Thursday, 31 July 2008

Junta Slams Exile Group’s UN Campaign

The Irrawaddy News

Burma’s state-run press on Tuesday attacked an exile group’s campaign to have the UN declare the newly approved constitution illegal and unseat the military government from the international body.

The New Light of Myanmar published an article about Maung Maung, the secretary-general of the National Council of the Union of Burma (NCUB) and other groups in exile that do not recognize the Burmese government as a legitimate member of the United Nations.

The newspaper said, “Some politicians of the Western bloc” and “some follower groups” were asking the UN to not recognize the junta-backed constitution, which was approved in a May referendum. The government announced that elections would be held in 2010.

“In respect to the sovereignty of a nation, neither international organization nor government has the right to interfere in the approval of a constitution that has been drawn in conformity with the nation’s prevailing conditions,” the newspaper said.

Burma’s political, economic and military affairs have never constituted a threat to the stability of the international community, neighboring countries or the region, the article said.

The article also blasted an open letter released by a group of politicians who won seats in Parliament in Burma’s 1990 election. The letter called the junta’s constitution illegal and urged the junta open a dialogue with opposition groups. The junta did not recognize the results of the 1990 election.

Gen Tamalabaw, the chairman of the NCUB, said in a July 18 letter to the US branch of the National League for Democracy in exile that the NUCB was preparing a campaign to publicize crimes committed by the junta.

The NUCB Web site said it plans to challenge the credentials of the Burmese government at the 2008 United Nations General Assembly session and object to its right to represent Burma at the UN.

Nyo Ohn Myint of the NLD in exile, who is close to NUCB chairman Maung Maung, said, “The NCUB’s agenda at the UN is to push the junta into a dialogue path.”

However, there is disagreement within Burma’s exiled opposition movement over the NCUB’s agenda, particularly within the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB), the Burmese government in exile, formed in 1991.

San Aung, a member of the NCGUB, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that the government in exile didn’t agree with Maung Maung’s agenda because it had little chance of success and did not come from a collective leadership.

“At the last UN general assembly, 40 countries abstained in a vote on the Burmese junta’s human rights violations while 60 countries voted ‘yes’ against the junta and 20 countries voted ‘no’,” said San Aung. “I think a campaign to unseat Burma would be difficult.”

Australia rebukes China over reporter internet censorship

By Samantha Maiden
The Australian

AUSTRALIA has scolded the IOC over a secret agreement to allow China to censor the internet for journalists covering the Olympics. The rebuke came as the US and China traded blows over human rights just eight days out from the Beijing Olympics after President George W. Bush met with Chinese dissidents at the White House.

China has created an international furore after it was revealed that International Olympic Committee officials had let Beijing off from a pledge to provide complete media freedom at the Games.

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith urged China to be open and transparent and said Olympic officials were wise to apologise after they admitted China would not stop censoring internet access during the Beijing Games.

Sports Minister Kate Ellis also confirmed Australian authorities were working hard to resolve the "limitations" that Kevan Gosper, chairman of the IOC's press commission, has confirmed will apply to websites not connected with the Games.

Mr Gosper has apologised for misleading journalists, saying he was disappointed that China was blocking sites it deemed sensitive.

Mr Smith said today Australia had regularly urged China to be open and transparent and that included communications.

"I do see this morning the representatives of the Olympic committee apologising for their conduct," he told reporters in Canberra.

"On the basis of what I have read, that apology seemed like it was well worth giving and required to be given.''

Sports Minister Kate Ellis said she was hopeful the situation could be improved.

"The IOC believed that they had an agreement prior to the Games being granted to China so I think that is of concern. I know that John Coates has been out there being very active and I know that the IOC are going to continue to raise these issues and try to get a resolution,'' she said.

The MPs' comments came as the US ramped up pressure on China to live up to Olympic ideals with President George W. Bush promising the regime had "nothing to fear" from internet freedom.

"President Bush has long said that China has nothing to fear from greater access to the internet or to the press or from more religious freedom and human freedom and human rights," press secretary Dana Perino said.

"And that's one of the things that he talked about yesterday with the dissidents he met with, here at the White House.

"We want to see more access for reporters, we want to see more access for everybody in China to be able to have access to the internet." Perino said.

"We think that China would be enhanced and continue to prosper if they allowed for more freedom."

Meanwhile, the US House of Representatives voted 419 to 1 to endorse a resolution asking China to "immediately end abuses of the human rights of its citizens, to cease repression of Tibetan and Uighur citizens, and to end its support for the governments of Sudan and Burma (Myanmar)."

The Chinese foreign ministry in turn, criticised a meeting between President Bush and leading Chinese dissidents at the White House this week, saying it sent a "seriously wrong message''.

"`We express strong discontent and firm opposition to this,'' foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said in a statement posted on his ministry's website late yesterday.

"By arranging such a meeting between its leader (Bush) and these people and making irresponsible remarks on China's human rights and its religious situation, the US side has rudely interfered in China's internal affairs and sent a seriously wrong message to hostile anti-China forces.''

In a separate statement, Liu lashed out at the congessional resolution. Liu said the resolution passed yesterday was an attempt to politicise the Olympics in Beijing and urged Washington to curb the "odious conduct'' of anti-Chinese legislators.

Relief Still Spotty For Victims Of Myanmar Cyclone

By Andrew Theen
Portland, OR July 29, 2008

(OPB News)- Nearly 3 months after a devastating cyclone struck Myanmar, officials with Medical Teams International say relief is spotty and slow to improve. Andrew Theen reports.

Dr. Wendy Dyment is the emergency health specialist with Medical Teams International. She was the only official from the Tigard relief agency allowed into Myanmar, or Burma. Dyment spent 2 months there.

Dyment said the political situation makes it difficult to get to certain areas, and she wasn't allowed to stay overnight.

She said in the hardest hit areas trees are still down, food is scarce, and hospitals still lie in ruins.

Wendy Dyment: "A lot of people were living without adequate shelter, one of the areas that we went to 3/4 of the people said they still needed clothes, half didn't have food that would last them more than 2 days."

Dyment says that is typical of the most-damaged regions, but some areas are better.

She says she's worried that the situation is slowly fading from international awareness.

U.N. calls for doubled aid to Burma

By Khin Ohmar

(UPIAsiaonline) - The United Nations has more than doubled its appeal to member nations to fund humanitarian relief work in Burma’s cyclone-afflicted regions. It is urging donors to give a further US$280 million in addition to the US$201 million requested on May 9. The new total of US$481 million is earmarked for 103 projects submitted by 13 U.N. agencies and 23 NGOs, with the greatest increases for the agricultural and early recovery sectors.

Ibrahim Gambari, special envoy of the U.N. secretary-general to Myanmar, met with ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan to express his appreciation for the leadership ASEAN has provided in the humanitarian mission in Burma. ASEAN stated its commitment to further cooperation with the United Nations and its agencies in the ongoing relief efforts.

A U.N. spokesperson announced on July 15 that Gambari will travel to Burma in mid-August, after several postponements. The visit has sparked an internal debate within the United Nations as to how effective Gambari can be in spurring on dialogue. Burmese opposition actors also expressed their mounting frustration over Gambari’s lack of progress.

UNICEF claimed that disaster recovery and relief efforts are progressing well in cyclone-afflicted areas, despite logistical difficulties. It further announced that out of 428 children separated from their parents, 15 were reunited with their families.

Monks in the Irrawaddy delta and Rangoon reported that many children orphaned by the cyclone are being employed in low-paid jobs. While they prefer to stay in their own communities, many have been forced to migrate to the cities to find work.

Burma’s state media announced that 1,670 visa have been granted to international aid workers and foreign officials.

The families of Zarganar, Zaw That Htyaw and members of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions that were detained while collecting bodies of cyclone victims reported that they have received no information on their relatives.

Authorities in Maungdaw Township are allegedly borrowing rice and medicine from local traders in order to make a show of large-scale donations to the Nargis relief effort. One resident reported, “I heard the authorities want to record the goods on video and camera as Nargis relief in front of the new Western Command commander to propagate the news story in state-run media.”

New reports have emerged that the regime may be skimming as much as 20 percent off the top of incoming aid money designated for Nargis relief efforts. The regime currently forces international NGOs and U.N. agencies to convert incoming funds into the regime’s special Foreign Exchange Currency, which is supposed to be on parity with the U.S. dollar.

However, the FEC has weakened in recent months, partly due to the regime’s excessive printing of the currency, which means that the regime receives hard U.S. currency while agencies get a weaker FEC in return. The top U.N. humanitarian affairs officer, John Holmes, has promised to look into the allegations.

In a move probably intended to tighten their grip on the dissemination of information regarding the aftermath of the cyclone, Burmese authorities asked the United Nations to hold its weekly press conferences in Rangoon rather than in Bangkok. John Holmes announced that the Bangkok press conferences would continue.

Singapore’s Foreign Minister, George Yeo, gave ASEAN a “C” rating for its response to cyclone Nargis in Burma.

Burma ratified ASEAN’s new charter, which sets some ground rules for the regional grouping on human rights and democracy. Burma vowed to uphold the charter’s democratic ideals.

On July 21 ASEAN issued a rebuke of the Burmese regime from its annual meeting in Singapore. The regional organization called for “meaningful dialogue” between the regime and opposition forces. At the meeting, Burma’s Foreign Minister Nyan Win hinted that Aung San Suu Kyi could be released within the next six months, but then quickly took back the statement.

The Post-Nargis Joint Assessment report, produced by the United Nations, ASEAN, and the Burmese military government, was released on July 21 at the ASEAN foreign ministers meeting in Singapore. The report claims that Cyclone Nargis caused US$4 billion in damage, left 84,537 dead and 53,836 missing and impacted the lives of 2.4 million people out of a population of 7.35 million living in the affected townships. The report states that Burma will need an additional US$1 billion for relief and reconstruction efforts.

The National League for Democracy was challenged by the junta to form a political party to contest the 2010 elections. An article in the regime’s mouthpiece New Light of Myanmar dubbed the NLD victory “illegal” because the recent referendum “results” mean that “it has been ditched by the entire people who are desirous of the emergence of a new, modern, developed democratic nation.” The NLD does not recognize the referendum results.

The military regime is pressuring ethnic ceasefire groups to disarm and form political parties to stand in the 2010 elections. Most groups remain undecided, according to reports. The Mon National Democratic Front will not form a new political party and will not take part in the 2010 elections because the party did not accept the “approved” Constitution.

Violent resistance to the military dictatorship in Burma is growing more likely inside Burma, according to new reports. The British newspaper the Guardian interviewed monks and activists involved in the Saffron Revolution who now support armed resistance. Noted American intellectual Noam Chomsky was also quoted in the Bangkok Post as saying that armed resistance in Burma was morally justified.

The U.S. House of Representatives on July 15 unanimously passed the Block Burmese Jade Act, a law that would place additional financial and trade sanctions on the Burmese military regime. If passed by the Senate and signed by the president, the bill will ban the import of Burmese jadeite and rubies into the United States, a major revenue source for the country's military regime. Aung Din, co-founder of the U.S. Campaign for Burma, which pushed for the bill, said, "This legislation sends a strong signal to Burma's military regime that the U.S. stands firmly on the side of my country's democracy movement."

A Burmese opposition umbrella group, the National Council of the Union of Burma, launched a campaign on July 14 that seeks to challenge the regime’s credentials at the United Nations. The NCUB will submit a challenge to the U.N. credentials committee, which annually affirms the right of a government to represent its country, based on the regime’s human rights record and its refusal to honor the results of the 1990 elections that would have brought an end to military rule in Burma.


(Khin Ohmar is coordinator of the Asia Pacific Peoples' Partnership on Burma, based in Thailand. She can be contacted at Her blog may be found at

The Burmese deserve better

(Independent) - An admission by the UN this week that it had "lost" some $10m in aid to cyclone-stricken Burma must come as a shock to the many donors who forked out substantial sums to help the people of that poor, benighted country. It's arisen, according to the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Sir John Holmes, because of an arcane system by which the UN calculates the exchange rate. But the bottom line is that money that should be going to the purchase of goods and services for the suffering is instead going into the pockets of the Burmese military administration.

That would be bad enough in itself. The UN, which earlier this month issued an urgent appeal for an additional $300m in aid for the victims of Cyclone Nargis which hit the Irrawaddy Delta in May, has so far raised about $200m of its intended $482m total. So a loss of $10m is far from insignificant. It is especially galling, however, because it comes on top of increasing reports from the aid agencies of the misappropriation and abuse of such aid as is getting through. Right from the beginning of this natural disaster, the military junta that runs the country has consistently refused either to admit the true level of suffering or to give outside agencies the freedom to tackle it. Even on the government figures, the number of dead and missing has risen to some 138,000. Unofficial estimates put it much higher.

Access by agencies has continued to be restricted by a government that remains deeply suspicious of foreigners. The help from the UN and the World Food Programme, as from neighbouring countries, is all too often diverted into the coffers and the warehouses of the junta and their friends. Some of this may be unavoidable given the nature of the Burmese regime. Some may also be due as much to incompetence as corruption. But there are also worrying signs that the junta is using the disbursement of aid for political reasons, to enforce political compliance. It is not a satisfactory situation, especially for ordinary donors who have stumped up their own money to help a people in distress. Being told that the UN itself has lost $10m on the exchange is hardly reassuring.

Myanmar plays the UN and the world for suckers

The Gazette

It's hard to say which is more appalling: the way Myanmar's elite skimmed as much as $10 million from international aid money flowing into the country for the survivors of Cyclone Nargis, or the way United Nations officials failed to notice the scam - or worse - for weeks on end.

John Holmes, the UN's top man on humanitarian affairs, says now that the losses are "a significant problem," amounting to as much as 15 per cent of recent cash aid flowing into the country. He admitted that the UN had been "a bit slow" to recognize the swindle.

The country's military government forced the UN to trade hard currency for the local money by the medium of foreign exchange certificates and then set the rate of these instruments in such a way that millions of dollars flowed to bankers and others close to the junta. The usual market rate is 1,100 Myanmar khat per dollar, but the UN has been getting only about 880. The story was broken by a blog ( which covers the UN. We wonder if news of this UN inefficiency would ever have become public without the blog's good work.

That any government could be complicit in such a fraud, at the expense of its own hard-hit people, is staggering.

But it's also alarming that the scam could have gone on since the early days of the humanitarian crisis without being noticed until recently. Nor has it been corrected yet, apparently; Holmes says the UN now hopes the Myanmar government will co-operate in letting UN aid staff get decent value for the organization's hard currency.

The world's people invest their good wishes, their hopes, and their idealism - along with some of their money - in the United Nations. But the high standards those investments require are too often not met by the world body. The UN must keep reforming itself.

United States Imposes Sanctions on 10 Burmese Firms

(News Blaze) The United States is imposing further economic sanctions on Burma in an effort to punish the ruling military junta for systematically oppressing the Burmese people.

The U.S. Treasury Department announced financial sanctions against 10 companies suspected of being owned or controlled by the military-run government of Burma. At the same time, President Bush signed into law legislation and a joint resolution that will continue some sanctions, add new ones and extend import restrictions.

"We are tightening financial sanctions against Burma's repressive junta and the companies that finance it," said Adam Szubin, director of the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control. "The regime's refusal to protect and allow relief to reach the Burmese people as Cyclone Nargis devastated their country is but another example of the regime's heartless neglect of its people."

The sanctions will affect two major conglomerates - the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd. (UMEH) and the Myanmar Economic Corp. - that have extensive interests in a variety of sectors critical to the Burmese government, including the gem, banking and construction industries, Szubin said July 29. And four of UMEH's subsidiaries - Myanmar Ruby Enterprise, Myanmar Imperial Jade Company Ltd., Myawaddy Trading Ltd. and Myawaddy Bank Ltd. - have been added to the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons list, the Treasury Department said.

In addition, Szubin said, any bank accounts or other financial assets found in the United States that belong to those named by Treasury officials must be frozen. No Americans or American companies may do business with these companies, the Treasury Department said.

"The designations also make available to the global community information about companies that provide vital support to the Burmese military and to a regime that is systematically oppressing the Burmese people," the Treasury Department said.

Bush signed into law the renewal of import restrictions on Burma and the 2008 Tom Lantos Block Burmese JADE (Junta's Anti-Democratic Efforts) Act, which is aimed at extending sanctions against leaders of the Burmese military regime, those providing them with economic and political support, their immediate families and the Burmese gem industry.

Source: U.S. Department of State

To comment on this story, email to

Sanction has not really impacted Burmese gem trade

30 Jul 2008, IMNA

Although the US government continues with its sanction on importing gems from Burma, it will not strongly impact the Burmese gem trade, said Burmese gem traders.

President Bush signed a legislation yesterday banning the import of rubies and jades from Burma to the United States to penalise Burma's brutal ruling regime. It has also frozen assets of the generals.

"Trading on board through Hong Kong had been totally stopped. But we are still working trough neighbouring countries and there has been no strong impact in gem trading," a gem trader in Rangoon said.

Demand for jewels in China and Thailand is increasing and it could help balance the loss of market in the US.

"A majority export jade and some high value rubies to China," a trader said.

A majority of traders in upper Burma cross the Sino-Burma border and sell jade in China.

"Selling gems in China is like selling vegetables because the Chinese like jade so much," a Mandalay jade producer and trader said.

According to a trader, although the US government started banning Burmese gem, the gem trade is not really hard hit and trade in Burma has been going on normally.

However the trade has lost major customers in California trough Hong Kong and Singapore. But Burmese gem traders have found markets through neighbours to by pass the sanction.

Gem earns the third major export income for Burma and it has generated 647 million dollars during the 2007-2008 fiscal, according to official statistics.

Bomb explodes in Telecommunication Office in Mudon

31 Jul 2008, IMNA

A bomb exploded near the Burmese military regime's Central Agriculture Research and Training under the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation in Mudon Township, Mon State, Burma last night.

The bomb went off in the Telecommunication Office precincts in front of Central Agriculture Research and Training in the eastern part of Kyone paik village about 20 miles from Moulmein, the capital of Mon State but no one was injured.

The authorities have not been able to identify the bomber yet. "It seems to be an internal affair and there were only three people present," an observer from the town said.

The local authorities are investigating. The office was built in 1996 and the local authorities seized a rubber plantation for constructing the building without paying compensation.

In July last year, a small bomb exploded in a brothel near the Azin Dam in Mudon.

Burmese rock star Lay Phyu to sing for cyclone victims - Lay Phyu

30 July 2008, Mizzima, New Delhi — Prominent Burmese rock star Lay Phyu, along with three other famous singers are ready to rock the city of Rangoon during a fund raising concert organized for victims of Cyclone Nargis, organizers said.

Lay Phyu, who has not performed live concerts for the past three years, will stage a come back along side his brother Ahnge, Myo Gyi and Wai Wai, in a charity show to be conducted on August 24, in Rangoon's indoor stadium in Thuwanah.

Dr. Ko Ko Lwin, secretary of the Myanma Music Association, known as Myanmah Gita Asi Ayone, said all the four rock stars have agreed to perform free to lend a helping hand to cyclone victims, struggling to rebuild their lives.

"All the proceeds will go towards donation to cyclone victims," Ko Ko Lwin told Mizzima. But he added that they have not fixed the rates for the tickets for the show.

The show according to Ko Ko Lwin, will be sponsored by the Myanma Music Association and the performance will be by Burma's most prominent rock band Iron Cross, better known as IC by fans across Burma.

An official at the Iron Cross studio in Rangoon told Mizzima that the band will play to raise funds for cyclone victims without taking any fees.

"Lay Phyu will also be featuring in the show, and it will be the first time he will be appearing on stage after about three years," a woman official at IC studio told Mizzima.

Lay Phyu, Burma's premier rock star, has not performed in public shows for the past three years.

While the reason for his absence from live concerts remains unknown, rumours among his fans across Burma suggest that he was subjected to a ban by authorities.

A fan of Lay Phyu in Rangoon said, "We don't know what exactly happened to him but we hear rumours that he was banned by the authorities."

Lay Phyu could not be reached for comment on his disappearance from public concerts.

According to Ko Ko Lwin, the former manager of the Iron Cross band which has close links with Lay Phyu, he last performed a live concert in Rangoon in mid-2005.

Another woman fan of Lay Phyu told Mizzima that a planned concert at Rangoon's Kandawgyi in September 2005 apparently was conducted without him though the initial advertisement included him in a special appearance.

"I saw the advertisement stating that Lay Phyu was to perform at the show, but when the day came close, his name was removed from the advertisement and he eventually did not appear on the show," the fan, who went for the show expecting Lay Phyu to appear on stage, said.

"Since then I have never seen or heard him perform on stage shows," she added.

Lay Phyu, a graduate from the University of Mandalay, is one of the pioneers of rock music in Burma and gained immense popularity in the early 1990s. He is particularly famous for his high-pitched vocal.

Following the devastation caused by Cyclone Nargis in early May, several Burmese musicians and prominent singers planned to raise funds through their songs and by jointly releasing charity music albums.

Earlier, another prominent Burmese singer Song Oo Hlaing told Mizzima that he and several other artists are working towards releasing a charity music album to raise funds for victims of the cyclone.

Cyclone Nargis, which lashed Burma on May 2 and 3, left at least 138,000 dead and missing, and devastated the lives of more than 2.4 million people.

Reporting by Mizzima correspondent, writing by Mungpi

Fresh charge against Maung Weik

(Mizzima) - The young business tycoon Maung Weik has been slapped with one more charge. He has been charged with violating the immigration act by the police who have accused him of allowing a Malaysian to stay in his office premises in Rangoon.

The case was filed at the Lanmadaw township police station on July 15, said a police officer. The case number is (Pa) 187/08 under immigration section 13 (5).

"He (the businessman) is suspected of allowing the Malaysian to stay in Myanmar (Burma) without informing the immigration authority," a police source said.

The Malaysian national Mr. Peter Too Haut Haw is also being detained along with five other Burmese nationals and Maung Weik.

Meanwhile, Maung Weik has been charged with trading in narcotics such as ecstasy, amphetamines and Ketamine. The 35-year-old businessman faces life-imprisonment if found guilty of trafficking in drugs.

According to the first information report filed in the police station, the Malaysian has been living in the head office of the Maung Weik and Family Co. Ltd., located on Anawyahtar Street, Ward-1, Lanmadaw township, Rangoon since 2003.

Detained Shan leader at risk of blindness - Sao Hso Ten

Jul 31, 2008 (DVB)–Detained Shan leader Sao Hso Ten of the Shan State Peace Council is at risk of losing his eyesight after developing cataracts, according to a source close to his family.

Sao Hso Ten’s daughter learned of his cataracts when she visited him last week, the source said, and his family is very worried about him.

“He’s starting to lose his sight, and there’s a chance he might go completely blind within the next two years if he doesn’t receive medical treatment,” the source said.

“He seems a little depressed and is worrying about his condition.”

The Shan leader’s family has written a letter to senior authorities asking for him to receive immediate medical attention, but has so far received no response.

Sao Hso Ten is currently being held in Khandee prison in Sagaing division, where he is serving a 106-year sentence.

He was one of eight Shan leaders arrested in February 2005 after attending a meeting between opposition and ethnic groups in Shan state and given long-term prison sentences for discrediting the military government.

One of the eight, Sai Myint Than, died in Sandoway prison in Arakan state in 2006.

Reporting by Khin Hnin Htet

Aung Lan farmers pressured after ILO complaint

Jul 30, 2008 (DVB)–Farmers in Magwe division's Aung Lan township have come under pressure from local authorities after filing a forced labour complaint to the International Labour Organisation.

The farmers reported to the ILO that local authorities had ordered them to grow sugar cane on their farms after declaring that the land was the property of the defence department.

A farmer from Thabyaypin village in Aung Lan said farmlands in nearby Sapyanjet that local farmers had been working on for generations were seized by local authorities earlier this month.

"Officials from Aung Lan township's sugar factory 5, led by major Ye Naing, seized the land and then forced us to sign an agreement to grow sugar cane on the land," the farmer said.

"They threatened to kick us off the land if we refused to grow sugar cane," he said.

"The farmers were really frustrated by that and about 50 of them filed a report to the ILO about the abuse."

The farmers were later summoned to see township Peace and Development Council chairman U Myint Ngwe, who demanded they tell him who had filed the report and why.

"We replied that we had had to report the case because growing sugar cane, which can only make us a profit once a year, would not be financially viable for us," the farmer said.

"But since then we have been paranoid that the authorities will do something bad to us."

Major Ye Naing and the Aung Lan township PDC office were unavailable for comment.

Reporting by Naw Say Phaw

Nine monks arrested in Rangoon

Jul 30, 2008 (DVB)–Nine monks have reportedly been arrested by authorities while waiting at Rangoon railway station to return to their monasteries for a retreat to mark Buddhist lent, according to an eyewitness.

A Rangoon resident who witnessed the incident said the railway police arrested the nine monks as they arrived at the station on 15 July.

“The monks did not come as a group. They came separately and were at the railway station before the train departed,” the witness said.

“They appeared to be on their own and were not seen to be communicating with each other or doing something together,” he said.

“But the railway police came and arrested the nine monks and sent them to Insein prison.”

The Rangoon resident said he did not know if the monks had been charged with any offence.

DVB is investigating the incident and trying to establish which monasteries the monks belonged to and where they were heading before their arrests.

Reporting by Khin Hnin Htet

Farmers struggle with lack of resources

Jul 30, 2008 (DVB)–Farmers in the cyclone-hit township of Labutta in Irrawaddy division are still struggling to resume their work due to lack of resources, financial difficulties and crop failures.

According to some estimates, there is a possibility that only a quarter of the 1.4 million acres of farmland in Irrawaddy will be producing crops this year.

Problems have included the death of cows and buffalo used in cultivating land, the failure of some crops and farmers’ inexperience in using tillers, as well as the limited agricultural loans given by the government and shortage of diesel fuel.

The government provided some fertiliser to the farmers at 25,000 kyat a bag, but they found they still needed to buy more so had to borrow money from loan-sharks to buy it on the black market for 48,000 kyat a bag.

The farmers are also struggling to use tillers provided by the government and complained that workshops run by the state agricultural department teaching them how to operate the machines had been inadequate.

They have also complained that the tillers, which were manufactured by a Chinese company and assembled in Mandalay's Kyauk Se township, broke down shortly after being put to work in the fields. (JEG's: high quality aha??? :) )

The farmers claimed the pinions on the tillers broke too easily and said that tillers imported from Thailand would have been more appropriate for their land.

Only a quarter of farmers working in Irrawaddy division own their own land, while the rest are hired hands who work for the farm owners in return for wages and food, but farm owners have been struggling to provide food for these workers, farmers said.

There have also been complaints that the government agricultural loans have stayed at the previous limit of 8000 kyat per acre of farmland up to a maximum of 60,000 kyat per farmer, which farmers say does not meet their current needs.

Crops have also been damaged by crabs brought in by the cyclone, which have been attacking the plants.

The farmers have now called on the government to provide heavy machinery to assist the community as it has done in other village groups.

Reporting by Aye Nai