Wednesday, 16 July 2008

CNF threatens assassinations if development obstructed

Jul 15, 2008 (DVB)–The Chin National Front has vowed to carry out sniper attacks on government and Union Solidarity and Development Association officials if they obstruct the group’s efforts to boost development in Chin state.

The CNF said they have started an operation named People Power 20, or PP20, to encourage development in Chin state in cooperation with the Chin people.

According to the CNF’s guidelines, the operation aims to promote regional, education and health development, and prohibits hunting in the Chin forests and using explosives to catch fish in rivers.

CNF military coordinator Pu Solomon said the armed group has also formed special operations squads to conduct assassinations of government officials who disrupt their operation.

"First, we will give notorious military officials and USDA personnel a warning that we will take their lives in sniper attacks," said Pu Solomon.

"If they ignore the warning then we will take real action against them," the coordinator said.

"We have conducted special training for sharpshooters in our group for the sniper operations."

Pu Shwe Kha, joint-secretary of the CNF, said the group has also decided to cut taxes collected from the Chin people to the bare minimum.

"Before, we used to collect 3000 kyat annual tax from every household – but now we have reduced that to 10 kyat," said Pu Shwe Kha.

"Our operation aims to help the people in Chin state to deal with their struggles," he said.

"We will accept the 10 kyat tax from the people just to show them our appreciation of their contribution to the revolution."

The CNF previously held talks on a ceasefire agreement with the government military officials in March 2007 but these ended without an effective resolution except for an agreement on both sides to resume talks at a later date.

"We believe we will resume the talks in future – we are studying the strengths and weaknesses of the ceasefire groups and we will find a peaceful answer for our country's political situation," said Pu Shwe Kha.

The CNF was formed by fighters in Chin state after the 8888 uprising and it is a member of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation.

Reporting by Khin Maung Soe Min

Burma's outdoor advertising industry in doldrums after Nargis

Mizzima News

New Delhi - Cyclone Nargis, which devastated an estimated 2.4 million lives, has left tell tale marks on businesses – particularly advertising industry - in Burma's former capital Rangoon.

The nascent advertising industry in Rangoon is among the many business ventures thrown into doldrums by the cyclone that left at least 138,000 dead and missing.

"About 80 per cent of the [advertising] billboards were blown away by the strong winds that the cyclone generated," an official from the Merry Myanmar Advertising Company in Rangoon told Mizzima.

Cyclone Nargis, in its wake, not only blew away roofs and private houses but also flung advertising billboards, leaving companies counting their losses on what they had heavily invested.

Zaw Lin, spokesperson of the Myanmar Ganad advertising company in Rangoon said they lost about 80 per cent of their advertising billboards in the cyclone. Putting them back in place has cost a huge sum of money.

"So far, we have spent more than 40 million Kyat (US$ 30769) in repairing and replacing the billboards," Zaw Lin told Mizzima, expressing concern that more needs to be spent.

Zaw Lin said his company owned about 35 large sized billboards, 20 by 60 feet each, and several smaller ones. The loss has been incurred by the company in the absence of billboards being insured.

Similarly, Aung Myat, Managing Director of the 21 Advertising Company said about 90 per cent of the billboards owned by his company in and around Rangoon has been destroyed.

"So far, we have spent over 20 million Kyat (US$ 15384) but we have to do a lot more repairing," Aung Myat told Mizzima.

Adding to the grief of the companies, Rangoon Municipals, also known as Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC), ordered the advertising companies to complete repairing and reconstructing the billboards latest by the end of June.

"But since we could not do it, it seems they understood us. It is a big load for us," Aung Myat said.

Billboards and huge sign boards have lately sprung up as a new way of advertising in Burma's commercial hub, Rangoon.

Though television, newspaper and radio advertising are still the most popular forms of advertisement, billboards and other outdoor advertisement have slowly picked up, said Zaw Lin from Myanmar Ganad.

But in military-ruled Burma, where the junta keeps a tight control over any form of expression including restrictions on the press, companies are not free to post any writings on their advertisement billboards.

Zaw Lin said the difficulty in outdoor advertisement business in Burma is waiting for permission from the YCDC to approve the words in the advertisement text, the structure and even the size of the board.

A former marketing executive of the EYE advertisement company said, "Getting clients is not as tough as building a relationship with officials of the YCDC to get approvals for the advertisement."

The executive said, companies are required to bribe officials at the YCDC to get easier and faster approvals.

Relationships are built on how much you can give to the officials [at YCDC] and once you have a good relationship going, things work smoothly," she added.

Despite the hurdles, several companies have sprung up in the field of outdoor advertisement, she added.

But the bigger companies that have a good relationship with the YCDC and other government officials control the market share, she added.

According to her, EYE Corp., Myanmar Ganad, ATM, Youth Force, Merry Myanmar Advertising, IDEA, 21 Advertising, and Outdoor Advertising companies with their branch offices spread across the country are currently leading in the market.

Reporting by Mizzima correspondent, writing by Mungpi

British MPs call on Govt. to investigation Mahn Sha's assassination

Mizzima News

New Delhi - Nearly 60 British parliamentarians have signed a petition, 'Early Day Motion', urging for the UK government to investigate and expose the assassins of Burma's ethnic rebel leader Padoh Mahn Sha Lah Phan.

In absence of no official investigation on the assassination of the General Secretary of Karen National Union (KNU), an ethnic armed rebel group, the British parliamentarians call on the UK government to conduct a direct investigation and expose the culprit.

"We welcome this move by the British parliamentarians because it is not only a moral support but is a fight against injustice," Zoya Phan, daughter of Mahn Sha, who is currently in UK, told Mizzima.

Mahn Sha was assassinated on February 14, by two unknown gunmen at his residence in the Thai-Burmese border town of Maesot. However, five months on, the culprit behind the murder is still unknown.

Zoya said, "Though we know that it is the work of the Burmese military junta, there has been no official announcement and we are sad about it."

The British MPs also condemn the Burmese military junta for its terrorist act in organising the assassination, and call on the British government to take action to stop attacks on the Karen and other ethnic civilians.

In loving memories of their father and in order to continue his works, Zoya said she along with her two brothers and a sister had established the 'Phan Foundation'.

"Through this foundation, we aim to preserve the Karen culture and also help Karen people in their education," Zoya said.

Mahn Sha elected as general secretary in December 2006 of the KNU, which has been fighting for self-determination for over half a century.

Majoring in history at the Rangoon University in 1962, he joined the Karen movement in the jungle soon after he complete his studies.

A highly respected figure among both ethnic and Burman allies the Burmese military regime also see Manh Sha as a strong leader in the KNU.

He was 64 years old at the time of his death.

A Call to Arms?

The Irrawaddy News

“Nothing can defeat Burma’s military regime—at least to date.” I wrote those words in a commentary after the monk-led uprising was crushed by the junta last year. “All attempts at peaceful or violent means, including armed struggle, people’s uprisings, international sanctions and political engagement, have failed.”

But I missed one thing: a natural disaster.

The destruction caused by Cyclone Nargis has tested the military regime. It clearly exposed again how restrictive, unreasonable and brutal the generals are, but it couldn’t change the generals’ mindset—even to fully collaborate with the international community to help their own people.

People expected that the monks uprising in September 2007 would have led to something positive for the country. Again in May this year, many people had hopes that an unreasonable response by the junta to the cyclone disaster might create a positive scenario for humanitarian intervention. But hopes were dashed when the generals largely shunned the international community’s effort to provide quick, effective relief aid.

The generals have proved they can handle mass uprising and natural disasters on their own terms, regardless of what others think and feel.

A people’s uprising is unlikely to happen again in the near future. Any uprising, if it happened, would be brutally crushed.

Likewise, economic sanctions imposed by Western countries, led by United States, have caused some disruption and inconvenience among the junta’s senior leaders and business cronies, but they lack real power to bring about democratic change.

After 20 years, diplomacy has proven to be a failure. Burmese people now realize more than ever that they can’t count on the United Nations or the international community to make meaningful change within the country. The generals will continue to do whatever they wish.

The UN is actually useful to the generals—when they want to use it as a political card—but useless for the people.

Perhaps, there is one option left: armed struggle. More Burmese people have been talking about armed struggle in recent months. In fact, armed struggles are nothing new in Burma.

When asked if there is a moral justification for an armed uprising by the people of Burma, Noam Chomsky, the well-known political critic at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said in an interview with Thailand’s Bangkok Post newspaper: “There certainly is, in my view, with one qualification: An armed uprising would have to evaluate with care the likely consequences for the people who are suffering.”

He said, “I think it’s appropriate for people to rise up, but it’s not for me to tell people to risk mass murder. As for assassinating leaders, the question is very much like asking whether it is appropriate to kill murderers. They should be apprehended by non-violent means, if possible. If they pull a gun and start shooting, it’s legitimate to kill them in self-defense, if there is no lesser option.”

Burma has had various forms of armed struggles going on for the past six decades, following the country’s independence from Britain. After 1988, ethnic armed groups along the border were reinforced by groups of student activists who fled the country after their movement was crushed by government troops.

In 1989, the once powerful Community Party of Burma split into smaller groups after it faced a mutiny within the party. In the 1990s, about 17 armed ethnic groups gained ceasefire agreements with the military regime. They abandoned their fight, focusing on business concessions offered by the government.

The All Burma Students’ Democratic Front (ABSDF), founded by students in 1988, gradually began to lose its momentum after 1991 following a split in the leadership. ABSDF was very popular among the public. It appears that its armed struggle is all but finished.

Today, a few armed groups, including the oldest rebel group, the Karen National Union, haven’t reached ceasefire agreements, but their military strength is only a tiny fraction of the regime’s 400,000 troops. It has been a long time since armed groups staged large battles against government troops. Brief skirmishes are now the norm.

Armed struggles have had an impact on Burmese politics in the past—positively and negatively.

If an armed uprising could be sustained—one which focused on the freedom of people—it could put pressure on the junta to some extent. It might even move the country’s political scenario into a more positive, productive path. If there is a moral justification for an armed uprising of suffering people as Chomsky said, the question is now: Is it time for a new armed uprising?

Armed Burmese Uprising Morally Justified: Chomsky

The Irrawaddy News

Noam Chomsky, one of the most well-known political and social critics in the world, said an armed uprising against Burma’s military regime is morally justified for the hardships inflicted upon the Burmese people.

However, he cautioned that it is not his role to tell the people of Burma what to do.

Chomsky, in an interview with the Bangkok Post published on Monday, said, “An armed uprising would have to evaluate with care the likely consequences for the people who are suffering.”

The ruling generals have “a good thing going for themselves,” he said. They have nothing to gain by yielding power, and they appear capable of holding on to their power.

“So that’s what they’ll probably do,” he said.

“On the other hand, the military leaders are aging,” he said, “and there may be popular forces developing that can erode their power from within.”

“Mass non-violent protests are predicated on the humanity of the oppressor. Quite often it doesn’t work. Sometimes it does, in unexpected ways,” he said.

The choice of a violent or non-violent mass uprising depends on an intimate knowledge of a society and its various constituents, Chomsky said.

He said, “I suspect that now it [a popular uprising] would be a slaughter.”

A professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Chomsky said it’s appropriate for people to rise up against a brutal government, “but it’s not for me to tell people to risk mass murder. “

As for assassinating leaders, the question is very much like asking whether it is appropriate to kill murderers, said Chomsky, who will turn 80 in December.

“They should be apprehended by non-violent means, if possible,” he said. “If they pull a gun and start shooting, it’s legitimate to kill them in self-defense, if there is no lesser option.”

Chomsky said, “China would likely tolerate, maybe even welcome, the overthrowing of the junta.”

Looking back over US involvement in Burma, he recalled that as part of US cold war policy, the Eisenhower administration supported thousands of Chinese nationalists [Kuomintang] troops when they invaded northern Burma.

As a result, the Chinese armed and supported insurgent groups in the region which led to a 1962 coup and the shift of power to the military, he said.

He said the US, Britain and Israel later sold weapons and invested in oil production in Burma to strengthen the military government.

“These matters are unreported and unknown in the US, apart from specialists and activists,” he said, “because they interfere too dramatically with the doctrine that ‘we are good’ and ‘they are evil,’ the foundation of virtually every state propaganda system.”

House Votes To Squeeze Myanmar Junta

(AP-CBS) The House of Representatives voted Tuesday to punish Myanmar's brutal ruling regime "where it hurts - in the wallet," by freezing assets of political and military leaders there and banning the importation of rubies from that country into the U.S.

The unanimous vote sent the bill back to the Senate, which voted last year to also bar timber from Myanmar, also known as Burma.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman said the legislation would put financial pressure on a corrupt regime that failed to adequately help its citizens recover from a cyclone and famously put down democracy demonstrations by Buddhist monks last year.

"The legislation before the House today hits the regime where it hurts - in the wallet," Berman, a Democrat, told the House. "By blocking the import of Burmese gems into the United States and expanding financial sanctions, the legislation will take hundreds of millions of dollars out of the pockets of the regime each year."

He said the 11,000-store Jewelers of America supports a ban on Burmese gem imports. Retailers like Tiffany's and Bulgari have also voluntarily made the ban their policy, Berman said.

The bill also gives Chevron incentives to divest its natural gas program in Myanmar.

It aims to bring more pressure against the junta to restore democratic civilian government in Myanmar. U.S. officials say Myanmar has been evading earlier gem-targeting sanctions by laundering the stones in other countries before they are shipped to the United States.

President Bush is eager to sign the bill, which will extend and harden sanctions Congress first passed in 2003. President Bush's wife, Laura, has emerged in recent months as a strong proponent of democratization in the Southeast Asian country.

Myanmar has been under military rule since 1962. The current junta took power in 1988 after crushing pro-democracy demonstrations at a cost of an estimated 3,000 lives. Its soldiers similarly cracked down on Buddhist monks during the so-called Saffron Revolution in September. Human rights observers put the death toll among demonstrators in the hundreds.

Evading the junta to witness Myanmar disaster

In the Field

(CNN) — There are your tough assignments and then there are those that border on the impossible. Myanmar is one of the world’s most secretive nations for a reason.

Foreign journalists are banned from the country. Tourists are even finding it difficult to get a visa, especially Americans. So the odds were already stacked against us.

I can’t say how we got in the country but that was only half the battle. Devising a plan to get down to the area devastated by Cyclone Nargis in May would be much harder.

The junta government has sealed off all entrances to the Irrawaddy delta. Checkpoints are set up in nearly every town. For days we pored over maps and scouted out the safest routes.

Spinning with frustration, we finally came up with an idea. It was risky. If caught, we could be deported and the locals helping us faced prison time. We had to move quickly and carefully.

By nightfall, we were stowing away like fugitives and hopping from one mode of transportation to the next. It took us 21 hours to reach the delta — a trip that typically takes 4 hours by car.

A quick glance is all it took to see why the Myanmar government wants to keep the rest of the world out. Devastation was everywhere.

Bodies were still scattered along the delta two months after the cyclone. I knew we’d see them, I just didn’t know how haunting it would be. There was no avoiding the stench of death. It’s an odor that sends chills through the soul.

All I could do was say a silent prayer. These were people who deserved better. It was shameful to see them rotting like their lives didn’t matter.

I kept thinking somewhere their families were grieving, wondering what happened to them. Or maybe the bodies of other family members were scattered elsewhere, and there was no-one left to bury the dead. Perhaps, it’s best these remains can’t be identified. This horrific discovery would only compound the pain.

And pain was the only thing in abundance along the delta. I met a tearful woman who sat clutching a picture of her only child.

The smiling 17-year-old was this poor farming family’s best shot at a bright future. They spent all their extra money making sure she got an education. Two weeks before graduating high school, she died in the storm. Her body was never found.

Yet, others had no time for tears. A young farmer briefly stopped working in the rice paddies to describe how the tidal surge swept his baby boy right out of his hands. There was no emotion on his face or in his voice. I couldn’t help but wonder if the cyclone had robbed him of that too.

We worked quickly trying to capture these stories, never knowing when we would get caught by the junta. As night fell on the delta, it was time to set up camp. We slept in stifling conditions, didn’t shower for days and lived off little more than bottled water and energy bars. I kept reminding myself that our misery was temporary; for the people of the Delta it was a constant reality.

Still, I was struck by how few complained about the lack of aid since the cyclone. It was as if they didn’t expect much in the first place.

Some of the villages we visited were given bags of rice, while others got some tarp and roofing material. I saw a total of two tents. None of it was nearly enough. Most of the relief supplies came from aid organizations or small groups of locals banning together to help. There was little sign of any significant assistance from the government.

It’s a place where you could get lost in your anger and sorrow. Too many questions and not enough answers. Maybe that’s why survivors don’t waste their time stewing in frustration.

As we headed out of the delta, I made a point to take one last look.

The cyclone’s destruction seemed to fade away into the palm trees that lined the shore. From afar, it becomes easy to ignore what you cannot see. And that’s the very reason this assignment was worth the risk.

Myanmar invites UN in as stress mounts


Jul 16, 2008 - The United Nations said that Myanmar has invited a UN envoy to visit the cyclone-ravaged country, which is facing renewed international pressure to democratize and improve its human rights record.

The invitation to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's special representative on Myanmar, Ibrahim Gambari, came in a letter from the junta's UN envoy, Ambassador Kyaw Tint Swe, to Vietnamese Ambassador Le Luong Minh, president of the UN Security Council for the month of July.

UN spokeswoman Marie Okabe told reporters that the precise date and objectives of Gambari's visit had not been set but that he was expected to go to Myanmar in mid-August.

Security Council diplomats in New York say that enough time has past since Cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar two months ago, leaving 138,000 dead or missing, and that it is time to ratchet up the pressure on the junta to comply with council demands that it improve the state of human rights and democracy.

At their summit in Japan last week, Group of Eight leaders called on Myanmar's secretive military government to lift remaining restrictions on the flow of aid and improve access for foreign aid workers, initially shut out of the country.

Shortly before the summit, G8 foreign ministers issued a statement urging Myanmar "to foster a peaceful transition to a legitimate, democratic, civilian government ... (and) to cooperate fully with Special Adviser Ibrahim Gambari."

In May, weeks after Cyclone Nargis devastated the country formerly known as Burma, the military junta extended the house arrest of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, angering Western nations who had promised millions of dollars in aid to help the country deal with the aftermath of the cyclone.

Gambari has said his most recent visit to Myanmar was a disappointment and yielded no concrete results. One of the problems was that he was unable to meet senior junta leaders.

It was his third visit since authorities crushed pro-democracy marches in September in a crackdown that sparked worldwide outrage and a major diplomatic push for political reform in the former British colony, which has been under military rule since 1962.