Monday, 14 July 2008

Junta members assassinated at dinner party

Shan Agency for News
By Hseng Khio Fah
14 July 2008

Two junta officials in Kholam, Namzang township, southern Shan State, along with two other civilians were shot by unknown gunmen while they were having dinner, according to SHAN sources.

Yesterday evening, at 18:00, Deputy commander, Major Aung Thiha and Capt Soe Min Aye from Infantry Battalion#66, based in Kholam and two teak traders (not identified) were shot while having meal at a teak trader’s house. They died instantly, said a source.

“Those unknown gunmen, 3-4 of them shot from the window. It was like they [authorities] were being trailed,” said the source. “There was no one to provide security during the time.”

There had been no other casualty.

No further details have emerged so far.

For more details please contact, 0801260064

First the storm, then the plague

Relief Web

The flies are unbearable.’ When asked how things are in the Cylone-affected Irrawaddy delta of Myanmar, the first thing that they describe is the flies. Thick clouds of biting flies fill the air around the villages, having bred in the bloated carcasses of the buffalo killed by the storm. ‘There are so many, that some of the remaining buffaloes have even been killed from the bites.’

For foreign aid workers access to the delta remains challenging, but two of DCA's partner staffs who had just returned from the storm-ravaged communities told that it’s crucial that the farmers in the affected villages plant their rice now if they’re to get any harvest, and for many that means cleaning and preparing paddies filled with fallen trees and debris from the storm, often without the help of buffaloes. There is at most only a week left in the planting season, and time is running out.

‘Only about 50 percent of the people have been able to plant so far,’ they said. ‘Luckily, the monsoon rains have cleared out the salt water that inundated the paddies after the Cyclone. But the buffaloes that remain are either younger ones from the North of the country, or animals weakened from the storm, and they are difficult to plow with.’

‘The flies are coming from the bodies of all of the buffaloes killed by the storm. But the farmers have no choice; they are soaking their faces and arms in diesel fuel to keep the flies away.’

The relief workers had just returned from Laputa township where they were able to distribute 300 fifty-kilogram bags of rice for about 700 people, and plan another distribution in about one and a half months. Whilst some villages have received food from the UN World Food Program through DCA’s local partner, those served by DCA’s smaller partners live on the banks of small streams or far from the river banks, and many have not received any assistance at all since the Cyclone hit and they lost everything.

Incomprehensible Suffering

The story of the death and destruction in these villages is overwhelming; some villages lost up to half their populations in a single night. And the individual stories of loss echo in my mind in the days that follow. The man I spoke with saw 100 bodies buried earlier that morning.

‘Some people have lost 8 family members from a single family. But even then, they try to rebuild.

Some of the children have lost both parents and have no one else to take care of them in their villages. Nargis orphans fill the institutions in the town centers. DCA’s partner staffs help to run one orphanage with 46 children, and another with 153.

The manager of the orphanage says the kids don’t want to go to school, and while they try to impose some routine, they don’t push the children too much.

‘There are some who say that they want to commit suicide, because they have lost their families,’ they tell me. ‘There is one girl twelve year old girl who runs off very often. When I ask her why, she says that she is afraid, that she is seeing dead bodies all the time.’

‘Another girl in the 3rd grade keeps screaming that she misses her mom, crying out loud.’

The pastor of one village lost his wife and 4 of his five children, including the son who was going to take over the parish as well as a twenty month old daughter. ‘He says he has completely lost his faith, that he just doesn’t feel it any more. He continues working for the village, but not for God. He says he just can’t believe anything after what has happened to him. He will stay in the village, but only until the harvest.’

The cyclone struck in the evening time. Now when the evening sky darkens with monsoon clouds people huddle together in the church, or what remains of it, just to keep each other company. In the last village they visited yesterday, the church had been utterly destroyed by the wind and water – only the pulpit and the bell tower remained, as if a broom had swept the rest clean. For the parishioners, the memory is still fresh, and the scar is deep. One of the most frequent requests is to rebuild the church.

Life goes on

But the relief officers also talk about how inspiring it is to see the villages coming together, how surprised they are by people’s ability to move on.

‘After the Cyclone many people are sharing resources, right down to spoons and pots. Many of them normally don’t have land plots to work on, work as daily wage laborers. They work others, try to catch a few fish, and eke out a living.

‘These people are used to doing everything for themselves.’ They are a proud people who are not used to accepting charity. I told them that DCA is not there to give handouts, but to help the Burmese people help themselves. Building local capacity is a core objective of DCA’s response.

As a whole, the relief officers see no signs of famine, but there are pockets of hunger. While there is no acute malnutrition, the kids are looking thin. ‘They don’t have as much to worry about any more. In the beginning, they had no contact with the other people. They felt helpless. But now they are regaining their confidence and their community fabric. People have been able to use their small building materials to rebuild their houses.’

Like many Danes, most Burmese people do not express their sorrow openly. ‘It’s strange to see that people feel pain, but they don’t bury their thoughts in sorrow,’ they told me. ‘They try hard to forget, to go back into their communities and want to focus on rebuilding, on starting a new life.’

The months ahead

The next rice harvest will come in November, when the World Food Program is planning to half the numbers of people receiving food distribution. Even those not receiving WFP food will be affected by this move and the overall effect on local food availability. DCA’s staff and partners are concerned that the most marginalized – those living in remote villages, daily laborers and the landless – will see their nutritional status worsen in these months, and will therefore keep a close watch on the harvest, and advocate with WFP if necessary.

Water will be another big problem for the villagers in the next six months. They need to clean the ponds 1 or 2 more times, as they are still dirty. This will be an increasing problem in the dry season (March April), when they will be without drinking water.

For the survivors, the road to recovery is long.

By Erik Johnson, Burma

Burmese Army confiscates land and popular 'Stone Dragon'

Map of Machyang Baw city, Putao District, Kachin State.

Kachin News

Muscling its way into land and property of people has been an old habit of the Burmese Army. The military has been known to seize whatever it takes a fancy to.

A local battalion has confiscated land and the popular 'Stone Dragon' also called 'Chyauk Naga' in Machyang Baw, a small but beautiful city on the Mali River (Mali Hka in Kachin) band in Putao District in Kachin State, Northern Burma, local sources said.

Dubbing it 'army land', the city-based Burmese Army Infantry Battalion (IB) No. 137 confiscated about 50 acres of land near the city, including the tourist attraction, the 'Stone Dragon' from local land lords in March, 2007, land owners told KNG.

The land was seized by the local army base but the land owners were never compensated, land owners added.

The two Christian Prayer Mountains of the local Assembly of God (AG) and Rawang Baptist Convention (RBC) churches near the city were also seized by the local army Infantry Battalion No. 137 in 2003.

All these areas were confiscated in the name of 'army land'. Military posts were constructed in the areas, the locals said.

Machyang Baw is located 14 miles southeast of Putao where the IB No. 137 has been based by confiscating land belonging to local's without they being compensated since 2004, according to residents of Machyang Baw.

On the other hand, the Burmese junta's Putao District Peace and Development Council has banned, especially 'Church of Christ' worshipers of the Lisu and Rawang tribes from praying in their churches with inter-church conflicts as an excuse, since 2004.

The junta has significantly expanded its military battalions from only one to four after the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) signed a ceasefire agreement with the junta in 1994.

Former northern Commander sold alley in Myitkyina before transfer

Kachin News

The Burmese military junta's former Northern Command (Ma-Pa-Kha) Commander Maj-Gen. Ohn Myint has pulled another fast one on the people of Myitkyina. He has sold the alley in Yan Gyi Aung quarter in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State in northern Burma after receiving his transfer order, a source said.

The former Commander Ohn Myint issued orders not to have the alley in the quarter. So, the township municipality office has already measured the width of the alley, which is near the Yan Gyi Aung market, and is ready to sell, said a source close to the civic office.

The township municipality office has measured not only the alley near the Yan Gyi Aung's market but also another alley in the quarter, a source added.

Residents who heard about it cannot understand what the former commander actually did in the quarter. So, no one can complain, according to a resident in Yan Gyi Aung.

Before the former commander left the state in June on being transferred, he destroyed all documents related to finance and other important papers of his tenure in the office of the Kachin State Peace and Development Council (Pa-Ya-Ka) in Myitkyina.

Maj-Gen. Ohn Myint was promoted to Commander of No. (1) Bureau of Special Operation or Commander of Special Operation for Northern Burma of the Burmese ruling junta.

Poll reveals most Burmese ignorant about constitution

Mizzima News
14 July 2008

New Delhi - Many Burmese in Rangoon said, they had no clue about the contents of the recently approved constitution, drafted by the ruling military government, though they voted in its favour.

Despite the junta's claim that its draft constitution has been overwhelmingly supported by 92.48 per cent of all eligible voters, a random survey conducted among residents of Rangoon, Burma's largest city, showed most respondents are unaware of the contents of the constitution that will determine their future.

Of the 50 respondents, in a random telephone survey conducted by Mizzima, only one person, a businessman, said he understood the contents of the constitution and accepted it as he believes it is suitable for the Burmese people.

But the rest of the respondents or 49 people said they have no idea of the contents of the constitution. But ironically, except for two people – a woman shopkeeper and a businessman – the rest or 48 people said they have all cast their votes in favour of the constitution during the referendum conducted in May.

"I don't understand what the constitution is but I just cast my vote to relieve myself from all pressure," said a private vendor in Kyauktada Township.

Similarly, most respondents said they have no time to think of what the constitution is as they are struggling for their daily bread.

Burma's military government on May 10 conducted a referendum across the country to have its draft constitution approved, which they chalked out without the participation of opposition groups.

But the junta was forced to postpone the referendum for 47 townships in Rangoon and Irrawaddy divisions to May 24, as the region was reeling under the impact of Cyclone Nargis that hit the area on May 2-3.

Despite international as well as internal condemnation, the junta went ahead with its referendum polling and declared that 92.48 per cent of eligible voters had supported the constitution. The junta also put the voter turn out at 98.12 per cent.

A politically aware youth in Rangoon said most people in Rangoon, where about six million or more than 10 per cent of Burma's population reside, are struggling for their daily bread and the people do not care what the constitution is all about.

"People just want to get on with their lives, and do not have the time and inclination for politics," the youth told Mizzima.

Junta plans to pull strings to win elections

Htet Win
14 July 2008

Rangoon: There are several options the military regime can resort to before and the 2010 multi-party democracy elections, apart from its self-acclaimed constitutional rights, to cling to power.

The first thing several top-ranking generals – especially the present leader Senior General Than Shwe – are turning themselves into civilians to set up a military-backed political party, through which they will run or be selected by the Commander-in-Chief as representatives for their respective constituencies in the election in 2010.

That would be the way the generals prefer most to make sure that they win the forthcoming election, said a senior member of the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) of Thingangyun township in Rangoon. The USDA is a proxy of the military regime to politically maneuver in Burma.

He added that the military regime had planned to make an announcement next month that all political parties are to register for contesting the election.

Secondly, the top-ranking generals would transform the USDA to a political party which will support the military generals. That party would be much like the National Unity Party in the 1990 election, the results of which the military regime ignored and has been recently declared no longer valid.

The USDA member, who does not wish to be identified, said the military generals would continue defying the desire of the populace and the international community as well, adding that the generals cared about their own plan at their own pace.

"The military regime also has a well-rounded plan to restrict and harass any potential political party or political figures who are really seeking a free and fair election to usher in democracy in Myanmar (Burma)," he said.

In the third option, the regime would resort to relying on the young generation with political segments such as National League for Democracy (Wuntharnu) and local media owners who are viewing themselves as potential political representatives. They are now in their forties, having close business ties but covertly with high-ranking military authorities for commercial interests.

"Among them are also young businessmen who have built their personal ties with the military authority for business," the USDA member said.

Both the general secretary Aung San Suu Kyi and vice president of NLD U Tin Oo are currently under house arrest. NLD won a landslide victory in 1990 general elections but the junta refused to hand over power.

Moreover, the junta formulated a seven-step so-called road map to democracy and its fifth step is to hold general elections.

The referendum on the constitution, the fourth step of the road map, which guarantees the role of military in future government was held in May 10 and 27 despite Nargis Cyclone killing more than 134,000 people a few days earlier.

Another option is that the USDA may not transform into a political party but a breeding ground for election candidates as individuals and Hluttaws (Houses) will be filled up with a majority of pro-military parliamentarians along with some representatives of cease-fire ethnic group's parliamentarians. The junta hopes some ethnic groups will participate in the elections. In this case, there will be no political party for opposition and only individual opposition.

Last but not the least, senior National League for Democracy members – now in their seventies – would be props to the generals who are wielding their strong positions in power.

"The political figures – such as Aung San Suu Kyi and U Tin Oo, and young as Min Ko Naing and Ko Ko Gyi – are now in detention. Without them the NLD's political activities, especially for competing in the election is not as absolutely reliable as it was in 1990," said a Mandalay-based political observer.

The government is also preparing to make amendments to the 1990 election law in order to keep out those who contested the election then and were against the military regime, he said.

The observer continued that present NLD activities are already infiltrated with thugs and informers orchestrated by the military regime.

"That way, the generals not just divide and rule the country but divide and will win the election also," he said.

Every option could be a success story for the generals, while all of them could be coming in a unified fashion to make sure that results of the 2010 election is in favour of the generals.

However, it is intense international pressure and recent domestic struggles that moved the junta to hold a referendum in May on a proposed new constitution written under military guidance, to be followed by a general election in 2010.

The generals seem to be aware that their slow progress to a democracy could pave the way for others – including some western nations – to intervene or exploit Burma domestic affairs, and they are poised to become stronger, said the observer.

Meanwhile, the new constitution guarantees 25 percent of parliamentary seats to the military, plus it allows the president to hand over all power to the military in a state of emergency.

Burmese politics: road ahead

14 July 2008

New Delhi - By having is draft constitution approved "overwhelmingly", Burma's military regime has indicated its determination to carry on with its planned 'seven steps road map'.

But the road ahead for its fifth step – general elections in 2010 – promises to be a rough ride, with several political players having diverse opinions regarding contesting the junta's planned election.

Burma's main political opposition, the National League for Democracy, which has opposed every step of the junta's road map, said it is still undecided whether it will contest in the 2010 election.

The NLD, which has clung to the results of 1990 elections, has voiced its opposition to the junta's planned election but said, "So far, we have no yet decided whether to join in the 2010 election or not."

The NLD said it will be against its own law for the junta to conduct another election with out upholding the results of the 1990 election. The Nobel Peace Prize winner Daw Aung San Suu Kyi led NLD said the junta's planned election lacks legitimacy and cannot override the 1990 election mandate, where the NLD won more than 80 per cent of the seats in parliament.

Akin to the NLD's indecision, several ethnic armed ceasefire groups said they had not made up their minds whether to join the junta's road map.

The Kachin Independence Organization, which has been waging an armed struggle for over 40 years against the junta, said it is yet to adopt a concrete policy on the junta's election plans.

The KIO, which has a ceasefire pact with the junta and have been joining the junta's road map since its first step of convening a National Convention, said it has so far maintained its old policy.

"So far, we are maintaining our old policy that is not to involve the KIO as a group to join the junta's road map, and if individuals or groups take part it will be totally their decision and have nothing to do with KIO," Major Gun Maw, a spokesperson of the KIO told Mizzima.

United Wa State Army, another ethnic armed ceasefire group, also said it has so far taken no clear decision on whether to join the junta's planned elections in 2010. But the UWSA, which has joined the junta's other four steps of the road map, indicated that their decision may depend on the pressure they face.

"So far we have not met and decided on what to do in 2010 elections, and we have not got any information from the government as yet," a spokesperson for the UWSA told Mizzima.

While these groups have not decided on whether to contest the elections, another ethnic armed group, the New Democratic Army – Kachin (NDA-K), however, said it will push for the formation of a single political party for Kachin people.

Denying rumours that the NDA-K is planning to alter its name and transform its group into a political party to contest the junta's elections, a spokesperson of the NDA-K said, "We will not alter the name of our group, but we will push for a separate political party that will represent the Kachin people."

However, diverse opinions persist among ceasefire armed groups.

The New Mon State Party, an ethnic Mon political party that also has an armed wing, said it will stay out of the junta's proposed elections. The NMSP, which withdrew from the junta's National Convention, have demanded a more inclusive road map.

"We will not contest the elections, as we have not been able to be a part of the constitution drafting process. We will continue to maintain our stand of not joining the road map," the NMSP spokesperson told Mizzima.

The junta's plan

Though several of Burma's key political players – the NLD and several ethnic armed groups – have indicated their unwillingness to support the junta's election, the junta, however, is not lacking in supporters to carry on with their plans.

Aung Naing Oo, a Burmese analyst in Thailand said the junta has already made plans as to who should be allowed to participate in the ensuing elections.

"I can't see the junta allowing many opposition groups to contest the elections, as this is their game and they will make sure that it is played according to their rules," Aung Naing Oo said.

He added that the junta is likely to promote individual politicians as well as groups including the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), a pro-junta civil organization, and National Unity Party (NUP), a political party that supports the junta.

"It is difficult to predict exactly but what is sure is that the junta will not allow many opposition parties or may not even allow any opposition," he added.

Nay Moe Wai, a young politician in Rangoon, said while individual politicians are likely to participate in the 2010 elections, there might not be many political parties as Burmese people, in their struggle for survival, have no time and interest in forming political parties.

"People in Burma are busy eking out a daily living, and so at the most there might be only about five political parties emerging," said Nay Moe Wai, raised on political ideologies in the Burmese political community.

Unlike the opposition and ethnic armed groups, Nay Moe Wai said he truly believes that the junta's road map can bring about certain changes in Burma's political scenario.

"Everything does not remain unchanged forever, so supporting the constitution is the best solution at the moment, as it will continue to evolve with time," he said.

He also added that he will take part in the 2010 election as he believes this is the only political solution in the present circumstances.

"I plan to take part in the elections, because I believe that if I am within the fold I can have a say to what I like and dislike. By remaining out of the fold, I will not be able to be a part of the process," he said.

USDA, Pro-junta civil organizations

The USDA, a pro-junta group formed by Snr. Gen. Than Shwe 15 years ago, is widely believed that it will transform into a political party, as the junta continues with its plan to have a civilian administration.

The USDA in recent years has proved effective in carrying out the junta's propaganda's and in crushing all opposition activities including the popular monks' protest in September 2007.

Dr. Naing Aung, a member of the Network for Democracy and Development, which has extensively researched the USDA, said the junta's main purpose of forming the USDA was to transform it into a puppet political party, through which the junta plans to continue its rule.

"It is very much likely that the junta will transform USDA into a political party and make them contest the 2010 election," Dr. Naing Aung said.

But unlike the popular idea of the USDA turning into a political party, a few analysts including Aung Naing Oo reckon that the junta might not turn the USDA into a political party but use influential individuals from it to contest the upcoming elections.

"If the USDA is turned into a political party, the junta will require another [civilian] group to fill the role the USDA has played," said Aung Naing Oo. However, he does not dismiss the possibility that the USDA might turn into a political party.

However, he said, "It is still very difficult to predict what the junta will actually do with the USDA, there are possibilities both ways."

Either way: junta rules

The junta, despite all its activities, is aiming to prolong its rule and the prospect for genuine change is slim.

"I do not see all these changes or moves as positive, the junta is doing it so that it can remain in power," Aung Naing Oo said.

He added that both political parties as well as ethnic armed groups that have not decided its stand would greatly suffer because the junta has its own plan.

Aung Kyaw Zaw, a Burmese military analyst based on the Sino-Burmese border, said as the junta continues with its proposed elections, armed groups that have no clear and distinct objectives are likely to collapse.

"There will be no genuine changes but a new form of dictatorship," Aung Kyaw Zaw said.

It will cause a few people to quit everything and go back to their normal lives, but a few others are likely to leave their struggles and join the junta for the advantages that they receive, he added.

"But the struggle for genuine change will continue, and armed rebellion will continue with a few others who havw the commitment to bring genuine change," Aung Kyaw Zaw said.

Interviews & information contributed by all Mizzima reporters