Thursday, 10 July 2008

Nargis ‘Donations’ Collected From Schools


Following orders from State Authorities, Village Authorities in many Karen state townships have been collecting donations for Nargis' victims not only from villagers but also from schools, according to a source from Hpa-an township.

A civil servant from the education department of Karen state told Kaowao that although 1000 Kyat had already been collected from each household in the area around June 20th, last week students from both High and Middle Schools were asked to collect more money from their parents.

A parent from Hton Eie village said, "We paid 1000 Kyat per household two weeks ago, and now we have to pay another ‘donation’, collect from us by our own children. I have three children at the village school so I have to pay another 1800 Kyat. That's not fair for poor parents like us."

He added that a teacher had threatened students who didn't pay the money to not return to school.
Forced donations have been frequent in villages across Burma in the wake of Cyclone Nargis, with many villagers facing threats if they fail to meet the monetary requirement demanded of them.

Censor and editor give evidence at poet’s trial - Saw Wai

Jul 9, 2008 (DVB)–Poet Saw Wai appeared at Insein prison court yesterday for the third time defending himself against accusations of violating section 505(b) of the penal code, according to his wife Ma Nan San San Aye.

Saw Wai was arrested on 22 January after his poem, “February 14th”, which was published in the weekly Achit Journal, was found to have a hidden anti-government message.

He is now being charged with distributing information that could cause public alarm or incite offences against the public tranquility.

Nan San San Aye said a state censor and the journal’s editor gave evidence at the hearing yesterday.

"An official from the censor board testified in the court hearing that the original poem was 12 lines long and it was turned down by the board. When it appeared later in the weekly journal it was only 8 lines," Nan San San Aye said.

"The journal's editor Myat Khin testified that the censor board had only notified their office of the rejection of the poem by phone and that he forgot to let other people in the office know about it," she went on.

"When the judge asked him what sort of action was taken in the journal office after the incident, he replied that the journal had suspended publication for one week."

The chief editor of the journal also had to sign an agreement promising not to let this kind of incident happen again.

Nan San San Aye has previously reported claims by Saw Wai that Myat Khin was aware that the censor board had turned down the poem but decided to publish it anyway to increased sales of the journal.

Nan San San Aye said Saw Wai, who has been suffering from a hernia, has already been in the prison hospital several times.

An appeal letter has been sent on the poet’s behalf to prison authorities requesting proper medical attention.

Reporting by Naw Say Phaw

Blogger Nay Phone Latt appears in court

Jul 9, 2008 (DVB)–Blogger Nay Phone Latt appeared before Insein prison court for the first time yesterday where he heard three charges against him, including causing public alarm, his mother told DVB.

Daw Aye Than said her son was charged under section 32(b) of the Video Act, section 36 of an unspecified law regulating electronic devices and section 505(b) of the penal code, which forbids the distribution of material likely to cause public alarm or incite offences against the public tranquility.

A section 32(b) violation carries a maximum penalty of six months’ imprisonment, while section 505(b) of the penal code mandates a jail term of up to two years.

He was originally only charged with section 32(b) of the Video Act.

Nay Phone Latt was informed of the charges at yesterday's court hearing and was told by the judge that his next court hearing will be on 22 July.

"I'm sad to learn an innocent person was charged under three acts but these things are not so unusual in this country," Daw Aye Than said.

"He has lost about 14lbs in weight and is suffering from weak eyesight as well."

Daw Aye Than said Nay Phone Latt had had a medical check-up with a doctor yesterday and that the family had also asked prison authorities to allow him to see an optician.

Ma Thin July Kyaw from Dagon township, who was arrested at the same time as Nay Phone Latt, also appeared in court yesterday and was charged with violations of section 32(b) of the Video Act and section 36 of the law covering electronic devices.

Reporting by Naw Say Phaw

Red and black items confiscated from inmates

Jul 9, 2008 (DVB)–Family members of political prisoners in Insein prison said prison authorities have been searching the detainees’ cells for red and black items and returning them to their families.

A relative of one inmate said that the authorities had confiscated clothing seen as having political symbolism.

"In particular they have been taking away black Kachin and Yaw longyis wore by the detained student leaders," he said.

"The prison officials handed those things back to us and we had to sign an acknowledgement of receiving the items."

"Some said they were even seizing black and red underwear."

The mother of 88 generation student leader Ko Ant Bwe Kyaw was also given back a collarless shirt she had brought to her son.

Collarless shirts and dark-coloured Kachin or Yaw longyis are the uniform commonly worn by 88 generation students and other student politicians.

Reporting by Khin Hnin Htet

World Bank will not support junta, says NLD

Jul 9, 2008 (DVB)–The World Bank does not have any plans to provide the military regime in Burma with financial assistance, according to Dr Win Naing, a member of the National League for Democracy Information Committee.

Dr Win Naing told DVB that a delegation from the World Bank met with five leaders from the pro-democracy party in Rangoon on Friday last week to explain about the financial institution’s current policy on Burma.

“They said they still stood firm on their policy of not giving any financial loans to the regime,” said Dr Win Naing.

“They also told us that they had been involved in the cyclone assessment process together with UN agencies.”

DVB has learned that the World Bank will submit their findings from the assessment to interested donors to inform their decisions on aid provision.

“They said that based on their findings donors could calculate how to provide relief supplies to cyclone survivors,” said Dr Win Naing.

“They stressed that donors would not channel their support to the victims through the regime, but would instead provide aid through selected NGOs or agencies.”

In May this year, the World Bank’s executive director Juan Jose Daboub told journalists that it currently did not have any plans to give financial support to Burma, which had lost USD 10 billion since Cyclone Nargis hit the country, because the junta had not paid off the previous debts it owed to the institution.

According to AFP, Burma’s military regime has not repaid loans borrowed from the World Bank since 1988.

Reporting by Khin Hnin Htet

88 generation student leaders still in poor health

Jul 9, 2008 (DVB)–Families of 88 generation student leaders currently being held in Insein prison are growing increasingly concerned about the deteriorating health of their relatives in detention.

Ko Myo Yan Naung Thein, one of the leaders of the 88 generation students group, was brought onto Insein prison court yesterday for a hearing on a stretcher, according to a member of his family.

Another prominent leaders of the group, Ko Ko Gyi, has been suffering from a weak digestive system, and has only been able to eat boiled rice for the past three months, his younger brother Ko Aung Htun told DVB.

"He can only eat boiled rice or other very soft things such as noodles and bread," said Aung Htun.

"His liver is also getting weak again."

Ko Ko Gyi has previously suffered from liver stones and hepatitis B, but recent tests by Insein prison doctors showed that his hepatitis infection had not recurred.

"But they assumed his digestive problem was due to his weak liver and they gave him some medicine for it," Aung Htun said.

"He has been very careful with his own health and diet because he has not been provided with adequate medical attention."

Reporting by Khin Hnin Htet

Failing Health, Regime Cruelty Can’t Break Win Tin

The Irrawaddy News

Among the more than 1,000 political prisoners in Burma, one merits particular attention.
Win Tin, the country’s longest-serving prisoner of conscience, wins international respect, support and sympathy because of his exemplary courage and refusal to bow before his oppressors.

Although in failing health, 78-year-old Win Tin has reportedly spurned regime offers to free him in exchange for his disavowal of all he has ever fought for. Unbroken by nearly 19 years incarceration, this distinguished journalist continues to write in his cell despite all official attempts to block his efforts. Denied writing material and even books, he writes with a strip of bamboo as a pen and powdered brick as ink.

Win Tin was a prominent opposition politician before his imprisonment in 1989—a key member of the Central Executive Committee of the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by detained Noble laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

He championed academic, artistic and press freedom and earned the title Saya (mentor) from young followers.

Win Tin was born in 1930. In 1953, he received his Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature, Modern History and Political Science from Rangoon University. From 1950 until 1954, he worked as an assistant editor of the government-run Sarpay Beikman (Burma Translation Society).

He worked in the Netherlands for the Djambartan publishing company as a consultant until 1957 and then returned to Rangoon to take up the post of executive editor of the city’s best-selling daily newspaper Kyemon daily. From 1969 to 1978, he was chief editor of the Mandalay-based daily Hanthawaddy, one of the most influential newspapers in the history of the Burmese press.

In 1978, a paper critical of the regime of the then dictator Gen Ne Win regime was read at the "Saturday Reading Circle," in which Win Tin was a leading member. Consequently, he was dismissed from his job and the newspaper was shut down. But he continued to write articles and books.

The nationwide uprising in 1988 changed his life for ever. Win Tin joined the opposition NLD and became one of the secretaries of the executive committee. He was arrested, accused of belonging to the banned Communist Party of Burma and, in October 1989, sentenced to prison.

Even then he continued to write, and in 1995 he contributed a report to the UN, entitled
“The testimonials of prisoners of conscience from Insein Prison who have been unjustly imprisoned, demands and requests regarding human rights violations in Burma,” in which he described torture and lack of medical treatment in prison.

While the authorities investigated, he was confined in a cell designed for military dogs, without bedding. He was deprived of food and water, and was refused family visits, for long periods.

In recognition of his courage, Win Tin was awarded UNESCO’s Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize in 2000. The following year, he was awarded the World Association of Newspapers’ Golden Pen of Freedom.

Last week, reports emerged suggesting that Win Thin’s health is declining and that he’s in urgent need of proper medical attention. He suffers from severe asthma, lung problems, heart disease and spondylitis (inflammation of the joints of the spine).

The London-based rights advocacy group Amnesty International said: "Win Tin’s health has suffered because of the poor conditions in which he has been held. He has had difficulties breathing and eating during the recent worsening of his health."

Win Tin is probably resigned to dying in prison, but that thought doesn’t seem to daunt this courageous man. "Will death be my release?” he has asked. “As long as democracy and human rights are not within reach, I decline my release. I am prepared to stay [in prison]."

Report Slams Beijing’s Burma Policy

The Irrawaddy News

A US-based rights group called “8-8-08 for Burma” has released a report condemning the Chinese government for its support of the Burmese military junta just one month ahead of the Beijing Olympics’ opening ceremony.

Released on July 2, the five-page report, titled “Sinking: China’s Soft Diplomacy on Burma,” details the pitfalls of Chinese foreign policy toward Burma in recent years and slams Beijing for its response to the cyclone disaster in the Irrawaddy delta.

The report says the Chinese government has advocated a “soft approach of consultations” with the Burmese military junta, and has voiced support for the regime’s so-called “seven step roadmap to democracy,” a policy criticized by Burmese opposition groups and international observers as a sham.

The report noted that that although Beijing says there is no “special relationship” between China and the Burmese military regime, China is nonetheless Burma’s largest trading partner and is expected to sign a US $1 billion deal in 2008 for an oil and natural gas pipeline through Burma into western China.

China has also sold a $2-3 billion package of weapons and military equipment to the Burmese junta while at the same time defending the junta at the United Nations, says the report.

In response to the Chinese foreign policy that “pressure would not serve any purpose” in Burma, the report said that the Burmese regime has demonstrated that it does not respond to soft measures, except with “superficial developments meant to curb international pressure and continue repression, abuses and atrocities.”

The 8-8-08 for Burma report also notes that although Chinese officials have pledged support for the [United Nations] secretary-general’s good offices, as well as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ (Asean’s) leading role in the Burmese issue, the reality is that the Beijing government has consistently undermined the ability of the UN and Asean to effectively address the Burma issue.

The report alleges that while thwarting attempts by the UN to address the Burmese junta’s abuses and atrocities, the Chinese government is constantly looking at increasing trade with Burma.

The report said, “China’s goals as the Olympic host are in direct conflict with Beijing’s Burma policy, promoting repression and atrocities instead of the fundamental principles of the Olympics—human dignity, peace and brotherhood.”

In the aftermath of the May 2-3 cyclone disaster, the Chinese government appealed to the international community not to “politicize” the crisis.

However, the report concluded that “in contrast to its timely and appropriate reaction to its own May 12 earthquake, China facilitated the denial of life-saving aid to the 2.4 million people affected by Cyclone Nargis in Burma.”

The rights group’s report called for China to take immediate action to help end Burma’s crisis before August 8—the 20th anniversary of the 1988 democracy uprising in Burma, and a date that also marks the commencement last year of demonstrations led by monks.

“August 8, 2008, can be a day to celebrate human achievement and perseverance—in China, in Burma, everywhere. But only if China takes action now,” the report said.

The 8-8-08 for Burma campaign is a project of Res Publica, a community of public sector professionals in the United States who say they are dedicated to promoting good governance, civic virtue and deliberative democracy.

Thousands of Karenni IDPs Hide in Jungle

The Irrawaddy News

An estimated 4,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are currently hiding in the jungle near Hpasawng Township, about 94 kilometers south of the Karenni State capital Loikaw, according to a Karenni relief group.

Daniel, a coordinator for the Karenni Social Welfare and Development Center (KSWDC), which provides aid to Karenni IDPs, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that the villagers had fled their homes fearing attacks by the Burmese army.

“More than 4,000 Karenni IDPs are now hiding in Hpasawng Township,” said Daniel, who uses only one name. “It will be very difficult for them if they have to stay in the jungle for a long time.”

The Burmese army’s Light Infantry Battalions (LIB) 427, 428 and 337 patrol the area around Hpasawng and have clashed with Karenni rebels in the area six times so far this year, according to local sources.

Some of the Karenni IDPs want to move to the Thai-Burmese border, but they fear possible attacks by Burmese troops along the way, said Daniel.

Poe Byar Shay Reh, chairman of the Karenni Refugee Committee, said that more than 160 IDPs have arrived at Karenni refugee camps in Thailand’s Mae Hong Son Province since the beginning of 2008.

He said, however, that so far, none of the IDPs currently hiding in the jungle have reached the refugee camps.

“None of them have arrived at the refugee camps, but we don’t know if they’ll start coming later,” said Poe Byar Shay Reh.

He added that some of the Karenni IDPs now sheltering in the refugee camps had fled their villages after being accused by the Burmese army and the ceasefire Karenni Nationalities People’s Liberation Front of supporting the anti-government Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP).

The KNPP signed a ceasefire agreement with Burma’s ruling junta in 1995, but the truce broke down after just three months when Burmese troops deployed on KNPP territory.

There have been several failed attempts since then to restart talks, most recently in late 2004. However, the junta suspended all contact with the group following the ouster of Prime Minister Gen Khin Nyunt, who had masterminded a number of ceasefire agreements with ethnic rebel groups.

Burmese military operations forced around 6,000 Karenni villagers to become IDPs in 2007, according to a survey conducted by KSWDC.

More than 20,000 Karenni refugees are staying in two camps in Mae Hong Son Province, according to the Thailand-Burma Border Consortium and the Karenni Refugee Committee.

Regime Asks UN to Stop Press Conferences in Bangkok

The Irrawaddy News

Burma’s military government has asked the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and other UN agencies not to hold press conferences in Bangkok but in Rangoon, according to sources in the former Burmese capital.

Since Cyclone Nargis slammed Burma on May 2-3, the Bangkok-based Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand (FCCT) has hosted several press conferences by UN agencies. The FCCT confirmed that the UN suddenly canceled its planned weekly press briefings on Wednesday last week without giving any reason.

The UN’s decision to suspend its regular press conferences in Bangkok reportedly came after Burma’s military rulers indicated that they preferred Rangoon as the venue for future briefings.

Burmese authorities rarely allow accredited journalists to enter the country, except to cover carefully orchestrated events that highlight the regime’s accomplishments. Local journalists are also prevented by draconian press laws from covering sensitive issues.

Recently, Burmese journalists faced hurdles reporting on international relief efforts after they were told they could not attend a press conference by Surin Pitsuwan, the secretary-general of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), a member of the Tripartite Core Group which is coordinating the relief effort. The group consists of the regional grouping plus the UN and the Burmese junta.

Earlier this week, a spokesperson for a UN agency praised the regime for its contribution to the humanitarian mission in cyclone-hit areas. “The government has allocated a lot of money to relief and recovery,” said UNICEF spokesperson Zafrin Chowdhury, speaking in Rangoon on Monday.

In May, the regime was widely condemned for refusing to issue visas to foreign relief workers. On May 23, after a meeting with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the junta finally agreed to allow an international relief effort, although it continued to impose restraints on the movements of foreign aid workers.

The Irrawaddy contacted OCHA spokeswoman Amanda Pitt and UN spokesman Richard Horsey about the suspension of press conferences in Bangkok, but they declined to comment on the reason for the move. OCHA representatives in Rangoon also had nothing to say about the change.

Critics of the relief effort say that it is still moving far too slowly. Until recently, OCHA situation reports stated that the aid mission had reached 1.3 million out of an estimated 2.4 million affected people—a figure that remained unchanged through the entire month of June.

In its latest report, released on July 7, OCHA omits the number of people who have so far received aid.

International community must step up response

Bangkok Post

Now, more than two months after Cyclone Nargis left a trail of death and destruction in Burma, events and developments elsewhere around the globe have captured many of the region's news headlines. But not being the centre of the media's attention does not mean that the plight of Burma is over. Unfortunately, that is far from being the case.

The world's attention will surely re-focus on Burma in the coming days, with the launch of the Revised Flash Appeal today. The initial appeal sought $187 million to enable international partners to support the government of Burma in addressing the needs of more than 1,500,000 people affected by the cyclone.

The Revised Flash Appeal is based on the Post-Nargis Joint Assessment Report (PONJA) undertaken by the Tripartite Core Group, consisting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), the Burmese government and the United Nations.

The PONJA report will be launched in Singapore, on July 21, at the Asean Foreign Ministers' Meeting. Yet, in our separate capacities as the chairperson of the Asean Humanitarian Task Force and a member of the Humanitarian Task Force Advisory Group, we were recently provided with the report's preliminary findings - and they give a sobering overview of the extensive damage and loss incurred as a result of Cyclone Nargis.

It was an overview reinforced by what we witnessed first-hand during a recent visit to some of the worst-affected areas in Burma's Irrawaddy delta, including the townships of Bogale, Satsan and Kyein Chaung Gyi.

Even before landing in affected areas, we were provided with a continual reminder of the obstacles faced in overcoming the cyclone's effects. The 45-minute helicopter flight to Bogale highlighted the vast open space of the delta, while the absence of almost any roads emphasised its remoteness and the scale of the remaining recovery and reconstruction challenge.

On the ground, we saw that while the relief phase is far from over and unmet humanitarian needs remain significant - particularly in the food, water/sanitation and shelter sectors - much has been accomplished to bring assistance to most villages in the delta and that some level of normalcy was starting to take shape.

We witnessed a district hospital in full operation, children attending recently repaired schools and the construction, in hardwood, of family homes to replace the tents and temporary shelters erected in the first weeks following the destructive passage of Cyclone Nargis.

The resilience of the people could be seen in the faces of the children and adults we spoke with. But the pain and trauma was also palpable. In one school alone in Satsan, we saw 200 empty seats for children - truly a stark reminder of the long-term impact that Cyclone Nargis had and will have on communities here.

And yet, the determination of the local community to bounce back and carry on with their lives, amidst so much damage and suffering, was encouraging and a testament to the will of the Burmese people to rebuild their lives.

But this progress cannot go far on its own. It needs, today and in the days to come, to be further encouraged and aided by the international community.

It is time to scale up effective programmes to support the health, education and livelihoods of the people in the Irrawaddy delta. It is time to think of using the tripartite partnership to develop a more comprehensive and coordinated strategy for recovery. In particular, it is time to ensure that rice is planted before the planting season finishes at the end of July. Failing that, not only will it have disastrous consequences for food security in Burma and the region, but it will also increase Burma's already high levels of unemployment.

As part of early recovery efforts, seeds, fertiliser and more diesel for the newly provided tillers are urgently needed. Small steps like these will have a knock-on effect for the overall situation; productive employment is a central part of the recovery phase and a step forward in the return to normalcy.

In addition, support needs to be township-focused and village-based. The capacity of existing institutions that can bring relief to where it is most needed at the community level needs to be strengthened. This was driven home when we visited a township and village administration that was managing relief operations with the support of the Burmese Red Cross and Red Crescent societies, civil society organisations and the United Nations system.

For any of this to happen, there needs to be a solid response to the impending Revised Flash Appeal and we call upon the international community to take heed of the appeal. We make this call not only in our respective capacities as the heads of Asean and the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (Escap), but also as concerned citizens of Asia.

Not all of us will be able to witness first-hand the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis with flights to the Irrawaddy delta, nor do we need to. It is enough to know that the Burmese people need the world's help. And the world should respond and respond quickly.

As our field visit to the delta drew to a close and the blades of the WFP's MI-8 helicopter began to roar, the drizzle which had been falling for some time changed. Gone was the gentle pitter-patter of raindrops, and in its place came the monsoon rains - yet another reminder of the need to act quickly.

Dr Noeleen Heyzer, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of Escap, is a member of the Asean Humanitarian Task Force Advisory Group.

Dr Surin Pitsuwan, Secretary-General of the Secretariat of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, is chairman of the Asean Humanitarian Task Force.