Saturday, 19 July 2008

Security tight in Myanmar as death of Suu Kyi's father commemorated

YANGON (ST)- HUNDREDS of riot police and soldiers ringed a monument in downtown Yangon on Saturday as officials gathered to commemorate the shooting death 61 years ago of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's father.

Myanmar's independence hero General Aung San and other government leaders were assassinated by gunmen during a Cabinet meeting on July 19, 1947, shortly after Britain granted independence to the Southeast Asian colony.

Flags were flown at half mast in the capital throughout the day on Saturday - a state holiday in Myanmar. Unlike past occasions, foreign diplomats were not invited to the tightly guarded wreath-laying ceremony at the Martyr's monument located near the famed Shwedagon pagoda.

Opposition activists have suggested that the ruling military junta is trying to downgrade the importance of Gen Aung San's legacy as a way of undercutting the popularity of his daughter, who is under house arrest.

But diplomats in Yangon said the Foreign Ministry had informed them that the government intended this year to hold a low-key ceremony because it comes just two-and-a-half months after Cyclone Nargis devastated much of the region south of Yangon, leaving 85,000 people dead and about 50,000 missing.

Police cordoned off the monument, putting up heavy metal barriers and coils of barbed wire across roads.

Dozens of drenched policemen carrying assault rifles and shotguns manned the barricades during a heavy downpour.

Security was also tight around the headquarters of Suu Kyi's political party, the National League for Democracy, which said it would hold a separate ceremony. -- AP

UN to end Myanmar aid flights

(Aljazeera) The UN is to end aid flights to Myanmar at the beginning of August.

The UN said on Saturday that it was a routine step as the country shifts to rebuilding homes, buildings and schools destroyed by Cyclone Nargis.

The May cyclone devastated much of the region south of Yangon, killing 85,000 people and leaving 50,000 missing.

The announcement came as the country, formerly known as Burma, held a downgraded ceremony marking Martyrs' Day, commemorating the killing of General Aung San, the father of the detained head of the National League for Democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi.

Members of the National League for Democracy (NLD) said that they had been told by the government not to hold the usual ceremonies, such as giving meals to monks.

'Low-key ceremony'

Hundreds of riot police and soldiers were deployed in Yangon as people gathered for the official ceremony marking the assassination of General Aung San.

Unlike on previous occasions, foreign diplomats were not invited to the wreath-laying ceremony.

General Aung San, a hero during the country's battle for independence, was shot dead with other government leaders during a cabinet meeting in 1947, shortly after Britain granted independence to the Southeast Asian colony.

Flags were at half mast in Naypyidaw, the capital, throughout the day, a state holiday.

Opposition activists have suggested that the military is trying to downgrade the importance of Aung San's legacy as a way of undermining the popularity of his daughter.

However, diplomats in Yangon said the foreign ministry had informed them that the government intended this year's ceremony to be low-key because of the cyclone.

Myanmar's military government had been severely criticised for its inadequate relief response and for holding a referendum on a new constitution just weeks after the cyclone.

Humanitarian groups have expressed concern over the cessation of aid next month, saying that nearly two and a half million survivors are still living without access to adequate food and water.

Security was also increased at the headquarters of the NLD, which said it would hold a separate ceremony.

Last week, the UN Office for Co-ordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) announced that it was raising its aid appeal to help victims of the cyclone from $201m to $481.8m.

John Holmes, head of the OCHA, is to travel to the Irrawaddy Delta, the area worst affected by the cyclone, next week to assess recovery efforts.

Ibrahim Gambari, a UN special envoy, meanwhile is planning a return visit to Myanmar in mid-August at the invitation of the military government.

Gambari last travelled to Myanmar in March to mediate reconciliation talks between the government and Aung San Suu Kyi, detained opposition leader, amid deadly street protests against rising prices.

India Commerce Minister Says Visit of Burmese Counterpart to Boost Ties

Text of unattributed report headlined "India, Myanmar to expand trade ties" published by Indian newspaper The Hindu website on 18 July

New Delhi(istockanalyst): Having agreed upon an alternative access route to the North-East, India and Myanmar [Burma] are set to further enhance their engagement with the ongoing visit of Commerce Minister Brigadier General Tin Nain Thein, Minister of State for Commerce Jairam Ramesh said here.

"Basically we are taking forward our economic cooperation with Myanmar [Burma]. The frequent interactions are reflective of India's commitment to deepening economic and bilateral engagements," said he after interacting with Brig-Gen Thein.

Ties between the two countries are on an upswing with Myanmar [Burma] offering India partnership in developing hydel power projects. Besides, Myanmar [Burma] awarded three deep sea blocks to ONC Videsh [overseas arm of Oil and Natural Gas Commission of India] and two to the Essar group. In a unique partnership, two Indian public sector companies have taken a 20 per cent stake in a pipeline being built by China to take gas from blocs awarded by Myanmar in the Bay of Bengal. On its part, India was prompt in offering unconditional aid when Hurricane Nargis had hit Myanmar. It has also offered credit lines to strengthen Myanmar's power transmission system.

Originally published by The Hindu website, Chennai, in English 18 Jul 08.

from one godfather to the next rein's of Thailand in 2008-2009

Burma once again likely to steal ASEAN show

By Ruth Youngblood
The Nation-Deutsche Presse-Agentur

Ministers from the Association of of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) are expected to tackle soaring fuel and food prices and a barrage of other problems at their meeting Monday, but Burma is once again likely to steal the show.

Senior officials from the 10-member grouping well remember how the signing in November of the landmark ASEAN Charter - meant to transform the 10-member grouping into a legal entity - was set to be a historic event.

It was abruptly overshadowed by the Burma regime's decision to call off a scheduled ASEAN leaders meeting with UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari, an embarrassment for the organization and host Singapore.

With an assessment report of the damage wrought by Cyclone Nargis to be presented Monday at the ASEAN foreign ministers meeting, Burma will again take centre stage. The United Nations is hoping for an outpouring of 480 million dollars over the next year in emergency relief for the victims of Cyclone Nargis.

"It's been a long year, quite an eventful one year" under Singapore's chairmanship of ASEAN, said the city-state's Foreign Minister George Yeo.

The cyclone in early May led to a stand-off between a suspicious Burmese government and a global community eager to render aid but kept at bay as the ruling junta initially rejected outside assistance and foreign relief workers. ASEAN was the catalyst to get the aid moving, but it was nearly three weeks after the disaster.

In a positive move, Burma has become the latest to sign the ASEAN charter, leaving Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam as the only ones yet to do so.

The charter commits ASEAN members "to strengthen democracy, enhance good governance and the rule of law, and to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms."

The ministers will focus on two key components of the charter: creation of a human-rights council and a mechanism for dispute settlement.

On human rights, Yeo said that ASEAN wants to build an agreed foundation of common human rights that would serve the group's regional construction and the interests of its people.

"Whether or not the human right body we establish will have teeth, I don't know. But it will certainly have a tongue, and I hope it will have a sharp tone," he said.

Burma's dismal human rights record has prompted sanctions by both the United States and European Union.

Senior officials preparing for the ministerial session want a recommendation that Burma release all political detainees included in a joint statement to be issued after the ministers' meeting.

If accepted, it would indicate a further toughening of ASEAN's stance.

"ASEAN could have done much more in responding to Cyclone Nargis if the Burma government had been forthcoming earlier to the receipt of international assistance," said K Kesavapany, director of the Institute of South-East Asian Studies.

"Despite this, it was ASEAN's persistence which finally enabled the international community to gain entry into Burma and facilitate the flow of trade."

The rotating ASEAN chairmanship passes to Thailand on July 24.

ASEAN includes Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Burma.

NLD warned not to celebrate Martyrs' Day

Jul 18, 2008 (DVB)–National League for Democracy members in Magwe and Mandalay divisions have been warned by authorities not to plan any events to commemorate Martyrs’ Day on 19 July.

Ko Tint Lwin of Yaynanchaung NLD in Magwe said the authorities had told them the government would not mark the day.

"We were warned by local authorities not to do any of the usual activities we usually do on Martyrs’ Day every year, such as providing meals to monks and merit making,” he said.

“They said the government has no plans to celebrate the day and we would not be allowed to either."

Daw Khin Saw Htay, the leader of Magwe Division NLD’s women’s wing, said the government’s warnings would not deter people from celebrating the day.

"Martyrs' Day is the day we remember our leaders who brought independence to us and barring people from celebrating such a day is very narrow-minded act,” she said.

“We don't care if they arrest us, we will do what we do every year."

Taung Twin Gyi NLD member Ko Bo See said he had his colleagues were told to sign an agreement promising not to plan any activities on the day.

"The authorities told us they could not allow us to celebrate national days without their permission and we were asked to sign an acknowledgment of that,” Ko Bo See said.

“We were also asked to sign an agreement not to donate meals to monks as a way of marking the day.”

“There are 58 monasteries in town and we will go to one of them and donate meals to the monks anyway. We are not saying whether we are marking Martyrs' Day or just donating meal to monks because we respect them."

An NLD member from Aung Lan said the local NLD chairman had also been asked to sign an agreement.

"Our township NLD chairman U Than Htay was told by local authorities to sign agreement not to mark Martyrs’ day,” he said.

“But he refused to sign it."

Daw Myint Myint Aye, the NLD secretary in Meikhtila, Mandalay, said politicians had a duty to commemorate the day.

"Every year, we mark Martyrs' Day at the [township] headquarters – we make it very apparent that it is a political activity,” Myint Myint Aye said.

“On Martyrs' day this year, we will provide meal to monks at 10am, hang a huge wreath at Kyaw Kyaw printing shop which is our headquarters and hang the national flag at half-mast. Then we will go lay the wreath at the Martyrs' monument in town,” she went on.

“We are only doing this because it is what we should do as a citizens or politicians.”

Myint Myint Aye said she had been summoned by the township administration to a meeting at 10am tomorrow morning.

NLD information officer U Nyan Win said the day was an important national event and should not be undermined by political differences.

"In our country, we don't see Martyrs' Day as representing a political party or an organisation,” Nyan Win said.

“This is a day we mark on a national scale, to remember and thank our leaders who did a lot for us,” he said.

“It is very inappropriate to ban a day like that since it is showing disrespect to the people who brought us independence."

Martyrs’ day commemorates the day in 1947 when nine people, including general Aung San and other independence leaders, were assassinated.

There is usually an annual ceremony to mark the day at the Martyrs’ Mausoleum in Bahan township, Rangoon.

Reporting by Naw Say Phaw