Friday, 4 July 2008

Junta pretends to help cyclone victims

IMNA - 03 Jul 2008

Burmese military junta authorities have only pretended to help victims in some parts of cyclone ravaged areas, claimed villagers.

The Military South-West Commander visited the area and promised to build houses for victims in Higyi Kyun Island Township.

But local people said, the authorities just built a few houses and they staked houses on land 15-20 feet wide in Chaungwa village where more than 600 villagers were killed by the cyclone.

Villagers said, they doubted the government's promise because naval troops were given the responsibility.

Naval troops visited the village, when MRTV was documenting that the Navy was helping the villagers in building houses for the victims by carrying woods, bamboo and other material.

"After the MRTV went back, all materials were carried away immediately," a Chaungwa villager told IMNA.

According to villagers, they got enough aid from private donors, the UN and INGOs. But recently military government reported on it The New Light of Myanmar, that they will build 6000 houses for victims.

The government authorities and naval troops also used shipping routes from Bassein (Pathein) to Chaungwa by force without paying, villagers said.

Because of this many aid workers also faced difficulties in sending aid to rural areas.

Elephant and diarrhea kill four refugee children

Kaladan Press

Ukhiya, Cox's Bazaar: Two refugee children were killed by a wild elephant and two other children died of diarrhea on July 1. They have been living under the open sky near the Kutupalong official camp, said Hossain from Kutupalong.

Refugees are living in huts without strong roofing, so during heavy rain or strong winds the roofs get blown off or tear. Refugees including boys and girls are catching cold and becoming afflicted by malaria, diarrhea, pneumonia, odema among other diseases.

The two children who died of diarrhea were identified as Fatema Khatun (8), daughter of Nazir Ahamed and Shaffi Ullah (12), son of Makbul Ahamed. Two killed by a wild elephant have been identified as Khairul Alam (7), and Mohammed Siddik (15).

A group of wild elephants near the mountains entered the camp at midnight. One of the elephants entered a hut. Family members including the father and mother ran way leaving behind two sons who were sleeping in the hut. The elephant killed the two boys, according to parents of Fatema Khatun.

Meanwhile, the parents of the boys were screaming and shouting for helps from other unofficial refugees. Hearing the hue and cry, other refugees rushed to the spot and drove away the elephants.

After the elephants were driven away, the refugees found the two boys had been killed, said a relative of Nazir Ahmed.

Last year, an elephant killed refugees in the official refugee camp.

The refugees are staring starvation in the face and living under the open sky near the Kutupalong official camp for nearly one week. They are unofficial refugees who are living near Kutupalong refugee camp after being relocated from local areas when Bangladesh authorities were finalizing the voters list which excluded Burmese nationals.

Bangladesh Proposes Repatriation of 133 Burmese Prisoners

Dhaka: The Bangladesh foreign ministry recently sent a letter to its Burmese counterpart asking Burma to receive 133 Burmese prisoners that are currently languishing in several prisons in Bangladesh, said a local office report.

The report said that the Bangladesh Ministry of Foreign Affairs has already sent a letter to the Burmese military government about taking back their citizens, but the Burmese authorities have yet to agree to the request.

An official source said that a total of 133 Burmese citizens, including one woman, have been languishing in different jails in Bangladesh for the last 10 to 12 years.

These prisoners have been waiting in the jails after serving out their sentences. Of the total prisoners, 97 are in Cox's Bazar District jail, 21 are in the Dhaka Central Jail, three are in the Chittagong jail, nine are in the Bandarban District jail, and three are at the Rangamati District jail.

The report said many of the detainees awaiting their release are Burmese Muslims and Buddhists, members of the Rakhine community in Burma.

Bangladesh jail authorities have written a number of letters to the ministries of foreign and home affairs requesting a process for the return of these Burmese citizens over the last decade.

Md. Alamgir, Deputy Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, also wrote a letter to the Secretary of Foreign Affairs on 12 June calling for a prompt solution to the problems of the Burmese citizens in detention.

According to Md. Helal Uddin, Superintendent of the Cox's Bazar jail, all 133 prisoners have been passing their days and nights in different jails of Bangladesh after completing their punishments.

Sources have also provided information that many had completed their sentences 10 to 12 years ago, but they are still living in the jails. The Bangladesh Jail Directorate does not have additional funds budgeted for the Burmese citizens.

It has also been learned that some prisoners were acquitted of their charges in 1996, and some in 1998, but they have been unable to return to the homeland because the Burmese military authority is not interested in receiving its own citizens and has not cooperated on their repatriation.

Four NLD Youths Sentenced to Year in Prison

Narinjara News - 7/3/2008

Four youth members of the National League for Democracy in southern Arakan's Taungup Township were sentenced to one year in prison by the Burmese military authority for distributing statements issued by NLD headquarters in Rangoon, reported a NLD member.

He said, "They were arrested by police in Taungup on Burma revolution day, on 27 March, as they were distributing a statement from the NLD in town. Now the judge in the township court has sentenced them to one year in prison."

The youths were identified as Ko Moe Kyaw, Ko Than Htay, Ko Zaw Naing, and Ko Aung Naing Min from Taungup, all of whom are members of the NLD youth wing.

"They were charged by police in the Taungup court under a section of Act 451, which relates to a person intruding on a place without permission of the owner. It was a false case and the charges had nothing to do with them," the man said.

According to a local source, they have been moved to Sittwe prison from Taungup to serve out their sentences.

In addition to the four youth, at least five senior NLD members from Taungup Township are now serving long jail terms at several prisons in Burma after being involved in leading protests during the Saffron Revolution along with monks in the fall of 2007.

Taungup Township NLD joint-secretary, Ko Min Aung, is currently at the notorious Insein prison in Rangoon, after being sentenced to seven and a half years in prison for his role in the Saffron Revolution.

Drug addiction and trade rise in KIO's Casino

Kachin News

Drug addiction and trade in drugs are on the rise by the day in the Chinese-owned casino in Mai Ja Yang on the Sino-Burma border in the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) controlled areas, a source said.

The alarming increase both in drug abuse and trade is because of the lack of checking and investigations inside the casino by KIO civilians, the source added.

KIO's servicemen, both police and the immigration departments, are responsible for activities in the casino. But the officials are bribed, said a KIO official.

“The KIO's police, which is in charge of the casino, are bribed by the Chinese so they dare not investigate and make checks inside the casino,” a KIO official in Mai Ja Yang told KNG.

Earlier, there were no policemen and immigration officials in KIO and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) under the KIO was in charge everywhere in the controlled areas. But now, the KIA does not participate in investigations, the KIO official added.

Given the situation, things could get out of hand and the casino could witness killings. If this happens the KIO's image will be tainted worse than it already is, he added.

Students paste anti-Castor-oil-trees posters in Myitkyina

Kachin News

Before dawn this morning, students pasted about 200 A-4 sized hand-written posters against anti-Castor-oil-tree plantations in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin state in Northern Burma, local student activists said.

The posters said 'No castor-oil-tree' and 'No military junta' in big letters in Burmese with red-coloured soft pens, a student leader Mr. Naw Awng told KNG.

According to student activists, the posters were pasted mainly at crowded places like grocery markets in Shwe Nyaung Pyin, Lekone, Dukahtawng (Du Mare), Yan Gyi Aung, Tatkone (Dapkawng) and Shatapru quarters in Myitkyina. The posters were also put up at the entrance of Myitkyina University and electric power-posts on the main street in Myitkyina downtown, the activists added.

An eyewitness told KNG, he saw anti-castor-oil-tree posters at the entrance of Myitkyina University around 8:30 a.m. local time.

The poster movement was at the behest of Myitkyina University students in the township organized by the local underground students' organization known as the All Kachin Students Union (AKSU), the student activist leader Naw Awng said.

The AKSU was established in Kachin before the monk-led Saffron Revolution in Burma in September last year and the organization has launched non-stop poster movements against the ruling junta in Kachin state.

Aim of the poster movement

Student leader Naw Awng told KNG that this morning's anti-castor-oil-tree plantation movement was organized for the two reasons.

First, the posters were written by hand which will encourage the local people that they can reveal their attitude towards the authorities by pasting hand-written posters themselves in their communities.

Second, the meaning of 'No castor-oil-tree' and 'No military junta' on the posters were the same. This is because there is no government firm and private company buys the castor-oil fruits in Kachin state at a high human and monetary cost. The plantation project is not beneficial to the public. Similarly, the Burmese ruling junta does not serve its people and only threaten them.

So, the AKSU strongly encourages the people that they have to oppose the junta's project the Castor-oil-tree plantation also called Jet Suu in Burmese as well as to topple the repressive military junta.

Authorities are reluctant to pull down anti-junta posters

Today, the junta authorities in Myitkyina were unusually reluctant to pull down the anti-castor-oil-tree posters from public areas in Myitkyina Township, local sources said.

According to student activists and eyewitnesses, they could see the anti-castor-oil-tree posters in different areas in Myitkyina till before noon because the reserved firefighters, members of the junta-sponsored Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) in each quarter and village, and policemen did not pull it down without orders from senior officers.

Earlier, all kinds of anti-junta posters were taken down as soon as the posters were seen in Myitkyina by local reserved firefighters, members of USDA and the police without waiting for orders, student activists said.

The problems have surfaced between the men and officers of reserved firefighters, USDA members and policemen after they were sent to relief programms in the Cyclone Nargis-hit Irrawaddy River Delta in Southern Burma since late May, sources close them said.

This is because, they had not received any medical support from their senior officers while they fell ill during relief duty for a month in Irrawaddy Delta and had to come back home at their own cost, sources close to firefighters said.

As a response, the local firefighters and USDA members in Myitkyina just let the anti-castor-oil-tree posters in their quarters and villages be, till orders came from senior officers, a resident who met a local reserved firefighter in Shatapru told KNG.

Castor-oil-tree plantation season in Myitkyina

Locals also call Castor-oil-tree -- Physic nut tree or Jatropha Curcas. Planting started in Myitkyina soon after the junta-run referendum on the draft constitution on May 10.

Residents of Myitkyina said, the Township Peace and Development Council (TPDC) has ordered that people in Myitkyina municipal area have to grow over 300,000 Physic nut saplings on their own within this year's plantation season, said locals.

Now, each quarters and villages under Myitkyina municipal area have been ordered to plant 300,000 Physic nut saplings without any support from the authorities, according to administrators of quarters and villages.

To implement the order, each quarter and village administration has to buy a Pyi of Physic nut seeds (1 Pyi = 8 condensed milk cans) costing 8,000 Kyat (US $ 7) and employ civilians without wages in the Physic nut plantations, quarter administration sources said.

In Kachin state, the junta has ordered growing 500,000 acres of Physic nut trees for the country's future bio diesel production project, residents said.

The Physic nut trees bear fruits after one year after biding planted.

Fruit-poisoned children in hospital

The number children poisoned by castor-oil-tree fruit are gradually increasing in the general public hospital in Myitkyina Township in the current fruit bearing season of Castor-oil-trees, said residents of Myitkyina.

On June 5 last month, 8 children aged 8 to 11 in Maymyint quarter were poisoned and sent to hospital. They ate immature castor-oil-tree fruits near their playground, a resident told KNG today.

“The instances of castor-oil-tree fruit poisoning are happening in every quarter and village in Myitkyina not. Adults have also been poisoned,” he added.

He said, the fruit poisoning causes eaters to vomit and feel dozy. However, the authorities have not cautioned through posters or signboards about not eating castor-oil-tree fruits in Myitkyina.

Burmese Army personnel in Myitkyina share army land

Kachin News

The Burmese Army in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin state in northern Burma is dividing army land between its men through a lucky dip system for family use, a source close to the army said.

Officers and soldiers of the Infantry Battalion (Kha-La-Ya) No. 29, based near Pa-La-Na village, 16 km (10 miles) north of Myitkyina have earmarked the land in the Rampu quarter. Each member of the army unit had to draw lots for the land, the source said.

Senior officers of the battalion received 60' x 80' (4,800 sq-ft) land and the lower ranking personnel got 40' x 60' (2,400 sq-ft) in the Rampu quarter. They have to pay only 10,000 Kyat (US $ 9) for the land, she said.

“Some soldiers who are close to high ranking officers got good sections of the land being disbursed. Some of them now want to sell the land to make money,” she added.

According to the source, before the army officers acquired ownership of the land in Rampu quarter through lottery, it was a sugar cane farm. The army cultivated sugar cane on the land as a part of the self reliance policy of the junta for the army.

The Infantry Battalion No. 29 moved near Pa-La-Na village in 2006 and before that it was based in Zi Lun (Zion) quarter in Myitkyina.

88 Generation Student’s health deteriorates

Jul 3, 2008 (DVB)–The health of 88 Generation Students group member Myo Yan Naung Thein has got progressively worse in Insein prison, a close friend of his family told DVB on condition of anonymity.

Myo Yan Naung Thein has been charged with causing public alarm and inciting offences against the public tranquility under section 505(b) of the penal code.

The family friend said someone had to carry Myo Yan Naung Thein when he appeared in court as he could no longer walk.

“He is partly paralyzed and urgently needs an operation,” said the family friend.

“He is now in this situation because authorities refused his request for proper medical access to treat injuries he sustained when he was under interrogation, and he has to live in poor conditions.”

Myo Yan Naing Thein was arrested on 14 December 2007 because of his links with activists who filmed the September protests and spoke to foreign media outlets.

According to Amnesty International, Myo Yan Naung Thein was tortured after his arrest by Special Branch police interrogators and members of the junta-backed militia Swan Arr Shin. He was left paralysed on his left side due to head injuries from severe beatings and cannot walk unaided.

Myo Yan Naung Thein spent two weeks in hospital in May, but his condition did not improve.

When he asked to see a neurologist, he was placed in isolation in a cell used for prisoners with psychiatric problems where he is still being held.

He continues to be denied access to a specialist and AI reports that prison authorities have told him they “do not have the responsibility to give medical treatment”.

Reporting by Khin Hnin Htet

‘Vote No’ activists appear in court

Jul 3, 2008 (DVB)–Two National League for Democracy members who were detained for allegedly campaigning against the regime’s draft constitution in the run-up to the 10 May referendum have appeared in court.

The activists’ families had not been notified of the date of the hearing.

Thiha, a member of New Dagon NLD, said that his fellow party members U Tin Win and deputy youth leader Nyi Nyi Min had attended a court hearing but he had not known about it until he was told by a friend who saw them in court.

Both activists were arrested for wearing T-shirts with a ‘No’ symbol on them during the Thingyan water festival in April this year.

“U Tin Win didn’t wear a ‘No’ shirt during Thingyan though. He only wore a shirt which said ‘National Reconciliation’. I am not sure why he was arrested,” said Thiha.

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, more than 80 activists were arrested across the country for participating in the ‘Vote No’ campaign. Most of those detained are still behind bars.

Reporting by Khin Hnin Htet

Appeal for May Day activists denied

Jul 3, 2008 (DVB)–Burma’s Supreme Court has rejected an appeal on behalf of Thurein Aung and five other activists who have been given lengthy prison terms for gathering workers to celebrate May Day last year.

Lawyer U Aung Thein said the court had agreed to hear the appeal, but turned it down last Friday.

Six activists including Thurein Aung were arrested on their way home from attending a May Day ceremony at the American Embassy in the country’s former capital.

Rangoon’s Western District Court charged all six with sedition and sentenced them to 20 years’ imprisonment under article 124(a) of the penal code.

Thurein Aung and three others were also charged under article 13/1 of the Immigration and Emergency Act and article 17(a) of the Unlawful Association Act and given an additional five to eight years each.

This is the second time the activists’ appeal has been denied. It was first submitted to Divisional Court before it reached the highest court.

U Aung Thein told DVB that he would continue trying to submit a special appeal for his clients even though has said the chance of it being accepted was slim.

Reporting by Khin Hnin Htet

Three killed in recent KNLA clashes with regime troops

Jul 3, 2008 (DVB)–The two-day offensive by Burmese government troops and the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army on Karen National Liberation Army-controlled territory ended in three deaths on the regime side.

Karen National Union information department coordinator major Saw Hla Ngwe said one DKBA soldier and two from the SPDC army were killed when they clashed with the KNLA on territory controlled by KNLA brigade 6's special battalion 201 on 1 and 2 July.

Major Saw Hla Ngwe said some DKBA troops were stopped by Thai authorities as they retreated over Thai territory.

"Thai authorities captured one of them who was armed and wearing military uniform, but the rest were released after they were identified as villagers abducted by the DKBA to be used as porters," the major said.

"The enemies withdrew in dismay by sunset – we have eliminated them all."

DKBA could not be contacted for comment on the fight.

Reporting by Naw Say Phaw

NLD youth detainee transferred

Jul 3, 2008 (DVB)–Authorities have transferred Nyunt Aung, a detained youth member of the National League for Democracy in Monywar township, Sagaing Division, to Myitkyinar prison in Kachin State last week.

Nyunt Aung was arrested at the Paegadoe check point at the entrance to Sagaing on 22 September 2007 while on his way to Rangoon to attend a meeting at the pro-democracy party’s headquarters.

He was held in Shwebo prison for two months after he was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment. Authorities then moved him to Kathar prison where he was held until last week.

The military regime in Burma arrested hundreds of activists during mass public protests in September 2007 that came to be known as the Saffron Revolution.

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, most of those detained in connection with the September event still remain in different prisons across the country.

Reporting by Khin Hnin Htet

Drug investigation, heavy punishment likely for Maung Weik

Mizzima News
03 July 2008

Chiang Mai: Following a secret largest investigation against drug users since 1988, young tycoon Maung Weik stands to face severe punishment for alleged drug trafficking.

Maung Weik, the 35-year old billionaire has been shifted to notorious Insein prison since last Friday from a police investigation centre along with six others from Latha, Dagon and Kyi Myint Dine township, said a source close to the prison authorities and the Home Ministry.

"He (Maung Weik) may even be punished with a 20 year sentence or life imprisonment," he said.

The accused drug kingpin was taken away from his residence in Than Lwin Street, Bahan Township. The police seized a machine for making Yaba or methamphetamine tablets and Kyat 1200 million in a crackdown against drug users among Burma's elite. The police said the racket was run by the Managing Director of Maung Weik and Family Co. Ltd.

Nay Shwe Thway Aung along with top leaders of the miltary junta including Snr. Gen. Than Shwe in a state function.

Aung Zaw Ye Myint the son of retired Lt. Gen Ye Myint and the owner of Yetagon construction company, who is also involved, has been sent to the Wat Thee Kan treatment center due to drug addiction.

The former chief of Special Operation Bureau No.1 Lt. Gen Ye Myint was asked to retire by the junta supremo Senior Gen. Than Shwe following his son's suspected involvement in the controversial drug racket. However, the resignation directive to Ye Myint followed a major reshuffle in the military establishment.

Observers and friends suspect that a top-level conspiracy has been hatched against Maung Weik.

Win Min, a Burmese observer based in Thailand who has contacts in the military said "To my knowledge, Maung Weik is not involved in distributing drugs."

"But Maung Weik and Aung Zaw Ye Myint used drugs at parties together and gave drugs as presents to party-goers including some movie stars," he added.

A businessman in Rangoon said "I honestly do not think Maung Weik will manufacture Yaba. I heard the news but I doubt it."

International drug agencies said Burma is Asia's largest source of methamphetamine pills and synthetic drugs are replacing opium and heroin.

The military junta ruling Burma now, came to power in 1988 after cracking down on pro-democracy protesters. The cash-strapped Burmese junta has been accused of dealing with drug lords and is known to have laundered money for various drug lords including Khun Sa, once one of the world's most wanted men. He was living in Rangoon till he died in October 2007.

Moreover, communists turned drug traffickers, the heavily armed United Wa State Army (UWSA) signed a cease-fire agreement with the military junta in 1989 but they have been operating almost freely producing and trading opium and methamphetamine pills at least in their controlled terrority.

The much-talked about crackdown on the drug racket which also netted Burma's film stars, wealthy businessmen and relatives of men-in-power was believed to be linked with family matters of the country's most powerful man Senior General Than Shwe.

The movie industry suggested said that Nay Shwe Thway Aung (aka) Pho La Pye, 17-years-old, a grandson of Than Shwe was at the centre of the case. The student of Technology University (Western Rangoon) was caught with some drug pills by his family a few months ago which sparked Than Shwe's anger.

Mizzima's investigation reveals that Pho La Pye started using drugs since the last water festival or Burmese traditional New Year celebrations in April. He did not come back home for two days during the water festival and he was said to have used drugs.

The first family blamed drug suppliers and friends who introduced Pho La Pye to drugs.

Not surprisingly, some businessmen lured the beloved grandson with drugs hoping to maintain a relationship with the family of the strongman of Burma. Even though he is just 17, business tycoons including Tay Za take him to massage parlours and other places of entertainment that finally ended up in his using ATS drugs.

It is not clear who supplied drugs regularly to the grandson but later police suspected Maung Weik and Aung Zaw Ye Myint.

Hotel Nikko staff told Mizzima that they used to see Pho La Pya with Tay Za of Htoo Trading Company, one of the richest persons in Burma at the Siam Spa in the hotel.

"All businessmen are trying to befriend Than Shwe's grand children for a good business relationship," a businessman said.

Despite Than Shwe's anger with his grandson using drugs, the order for a crackdown did not come from the Snr. Gen.

The whole affair came to light accidentally when an actress Nandar Hlaing and her groom Zay Thiha invited Gen. Thura Shwe Mann, the number three man in the military hierarchy, for their wedding reception in May this year. Zay Thiha is the son of the owner of May Yeik Nyo hotel and his brother-in-law is the son of Shwe Mann.

A friend of the actress told Mizzima that Shwe Mann asked whether she knew about the cause of the death of one of the most popular actors Dwe, who died from an overdose of drugs. The actress bluntly but politely replied she was not aware of it. Then, Shwe Mann talked about widespread use of drugs among movie stars and talked about his idea to crackdown through the Home Ministry.

On the account of the number three man, a personal assistant of Shwe Mann told his friend, the personal assistant of Maung Oo, the Minister of Home Affairs. Then, Maung Oo, who immediately started investigations.

Although investigations are still on, the military government is tight lipped about it and has denied the investigation is taking place.

"We have not arrested any celebrities nor charged any businessmen in connection with drug abuse," Police chief Khin Yi said during a press conference held in Nay Pyi Taw (Naypyidaw) on ' World Drugs Day'.

Ethnic Palaung releases report' 'ballots which opposes people's will'

Myint Maung
Mizzima News - 03 July 2008

New Delhi – An Ethnic Palaung Youth Working Group on Thursday said the result of a referendum held on May 10, does not reflect the people's true desire as the Burmese junta's has used various means to rigged votes.

The ethnic youth, in a new report titled 'The ballots which oppose the people's will" said it has investigated and found into the vote rigging and irregularities in some townships in Shan State mostly inhabited by Palaung ethnics.

"The polling booth officials forced the voters to cast 'Yes' votes. Before putting it into the ballot boxes, the officials checked the ballot papers which jeopardised the secret ballot system. In some places, the local authorities cast all votes representing the whole village, the report said.

"In some polling stations, they closed before the prescribed closing time. We found many irregularities in our investigation," Mai Aung, the spokesman of 'Palaung Youth Network Group' (PYNG) said.

The referendum investigation working group comprised of the Thai based 'Palaung State Liberation Front' (PSLF), 'Paluang Youth Network Group' (PYNG) and 'Palaung Women's Organization' (PWO).

The working group said it monitored the referendum process mainly in ethnic Palaung inhabited areas in Shan State including Hnamsan, Kyaukme, Lashio, Thibaw, Mai Ngau, Hnamtu, Kutkai, Hnamkham and Muse townships.

The group said they had monitored voting procedures in 57 polling stations in these townships and found misuse of power by the ruling junta in getting the 'Yes' votes by coercion, vote rigging and many other ways.

Authorities had forced voters to cast their votes in advance before the polling date and made it into 'yes' votes, the report said.

The working group said the report is a compilation of all these facts with interviews of the polling station officials, local people and voters along with photographic evidences.

"U Kyaw Yin of the Palaung ceasefire group who lives in Nyeinchanyay Kone, Kyaukme threatened voters that they would be evicted from their homes if 'No' votes were found in the ballot boxes," Mai Aung said.

"Likewise, Capt. Than Htut, who is working in Palaung Tea factory in Hnamsan issued an order saying that he would ban rice import from lower Burma if the number of 'No' votes were high in his area," added Mai Aung.

"The voter turnout rate in Palaung inhabited areas were just about 30 percent. Most of the votes were either voting in advance (absentee votes) or casting representative votes. The voters were ordered to come to the polling stations in their traditional ethnic costumes and to cast 'Yes' votes only. It was just a farce," a member of the working group, who monitored the voting process, said.

Though some voters dared to cast 'No' votes despite heavy pressure exerted on them by the local authorities, all these 'No' votes were turned to 'Yes' votes during the counting process in accordance with the rules and regulations of referendum commissions, the report said.

The working group will send the report to the international community including the UN and ASEAN for awareness regarding the blatant human right violation in Burma and to generate concerted efforts of the international community to resolve the Burma crisis.

Two months after Cyclone Nargis, condition of survivors still 'critical'

Mungpi & Solomon
Mizzima News - 03 July 2008

New Delhi - Two months after the killer Cyclone Nargis lashed Burma, thousands of survivors said they still lack basic assistance including food, farming equipments and shelter.

"We received only one time support from the Red Cross. They gave us 24 tins (measured in condensed milk tins) of rice for our family," said a farmer with five family members from Paungthe village of Bogale township in Irrawaddy delta.

The farmer said while he did not know how much rice other families received as aid, it was the only help the whole village had seen.

"There are more then 1300 people in our village," the farmer added.

Talking to Mizzima over telephone, the farmer said, he had come to Bogale Town, about 40 miles from his village, with the expectation of help from local as well as international aid groups.

World Vision, a Christian non-governmental organization that has been helping cyclone survivors, however, said humanitarian assistance is getting through to a lot survivors but difficulties remain in assessing how widespread the needs are and how many people are getting aid.

"It's still quite a critical situation but a lot of people are getting the aid that they need," Ashley Clements, spokesperson of World Vision in Burma told Mizzima.

While the immediate need for the farmer and members of his village remain basic food, with the rainy season fast approaching, the farmer said he is also burdened with the fear of missing the cultivation season, which would mean greater disaster ahead.

"I am hoping to find some help from the government in terms of farming equipments as well as some cattle," said the farmer, adding that while there were no human casualties caused by the cyclone in their village, most of the cattle were dead.

"I lost all my buffaloes and cows, which I need to plough the fields before it's too late," said the farmer, who has over 15 acres of farm land.

"If I get some buffaloes, I can still race and finish planting rice within 15 days before the rains start," said the farmer, adding that the plantation period will be over by mid-July.

The World Vision said most farmers in the cyclone hit areas will miss this farming season as a result of lack of equipments to work in the fields.

"I think there is going to be a large number of farmers unable to farm their land this growing season," Clements said.

"So, we need to look at the coming months to support the farmers in finding a way to make a living," Clement added.

The farmer in Paungthe village is not alone in seeking help. An aid worker in Bogale said several survivors from other villages in the Township have often come to town in search of help.

Bogale, one of the worst hit towns in the Irrawaddy delta, where several aid groups are now based, has become a hub for desperate survivors searching for help.

The aid worker, who helped the farmer talk to Mizzima, said, "Yesterday around 30 people came to us asking for food but today another 700 people from more than 30 villages came here.

He said it was more than what he and his group could afford to provide in terms of food and other assistance, as his group is dependent on local and national donors to help cyclone victims.

"We know that there are several villages that have not been accessed but we are helpless," the aid worker said.

Meanwhile in Laputta, another badly-hit town in the Irrawaddy delta, several thousand survivors, who are temporarily staying in make-shift camps, are faced with a renewed threat as the local authority has urged them to shift from their temporary homes.

Dr. Aye Kyu, a physician in Laputta Township who has been helping survivors, said at least 10,000 survivors are living in four camps near Laputta town. And as most of the refugees have no land of their own, it has become problematic for survivors to go back to their original villages.

"They are telling me they will not go back, they will try to continue surviving here by themselves," Aye Kyu said.

According to a local resident of Laputta, who met the survivors, the police have threatened them that no more food would be supplied to them unless they move from the area.

"Two survivors told me that divisional police officers told them to go back to their villages or else they will be forcibly evicted," the local resident said.

Aye Kyu said, the survivors have no homes, face severe problems of food shortage and fear of an impending disaster ahead.

Surviving the Storm

The Irrawaddy News

Bloodied, traumatized and heartbroken, the survivors of Cyclone Nargis are now victimized and treated with contempt by the military authorities

Her eyes filled with tears, Kyin Hla, 65,
lost 12 members of her family in the cyclone’s tidal surge.

(Photo: The Irrawaddy)

KYIN Hla suddenly stopped doing her household chores at 11:20 on the morning of May 2. The wind had started swirling fiercely and from her farmhouse window she saw the sea swell and turn black. The 65-year-old woman called to her grandchildren to stop playing and come indoors. She closed the windows.

A young girl waits for food in the rain on the outskirts of Rangoon. (Photo: AFP)By midday the sky had turned “an angry red color” and dark clouds had gathered overhead. Instinctively alarmed, Kyin Hla drew her grandchildren closer and began praying.

The house began shaking violently. The noise outside grew louder and louder. Suddenly the roof was blown clean off the farmhouse, then the walls were pulled down one by one.

She managed to hold on until the tidal wave struck at 1 p.m. The force ripped her grandchildren from her arms. She remembers one child screaming “Grandmother!” as they were swept away.

The wave carried Kyin Hla into a tree. With the last of her strength she grabbed the branches and held on until the wave subsided. Then she collapsed.

When she woke up, she was surrounded by dead bodies, animal carcasses and debris. Her clothes had been ripped off, and she had to take a longyi from a dead woman to cover herself.

Her village had been destroyed. She staggered around until she met some other survivors who gave her some coconut. That was her only food for the next four days until she managed to get to a shelter in Laputta.

Kyin Hla was reunited with three of her sons, but 12 members of the family had died, including all her grandchildren.

Apart from the trauma of experiencing such a terrifying natural disaster and the heartbreak of losing their loved ones, Cyclone Nargis survivors have had to endure abysmal conditions in the aftermath of the storm. Thousands of children were orphaned and thousands of people were injured or have since died from disease.

The majority of the 2.4 million people in the Irrawaddy delta directly affected by the cyclone were farmers whose livelihoods depend on agriculture, especially rice cultivation, and livestock to work the fields.

With their homes leveled, their rice paddies inundated with seawater, their livestock dead and their villages reduced to rubble, most rural survivors had no choice but to leave behind the stench of death and walk or be carried to the nearest town.

Thousands gathered in Buddhist monasteries where monks fed and sheltered them. Others crammed into schoolhouses or public buildings. There was seldom any electricity or medical help, or enough fresh water, food or sanitation. Many families were lucky to receive a daily ration of one tin of rice.

While the junta dragged its feet on allowing in international aid, private Burmese philanthropists attempted to come to the rescue. Burmese celebrities, such as comedians Zarganar and the Moustache Brothers, and the actor Kyaw Thu joined local NGO efforts to deliver supplies to cyclone survivors.

Many private donors packed their vehicles with small makeshift aid packages and drove to the delta to hand them out.

In Bogalay, some three weeks after the cyclone had killed her father, 12-year-old Lei Lei was still begging for handouts at the side of the highway. She had her baby sister tied on her back in a longyi and was competing with hordes of other cyclone victims for packages of food occasionally thrown from of passing vehicles by private donors.

However, the authorities moved to impede the effort, preventing aid donors from entering the delta or asking them for bribes at each checkpoint. Through the media, the junta went so far as to warn the public against helping the survivors, saying it would “make them lazy.”

Apart from those refugees sheltering at a handful of showcase camps—set up methodically as photo-op backdrops for the Burmese generals, international dignitaries and the media—most survivors had still not received any aid three weeks after the disaster.

Then, when it seemed things couldn’t get any worse, the military authorities ordered rural survivors to return to their villages. The government argued that towns such as Laputta and Bogalay were overcrowded and could not support the influx of refugees from the countryside.

Overnight, thousands of refuge-seekers were evicted from the monasteries, schools and shelters. Army trucks were filled with wretched souls who were driven to the approximate location where their villages once stood and dumped by the roadside.

In the cyclone-hit western suburbs of Rangoon, similar incidents took place. A cyclone victim evicted from the Shwe Pauk Kan refugee camp told The Irrawaddy: “The authorities gave each refugee 10 pyi of rice (about 2.5 liters) and 7,000 kyat (US $6.22). Then they took back the tents and told us to leave.”

In Maubin, homeless 93-year-old Khin Mya showed The Irrawaddy her only shelter—an umbrella and a plastic bag. “I get very worried every evening because I have to find a place to sleep,” she told our reporter. “Maybe under a tree. Or I ask if I can share a hut with someone.”

Many of the cyclone survivors—who have suffered so much already—are back in the rubble of their villages. With few exceptions, they have no food, no water, no medicine and no livelihoods. All they have are horrific memories of death and destruction, and the struggle to stay alive.

As the monsoon season unleashes itself on the delta this month, and the survivors try to rebuild their broken lives, one wonders where they will find the strength to face the future.

In a muddy rice paddy in Laputta, 12 people were crammed into a single tent. They were the only survivors from the village of Pain Nae Kone.

“We are from the same place, so we are together,” said U Nyo, one of the survivors, his eyes red from tears and fatigue. “We are one family now.”

Correspondents Aung Thet Wine, Min Khet Maung and Moe Aung Tin contributed to this story from Rangoon and the Irrawaddy delta.

The Show Must Go On

The Irrawaddy News

A man and a woman ride a trishaw carrying bamboo building material
in front of a pagoda and a large uprooted tree in Rangoon. (Photo: AFP)

As ordinary Burmese displayed resilience in the face of Cyclone Nargis, their rulers showed they weren’t going to allow a major disaster to upstage their farcical referendum

FORTY-six years of military rule have prepared Burma well for Cyclone Nargis, the most devastating natural disaster to hit the country in living memory.

Less than a week after the deadly cyclone struck on May 2-3, the former capital, Rangoon, was slowly crawling back to its feet—deprived of water and electricity, and littered with filth and fallen trees, but moving forward with inexorable dignity.

Sidewalk hawkers and teashops—ubiquitous symbols of the subsistence economy that supports the majority of ordinary Burmese—wasted no time getting back to business. Meanwhile, barefooted children played soccer in a narrow lane next to Trader’s Hotel, using piles of fly-covered garbage as goalposts, as passersby hastened to get on with their lives.

A man casts his vote for the constitutional referendum in cyclone-hit Hlaing Thayar Township west of Rangoon on May 24, two weeks after the first round of referendum voting in most of the country. (Photo: AFP)

But this hard-won resilience—a product of decades of economic mismanagement by successive military regimes—has its limits. There were also signs that under the gritty surface lay an even grittier reality: An article in The Myanmar Times, a semi-official weekly newspaper, reported a mysterious rise in demand for razor wire, in a city noted for its low crime rate; a middle-class woman complained of routine theft at the meditation center where her mother resides; and a Singapore-based Burmese businessman, after listening to a comment on the remarkably good-natured Burmese response to adversity, smiled, and then lowered his voice in warning: “Don’t walk alone after nine o’clock at night.”

After a pause, he added: “The people have good hearts, but they need to eat.”

Meanwhile, a little more than seven months after a brutal military crackdown on monk-led protests grabbed international headlines, another side of the country’s ruling regime was on full display. Rangoon residents said that in the immediate aftermath of the cyclone, soldiers were conspicuous by their absence. Days later, they finally made an appearance, clearing trees from wealthy neighborhoods or along some of the city’s strategically important main thoroughfares.

Burma’s junta leader Snr-gen Than Shwe, center, along with top military brass, inpects relief supplies provided to cyclone-affected families at a showcase refugee center on the outskirts of Rangoon. (Photo: AFP)

“Our government neglects the people. And when the people complain, the government bullies them,” said one businessman, succinctly describing the twin principles of Burmese military rule: inattention to the needs of ordinary citizens and a readiness to crush dissent at a moment’s notice.

For Burma’s ruling junta, the only kind of catastrophe that matters is one that threatens its hold on power. So it came as no surprise to most Burmese that as Rangoon struggled to restore a semblance of normalcy and the Irrawaddy delta remained a scene of nightmarish devastation, the regime pressed ahead with a referendum to approve a constitution intended to strengthen its political stranglehold.

The draft constitution, which will reserve 25 percent of political positions for the military, is the junta’s answer to all that ails Burma. More specifically, it is designed to nullify the results of the last electoral exercise in the country—the 1990 general election that the National League for Democracy, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, won by a landslide.

Eighteen years later, the regime is still struggling to come to terms with its humiliating defeat. Ignoring the outcome of the 1990 vote and resisting calls for a handover of power, it has tried to impose an alternative political process on the country. The May 10 referendum was hailed by the state-run media as a crucial step in this “seven-part road map” to “disciplined democracy.”

Never mind that nobody else seemed to care.

At polling stations in Pegu, just beyond the range of Nargis’ trail of destruction, officials waited idly for voters to turn up. Similar scenes were reported in Mandalay, Burma’s second largest city, where people were more interested in organizing relief efforts for cyclone victims than in responding to the junta’s calls to ratify its charter.

Five days later, on May 15, the regime announced a 99 percent turnout, with 92.4 percent voting in favor of the skewed constitution. Similar results were proclaimed two weeks later in Rangoon and Irrawaddy divisions, where the loss of life and scale of damage inflicted by Nargis was so immense that it forced the junta to declare a temporary suspension of the referendum.

If the generals get their way, military rule, in one form or another, will be here to stay. And that could prove to be a political catastrophe of the same order as the disaster that has wiped out countless lives in the Irrawaddy delta. Nearly half a century of military misrule may have turned Burma into a nation of survivors, but it has also pushed it precariously close to becoming a failed state. Burma has long been a disaster waiting to happen, and the worst may be yet to come.

If the post-cyclone debacle has proven anything, it is that the regime is incapable of handling any situation that it can’t manipulate to serve its own purposes. And with the referendum out of the way, the junta did just that, stage-managing a Potemkin relief mission in the delta.

One Western diplomat noted that “military efforts in affected areas doubled or quadrupled after the referendum.” A week later, it was evident where much of this energy was being directed. After denying foreigners access to the region for two weeks, Burmese Foreign Minister Nyan Win escorted the top US diplomat in the country, Shari Villarossa, on a tour of the delta. Villarossa, the charg√© d’affaires at the US embassy in Rangoon, was unimpressed.

“It was a show. That’s what they wanted us to see,” she said in an Associated Press interview.

Just as the junta’s referendum has been rejected as a sham by all but a handful of government ministers from countries with substantial economic ties to Burma, it is difficult to look upon the regime’s relief efforts with anything other than a jaundiced eye.

State-run television images of cyclone victims meekly receiving donations from generals who came to “comfort” them contrasted starkly with scenes in areas where the military presence was minimal. On the road to Kungyangone, a town in the delta disaster area, for instance, trucks carrying privately donated food and clothing from Rangoon and other parts of the country were greeted with cheers.

But as ordinary Burmese rushed in to fill the vacuum left by the military’s inadequate efforts, new constraints were placed on their freelance charitable activities. According to witnesses, many of these aid convoys were blocked at police checkpoints, while others were allowed through only after paying bribes.

Nonetheless, private aid efforts continued, often spearheaded by Buddhist monks. According to Burmese aid workers who were carrying out independent relief efforts in the hardest-hit areas of the delta, some cyclone survivors had fled regimented government-run camps to seek food and shelter in monasteries. The victims were traumatized by the cyclone, they said, and the military buildup in the area did little to lessen their terror.

Ironically, it was in the days immediately after the cyclone, when the regime’s leadership was too preoccupied with preparations for the referendum to respond to the crisis, that unofficial relief efforts were easiest.

“Collaboration with the government was good for the first few days,” said a Western relief worker who has been in Burma for several years. “When we spoke to officials, they said ‘Go, go in!’ because they had no idea how to respond.”

But that changed as the regime came under mounting pressure to open up to outside assistance. Instead of issuing visas to foreign experts, the regime imposed more restrictions on those already in the country. According to a Burmese employee of an international nongovernmental organization (INGO), soon after the referendum, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned members of the foreign aid community and directed INGOs to “make donations through the government or get out (of the country) within one week.”

Foreign aid workers based in Burma were inclined to comply.

“This is not the time to fight with the government,” said one foreign relief worker who has been in the country for several years.

“The regime is not monolithic,” he added, noting that despite the official line, some groups had received permission to distribute aid directly to the victims.

But monolith or not, it was clear that as the regime’s chain of command reasserted itself, the top generals showed more interest in co-opting international aid and goodwill than in cooperating with the outside world.

In the delta, some cyclone victims said they knew that the regime was blocking international aid, while in Rangoon there were persistent rumors that soldiers were selling goods from foreign donors in markets near the city’s international airport. Although it was difficult to confirm these claims, they served as a whispered expression of resentment at the junta’s handling of the crisis.

Despite the growing frustration, however, there was little to suggest that the country was ready for another bout of unrest. With memories of the ruthless suppression of last year’s demonstrations still fresh in everyone’s minds, the desire for a renewed push to call the ruling generals to account seemed as weak as support for the junta’s referendum.

“Our government is very good at controlling revolutions,” said one studiously apolitical Burmese aid worker employed by a major INGO, dismissing the idea that a popular uprising would make life any easier for the country’s long-suffering people. “There is still a lot that we can do in the country,” she insisted. “Something is better than nothing.”

Many Burmese relief workers appear to view the government in much the same way as they regard poverty or disease: as a scourge whose effects can be mitigated, but not eliminated. But asked if she considered the draft constitution “better than nothing,” the aid worker replied: “If someone tells you to take poisoned food, do you say that it is better than no food at all?”

Flap over Asean Press Conference

The Irrawaddy News

It was sad to learn that about 20 Burmese journalists encountered difficulties and felt slighted when they tried to attend a scheduled press conference organized by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in Rangoon on June 24 at the Chatrium Hotel, following a meeting of the Asean Roundtable with the Post-Nargis Joint Assessment for Response, Recovery and Reconstruction team (PONJA). The PONJA group is made up of UN, Asean and Burmese representatives.

According to local Burmese journalists who is a correspondent for an international news agency, when they asked to cover the roundtable meeting, officials told them a press conference was scheduled at 6 pm. When the Burmese journalists returned that evening, Asean officials placed them in a room on the hotel’s 9th floor.

However, Burmese journalists who were not on a list of invited journalist were then told by organizers that they could not attend the press conference. After a brief discussion, the Burmese journalists left the room. Asian reporters from four Asian news agencies were allowed to remain in the room, said the local journalists.

What happened next is unclear. See the letter to the editor of The Irrawaddy from Asean Sec-Gen Surin Pitsuwan’s special representative and Surin’s commentary article, “Asean Came in Full Force.”

Apparently, the press conference was cancelled. The Burmese journalists who told The Irrawaddy about their perceived slight, were apparently unaware the press conference was not held.

Probably, canceling the press conference was the easiest response to a potentially delicate matter between PONJA and the Burmese junta, which wants the local press to toe its line in all matters. Or maybe a press conference was never scheduled. In Burma, the unknown is often all that is known. At any rate, the Burmese journalists told The Irrawaddy they felt discriminated against.

Meanwhile, the Singapore ambassador to Burma, Robert H K Chua, and Daniel Baker, a UN official, met with members of the local Burmese media in a separate room in the hotel and discussed the Asean Roundtable briefing.

According to Sec-Gen Pitsuwan, Asean took almost a month for the junta to invite a few members of Asean media into Burma to report on what the UN, Asean and Burmese representatives were doing to respond to the cyclone and the needs of cyclone victims. Surin wanted more international coverage by big media outlets, because, he said, "very little real news and information of our efforts were reported to the outside world."

Surin was right in one regard. The international media outlets had almost no access to the delta, where the story was unfolding. As a result, they lacked access to the hard facts and the emotions that told the story.

But Surin was also wrong. Some of the Burmese journalists who felt they were slighted by PONJA officials, were the ones who successfully told the tale of the refugees’ plight, starting only days after the cyclone struck.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists praised the local Burmese reporters: "Their reporting often uncovers previously undiscovered areas of need, and they help keep the international community of donors informed of conditions on the ground."

It’s sad that the best reporting from the delta came from Burmese journalists whose stories appeared mostly in exiled media, to be picked up by international news agencies around the world, and not in the local Burmese media. The journalists were driven to tell the story by a sense of professional duty and a personal awareness of the scale of the suffering. They knew the best way to get the real story to the Burmese people was to write for the exiled Burmese media.

They, like Surin, wanted the story told. Journalists everywhere—whether international or local—should be allowed to do their work without governmental interference.

An Alternative Road Map is Needed Now

The Irrawaddy News

The road map introduced by the Burmese regime in Burma is in reality nothing other than its own exit strategy. Burma’s paramount leader Snr-Gen Than Shwe wants to ashin htwat—meaning “to come out alive.” And this remains his transitional plan.

The seven-point road map is Than Shwe’s route to lead him out of the country’s political mess unharmed and alive. He just needs to keep it on the table until 2010, ensuring that members of his family and his cronies survive the years safely.

The election he has announced for 2010, and the formation of a civilian government backed by the military, will take place—that much is clear. A determined Than Shwe will make sure nobody sabotages the road map.

The ageing leader made his commitment to the road map clear during his speech he gave on armed forces day in March, in which he said he is not power hungry and intends to hand over control of the government to the winners of the 2010 elections. He is not going to change his mind.

At meeting in Naypyidaw with other leaders and military commanders, just before Cyclone Nargis struck, Than Shwe issued an order to “eliminate” anybody trying to disrupt the constitutional referendum or preparations for the 2010 election.

Regional commanders were given full authority to arrest, detain, and “eliminate” elements found to be planning to sabotage the referendum and election.

The cyclone catastrophe couldn’t deflect Than Shwe from proceeding with the referendum, which was undoubtedly rigged and guarantees that the 2010 election will be similarly manipulated.

The question now is raised: is there any alternative to the “road map?”

The UN has called for an “inclusive” road map and dialogue, although Than Shwe turns a deaf ear. The junta leader strides ahead despite domestic opposition that manifested itself in a campaign to vote “No” in the referendum.

The road ahead will be a stony one for Than Shwe. Dissidents inside and outside the country will no doubt try to sabotage the election. The recent explosion at the office of the Union Solidarity of Development Association (USDA) provided strong evidence that more attacks could take place in the near future.

The blast occurred at the USDA office in the northern Rangoon suburb of Shwepyithar. No casualties were reported.

Formed in 1993, the junta-backed USDA claims to have more than 23 million members out of a national population of 57 million. Its members often have been accused of involvement in thuggish-style attacks against supporters of the pro-democracy opposition.

Similar attacks on USDA members and junta supporters could occur between now and the 2010 election, leading to spiraling violence.

Than Shwe is well placed to overcome all obstacles in his path, however, particularly while the UN and many governments, within the region and beyond, remain divided and indecisive in dealing with the regime.

Burma’s prominent and charismatic opposition leaders and activists who could lead a mass movement or challenge the regime’s legitimacy are either in hiding or in prison. Even if a mass movement takes shape, as it did in the September uprising, troops will no doubt again restore “law and order.”

Furthermore, opposition groups in exile and within Burma are fragmented and have no united voice. Ethnic armies and cease-fire groups are too weak to challenge the regime. Some ethnic groups will participate in the election, at the regime’s behest.

It is time to draw up an alternative to Than Shwe’s road map and prepare for transition. The current map probably ensures that Than Shwe will come out alive but democracy will remain as lifeless as ever.

Parties to Register for Election: Junta

The Irrawaddy News

Burma’s military junta will make an announcement in the coming months that all political parties must register in advance of the 2010 election, sources told The Irrawaddy.

Sources close to ethnic armed groups—which have maintained a ceasefire with the ruling junta since the 1990s—said that military officials told ceasefire groups to organize their political parties in preparation for the junta announcing party registration.

Burmese military officials reportedly also told the ceasefire groups that several high-ranking military generals would run in the election in 2010.

The Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), backed by the ruling military regime, had reviewed its membership list in preparation for the forthcoming election after the regime announced that more than 90 percent of voters supported the new constitution, according to USDA sources in Rangoon.

USDA members had reportedly been told to join a military-backed political party.

Sources said that when members of the USDA met with military officials, they were told that the country’s top generals were pleased with the tactic of using advance voting to control and win the constitutional referendum in May.

Military officials also told USDA leaders and local authorities to hold advance voting, in particular for soldiers, civil servants and USDA members, in the 2010 general election.

“The generals are very happy with the referendum result and advance voting. They think they can control people with advance voting rather than in a secret ballot on election day,” a township level leader of the USDA in Rangoon said.

“When I went to polling station on May 24 to vote, sub-commissioners at the polling station told me that their records showed that I had already voted. I asked them who voted for me. They told me that they voted on my behalf because they thought I would not come to the polling station,” a businessman in Rangoon said.

The main opposition party, the National League for Democracy, has not decided whether it will compete in the 2010 election. The party still regards the 1990 election result as valid and its policy is to call the People’s Parliamentary Assembly with elected persons from the last election, said Win Naing, a spokesperson for the NLD.

“The result of the 1990 election has never been honored by the ruling regime. So how can we consider the outcome of another election under the same rules?” he added.

Victims of Burma Cyclone Rescued from Human Traffickers

The Irrawaddy News

More than 80 women and child victims of Burma's recent cyclone have been rescued from human traffickers who were scheming to smuggle them to neighboring countries, a media report said Thursday.

Border police caught the traffickers, who had taken victims of Cyclone Nargis from the Irrawaddy delta to frontier areas, between June 11 to 14, the biweekly journal Eleven reported, quoting police.

Police Lt-Col Rahlyan Mone, from the force's human trafficking division, told the Rangoon-based journal that victims facing hardship are being enticed with job offers abroad by traffickers disguised as aid workers.

Police officials and other authorities who deal with human trafficking could not immediately be reached for comment.

Cross-border trafficking, especially to Thailand, has grown in recent years as people in one of the world's poorest nations seek opportunities elsewhere but are often tricked or coerced into prostitution or sweatshops.

The ruling junta has warned against exploitation of cyclone victims and urged the public to report any evidence of human trafficking.

Burma introduced an anti-human trafficking law in September 2005 that imposes a maximum penalty of death.

Local and foreign aid officials fear that trafficking could increase in wake of the cyclone, which hit BUrma May 2 to 3, killing more than 84,500 people and leaving nearly 54,000 missing.

School Children and Teachers Still Finding Hard to Concentrate

The Irrawaddy News

A woman teacher, who is 10-year veteran of the profession, was clearly frustrated.

"I find it harder to control the class," she admitted outside the makeshift school of 50 primary-age children in cyclone-affected Kungyangone, one of the worst-hit townships in Burma's Rangoon Division.

Two months after Cyclone Nargis struck, leaving more than 138,000 dead or missing, teachers are seeing first-hand the problems children face in returning to their studies. Almost half her students show signs of difficulty concentrating on their lessons.

"They don't seem to hear or respond to my questions very often in class," the teacher said.

While playing outside, some of the children rush back into the makeshift school, comprised of nothing more than bamboo and plastic sheeting, at the slightest sight of a dark cloud or hint of rain.

"I don't know how to help them," the teacher said.

Dealing with trauma

According to Michael Bociurkiw, a spokesman for the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) in Bangkok, "One of the best ways to help children to return to normalcy is to get them back into the classrooms."

As well as helping children get back to some sort of normality, being in school protects children from further harm that may follow a natural disaster, such as the risk of trafficking or child labor.

But with many of the children severely traumatized by the disaster, it is clear they will need help—and teachers are right on the frontline.

"Physically, they [students] are sitting in the class, but spiritually they are not here. Their minds are far away," said one teacher working at the Basic Education High School of Tawkyaung, Kungyangone Township.

Students who lost family members to the storm often performed poorly compared with other students who had been less affected, he said.

But it is not just the children who are suffering. Teachers, particularly in the cyclone-affected areas of Laputta and Bogalay, mostly female, were also badly traumatized by the storm that killed more than 113 of their colleagues.

Eight weeks on, some teachers complain of a lack of energy or the inability to concentrate on their work, with even a gust of wind throwing them off-track.

"I'm uncomfortable while it's raining when I see water building up around the school during my lecture," Than Win, another local teacher, who lost his wife and a three-year-old daughter in the category four storm, said.

"I simply stop. Only when I realize it's due to the rain do I resume," the 32-year-old teacher said—further evidence that before being able to support the children, the teachers will need help.

"We expect psycho-social training would be able to start soon for the teachers in the cyclone-ravaged areas," an official from UNICEF/Myanmar told IRIN in Rangoon, the former capital.

The agency hopes to support the psycho-social training of approximately 3,000 primary teachers in five townships, including Bogalay, Laputta, Mawlamyinegyune, Kawhmu, and Kungyangone.

"This draft module is now finished and is being reviewed by the Ministry of Education," the agency official said.

In addition, UNICEF has developed a "Tip-for-Teachers" booklet, which was approved by the Ministry of Education, translated into the local language and is now being printed for distribution. It contains detailed instructions on psycho-social support and the recovery of affected children.

Education losses

Meanwhile, government estimates of the physical toll on education in Burma continue to come in.

According to the latest figures, in Rangoon Division, some 1,815 or 48 percent of public school buildings were totally or partially damaged, with Kungyangone, Thone Gwa and Twantay townships suffering the most.

In the southern Irrawaddy delta, just over 2,000 or 43 percent of all public school buildings were totally or partially damaged, with Bogalay, Laputta and Mawlamyinegyune townships the worst affected.

Moreover, 123 monastic schools were partially damaged.

Approximately 40 government-sponsored early childhood care, youth development centers and community learning centers were damaged.

Another 242 private early childcare establishment were also damaged or destroyed, while 80 administrative offices experienced roof and partial damage and 461 university buildings and higher education administrative offices lost their roofs.

Foreign Volunteer Told to Leave Burma

The Irrawaddy News

A foreign volunteer working with a Burmese nongovernmental organization (NGO) has left the country after receiving repeated warnings from the authorities over a series of interviews she conducted with ethnic leaders and senior politicians.

Sources from Rangoon’s NGO community told The Irrawaddy that personnel from the Special Branch of Burma’s police force told Inga Gruss, a German volunteer with local NGO Myanmar Egress, twice last month to leave the country.

“The authorities told her she should leave after they followed her activities and checked her passport,” said an NGO staffer who spoke on condition of anonymity.

According to the source, Gruss was first approached by the police while staying at a guesthouse in downtown Rangoon. She later moved to Thamada Hotel, where the offices of Myanmar Egress are located.

“Her final warning came on June 15 at Thamada Hotel,” said the source. She reportedly left the country sometime last week.

Gruss, who had been in Burma since April on a tourist visa, was working as a volunteer with Myanmar Egress, an NGO that is registered as an educational institution. She is also a social science researcher, focusing on religion, state and Burma’s Kachin people.
“The authorities probably suspected her of being a journalist,” said a Burmese researcher in Rangoon. “They became suspicious after she met veteran politicians, including ethnic leaders, for her research.”

According to its Web site, Myanmar Egress was co-founded in 2005 by Nay Win Maung, publisher of Living Color magazine and The Voice journal, and Kyaw Yin Hlaing, a Burmese scholar based in Hong Kong.

In a report published on June 13, The Washington Post described Nay Win Maung as “a son of a military officer [who] was brought up among Burma’s military elites, giving him good connections to military insiders. His magazines can access government-related news and exclusive information.”

These connections have also helped Myanmar Egress. “It got permission from the authorities to do Cyclone Nargis relief work that other private relief workers did not get,” said the Burmese researcher. “But [Gruss’] case shows that there are limits to their tolerance.”

Kerstin Jung, webmaster for the Nargis Action Group Myanmar, a relief group operating under Myanmar Egress, confirmed that Gruss was no longer in the country, but was unable to provide any further details.

At least 10 foreign journalists have been forced out of Burma or banned from entering since Cyclone Nargis struck on May 2-3, according to Reporters Sans Frontières.

South Korean journalist Lee Yu Kyong was expelled by authorities on June 22 after visiting the Rangoon headquarters of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy.

A Canadian woman working for the International Committee of the Red Cross was also deported recently after she made a field trip to Shan State, in eastern Burma.

Earlier this year, officials cautioned international NGOs against conducting surveys and doing unauthorized research, calling it a “very sensitive issue,” according to a report of a meeting between government officials and representatives of foreign NGOs held on January 11.

Ferry sinking kills 38

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) -- A ferry sank in a river in Myanmar's cyclone-battered Irrawaddy delta, killing nearly 40 people, state-media reported Friday.

The motorized ship sank in the Yway river Tuesday after water entered its stern section, the New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported. The report did not give details on how the accident happened.

The newspaper said 38 people were killed and 44 others rescued.

The ferry, named "Myo Pa Pa Tun," was traveling from Pakeikkyi village to Myaungmya, about 94 miles west of Yangon, the newspaper said. Myaungmya was not badly affected by Cyclone Nargis, which left a swath of death and devastation in the delta when it struck in early May. More than 84,000 died in the storm.

People living in Myanmar's vast delta region often travel and transport goods by boat because of the lower cost and inaccessibility of many areas by road.

Boat accidents are common in Myanmar's river deltas and coastal regions. In May, a ferry collided with another passenger boat in Twantay canal near Yangon killing at least 6 people.

Burma Intercepts Human Trafficking Victims

By VOA News
03 July 2008

A report says Burmese police have intercepted more than 80 women and children from cyclone-hit regions who were being trafficked across the country's borders.

The biweekly news journal Eleven reported Thursday that police intercepted the victims at border checkpoints last month. It said the traffickers posed as aid workers and lured the women and children with promises of jobs or aid.

The Burmese government has warned citizens to report any suspected cases of human trafficking.

Cyclone Nargis pounded Burma's agricultural belt on May 2 and 3, leaving more than 130,000 dead or missing.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and AP.

Htin Kyaw remanded without being produced before court

Mizzima News

Chiang Mai – Htin Kyaw, arrested for protesting against the fuel price hike, was remanded again yesterday without being produced in court though the court fixed yesterday for hearing his case for the fifth time.

The Rangoon Western District court hearing his case was transferred and the new judge is yet to take charge. So, he was remanded till July 16 for the next hearing. Htin Kyaw is a member of Burma Development Committee.

"The court didn't hear his case yesterday. The judge was transferred and the new judge has not yet arrived. The court remanded him again," Khin Maung Shein, the defence lawyer said.

Htin Kyaw was charged with three cases, protesting for letting him being ordained on 22nd March 2007 at Thamaing junction in Rangoon, staging demonstrations for rising essential commodity prices on 22nd April 2007 at Sanpya market Thingangyun and staging demonstrations in Rangoon Theingyi market in August 2007. He has been charged under section 124(a) of the Criminal Code for inciting disaffection towards the State, for each case.

These cases are being heard at the Western District Court. Examination of witnesses on the Theingyi market demonstration in Pabedan Township case is not yet completed.

Htin Kyaw urged the people on August 22 to protest against the government's decision on fuel price hike announced on August 15. He was arrested while he was staging a protest against the fuel price hike on August 25 in Theingyi market.

"The expression of a citizen, disliking something, is not violation of section 124(a) of the Criminal Code. This is not about inciting disaffection towards the State. This is just an expression of his will and desire based on true facts. So we pleaded with the court that this was not the case of 'disaffection towards the State," defence lawyer Khin Maung Shein said.

If convicted, he will face up to 20 years in prison for each case under section 124 (a) and up to two year's imprisonment under section 505(b) – disturbing public tranquility. So he faces a maximum of 60 years and a minimum of six years in prison.

Htin Kyaw staged protest demonstrations in prison calling for the release of all political prisoners including monks and students. For the second time, he staged demonstrations for being provided the right to stroll inside the prison compound and then finally for the third time, he shouted slogans like 'Down with dictatorship'. After which, he was sent to solitary confinement at the Dogs' cell for the third time.

A NLD Member Arrested after Tuesday Blast

The Irrawaddy News

A township-level leader of Burma’s main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), has been arrested in connection with a bomb attack on an office of the junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) in Rangoon on Tuesday (1 Jul).

NLD sources told The Irrawaddy on Friday that Khin Maung, 62, an executive member of the Shwepyithar Township branch of the NLD, was taken away by secret police on Tuesday evening. The sources added that the authorities gave family members no reason for the arrest.

“As far as I know, he had nothing to do with the explosion. He seriously believes in non-violence, which is also party policy,” said an NLD member from Shwepyithar who spoke on condition of anonymity. “I think the authorities are just using him as a scapegoat for this blast.”

Nyan Win, a spokesperson for the NLD, confirmed Khin Maung’s arrest, but declined to offer further comment.

Witnesses said on Tuesday that the explosion occurred at dawn on July 1, apparently targeting the Shwepyithar Township office of the USDA. No one was injured in the incident.

Security in Rangoon, Burma’s largest city, has been tightened since the blast. Active members of the USDA have reportedly been ordered to be on guard against further attacks against their offices.

The Vigorous Burmese Student Warriors, a dissident group that seized control of the Burmese embassy in Bangkok in 1999, has taken credit for the blast. The group also said in a statement that they carried out two previous bomb blasts in downtown Rangoon last April.

Meanwhile, four members of the NLD in Taunggok Township, Arakan State, were each given one-year prison sentences on June 27 for campaigning against a constitution drafted by the ruling junta. They were arrested in March after they distributed flyers urging voters to reject the charter in a May 10 referendum.