Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Farmers left in debt after land seizures

Jun 25, 2008 (DVB)–Thousands of acres of privately-owned farmland in Bogalay have been seized by authorities after the farmers had already received farming equipment and seeds bought on credit from the government.

The township agricultural department recently supplied the farmers with the equipment and seeds before the farmers were told their lands would be seized, according to one local farmer.

“Now we have a debt of about 1.5 million kyat each and we have to repay it within three years,” the farmer said.

“And now we have tillers but no farmland to use them on, but we can’t return them to the agricultural department and we can’t sell them.”

The farmer said the authorities had blamed the possibility of another cyclone for the seizures.

“The authorities told us it was dangerous for us to live on the farmlands just in case another cyclone hit the area, so they kicked us all off the land and seized it,” he said.

“We lost all our rice crops from last year and the money we made from them after the cyclone, and now we won’t be able to do our farming this year either, and that’s going to cause us a lot of trouble.”

The farmer said Htoo Trading company, which is owned by Tay Za, a Burmese tycoon with close links to the ruling junta, has now promised to build new houses near Kyein Chaung Gyi village for the farmers whose lands have been seized and villagers who have been forced to move out of the area.

Htoo Trading was given a contract by the government for reconstruction work in the Irrawaddy delta, but local residents worried that the company would take advantage of the situation for its own profit because of its close links to the regime.

Another local farmer said farmlands had been seized from Kyarkuyal, Danyinphyu, Mondinegyi, Mondinelay, Salugyi, Salulay, Tayawchaung, Myarchaung and Narnapauk villages, all in Bogalay township.

“It seems like they are going to work on the farms themselves,” the farmer said.

“They have forced everyone out of the villages and seized the land for the government,” he said.

“Now the farmers have received all the tillers under the credit system and so they are facing difficulties after losing their land.”

The farmer criticised the government for not only neglecting local farmers after the cyclone but now also exacerbating their problems by seizing their land.

A third farmer urged the government to allow farmers to work on the land again so that they could begin to rebuild their lives.

“We have lost our families, our houses, everything,” he said.

“These farmlands are the only thing we have left, and we will be in deep trouble if we are not allowed to work on these farms.”

Reporting by Naw Say Phaw

Suspected gang member dies under interrogation

Jun 25, 2008 (DVB)–A man accused of involvement with a gang responsible for the theft of Buddha statues in the Magwe divisional capital died after being beaten during an interrogation session by police, locals said.

The man, whose name has not been confirmed, was arrested on suspicion of being an important member of a notorious criminal gang that has been stealing statues from Magwe, Minbu and other townships in the area.

Locals said the suspect died last week after he was beaten up by police officers during interrogation at Magwe police station (1).

A police officer on duty at Minbu police station said it seemed that Magwe police had “overdone it” during the interrogation.

“They usually come to us to conduct interrogations on our criminal suspects as well,” the officer said.

“The last time they visited us was on 2-3 June to interrogate three suspects we detained in connection with the same case," he said.

"The suspects were first caught by the Minbu police – two of them were caught while they were stealing a Buddha statue. Then we managed to collect more information from these two suspects on other people who were involved in the crime."

Locals said Magwe attracts a lot of gangs involved in stealing Buddha statues as the town has a lot of ancient pagodas and other religious sites.

Reporting by Khin Maung Soe Min

Hard to be innocent in Burma

Shan Herald Agency for News

“The government is bankrupt and the generals have all the money,” reported Mizzima News, 25 April, quoting a member of an International NGO in Rangoon.

Earlier, on 15 January, SF Chronicle quoted Xavier Bouan, UN illicit crop monitor based in Rangoon, “Everybody is involved in this trade in one way or the other. Insurgents, militia, government, ceasefire groups; for all of them, in a region where the economy is slowing down, it’s one of the only ways to survive and get cash.”

Reading carefully between the lines, nothing is more revealing than the above two quotes, when it comes to drugs, because that is what is actually taking place at the ground level, whatever happens in Rangoon with all the spectacular arrests of celebrities connected to the generals since the end of May.

Ordered to live off the land since 1996, army units in Shan State have been trying as best they can “to survive and get cash.”

Infantry Battalion 246, based in Kunhing, notorious for killing at least 150 people including a monk who was tied up in a sack and drowned during the infamous 1996-1998 forced relocation campaigns, is a perfect example.

In February, a 20-plus strong unit commanded by Lt Tin Aye (real name withheld by request) was assigned a security mission at the village of Nam Oi, 3 miles west of Kunhing on the road to Namzang. It was at the end of the season’s opium harvest and the farmers were picking the dry poppy pods to be used as seeds for the next season. “The soldiers not only came to help us pick the seed pods,” said one of the Shan farmers there, “they even warned us that the fields were too near the motor road and we should move them away from it next time.”

IB 246 and its sister unit Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) 524 lived by taxing on the farmers: 10-30% of the harvest depending on the size of each field.

Last December, SHAN interviewed villagers coming from Kehsi township, Loilem district. One of them gave SHAN the following account:

Earlier in 2007, villagers were attending a meeting called by IB287 based in Wanzing to receive directives for the plantation of physic nuts, one of the Senior General’s bees in the bonnet, when the commander asked, “Do you grow poppies? If you don’t, what are you going to eat? Only if you have enough to eat, we (soldiers_) can also eat.”

Top growers in the area are Lahu, who arrived from the North following the forced relocations. “Then we have Palaung, Lisu and us Shans. We also saw a number of soldiers tending their own fields,” said a villager.

Life certainly is harsh even for the junta personnel especially for those at the lower rungs of the strata.

Last September, 6 policemen from Homong, Mawkmai township, opposite Maehongson, deserted with 2 pistols and 2 walkie-talkies and the newly arrived head of the station was ordered to pay for the losses, priced at K1.2 million ($880) or the equivalent of Senior General Than Shwe’s monthly pay. The princely sum was eventually taken care of by Col Maha Ja, head of the local militia and for whom Thailand has issued an arrest warrant on drug charges.

The said officer has been in his debt since. “What could he do?”, asked a militia member rhetorically. “His monthly pay is just enough to buy two Hsins (sarong) for his wife.”

Maha Ja’s Shan State South (SSS) company trucks are reportedly never searched by the local Burmese authorities.

Understandably, the annual poppy lashing campaigns launched by the junta were carried out “only to put on official record,” according to a pro-junta militia leader in Mongton township, opposite Chiangmai. “But be careful no Wa fighters are on the destruction teams. These guys don’t just thrash the plants like us and the soldiers. They like to pull out the plants from the earth, roots and all.”

Likewise, some seizures which really deserve screaming headlines just went by without an audible sound.

Between 4-8 November 2007, a combined force led by police officer Ye Naing came across a heroin refinery located in a gully near the village of Htitan in Hsihseng township, 57 miles south of the state capital Taunggyi. The total haul was estimated to be K2.5 billion ($2million).

The refinery was reportedly owned by Khun Chit Maung, former leader of the ceasefire Shan State Nationalities Peoples Liberation Organization (SNPLO), “who had been paying K 5 million ($4,000) per month to the Eastern Region Command and K3 million ($2,400) to each of the light infantry battalions stationed in the area, LIB 425 and LIB 426,” according to a local source, who had proved to be reliable in the past.

It was not the only case worth mentioning. The year 2007 also saw other cases which were as much exciting if not more:

* On 22-28 January 2007, authorities seized 20 kg of heroin, 50 kg of raw opium, 1 million pills of methamphetamine, 2 million yuan, $38,400 and K50 million from the Panhsay militia in Namkham township. But its leader Kyaw Myint aka Li Yongqiang, who is said to be close to the regional commander, remains untouched.

* On 27 May, 5 officials who had detained Yaw Chang Wa (Yaw Chang Hpa), an officer in the ceasefire Kachin Defense Army on drug charges, were ambushed and killed. But the group remains scot free.

* On 18 September, a joint patrol of LIB 553 and LIB 554 waved down a four wheel drive between Punako and Mongtoom, Monghsat township, opposite Chiangrai. It found one slab of heroin (350gm, two slabs make one block, called jin in Chinese), which they were said to have brought as a sample to a prospective customer. The 5 militiamen on the truck were detained but were released on 5 October, when the group’s leader Ja Ngoi returned and met the authorities concerned.

“The only damage caused by the incident was the removal of the refinery to a new location,” said an informed businessman from Tachilek. “It is just one and a half miles north of Hpak Ha village, which is guarded by LIB 553. It therefore seems inconceivable the Burma Army knows nothing about it.”

It appears that the longer the generals so needlessly continue expanding their armed forces, the drug problem is here to stay.

Drug use in gold mines on the rise

Wednesday, 25 June 2008 16:36

There has been an alarming rise in drug addiction in gold mining areas in Danai (Tanai) Township in Hukawng Valley (Hugawng Valley) in Kachin State in northern Burma. Drug dealers have penetrated gold mines because they can sell drugs freely in these areas with encouragement of the mine owners, a source said.

In gold mining areas, goldmine owners encourage miners to use drugs. This ensures loyalty to the owners and the workers don't move to other areas. Some goldmine owners are known to give their employees 1,000 Kyat (about US $ 1) a day to buy drugs, said a local in a mining area.

Though goldmine owners give them 1,000 Kyat (about US $ 1) to buy drugs, it is not enough. They buy drugs with their own money and addiction is on the rise.

According to a report the "Valley of Darkness" by the Kachin Development Networking Group (KDNG) last year, "Goldmine owners do not allow their miners to drink alcohol… Employees are allowed to use opium…"

Because it is easy to sell drugs in gold mines, drugs dealers transport the drugs to gold mine areas from Myitkyina Township the capital of Kachin state with the help of women and the Burmese military, a drugs seller said.

The drug dealers first ask the women to carry drugs packed inside condoms. Then on the way to Danai from Myitkyina, they put the packed drugs inside their vagina and cross the check point, he added.

The authorities only search on the way from Myitkyina to Danai. After Danai to the gold mining areas, drug carriers easily pass without checking.

Nargis volunteer narrates tales of continued crisis

By Lawi Weng
Kaowao News

24 June 2008, Every day the coverage of Burma's Cyclone Nargis diminishes around the world. "After just one month news of Cyclone Nargis dropped on news programmer's priority lists," a foreign volunteer, Tom, said. He has arrived on the border after working for one month in Rangoon.

Although the global media coverage is fading, the crisis that followed the devastating events of May 2 and May 3 continues, as each day the Burmese cyclone survivors face food shortages. According to Tom, many cyclone survivors have been stealing food from each other in the Phyapon Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp.

The junta recently told Thai healthcare teams that the post-Nargis situation was under control and that the people of Burma no longer needed any aid. Having just returned from Burma, Tom stated that resettlement programs planned to run for two years would clearly need to be extended by at least another three. He went on to say, "The country is still in bad shape, with corpses still floating in the water and many survivors in desperate need of aid."

In the wake of Cyclone Nargis, the world tried to offer aid to Burma, but the junta largely refused any outside help. In recent weeks the UN urged world leaders to provide more aid to Burma. The World Food Program (WFP) only received USD 35 million from post-Nargis donations. If further aid does not arrive soon the Burmese arm of the WFP would be defunct, leaving many cyclone survivors facing starvation.

The WFP has said survivors need more aid and they need water buffalos to resume growing rice in their fields. Many water buffalos were killed in the cyclone. Although the junta built schools and houses for the victims in Phyapon, Tom told our correspondent, "The people can't eat houses. They need food. These houses only benefit the Junta and their building contracting cronies."

Tom said a team appointed by the Junta visited Phyapon and distributed rice and mangoes to the IDPs. There were five hundred families in Phyapon, and the team offered ten bags of rice and a handful of mangoes. The victims only accepted one small basket of rice and one mango, while the team took photos. The Junta did not visit them again.

This photo opportunity was not the only way the Junta exploited the cyclone survivors, as donated goods were readily available at roadside stalls. Tom said, "I saw clothes donated at the temple and the next morning I found the same clothes in the public market. The military officers were behind it, and they do not try to hide their corruption."

This type of report only serves to solidify fears held by the international community, who voiced concerns about their aid reaching the people who needed it most, and not just the Junta. After the refusal of foreign aid, many American reports stated their concerns that aid would not reach cyclone survivors but would be grabbed by the oppressive Junta.

Unfortunately aid restrictions have also been placed on local donors, even individuals, who attempted to share food with their less fortunate neighbours. People in Burma are growing increasingly concerned that cyclone survivors may not survive much longer. The concern is greatest for young children who have lost their parents to Cyclone Nargis.

Reporter arrested for covering cyclone news

Nem Davies
Mizzima News

24 June 2008, New Delhi - A woman journalist covering Cyclone Nargis victims asking for aid from international NGOs in Rangoon has been detained by for over two weeks, according to her publication.

Eint Khaing Oo (24) from 'Ecovision' weekly journal was arrested on 10 June while she was covering cyclone victims going to INGOs and asking for aid, an official from 'Ecovision' who wished not to be named said.

Eint Khaing Oo joined the publication two months ago. She is in custody at Tamwe police station and will be produced before the Tamwe Township court on Wednesday.

The police accused her of taking photographs of cyclone victims with the intention of selling these to foreign based Burmese media organizations, according to her office.

"The police accusation is fabricated. She has no contact with foreign media and she had no intention of selling the pictures. She was arrested while she was performing her work as a journalist," a senior official of Ecovision said.

"She was inducted to our weekly journal only two months ago. She was very energetic and active. Like other journalists, she wanted to get a scoop and couldn't envisage danger," he added.

The 48-page 'Ecovision' was first brought out in a tabloid format on September 2006. It covered mainly economic issues initially. However, the journal changed to a magazine style layout and covered not only business reports but also domestic and international news. Health and opinion articles also appeared.

A group of cyclone victims, mostly from South Dagon Township, were about to ask for aid from Rangoon based international NGOs, but some victims were arrested on their way. But the news of the arrest of the journalist appeared only today.

According to journalist sources in the former capital, Eint Khaing Oo was arrested in front of the UNDP office at Natmauk Road, Tamwe Township.

Nargis cyclone lashed Burma on May 2 and 3. Irrawaddy and Rangoon divisions were the worst hit.

Burma's Deputy Foreign Minister Kyaw Thu told reporters on 23 June that the updated official figure was now 84,537 people killed and 53,836 missing.

On June 10, about 30 cyclone victims, mostly from a Rangoon suburb South Dagon township were looking for aid from NGOs including the UNDP. Refugees claimed that little aid reached from the government.

The refugees initially came from different quarters of South Dagon township such as Quarter 1, 2, 3, 7 and 8 and gathered at a pre-arranged place and hired a truck and went to the NGOs. Soon afterwards the police saw the group. Intelligence personnel arrested some of them. But some were reportedly released a few days later.

More than 30,000 Burmese Refugees Resettled

The Irrawaddy News

More than 30,000 Burmese refugees living in camps in Thailand have been sent to third countries in what the United Nations said on Wednesday had become the world's largest refugee resettlement operation.

Most of the refugees are ethnic Karen people who had been sheltered in nine refugee camps along the Thai-Burmese border.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that 30,144 refugees have left Thailand to start new lives abroad since the resettlement operation began in January 2005. But the camps remain home to 123,500 refugees and asylum-seekers.

“Some of the refugees have been here for nearly two decades,” UNHCR regional representative Raymond Hall said on Wednesday. “Some were born in refugee camps, grew up there and are now raising their own families in refugee camps. For them resettlement offers a way out of the camps and the opportunity for a fresh start in life.”

The UN and human rights groups say that over the years the Burmese army has burned villages, killed civilians and committed other atrocities against the Karen, who have long fought for autonomy from the central government.

Some activists have charged that Burma’s ruling junta is waging a genocidal campaign against the Karen and other rebel ethnic groups.

Hall said prospects for the refugees to return to Burma or settle permanently in Thailand were dim.

Nearly 21,500 of the resettled refugees have gone to the United States, while Australia has received 3,400 and Canada 2,600.

Other resettlement countries are Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

Burmese refugees are now leaving Thailand for resettlement at an average rate of more than 300 a week, the UNHCR said.

India Provides Burma US $84 Million in Loans, Credit

The Irrawaddy News

India has agreed to provide Burma with US $84 million in loans and credits to build power transmission lines and an aluminum plant, state media said on Wednesday.

Four agreements related to the loans were signed Tuesday during the visit to Burma by India's Minister of State for Commerce and Power Shri Jairam Ramesh, the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper said.

The agreements covered a loan of $64 million to finance three power transmission lines and a $20 million credit line to build an aluminum wire plant.

Burma is making a push to develop its hydroelectric potential, with India, China and Thailand the biggest foreign investors.

The two countries also signed an agreement to facilitate banking. India is one of Burma's major trading partners, with the balance of trade consistently in favor of Burma.

Relations between the two nations, which share an 830-mile (1,330 kilometer) border, turned cold when Burma's military took power in 1988 by suppressing pro-democracy demonstrations. Ties have improved significantly since 2000 with mutual visits by government leaders.

The second-highest ranking member of Burma's ruling junta, Vice Snr-Gen Maung Aye, visited India in April to witness the signing of a $120 million project to upgrade waterways and highways along Burma's Kaladan River and develop the port of Sittwe in northwestern Burma.

Junta Signs Gas Deal with Thailand

The Irrawaddy News

The Burmese military regime is selling off the country’s natural gas, its chief resource, as hundreds of thousands of Burmese still struggle for the bare necessities to survive after Cyclone Nargis.

The junta-run Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise this week struck a deal to sell neighbor Thailand more natural gas from the new, still-to-be-developed M-9 offshore field in the Gulf of Martaban.

The gas will fuel Thailand’s expanding electricity generating industry—while most of Burma remains without power.

Senior executives of PTTEP, Thailand’s state majority-owned energy exploration company, and Thai government officials were in Rangoon this week to close the deal. No details were released on how much PTTEP will pay the junta.

The deal allows Thailand to begin pumping at least 300 million cubic feet per day from the field starting about 2012. Some 80 percent of the gas will go to Thailand via a new pipeline still to be built across southeast Burma.

Thailand is already Burma’s No 1 customer for gas. Burma- watcher Sean Turnell, an economics professor at Australia’s Macquarie University, estimates gas sales earn the generals at least US $100 million per month.

Gas was Burma’s biggest foreign revenue earner in 2007, netting about half of the regime’s declared exports income of $8.7 billion.

“Burma’s gas industry operates in a vacuum of secrecy, and it’s uncertain just how much the generals rake in from it,” said energy industry consultant-analyst Collin Reynolds in Bangkok.

“One thing for sure, it’s a rapidly expanding business and has the potential to grow much more as new reserves are certain to be found in the current round of explorations.

“It’s ironic,” he said, “that despite all that onshore destruction in the cyclone, the gas industry was unscathed.”

The PTTEP deal comes as an interim damage assessment report on Cyclone Nargis was presented in Rangoon by the Tripartite Core Group, made up of Asean, the UN and Burmese officials.

The report, which will be finalized in July, says a survey of the devastated Irrawaddy delta region showed that more than 40 percent of food stock was destroyed in 380 wrecked villages, and that 90 percent of the affected population needs help.

Some NGO estimates have put the number of people in need at 2.4 million.

A little more than $200 million in aid was pledged by foreign governments, after Burmese officials asked for help, but Turnell—who produces the Burma Economic Watch bulletin—has estimated that the junta has about $4 billion in foreign exchange reserves from gas sales.

PTTEP has estimated that the M-9 field holds at least 1.76 trillion cubic feet and probably much more. The Thais have agreed to include the China National Offshore Oil Corporation on the deal.

Meanwhile, more details have emerged on the future of the much bigger Shwe gas field off Burma’s southwest coast, bordering Bangladesh.

Most of the gas in that field—with proven reserves of more than 6 trillion cubic feet—is destined for China, the chief developer, Daewoo confirmed this week.

The South Korean company has been pressured to sell the gas to China and has now invited competitive bids to build production platforms and transmission lines to shore, probably via the port of Sittwe, which is being redeveloped by Indian companies.

Daewoo is also likely to oversee—with the China National Petroleum Corporation—construction of a 1,000-kilometer pipeline through Burma into China’s Yunnan Province.

Daewoo and the Seoul government had wanted to convert the Shwe gas to liquefied form and ship it to South Korea.
But Daewoo will still do nicely out of the deal.

The South Korean newspaper Chungang Ilbo this week quoted company officials saying profits of around $1 billion could be expected over 25 years, once the gas begins pumping in about 2012.

The Burma generals’ pursuit of gas profits—little of which finds its way into the public purse—has also recently extended to a challenge to neighbor Bangladesh over disputed territorial waters west of the Shwe field that are believed to hold rich gas or oil reserves.

Burma’s ministry of energy protested to Dhaka about its plan to issue exploration licenses in the disputed zones.

Several international companies are queuing to move in after submitting bids in May.

Bangladesh’s state energy company Petrobangla is now proposing a halt to all new developments in the Bay of Bengal pending a three-nation conference also involving India.

No More Aid through Junta: US House

The Irrawaddy News

In amendments to the Supplemental Appropriations Act 2008, the US House of Representatives has passed a bill that says US agencies should seek to avoid passing humanitarian relief through the military junta to cyclone victims in Burma.

Supplemental Appropriations Act 2008, passed on June 19 by the US House of Representatives—which approves the spending of the Bush administration for the fiscal year ending September 30—made specific reference to the cyclone disaster last month that resulted in the death of more than 130,000 people in the Irrawaddy delta.

Stating that the Burmese junta, or State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), has compounded the humanitarian crisis in Burma by failing to respond to the needs of the Burmese people in the wake of Cyclone Nargis and by refusing offers of assistance from the international community, Supplemental Appropriations Act states: “The Department of State and USAID should seek to avoid providing assistance to or through the SPDC.”

The bill must now be approved by the US Senate.

Even though the Bush administration has little or no alternative but to route all of its relief material through the Burmese military junta, the House mentioned twice in the bill that the government should avoid giving aid through the regime.

Under a sub-section on Food Security and Cyclone Nargis Relief , the amended text on Section 1414 (a) now reads: “For an additional amount for ‘International Disaster Assistance,’ [US] $225 million to address the international food crisis globally and for assistance for Burma to address the effects of Cyclone Nargis: Provided, that not less than $125 million should be made available for the local or regional purchase and distribution of food to address the international food crisis: Provided further, that notwithstanding any other provision of law, none of the funds appropriated under this heading may be made available for assistance for the State Peace and Development Council.

“These funds should be used to respond to urgent humanitarian requirements worldwide, including Burma, Bangladesh, the People's Republic of China, and countries severely affected by the international food crisis,” it said.

The amended bill also includes another $5.3 million in assistance for humanitarian programs along the Thai-Burmese border.

Meanwhile, Carl Gershman, president of the Washington-based National Endowment for Democracy (NED), urged Thailand and India to start thinking about what is going to be needed for a transition in Burma.

“We have to start thinking about the transition now, and to show that there is an alternative. We should also build political support for the Burmese movement now because it answers the argument of the people in Thailand and elsewhere that they have to deal with this government because there is no alternative,” he said.

For more than a decade now, the NED has provided support to many of the pro-democracy Burmese groups in exile, including The Irrawaddy, as well as ethnic groups inside Burma.

“Without neglecting the present, we have to start thinking about the future and start building a core of people who can think about the economy, who can think about how to organize a civil-military relationship, who can think about the constitution, think about minority rights and how to organize Burma as a multi-ethnic society with federalism and decentralization," Gershman told The Irrawaddy.

Now of course, he said, the immediate issues before the international community and the Burmese leaders in exile are the crushing of the saffron revolution last year, the “phony” referendum and the humanitarian crisis in Burma. However, there are also more long-term issues, he said.

Developing an alternative constitution, developing a plan for the economy and a plan for governance should be some of the top priorities, Gershman said.

“The need is to bring people together to begin thinking about the future and to do it in an active way, without neglecting the current political and humanitarian crisis,” he said.

Ethnic prisoner not allowed talking in mother tongue

24 Jun 2008

Ethnic prisoners in Insein prison are not allowed to talk in their mother tongue while meeting their family following the shooting of prisoners during Cyclone Nargis.

Following the shooting, political prisoners have to face more restrictions in terms food and contacts with their family.

It is jus not restrictions of the mother tongue, prisoners are not allowed to meet family members but just allowed to talk over microphones in Burmese.

"We are not allowed to meet but talk over the phone which is barred with iron. We are not allowed to talk in Mon and the guards listen closely to what we say," a family member of Mon political prisoner who went to Insein prison told IMNA.

"It is difficult for prisoners who don't have money to buy food from outside. Prisoners are served bad food and it is dangerous to eat such food over a long period," she added.

The restriction began after 36 prisoners were shot dead when the cyclone struck on May 3 nights. The prisoners were warming themselves over a fire which spread in the prison with the wind blowing, the Assistant Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) said.

Many prisoners started running and the prison guards shot at the prisoners killing 36, AAPP said.

Before this, political prisoners were allowed to meet each other and freely talk and were given better food. But now they get rotten rice which was damaged by the cyclone.

Although International Committee of the Red Cross replaced it with better rice but the authorities only fed the prisoners with it for a few days in mid of May and switched to the rotten rice again.


Rampant Extortion

In the eyes of the Burmese junta’s troops, the civilian population seems to be no more than a pool of resources from which they can always extract whatever they want, e.g., forced labour, crops, money and other possessions, etc..

In Shan State, in addition to doing what they like to the people, i.e., killing, raping, torturing, arresting, enslaving, etc., with impunity, the SPDC troops appear to be always thinking of ways or excuses for extorting money from the people or/and robbing them of anything of value.

Although they always do such things without having to fear any consequences, they seem to often need to create excuses to justify their deeds in the attempt to clear their image, however absurd they may seem to other people, for they do not want to be seen as being what they actually are.

Furthermore, they want to be seen as being beneficent, and even as saviours of the people, and use whatever opportunities they can to display such an image, as could be seen recently in the junta-run media about them helping victims of cyclone Nargis in the Irrawaddy delta in lower Burma, when in reality it is quite the opposite.

In this month’s issue, apart from some reports on rape, arrest, relocation threat and forced labour incidents, the rest are about extortion of money and possessions from the people by the SPDC troops in Shan State, using various cunning methods to make it seem as if people deserved to be punished.

In one incident, SPDC soldiers let their cattle eat the rice in villagers’ farms and accused the owners of stealing their cattle, and extorted money from them.


In October 2007, a woman was gang-raped, while her brother was held up, by 3 SPDC troops from LIB528, near Wan Hen village in Yaang Mai village tract, Murng-Paeng township.

On 21 October 2007, Naang Taan (not her real name), aged 18 and her brother, Zaai Saam, aged 9, of Wan Hen village were returning from visiting a neighbouring village, Waeng Kao, when they were stopped on the way by 3 SPDC troops, at a bridge some distance north of their village.

The 3 SPDC troops were led by a Sergeant named Than Swe and were from locally based LIB528. The Sergeant and one of the soldiers seized Naang Taan, dragged her to a roadside bush and the Sergeant raped her, while the third soldier seized and held Zaai Saam at the road.

After raping Naang Taan to his satisfaction, Sgt. Than Swe took his turn to hold her brother, Zaai Saam, and let the 2 soldiers rape her until they were all satisfied. As they left, the SPDC soldiers warned Naang Taan and her brother not to tell anyone about the incident and threatened to come back and kill them if they did.

However, Naang Taan and Zaai Saam did tell their parents and the village leaders about their plight but no one dared to do anything about it for fear of reprisal. They had already witnessed several similar cases in which complaining only brought more troubles to the villagers.

SPDC troops from LIB528 were quite notorious for often stealing villagers’ livestock and farm produce, and sexually harassing and/or raping women if they had a chance, in the area. They were also quick to punish those who dared to oppose them.

In November 2007, a woman who was returning from working at a farm was gang-raped by 3 SPDC troops from LIB528 at a place between Naa Thawn and Wan Phit villages in Wan Phit village tract, Murng-Paeng township.

Naang Maad (not her real name), the victim, was a villager of Nawng Khai village in Wan Phit village tract in Murng-Paeng township. On the day of the incident, Naang Maad had gone to work reaping rice plants at their farm as it was harvest time.

On 19 November 2007, at about 3:00 p.m., Naang Maad was returning home alone to Nawng Khai village from their farm some distance away when she ran into 3 SPDC troops from LIB528 at a remote spot on the way between Naa Thawn and Wan Phit villages.

The 3 SPDC troops stopped Naang Maad and dragged her into a roadside bush and gang-raped her. As she was being raped, Naang Maad struggled and screamed and shouted for help several times. But the place was so remote that no one seemed to hear her and the SPDC troops did not even care to silence her but concentrated on holding her down and raping her.

After they were all satisfied and as they left the place before Naang Maad, the SPDC troops said to her not to tell anyone about the incident or they would come after her and kill her as they knew her and where she lived.

However, Naang Maad did tell her parents about her plight and they reported it to the village headman. But there was no one who dared to file a complaint with the SPDC military authorities for fear of further abuses.

In November 2007, 2 travellers who were going towards Thailand on a car were detained for 3 days and 2 nights, during which they were forced to work, by SPDC troops of IB43 manning a checkpoint in Murng-Paeng township.

Sometime in November 2007, 2 young men, Zaai Thun (m) and Zaai Sai (m), age not known, who were travelling on a car were forced down and detained by the SPDC troops from IB43 manning a checkpoint in Ho Tang village tract in Murng-Paeng township.

The men were villagers from Kun-Hing township and could not speak Burmese very well. They were heading for the Thai border with the intention to find work in Thailand if they had a chance, when they were stopped and detained by the SPDC troops.

The villagers were detained for 3 days and 2 nights during which they were forced to work for the SPDC troops and were fed only one meal per day. They had to work sharpening bamboo stakes all day and also do things ordered by the troops in between.

On the third day of their detention, the villagers were told to pay a fine of 5,000 kyat each if they wanted to continue their journey. The villagers quickly complied because they had no choice and they wanted to get away from the SPDC troops as soon as possible.

On releasing the villagers, the SPDC troops put them on a passing car and told the driver that they had fined the 2 young men 5,000 kyat each for being under-aged and still wanting to go to work in Thailand, before letting them go.

At the end of 2007, money was extorted by SPDC troops of LIB569 from several opium farmers in Murng-Nai and Nam-Zarng townships for not destroying their opium farms and letting them continue to cultivate opium.

On 29 December 2007, a column of about 45 SPDC troops from LIB569, led by commander Aung Than Win, based some distance northwest of Kun Mong village in Kaeng Town area in Murng-Nai township, went out to patrol the areas west of their base.

When the SPDC patrol got to a place where a village called Loi Saai once stood (the village was forcibly relocated several years ago), they found 3 plots of opium farms close to each other in the same place but no farmer was in sight at the time.

The SPDC troops then destroyed the opium plants in about 1 acre of each of the farms and left the rest, more than 10 acres, of the farms intact. While destroying the opium, the SPDC troops took pictures of their own actions and of the destroyed parts of the farms, but not the parts left intact.

After finding out who the owners of the opium farms were, on 30 December 2007, the SPDC troops continued their patrol and searched some of the areas in the adjacent Nam-Zarng township. In the area of a deserted village, Kung Maak Keng (relocated several years ago), in Kho Ood village tract, Nam-Zarng township, they found an opium farm while a farmer was working in it.

The farm was about 15 acres big and the owner-farmer was Saw-Nan-Da (m) from Kho Lam village, where he had been forcibly relocated from his original village, Kho Ood, several years ago. He had been secretly coming back to the area of his original village to grow rice and other crops to feed his family for several years, and over the last couple of years, he also tried his luck on opium.

Saw-Nan-Da was told by the SPDC troops to pay 150,000 kyat of money as a tax or as a protection fees if he did not want his opium farm destroyed. He immediately complied with the demand of the SPDC troops, went back and brought the money from Kho Lam and gave it to them, and his opium farm was safe.

After returning to their base, on 31 December 2007, the SPDC troops summoned the 3 owners of the opium farms they had partly destroyed to the base and told them to pay together 250,000 kyat of money as tax or protection money if they did not want their opium farms completely destroyed.

The 3 farmers, Mu-Ling (m), Zaai Leng (m) and Pan-Ta (m), were all from Kun Mong village in Kaeng Tawng area just near the military base. They also immediately complied with the demand of the SPDC troops to save their opium farms from being further destroyed.

In November 2007, villagers of Nawng Lur village in Naa Wawn village tract, Murng-Pan township, were accused of growing and trading in opium and money was extorted from them by SPDC troops from LIB575.

On 1 November 2007, a patrol of 70-80 SPDC troops from LIB575, based in Naa Law village tract in Murng-Pan township, led by 2 commanders locally known only as Maj. G-2 and Maj. G-3, came to Nawng Lur village in Naa Wawn village tract in the same township.

After stopping and taking up positions in Nawng Lur village, the SPDC troops called up 6 villagers, who looked to be most well-off in the village, to a meeting and accused the villagers of Nawng Lur of secretly growing and trading in opium.
After leveling their accusation especially at the 6 villagers, the SPDC troops ordered them to provide 1,500,000 kyat of money as protection fees and threatened to arrest and put the villagers in jail if they did not get the demanded money.

The villagers were not allowed to argue or explain, and they knew they would have to comply with the demand whether they really grew opium or not, or they would be actually arrested even if there was no evidence to support the SPDC troops’ accusation.

The villagers managed to gather only 1,200,000 kyat of money among themselves and gave it to the SPDC troops, begging them to accept it because that was all they had. Fortunately, the SPDC troops were satisfied with that amount of money and dropped the case.

However, after getting the money and before they left Nawng Lur village, the SPDC troops warned the villagers not to tell any outsider and anywhere else about the incident. “If you let the news about this incident spread around, we will shoot all of you dead when we come next time around”, they said.

In early 2007, villagers of Nawng Leng and Nawng Saai villages in Nawng Leng village tract, Murng-Nai township, were accused of growing opium and supporting the Shan resistance and money was extorted from them by SPDC troops from LIB518.

Sometime in early 2007, a patrol of about 50 SPDC troops from LIB518 based at Murng-Nai town, led by commander Htun Win, came to Nawng Leng village tract and stopped in Nawng Leng village to spend the night.

At night, the village headman and several other community leaders and elders were summoned to a meeting by the SPDC troops. At the meeting, the SPDC troops said that they knew that the villagers of Nawng Leng village and Nawng Saai, a neighbouring village, were secretly growing opium and providing rice for the Shan resistance.

The SPDC troops said that the 2 villages, Nawng Leng and Nawng Saai, together needed to give them 2,000,000 kyat as protection money and ordered the villagers to finish collecting it as soon as possible, which the villagers did in 3 days, and stayed at Nawng Leng village until they got the money.

During their stay at Nawng Leng village, 4 days and 3 nights, the SPDC troops forced the villagers to provide them with 2 pigs worth 40,000 kyat and 1 ox worth 80,000 kyat without paying anything for them. Furthermore, when they went out to patrol the surrounding areas during the day, they took 6 villagers with them to serve as guides and porters, every day for 3 days.

As they left the village, the SPDC troops warned the villagers not to let news of the extortion of money and livestock spread around, otherwise they would have to move back to the relocation site at Murng-Nai town. Nawng Leng and Nawng Saai villages had once been forcibly relocated to Murng-Nai town during 1996-97, and were only permitted to return in 2003.

In late 2007, villagers of Nam Khaam village in Wan Paang village tract, Kun-Hing township, were forced to clear a plot of land by the SPDC troops from LIB524 to prepare the place for building a mill to produce physic nut oil for the military. Villagers were also forced to pay for the fuel of a grader used to level the ground surface.

For several days in August 2007, more than 20 villagers of Nam Khaam had to work clearing the said place which was situated on the Kun-Hing - Ta Kaw road and a short distance west of Nam Khaam. The villagers had to work from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. every day using their own tools and providing their own food.

When a grader machine, apparently from a Thai construction company working in the area, was used to level the ground surface for one day on 5 August 2007, the villagers were made responsible to pay for the fuel used by the grader. There were over 80 houses in Nam Khaam village and each house had to provide not less than 1,500 kyat to buy diesel fuel.

Even though the mill itself had not yet been constructed at the time this report was received in early 2008, villagers felt that they would surely be forced to provide forced labour and/or money when it was actually built, at least partially simply because of the proximity of their village.

In late 2007, SPDC troops of IB247 deliberately let their cattle into rice farms of villagers and accused them of stealing them and extorted money from them, at Nawng Khaa village in Wan Pung village tract, Nam-Zarng township.

Sometime in September/November 2007, early in the morning, 3 SPDC troops from IB247 came to the farms of Lung Ta Lu (m) and Lung Poi (m) of Nawng Khaa village in Wan Pung village and accused the farmers of stealing their 2 buffalos which they said they found grazing in the farms.

The farmers suspected that the SPDC troops had broken down the fences surrounding their farms and deliberately let their buffalos in to graze on their rice plants, which were pregnant with rice ears that were almost ripe and ready for harvest, in their farms during the night.

Before the farmers could complain about the SPDC troops letting buffalos into their farms to eat their rice plants, the SPDC troops accused the farmers of stealing the buffalos and hiding them in their farms, and extorted money from them, threatening to put them in jail if they refused to comply.

The 2 separate farms, which were adjacent to each other, were in the same enclosure of bamboo fences through which the SPDC troops had made a hole and let their cattle in. Local villagers also believed that the SPDC troops deliberately let their cattle into the farms to feed on the rice plants and at the same time create an opportunity to extort money.

No farmers would have let any cattle, be they their own or stolen ones, eat their rice crop in such a manner because they stamped on and destroyed more rice plants than they actually ate, they said. However, the villagers dared not argue with the SPDC soldiers for fear of further abuses and had to comply with their demand.

The SPDC soldiers demanded 300,000 kyat but the farmers could only provide 250,000 kyat which was all they had and could find at that time. The soldiers seemed to be satisfied with the amount and took the money, and left the farm pulling along their 2 buffalos with them.

According to the local people, there were 20-30 head of cattle at every SPDC battalion base in the area, kept and looked after by the soldiers themselves. These cattle were not originally property of the SPDC troops nor had they been brought from somewhere else, but were originally property of the local villagers.

After the massive forced relocations in the area about a decade ago, tens of thousands of head of villagers’ cattle had been abandoned because they could not take them with them. These cattle have often been shot for meat by roaming SPDC troops and also caught and kept at military bases as their property, up to the present.

Since late 2007 up to at least early 2008, money has been extorted many times from people in Ka Li village tract, Kun-Hing township, as fines or punishment for knowing or not knowing about the situation of Shan soldiers in the area, by the SPDC troops of LIB524 and IB246.

Military patrols from the said battalions which patrolled the villages in Ka Li village tract randomly entered villagers’ houses and asked the occupants whether they had seen Shan soldiers in the area. If the villagers said that they had, the SPDC troops forced them to pay 5,000 kyat as a fine for failing to report it.

If the villagers said that they had not seen any Shan soldier, the SPDC troops said they had hard evidence of the presence of Shan soldiers and accused the villagers of lying and trying to hide and protect the Shan soldiers, and forced them to pay a fine of 6,000 kyat.

The SPDC troops did this to a few houses in a village and moved to another village and did the same. In this way they had extorted money from several houses in several villages on each patrol, and there were at least 1-2 patrols every month.

In Ka Li village alone, the main village in Ka Li village tract, during November and December 2007, not less than 300,000 kyat had been extorted from the villagers in this way by the SPDC troops from LIB524 and IB246.

Since October 2007, taxes that had been collected regularly by the SPDC troops of LIB524 from shop owners in Ka Li village on a monthly basis have increased 10 times. Before October, up until August and September 2007, the taxes were from 1,500 kyat up to 15,000 kyat, based on the sizes and values of the shops.

In October 2007, however, the SPDC authorities increased the lowest tax level up to 15,000 kyat for the small shops and up to as high as 150,000 kyat for the large shops. Although many shop owners complained that there would be no profits for them if they had to pay such large amounts of taxes, the authorities said that they were only following orders from above.

The shop owners, however, in turn increased the prices of their goods to avoid having to sell them in deficit. The eventual result was that people who were already struggling to make ends meet had to buy their basic necessities at very high prices, 80 kyat for an egg and 250 kyat just for a packet of ready-made dried noodles.

The SPDC authorities have also put more burden on the people of Ka Li village tract by issuing an order at the end of 2007 that couples who wanted to get married would be required to pay taxes before they could tie the knot.

The tax was 8,000 kyat for a couple, which was to be paid in half equally by the bride and the groom. The SPDC authorities said it was a new law, and those who failed to pay the obliged tax would not be allowed to get married.

In late 2007, people of Saai Khaao village in Saai Khaao village tract, Kun-Hing township, were forced to provide pigs and chickens by patrols of SPDC troops from LIB569 and LIB574.

Sometime in October and November 2007, a patrol of about 30 SPDC troops from LIB569 came to Saai Khaao village and ordered the villagers to provide them with pork and chickens for them to eat as they patrolled the area.

The SPDC troops forced the villagers to kill a pig and grill the pork for them, saying that they were going through the jungle and would have no time to cook it. But they took the chickens alive with them. Altogether they took away about 15 viss (1 viss = 1.6 kg) of pork and about 9 viss of chickens.

About a week after that, a patrol of about 40 SPDC troops from LIB574, based in Murng-Nai township, came to Saai Khaao village and forced the villagers to give them 20 viss of pork and 5 viss of chickens. The villagers had to weigh the pork and the chickens and give them exactly the demanded amounts.

The market price of pork at the time was 5,000 kyat per viss, and 6,000 kyat per viss for the chickens. However, the villagers never received anything from the SPDC troops in return for their possessions and labour.

Motorcycles selling like hot cakes on Sino-Burma border

Myo Gyi
24 June 2008

Ruili (Mizzima)– There has been a 300 per cent rise in the sale of motorcycles in Jie Gao on the Chinese border town due to a possible decision by the junta to issue licenses to all two wheelers without license in Burma.

There is speculation that the Road Transportation Department is going to allow registration of all motorbikes, locally known as "without" for not having a license. Smugglers import motorbikes from neighbouring countries such as China and Thailand without paying import tax and bribing local authorities. Soon after the news of the license spread the sale of motorbikes in Jie Gao rose from 300 bikes a day to 1,000 bikes a day.

"We heard that license will be issued to 'without' (license) bikes in early July. " a member of Muse Chamber of Commerce and Industry said in condition of anonymity.

The junta suspended issuing license in 2004 to these motorcycles smuggled from neighbouring countries.

"The new motorcycle license will be issued from July 2 so many people are going to the border to buy bikes," a bike dealer from Mandalay said.

Speculation suggest the license will be issued as the government wanting to raise funds for Cyclone Nargis victims. But these new motorcycles owners will not get rationed petrol like other bike owners do. Burma has been selling gasoline and diesel under a rationing system since 1980.

The popular brand names of China manufactured bikes among the Burmese people are 'Kenbo' and 'Luojia'. These motorcycles are selling like hot cakes on the border and the buyers have to stand in queue.

The motorcycles selling in Jie Gao are specially made and manufactured for the Burma market and are cheaper than the domestic ones and are selling at RMB 2,500 (360 US$) to 2,800 (403 US$).

Meanwhile over 70 'without' motorcycles carried by smugglers were seized and in Manshi in June. A smuggler was killed and two injured in Kutkai when soldiers opened fire.

DFID objects to Save the Children's aid distribution mode

Solomon - Mizzima News
24 June 2008

New Delhi – An unseemly row has surfaced over distribution of aid to Burma's cyclone victims, with the United Kingdom's Department for International Development (DFID) voicing its objection about an aid group channeling its relief distribution through the Burmese military junta.

The DFID, which has provided donations to several aid groups to help Burmese cyclone victims, objected to International Non Governmental Organization, 'Save the Children' giving 9,000 plastic sheets to the regime for distribution.

The DFID objection was in keeping with the written parliamentary statement on Burma's Cyclone Nargis issued on June 3, which states "none of UK's assistance will go through the Burmese regime," said a DFID spokesperson.

Douglas Alexander, Secretary of State for International Development, in a ministerial statement issued on June 18, said "The 9,000 sheets represent around 0.25 per cent of the total of £ 27.5 million committed by the UK for humanitarian assistance in Burma."

The DFID spokesperson on Tuesday told Mizzima, "The sheeting was not given to the Burmese government, these were given to leading NGOs 'Save the Children'," for distribution to the victims.

However, the spokesperson said, the DFID has no plans to curb its aid efforts for cyclone victims but will request concerned aid groups to abide by its rules in the future.

"We are looking at how aid is distributed and the change now has been made to ensure that it is avoided in the future," the spokesperson said.

But Save the Children, one of the first INGOs to rush to the cyclone affected areas in Burma's Irrawaddy and Rangoon division, was not immediately available to clarify on the DFID's charge.

While it is still not clear whether Save the Children had really given Burma's military authorities 9,000 plastic sheeting, an aid worker in Rangoon told Mizzima that the government had earlier placed several conditions on aid groups including private donors, poised to help cyclone survivors.

The Burmese aid worker, who is working with an international aid agency, said private donors have to bribe the local authorities for access to the delta region.

"Many of these groups have to bribe local authorities heavily, and they do not want to reveal this to the media as it will have an adverse impact on their efforts to help cyclone victims," said the aid worker, who request not to be named.

Meanwhile, the Burma Campaign UK, an advocacy group, expressed concern over the allegation made against Save the Children.

"We are very concerned and very disappointed to learn that Save the Children has given aid directly to the regime," Anna Roberts, Director of Burma Campaign UK said.

However, the reason behind it could be the Burmese regime's imposition of restrictions on the delivery of humanitarian aid and its desire to take credit by delivering aid supplies.

"I think what we need to see now is aid agencies and the international community actually challenging the restrictions on aid, and not actually trying to work with them [the regime]," said Roberts.

Roberts said the international community should increase pressure on the regime to slacken its restriction on aid distribution.

"We need to see Ban Ki–moon go to Burma again, and actually pressure the regime for change," Roberts added.

Burma drops new operating guidelines

Relief Web

The United Nations agencies and international nongovernmental organizations will return to the old operating guidelines in effect before Burma issued new regulations on June 10, in agreement with the Burmese authorities, a UN agency said on Monday.

According to a report by the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the Burmese military junta issued new operating guidelines on June 10 for UN agencies and international nongovernmental organizations.

But following a meeting of the Tripartite Core Group (TCG) made up of the Burmese regime, Asean and the UN, it was agreed to revert to the regulations in effect before June 10.

Under the policy currently in place, all visa requests from UN agencies and NGOs will be handled by the TCG and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Requests by UN agencies and NGOs for travel authorization will again be handled by the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement.

Meanwhile, Burma’s Deputy Foreign Minister Kyaw Thu informed a meeting of government and foreign aid workers that that the official death toll now stood at 84,537 dead, with 53,836 still missing.

As of June 19, more than 230 visas had been granted to UN international staff in response to Cyclone Nargis, and more than 200 operational UN staff had traveled to the affected areas, the report noted.

The report said the Asean roundtable group was scheduled to meet on Tuesday in Rangoon to hear a Post-Nargis Joint Assessment (PONJA) team report based on data collected in 30 affected townships in the Irrawaddy delta.

More than 1,000 schools are still in need of construction or repair, although 256 primary schools in the Irrawaddy delta and 166 primary schools in Rangoon had been repaired, the UN said in its report.

The report said 310,000 plastic sheets had been distributed to some of the 2.4 million people affected by Nargis.

‘Accounting for distributions continues to be challenging with distributions difficult to track in all areas,’ the report said. ‘Obtaining pipeline data from cluster agencies and keeping it up-to-date remains critical.’

The embargo placed on local procurement of rice has required agencies to obtain rice from outside of the country and is now a priority, the report noted. Frequent population movements make the targeting of food assistance challenging, although 9,197 metric tons of food aid had been distributed to 729,000 beneficiaries.

The international sector had contributed US $30 million, including US $10 million from UNICEF; the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, $3 million; and Total Oil, $2 million.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) contributed an additional $3 million to the World Food Program.

About 66 percent of the UN’s funding appeal for $201 million had been received as of June 23, according to the report.

Meanwhile, the use of US military aircraft to airlift cyclone relief supplies from Thailand to Burma ended on June 22, after 40 days of operation. A military press release said the estimated cost of the operation and the supplies was more than $13 million.

Myanmar: 1st press release of Tripartite Core Group

Relief Web

1 The Tripartite Core Group (TCG) was formed after the 19 May 2008 Special Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Foreign Ministerial Meeting in Singapore, and the 25 May 2008 ASEAN-United Nations International Pledging Conference in Yangon, Union of Myanmar. The aim of the TCG is to act as an ASEAN-led mechanism to facilitate trust, confidence and cooperation between Myanmar and the international community in the urgent humanitarian relief and recovery work after Cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar (2 to 3 May 2008).

2 The TCG comprises 3 members from the Myanmar Government: (Deputy Foreign Minister U Kyaw Thu who is the Chairman, Acting Director-General, Ministry of Social Welfare and Resettlement U Aung Tun Khaing, and Deputy Director-General, Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation U Than Aye), 3 members from ASEAN (Singapore’s Ambassador to Myanmar Mr Robert H K Chua, Dr Puji Pujiono, a senior UNDP officer seconded to the ASEAN Secretariat, and Ms Adelina Kamal, Assistant Director of the ASEAN Secretariat) and 3 from the UN (UN Humanitarian Coordinator Mr Daniel Baker, UN Resident Coordinator Mr Bishow Parajuli and a rotating UN agency Representative). The TCG started its work on 31 May 2008 and has been meeting at least once a week and sometimes more often, in a spirit of mutual understanding, trust and cooperation. It has been working closely with the National Disaster Preparedness Central Committee chaired by His Excellency Prime Minister General Thein Sein, Union of Myanmar. The TCG has successfully completed the following operational tasks:

(i) Fulfilling the commitment of His Excellency Senior General Than Shwe, Chairman of State Peace and Development Council to His Excellency Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, that visas for UN and foreign aid workers would be given and their access to cyclone-affected areas would be allowed. Requests for visas, visa extensions and permits to travel are now channeled through the TCG for rapid facilitation.

(ii) Since 2 June 2008, the entry and deployment in Yangon and Ayeyarwady Divisions of the 10 commercial helicopters contracted by the World Food Programme. These helicopters played a key role in the deployment of the Post-Nargis Joint Assessment Teams in the Ayeyawardy Division (Delta) from 11 to 20 June 2008. They are now flying daily flights to provide humanitarian relief supplies in the cyclone-affected areas.

(iii) The successful completion of the Post-Nargis Joint Assessment (PONJA) Teams in Ayeyarwady Division (Delta) and Yangon Division from 11 June to 20 June 2008. 350 officials and volunteers from the Myanmar Government, ASEAN and UN supported by the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, and both local and international NGOs were trained from 2 to 3 June 2008 in the established data gathering templates of the Village Tract Assessment (VTA) used by the UN, and the Damage and Loss Assessment (DaLA) used by the World Bank and Asian Development Bank. 85 DaLA members, and 245 VTA members, supported by 20 members in the coordinating office in Yangon were subsequently deployed. Advance teams were sent to Labutta and Pyapon, two severely affected townships in the Ayeyawardy Division (Delta) to test the assessment questionnaires from 4 June to 7 June 2008. The data collected by the PONJA teams from 380 villages will lead to a credible and independent damage assessment report, as mandated by the 25 May 2008 ASEAN-United Nations International Pledging Conference in Yangon. This will allow donors to fulfill their pledge commitments to the cyclone victims and help in the recovery and reconstruction. The PONJA report will be published in Yangon and submitted to the ASEAN Foreign Ministerial Meeting (20-21 July 2008) in Singapore. It will also provide inputs to the UN’s revised Humanitarian Flash Appeal in July 2008 in New York for post-Nargis emergency and early recovery efforts.

3 The TCG, representing the Myanmar Government, ASEAN and the UN, continues to work in a spirit of mutual understanding, trust and cooperation to address pressing issues such as the implementation of the new Guiding Principles on the work of the UN and INGOs, and the continuing work of post-Nargis relief, recovery and reconstruction.

Issued in Yangon, Myanmar

CWS assisting one million people in Myanmar, now shifting focus to farm recovery and food security

Relief Web

June 23, 2008, BANGKOK/WASHINGTON -- Global humanitarian agency Church World Service (CWS) reports that as of today, it has provided temporary shelter and fresh water supplies sufficient for nearly one million Myanmar (Burma) cyclone survivors.

As of Thursday (June 19), the Church World Service team based in Bangkok reported that with its local partners in Myanmar, it had reached a total of 572 villages in the disaster-affected region and had provided supplies sufficient to serve more than 980,000 beneficiaries and had delivered 3,944 "water baskets." The water baskets, which capture rainwater, alone deliver the potential for 986,000 people to have clean drinking water. Each of the portable, lightweight plastic water containers holds the equivalent of a day's clean drinking water for 250 people.

CWS says its local partners have also provided temporary shelter plastic tarpaulins for 41,374 households--more than 25 percent of the total number of households (160,000) the United Nations has estimated to have received emergency tarps so far.*

CWS says its fellow international non-governmental organization members of the Action by Churches Together (ACT) alliance have also provided food and other non-food supplies to survivors in the target communities served by the local partners as well.

Church World Service further reports that it is continuing its U.S. fundraising campaign for Cyclone Nargis survivors and is now shifting to farm recovery and rehabilitation in the devastated Irrawaddy Delta area, with focus on immediate agricultural assistance to ensure next season's crops and to build future food security.

"As with our recovery work following the 2004 tsunami, our model of 'disaster relief' is really about building disaster risk reduction components into any of our emergency recovery and rehabilitation programs," says CWS Emergency Response Program Director Donna Derr. "We're turning our attention in Myanmar to that kind of holistic recovery now."

Farmers in the area have till the end of July to recover their fields and paddies and get rice seed in the ground for next season's crops.

Concentrating on some 11 townships in the delta already being assisted, CWS and its local partners plan to provide farmers with farmland needed rice seed stock, field preparation tools, and equipment to compensate for the significant numbers of work animals--buffalo and oxen normally used for tilling--that were lost in the cyclone. Additionally, CWS intends to provide capitol for hiring laborers from among those families who don't own farmland and need income.

"Because our philosophy is to work through local organizations--which helps people at grassroots levels build greater self-sufficiency and resiliency," says Derr, "with adequate support, CWS will be able to continue serving the Burmese people."

Cyclone Nargis cut a huge swath of destruction about 100 miles wide across 200 miles of the populous Irrawaddy Delta, killing an estimated 100,000 people or more, as well as livestock, and destroying homes, crops and property. Estimates say over two million people were affected.

Contributions to the Church World Service Cyclone Nargis response may be made by telephone at (800) 297-1516; by mailing a check to Church World Service, P.O. Box 968, Elkhart, IN 46515; or through a secure online contribution at:

* Bloomberg News, June 17, 2008, "Myanmar Cyclone Survivors Left Without Shelter, Aid Workers Say,"

Media Contacts:

Lesley Crosson,
CWS/New York,

Jan Dragin,

Myanmar's new capital: remote, lavish, off-limits


NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar - The bamboo forests and sugarcane fields that once covered the gently sloping hills here have been replaced by hulking government buildings, roads so long and straight they resemble runways and a vast construction site marked by a sign that could be read as a metaphor for the entire project: "Parliament zone. Do not enter."

Naypyidaw is Myanmar's new capital, built in secret by the ruling generals and announced to the public two and a half years ago, when it was a fait accompli.

A nine-hour drive north from the former capital, Yangon, it looks like nothing else in this impoverished country, where one out of three children is malnourished and travelers appreciate potholed pavement because many roads are nothing more than dirt tracks.

Workers in Naypyidaw are building multi-tiered, flower-covered traffic circles. In a country of persistent power shortages and blackouts, street lamps brightly illuminate the night, like strings of pearls running up and down scrub-covered hills. On the city's outskirts there is a modern and tidy zoo complete with an air-conditioned penguin house.

Foreigners rarely travel here, and the police tried to stop a reporter from taking pictures in the city, but the zoo is ready to receive them: admission is $10 for foreigners and a tenth that for Myanmar citizens.

It would be easy to write off the move to Naypyidaw as a caprice of the paranoid and secretive generals who have been in power for 46 years. But the transfer of the entire bureaucracy to this relatively remote location, where malaria is still endemic and cellular phones do not work, has drained the country's finances and widened the gulf between the rulers and the ruled.

Even the most charitable observers of Myanmar's junta portray them as out of touch. Now they are literally out of sight: the generals live and work in a guarded zone of Naypyidaw that is off limits to all but senior officers.

When Cyclone Nargis swept through the Irrawaddy Delta last month with winds up to 250 kilometers per hour, or 155 miles per hour, it killed about 130,000 people and damaged many buildings in Yangon. But the generals and civil servants ensconced in Naypyidaw felt only a zephyr, say residents. The leader of the junta, Senior General Than Shwe, did not visit the area devastated by the cyclone until May 18, more than two weeks after the storm.

Isolation appears to be what the generals want. The main reason for the move may have been that the junta felt unsafe in Yangon, which is near the sea.

"They really believe, and they have believed for a long time, that we are planning an invasion, which is nuts," said Shari Villarosa, the highest-ranking U.S. diplomat in Yangon. "We are not," she added.

The military came to power in a coup four and a half decades ago, and the prospect of being deposed by force may not be an irrational fear. People in Myanmar regularly ask foreign visitors whether the United States has plans to knock out the leadership. When British, French and U.S. warships sailed to waters off of the Myanmar coast in May to offer assistance to the victims of the cyclone, at least one Western embassy in Yangon received phone calls from excited residents.

"You're coming to save us, aren't you?" a diplomat remembers the callers saying.

Steve Marshall, the representative in Myanmar for the International Labor Organization, says the army, too, feared invasion when the ships, which have since left the coast, were stationed offshore. A colonel whom Marshall described as a senior government official told him that the military sent extra personnel to prepare for a possible landing.

"He said, 'We've had to withdraw army boys from humanitarian activities to protect the coast in case the French, British and the Americans land,"' Marshall said.

Perhaps owing to their military discipline, the generals organized Naypyidaw like a living yellow pages. There is an avenue for hotels and an area dedicated to restaurants. The government offices, built with traditional Burmese influences and Soviet-style bulkiness, are in one section. Housing for bureaucrats, partitioned and color-coded according to ministry, is nearby.

It's difficult to judge the city's size, but it feels smaller than the government's claim of one million inhabitants and 7,000 square kilometers -- 10 times bigger than Singapore.

A huge pagoda is being built atop a hill, matched in size only by the Parliament complex. Myanmar's military dictatorship has no sitting Parliament, so the building, once completed, may sit empty for a while. The generals have vowed to hold "multi-party, democratic elections" by 2010, but opposition groups are skeptical that the elections, if they occur at all, will be free and fair.

The junta ignored the results of the last election, held in 1990, in which their proxy party was badly defeated by the party of Aung San Suu Kyi, the democracy leader.

That is not to say Myanmar's masses are unrepresented in Naypyidaw. Thousands of workers, many of them who look like teenagers, are helping construct the place, hacking away at embankments, carrying huge stones and shoveling dirt.

Naypyidaw, which means royal capital in Burmese, is far from the country's main population centers, but it is not totally isolated. It is 16 kilometers from the small city of Pyinmana and is near the main road and railway line between Yangon and Mandalay, the former royal capital farther to the north. But it is remote enough that most people in the country were unaware that it was being built until it was officially unveiled in November 2005.

"They built in secret," said a doctor who lives in Pyinmana. Six years ago he and other residents noticed Chinese engineers in Pyinmana's coffee shops. "Only when they started coming did we know the government was building something," the doctor said. "It was never in the papers."

Engineers from China, which has a relatively close relationship with Myanmar's leadership, are also helping build a giant hydroelectric dam on the Paunglaung River that will offer a steady supply of electricity to the new capital.

The government is widely assumed to have built Naypyidaw with revenue from the sale of timber, gems and natural gas. Last year Myanmar received $2.7 billion from Thailand for natural gas, which is piped from the Andaman Sea and keeps the lights on in Bangkok.

The total cost of building Naypyidaw remains a mystery, but Sean Turnell, an expert on the Burmese economy with Macquarie University in Sydney, says the consensus estimate is around $4 billion to $5 billion.

In a country where per capita annual income is $280 -- less than 80 cents a day -- opposition groups say the money could have been better spent.

The contrast between the grandiose architecture of Naypyidaw's buildings and the poverty of the surrounding countryside is jarring. Civil servants have two golf courses at their disposal, and the large zoo, which would not look out of place in Singapore or Sacramento and features dozens of animals from white tigers to zebras and kangaroos.

On a recent afternoon, the animals greatly outnumbered the visitors.

Outside the zoo's gates, farmers live in flimsy thatched huts and till rice paddies with water buffaloes. From this vantage point the zoos seem as appropriate as penguins in the tropics.

The penguins, which were donated by zoos in Thailand and China, require constant air-conditioning, and they eat fish shipped in from Thailand because they could not stomach the local river fish.

"This zoo is a government fantasy," said a woman selling souvenirs and soft drinks near the empty ticket counter.

"Business is terrible," she said. "The people around here are villagers. They don't have money to spend."

AIPMC on European Parliamentary Caucus on Burma

Kulal Lumpur, 25 June, ( The ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC), in a statement released to the press said that it welcomes the establishment of the European Parliamentary Caucus on Burma (EPCB), launched on 19 June 2008.

The statement added that the formation of the EPCB, consisting of Parliamentarians from eight European Countries, is encouraging and timely at a time when the situation in Myanmar / Burma is dire.

The AIPMC said that it recognizes the important work of many European governments and Parliamentarians over the years to bring about attention and pressure for democratic change in Myanmar.

The formation of the EPCB is a key step forward in pushing for stronger action on Myanmar from European governments, the European Union, the United Nations Security Council and other governmental and national institutions.

The Asean Caucus said that it looks forward to collaborating with the European Caucus, acknowledging that both Caucuses have the opportunity to complement and strengthen each other’s work.

Also AIPMC said in the statement that while AIPMC has made small but significant strides, on matters relating to Myanmar’s democratic and political situation, it believes there can be much more impact on the crisis in Myanmar and positive changes can be achieved through effective cooperation between the two regional Caucuses.

- Asian Tribune -

Help build a new home

Bangkok Post

Earlier this month, Amarin Plaza, in collaboration with Asean Handicraft Promotion and Development Association and the Thailand Handicraft Trade Association, held a fund-raising event, ''10,000 baht to Build the Homes and Recuperate the Lives''. The programme aims to raise up to one million baht to build 100 houses for craftsmen and their families affected by Cyclone Nargis in Burma. You can make donations from now until June 30 at the Art for Life Education Centre, 5th Floor, Amarin Plaza.

For more information, call 02-612-5900 ext 5812 or 08-1658-7542.