Saturday, 26 July 2008

Gang rape, arrest, torture, forced labour, extortion by the "humane" SPDC soldiers


Rape by the Burmese junta’s troops is still common in many places in Shan State and the perpetrators still enjoy the culture of impunity.

People seem to have become more reluctant, especially the victims themselves, to talk about rape for fear of further abuses and shame. But there have still been some who could not hide their plight and confided in their relatives and friends, and SHRF has still been receiving more or less frequent reports of rape over the last 2-3 years.

However, it could be assumed that there have been even many more cases that have gone unreported due to various reasons as stated above and other difficulties in collecting information. One most sad thing is that rape has proved to be an effective weapon of war in subjugating people, especially the rural Shan communities.

Patrols of SPDC junta’s troops still randomly arrest and torture people, force them to serve as guides and porters, and extort money and possessions from them as they roam the rural areas in many parts of Shan State, always making their arrival and presence painfully felt by the local people.

Various systems of forcible rice procurement are still practised by the military authorities to support the numerous battalions based in all parts of Shan State. In many places rice is procured not only for the soldiers, but also for members of their families.

Extortion is so widespread that it reaches every nook and cranny, even serving prisoners and bereaved families of the deceased are not spared.

In January 2008, a petty trader was raped and robbed of her money by a patrol of SPDC troops from LIB528, near Nawng Zum village in Ta Kaw village tract, Murng-Paeng township.

Naang Kham Wa (not her real name), aged 18, was a villager of Nawng Zum who made a living peddling petty goods in neighbouring villages and farms in Ta Kaw village tract. Each day, she left her village in the morning to peddle her goods carrying them in 2 baskets on her shoulder yoke and returned in the evening.

On 13 January 2008, after selling all her goods, Naang Kham Wa returned with empty baskets and ran into a patrol of SPDC troops near a stream called Nam Ya on her way to her village. The soldiers stopped her and said they wanted to buy some cigarettes and cheroots from her.

When Naang Kham Wa said she did not have any cigarettes or cheroots because she had already sold off all her goods, the SPDC troops became angry and accused her of not wanting to help them despite their being tired from having to patrol the area for the security of the people.

In fact, the said patrol, comprising 12 SPDC troops, led by Sgt. Tin Aye, from LIB528, had been searching for opium farms and collecting taxes from opium farmers in the area when they found Naang Kham Wa walking alone at a remote spot.

Sgt. Tin Aye told his troops to stop complaining and called Naang Kham Wa to go and sit near him and after asking her some questions, he ordered all his troops to go and stand guard at some distance and raped her to his satisfaction.

After raping her, Tin Aye then said to Naang Kham Wa that selling goods to opium farmers, which she said she had done during the day, was a criminal offence and she needed to pay a fine if she did not want to be arrested and robbed her of all the money she got from selling her goods, 40,000 kyat in all.

After returning home with empty hands and empty baskets, Naang Kham Wa related her plight to her parents and relatives, and they reported the incident to the village leaders and elders. But they said that the SPDC troops of LIB528 were very brutal and no one dared to do anything about it.

In December 2007, a petty trader who was returning from buying goods was gang-raped by SPDC soldiers from LIB360 in a rice field outside her village, Naa Khaw, in Yaang Mai village tract, Murng-Paeng township.

On 4 December 2007, Naang Suay Lu (not her real name), aged 17, a villager of Naa Khaw village who earned a living selling petty goods at her house in the village, was returning from buying goods, which she carried in 2 baskets on a shoulder pole, when she saw 3 SPDC soldiers collecting wild vegetables in a field some distance from her village.

Naang Suay Lu walked across the field and passed near the SPDC soldiers, thinking that they would not harm her because they were in an open field and could be seem from afar, as it was a shortcut route to her village which she had been using every time she went to buy her goods.

However, when Naang Suay Lu got near them, one of the SPDC troops jumped at her, grabbed her arms and pulled her down into a shallow dried-up irrigation ditch, and called out to the other SPDC soldiers to come and help him rape her.

The SPDC soldiers pressed Naang Suay Lu against the bank of the ditch, pulled up her sarong and took turns raping her. The commander, a Sergeant named Myint thein, first raped her to his satisfaction and let another soldier take his turn until he also finished.

As the third soldier was about to take his turn, an ox-cart suddenly appeared on the horizon and was coming towards them, and the commander gave an order to his troops and they all ran away, leaving Naang Suay Lu lying in the ditch.

It was an ox-cart of a fellow villager of Naa Khaw village, Pho Maa (m), who was returning from gathering firewood. After learning what had happened, Pho Maa took Naang Suay Lu and her goods onto his ox-cart and to her parents’ house in the village.

Although Naang Suay Lu and her parents complained about the incident to their village leaders, with Pho Maa as a witness, the leaders were reluctant to file a complaint against the SPDC soldiers. They said it was very dangerous and it could bring great trouble to their village, and persuaded them to forget it as Naang Suay Lu lost none of her goods.

In December 2007, several villagers in several village tracts in Kun-Hing township were robbed of their property, arrested, tortured and forced to provide free labour by a patrol of SPDC troops from IB287, based in Kae-See township.

On 14 December 2007, a patrol of SPDC troops from Kae-See-based IB287 came to Naa Mon village in Wan Lao village tract, Kun-Hing township, and ordered the villagers to provide them with 1-1/2 baskets of rice and 5 viss (1 viss = 1.6 kg) of chickens, and also a pistol and a walkie-talkie machine.

When the villagers said, after providing the demanded rice and chickens, that they could not provide the demanded pistol and walkie-talkie because there was none in the village and they did not know where to find them, the SPDC troops arrested the 4 villagers who had brought rice and chickens to them.

The SPDC troops interrogated the villagers and beat and tortured them, asking about Shan soldiers and the pistol and the walkie-talkie they believed to be somewhere in the village. The 4 villagers were beaten with sticks until there were bruises and sprains all over their bodies, as they denied knowing anything about what they were being asked, before being released.

The SPDC troops spent the night in the village, cooked and ate the rice and chickens provided by the villagers. The next morning, 15 December 2007, as they left the village, they arrested 2 other villagers of Naa Mon, Kaw-Lin (m) and Aw-Maa-Laa (m), and took them away to serve as guides and porters with their patrol.

When they reached Saai Khaao village in Saai Khaao village tract, Kun-Hing township, the SPDC troops ordered the 2 villager-guides to ask about Shan soldiers and a pistol and a walkie-talkie in the village. When the villagers could not get any answer, the troops tortured them, crushing their shins with bamboo sticks until they were bleeding.

As evening approached, the SPDC troops ordered villagers of Saai Khaao to give them 10 viss of chickens, which they cooked and ate immediately, and stayed in the village for the night. The next morning, 16 December 2007, they conscripted 3 more villagers from Saai Khaao village to serve as guides and porters as they left the village.

At a place about 15 km east of Saai Khaao village, the SPDC troops surrounded a farm and arrested 4 more villagers who they also interrogated and forced to serve as guides and porters as they continued their patrol until they reached Wan Lao village in Wan Lao village tract, Kun-Hing township, where they stopped for the night and released all the villagers.

The following day, 17 December 2007, the SPDC patrol continued to Paeng Khaan village where they arrested the village headman and interrogated him about Shan soldiers and also ordered him to provide a pistol and a walkie-talkie, as they had done with the other villagers previously.

The headman also denied having any knowledge about Shan soldiers and the said pistol and walkie-talkie, so the SPDC troops beat and tortured him. At one point an SPDC soldier grabbed the headman’s hair, pulled him down towards him and struck him in the chest with his knee, causing the headman to fall down backward and lose consciousness.

After about 20 minutes, however, the headman suddenly got up and ran away before the SPDC troops, who were busy with other things, could do anything to him. This had somewhat frightened the SPDC troops who feared that the headman could tell the Shan soldiers to come and attack them.

The SPDC troops then arrested 14 villagers in Paeng Khaan village and hurried back to Wan Lao village where they released the villagers after their innocence was guaranteed by the village tract headman of Wan Lao and spent one more night in the village.

The next morning, 18 December 2007, the SPDC troops conscripted an ox-cart in Wan Lao village and ordered one each from Saai Khaao, Naa Mon and Paeng Khaan villages to come to Wan Lao, and ordered villagers of Wan Lao to give them 15 viss of pork and 2 large bamboo baskets full of live chickens.

In the afternoon of that day, after the 3 ox-carts from the other villages arrived in Wan Lao village, the SPDC troops left with 4 villagers’ ox-carts carrying their things, heading towards Kae-See township from which they had come.


Like forced labour and other types of extortion, forcible rice procurement is also one of the diehard habits long practised by the successive Burmese military juntas.

Even though the current ruling junta, SPDC, has time and again declared that they had stopped the practice of forcing people to sell rice to the military at much lower than actual market prices, in reality that has so far not been the case.

In some places over the last few years, military authorities have tried different ways of procuring rice other than the long used quota system, but for the farmers the results that affected them have not been much different. They were still compelled to sell their rice at great loss.

At the beginning of this year, just after the last rice harvest, the military have again forced people in several townships in Shan State to sell them rice at low prices. Not only farmers, but non-farmers have also been required to sell the rice quota, albeit in lesser amounts than the farmers.

Furthermore, in some places, people have been forced to provide rice and money on a regular basis for the junta’s troops to support their families.

The following are some instances of forcible rice procurement by the SPDC troops in Shan State:

In January 2008, SPDC troops of LIB528 issued an order requiring people in Murng Pu Long village tract in Murng-Paeng township to sell rice to them on a regular basis and at a rate many times lower than the market price.

On 1 January 2008, all the village and village tract headmen in Murng Pu Long village tract were summoned to a meeting at Murng Pu Long village by the SPDC troops of LIB528 and told that all the villagers in Murng Pu Long village tract were required to sell husked rice for the consumption of their battalion on a regular basis.

The order said that every household in the village tract was required to sell 1/2 basket of husked rice to the SPDC troops once a month at the price of 2,200 kyat, many times lower than the market price which was 7,500 kyat per 1/2 basket at the time.

Village and village tract leaders have since then been made responsible to collect the said rice from the villagers and transport it to the military camp at Murng Pu Long as well as to the base of LIB528 in Murng-Paeng on a monthly basis.

Since the order spares no one in the village tract, villagers who are not farmers and do not have rice of their own have to buy from the market and resell it to the military every month at a price many times lower than what they have had to pay for it.

In a separate incident, during December 2007 and January 2008, SPDC troops of IB43 and LIB360 forced people in Hawng Kaang village in Murng-Paeng village tract to sell unhusked rice to the military at a price half the market rate.

There were 10 villages with over 2,000 households in Hawng Kaang village tract, and among the households about 1,500 were farmers who worked their own plots of rice paddies. These farmers had to sell 6 baskets of unhusked rice for each plot of rice paddy they worked at the price of 10,000 kyat, while it was 20,000 kyat in the market.

The non-farmers or people who did not have any plot of rice paddy also had to sell the military 4 baskets of unhusked rice, also at a rate that amounted to half the market price. As a result, these people had had to buy the rice elsewhere and resell it to the military at half price.

In January 2008, people of Pung Pa Khem town in Pung Pa Khem sub-township, in Murng-Ton township, were ordered to sell rice to the military by the SPDC troops from LIB519 that were stationed at Pung Pa Khem.

There were 5 town quarters with over 1,200 houses in Pung Pa Khem town, of which only over 100 households were farmers who worked the rice paddies in the outskirts of the town’s area. The area of these rice paddies collectively was about 1,576 acres, according to the authorities.

On 3 January 2008, all the community leaders of the town quarters were summoned to a meeting by the troops of LIB519 and issued an order requiring farmers in the town to sell their unhusked rice at the rate of 4 baskets per acre of land they worked, and at the price of 2,000 kyat per basket.

The market price at that time was, however, 5,000 kyat per basket or more, and the farmers were threatened with arrest and land confiscation by the order if they failed to sell the required quotas of rice by the end of January 2008.

In a separate incident, at around the same time, people in Mae Ken village tract in Murng-Ton township were also forced to sell rice to the military by another group of SPDC troops from LIB519 that were stationed at Mae Ken village.

On 5 January 2008, a meeting of all the village and village tract leaders of Mae Ken village tract was called by the SPDC troops at the house of the village tract headman at Mae Ken village. The order requiring farmers in the area to sell their rice to the military was then issued in the meeting.

Farmers were to sell their unhusked rice at the rate of 4 baskets per acre of their rice paddies and at the price of 2,000 kyat per basket, while the market price was 5,000 kyat per basket at the time. All the rice quotas were to be completed gathering by the end of January 2008, when the price money would also be given to the farmers.

There were 4 villages in Mae Ken village tract and the acreage of rice paddies each village had at the time was as follows:

1. Mae Ken village had 672 acres
2. Mawkzali village had 314 acres
3. Wan Mai village had 238 acres
4. Naa Pakaao village had 366 acres

Altogether there were 1,590 acres of rice paddies in Mae Ken village tract, according to the authorities. The villagers were also threatened with imprisonment and land confiscation if they failed to provide the demanded rice quotas before the given deadline.

In January 2008, people in Kaeng Tawng sub-township area in Murng-Nai township were forced by the SPDC authorities to provide the military with rice and money once every 2 months to support the families of the soldiers.

On 20 January 2008, all the village and village tract headmen and community leaders from all the 7 village tracts in Kaeng Tawng area were called by the SPDC authorities to a meeting held at the sub-township office at the main village, Ton Hung.

In the meeting, the SPDC authorities explained that for various reasons the military was in a difficult situation economically and needed help from the people to support the military battalions, especially the families of the troops, in the Kaeng Tawng area.

“We would like the people to help provide the military with some rice and money on a regular basis to help support the soldiers’ families who have many children with basic daily necessities,” said the authorities. It was decided in the meeting that the ‘help’ was to be provided once every 2 months.

People were divided into two categories - those who had rice paddies and relatively more money, and those who did not have rice fields and had less money. Each household that belonged to the first category was to provide 16 pyi of husked rice and 8,000 kyat of money each time.

Those in the second category were to give the military 4 pyi of husked rice and 1,000 kyat of money per household at the same as those in the first category. The rice and the money were to be gathered every 2 months at the houses of the leaders of their respective village tracts. There were 7 village tracts or quarters in the ara of Kaeng Tawng sub-township and altogether more than 1,000 households, of which many were farmers.


Extortion has been so rampant in Shan State for years that even prisoners and bereaved families of the deceased are not spared. However, the situation has been getting worse and worse over the years. The following incidents are the situations of extortion by the authorities from the prisoners and from the families conducting funerals for their dead, in Kaeng-Tung town.

According to a recently released former political prisoner (name withheld for security reasons) who has served some years in Kaeng-Tung prison, the prison authorities have been extorting money from the prisoners in various ways they could think of.

During his time in prison, although as a political prisoner he was supposed to be provided with a place to sleep and a mat to sleep on, he did not get them until his family paid money to the prison authorities. They had to pay 40,000 kyat for his sleeping place and 4,000 kyat for a mat.

He also had to pay 2,000 kyat on a monthly basis for the bathing water and another 2,000 kyat for the food, which were supposed to be provided by the prison free of charge. Furthermore, he also had to pay 4,000 kyat, also on a monthly basis, for not having to work, although as a rule political prisoners are not obliged to.

In another case, money extorted by the authorities for burying the dead has so increased that it has become virtually unaffordable for many families who have to struggle even for their daily survival. The following are the various fees bereaved families have had to pay during funeral services for their dead.

Registration fees at the village or town quarter level office - 1,000 kyat
Registration fees at the township municipal office - - 45,000 kyat
Fees for burial place - - - - - 5,000 kyat
Fees for municipal workers - - - - 5,000 kyat
Fees for vehicle transporting the coffin - - 20,000 kyat
Fees for each of other transporting vehicles - - 15,000 kyat
Fees for burial service - - - - - 10,000 kyat

The fees increased to almost double during the rainy season and people had been praying that no one in their relatives died during the rains, complained a trader from Kaeng-Tung who had come to trade at the Shan-Thai border.

CRPP meets to discuss election and envoy visit

Jul 25, 2008 (DVB)–The Committee Representing the People’s Parliament has held a rare meeting to discuss its position on the 2010 elections and the upcoming visit of United Nations special envoy Ibrahim Gambari.

CRPP secretary Aye Thar Aung, who is also secretary of the Arakan League for Democracy and an ethnic people’s representative, said the group had not yet adopted a formal position on the 2010 election.

“Some individual representatives have decided not to contest the election, but we haven’t yet reached a common stance,” he said.

The CRPP secretary said group members were critical of what they saw as Gambari’s deviation from his mandate to push the Burmese government for national reconciliation and dialogue with opposition parties and ethnic nationalities.

“Gambari is not doing what he is supposed to, and he is doing other things that he is not supposed to do,” Aye Thar Aung said.

Aye Thar Aung said that it was not appropriate for the special envoy to urge the National League for Democracy and other groups to participate in the military regime’s seven-step road map and contest the elections in 2010.

“We’re not expecting much [from Gambari’s trip] based on the outcomes of previous visits,” he said.

“But we want him to live up to the responsibilities he has been given.”

Reporting by Htet Aung Kyaw

Families forced out of homes in Ton Tay

Jul 25, 2008 (DVB)–Families living in more than 600 houses in Rangoon's Ton Tay township have been ordered to move out so the properties can be demolished and the land used for new homes for cyclone victims.

A Ton Tay resident said families living in their homes on a 75-acre-square are of land near Nyaung Wine monastery were being forced to relocated with compensation by township authorities who said they had plans to build 500 new homes for people who lost their homes in the cyclone.

"People who are living on the land are general labourers – they have been told their houses will be demolished," said the Ton Tay resident.

"The residents cannot afford to lose these lands they have spent their life savings on and they won't give in to the authorities who are forcing them to do this," he said.

"They are now signing a petition and they will complain to several government ministries."

Reporting by Naw Say Phaw

Signboards removed by Mandalay authorities

Jul 25, 2008 (DVB)–Local authorities in Mandalay have ordered the National Political League to take down signboards from their provincial and divisional offices, group leader Aye Lwin told DVB.

Aye Lwin said the group’s signs on 41st and 22nd streets were temporarily taken down on the instructions of local authorities in two different townships.

"They said we had to get permission from the relevant authorities in order to do this and they promised to negotiate," he said.

"We had no problems with our signboards in Rangoon though."

Sources in Mandalay who closely monitored the incident said Aye Lwin had informed USDA secretary general Htay Oo, who is also minister of Agriculture and Irrigation, about the signs, but he failed to inform Industry (1) minister and USDA chairman Aung Thaung, who directed Mandalay divisional USDA chairman U Aung Kyaw Thar to take them down.

Aye Lwin suggested the incident had arisen due to a change of regional military commander in Mandalay, but said that Mandalay authorities had not taken down signs the group has been hanging at its offices for the past year saying, “Oppose sanctions against Burma”.

"We approach this from a political point of view and they see things from their point of view which is based on maintaining security. So there is no one to be blamed," Aye Lwin said.

"Based on the situation in our country right now, we are seeing how much we can contribute to shaping a political system where everyone can participate."

In February this year, residents of Insein township, Rangoon, were angered by the local authorities’ double standards in allowing Aye Lwin’s pro-government 88 Generation Students (Union of Myanmar) group to hand out leaflets while opposition activists faced harassment or arrest if they tried to do the same.

Reporting by Aye Nai

Court hears case of female reporter covering on Cyclone - Ein Khaing Oo

By Than Htike Oo
Thursday, 24 July 2008

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) — Despite of the absence of a key prosecutor's witness, a township court in Burma's former capital on Thursday conducted the hearing of the case of a Burmese female reporter, who was arrested while covering on victims of Cyclone Nargis.

The Tamwe Township court in Rangoon Division on Thursday conducted the hearing of the case of Ein Khaing Oo, age 24, a reporter of Ecovision Monthly Journal.

While a key witness of the prosecution, police SIP Zaw Min Nyunt, fail to appear in court on Thursday, the case was conducted with 18 other prosecution witnesses.

"The court heard the testimony of police Sgt. Myint Oo, one of the 18 prosecution witnesses. The police personnel were present at the scene when she was arrested," Khin Maung Shein, defence lawyer of her codefendant Kyaw Kyaw Thant, told Mizzima.

According to Khin Maung Shein, Police Sgt. Myint Oo testified that he was in front of the United Nations Development Programme office on June 10 and he arrested Ein Khaing Oo, who was there to cover on the plight of Cyclone victims, on orders given to him by higher authorities.

Ein Khaing Oo is reportedly charged under section 505(b) of the Criminal Code, crime against public tranquility and could face up to two years in prison and a fine if found guilty.

The lawyer said, her family members also came for the hearing but the court adjourn and fixed July 31 for the next hearing of her case.

Ein Khaing Oo along with Kyaw Kyaw Thant was arrested in front of the UNDP office in Natmauk Street in Tamwe Township, while covering on the plight of about 30 cyclone victims who have marched from South Dagon Township to seek for assistance from International aid agencies on June 10.

Her case was earlier scheduled to be heard on July 2, but the court postponed the date to Thursday, July 24, after the defence lawyers asked for more time to study the case files.

She had just joined the 'Ecovision Journal' as a junior reporter when she was arrested.

'Ecovision' was first published in September 2006, and mainly covered economic issues. But later it shifted its coverage to domestic and international news, and also publishes health and sports articles periodically.

Food top priority for Burma's cyclone victims

By Mungpi

New Delhi (Mizzima)- Nearly three months after the killer Cyclone Nargis played havoc in Burma's southwestern coastal region, hundreds of thousands are still not getting enough food, the United Nations World Food Programme said on Friday .

"The situation remains dire in Myanmar [Burma] ," said Chris Kaye, WFP's Country Director for Burma on Friday. "The vast majority of families simply don't have enough to eat."

Kaye said hunger is a huge threat and that comes in the way of victims concentrating in other fields of reconstruction and rebuilding their lives.

"Hunger remains a very real threat, and if people are hungry, they can't focus on restructuring their livelihood," Kaye said.

In response to the crisis, Kaye said, WFP is scaling up its emergency feeding programmes for 924,000 beneficiaries, which will last till next April.

Kaye, however, said WFP is facing a 52 percent shortfall of its US$ 112 million operation despite the recent contributions made by the United Kingdom and Australia.

A local volunteer in Rangoon, back from a visit to rural villages in Bogale township of Irrawaddy delta, told Mizzima that she had witnessed several villages that are without any assistance.

"There are several villages in Bogale Township alone that have no assistance so far," said the volunteer, adding that the aid is "simply not enough" to reach all the survivors in the Irrawaddy delta.

"Villagers of Aye Chan Thar told me that the only assistance they had received was seeds from the government and unfortunately these seeds do not sprout," she added.

According to the volunteer, though several humanitarian groups including several UN agencies have been deployed in Burma's Irrawaddy and Rangoon division to help cyclone survivors, much more is needed to reach all the affected people.

"People are still struggling for basic food," she added.

The volunteer, who also extended her visit to Kyauk Than Township in Rangoon division said, though farmers in many places are seen working in their fields, many of them said their expectations were poor.

"They told me the yield this year would not be sustainable even for them because they do not have enough seeds to sow," the volunteer said.

Cyclone Nargis that swept Burma on May 2-3, not only left 138,000 dead and missing, but also destroyed most of the seeds needed for this year's plantation.

While the government and a few other aid groups provided seeds to farmers, several farmers said many of the seeds received as assistance failed to sprout, making it unfit for plantation.

Farmers in Kyauk Than are apprehensive of lack of food in the near future as they cannot plant rice as much as they used to, due to unavailability of seeds, the volunteer said.

"They cannot afford to buy the seeds from the market, so all they can do is plant only as much as is available," she added.

Burmese blogger face the trial - Nay Phone Latt

By Nem Davies

New Delhi (Mizzima)- The Rangoon West District Special Court on Tuesday begun hearing the case of Nay Phone Latt, a Burmese youth arrested in early this year for posting free writings that promote the feelings of Burmese youths on his blog site.

The court had begun hearing on one of the three charges against Nay Phone Latt, who is currently detained in Burma's notorious Insein prison in Rangoon.

"The court has begun hearing on the case that charged Nay Phone Latt and his co-defendant Thin July Kyaw under section 32(b)/36 of the Video Act," Nay Phone Latt's defence counsel, Aung Thein told Mizzima.

Aung Thein said the court heard the prosecution witness SIP Ye Aung's testimonies. He testified that Nay Phone Latt was found possessing three uncensored 'Thee Lay Thee' VCDs.

Thee Lay Thee is a group of four comedians, who are famous among Burmese people both inside and abroad, for their political humors and criticism against the junta's actions. They have release VCDs of their lives shows performed at Burmese communities in neighboring countries including Thailand and Singapore.

Nay Phone Latt, age 28, is charged with cases under section 32(b)/36 of the Video Act, section 505(b) of the Criminal Code (crime against public tranquility) and under section 33(a)/38 of the Electronic Act.

The court just brought up of the cases against them when they were produced at the court on July 8 without examining the witnesses.

"The court will hear all three cases on Tuesday but we don't know which case will come up for hearing first," Aung Thein added.

Lawyer Aung Thein said that both the accused, Nay Phone Latt, also known as Nay Myo Kyaw and his co-accused Thin July Kyaw, were in good health when they were produced before the court. They were arrested on January 29.

The court has fixed July 29, Tuesday, as the next hearing date.

Cambodia Suspends Call for UN Intervention on Border Dispute

Cambodian soldiers stand guard at Preah Vihear temple. (Photo: AFP)

The Irrawaddy News

PHNOM PENH — Cambodia will pursue UN intervention to avoid a military confrontation with Thailand if talks between the two countries fail to produce a breakthrough, the Cambodian foreign minister said Friday.

Cambodia is only postponing—not canceling—its request for the UN Security Council to hold an emergency meeting on the dispute over contested land near a historic temple, Hor Namhong told reporters.

Foreign ministers from both countries are scheduled to meet Monday in the Cambodian city of Siem Reap.

"This is a new step in our goodwill to try to find a solution to the problem through peaceful negotiations," Hor Namhong said after meeting with ambassadors to Cambodia from the Security Council's five permanent members.

The session was called to inform diplomats about the Monday talks.

He said he was "quite hopeful" that the Monday meeting could resolve the standoff near the 11th century Preah Vihear temple. However, if the talks fail, "resorting to the United Nations is still more preferable than waging a war."

The comments came a day after Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen issued a statement saying he had advised the Security Council to "temporarily postpone its meeting while awaiting results of the negotiations between Cambodia and Thailand."

Military tensions between the two countries over 1.8 square miles (4.6 square kilometers) of land intensified earlier this month after UNESCO approved a Cambodian application to have the temple designated a World Heritage Site.

Thailand sent troops to the border July 15 after anti-government demonstrators lashed out at Samak's government for supporting Cambodia's application. They claim the temple's new status will undermine Thailand's claim to land around the temple.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej spoke by telephone Thursday and agreed to schedule the meeting next week between their foreign ministers.

Political attempts earlier this week to resolve the crisis failed, prompting Cambodia to take the issue to the UN.

Thailand opposes the involvement of the UN or Asean, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which both countries are members of. Thailand's UN ambassador, Don Pramudwinai, has accused Cambodia of bringing the quarrel before the Security Council because "the Cambodian target is not only Preah Vihear but the entire common border."

Don said Cambodia was trying to force Thailand to accept a French colonial map's demarcation of the border.

Thailand relies on a different map drawn up later with American technical assistance, but accepts a ruling by the International Court of Justice that awarded the disputed temple to Cambodia in 1962.

Cross-border Trade in Mae Sot

The Irrawaddy News

MAE SOT, Thailand — Sitting in a small truck crammed with passengers and packages, I waited for the short but exciting ride from Mae Sot Market to a small pier on the bank of the Moei River, known in Burma as the Thaungyin River, which serves as a natural border between Thailand and Burma.

The other passengers are neither foreigners nor Thai tourists, keen to explore the beauty of the Burma’s natural environment in the southeastern frontier.

They are all small and medium-size Burmese retailers returning to Myawaddy with goods bought from the Mae Sot Market.

Everyday, traders cross the Thai-Burma Friendship Bridge with one-day border passes and return to Myawaddy that evening loaded down with packages of goods to sell in the market.

“We have to rely on the Mae Sot Market for almost all the basic commodities, including cooking oil, vegetables, flowers and fruit. Myawaddy can produce nothing” said a middle-aged woman sitting next to me, who bought several boxes of chickens and duck eggs for her retail shop in the Myawaddy Market.

Although Myawaddy exports some goods to Mae Sot, such as onions, potatoes, dried chilly, sea food, crafts, Burmese traditional medicines, textiles and other items, the town has become mainly a transit stop for goods coming from other parts of Burma. Some Burmese goods in Mae Sot are even cheaper than in Myawaddy, because the Burmese traders sold them in the Mae Sot market for a good price.

In the middle of our trip, the Thai border patrol police stopped the truck and checked each person’s border pass. Nobody was required to bribe the police to transport their goods.

According to other passengers in the truck, there are three kinds of Burmese piers along the Moei River, each controlled by different Burmese authorities. They are Na Sa Ka (Department of Border Trade), Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) and Ward Peace and Development Council (WPDC).

The Na Sa Ka authorities are the most corrupt, according to my companions, and retail vendors try to avoid them.

“When we went to the Na Sa Ka officials, we lost almost all of our profits because we had to bribe them with lots of money,” said a tradesman in the truck. “Although we are only small retailers, they asked for at least 2,000 kyat (US $1.80) for our goods.”

“I get a small profit of about 5,000 kyat ($4.50) after selling 400 duck eggs for several days. How can I pay what they ask for?” said an egg retailer. “Because of that, we usually use the gate controlled by the WPDC. They ask for 500 kyat ($ .45 cents) per retailer.”

Our truck arrived on the bank of the Moei River at No. 2 Gate, located about 2 kilometers from the friendship bridge.

After watching my companions load up a small boat and push off to the Burmese side of the river, I returned to the Mae Sot border gate, where I met a Burmese shop owner who operates a textile shop near the bridge. He spoke to me openly, but asked that his name not be used.

“I have lived here and had this shop for 20 years,” he said. “Doing business in Myawaddy is more difficult these days mainly because of the various rules of the authorities. Whenever a new township authority is appointed they declare new rules, and we have to follow them.

“Mae Sot has become a town where not only many Burmese migrants work, but also Burmese are setting up businesses,” he said. “The advantage of having a shop in Mae Sot is that if you can officially open a shop and pay tax to the Thai authorities, they never disturb your business.”

An older Burmese shop owner at the Mae Sot Market said he had no complaints about doing business in Thailand.

“I have lived here since I was 18 years old,” said Daw Aye Aye Khine, the owner of the Moe Kote Drug Store. “My business is now doing well. During 30 years, I have never feared the Thai authorities because I pay tax regularly and follow their rules.”

Interestingly, the two Burmese businessmen in Mae Sot didn’t mention democracy or military rule when they talked about their frustration with the Burmese economy. They only mentioned the rule of law and good governance, which can create an environment that promotes economic and social life.

Corruption clearly exists in Burma and elsewhere, the businessmen said. Several mentioned big Burmese traders who benefit from the border trade because of their closeness to local authorities.

The egg retailer said “Some big traders in Myawaddy got rich by importing zinc roofs after Cyclone Nargis.”

Although the two counties opened official border trade after the Thai-Burma Friendship Bridge opened in 1997, most of the trade still takes place like in the old days before the bridge with smaller and middle-size business people trading goods through more than a dozen piers along Moei River.

Indonesia Taking an Active Role in Burma’s Affairs

The Irrawaddy News

Indonesia recently hosted informal meetings on Burma with the United Nations’ special envoy to Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, the Burmese ambassador to the UN, Kyaw Tint Swe, and representatives of the country’s two giant neighbors, India and China.

The meetings, described as “informal luncheons,” were held twice, and were hosted by Indonesia both times.

“It is not a group. It is not institutionalized. It’s a luncheon meeting,” said the Indian ambassador to the UN, Nirupam Sen.

The US ambassador to the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad, said the meetings were being held to push Burma in the right direction, and that the participants had taken a special responsibility upon themselves in this regard.

Indonesia’s interest in playing a more active role in Burmese affairs was first signaled in early June, when the country’s foreign minister said in an interview with The Australian that his government wanted to act as a mediator to help resolve Burma’s longstanding political deadlock.

The Indonesian government has since hinted that it has a plan which could move the Burmese junta towards democracy, using its own experience as a basis for mapping out a political transition.

The detailed plan, put together by a team of experts, involves Indonesia’s experience of forming a transitional government which gave both military officers and civilians a role as the country moved from dictatorship to democracy. Indonesia is recognized today as having one of the strongest democracies in Asia.

Indonesia implemented a policy of Dwifungsi under former dictator Suharto’s military-dominated “New Order” government, which was installed following the removal of President Sukarno. The Indonesian military received a political and security role for several decades under the doctrine.

Highlighting Indonesia’s potential importance as an agent for change in Burma, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and his special envoy, Gambari, met with the ambassadors of India, China and Indonesia on June 26 to discuss the political and humanitarian situation in Burma.

Observers say that the newly democratized Indonesia should use its influence within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) to help resolve regional problems.

“It has always, quietly, dominated Asean,” The Economist wrote on May 22, adding that the country had the power to turn the regional grouping “into a club that enforces some minimum standards of decency on its members.”

“Unlike [the leaders of] other Asean countries, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is quite actively involved in Burma’s affairs. As a former general, he has good relations with Burmese generals,” said Win Min, a Burmese researcher on civil-military relations.

The international community has been pressing Indonesia for years to take a more proactive role in Burma’s affairs. The former foreign minister, Ali Alatas, was sent as Indonesia’s special envoy to Burma in 2003 and visited the country again in 2005 as an envoy for the UN.

But critics doubt whether Indonesia’s behind-the-scenes efforts will have any more effect than previous attempts by other regional countries.

Debbie Stothard of the Alternative Asean Network (Altsean) said that Indonesia must do more than hold informal meetings if it wants to make any headway, because quiet diplomacy won’t work for Burma.

Indonesia is currently a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. During its two-year membership, which will expire in December, it has witnessed two major crises in Burma—the bloody crackdown on monk-led protests in September 2007 and the standoff over international aid in the wake of Cyclone Nargis in May of this year. Critics say that on both occasions, Indonesia failed to use its membership to push the Security Council to act decisively.

“No Asean country can influence Burma,” said Roshan Jason, executive director of the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus. “If they could, monks would not have been killed, the junta’s response to Cyclone Nargis would have been better and Aung San Suu Kyi would have been released.”

Correspondent Lalit K Jha contributed to this story from New York.

Ten Students Sentenced to Hard Labor

The Irrawaddy News

Ten students—mostly Muslims—who were active in the Buddhist monk-led peaceful demonstrations in September 2007 in Burma were each sentenced to two years in prison with hard labor by the Kyauktada Township court, a prisoners’ rights group said on Friday.

The Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma) released a statement saying the 10 students, including seven Muslims, were arrested about one month after the demonstrations.

After the sentence, the students were placed in iron shackles to be transferred to labor camps by order of the Minister for Home Affairs, the AAPP said.

The AAPP said there are very few cases of political prisoners being sent to hard labor camps. The prisoners’ group it believed the sentences were more severe because of the students’ religious faith.

Tate Naing, the secretary of the AAPP, said, “The transferal of those Muslim students to forced labor camps is religious persecution. Those students now face a life-threatening situation.”

The students were sent to five labor camps including Kyaikmayaw New Life (6) in Mon State and Paan New Life (7) and Taungzun labor camp in Karen State.

In addition, the AAPP said it has learned nine monks in Mandalay in central Burma were arrested two months ago and detained because of their involvement in helping the cyclone refugees in the Irrawaddy delta.

In 1990, a number of monks who participated in a monastic boycott were subsequently imprisoned and sentenced to forced labor camps. Nineteen monks died in the camps because of hard labor and malnutrition, according to the AAPP.

700,000 Myanmar children need long-term aid: UNICEF

The United Nations and the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean) have estimated that it will cost about US$1 billion in total to rebuild Myanmar after the cyclone. -- PHOTO: AP

GENEVA (ST)- AROUND 700,000 children are in need of long-term aid in Myanmar due to the devastating effects of May's Cyclone Nargis, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said on Friday.

'While we have observed a gradual improvement in the situation for children, and have avoided the emergence of major epidemics, we must maintain our efforts,' added UNICEF's Myanmar representative Ramesh Shrestha in a statement.

The agency has launched an appeal for just over US$90 million (S$122.5 million) it needs for operations through to April 2009. To date, it has raised less than half of that sum.

The United Nations and the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean) have estimated that it will cost about US$1 billion in total to rebuild Myanmar after the cyclone left more than 138,000 people dead or missing and over two million survivors in need of aid.

In the crucial days after the cyclone hit, Myanmar's notoriously secretive leadership blocked access for foreign relief workers, raising fears thousands more people would die after being denied life-saving aid.

The junta only eased its stance after a personal visit by UN chief Ban Ki Moon, but aid groups say access to the worst-hit southern delta remains patchy. -- AFP

ASEAN: Political Situation in Burma Still Impeding Aid

By Ron Corben
25 July 2008

(VOA)-Burma will continue to require international aid to ensure communities hard hit by the devastation from Cyclone Nargis are able to avoid starvation. But, as Ron Corben reports from Bangkok, despite the help from the United Nations and Association of South East Asian Nations, senior ASEAN officials says the political situation in Burma continues to hinder their efforts.

The Association of South East Asian Nations, or ASEAN, is warning that the international community needs to continue to maintain support for relief operations in Burma.

Burma needs at least $1 billion in emergency relief and reconstruction over the next three years for the hardest hit areas in the Irrawaddy delta region that bore the brunt May 2 cyclone.

More than 130,000 people were killed or remain missing from the cyclone, with the total cost of rebuilding estimated at more $4 billion.

ASEAN, together with the United Nations and Burma, formed the Tripartite Core Group after the international community pressured the Burmese government to open the country for more assistance.

Surin Pitsuwan, ASEAN secretary general, told reporters Friday that recovery efforts are ongoing.

"The emergency, the recovery is still with us," he said. "That is solid. We are not going into any long-term planning."

The tripartite group this week released the Post-Nargis Joint Assessment (PONJA) report, based on surveys conducted by 250 officials and volunteers of the worst affected regions.

Puji Pujiono, a senior United Nations Development Program (UNDP) officer, said that while the political situation in Burma is impeding aid efforts, there has been some success in helping the hardest hit communities.

"Where we are standing now our colleagues, the political complication remains there, it will continue to be there for the months to come," he said. "The suffering is still there, people still lacking food, shelter and so on. But we have the mechanisms; we have done something right in this tripartite core group."

The storm wiped out around 4,000 schools and about 75 percent of health facilities and damaged or destroyed about 800,000 houses and more than 600,000 hectares of farmland.

Don Baker, the U.N.'s humanitarian coordinator in Burma, says the international community's continuing efforts remain vital for recovery.

"Nobody has died since the cyclone from starvation but when we did the PONJA survey more than half of the population at that time only had food supplies for one day," he said. "So we have to keep the food going until the next harvest and even beyond because this next harvest is not going to be a full one."

The New York-based Human Rights Watch, while commending the Tripartite Core Group, warned assistance to victims was still being hampered by the military government.

Human Rights Watch said large numbers of people are still not receiving aid and face food shortages, shelter needs, lack basic sanitation and face grave psychological consequences from the cyclone's impact.

Border row exposes Asean's Achilles heel


(Bangkok Post) - The failure of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) to settle an escalating border row between two of its members has sorely exposed the bloc's weakness in resolving disputes within the organisation. Fresh from its successful work in spearheading an international humanitarian mission into cyclone-devastated Burma, the 10-country Asean abdicated from mediating in the dispute between Thailand and Cambodia.

Cambodia had sought the group's help this week, but Asean's foreign ministers maintained that the ''bilateral process must be allowed to continue,'' referring to efforts by Thailand and Cambodia to negotiate.

Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo said that during the just concluded Asean ministerial meetings in Singapore, Cambodia had proposed the creation of an Asean contact group that could help resolve the problem.

''The proposal found favour with a number of foreign ministers, but there was also a general view that the bilateral process should be allowed to continue, and there is still no consensus for the formation of such a group,'' Mr Yeo said.

Diplomatic sources said Thailand rejected Asean's mediation and was adamant the issue has to be resolved bilaterally.

Hours after Asean turned down Cambodia's plea, a disappointed Phnom Penh turned to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to intervene in the dispute.

The row over the land near the 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple worsened this month when Unesco approved Cambodia's application to have the complex named a World Heritage Site.

An estimated 2,000 Thai and Cambodian troops are now facing each other across the border around the temple, situated between Si Sa Ket and Preah Vihear provinces in Thailand and Cambodia, respectively.

While soldiers from both sides were shown on television sitting side by side and talking to each other amiably, the situation remained uneasy.

Analysts said the dispute and the subsequent failure of Asean to help bickering members settle their disagreements underscored the need to flesh out a dispute-settlement mechanism provided for in the newly drafted charter for the organisation that consists of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Burma, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

The charter, which was approved during the 2007 leaders' summit, also held in Singapore, would make the bloc a legal entity and a rules-based organisation. It also provides for the creation of a human rights body and a dispute-settlement mechanism.

But a high-level panel of senior Asean officials was not due to present their recommendations on the subject until the leaders' summit in Bangkok in December.

''Thailand and Cambodia have slapped Asean right in the face,'' Indonesia's Jakarta Post newspaper charged.

''The military standoff between the two countries has embarrassed their neighbours, who take pride that their organisation is one of the few with an effective mechanism to maintain regional peace,'' the newspaper said in an editorial.

''Placing this dispute in the UNSC hands put Asean in an awkward position and makes it more difficult to find a regional solution,'' it added.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the Thai-Cambodia row underscored the need for Asean members to ratify the charter _ Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines have yet to do so _ so the organisation could have a ''rules-based governing framework'' to address such issues within and outside Asean.

''Asean could not sit idly by without damaging its credibility,'' he said. ''As a region, it is vital that we continue to move forward on Asean cooperation and integration.'' DPA