Friday, 1 August 2008

'You could still see bodies floating about'

(Fileymercury) -Rev Jeff Hattan, who has previously been to Ghana, Nigeria, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, was originally due to visit Burma last November, but the trip was postponed following the monks' demonstrations.

Rev Hattan said: “After the cyclone, in one sense I wanted to go even more and stand with those people who had a hard enough life as it was. Life for everyone is hard, but for Christians it’s even more so.”

According to Christian organisations such as the charity Release International, which arranged the trip, the Burmese government ignored “whole groups of people” in the wake of the disaster – not least the mainly Christian communities, which have traditionally suffered.

Rev Hattan said: “There are people who have still had no help in re-building, food or clean water, and we were speaking to another Christian organisation that had been to another part of the Irrawaddy Delta where you could still see bodies floating about.

“We’re not a relief organisation, but we were giving rice to villagers, supplying building materials and everything needed to completely re-build a school for 140 children. We made up 1,364 children’s backpacks with uniforms and pencils and reading books, and we were supporting church leaders whose churches had spent just about all their money on helping others.

“There’s also a huge need for counselling, and we paid for 15 young Christians to attend counselling courses so they could work with people on a basic level. Sometimes it’s just about being there and talking to people – saying ‘you’re not alone’. You can’t comprehend what a boost it is for people to know you’ve come all that way.”

Rev Hattan said the persecution of the Christian population was more psychological than physical, but he had spoken to church leaders who had been imprisoned “on a whim”.

He added: “Burma hasn’t got a good record for human rights at the best of times, but the Government says to be Burmese is to be Buddhist. They say Christians have the ‘C-virus’ and put out that it must be eradicated by all and any means.

“There are ethnic groups that are 60 to 70 per cent Christian and they’re often the ones at the forefont of the pro-democracy movement, so to be part of those groups is to be automatically targeted.

“We spoke to church leaders who said they had regular visits by the authorities, sometimes two or three times a night, checking up on what they’re doing and who they’re with. Churches are routinely closed down and Christians are made to do jobs that are disgusting and live under the constant pressure of being harrassed or threatened.

“It also happens to Buddhist Burmese – it’s a country of intolerable suffering – but if you’re Christian it’s much worse.”

Rev Hattan said unlike other western visitors, his group was given a suprising amount of freedom to travel, partly because they were working with Burmese people who “knew what they were doing”.

He said: “We never felt we were in danger, but you were aware that people were encouraged to pass on to the Government anything that was unusual.

You’ve no idea if people are on the payroll of the Government – it’s like the old Soviet Union.”

l Release International, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, was originally formed to support Christians living in the old Communist world, but now operates in countries like Nigeria, Pakistan, Iraq, Sri Lanka and India where Christians may be persecuted by the Government, other religious groups or even drug barons – as in Colombia.

Rev Hattan has been involved with the charity for about 12 years and sometimes travels with his wife, Angie.

Writers Play Cat-and-Mouse Game with State Censors

It was a love poem, cleared by Burmese censors, in which a brokenhearted man rejected by a fashion model thanked her for teaching him the meaning of love. But when the first letters of each line were read vertically, it said "General Than Shwe [the country's principal military ruler] is crazy with power."

On January 22, after news of the hidden message reached the authorities, poet Saw Wei was arrested. But, as far as the military junta was concerned, the damage already was done, because Saw Wei had breached Burma's notorious Press Scrutiny and Registration Board (PSRB) and successfully broadcast a message of political dissent.

Burma's writers, journalists and other intellectuals have been coping with state censorship since the country's colonial days, but intense and unpredictable scrutiny in place since 1962 under the military regime has spawned subtle literary traditions and brazen attempts at self-expression, according to a source who specializes in Burmese literature.

The specialist, who spoke to on condition of anonymity, said Burmese traditions of writing between the lines, using words with double meanings, and other cryptic styles help writers get material out to their information-starved countrymen despite state censorship.

"There's a lot of interest in words that sort of pack a punch without revealing too much, and I really see that as a whole literary tradition that's developed because of the long history of state control," the specialist said. "They say art is all about constraint, and I would say that's really true. There is this sort of cleverness of working with constraint."

Some literary change is reflected in the rise of magazines and journals (gya-neh) or weekly news tabloids as the main outlets for self-expression, rather than novels or short stories that are labor-intensive and difficult to publish.

Some Burmese intellectuals consider much of the country's post-modern literature "gibberish" because the prose lacks plot and the poetry is nonspecific, resembling a "word salad." But the specialist described the new Burmese literature as "one of the more extreme responses to censorship," because it allows a writer under investigation to claim the work has no real meaning. "It's kind of their way of bypassing the censorship system and then sort of communicating in some way."

One challenge all writers face is staying abreast of the state's ever-changing list of problematic topics.

"If the general gives a talk on teenage behavior, then your article in your journal or your magazine about teen fashions might get censored, even if there's nothing political in it. There are a lot of times that things that aren't political at all will get censored, and it's more like the censorship board is worried and so they start looking for meanings when maybe none are there at all," the specialist said.

Occasionally, writers and editors will be surprisingly open in their topics, and that tolerance for risk "is really an indicator of frustration."

The June 2008 issue of Cherry magazine featured a poem "De Pa Yin Ga," about heroic figures in Burma's history who were lost because their people were unfaithful to them. But the title also could refer to Depayin, the town where democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her supporters were attacked by a government-sponsored mob in a May 2003 incident that killed 70 people.

On June 30, Cherry's poetry editor, Htay Aung, was fired and the PSRB ordered the June issue - which already had sold out - recalled. The specialist expressed surprise that the poem was submitted, and also that it made it past the censors. Perhaps "someone on the censor board wanted the subversive poem to get through. I think a more likely explanation is that it just slipped through inadvertently." The sheer volume of material to be reviewed makes it "very difficult for censors to catch this sort of thing before printing," the specialist said. "It has to be found by readers."

Other examples:

. After Cyclone Nargis in May, a survivor unveiled a billboard reading, "We want food, not gold." In Burmese, shwe, means gold, a probable reference to General Than Shwe.

. During an October 2007 crackdown on pro-democracy protests, a state newspaper employee published a photo of a London demonstration against Burma's rulers, with a deliberately erroneous caption saying it was a protest against the war in Iraq.

. Early in 2007, an advertisement placed in a major Burmese newspaper for a fake Scandinavian travel agency contained the hidden message "Killer Than Shwe."

. In 1998, a printing error transposed a headline to the opposite page. As a result, the words "world's greatest liar" appeared over the Burmese ruler's photo.

. In 1995, the Burmese army's Yadanabon newspaper ran a personal ad wishing someone named "U Tin Maung Kyi" a happy anniversary. A backwards reading presents "Kyi Maung" and "Tin U," two senior pro-democracy leaders imprisoned at the time.

"There is a long tradition of hiding messages in this way," said the specialist who, after hearing about Saw Wei's poem, related how an anonymous writer used similar technique in 1978 to spell out "July 7" on a wall of Rangoon University - a reference to the day the army blew up the student union building in 1962.

Writers and intellectuals see themselves as the voice of the people and feel a strong sense of social responsibility despite being generally apolitical. That lends special significance to poet Aung Way's September 2007 call for other writers to support the pro-democracy movement led by Burmese monks. (See "Burma's Monks Have History of Democratic Protest ( ).")

"There's a tradition of respecting writers and intellectuals in Burma so when they put themselves on the line it gets attention. It's very similar to the monks stepping forward," the specialist said.

Iron Cross forced to delay show in support of cyclone victims by junta

01 Aug 2008, IMNA

The Iron Cross (IC), the popular and famous music band in Rangoon has had to postpone its live performance to raise funds for Cyclone Nargis victims at the Thuwanha stadium because of the dilatory tactics of the ruling Burmese junta.

The authorities told the music band earlier that they (authorities) had shifted dates from July 16 to August 24 because the military sports had to be held, according to source close to the IC.

According to the source, "The authorities have delayed the live show thrice and if they delay it again the IC will not be able do the show to collect funds". Lay Phyu, Ahnge, Myo Gyi, and Wai Wai were to perform in the live show.

According to IC fans, the authorities do not have much love for the IC because the band has not ever sung Burmese propaganda music.

The IC band also planned to perform in Mon State earlier but the Southeast Command banned them after youths quarreled in the festival.

However IC plans to have a stage show after the end of the Buddhist Lent in Kamawet village at the Kyaik Kamort Pagoda Festival in October 20, 2008.

Military Authority Donates 70 Million Kyat of Food to Sittwe Monasteries

Sittwe (Narinjara): The Burmese military government donated food worth 70 million kyat recently to monasteries in Sittwe, the capital of Arakan State, in order to protect against a food shortage in the city's monasteries during the rainy season, said an abbot from Sittwe.

The abbot said, "The donation was made by newly appointed Western Command Commander General Thaung Aye on behalf of the government recently in a donation ceremony that was held at Lawkarnada temple in Sittwe."

At the donation ceremony, 110 abbots from several monasteries in Sittwe attended and received the donation. The western command commander handed over the goods to each monastery during the ceremony.

A local source said that the biggest monastery in Sittwe, Pathein, received 170 rice bags, while another large monastery, Myoma, received 120 rice bags from the government.

"All monasteries in Sittwe received the donation of rice and other goods from the Burmese military government, but there was not equal distribution among the monasteries. If a monastery is close to the authority, it received more rice from the government," the abbot said.

The government donation included three staples - rice, cooking oil, and salt.

Some monasteries, however, refused to accept the government's donation. Zawdi Karron monastery was among those that refused the donation.

The abbot said, "I do not know why the monastery refused to accept the donation, but the monastery maybe wants to live peacefully without any connection to the government."

Government representatives said during the ceremony that the donation is intended to secure food in all the monasteries in Sittwe, and that it is a goodwill present from the military government to the monks in Sittwe.

Many people in Sittwe, though, believe that the donation is intended to aid in organizing monks in support of the military government, and to lure the monks away from involvement with any anti-government protests in Sittwe in the future.

Such a large donation to monks in Sittwe has never been done before by the military government. Because of this, people suppose that the donation has more to do with politics than goodwill.

Forced Labor Used at Castor Oil Plantation

Sittwe (Narinjara): Many villagers have been forced by local authorities to work at a castor oil plantation in Sittwe Township, Arakan State, without any compensation, said a villager from the area.

The villager said, "The military government announced in 2000 that there is no forced labor in Burma, but in our area, forced labor is still alive and it has been used by the local authorities."

Villagers from Kwee Day, Amyint Kyunt, Par Dalike, Nga Tauk, and Chi Li Byint in Sittwe Township have been summoned by village authorities to work at the castor oil plantations.

"The forced labor is being used by the village council, Rayaka, on the orders of the Sittwe Township authority, and the villagers have to work at the castor oil plantation whenever the authority needs forced labor for the plantation," the villager said.

The authority has planted the castor oil plants on many acres of land in the area, after confiscating grazing lands that had been owned by local residents.

"Recently our villagers had to go to the castor plantation to work without any wage. We had to work there at many tasks, including putting up fences, making drains or gutters, and cleaning up brush on the plantation," the villager said.

The villagers in the area have been used by authorities at all times of the year, during both the rainy season and the dry season.

The Burmese military authorities have announced that there is no forced labor in Burma, but there have been reports that local authorities are using people as forced labor in many areas in Arakan State, where people are unable to complain of the violation to the ILO office in Rangoon.

Prominent writer, astrologer Min Thein Kha expires

Mizzima News
31 July 2008

Chiang Mai - Prominent writer and astrologer Min Thein Kha died on Friday morning at a private clinic in Rangoon after suffering from numerous ailments.

Min Thein Kha, (70) was a renowned writer and a famous astrologer. He and was suffering from diabetes, high blood pressure, and other ailments over the last five years. He passed away on Friday at Rangoon's ThukhaKaba clinic, one of his pupil said.

"He died this morning at about 6 a.m. He was hospitalized since July 4. Doctors on July 15 discharged him from the clinic but since his health deteriorated, we took him to the clinic again yesterday," the pupil told Mizzima over telephone.

Min Thein Kha, who owns a ranch known as 'Ayudaw Mingalar' at Hmawbe Township, is known for his adventurous novels, fictional detective and historical and legendary stories. His characters including 'Sarpalin Hninmaung and Sanay Maung Maung' are popular among readers in Burma.

He was also famous for his astrological predictions and particularly known for giving names to famous actors, actresses and singers before they began their careers as celebrities.

In Burma, despite the modern lifestyle fast being adapted, people still believe in superstitious practices like renaming themselves before they choose a career to be successful.

Despite his later popularity Min Thein Kha did not have a successful beginning. As a young man, he worked hard as a waiter in a teashop in Central Burma's Chuak town in Magwe division.

He was also famously known for his benevolence in providing free food to whoever came to his 'Ayudaw Mingalar' ranch in Hmawbe township near Rangoon.

The Irrawaddy Business Roundup - August 1, 2008

  • Burma, India Close to Signing Chindwin Dams Agreement
  • Junta Attends South Asian Trade Summit as Observer
  • UN Burma Donors May Seek ‘Lost’ Cyclone Funds
  • Burmese Workers Opt for Qatar despite Abuse Reports
  • Qatar began issuing visas to Burmese in 2005.
Friday, August 1, 2008

Burma, India Close to Signing Chindwin Dams Agreement

India and Burma are reported to be close to signing an outline agreement to allow an Indian state company to build two large hydroelectric power systems on the River Chindwin.

The projects have been under discussion for years but are now moving to a formal memorandum of understanding, says The Financial Express of India.

The newspaper puts the cost of the two projects at around US $3.5 billion.

The blueprint plan for the huge deal involves a total electricity generating capacity of 1,800 megawatts—far more than Burma’s current entire installed capacity.

But as with similar projects planned on Burma’s eastern rivers by Thai and Chinese companies, most of the electricity would be transmitted out of the country.

The Financial Express says progress on the Chindwin projects— which were first mooted more than seven years ago —has accelerated since India lost out to China on buying the huge gas reserves in the offshore Shwe field.

Analysts say that instead of relations souring between New Delhi and Naypyidaw over the China-Shwe gas coup, they have considerably improved.

India’s National Hydroelectric Power Corporation wants to build 1,200 megawatt and a 600-megawatt hydro dam systems on the Chindwin at Tamanthi and Shwzaye. Resulting electricity would be fed into India’s eastern grid via Manipur State bordering Burma.

“Progress on this front is being seen as a big positive in the bilateral ties between the two countries, which had soured after Myanmar [Burma] decided to withdraw India’s “preferential buyer” status for [Shwe] gas exports,” said The Financial Express this week.

Junta Attends South Asian Trade Summit as Observer

Burma is attending a regional trade, food and energy security conference in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo this weekend.

The military junta has been granted observer status at the South Asian Association of Regional Corporation (SAARC) summit, which brings together the heads of government of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, the Maldives, Bhutan and Afghanistan.

SAARC is mainly concerned with cooperation on basic resources infrastructure as a means of helping development and reducing poverty, but as with all similar organizations since September 11, 2001, it now has the issue of terrorism on the agenda.

Burma has applied for full membership of SAARC and is being backed by India, reported the Press Trust of India this week.

SAARC has recently introduced a fledgling free trade agreement among member countries, making it potentially the world’s biggest market with a combined population of about 1.5 billion.

However, many obstacles to free trade remain. A first step is lowering all trade tariffs among member countries to 20 percent.

Other observers at the two-day Colombo summit include China, Iran, the European Union, Japan, South Korea, the US and Australia.

UN Burma Donors May Seek ‘Lost’ Cyclone Funds

New York-based NGO Inner City Press says some countries that donated to the Cyclone Nargis cash aid appeal are furious at the UN admission that at least $10 million has been lost to the Burma generals in a currency exchange scam.

“Legislators in many donor countries which responded to the UN’s appeals for humanitarian assistance are preparing a demand that the stolen aid money be returned by the Than Shwe government,” says Inner City Press spokesman Matthew Russell Lee.

The NGO investigates issues such as transparency, corporate accountability and predatory lending.

The $10 million loss was disclosed by the UN’s humanitarian chief, John Holmes, when he returned to New York after a post-cyclone assessment visit to Burma.

The US is forced to convert U.S. dollars needed for cash purchases within Burma into Burmese kyat via Foreign Exchange Certificates with the junta-controlled Myanmar Foreign Trade Bank.

But after the cyclone the exchange rate suddenly dropped, resulting in losses on the converted aid money of at least 15 percent.

Burmese Workers Opt for Qatar despite Abuse Reports

The tiny Middle East emirate of Qatar has emerged as the fourth most popular destination for Burmese seeking work abroad— despite reports of abuse and poor conditions.

Qatar is one of several small, independent emirates on the Persian Gulf investing huge sums on development from oil and gas revenue, and needs labor for construction and services such as hotels.

Qatar is in fourth place behind Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore as a destination for migrant labor, according to the Chinese official news agency Xinhua, citing Burmese officials.

Qatar began issuing visas to Burmese in 2005.

Qatar has a population of just 900,000, and foreign workers comprise almost 90 percent of the labor force.

The emirate is attractive because it promises higher wages, tax free, than in Southeast Asia. Migrant workers can earn up to $850 per month.

However, a recent US State Department Trafficking in Persons Report alleged that some foreign workers lured to Qatar by promises of high wages are forced into underpaid labor.

In July, the Qatar government announced it would extend labor law protection rights to domestic workers.

Relations between Naypyidaw and Qatar are not too cozy: the Burmese authorities turned back a rescue team from Qatar that flew to Rangoon to help in the immediate aftermath of Cyclone Nargis in early May.

Junta May Allow More Daily Newspapers

hmmm what's in it for Ross?

The Irrawaddy News

The Burmese military regime is reportedly ready to allow a privately owned English language weekly newspaper to go daily.

The Myanmar Times in a report in the July 21 edition quoted CEO Ross Dunkley, an Australian businessman: “Our senior management has been informed that our ambition to turn The Myanmar Times into a daily newspaper is taken seriously.”

“Potentially, that’s all good news and not just for us but for all leading players in the media sector,” he said. “Just as the government is evolving, so must we.”

Staffers at the weekly newspaper have been reshuffled, preparing for changes to the political landscape as the Burmese regime moves towards national elections in 2010, the newspaper said.

A journalist at The Myanmar Times who spoke on condition of anonymity said the weekly plans to launch an English language daily edition by 2009.

An editor with a leading journal in Rangoon noted the junta still does not allow privately owned daily Burmese language newspapers. The government allows three Burmese language daily newspapers and one English language daily newspaper, all state-run.

Journalist sources in Rangoon said information minister Brig-Gen Kyaw Hsan met with officials of Burma’s censorship board and leading weeklies, including The Myanmar Times and Weekly Eleven News, several times.

Kyaw Hsan is known as Burma’s “Comical Ali” because of his whimsical statements. He once said, “A nation may fall under colonial rule because of the media.”

During the meetings, sources said Kyaw Hsan said the regime would likely grant permission for the daily English edition ahead of the election, but did not give a precise date.

The Myanmar Times and Weekly Eleven News declined to comment when contacted by The Irrawaddy.

Ko Ko, the editor of the Yangon Times, said that under the current political environment, the idea of printing a privately owned daily newspaper in Burmese was impossible because Burmese weekly journals were experiencing many difficulties under the regime’s censorship.

He said a private daily newspaper in the English language might be possible, but he said, “It could not be a fully privately owned newspaper, but jointly owned by private parties and the government."

Analysts say at least five Burmese weekly newspapers have the capacity to turn into daily newspapers.

If the regime approves The Myanmar Times’ daily edition, it would be the first daily newspaper partly owned by foreigners during military rule.

The Myanmar Times was formed in 2000 by Ross Dunkley and Sunny Swe, a son of one of Burma’s then high ranking military intelligence officers, Brig-Gen Thein Swe.

Sonny Swe was arrested following the downfall of former Prime Minister Khin Nyunt in 2004 and sentenced to 14 years imprisonment for corruption.

Burmese publications are strictly censored by the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division, the formal name of the censorship board of the Ministry of Information.

Editorial boards of Burmese newspapers and magazines traditionally exercise self-censorship in order to publish.

Ohn Kyaing, a veteran journalist in Rangoon, said the media business in Burma must be well-connected to authorities.

“Even if some journals become daily newspapers, the Burmese people still will not experience press freedom if there is censorship of Burma’s media,” he said. “If the junta allows an English language daily newspaper, I am sure the ruling generals are preparing fresh propaganda for foreigners.”

Press for Release of Political Prisoners, Say Activists

Tomas Ojea Quintana from Argentina, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Burma. (Photo: AP)


The Irrawaddy News

The new UN human rights rapporteur for Burma, Tomas Ojea Quintana, should visit political prisoners and democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi and forcefully press for their release during his first visit to Burma next week, say human rights activists.

The new UN human rights rapporteur is scheduled to visit Burma from August 3 to 7 discuss human rights issues with the Burmese military government.

Tate Naing, the secretary of a Thailand-based Burmese prisoners’ rights group, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners—Burma (AAPP), said the new UN human rights repporteur should meet with long-term political prisoners including Win Tin, a prominent journalist, as well as detained leaders of the 88 Generation Students group.

“We want to urge him to try to meet and discuss freely with the Win Tin, and the 88 Generation Students group including Min Ko Naing. It is also necessary to ask for their release,” said Tate Naing.

Dozens of leaders of the 88 Generation Students group are currently detained in Insein Prison. They were arrested in August 2007 following protests against sharp increases in fuel enacted by the Burmese regime.

Benjamin Zawacki, an Amnesty International researcher on Burma, said, “We will hope that the special rapporteur can persuade the government of Myanmar to release all prisoners of conscience immediately.

During his visit, Quintana said he hoped to meet with Burmese generals, heads of state institutions, political parties, ethnic groups, religious groups and members of nongovernmental organizations in Burma.

The UN said on Thursday in a statement announcing the visit, “The special rapporteur wishes to engage in a constructive dialogue with the authorities with a view to improving the human rights situation of the people of Myanmar.”

The new UN human rights rapporteur also requested to visit areas in Rangoon and the Irrawaddy delta which were devastated by Cyclone Nargis on May 2-3, in addition to Karen and Arakan states.

In May 2008, Quintana took over from Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, who served as UN special rapporteur from December 2000 to April 2008.

Meanwhile, the UN secretary-general's special adviser, Ibrahim Gambari, is scheduled to visit Burma in mid-August. It will be his fourth visit in order to persuade the Burmese regime to move toward democratic reforms and the release of political detainees.

UN envoy to discuss human rights in Myanmar

New York (Earth Times)- A United Nations rapporteur is scheduled to visit Myanmar next week to discuss human rights concerns, it was announced Thursday. The UN rapporteur for human rights, Tomás Ojea Quintana, will be in Myanmar, formerly Burma, from Sunday to Thursday for a first visit to the country ruled by the military for more than four decades, and which has not considered human rights issues a top priority.

Quintana has requested to meet a number of government officials, heads of state institutions as well as ethnic groups, political parties, religious groups and non-governmental organizations.

The UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, which employs the rapporteur, said he will visit Yangon and areas affected by the devastating Cyclone Nargis in May, the Kayin state in the southeast and Rakhine state on the coast of the Bay of Bengal.

"The special rapporteur wishes to engage in a constructive dialogue with the authorities with a view to improving the human rights situation of the people of Myanmar," the council said in a press release announcing the visit.

Special rapporteurs on human rights work independently and without pay, and they report back to the council in Geneva.

Ibrahim Gambari, the UN secretary general's special adviser, is scheduled also to visit Myanmar in mid-August, a trip postponed from May because of the cyclone. It will be his fourth trip to Myanmar in the past year to try to persuade the military government into instituting democratic reforms, and releasing political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the main opposition National League of Democracy.

Burmese monks and students lashes at the UN for back stepping

Rangoon, 01 August, ( All Burma monks and student have endorsed the views expressed 5 Members of Burmese Parliament – elect that United Nations is stepping back from its benchmarks, which is the realization of an all party-inclusive, democratic, participatory and transparent process of national reconciliation. Instead of working for these benchmarks, they have been allowing the Burmese military regime to embark on its unilateral and brutal path and forcing democracy forces to live in an untenable position.

All Burma Monks’ Alliance, the 88 Generation Students and All Burma Federation of Student Unions in their joint statement categorically stated that they fully support they statement issued on 18 July, by Members of Parliament-elect, Members of Committee Representing the Peoples’ Parliament and Members of States and Divisions Organizing Committees, in which they bravely declared that they would not recognize and accept the 2010 election and they would not participate in that election.

The full text of their joint statement is given below:

Role of the United Nations in Burma/Myanmar

(1) We are encouraged by the statement issued by Members of Parliament-elect, Members of Committee Representing the Peoples’ Parliament and Members of States and Divisions Organizing Committees, dated 18 July 2008, in which they bravely declared that they would not recognize and accept the 2010 election and they would not participate in that election. We support the courageous act of Members of Parliament, elected by the people of Burma in the 1990 general elections, who deserve to hold the offices as mandated by the people.

(2) We also share the concerns of Members of Parliament, expressed in the open letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Permanent Representatives of the members of the UN Security Council, dated 21 July 2008, signed by 5 Members of Parliament on behalf of all Members of Parliament-elect. In the letter, they correctly stressed that the United Nations is stepping back from its benchmarks, which is the realization of an all party-inclusive, democratic, participatory and transparent process of national reconciliation. Instead of working for these benchmarks, they have been allowing the Burmese military regime to embark on its unilateral and brutal path and forcing democracy forces to live in an untenable position. This is totally true and we also want Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to review his mission and correct it in time before he sends his special envoy to Burma.

(3) We understand that the Secretary-General does not have the power to make the Burmese military regime listen to his voice. However, we don’t underestimate his moral authority, which he used courageously to defend the rights of the people in Zimbabwe. He decisively called the run-off presidential election in Zimbabwe illegitimate. We expect that he will similarly employ his moral authority in Burma/Myanmar, stand up for the rights of the people of Burma/Myanmar and call the outcome of the Referendum in May illegitimate. He should recognize that the people of Burma/Myanmar do not have the right to express their true and genuine will under the brutal military regime.

(4) We also understand that UN Security Council has failed to take effective action on Burma/Myanmar, as obstructed by two veto yielding members, China and Russia. However, if the Secretary-General openly and strongly asks the Security Council take action on Burma/Myanmar, we believe that China and Russia might change their position. We hope that the Secretary-General will employ his diplomatic skills and moral authority to convince the members of the Security Council to play more an important role in our country, and make the military regime listen to their authoritative voice.

(5) However, we are witnessing the opposite. The Secretary-General sent his special envoy to Burma/Myanmar to convince the military regime to engage in a meaningful and time-bound dialogue. To our surprise, the special envoy came to Burma/Myanmar and as soon as he left the plane, he became virtually a prisoner of the regime. He was placed at a regime guesthouse, his schedule was totally controlled by the regime, and his meetings with the Burmese regime was reduced to low-level officials, and these low-level officials humiliated him and flatly rejected all of his recommendations. He also was allowed to meet with people only whom the regime agreed.

Instead of convincing the regime with forceful voice and strength of moral authority, it seems that he was convinced by the regime that there was no other way, except to accept their unilateral act as it is. When he went back to New York and reported to the international community, he acted as he had achieved something and he would achieve more. Actually, he is misleading the world with false hopes.

(6) Therefore, we agree and support the claims of the Burmese Members of Parliament, who are the legitimate leaders of our country. This is the time for the Secretary-General to declare that the seven-step roadmap of the Burmese military regime is no longer relevant and the constitution is not legitimate. We also hope that Secretary-General will call for the UN Security Council to take effective action on Burma before more people die. For us, there will be no more election without implementing and recognizing the 1990 election results.

- Asian Tribune -

Zarganar and Zaw Thet Htway appear in court

Jul 31, 2008 (DVB)–Prominent comedian and activist Zarganar and sports writer Zaw Thet Htway have appeared in court for the first time since they were arrested in June.

The two appeared before Western Rangoon provincial court in Insein prison and were charged with violating section 505(b) of the penal code for inciting offences against the state or causing public alarm.

The charge carries a maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment.

The next court hearing for the pair will be held on 7 August, according to family members of other political prisoners who were present at the hearing.

The two men’s families said they had not been informed of any court hearings.

Both Zarganar and Zaw Thet Htway were enthusiastically working to provide aid to cyclone victims before their arrests on 4 and 13 June respectively.

Reporting by DVB

ABFSU slams abuse of ten Muslim students

Jul 31, 2008 (DVB)–The All Burma Federation of Student Unions has criticised the treatment of ten Muslim student activists who have been sent to hard labour camps for their participation in demonstrations in September 2007.

The ten activists were sentenced to two years’ imprisonment by Kyauktada township court this month and sent to remote prison camps in shackles, the organisation said.

In a statement released on 28 July, ABFSU called on the Burmese regime to respect the rights of students and prison inmates, and urged student and human rights groups and the international community to lobby for their protection.

ABFSU spokesperson Myo Tayza said the harsh conditions in prison work camps, where inmates are subjected to hard labour, poor conditions and no proper medical care, had led to the deaths of many prisoners, including 19 monks.

“They throw various charges at us, then send us to these prison work camps, where there is nothing but physical and mental suffering, and there is little hope that anyone can recover from these things,” Myo Tayza said.

“They are not only giving us punishment under the law, they are also torturing us personally.”

ABFSU accused the junta of deliberately causing mental and physical harm to its opponents and seeking to lower the morale of democracy and human rights activists.

“They are committing these abuses on to make an example of the students to discourage future activists,” Myo Tayza said.

“This is an intentional and criminal act against these people.”

Reporting by Aye Nai

Caught in the crossfire

By Hseng Khio Fah /Saw Sai Sai
26 July 2008

(SHAN) - Burmese civilians are caught between a military dictatorship determined to drive them from their villages, and an unsympathetic Thai government more interested in trade than helping refugees.

In 2007 as many as 76,000 villagers were forced to leave their homes as a result of armed conflict and related human rights violations in Eastern Burma. Most of these people are still living in makeshift shelters in the jungle. Others who fled to the safety of Thailand are now being sent back to an uncertain future by the Thai authorities.

To enforce this new hard line policy on July 16, Thai military ordered Karen villagers, mostly women and children who had fled fighting in Northern Burma to leave the safety of a refugee camp in Mae Hong Son Province in Thailand.

The Karen Women’s Organization (KWO), based in Mae Sot, says these refugees are at serious risk if they are forced back to Burma.

“We are seriously concerned for the welfare and safety of these refugees. To repatriate women and children in the middle of the rainy season is particularly cruel and we appeal to the Thai authorities to reconsider their decision and allow them to stay,” said KWO.

The refugees were from Toungoo and Nyaunglaybin district, north of Karen State, Burma, and according to Human Rights Watch group, where the military offensive continues with widespread and systematic violations of international human rights and humanitarian law on a scale that amounted to crimes against humanity.

Increased militarization and occupation by the Burma Army in ethnic states has made it impossible for villagers to stay in their own land.

According to a 2007 survey by the Thailand Burmese Border Consortium (TBBC), 273 infantry and light infantry battalions are active in the country’s eastern States-a third of the army.

Saw Hla Henry, secretary of Committee for Internally Displaced Karen Peoples (CIDKP) confirms the Burmese army has increased their operations against villagers.

“The soldiers burnt their homes. Many villagers had to take refuge in hideouts. Others stayed on their farms, but were unable to work under the rule of the military. Many villagers prevented from farming, had difficulty finding enough food to feed their families.”

Saw Hla Henry says getting aid to the displaced villages is difficult.

“When IDPs areas are often patrolled by the military soldiers, they dare not came out from the jungle. We can only provide them a relief of three months by cashes and it is not enough for them to survive. They face diseases such as malaria, malnutrition, diarrhea and other minor disease.”

Amnesty International’s 2008 Report.found that in spite of government ceasefires with the armies of all but three ethnic groups, the destruction of houses and crops, forced displacement, forced labor, portering and killings by the military continued in all seven ethnic states.

Talking to CIDKP report, a Karen woman, Naw Wah, a mother of nine told of her experience the night the Burmese soldiers attacked her village.

“I heard a big shell come over me. One of my sons pulled me down to safety. I was very scared. To save our lives we ran. We tried to take rice and pots with us, but it was difficult because of the darkness. Many people ran to different places. Some villagers escaped across the border to a Thai refugee camp.”

Getting to safety in Thailand has no guarantees. Recent arrivals have been sent back by Thai authorities.

AI report classifies displaced people into three categories: these are IDPs in mixed administration, ceasefire areas, relocation areas and hiding areas.

The TBBC reports that more than 3,000 villages had been destroyed relocated or abandoned in the east between 1996 and 2006 and from 2006 to 2007, at least 167 more villages were displaced. Although the Burmese government denies these figures, satellite photos provides evidence of burnt-out villages, an increasing military presence, and growing populations of displaced people.

TBBC estimates 81,000 IDPs were living in Karenni State as of October 2007. The majorities were in conditions of absolute poverty in ceasefire areas administered by ethnic groups, but the most vulnerable were the 10,000 IDPs hiding from the SPDC and ceasefire party patrols in Shadaw, Pruso and Pasawng townships.

The numbers of displaced people has been increasing in their thousands, as fighting and militarization by the Burma Army continues to displace both civilians and rebels groups. In the past many villagers have taken refugee in neighboring Thailand country of recent action by the Thai military are an indications those days are now over.

The article was submitted to the Human Rights Reporting Workshop, organized by InterNews, 21-26 July 2008 – Editor

Riot Police in Maungdaw Face Hunger

Maungdaw (Narinjara): The families of riot police in regiment number 2 based in Maungdaw are facing starvation as the government salary is inadequate for their daily survival, reports the wife of one riot policeman.

She said, "I am dear to tell you the real situation among our riot police families because we are unable to stay silent during this crucial period of hunger. My husband's salary is only 30,000 kyat, but the price of normal rice is 25,000 kyat per [50 kilo] sack in the market of Maungdaw. How can we carry out our daily life with such a small salary? So many families in the regiment are facing starvation."

A source said at least ten families in the regiment are facing starvation today; another ten families will be facing starvation tomorrow, but it is not permanent hunger among the regiment families.

"I'm not sure how to say it, but it is like a rotating system where a family gets money today from outside and the family is okay for food today. If not okay, the family faces starvation. All the families' survival depends on corrupt money from outside," the woman said.

As the salary is inadequate for family survival, many riot police constables are involved in unlawful work in the area. They are particularly involved in cutting wood from the government land to sell in Bangladesh through wood smugglers.

The woman said, "Yes, many riot police are involved in wood smuggling, but some riot police are working on construction sites as day laborers, and some are working as rickshaw pullers to earn money for their family's survival. We need food, so we have to go outside to look for money."

However, the riot police also have to share their earnings with their regiment commander whenever they earn money at outside jobs.

"A riot police has to pay 1,000 kyat illegally to the riot police commander every day for permission if he wants to work outside as a rickshaw puller. Other police also have to share their earnings with the commander," she said.

Many riot police are solving their problem of hunger this way, but they are not always able to meet their families' needs. When that happens, the families must go hungry.

A source from Maungdaw said many riot police families are begging for food from monasteries in Maungdaw after facing hunger day after day.

Maungdaw is a border town in western Burma where commodity prices are double what they are in other parts of the country. Because of this, many government servicemen are unable to provide for their daily needs with the government salary, and many officials subsequently become involved in corruption in the township. #

Nearly entire Htoi Ra Yang population suffer from Malaria and cholera

31 July 2008

(Kachin News) - Nearly the entire population of the Htoi Ra Yang village, 30 miles from the Sinbo logging fields in Kachin State, northern Burma has been afflicted by malaria and cholera, a source said.

Villagers suffering from the diseases are now under medical care of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and the UK based Health Unlimited (HU).

The village is under the joint control of the Burmese military government and the KIO and it has a little over 200 villagers.

“The diseases in the village are a fall out of mosquitoes breeding in dirty water. In the monsoons most villagers suffer from cholera,” said a health worker from HU who recently returned from Htoi Ra Yang village.

The HU has opened an office in Kunming in China’s Yunnan province and is providing medical care along the Sino-Burma border. HU also has a branch office in the KIO controlled area, Laiza and Mai Ja Yang and is treating people in places which the Burmese regime neglects. The HU provides medical care free of cost.

According to a health worker, the KIO has taken care of the travel documents to facilitate the medical care programme, whereas the Burmese authorities do not given permission to travel if one does not have the national identity card.

HU is treating malaria patients in Laiza and Mai Ja Yang since last week and distributing medicines, said a resident in Laiza and Mai Ja Yang.

Awareness campaign on Burma's August uprising in Delhi

By Solomon
31 July 2008

New Delhi (Mizzima) -- In commemoration of the 20th anniversary of Burma's historic student uprising, Burmese activists along with Indian supporters began an awareness campaign at universities and colleges in India's capital city, New Delhi, on Wednesday.

The campaign aims to spread awareness among young Indian university students about how students in Burma led the pro-democracy uprising in 1988, said Dr. Achan Mungleng, an Indian activist and one of the organizers of the campaign.

"It is to increase awareness about Burma and let them [the students] see that [learn what happened then] and it is a backup Programme of the 8.8.88 incident, where thousand of students were killed," said Mungleng.

In 1988, students of Rangoon University led an uprising that shook the nation. At that time Burma was ruled by a one party dictator, Gen Newin, who assumed power following a military coup in 1962. Newin brutally crushed the protests, killing at least 3000 students, monks and civilians. The junta arrested thousands of activists and forced many more to flee to neighbouring countries including India.

Dr Mungleng said, she, along with other Burmese activists, will go around university and college campuses and distribute a special pamphlet that highlights the background of the August 8, 1988 uprising, popularly known as 8.8.88. The pamphlet also focuses on the situation in Burma 20 years later.

This campaign will be followed by a larger programme to be organized by Burma's pro-democracy activists and Indian supporters like her on the August 8, 2008, she added.

In remembrance of and as an honour to students, monks and civilians involved in the struggle against brutal military dictators of Burma the activists will be conducting a conference; a photo exhibition of protests in September last year and the recent devastation by Cyclone Nargis, and a candle light vigil at India Gate.

Meanwhile, Burmese activists and supporters around the world are also planning to observe August 8 as a day for Global Justice for Burma, with planned activities across the globe.

The events will be jointly organized by the Global Justice Center, the International Burmese Monks Organization, Serene Communications, U.S. Campaign for Burma, the 88 Generation Students of Burma and others.

According to the organizers, the day will be marked by protests against the Beijing Olympics' first day and against Chinese support to the Burmese military junta in the international arena.


Corrections and Clarifications

Mizzima, Friday Aug 1, 2008

In a news story ' Awareness campaign on Burma's August uprising in Delhi' (published yesterday July 31, 2008) , we misquoted the Global Justice for Burma, were it said "it is also aimed at protesting against the Beijing Olympics' first day for China's support on Burma's military junta."

However, Global Justice Center had made it clear that the B8 Global Justice for Burma events will not be critical of China. The mistake was a result of misunderstanding in the editorial department. We apologise for the error.

Private donations for cyclone victims in Burma petering off

By Zarni
31 July 2008

Rangoon (Mizzima)- Three months after the killer cyclone lashed Burma's coastal regions, survivors said aid from private donors is slowly petering off, though a few international aid groups are still seen operating.

A university student in Rangoon, who has been actively involved in collecting donations and helping survivors, said collecting donations has become extremely difficult as donors are weary.

"Earlier, we had a lot of people coming up to donate, but now it seems that people have become tired as time passes," said the young man, who on last Sunday went to the delta and donated about 200,000 Kyat (US$ 170) worth of aid materials.

He added that unless they are able to generate more funds from donors he and his small group might have to stop their aid operations.

A boatman in Rangoon division's Kun Chan Kone township said he had noticed few private donors coming to help survivors, while only a few international non-government organizations are seen.

"As far as I have noticed, private donors have become fewer these days," said the boatman, who regularly transports aid workers from Kun Chan Kone to Dedaye Township in the Irrawaddy delta.

Another local aid group led by the famous Burmese actor Kyaw Thu is also reportedly ceasing its operation for the month of August due to severe shortage of funds.

Kyaw Thu in an interview over telephone told Mizzima, "We are halting our operations for the month of August because of shortage of funds."

The actor, who also heads the Free Funeral Service in Rangoon, said his group operated on their own donations as well as funds from other generous donors.

"Now that three months have passed, donors seem to be tired and are getting back to their usual business. So it is difficult to get funds," Kyaw Thu added.

Dr. Myint Oo, a medical doctor in Rangoon who is also actively involved in social work, said with aid groups focusing on reconstructing and rebuilding the lives of survivors, private donors think that their role in supplying emergency relief is over.

"They [private donors and volunteers] tend to leave the task of reconstruction to NGO and INGOs and seem to think that their role is over," Dr. Myint Oo told Mizzima in an earlier interview.

Impacts on Survivors

But the impact of the decline of private donations, volunteers and social workers are being borne by survivors, who after three months are still not in a position to stand on their own with out aid.

A village elder in Dedaye Township told Mizzima that they have enough stocks of rice until September, as they were given by an international aid group, Save the Children.

But he said, there is no other way of self-generation of food, as the rice that they have just completed planting will only yield by January next year.

"We don't know what to do after this stock of rice is finished," said the village elder.

The villagers in Dedaye Township are some of the lucky survivors of the cyclone as they have enough stocks of rice until September, but in other parts of the delta several villagers said they do not have enough to eat everyday, as it is difficult for aid groups to reach them.

A villager in the township of Bogale said, he and his fellow villagers have to go to Bogale town and look out for aid groups to help them as no aid groups could reach them.

"We have to come almost every week to ask for food," the villager told Mizzima over telephone.

An aid worker in Bogale town, who has been helping the villagers meet aid groups including World Vision, said, "I received many villagers from several different villages and helped them meet donors."

He said with the decline in private donations and volunteers several villages in Bogale Township remain out of reach.

Weather factor

With incessant rain since last week, a University student from Rangoon, who visited a village in Dadeye Township last Sunday, said their boat was flooded by the waves and nearly capsized.

"All relief materials that we brought got wet, but luckily we survived," she added.

The university student said the deteriorating weather conditions could also be a major factor for private donors to stop going to the delta to help survivors.

Additional reporting and writing by Mungpi

US President Bush Denies Neglecting Asia

The Irrawaddy News

BANGKOK-US — President George W Bush, preparing to embark on a three-country Asian trip, has countered critics who claim his global war on terrorism has lessened Washington's role in Asia and allowed China's influence to grow in the region, news reports said Friday.

"Our foreign policy has been robust in the Far East," Bush said in White House interviews with editors from Thailand, South Korea and China on Thursday. The US president, on a farewell tour of Asia, will visit the three countries August 5-11.

While in Thailand, he is to deliver a "comprehensive" policy speech on Asia stressing that the US has strategic interests in the region and "must stay engaged," Thailand's English-language The Nation said Friday.

Another theme of his trip will be human rights. He is to meet with activists opposed to the military regime in Burma during his Bangkok stay and will raise human rights and religious issues when he meets President Hu Jintao of China during the Olympic Games.

"I am going to China this time as the US president who happens to be a sports fan," The Nation quoted him as saying.

Bush countered critics of his Asia policy, the Bangkok Post said in its report of the interview.

"In terms of foreign policy in the Far East, it is mistaken if someone were to say that my preoccupation was on the war on terror," he said. "Our relations with your country (Thailand), South Korea, with Japan and China have never been stronger. And it took a lot of work to get bilateral relations as strong as they are."

Bush said he viewed the growth of China and India as positive.

"India and China and the US will provide great opportunities for entrepreneurs and businesses throughout the region," he said. "It'll provide opportunities to work collaboratively on strong strategic areas, security areas ... On the environment."

Bush stressed the need for the US to work through multilateral efforts like the six-party talks on North Korea.

"Our vision is, once that issue gets solved, if North Korea verifiably gives up its weapons, programs, ambitions, then the six-party talks can serve as another (multilateral) mechanism," he said.

Despite the farewell nature of his Asian swing, Bush said that in his Bangkok speech he will stress that he is not fading away as the time for his exit from office nears.

"I will also remind people that I will be sprinting to the finish, that I will finish this job strong," he said.

Cyclone-hit Burma Struggling to Find Its Feet

BANGKOK (Irrawaddy-Reuters)— Three months after Cyclone Nargis slammed into army-run Burma, people in the worst-hit Irrawaddy delta are still in dire need of food and clean water, hampering efforts to rebuild their lives, aid agencies say.

According to a joint assessment by the United Nations, Burma and Southeast Asian governments, three quarters of households have inadequate access to clean drinking water, making water-borne diseases such as cholera and dysentery a constant threat.

In addition, more than 40 percent have little or nothing by way of food, having lost their stocks in the May 2 storm and the sea surge that smashed into the delta, leaving 138,000 people dead or missing.

Another 800,000 were displaced in a disaster that the UN says affected 2.4 million people in the former Burma, where most people rely on farming for a living.

"The window of opportunity for planning crops has now closed. Farmers will have to wait until November 2009 for their next decent harvest and will struggle to find enough food," leading charity Save The Children said.

While UN children's agency UNICEF said malnutrition was not yet a cause for concern, Save The Children said that if food and employment needs were not addressed, the number of malnourished youngsters could rise to emergency levels.

Fears of funding shortages have been compounded by recent revelations that aid agencies are losing money due to Myanmar's distorted official exchange rate. The United Nations admitted this week it had lost $10 million so far.

Worst Asian Cyclone Since 1991

The cyclone, the worst to hit Asia since 1991 when 143,000 people died in Bangladesh, has been compared to the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, in which 230,000 people were killed. Around 170,000 of these were in the Indonesian province of Aceh.

However, unlike the tsunami, the aid effort has been plagued from the start by a lack of access for aid workers and donors.

The military junta only admitted international relief workers grudgingly and three weeks after the cyclone hit following talks between UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and army supremo Senior General Than Shwe.

It rejected offers of help from French and US ships.

Access has improved slightly over time, although aid workers say travel permits for the delta still take four days to approve.

However, with the closure of a UN "air bridge" between Bangkok and Rangoon on August 10, aid agencies will have to rely on slower sea and land routes to transport supplies.

Funding remains a major problem, with the UN's World Food Program saying it is facing a shortfall of about 52 per cent, despite recent donations from the UK and Australia amounting to $16 million.

According to Save The Children, people affected by the tsunami received an equivalent of $1,249 in aid. By comparison, the victims of Nargis have so far received $213 so far.

Even before Nargus struck, life in the delta was tough, with a minimum healthy diet for an average family of five costing $1.15 a day compared to an average daily wage of $1.04.

Burma on Bush Agenda while in Thailand

The Irrawaddy News

WASHINGTON — US President George W Bush will travel to South Korea, Thailand and China next week before taking part in the opening ceremony for the Beijing Olympics.

While in Thailand, Bush, accompanied by his wife, Laura, will make a major policy statement on Burma while also meeting Burmese opposition group members.

On his second day in Thailand, Bush will attend a briefing by nongovernmental organizations and US agencies on the Cyclone Nargis relief effort.

"He will have a lunch in Bangkok with Burmese activists and hear their stories. And then he will be interviewed by the press in Thailand that broadcasts into Burma, so he can give a message directly to the Burmese people," said Dennis Wilder, the senior director for Asian affairs at the National Security Council.

"During the time that he is doing these events, Mrs. Bush will travel to Mae Sot, Thailand," Wilder said. The first lady has shown an exceptional interest in the affairs of Burma and the Bush's administration policy with regard to this country to some extent is driven by her strong support to the pro-democracy movement people.

Laura Bush will meet with refugees of the Mae La Refugee Camp, one of the largest refugee camps on the Thai-Burmese border.

"Following her visit to Mae La, she will travel to the Mae Tao Clinic," Wilder said. The clinic was founded by Dr. Cynthia Maung.

"You may remember that Mrs. Bush had a television event with Dr Cynthia Maung not long ago, and she is very much looking forward to getting on the ground and seeing the clinic in operation," Wilder said.

Dr Cynthia Maung said, “I don’t know anything about the agenda of the visit but my main presentation will be the difficulties of the situation that the Burmese people face here on the border and our need for humanitarian assistance.”

The clinic provides free health care for refugees, migrant workers and others who cross the border from Burma into Thailand.

Violet Cho contributed to this story.

Bush: Burma’s Neighbors Not Interested in Sanctions

The Irrawaddy News

WASHINGTON — US President George W Bush said on Thursday that neighboring countries do not favor economic sanctions against Burma, and this is one of the reasons US sanctions have not been as successful as he would have liked.

"There are some countries in the neighborhood that are not interested in joining," Bush told Suthichai Yoon of the National Media Group of Thailand in an interview, the transcript of which was released by the White House.

Bush said sanctions are not working more effectively because many neighboring countries do not apply them. Observing that unilateral sanctions are effective only to a certain extent, he urged other countries to join the US which has slapped the Burmese junta with a series of sanctions, the last round early this week.

Praising the Burmese democracy advocate, Aung San Suu Kyi, for her courage, Bush said: "Here is a very heroic woman that was elected overwhelmingly by her people and has now been under house arrest by a group of military guys that just simply won't allow the will of the people to flourish."

The US president, who will meet with several Burmese dissidents while in Bangkok, in another roundtable interview with foreign print media, acknowledged there is a difference of opinion within the Association of Southeast Asia Nations about how hard to push Burma to move toward democracy. "I'm at one end of the ledger,” he said. “And we'll continue to press hard."

On meeting with Burmese dissidents in Bangkok, Bush said: "My message is going to be one directed to the people in Burma when I meet with some of the activists, and Laura is going to be meeting with some of the people that she got to know."

Bush thanked the people of Thailand and its government for their humanitarian help to the people of Burma in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis.

"I think it's very constructive and very helpful,” he said. “And I will be speaking to activists to let them know that the United States of America hears their voices. You know, it's a tough issue for some countries.

"I do want to thank the Thai government for its understanding of the refugee issue, particularly as relates to the border policy,” he said. “I think it's been very wise and very humane."

Meanwhile, three leading Burmese dissident groups—the All Burma Monk's Alliance, the 88 Generation Students and the All Burma Federation of Student Union—urged UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to review the mission of the United Nations in Burma.

The statement said: "The United Nations is stepping back from its benchmarks, which is the realization of an all party-inclusive, democratic, participatory and transparent process of national reconciliation."

Instead of working toward these benchmarks, the UN has allowed the Burmese military regime to embark on a unilateral and brutal path, forcing democracy groups to live in a repressive, untenable position, it said.

"If the secretary-general openly and strongly asks the Security Council take action on Burma, we believe that China and Russia might change their position," the statement said.

The statement expressed disappointment with the role played by UN Special Envoy to Burma Ibrahim Gambari, who will visit Burma in August: "Instead of convincing the regime with a forceful voice and the strength of moral authority, it seems that he was convinced by the regime that there was no other way [but] to accept their unilateral actions."