged with another offence by Bahan township court.

"Zayar Thaw is facing charges of possession of foreign currency at Bahan township court as well. He was found in possession of 125 Thai baht, 10 Singaporean dollars and 25 Malaysian ringgits,” she said.

"The boys said they were beaten up during interrogation by government officials after they were arrested."

The next court hearing is due to be held on 27 June.

Reporting by Yee May Aung

Junta's reshuffle; what lies behind?

Mungpi - Mizzima News

23 June 2008, New Delhi - In an unusual and sudden move, Burma's military junta has reshuffled several key army officers and promoted young officers to the important rank of regional military commanders.

The reshuffle, which included promoting at least four young officers to regional commanders, is seen as a significant move by observers who think the junta may be gearing up for its planned general elections in 2010.

While the secretive junta is known to reshuffle its officers from time to time, shifting around about 200 officers from their ranks could be a move especially designed for the post 2010 general elections, a Burmese military analyst based in China said.

Mya Maung, the Sino-Burmese border based analyst said, "This time it is significant as at least 200 of them have been reshuffled."

While it is obvious that the junta is infusing 'Young Blood' into its control mechanism, it is more than apparent that the junta is preparing for a new form of governance that is likely to surface after the 2010 general elections, the fifth step of the junta's planned roadmap to democracy.

"It is possible that the junta is making way for the younger generation to come up but the junta could also have different plans. It could also be a preparation," Mya Maung added.

Sources in the military establishment said the junta has ordered the transfer of four of its key military commanders to positions in the Bureau of Special Operations (BSO).

The source added that four officers of the BSO were made to retire in order to make way for the newly transferred officers, while five young officers were promoted to commanders of Triangle, Eastern, Southern, Northern and Rangoon division commands.

"While it means pumping new blood into the junta's ruling mechanism, it is significant for even the BSO officers have been moved," Win Min, a Burmese analyst based in Thailand said.

Win Min, also suggested that the reshuffle may be the result of power struggle between the junta's top generals – Snr. Gen. than Shwe and Vice Snr. Gen. Maung Aye.

"But this reshuffle will further strengthen Than Shwe's power, as most of the officers who have been given control of strategic commands are his loyalists," Win Min said.

Win Min, however, does not rule out the possibility that the junta's reshuffle may indicate its plan for a new form of governance post general elections.

According to the ruling junta's planned roadmap to democracy, the approval of a draft constitution will be followed by a general election, after which the winning party will govern the country in keeping with the constitution.

The junta in February announced that it will hold general elections in 2010, though it has not set any specific date.

Critics have slammed the junta's roadmap to democracy, declared its draft constitution as non inclusive and called the process of referendum approving the constitution -- 'rigged'.

"It seems the junta is slowly planning its new administration after the elections," Win Min said.

Mya Maung, from the Sino-Burmese border said, the junta's plan is to switch from direct military dictatorship to a new civilian dictatorship, which was effectively implemented by its predecessor General Ne Win from 1962 to 1988.

"So, it is likely that the junta is retiring some of its key people to form a civilian cabinet that will actually rule the country," Mya Maung said.

Bo Bo Kyaw Nyien, a veteran Burmese political observer, however, said it might be too early to jump to any kind of conclusion and it requires observation of the junta's next move.

"The reshuffle is definitely a significant move, but in politics it will be too early to jump to conclusions before observing their [the junta] next move," Bo Bo Kyaw Nyien said.

Will assessment report bring in more aid for cyclone survivors?

Solomon - Mizzima News

23 June 2008, New Delhi - The report of the Post-Nargis Joint Assessment team will be used to seek more funds to help victims of Cyclone Nargis in Burma, a United Nations spokesperson said on Monday.

Laksmita Noviera, spokesperson of the UN Coordination Office in Burma said they are hopeful that the report of the assessment conducted by PONJA will clearly show the actual situation after the cyclone and reflect the amount of aid needed to help victims.

"The result of the assessment will be used to feed the revised appeal so that we can solicit more funds from donors," Noviera said.

The Tripartite Core Group, formed with members of the UN, Burmese government representatives and experts from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), had sent a 250-member team of Post-Nargis Joint Assessment to conduct a survey of the extent of devastation caused by Cyclone Nargis where 133,000 were people killed and went missing.

The PONJA which begun work on June 9, joined by technical experts from the World Bank and the Asia Development Bank, announced on June 20 that it had completed an initial assessment in Burma's Irrawaddy and Rangoon division, which were the worst affected by the cyclone.

"The most important thing is that, from this assessment we hope that we can get a clearer picture of the situation," said Noviera, adding that the assessment will also be used to ask for more funds.

While the assessment might carry a certain degree of reliability in the aftermath of the cyclone, receiving more funds or attracting donor countries would largely depend on how the gap is being bridged between the Burmese junta and the international community, a Burmese researcher said.

"Their [assessment team] job could be reliable but it is difficult to say and guess whether donors will give funds or not depending on the assessment result," said Zaw Oo a researcher based in Washington.

Zaw Oo told Mizzima that the TCG's assessment could bring excellent results but attracting more funds from donors would require proper mediation.

"Proper mediation is required between the donors and the Burmese government," Zaw Oo said.

According to the United Nations, so far only 45 per cent of the estimated US $ 69.5 million required to help cyclone victims have been received.

But Debbie Stothard, coordinator of Alternative ASEAN network on Burma, an advocacy group, said the behaviour of the Burmese junta confused international donors over their willingness to support cyclone victims.

"Many fear that no matter how much money they (donors) give it will not reach the people who are in need," Stothard said.

Stothard blamed the slow and reluctant response of the Burmese military junta in accepting international aid which showed that it was not genuinely interested in helping the victims.

"This time it is very clear that the State Peace and Development Council, is interested in using the cyclone as a money making opportunity," added Stothard referring to Burma's ruling junta as the SPDC, the name of the council it has formed to rule the country.

She added that the post cyclone period has been worsened by the Burmese junta.

"After the cyclone and before the cyclone, the biggest problem is still the SPDC," Stothard said.

Weekly journal involved in row over celebrity drug abuse case

Nam Davies
Mizzima News

Monday, 23 June 2008 - In connection with the interrogation of some celebrities regarding a high profile drug abuse case, a weekly journal has been embroiled in a dispute with some of them.

An apology appeared in today's issue of 'First Music' weekly journal stating that the journal regretted and apologized for an article, which had appeared in the publication along with the photographs of some celebrities. The article dealt with the use of drugs, drug addiction and its fatal consequences.

The piece entitled 'Apology to Artists' states that the 'First Music' journal apologized to the concerned artists and deeply regretted it if the contents of the article had tarnished the image of the celebrities.

The article had appeared in the last issue of the 'First Music' Journal and had claimed that drug addiction could hamper and spoil the life and success of some artists along with the photographs of Director Maung Myo Min (Yintwihphyit), actor Pho Kyaw, singer Phyo Gyi, actresses Soe Myat Thuzar, Nandar Hlaing, Nawarat and Gandawin.

Mizzima has learnt that around two dozen people including famous actresses were called and interrogated by the police in connection with drug trafficking and its abuse. They were later released due to a request made by Information Minister Brig. Gen. Kyaw San.

"The apology had to be published under pressure from the authorities," an editor from the Rangoon journalists circle said.

Aung Zaw Ye Myint, son of recently retired Lt. Gen. Ye Myint, and famous business tycoon Maung Weik were included in the list of people interrogated by the Home Ministry.

However, the authorities have not yet made any official announcement regarding the case and it has also banned the media from writing about it.

Cyclone affected farmlands likely to be seized for forest reserve

Myint Maung
Mizzima News

Monday, 23 June 2008, New Delhi – In an inexplicable move the forest department of the ruling Burmese military junta has decided to confiscate nearly 25,000 acres of cyclone affected farmlands in Kadone Kani village tract, Bogale Township, Irrawaddy Division. The idea – to extend the reserve forest area and there is no answer to what will happen to the livelihood of farmers.

The announcement on June 17 was issued by the Township Forest Department chief U Kan Tun. He in turn was under directives of the Irrawaddy Division Forest Department in a circular on June 15 which said about 23,000 acres of cyclone affected farmlands will be seized and converted to forest reserve, local residents said.

"The announcement states nearly 25,000 acres of farmland will be confiscated," a local resident from Bogale told Mizzima.

The current forest reserve area is 33,340 acres. It will be increased to 58,443 acres after confiscation of the farmlands.

The Irrawaddy Divisional Forest Department circulated its announcement of the seizure to government departments in Pathein, Myaungmya and Bogale Townships. It also sent copies to Kyin Chaung and Kyun Thar Yar Villages Peace and Development Council (PDC) under the Kadone Kani Kodone Kani village tract PDC.

Though residents say that cyclone affected farmers who will lose their farmlands soon, they cannot estimate the exact number of farmers who will be affected by the draconian order of the Divisional Forest Department.

"Some farmers have begun cultivation on their farmlands while some are still waiting because of lack of inadequate equipments and farm inputs," a local resident of Bogale said.

"If the forest department officials force farmers to handover their farmlands, the farmers will make a collective appeal to government officials by producing supporting documents of farmland sale deeds signed by the 'Agricultural Marketing Corporation', the agreement made with forest department and land use right documented in the Land Record and Resettlement Department", he added.

The Tatmadaw Exposed

The Irrawaddy News

Burma’s army leaders want to build a modern army with sophisticated weapons and jet fighters. However, when the country faced a major natural disaster last month, these same leaders were unable to mobilize troops to conduct a relief mission in the Irrawaddy delta, much less send jets, helicopters and navy ships to aid victims of Cyclone Nargis.

When the cyclone slammed into the delta and southern Burma on May 2-3, the army was all but invisible for the first few days, as orders from the top leadership weren’t forthcoming.

In the wake of the greatest natural disaster to hit Burma in living memory, Burma’s 400,000 soldiers remained in their barracks or on the frontlines of the regime’s dirty war against ethnic insurgents.

There are some who believe that the army’s inaction was due to a deliberate decision by the regime’s leadership to leave the cyclone victims to struggle on their own. It appears that the lines of communication and the chain of command broke down at the highest levels.

At any rate, the army’s response certainly wasn’t what one would expect of a military that receives the lion’s share of the national budget.

Over the past two decades, neighbors have watched with great concern as Burma’s military, the Tatmadaw, continued to grow rapidly.

Burma’s army has been transformed since 1988. Twenty years ago, the Tatmadaw had 180,000 troops; now it is believed to have around 400,000.

It also has substantially more military hardware than it did in the past: tanks, jet fighters and navy ships, all purchased from reliable suppliers, including China, Russia, Singapore, Poland, Ukraine, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan and India.

In 1988, the Burmese Navy had 100 vessels, but many of these were old and obsolete. Now it has a commanding fleet of frigates, coastal boats, river gunboats and amphibious vessels, courtesy of China and Yugoslavia.

Burma’s extensive coastline is now guarded by regional naval command bases in Sittwe, Hainggyi Island, Moulmein, Mergui and the Irrawaddy delta.

The air force has also seen rapid expansion since 1988.

In the 1980s, half of the jet fighters and air force planes in Burma could not fly. Many counter-insurgency campaigns against the Karen and Shan were conducted using modified training planes.

Since 1988, Burma has turned to China and Russia for new aircraft to modernize its air force.

The regime has purchased F-7 jet fighters—a model similar to the Russian-made MiG-21—and A-5C air support and ground attack aircraft from China, as well as Mi-7, Mi-17, Mi-2, and Mi-8 helicopters from Russia. In 2001, the Burmese air force also bought a squadron of MiG-29 jet fighters from Russia.

To accommodate these aircraft and ensure access to all parts of the country, air force bases and air fields have also been built and expanded in northern and southern Burma. The air force has also introduced a new command and control structure, and offers a wide range of training to pilots and ground crew.

Despite all these improvements, however, observers note that both the navy and air force face major maintenance challenges. Spare parts are not always available, and due to fuel shortages and technical malfunctions, jet fighters and helicopters are often grounded.

Although it has not been officially disclosed, Burma has more than 60 helicopters and dozens of jet fighters, interceptors and transport planes. But they were all missing in action when the country faced a catastrophe in May.

When French and American naval ships came close to Burma’s shores last month, the Burmese navy and air force seemed to be paralyzed. There were no movements to counter the foreign warships and no surveillance flights.

The chain of command between top leaders in Naypyidaw and the navy, air force and regional commands appears to have been ineffective, if not paralyzed.

In the end, the regime sent in a trusted point man to take over in the delta. Almost a week after the cyclone, Light Infantry Division 66—whose commander, Brig-Gen Maung Maung Aye, is believed to be close to Snr-Gen Than Shwe, especially since he played a leading role in crushing last September’s monk-led uprising—moved in.

Last week, the regime announced a reshuffle, removing Admiral Soe Thein from his position as navy chief and assigning him to head the ministry of industry (2). No official reason was given for the move.

Since then, speculation and rumors about the reasons for his dismissal have been rife among Burma observers and dissidents.

Some have suggested that Soe Thein was unhappy with the regime’s decision not to allow foreign ships to help cyclone survivors.

They also say that he was angered by the decision of the regime’s leadership in Naypyidaw to deny rites for navy personnel killed by the cyclone at the base on Hainggyi Island.

Others say that top leaders were not happy with his inability to deploy ships to counter the US and French warships standing ready just outside Burmese waters, waiting for a green light to deliver humanitarian assistance to the delta.

Mistrust between Burma’s army, on the one hand, and its navy and air force, on the other, has existed since the 1988 uprising, when hundreds of navy and air force officers joined the democracy uprising.

Burma’s top leaders often cite the threat of foreign aggression as the chief reason for its relentless push to build a strong and modern Tatmadaw. Top leaders openly talk about the threat posed by the country’s neighbors, Thailand, Bangladesh and India, as well as by the Western powers.

But last month’s performance revealed that the Tatmadaw is far from being the formidable force that it purports to be. The navy, air force and army were poorly coordinated, and in the end completely failed to come to the assistance of cyclone victims.

The Tatmadaw is still an effective tool of intimidation when directed against and unarmed and impoverished population. But faced with a serious external threat—natural or otherwise—the regime has shown that it is completely at the mercy of divisions and a lack of communication among the top leadership.

Reshuffle Could Signal Changes at the Top

The Irrawaddy News

Burma’s ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) has reshuffled its military commanders following the replacement of the country’s navy chief and two ministers last week.

Details of the latest reshuffle have yet to emerge, although it is reported to have been planned as long ago as March. Observers believe many senior officers have been allowed to retire.

According to exile dissidents and military observers who have close connection with Burma’s armed forces, four Bureau of Special Operations (BSO) heads were allowed to retire. Burma currently has six BSO headquarters headed by senior ranking military officers and members of the SPDC.

Four BSOs established in November 2001 run all thirteen regional commands throughout Burma. Unconfirmed reports say BSO-5 was created in 2006 under the command of a loyal Than Shwe officer, Lt Gen Myint Swe, previously commander of the Rangoon division.

Observers see the recent reshuffle as an attempt by Than Shwe to inject new blood in the military and to consolidate his power. With the exception of Myint Swe who is in his late 50s, all BSO heads were nearing retirement age and some are believed to be seriously ill.

The reshuffle is thought by some observers to have no connection to last month’s cyclone disaster and rumors of rising tension among the top army leaders. Nevertheless, navy chief Adm Soe Thein was suddenly removed from his post and put in charge of the ministry of industry 2.

Meanwhile, rumors widely circulating in Rangoon and the exiled community in Thailand suggest that Than Shwe is soon to give up his post as commander-in-chief of the armed forces and hand over the top job to Gen Shwe Mann, the number three man in the armed forces and currently army chief-of-staff and coordinator of air force, navy and army operations. It is also suggested that Vice Snr-Gen Maung Aye, deputy commander in chief of the armed forces, will also leave office.

Shwe Mann and Lt Gen Myint Swe are rumored likely to take over two top posts, although Than Shwe and Maung Aye will remain members of the SPDC, considered to be the most powerful decision making body in Burma.

Some Burma watchers suggest that Than Shwe could create a Chinese-style military commission and continue to call the shots. There has been no independent confirmation of this information, however.

Political observers suggest that Than Shwe and his close associates are preparing for the 2010 election and that reshuffles and changes of guard at the top are occurring in view of the transition to a civilian government controlled by the military.

Sein Win Seeks Talks with China, India

The Irrawaddy News

The Burmese prime minister in exile, Dr Sein Win, wants to visit leaders in India and China to seek their help in resolving the current political impasse in Burma.

The two countries—key allies of the military government—can play an important role in finding a peaceful solution to the current political crisis, Dr Sein Win told The Irrawaddy.

He has approached both India and China in this regard, but without any success so far.

"We want solutions. We need help from China and India," he said.

"I want to travel to India and China and talk with their government officials and meet their people and present our views," he said in an interview.

"It’s very simple. Why can't we go there?" he asked, saying he has tried to reach out to the Indian and Chinese governments so but so far without any positive results.

Despite his efforts, he said, "They [India and China] are very elusive because they are afraid any contact with us could jeopardize their relationship with the military."

"We agree with China and India on many points," he said. "They want stability; we want stability. They want prosperity; we also want prosperity. They want dialogue; we also want dialogue. We can talk on those topics."

"Since 1990, I could not go to China and India," said Sein Win, who in an interview last year said he would like to have his government-in-exile located in India, rather than in Washington DC.

A cousin of the Burmese leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, Dr Sein Win spends most of his time in Washington.

Regarding the humanitarian situation in Burma in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis, he said he was dismayed that the junta discouraged people from helping the refugees and arresting many volunteers who tried.

He said the military government is keeping the high quality rice donations from the international community and selling poor quality rice, which was stored for emergency purposes by the army.

He said the National League of Democracy would not participate in the 2010 election and refused to accept the results of the constitutional referendum.

"We have not accepted the referendum,” he said. “We do not accept the constitution. We do not accept the way the referendum has been conducted.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Condolezza Rice said China and other neighboring countries of Burma are not putting enough pressure on the military government to move quicker and more inclusively to a democratic system.

In an interview on CNN, Secretary Rice said China has consistently blocked resolutions on Burma at the UN Security Council.

"They [China] blocked the ability to get it [Burma] to the Security Council,” she said. “We were never able to get a strong resolution to deal with it."

However, the Chinese are not alone in helping the junta, she said. "Some of Burma's other neighbors have not been willing to put the kind of pressure on the Burmese regime that is needed.

However, she acknowledged a positive role played by China and other neighbor countries during the cyclone disaster.

"I will say that I think the rather limited progress that we made was because China and a couple of others did intercede with the junta to allow some aid in," she said.

Expressing her frustration with the response of the international community on issues related to Burma, she said: "The truth of the matter is that the international community has not responded as it should have. This is, sometimes, one of the frustrations with the Security Council."

When the UN General Assembly took up the issue of the responsibility to protect principle a few years ago, she said the US was skeptical at that time. That was, Rice said, "because we said if you take on something like the responsibility to protect, and then you don't do it, what does it say about the credibility of the Security Council in the international community."

That’s precisely what's come true now in Burma, she said.

In another interview with the CNN editorial board, Rice said the international community has not done a good job in the case of Burma, in particular in the aftermath of the Cyclone Nargis which killed more than 130,000 people.

“I will tell you I think the international community has not done a good job in this case because if the responsibility to protect is going to mean anything, it will have meant something in this case.

But we couldn't even get Burma on the Security Council agenda because of China,” Rice said.

"Now, you can say the United States should have done it unilaterally, but that has its costs. In this case, when you have a strong friend of Burma—and not just China, by the way, but Asean and others…then it is very hard to do," she said.

So, the US took of position of pressing China to use its influence to get some aid in, she said. "Much of what you see and the ability to get some aid in, is because a lot of representations and tough efforts were made with the Burmese by their neighbors," Rice said.

Burma's Monks Regroup after Killer Storm

The Irrawaddy News

In helping others, Burma's saffron-robed Buddhist monks have helped themselves.

The monks' critical role in providing relief after Cyclone Nargis has galvanized their ranks and strengthened their political voice—just months after the junta quashed the democracy uprising spearheaded by the monks last fall.

The monks have channeled aid materials into stricken regions and turned monasteries into soup kitchens and refugee camps since the May 2-3 storm.

Their outreach to survivors—many of whom received little or no government help—highlighted the monks' power and the possibility they could clash again with Burma's ruling forces. Some monks are even building secret stashes of makeshift weapons, clerics say.

While Buddhism orders its clergy to shun violence and politics, monks in Burma and elsewhere in Asia have a history of militancy. The monk Saya San became a national hero in the 1930s by leading a revolt against the British colonialists who hanged him after fielding 12,000 troops to suppress his peasant army.

In more recent times, monks were at the forefront of a 1988 uprising against the junta and led mass street demonstrations which the military crushed last fall.

An expert on Burma affairs, retired Rutgers University professor Josef Silverstein, said the monks' post-storm mobilization is consistent with beliefs of Buddhist in the country.

"These beliefs didn't disappear because the military hit them over the head last year," he said by telephone. "The monks are angry and they're seeing that no one else is stepping forward" to lead relief efforts—or political opposition.

A Rangoon monk—one of a dozen interviewed by The Associated Press—said it was impossible to "close our eyes to a government that cares so little for the people that it allows them to suffer and die." He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the intense government scrutiny of monks and the sensitivity of discussing anti-government action in this tightly controlled nation.

His monastery has collected and distributed truckloads of blankets, tarpaulins and food to storm survivors. And, like hundreds of other monasteries throughout Burma's storm-struck southwest, it also became a temporary shelter for those who lost their homes.

Short and wiry with fiery eyes, the monk spoke in hushed but urgent tones as he blamed the ruling generals for failing to adequately warn people of the cyclone, which killed at least 78,000 and left an additional 56,000 missing.

He also blamed government restrictions on foreign aid and humanitarian workers for putting millions of survivors at risk of starvation and disease.

"As monks, it's our responsibility to fight for a change," said the monk, as he fingered a scar that he said came from a melee with authorities during last September's crackdown.

He displayed part of a secret cache, consisting of a half-dozen slingshots, and said he was working with monks in several cities to collect more weapons for storage at other secret locations. Most of them were rudimentary devices patched together from everyday objects such as bamboo rods and bicycle spokes and chains, he said, declining to give numbers and other details for security reasons.

The extent of the weapons gathering could not be independently confirmed.

But other monks interviewed in Rangoon and Mandalay said they had heard of colleagues building weapons stashes, though they stressed they were not hoarding weapons themselves.

Monks are also trying to obtain guns to make any clashes "less one-sided," said the Rangoon monk.

At least 31 people were killed when troops opened fire on demonstrators in Rangoon last year, according to the United Nations.

The "Saffron Revolution," which took its name from the color of the monks' traditional robes and began as a protest against high prices, was the largest show of dissent against the military regime in nearly two decades.

The junta's response was swift and stern. Monks were dragged from their monasteries in overnight raids, beaten, tortured and imprisoned, monks and human rights groups say. An unknown number remain behind bars, while many fled into exile. Those who stayed kept a low profile.

Inside the region hit hardest by Cyclone Nargis, the low-lying Irrawaddy delta, the homeless streamed into monasteries. Often the sole structures to survive the storm's 120 mph winds and towering waves, monasteries quickly became de facto refugee camps and aid distribution centers.

Even as the government clamped down on the flow of foreign assistance, monks worked to ferry vital supplies into the delta.

"Helping the people makes us stronger," said U Sumana, a 30-year-old monk from Mandalay, hundreds of miles north of the affected areas.

In his dormitory, piles of donated clothing and hundreds of bags of rice sit in neat stacks among bed rolls and clotheslines hung with the saffron robes. His monastery has organized two trips to the delta to distribute donations and a third is in the works, he said.

Since the storm, authorities have tried to play down the monks' relief efforts, even ordering newspapers not to publish stories on the clerics' work with storm victims.

The junta has tried to press individuals to give through government channels. But due in part to the respect monks command in Burmese society, many donors still opt to give through the monasteries.

A wealthy businessman from Rangoon who recently donated hundreds of cooking pans and woks to a city monastery called his choice "a simple matter of trust."

"We know the monks don't steal and that everything we give them will get to the people who need it," said the man, who declined to give his name for fear of government reprisals.

U Tiloka, the monastery's abbot, said the government "is scared of the monks" and has tried to hamper their distribution work. Plainclothes policemen have turned up as monks were distributing supplies, and the monastery's power was cut in apparent retribution for their work, he said.

Other monks say authorities have tried to block their access to the delta.

"But the people have too much respect for the monks," said U Sumana of the monastery in Mandalay. "Even if the soldiers have orders to stop us, when they see our robes they wave us through."

International aid agencies, hampered by government rules and red tape, have come to rely on the monks to get aid to those in need.

Christian charity World Vision has set up food and supply distribution points and day care centers at dozens of monasteries in the delta.

"To reach a community, you have to reach its heart and, in Myanmar [Burma], the monastery is that heart," said spokesman Chris Webster. "Without the monks, there's no way we would have been able to reach the number of people we've reached."

Though Burma's monks often explain their relief work in religious terms, some acknowledge its political undertones.

"Whenever you do things for the people, you are engaging in politics," said U Zaw Ti Ka, an elderly abbot at another monastery in Mandalay. "Here the government is against the people, so if you do something for the people, you are also doing it against the government."

He said he abhors the violence that marred September's protests—but understands those who want to use force against the government.

"To make a Christian comparison, this is a real David and Goliath situation," said the bespectacled monk. "What we need now are not slingshots. What we need are real guns."

Human Smuggling Crackdown Hits Kawthaung

The Irrawaddy News

About 200 Burmese job seekers in Kawthaung, a border town in southern Burma, were arrested in the past five days following a human smuggling crackdown by local authorities.

Those arrested were staying in hotels believed to be used by people seeking to enter Thailand or Malaysia illegally. Nine people believed to be involved in organizing human smuggling were also arrested, according to sources in Kawthaung.

One hotel owner, his wife and a manager were reportedly arrested, along with six other people believed to be involved in human smuggling.

A crackdown on human smuggling has been underway since the repatriation of dozens of Burmese migrant workers who survived a human smuggling incident in which 54 Burmese migrant workers suffocated when being transported to work in Thailand, according to sources in Kawthaung. Sixty-seven people survived the incident.

The crackdown order was said to have come from Naypyidaw under the direction of the Burmese premier, Gen Thein Sein, said one source.

Maung Tu, a local businessman who is close to Burmese authorities and the business community, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday, “The authorities are cracking down on hotels at night. The owner of one hotel was arrested. Some smugglers and traffickers are now running away to avoid arrests.”

Another resident in Kawthaung said, “The arrests are increasing. Speed boats are also being prevented from crossing the border.”

Three hotels in Kawthaung are widely believed to be involved in human smuggling operations, sources say.

Owners of hotels in Kawthaung have reportedly received a warning from Min Aye Lwin, the chairman of the Province Peace and Development Council, not to accept travelers who are seeking to enter countries illegally.

Kawthaung is a popular site used by Burmese migrant workers who try to enter Thailand and Malaysia illegally. As many as 100 people a day are believed to be illegally transported into Thailand and Malaysia from Kawthaung.

Many local Burmese authorities are involved in human smuggling, say Kawthaung residents.

Than Shwe’s Grandson in Drug Scandal

The Irrawaddy News

Nay Shwe Thway Aung, until now the favorite grandson of Burmese head of state Snr-Gen Than Shwe, is reportedly at the center of a drug scandal in Rangoon.

A source close to the military elite told The Irrawaddy on Monday that two men close to Than Shwe’s grandson were arrested by police on suspicion of procuring ecstasy pills for him.

“I heard the family found some ecstasy pills on Nay Shwe Thway Aung last month,” the source said. “Then Aung Zaw Ye Myint [the son of Lt-Gen Ye Myint, a high-ranking general] and Maung Waik [a well-known business crony] were arrested in connection with the drugs.”

While rumors of the scandal began circulating the former capital, there were no birthday celebrations for Than Shwe’s grandson on May 22, the day he turned 17.

“Normally they have a big birthday party for the grandson every year,” said the source. “But this year, there was not even a small party among relatives.”

Last year, a birthday party was reportedly held in honor of Nay Shwe Thway Aung at Rangoon’s exclusive Sedona Hotel. Among the party guests were the wives of top junta leaders Vice Snr-Gen Maung Aye and Gen Shwe Mann, as well as Zaw Zaw, a well-known business crony and director of Max Co, and popular rock musician Zaw Win Htut.

Two weeks ago, sources told The Irrawaddy, a family religious ceremony was held at one of Than Shwe’s houses in Rangoon, but Nay Shwe Thway Aung was conspicuously absent.

Nay Shwe Thway Aung is a familiar face in Burma because he usually accompanies his grandfather on inspection tours throughout the country and enjoys red-carpet treatment wherever he goes.

Aung Zaw Ye Myint and Maung Waik were detained in May accused of selling drugs to Rangoon’s elite. At that time, several Burmese celebrities and businessmen were reportedly interrogated by a special drugs task force.

Last year, a famous actor, Dwe, died of heart failure caused by a drugs overdose, according to various sources.

But Rangoon residents have been surprised by the amount of rumors and gossip surrounding the recent drug scandal and a crackdown which appears related to the military elite and their cronies.

Some observers in Burma have suggested the drugs arrests were a smokescreen for a fresh power struggle within the military hierarchy. They claimed that Maung Waik is close to Gen Shwe Mann, the number 3 man in the junta.

Drug use among high-society families and celebrities has been an open secret for years in Burma. Late dictator Gen Ne Win’s three favorite grandsons—Aye Ne Win, Kyaw Ne Win and Zwe Ne Win— also enjoyed considerable family perks and were constantly rumored to be addicted to ecstasy pills.

Myanmar Launches 11-Day Gems Auction - Report


YANGON (AFP)--Military-run Myanmar on Tuesday launched an 11-day auction of precious gems in Yangon, state media said, as the country struggles to recover from last month's devastating cyclone.

The New Light of Myanmar announced that the sale of gems, jade and pearls would run until July 4 in the economic hub, where some buildings remain in ruins and fallen trees litter the roads seven weeks after Cyclone Nargis.

The junta-run daily gave no further details of the sale, but a staff member at the Myanmar Convention Center confirmed an auction opened there this morning that was attended by both local and foreign dealers.

Myanmar auctioned off more than 7,700 lots of precious stones, which officials valued at more than $153 million, in March.

Myanmar, one of the world's poorest countries, is the source of some of the globe's most beautiful rubies. Each auction brings in more than $100 million, making it a key source of revenue for the ruling junta.

The military regime has estimated it will need $10.7 billion to rebuild after the cyclone struck in early May, leaving more than 138,000 people dead or missing when it pummelled the southwest delta and Yangon.

An international donor conference in late May only garnered a small proportion of those funds.

International donors have historically been reluctant to pump money into Myanmar, which has been ruled by the military since 1962 and keeps opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest.

The U.S. and Europe intensified economic sanctions on the regime after a deadly crackdown on pro-democracy protesters last year, while Washington and human rights groups have urged gem buyers to boycott the sales.

Myanmar's two biggest customers, China and Thailand, have continued to attend the frequent gem auctions despite an international outcry over the bloody suppression of pro-democracy protests last September.

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

Myanmar: IOM delivers medical, shelter aid from three delta hubs, appeals for more funding

Relief Web

IOM Yangon has now received over 100 tonnes of medical supplies and other emergency relief goods valued at over USD 2 million to help survivors of Cyclone Nargis, which struck the Irrawaddy delta on May 2nd.

IOM relief operations, which are now coordinated from three hubs in the three delta townships of Bogale, Pyapon and Mawlamyinegyun, include distribution of relief items including tarpaulins, rain ponchos and mosquito nets, as well as the deployment of mobile medical teams providing direct medical aid.

The IOM mobile medical teams, who use Zodiac inflatable boats to access remote delta villages hit by the cyclone, have treated over 9,100 patients in 147 villages in the three townships over the past month.

IOM has also seconded staff to take part in the post-Nargis joint assessment (PONJA) of the 30 worst affected townships - an exercise set up by the Tripartite Core Group of the Government of Myanmar, ASEAN and the UN a month ago.

Two IOM staff coordinated the village tract assessment component of the PONJA in Bogale. Preliminary findings of the exercise, which also included a macro-level damage and loss assessment of infrastructure, are expected to be presented to ASEAN member states tomorrow.

In the light of the extent of the damage, under a new UN funding appeal expected to be launched in July, IOM will be seeking a further USD 4.5 million to rebuild bamboo shelters and distribute non-food relief items in Bogale, Mawlamyinegyun and Pyapon townships in the coming months.

It will also be appealing for USD 1.1 million for the reconstruction of primary health facilities; USD 910,000 for the reconstruction of birth centres (with UNFPA); USD 744,000 for enhancing primary health care delivery; USD 1.4 million for strengthening of mental health service delivery; and USD 749,000 to combat HIV and AIDS (with UNAIDS) among populations displaced by the cyclone.

IOM donors to date include the UN Central Emergency Fund (CERF), USAID, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), Denmark, the Three Diseases Fund (3DF), the NGOs AmeriCares and International Medical Corps, and Chevron Corporation.

For more information please contact Chris Lom at IOM's Regional Office in Bangkok. Tel: +66.819275215; Email: clom@iom.int

Japanese protest killing of journalist in Myanmar

Straits Times

TOKYO - PROTESTERS against the killing of a Japanese journalist in Yangon last year on Tuesday submitted a petition signed by 40,000 people to the Myanmar embassy here calling for the return of his video camera.

The Myanmar embassy refused to admit a group of about 10 protesters, including the sister of Kenji Nagai, who was killed in September while filming a crackdown by Myanmar's junta on demonstrations led by Buddhist monks.

'I am disappointed to see this insincere attitude after we came here to bring the voices of many people who offered us support,' said Nagai's sister Noriko Ogawa, 48, who was holding a photograph of the late journalist.

Television footage showed Mr Nagai apparently being shot at close range by security forces, although nobody has been charged in relation to his death.

'Mr Nagai's videotape must show facts about the unrest in Myanmar that everyone has the right to watch,' said Ryosai Kishino, one of the protesters.

'We also demand the Myanmar government conduct a sincere investigation into the case,' he said.

The protesters were forced to drop some of the signatures in a post box and slip the rest under the embassy gate after trying in vain to persuade officials to take them.

Some 10,000 signatures were already submitted last year, organisers said.

'We made a telephone call and sent a fax to you yesterday about this.

Please bring someone here who is responsible for the matter,' Mr Kishino said at the embassy gate.

An autopsy by the Japanese police showed that Nagai, 50, was likely shot dead from a close range of just within one metre. -- AFP

Myanmar Cyclone Toll Rises to 138,000 Dead, Missing


YANGON (Reuters) - More than 138,000 are dead or missing from the devastating cyclone that struck Myanmar last month, the government said on Tuesday, according to an Asian diplomat.

Deputy Foreign Minister Kyaw Thu informed a meeting of government and foreign aid workers the official death toll from the May 2 disaster had risen to 84,537 from a previous figure of 77,738, the diplomat told Reuters.

The number of missing fell to 53,836 from 55,917 announced by the government in its last casualty update on May 16.

Nearly two months after Cyclone Nargis left up to 2.4 million people destitute, a joint assessment team has recently completed its work and a new appeal for foreign aid is expected in July.

(Reporting by Aung Hla Tun; Editing by Darren Schuettler and Jerry Norton)

Junta Steps Up Crackdown on Private Relief Efforts

Burma Partnership
appartnership@gmail.com partnership@loxinfo.com

Briefer 16th – 22nd June

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

The patience of the international community appears to be wearing thin as the delivery of aid continues to face undue obstacles, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi celebrates another birthday under illegitimate detention and the usual human rights abuses carry on unchecked in Burma. As the humanitarian effort struggles on in the face of a potentially terminating funding crisis, the focus of the international community seems to have shifted to the wider political and human rights crises in Burma. The National League for Democracy has once again urged the military regime to convene parliament in order to solve the political and humanitarian crises the country is facing (http://www.mizzima.com/news/inside-burma/4-inside-burma/686-nld-calls-for-parliament-to-be-convened).

Cyclone Nargis:
Senator John Kerry has formally urged US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice to investigate whether the junta’s restriction of foreign aid may constitute a crime against humanity under international law. He has requested a legal opinion from the State Department
(http://kerry.senate.gov/cfm/record.cfm?id=299259, and

The World Bank has donated US$850,000 to ASEAN for disaster assessment and recovery activities in the wake of the cyclone. The grant is further intended to support ASEAN’s leadership role in the humanitarian efforts and to strengthen its capacity in the coordination of international response and senior-level dialogue on recovery planning (http://www.aseansec.org/21645.htm). Burmese groups in exile have issued a statement expressing concern that the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) may view the current humanitarian crisis as an opportunity to increase engagement with the SPDC. The Ethnic Community Development Forum and other groups have urged the World Bank and ADB to focus only on facilitating relief efforts and to include community-based organisations advocating real political reform in any decision-making process regarding their activities in Burma (http://appartnership.googlepages.com/ECDF-June17-08.doc).

The World Food Program has made a plea for additional funding for the humanitarian aid effort being carried out in the wake of Cyclone Nargis. Chris Kaye, WFP country director in Burma, warned that the distribution of supplies to distressed communities by boat, truck and air ‘will all grind to a halt by the end of this month unless we get additional funding now’ (http://www.earthtimes.org/articles/show/213818,lack-of-funding-threatens-myanmar-helicopter-relief-operation.html). The executive secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, Noeleen Hayzer, called on the international community o donate 1 million gallons of diesel fuel that the regime says is needed to operate the mechanical tillers donated by other countries (http://english.dvb.no/news.php?id=1434).

Farmers in Labutta township, Irawaddy division, went to collect hand tractors donated as part of the cyclone relief effort but found that local authorities were demanding payment (of between 1.09 and 2.2 million kyat). Even the down payment far exceeded the means of most farmers. Reports suggest that so far none of the farmers in the delta region has been provided with any financial or material assistance to enable them to get back to work (http://english.dvb.no/news.php?id=1432). An absurdist bureaucracy charging farmers from the cyclone-stricken regions administration fees for defunct contracts has further hindered the distribution of machines in this critical planting season (http://english.dvb.no/news.php?id=1445).

Private donors continue to face harassment and obstruction despite the junta’s promises (http://www.kachinnews.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=247:junta-continues-to-restrict-aid-workers-from-helping-cyclone-victims&catid=38:environment&Itemid=61). Thai-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners states that ten donors have been arrested since the beginning of June (http://www.irrawaddy.org/article1.php?art_id=12822). The Burmese authorities detained three senior members of the pro-democracy group 88 Generation Students on 12th June. The group has formed a team called Myitta Paung Ku to distribute aid to cyclone survivors. Myet Thu, Yin Yin Wyne and Tin Tin Cho were waiting to discuss further aid distribution with monks when they were taken away. Their whereabouts are unknown (http://www.mizzima.com/nargis-impact/18-nargis-impact/675-student-activists-helping-nargis-victims-arrested,
http://www.irrawaddy.org/article2.php?art_id=12776, http://www.mizzima.com/nargis-impact/18-nargis-impact/679-volunteers-for-cyclone-relief-work-arrested-yet-again). Sports writer and former editor of weekly journal First Eleven Zaw Thet Htway was arrested on 13th June (http://english.dvb.no/news.php?id=1431).

One of the many civil groups to have formed since the strike of Cyclone Nargis has undertaken the grim task of disposing of the many corpses still lying in the rivers and fields of the Irrawaddy delta. They have given bodies a simple cremation and burial rites. Seven members of the group were arrested on June 14th (http://www.irrawaddy.org/article2.php?art_id=12846).

Donated food stored in a monastery in Phyar Pon was left to rot instead of being given to desperate cyclone victims because soldiers didn’t receive orders to distribute it (http://english.dvb.no/news.php?id=1433). Meanwhile, increasing numbers of children in Rangoon and other cyclone-afflicted areas have been reduced to stealing food in order to stave off starvation (http://www.irrawaddy.org/article1.php?art_id=12778).

The junta has warned against the exploitation of children orphaned by the cyclone. Anyone found guilty of trafficking children will be sentenced to a minimum of 10 years in prison. The authorities have also announced that they will take sole responsibility for the care of orphans, banning all individuals and organisations from doing so (http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2008-06/16/content_8381219.htm). This move threatens the plans of the Free Funeral Service Society to build an orphanage.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) decided at its International Labour Conference on 13th June that it would take an active role in the post-cyclone reconstruction efforts. The ILO’s current priority will be to prevent the use of forced labour in the reconstruction effort, but it will continue to investigate complaints in other contexts, noting that the forced labour situation in Burma is a cause for ‘profound concern’ (http://english.dvb.no/news.php?id=1428).

The UN launched a massive anti-dengue operation in the cyclone-hit areas of Burma this week (http://www.irrawaddy.org/article.php?art_id=12767). The climate and lack of shelter in the Irrawaddy delta has left cyclone survivors at greater risk of succumbing to this disease. Other diseases are on the rise in Labutta, although not at the rate expected (http://www.irrawaddy.org/article3.php?art_id=12775).

The 250 member Post-Nargis Joint Assessment (PONJA) team returned to Rangoon on 20th June after completing its data collection in 30 affected townships across the cyclone-afflicted region. Preliminary findings and a progress report will be presented at the ASEAN meeting on 24th June (http://yangon.unic.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=244&Itemid=73).

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi:
Influential US Congressman Joe Pitts, speaking to the House of Representatives, issued a powerful rejoinder to the junta: “Madam Speaker, I rise today over the comments made by the brutal generals, military dictators in Burma, saying that Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Peace Prize winner and rightful leader elected by the people, deserves to be flogged. Come again?” (http://www.irrawaddy.org/article.php?art_id=12763).

US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice has accused the regime of ‘backtracking’ on even its most modest pledges to engage in dialogue with Burma’s elected leader. Rice criticised the Burmese authorities for holding a ‘rigged referendum… on a sham constitution’ and for the continued denial of the liberty and fundamental political and civil rights of political prisoners (http://www.irrawaddy.org/article.php?art_id=12841).

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicholas Sarkozy have released an open letter to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on the event of her birthday praising her courage and dedication to the people of Burma (http://www.number-10.gov.uk/output/Page15807.asp, http://www.irrawaddy.org/article4.php?art_id=12843).

Celebrations for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s birthday took place all across the globe this week. In Washington, an event was held at the Capitol Building, home of the US Congress. Politicians from the US government and the Burmese government in exile, the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma, along with activists and journalists from the exiled-Burmese and international media attended. U Tin Maung Thaw, board member of US Campaign for Burma, cited the occasion as an opportunity to persuade the US government to take the regime to the International Court of Justice (http://english.dvb.no/news.php?id=1429, http://www.irrawaddy.org/article2.php?art_id=12886).

Celebrations held in Burma were marred by beatings and arrests. An event held at the National League for Democracy headquarters was disrupted by members of the USDA and Swan Arr Shin. Members of the crowd were beaten and five activists were arrested (http://english.dvb.no/news.php?id=1451, http://english.dvb.no/news.php?id=1449).

Other News:
The UN Human Rights Council has called on the military authorities to cease politically motivated arrests and condemned what it termed ‘the ongoing systematic violations of human rights’. The resolution, introduced by the European Union, calls for the immediate cessation of the recruitment of child soldiers by both the regime and by non-state armed groups and the release of all political prisoners. The resolution condemns the recent referendum as held in ‘complete disregard’ of freedom of expression and assembly and urges the authorities to ensure that any returns of cyclone refugees are ‘voluntary, safe and carried out with dignity’ (http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=27076&Cr=myanmar&Cr1=).

The All Burma Monks’ Alliance called for the UN Security Council to safeguard the people of Burma. Citing the raping of ethnic women with impunity, the detention of political prisoners and the handling of Cyclone Nargis, the statement argues that ‘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’ (http://www.asiantribune.com/?q=node/11856).

On 19th June, the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling for the immediate release of political prisoners in Burma, and denounced the ‘prospect of flogging Aung San Suu Kyi as a crime against humanity’ (http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//TEXT+TA+P6-TA-2008-0312+0+DOC+XML+V0//EN&language=EN). In addition, MPs from eight European countries have come together to form a new Parliamentary caucus on Burma. The caucus aims to raise awareness of the situation in Burma in Europe and pressure European governments to do more to bring about democratic transition in Burma (http://www.burmacampaign.org.uk/pm/weblog.php?id=P371).

The Free Burma Rangers have published reports documenting the ongoing attacks on the Karen people. The reports detail the destruction of villages, the laying of land mines and the displacement of the Karen (http://www.freeburmarangers.org/Reports/2008/20080620.html).

The regime has announced a reshuffle of two cabinet positions and the appointment of the navy’s commander in chief to a ministerial post. The move comes in the wake of Cyclone Nargis and will allow the minister for social welfare, relief and resettlement to concentrate on this role by relinquishing his post as the minister for immigration and population. Rangoon-based military sources claim that the move is unusual and could signal further changes (http://www.irrawaddy.org/article1.php?art_id=12870, http://www.mizzima.com/news/inside-burma/4-inside-burma/696-change-of-guard-in-burmese-junta).

The junta has questioned village heads told to monitor polling stations in remote areas of Chin State, where the majority of voters rejected the constitution (http://www.khonumthung.com/kng-news/2008-news-archive/june-2008/more-village-heads-questioned-after-referendum/).

A major from the Burma Army and a lawyer were arrested after raping two teenage Chin girls. One of the girls was hospitalised as a result of the injuries she incurred (http://www.khonumthung.com/kng-news/2008-news-archive/june-2008/two-chin-teenaged-girls-raped-in-burma-rapists-arrested/). According to the junta’s law, only the military court can investigate and punish members of the armed forces (http://english.dvb.no/news.php?id=1439). Three army officers who raped four ethnic Kachin schoolgirls in February 2007 have yet to be punished (http://www.kachinnews.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=250:junta-yet-to-punish-army-officers-for-raping-kachin-schoolgirls&catid=37:human-rights&Itemid=60).

Well-known actor Kyaw Thu, leader of the Free Funeral Service charity group, has been taken ill while distributing aid in the Irrawaddy delta. His wife has attributed his illness to stress, compounded by smoking and an unhealthy diet (http://www.mizzima.com/news/inside-burma/4-inside-burma/674-actor-kyaw-thu-hospitalised-).

The Burma Army has issued a ban on villagers working outside their villages. The ostensible reason for this move is cited as being to prevent armed Mon groups form contacting the villagers (http://www.monnews-imna.com/newsupdate.php?ID=1042).

Blogger Nay Phone Latt is being reinvestigated by the regime. He has been held and interrogated at Insein prison for the past five months for publishing his blog (http://www.mizzima.com/news/inside-burma/4-inside-burma/673-blogger-nay-phone-latt-being-reinvestigated).

Eleven people were killed in a landslide in Moegok township, Mandalay division, on 11th June (http://english.dvb.no/news.php?id=1430).

Thailand hosts an estimated 2 million migrant workers, most of whom are believed to be Burmese. Thai and Burmese rights groups are urging the Thai government to repeal a controversial law rewarding informers and imposing harsh penalties on migrants that was passed in March (http://www.irrawaddy.org/highlight.php?art_id=12798).

Salween Watch, the Chiang Mai-based coalition of environmental organisations and NGOs, has published a report describing the current and projected impacts of the Upper Paunglaung Dam on the Kayan people. The dam is being built to supply energy for Nay Pyi Daw, but the Kayan are already suffering displacement, increased abuses by the Burma Army and the loss of their livelihoods (http://www.salweenwatch.org/index.html).

Reports suggest that rumours of a national uprising on 8th August are flying in Burma. Flyers being distributed in the country appeal to the dispossessed and poorly paid soldiers of the Burma Army to turn on their overseers on the twentieth anniversary of the massacre of students across Burma and on the day that the Olympics open in Beijing (http://www.news.com.au/story/0,23599,23895645-401,00.html). The idea of military coups has lost popularity in today’s global-political climate, but it may be the only form of justice the leaders of the Burmese military regime can understand (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/06/19/AR2008061901429.html).

In Solidarity,

Burma Partnership Secretariat