Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Don't let junta off the hook

By Thaung Htun

(The Australian) IF it were possible for human rights in Burma to be further assailed, then Cyclone Nargis managed to provide the opportunity. The storm, which swept through Burma's Irrawaddy Delta in May, killed up to 140,000 and ruined the lives of millions. Human rights are also a victim of Nargis.

Indeed, Human Rights Watch recently observed: "The greatest obstacle faced by the international community in addressing the large-scale reconstruction needs of the Irrawaddy Delta is Burma's abusive military regime." Yet the Burmese generals pat themselves on the back for ratifying an important regional human rights charter. Those who live in the real world must not be bought off by this latest lavish ruse.

Burma's ratification of the human rights charter of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations is infused with the sharpest irony.

For one, the charter, despite being years in the making, is neither enforceable nor does it carry any powers of prosecution. In fact, it extends ASEAN's non-interference culture to new lows. While the Burmese military junta remains truculently unwilling to provide basic access to foreign aid organisations post-Nargis, ASEAN seems prepared to allow a signature on a document to stand for its commitment to justice and human rights.

The torpid nature of ASEAN's human rights culture is epitomised in article14 of its charter. Pertaining directly to human rights in the region, the two-paragraph entry is vague and weak in tone. It's a perfect backdrop to ASEAN's listless approach.

So, for Burma's generals, ratifying the human rights statement was a no-brainer. The timing is clearly political, as it provides a moment for the generals to bask in some rare global community warmth. It also acts as a diversion to ongoing human rights violations in Burma.

Burma's junta is already a signatory to treaties and agreements on the rights of women, children, labour and unionists, among others. These documents gather dust on the shelves of military dictators while the Burmese horror story goes on.

More specifically, the generals continue to ignore the suffering of those affected by Nargis.

Nearly three months after Nargis, more than one million Burmese still have not received any assistance from international humanitarian and aid agencies. Wads of aid money are landing in the khaki pockets of the country's rulers, prompting the British Government to reconsider providing any aid at all, invoking the principle of its responsibility to protect Burma's civilians. This money funds continued atrocities of various degrees.

For instance, villagers still are being press-ganged into rebuilding roads and other infrastructure projects, even as donor money is pledged to pay for them. The Burmese military still is forcibly relocating many villagers in the Irrawaddy Delta, often to put them out of the reach of international aid workers. Meanwhile, there are critical shortages in housing materials, educational materials such as books, water and sanitation equipment, and health care and basic medical services. Some areas are desperately short of food.

On another level, people still are being detained, including locals who have volunteered to help the aid effort. Forced labour, land grabs, torture and rape are common military tactics, often targeting ordinary civilians going about their daily affairs.

The continued detention of Aung San Suu Kyi is a fitting symbol of the years of neglect and mistreatment of the Burmese people.

If these acts of political bastardry don't suffice as a pointer to the Burmese military's true intentions, it should be remembered that in the immediate aftermath of the cyclone, the Government was more concerned with conducting a sham referendum to legimitise constitutional changes that shored up the military's power base. Those who opposed the process were summarily locked up.

During this period, the infamous Law 5/96 was regularly invoked. This law imposes a maximum prison term of 20 years for so much as discussing the constitution.

Without a democratic and accountable government, aid work will remain underdone and over-exploited. Without international monitors, money from international donors will continue to be wasted or, worse, scurrilously diverted.

Unfortunately, while ASEAN has achieved something worthwhile in persuading Burma to ratify its human rights charter, the victory rings hollow, as hollow as the roar of a vastpaper tiger over the broken Irrawaddy Delta.

Thaung Htun is the representative for UN affairs at the Burma UN Service Office of Burma's government-in-exile.

HRDP provides antenatal support for pregnant women

Jul 28, 2008 (DVB)–A shelter funded by Human Right Defenders and Promoters to provide antenatal care to pregnant women in Irrawaddy's Bogalay township has successfully assisted in its first delivery of a baby boy.

The shelter was founded by HRDP member Ma Myint Myint Mu, who has been involved in relief work in the region since the cyclone.

Ma Win Khine, who lost most of her family including her husband and son in the May cyclone, gave birth to her second baby son on 11 July, Myint Myint Mu said.

"Thirteen of her 19 family members were killed in the cyclone including her husband and her 4-year-old son while she survived by clinging onto a tree," said Myint Myint Mu.

"We brought her to our shelter and a professional midwife helped deliver the child."

She said the baby was named Maung Kyaw Htet Aung, in memory of his father Ko Kyaw Moe Thu.

Myint Myint Mu said the shelter is located on 34 and 5th street in Bogalay's ward (4) and has four women providing health care and nursing assistance to the pregnant woman.

Ten more pregnant women have applied for antenatal care at the shelter and will be brought to the house closer to their due dates.

Women from other villages who cannot afford to travel to Bogalay will be provided with assistance at their homes during delivery, Myint Myint Mu said.

"These women were struggling for money before the cyclone hit and now they have been left with no money to afford to give birth in hospital," she said.

"We have promised to provide assistance to them."

Myint Myint Mu said each delivery costs around 200,000 kyat and the shelter would accept any help to be provided directly to the expectant mothers.

Reporting by Aye Nai

Urge Thai Business to Indochina Investment

by Bupha Ravirot

(Thaindian) - ‘Thailand used to be the No. 1 investor in this region. Now, we have fallen to No. 3,” said Mr Phairush.

Despite of mounting tensions with Cambodia, Thai business have to pay more attention into the Ayeyawady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Co-operation Strategy (Acmecs) to involve in and expand trade and investment in the Indochina region.

Phairush Burapachaisri, the secretary-general of the Thai Chamber of Commerce revealed that in the region Thailand was No. 1 investor now fallen to No.3. the lack of attention to building up their investments in the region, leaving their counterparts from countries like China, Vietnam, South Korea, as well as Taiwan, to flock to the region.

Thai business investors will be given full support from the government once they need to explore trade, invest as well as relocate invesment in the region including Cambodia, Viroon Tejapaibul, Deputy Commerce Minister said.

“We believe the temple row would be settled next month as the two governments have sent a signal that they want to settle the deal peacefully,” said Mr Viroon. ”Business will move on and Cambodia has a diversity of rich natural resources. Above all, it offers very cheap labour costs.”

Ayeyawady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Co-operation Strategy or Acmecs programme launched in the year 2003 aimed at cooperating framework amongst Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam to utilize member countries’ diverse strengths and to promote balanced development in the sub-region. Annual trade in this region was estimated at over US$10 billion in 2007.

The executive chairman of the Export-Import Bank of Thailand, Narongchai Akrasanee said the bank takes the responsibility to provide financial support to Thai industries who are interested in investment in neighbouring countries. In May 2008, the bank extended loans worth a total of 13 billion baht to Thai businesses to invest in international projects in the region: in Burma made up 5.56 billion baht, Laos 4.89 billion baht, Cambodia 2.13 billion baht, and Vietnam 425.25 million baht.

Chairman of the Thai Business Council for Cambodia, Somsak Ringruengsin said that Thai still have great opportunity to invest in the capital city, Phnom Penh though the major investors are those from Chinese and Vietnamese counterparts.

New Human Rights Chief Faces Daunting Task

By Thalif Deen, Asian Tribune-Inter Press Service

United Nations, 29 July, (IPS): Mary Robinson, a former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (HCHR), who faulted countries such as the United States, China and Israel for transgressions of humanitarian law and civil liberties, was forced to retire after a 12-month renewal of her four-year contract because of intense lobbying against an extended tenure for her.

A former president of Ireland, Robinson was an outspoken critic of human rights abuses who even challenged Western nations on the legality of the 1999 bombing of former Yugoslavia by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) which resulted in civilian casualties.

She was succeeded by Louise Arbour, a jurist from Canada, who was an equally vociferous defender of human rights and who was refused entry into both North Korea and Myanmar (Burma).

The government of Sri Lanka rejected her request for a human rights field office in the capital of Colombo. When she visited Sri Lanka early this year, Arbour was asked why she wasn't visiting Guantanamo Bay, the now-infamous U.S. detention centre for suspected terrorists, some of whom claimed they were tortured there.

And when she met with U.S. Congressional leaders, they turned the question around: why is she not visiting Myanmar, which has been roundly criticized by the United Nations for human rights abuses? And why is she singling out the United States?

Navanethem Pillay of South Africa, whose nomination as the new High Commissioner for Human Rights was endorsed by the 192-member General Assembly on Monday, will be walking in a political minefield -- particularly at a time when human rights are being integrated into all activities in the U.N. system, including socio-economic activities.

She also takes office when the United Nations is commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and when the Security Council is deadlocked over human rights issues in Sudan, Zimbabwe, Myanmar and Israeli occupied territories.

Pillay, 67, will hold office for four years, following in the footsteps of Jose Ayala-Lasso of Ecuador; Robinson; Sergio Vieira de Mello of Brazil; and Arbour.

She will be based in Geneva overseeing a staff of over 1,000, spread across 50 countries, and with an annual budget of more than 150 million dollars.

Since 2003, Pillay has served as a judge on the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, and in 1999 she was elected Judge President of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, where she served for eight years.

Palitha Kohona, a former chief of the U.N. Treaty Section, said the position of High Commissioner for Human Rights is one of the most important appointments at the United Nations.

"Ms. Navanethem Pillay has an impressive background and she comes from a Third World country where respect for human rights was a major challenge for many years: a challenge which was primarily taken up by Third World countries unlike many developed countries which turned their backs on it," he told IPS.

"As we leave behind the agonies of yesterday and strive for a more just and equitable world, we are confident that she will introduce the necessary balance to ensure that human rights are strengthened and advanced in a practical and effective manner across the globe," said Kohona, who is currently foreign secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Sri Lanka.

Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), said that Pillay will take up her appointment at a critical moment for human rights protection worldwide, and within the United Nations in particular.

"The U.N. Security Council has failed to take needed steps to confront human rights abuses in Zimbabwe and Darfur, thousands continue to be subjected to arbitrary detention in the war on terror, and states must be urged to implement newly adopted human rights standards relating to enforced disappearances, disability, and cluster munitions," he added.

Roth said the new high commissioner must be willing to take on those who abuse human rights -- "no matter how powerful they may be."

"Engaging governments through quiet diplomacy has a place in human rights protection, but experience shows that there is no substitute for strong public advocacy on the part of the high commissioner," Roth said.

Meanwhile, HRW has said that although key institutions of the United Nations relating to peace and security, and development are based in New York, there has been no full representation for human rights.

Roth said the high commissioner's office in Geneva is handicapped by not having an assistant secretary-general based in New York and the staff needed to carry out its mission in the field.

"[U.N. Secretary-General] Ban [Ki-moon] should use his authority to ensure those needs are met," he added.

- Inter Press Service (IPS) News Agency -

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

An Interview with Jody Williams

The Irrawaddy News

Jody Williams, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, spoke to The Irrawaddy on a wide range of issues including the role of the United Nations in Burma, the humanitarian crisis and targeted economic sanctions. She was in Bangkok in late July with US actress and activist Mia Farrow as part of a Nobel Woman’s Initiative Delegation tour of trouble areas in the world.

Question: You have been very critical of the UN.

Answer: I don’t think the UN likes me a lot, but I recognise a need for something like the UN. However, I think it’s really time to reform the UN. When it cannot respond to crises like the [Burma] cyclone, when it cannot respond to the crisis of dictatorship there for 50 years, when it cannot respond to the crisis in Darfur, I find it ethically impossible to pretend that they’re doing a great job.

I understand the constraints, but let’s talk about reality and let’s not dismiss the voices of the Burmese people themselves. And yes, they get uncomfortable and yes, they don’t like it, but nothing changes unless you raise the level of discomfort.

Even when you want to change, it’s hard. Even when a person chooses to change, it’s hard. A massive institution that has 60 years of bureaucracy and ineptness and self preservation is not going to change unless people like me and people like Mia [Farrow] challenge it in public. At the same time, it is the institution that exists. And when I said that Mia and I were going to go to New York during the General Assembly to raise our voices and to raise issues that we heard about here and work with the women of Burma.

Q: UN Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari is going to visit Burma soon. What is your message to him?

A: He is just doing his job. My message would be to the UN, to the secretary-general and the Security Council. Accepting that the Burmese junta has now allowed Gambari to meet with Daw Aung San Su Kyi is a fig leaf, there is no change happening and this is pretty typical of the way the international community deals with conflict.

Something happens, everybody get agitated, they respond and then a dictatorship will give a meaningless response showing flexibility and everybody claps their hands. When we go to New York, I’m going to request a meeting with the secretary-general, closed door. It doesn’t have to be public, and I’m going to speak very firmly.

Q: What will be your main message to the secretary-general if you meet with him?
A: Exactly all of the things I’ve just said. And I’m going to express my extreme dismay, sadness, anger at saying that the roadmap is a great way forward. The roadmap is the worst way forward. The roadmap is accepting the lies, the fake referendum, the questionable reform of the constitution, excluding people who won the election. I’m going to say that in my view, that is a recipe for disaster. That is not going to bring about sustainable peace, and we don’t support that. That the people of Burma that I have spoken to don’t support that. And while I recognise that his job is to work with the government, how can he justify that?

Q: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon asked the international community not to politicize the humanitarian issue during the Cyclone Nargis crisis. What’s your view on this?

A: What aren’t we supposed to politicize about a civil war that’s been going on for 50 years? We’re not supposed to politicize the very political issue of theft of international aid from the cyclone survivors? We’re not supposed to politicize that? What are we supposed to do? Clap because it goes into the hands of the junta? His job is to work with governments of the world. Thankfully, it’s not my job. It’s my job to question him, it’s my job to push him, and it’s my job to say, ‘How dare you! How can you say it’s not political?

How can you say the delivery of aid to one of the biggest disasters to hit Burma is not a political issue when you’re putting it into the hands of the same junta that has been repressing the people for decades” And you’re supposed to call that not a political issue? I have no problem saying it to them. I mean he’s just a human being. I’m not impressed by titles. I mean it’s great that he’s the secretary-general, but he’s just a human being. I recognise he has to do his job. But I’m a human being, and I have to do my job and it’s my job to question what the hell he’s doing.

Q: What did you learn from your trip to the Burma border?

A: I haven’t been to Burma since February 2003. Given all of the development recently, given Su Kyi’s repeated imprisonment every year when she should be set free, we wanted to come back and meet with people who are on the border, since we can’t go inside Burma. And particularly because it’s the Nobel Women’s Initiative, see what women’s organizations are doing, see what young women are doing to empower themselves. It’s fantastic and the people who inspire me are not the famous ones, I mean I love some of them, but I’m inspired by the women I met on the border, who live in precarious circumstances, who live undocumented, who could be deported at any time, who if sent back, could be imprisoned or worse.

And yet, they fight for their rights, they fight to be recognised as political women inside their organizations, they fight for democratic prospects in Burma, they fight for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, they fight for the release of the 2000 political prisoners. I want to take their message. They asked us to do that, and I have every intention to. I also am extremely excited to hear that a delegation of some of those women are coming to the UN in September/October and Mia and I and the Nobel Women’s Initiative are able to work with them for advocacy at the UN. We’ll hold a press conference, we’ll probably hold a forum where we can all speak, we’ll speak about our experience but more, we’ll them a platform because they’re from here. It has made me even more inspired.

Q: What do you think about the situation of Burmese migrant women living in

A: I think for me as an American, because Americans only care about America more or less, I’ll probably try to link it with the terrible immigration and migrant worker problems we have in the US. You know the racism, the exploitation. When they come they’re undocumented, sometimes when they come they’re not paid and then they’re thrown across the border when the employers are sick of them. So, I’ll probably make that linkage to make it more real to the people in the US.

Q: More Burmese women want to become involved in political and developmental work, but there are fewer resources to educate Burmese women and give them more confidence. In your view, how can they be supported?

A: The most I can do is try to talk with the political people in Thailand in the ministry of education and the ministry of welfare, who have been supportive, to allow women here to have education. But I’ve been very impressed that they’re not waiting here for people to give them an education; they’re educating themselves. The most I can do is advocate for an opening up of the system.

Q: Some of Burma’s neighbours, such as Thailand, India and China, have big trading interests with the Burmese regime. They also support a non-interference policy in Burma’s internal affairs.

A: I think capitalism sucks, whether it’s American capitalism or Asian capitalism. The reality is that we have to find ways to work with them, that it’s in their long-term self interest. Back in the 30s, it was FDR that made them realise that if they gave workers enough money to live, if they gave them mortgages so they’d be enslaved for 30 years to pay off the mortgage, they’d have a fairly stable and prosperous workforce.

This region is going to blow up unless it can be a little more forward thinking. I’m happy to talk to them about enlightened self interest, that’s all they care about. I’ll use all the tools I can, but I’m only one woman.

It’s not the way I operate obviously. I’m happy to interfere. Given that that is the style of this region, we have to find ways within that style to bring about change. I mean congratulating Thailand for its sensitivity about the people of Burma and people here.

Government’s like to be congratulated when they do something good, and I realise that this is a very shallow good. You know it’s all a game. But sometimes the game works. I certainly can’t go knocking on the door of China telling them to renounce their position of non- interference, but I think all of the pressure on China has done that. They themselves don’t say suddenly, ‘I’m transformed’ but they’re afraid of the public spotlight, afraid of the pressure. They have started doing things a little differently.

Q: Do you support targeted sanctions?

A: I support targeted sanctions. It’s one tool but the problem is that it’s going to take many different tools on many different levels to make Burma change. All I can say is that I’m committed to being with Burma until there’s change. The Nobel Women’s Initiative is committed to being with the women of Burma until there’s change, and I will do all I can at different levels.

You know one of the things about the Nobel Prize is that you have access. I will use that access to advocate change in Burma.

Q: There was talk about a humanitarian intervention after Cyclone Nargis and/or an effort to change of regime.

A: I am not a fan of humanitarian intervention. I mean look at the US’s great humanitarian intervention in Afghanistan and the “Coalition of the Willing” in Iraq.

Q: What are your thoughts on the debate about humanitarian assistance going inside the country or outside to the border regions?

A: I think the people of Burma, whether they’re inside or forced outside, deserve aid. There’s always donor fatigue. I didn’t go into the refugee camps myself so I can’t talk about that.

I think that what would be most helpful to the people I met with would be some legalization of their status in Thailand so that they can work freely without fear, change jobs like any normal person can change jobs, so they’re not tied to their work card, so they can have access to education, and the children can have access to education and healthcare. I think that’s what I would be calling for, not humanitarian intervention. I think Thailand should be even more sensitive in helping the [Burmese] people here.

Kachin Leaders to Form Political Party

The Irrawaddy News

Leaders of ethnic Kachin ceasefire groups have formed an umbrella group to lobby Kachin people to cooperate in creating a new political party, according to sources in Burma’s northernmost state.

The group includes leaders of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), the New Democratic Army-Kachin (NDA-K) and the Kachin Consultative Committee (KCC). The group was formed in July and is led by Tu Ja, deputy chairman of the KIO, said sources.

Lt-Gen Gauri Zau Seng, the KIO’s deputy chairman and foreign affairs representative, told The Irrawaddy by phone: “It is a first step towards lobbying Kachin people to cooperate with other parties in Kachin State for when we are allowed to form a political party.”

However, the group is not yet sure that it will be permitted by Burma’s ruling junta to form a political party to contest the general election scheduled to take place sometime in 2010.

The group currently has at least 50 members, with the KIO and NDA-K represented by 10 members each, said Zau Seng. The remaining members are from the KCC or are civilians unaffiliated with any group. The new group has not yet been named.

“If we are able to form a political party, the name of the group will be officially given,” said Zau Seng.

The group plans to appeal to Kachin people to be unified and support the formation of a political party. The members will perform their duties through a transition period which will last from now until the formation of the political party.

The Kachin leaders introduced the umbrella group on July 23 in Laiza, a town near the border with China. About 800 people, including civilians and members of the KIO, NDA-K and KCC, attended the meeting.

Ma Grang, who was present at the meeting, said he didn’t think that the group would easily succeed in its efforts to win popular support for a new political party.

Ma Grang, who is close to KIO leaders, said that they raised the possibility of forming the group in May. However, many lower-ranking members of the KIO and the Kachin Independence Army, the military wing of the KIO, expressed opposition to the proposal.

Due to the disagreement, the KIO leaders are seeking an alternative way to form a political party, said Ma Grang.

The KIO, founded in 1961, was one of 17 ethnic armed groups that signed a ceasefire agreement with the ruling junta in 1990s.

Burmese military authorities have been urging the ceasefire groups to surrender—in effect, lay down their weapons—and form political parties. An alternative option for the ceasefire groups would be to enlist their troops as special combat police, said sources.

However, most of the ethnic ceasefire groups are undecided as to whether they should disarm and form political parties to contest the Burmese general election.

Farmers Face Fertilizer Shortage

The Irrawaddy News

The Burmese department of agriculture is not providing farmers with an adequate supply of chemical fertilizer for the monsoon paddy, forcing prices to rise in the country’s agricultural heartland.

“The government is currently selling only one bag (50 kg) of fertilizer for every 20 acres,” a farmer in Nyaunglebin Township, Pegu Division, told The Irrawaddy on Monday.

Burmese farmers normally use 25 kg of chemical fertilizer per acre to produce at least 80 baskets (1668.8 kg) of paddy. The government usually supplies one 50-kg bag for every three acres of paddy, according to the farmer.

“We are only producing about 50 baskets of paddy per acre. If we added more fertilizer, our yield would increase by more than 30 baskets,” said Win Maung, a farmer from Waw Township, Pegu Division.

The Burmese government operates three factories which produce low-cost fertilizer for the entire country. Fertilizers are also imported from neighboring countries through Maungdaw in Arakan State, Muse in Shan State and Myawaddy in Karen State, according to a fertilizer merchant in Pegu.

In the past, fertilizers were mainly imported from Bangladesh and Thailand, but at present, China is the source of about 90 percent of the fertilizer used in Lower Burma, said the merchant. The UAE, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia also supply small quantities.

“Fertilizer prices have increased everywhere in Burma this paddy season, because the Burmese government can’t produce enough for farmers’ needs,” he added.

In the third week of July, the price of a 50-kg bag of urea fertilizer increased from 29,000 kyat (US $25) to 31,000 kyat ($26.70) in Pegu Township. The government price was 21,000 kyat ($18) per 50-kg bag.

There are about 19 million acres of farmland under cultivation in Burma, 19 million bags of chemical fertilizer bags every year.

Karen Villagers Flee Burmese Forces

The Irrawaddy News

About 300 Karen villagers in Burma have fled to Thailand after the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) and Burmese army units took over their villages, according to sources in the area.

Robert Soe, an officer in the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) Battalion 201, said refugees from four villages began arriving in Thailand last weekend. They are temporarily living in Valeki in Pob Phra District in Tak Province.

The refugees are receiving food and other necessities from local Thai people and international nongovernment organizations.

According to local people in Valeki, the Karen villagers said soldiers with the DKBA, a Karen splinter army, and the Burmese army took over their villages and forced them to work as porters during a military operation along the border.

Several hundred more villagers are reportedly displaced persons now inside Burma, said local sources.

“They are planning to go back after the DKBA and Burmese soldiers leave their villages because they have everything there, houses and farms,” said Ba Wah, a resident in Valeki.

It’s unknown how long the Burmese military operation will go on along the border area, said Ba Wah.

The exodus started early this month following skirmishes between the KNLA and the DKBA near Valeki village, across the border from Phadee. DKBA troops backed by Burmese army units took over a military base belonging to the military wing of the Karen National Union (KNU), KNLA Battalion 201.

Beside Burmese army operations in Karen State, there are also Burmese army operations going on in Shan State. According a recent report by the Free Burma Rangers, the Burmese army uses tactics of forced relocation, often along ethnic lines, as a way to smother potential opposition to its rule.

The Burmese army and United Wa State army both continue to use forced labor to transport supplies and expand military infrastructure, said the report.

People must pay a fine of 5,000 kyats (US $5) if they are unable to serve as labor.

Villagers are generally forced to provide labor four times a month, according to the report.

The report also said the Burmese army has ordered people in Shan State to grow castor oil and rubber plants, in a junta-imposed project to produce biofuel. Villagers have no choice whether or not to participate in the program, the report said.

More funding required to help cyclone victims: private donors, volunteers

By Mungpi
28 July 2008

New Delhi (Mizzima) — Burmese private donors, volunteers, and social groups, during their first informal meeting on Monday, said there have not been enough support and funding to help the cyclone victims both during the emergency relief and during the reconstruction phase.

The issue of funding shortage was raised at an informal meeting held at the American Centre in Rangoon among Burmese private donors, volunteers, social groups and international aid agencies.

"Most of the private donors, volunteers and socials groups have all said that there has not been enough support both during the emergency phase and the reconstruction phase," Dr. Myint Oo, a private doctor, who is one of the organizers of the event said.

Dr. Myint Oo said the event was planned to facilitate the exchange of information and experience sharing among those who have been helping cyclone victims in Burma's southwestern coastal divisions of Rangoon and Irrawaddy.

During the meeting, most aid workers and volunteers said their experience shows funding from the international community is less and not enough to help cyclone victims.

"It is amazing to see a lot of Burmese volunteers, and small groups springing up in the wake of cyclone Nargis and extending a helping hand to survivors," Dr. Myint Oo said.

He added that these groups have played crucial roles from providing food to cyclone victims to burying corpses caused by the cyclone since day one. Following the onslaught of Cyclone Nargis on Burma's coastal divisions on May 2 and 3, the country's military rulers initially were reluctant to allow international aid groups to come in to help the victims.

Only after nearly a month, following the negotiation between UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Burma's military Supremo Snr. Gen. Than Shwe in mid-May, did the Burmese generals open their doors to let in aid groups to the rescue of cyclone survivors.

"But there has not been enough donations and funding to help all the victims," Dr. Myint Oo, who has also been involved in social activities, commented.

Meanwhile, the United Nations in early July revised its flash appeals for Burma's cyclone victims, asking for a total of US $ 481 million.

But according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Burma, they have been able to raise less than half or US$ 187 million of the total flash appeal.

Mark Canning, the British Ambassador to Burma, who was one of the speakers for Monday's event, 'Forum on International Relief effort', said his government was committed to provide more funding to help the cyclone victims to recover.

"Mark Canning said the UK would further provide additional assistance to help the cyclone victims in reconstructing and rebuilding their lives," Dr. Myint Oo told Mizzima quoting from Canning's speech at the meeting.

Dr. Myint Oo said while the Burmese private donors, volunteers and aid workers have been useful in the initial stages in providing emergency relief such as food and shelter, after nearly three months, the cyclone victims' needs were more of reconstructing and rebuilding their lives.

"This calls for long-term rehabilitation that could only be affordable by the government and international aid groups," said Myint Oo, adding that most Burmese private donors could not afford to continue helping the cyclone victims as they would have to return to their normal work.

Swarms of rats destroy crops in townships in Chin State

By Zalat May
29 July 2008

Aizawl (Mizzima)- Rodents have been attacking crops in western Burma's Chin state resulting in severe food shortage and leading to a famine like situation in at least five townships, local residents said.

"The rats have destroyed crops in paddy and corn fields in our village. The fields are swarming with rats," Thang Hu, chairman of the Bungtuah Village Peace and Development Council in Hakha Township, told Mizzima.

At least five townships – Hakha, Thantlang, Falam, Paletwa and Matupi – are at the mercy of ever increasing rats, which according to elders is a once in 50 years phenomenon, when bamboos flower. Bamboos flower every 50 years when its life cycle comes to and end.

The flowers are eaten by rats leading to increased fertility where the rodents multiply. The rats then invade fields and grain store houses and eat the crops leading to a famine like situation which is called the Mautam in Mizoram state in Northeast India contiguous to Chin state. Mizoram also faces a similar situation every 50 years but the government takes preventive steps.

"The situation is getting out of hand and we don't know how to cope with this problem. We have to kill them with rat poison but they keep multiplying," another local official of from Tanglo village in Thantlang Township told Mizzima.

The people are faced with a severe shortage of food and are being forced to leave their village in search of food.

The present multiplication of rats started since the end of 2007 and continue harass people in several other townships in the state, according to a Canada based Chin Human Rights Organization, which is closely monitoring the situation in Chin state.

Tera, in-charge of the CHRO in Mizoram bordering Chin state in Burma, said at least 70,000 people including 50,000 people in one township – Paletwa - have been affected by the famine caused by rats.

While several people have fled to neighboring Mizoram state in India, a large number of people remaining in Burma are left to the mercy of people who are not yet affected by the famine, Tera said.

"Now people have to even eat wild berries found in the jungle and some wild root vegetables," Tera added.

But following the monsoon rains, these wild root vegetables become bitter and takes a lot of time to cook so now they cannot rely on these, he added.

According to the villagers, people in the unaffected areas have donated over 1,000 rice bags to 60 villages. However, local people face serious financial constraints.

While both villagers and people in the towns are suffering from the famine, local authorities have not responded with any assistance to the people but are strictly monitoring relief supplies that are sent to the people by relatives in foreign countries, Tera said.

"The authorities threatened the people when they came to know they were receiving foreign assistance and ordered them not to accept it," he added.

According to him, about 700 people have fled to the Indo-Burma and to the Bangladesh-Burma border after the famine struck. They are now living in places near Khaki village in lower Teddim, Lengtaleng Township in Mizoram State in India.

"They have built houses in this new village, trying to be self-reliant by working as daily wages earners. There are about 30 to 40 children who cannot attend schools," said Tera, who visited these new villages.

"There are about 79 villages in Thantlang, Matupi and Paletwa Townships which are affected by the famine. People from 11 villages from Paletwa Township arrived in Saiha. They fled their villages after rats destroyed their crops. They hope to get some assistance here. There are a lot of people arriving here," said Toe Par, Secretary of 'Mara People's Party' in Saiha, Mizoram on the Indo-Burma border.

"The flowering of bamboo will last not for one year but for about four to five years. I'd like to urge the Chin people to assist these people", said Thang Yen, General Secretary of the 'Chin National Front', an armed student rebel group fighting for self-determination of Chins.

Insurance giants urged to stop business with Burma

By Matt Champion

(My Finances) 29 Jul 2008 - Sixteen of the world's biggest insurance companies have been called on to stop trading in Burma.

A new report says companies are allowing billions of dollars worth of investment in Burma by insuring the operations of foreign businesses.

Burma Campaign UK says the investment enabled by insurance companies has not benefited residents in any way and has instead been used to finance campaigns of repression and ethnic cleansing.

A military junta has ruled Burma since 1962 and in the last year the eyes of the world have twice focused on its regime.

Last year live ammunition was used to halt popular pro-democracy protests while the country's generals were condemned by their slow response and misuse of international aid following Cyclone Nargis in May.

Today's report, Insuring Repression, names some of the insurance industry's leading lights as effectively helping to support the junta.

Among the companies on the list are Lloyd's of London, Hannover Re, Catlin, Atrium, XL, Tokio Marine, Sompo Japan and Mitsui Sumitomo.

The report's author, Burma Campaign UK campaigns officer Johnny Chatterton, accused the firms of "propping up a regime that rules through fear – raping, torturing and killing Burma's civilians".

"These companies are putting profit before ethics, they are helping to finance a regime that less than a year ago was shooting peaceful protestors on the streets of Rangoon," he continued.

"They ensure that the regime can afford its guns, bullets and tanks."

Lloyds of London told myfinances.co.uk its Burmese operations represented a tiny percentage of its total business.

"A very small amount of reinsurance is written at Lloyd’s in Burmese shipping and aviation," a spokesman explained.

"We are unaware of any businesses at Lloyd’s defying international sanctions. If we discovered any underwriters breaching sanctions we would take action immediately.”

Under EU law European companies are not blocked from investing and providing insurance in Burma, as opposed to the US, where strict financial sanctions have been in place since 2003.

Adding her voices to calls for the EU to follow Washington's suit, Glenys Kinnock MEP said: "The insurance industry is helping to prop up Burma's morally repugnant regime. The EU must act. We must shut down the regime's financial lifeline with targeted financial sanctions immediately."

According to Burma Campaign UK, a host of insurance companies – including AIG, Allianz, Aviva, AXA, ING and Swiss Re – have already stopped their Burma operations following pressure from the group.

Changing Course On Burma

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(VOA) 28 July 2008 - In an unusual public rebuke, Southeast Asian leaders have called Burma's military junta to task for its repression of the nation's pro-democracy movement. While their action is welcome, hopefully it is just the first step in increasing pressure on the generals in Rangoon to begin reforms that address the broader political issues that are keeping their country down.

Foreign ministers from member states of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting in Singapore expressed their "deep disappointment" with Burma's continued detention of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. They also called for the junta that for decades has ruled the nation with an iron grip to hold "meaningful dialogue" with opposition figures.

ASEAN is a consensus-based organization that is loath to speak out on the internal affairs of its members. Given that human rights figured prominently in the meeting’s agenda and the political climate in Burma has deteriorated over the past year, the organization may have decided the time was right to speak out.

They also were encouraged by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who credited ASEAN with growing influence in Rangoon. She said the group was instrumental in persuading the junta to reverse its initial obstruction of assistance and accept international aid after Cyclone Nargis killed at least 78,000 people along the Irrawaddy Delta in May. She urged the group to continue engaging Burma to push it toward democracy.

Indeed, it's in the interests of both the Burmese people and ASEAN nations concerned about regional stability that the generals be persuaded to release all political prisoners and engage in a genuine dialogue with democratic and ethnic minority leaders in order to begin a credible transition to democracy.

Myanmar’s storm survivors get new eco-friendly homes

By Moe Moe Yu

(DT)-Dozens of construction firms have arrived in the cyclone-hit region to take on government-subsidised house building projects

NEARLY three months after a cyclone devastated Myanmar’s southern Irrawaddy delta, local firms are helping survivors replace their makeshift shelters with eco-friendly modern homes.

Cyclone Nargis swept away every home in its path, leaving thousands of Myanmar people with only driftwood and donated plastic sheets for shelter. The village of Auk Pyon Wa near the mouth of the Irrawaddy river lost 221 of its people when the storm hit, flattening it and surrounding it by water on all sides.

For the past three months the village’s survivors - 380 by official count - have been living together in temporary shelters donated by monks. Now they finally face the prospect of having a home again as dozens of construction firms arrive in the region to take on government-subsidized projects. The Pun Hlaing Construction Group is building 125 wooden homes with solar lighting and solar-powered water pumps in an effort to harness the elements to help - rather than destroy - residents’ lives.

“The government provides the timber, zinc for the roof and iron, while our group provides technicians and skilled labourers as a donation,” Ohn Myint, the company’s construction manager told AFP. In return, the villagers help build their new homes. “It’s like they are building their own house but combining our skills with their labour,” Ohn Myint said.

Ohn Myint hopes the homes will be ready in three months. “But we are facing delays in transporting material and getting the right labour,” he said. At the village jetty, hard wood and other building materials arrive by cargo ship and are carried off by residents. Not all the villagers are happy about their building work - they would rather be doing their old jobs, fishing the waters.

A village elder, in his 60s, told AFP: “Many villagers get tired from working so hard and we are all upset about the situation we’ve ended up in. “We cannot go back to work (as fishermen) as we are required to work for the housing project.” The fishermen are also stuck on dry land because their rods and boats were destroyed by the storm.

They are awaiting government donations of fishing equipment they hear are being given out in other villages along the delta. “We lost everything in our family and we have no fishing equipment left,” said Khin Min, 49, a village official. “We understand that farmers are the first priority because the planting season is limited, but we need fishing equipment very soon for our own survival,” he added. The people of Auk Pyon Wa still rely on food handouts, recently receiving a month’s rice from international charity Save the Children. They collect their water from nearby Thin Gan Gon village, as their own water pond is not clean enough to drink from. “Before, many donors came to our village but now we get less and less.

We receive mostly rice but we can’t eat rice alone in the long term. We want to eat other things as well, that’s why we want to work,” said the village elder. But while there may be no work for now, homes are on their way - allowing these traumatised communities to find some semblance of normality amid the chaos wreaked by Cyclone Nargis. afp