Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Bogalay authorities demand construction tax

Aug 4, 2008 (DVB)–Residents of Irrawaddy's cyclone-devastated Bogalay township have complained that local authorities have been pressuring them to pay a construction tax for repair work on their houses.

A Bogalay resident said municipal officials had told locals to apply for construction permits to repair damage caused by the cyclone and charged them between 100,000 and 200,000 kyat depending on the size of the house.

"Whenever they see a pile of bricks and sand in front of someone's house, they think they can make some money," she said.

"Our houses were damaged by the cyclone and they should not charge us for repairing them."

The resident said those who paid the tax were not given receipts by the officials.

Reporting by Naw Say Phaw

Looking toward the 2010 elections - Commentary

By Htet Win
Mizzima News

04 August 2008 - Even though the operational strength of the political opposition has been significantly impaired by the military government, they still – albeit on condition that the junta does not cheat in the polling – have a chance to win the forthcoming multiparty elections scheduled for 2010.

But the country is desperately in need of many more democratically-minded politicians to move the country forward at a manageable pace. This fact is compounded by the current detention of most leading nationalist, and opposition, politicians.

However, opposition political parties can rest assured that they would gain the majority of public support in the coming election, even if they are opposed by figures hand-picked from organizations such as the junta-inspired Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA).

"That [an opposition victory in the 2010 voting] would not be primarily because the general public likes the opposition parties, but largely because the public is so fed up with the military government and its prescriptions such as the USDA, which is led by the likes of Industry (1) Minister Aung Thaung and Information Minister Brigadier General Kyaw Hsan, who are senior executives with USDA," said a political observer and a leading businessman who maintains a close relationship with top-ranking military personnel.

But why is the public so fed up with the current state? Reasons include the government's suppression of opposition protests in late 2007 that saw 30 people killed – including some monks – and the government's negligence to the widespread devastation inflicted by last May's Cyclone Nargis – which resulted in 138,000 potential deaths and displaced an estimated 2 million others.

"Because of the late September 2007 movement, the political influence of monks has become significant – whether of conscious design or not," the observer explained.

Another major factor in the public's discontent is that the junta's power thirst has led to the country's prolonged economic hardship, causing the increased suffering of 50 million people over the course of the past three decades.

In this scenario, what the public and the political opposition need is a single, nationalist political party to replace the military government forever.

To solidify the position of nationalist politicians, domestic opponents and international pressure must be steadfastly unified in order to push the military government to release political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi. Prominent international actors in this endeavor must include ASEAN, the UN and China. The military government has no choice but to move if and when its giant neighbor – China – presses it to do so.

"In this regard, China's genuine attitude toward Myanmar's greater openness is widely expected. Still, China seems to be satisfied with Myanmar's present progress, which favors the first to exploit the country for its own economic interests," analyzed a Rangoon-based lawyer.

Yet the lawyer further cautioned that while the military government itself has not proven efficient in guiding the country in a positive direction, they are too self-centered to give space for those who – regardless of being outside or inside Burma – support the country's real progress.

Also, ASEAN, the UN, and China could encourage the junta to open a dialogue with opposition groups. Dialogue is the best way. However, because of the limited number of capable political representatives, there would be an influx of political opportunists into Burma's already unstable political environment – especially in the lead-up to the 2010 elections.

In this scenario, there could exist after the election a new government with similar traits as to the present military regime. The new government, though, would be hamstrung by the inclusion of young persons who are chiefly concerned about financial clout and not necessarily politically mature – and definitely most of whom are not nationalists but opportunists probably coming from celebrity and business circles.

The less the number of nationalist politicians that contest the election, the more those in favor of entrenching military rule win.

"The forthcoming election, the fifth step of Myanmar's political roadmap, is expected to be accomplished," said a senior pro-government figure and representative at the National Convention, which laid down the principles to a new draft constitution ensuring the military's control over any elected government.

"The military government seems to have already calculated that the formation of an inefficient government would lead to yet another military coup, although it would be rule-based this time," the National Convention representative recently said, referring to a clause that the president must transfer power to the Commander-in-Chief during a state of emergency.

If this situation is to be avoided, and the 2010 elections are to be a step in the right direction, some fundamental changes must first come to Burma.

Conditions, currently, to support a free and fair election are still not inadequate. To overcome this obstacle, local media will have to be empowered so as to permit them to inform the people of their choices and to raise awareness about how important their polls are in the removal of the military government and road to democracy.

There are now many people who keep themselves away from politics although they may be interested in politics. It is correct to say that Burmese people live in a land of fear, which the military has created. To overcome this fear, they must have the capacity to listen to the radio, to read newspapers – especially those of informed external media outlets – and to actively partake in the coming political events of the country.

Time for Stalling on Human Rights Over

The Irrawaddy News

The United Nations Human Rights Council sent a special rapporteur, Tomas Ojea Quintana, to Burma this week to seek improvements on the human rights situation in Burma.

One might have expected that Than Shwe's junta would make some concessions on human rights prior to Quintana's trip—instead, the exact opposite has happened, as human rights abuses have increased.

The mission, only the latest in dozens of failed trips to Burma by UN envoys and rapporteurs, was off to a bad start even before it has begun.

Instead of making substantive moves on human rights, over the past two months the junta ramped up its repression of the Burmese people. Just days ago, Than Shwe's troops re-energized their scorched-earth campaign against ethnic minorities in eastern Burma, forcing hundreds of innocent villagers to flee their homes as refugees and internally displaced persons.

On July 31st, the junta announced its intention to sentence Burma's most famous comedian and social activist, Zarganar, along with the country's leading sports reporter.

About two months ago, the junta detained various members of the National League for Democracy, the political party of Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi.

On July 21, student political activist Khin Maung Tint died in Burma's notorious prison gulag, in the midst of serving a 20-year sentence.

On July 25, the junta sentenced 10 Muslim student activists to prison with hard labor for participating in the September 2007 Buddhist-monk led pro-democracy uprising.

No doubt, Than Shwe's junta will try to obscure these moves during Quintana's visit. If previous behavior is any guidepost, the junta will make a series of promises to change that will subsequently be broken when Quintana leaves the country. The regime will hope for positive comments by Quintana after his trip—statements they will use to show they are making "progress" when in reality there are no lasting changes whatsoever.

If the junta is feeling generous, it may even release a few political prisoners whom they deem to be unthreatening to their grip on power.

Instead of looking toward genuine change, the junta sees visits by UN envoys as an exercise in public relations, hoping the envoys will publicly thank the regime for allowing them to visit and thereby diminishing hopes for actual change. That such trips happen at all is cited as "progress" by some countries in the UN who seek so preserve Burma’s status quo.

This pattern of obfuscation has been carried on successfully by the junta for many years. Sadly, it has enabled Than Shwe to commit massive, widespread, systematic atrocities that could someday land him in the International Criminal Court.

Among other abuses, Than Shwe has destroyed many villages like in Darfur, Sudan, forcing hundreds of thousands of innocent villagers to flee as refugees and internally displaced persons.

He has recruited more child soldiers than any other country in the world, also a crime against humanity.

His troops carry out a policy of using rape as a weapon of war against ethnic minority women.

His regime now has nearly 2,000 political prisoners in its jails.

Before more people are senselessly imprisoned or killed in Burma, we hope that Quintana delivers a strong message to Than Shwe, demanding the immediate release of all political prisoners. While in Burma, Quintana should meet with key imprisoned leaders, including Min Ko Naing, Ko Ko Gyi, Su Su Nway and Zarganar.

Quintana must call on the military regime to immediately end all attacks on ethnic minorities in the country. That Than Shwe has gotten away with such attacks for so many years is devastating to Burma’s ethnic groups, and it sets a terrible precedent for the rest of the world.

Finally, Quintana should make it clear to Than Shwe that change must come immediately—if the junta attempts to draw the envoy into a protracted game of cat and mouse on human rights implementation, the UN must seek stronger action from the Human Rights Council and UN Security Council.

The time for stalling on human rights is over.

Bo Kyi is a co-founder of the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma). He was tortured and served more than 7 years as a political prisoner in Burma.

Drug-dealing Prisoners to Get Closer Monitoring

The Irrawaddy News

To suppress prisoners who continue to operate drug networks while behind bars, Thai authorities will establish special zones for drug-related detainees who will undergo closer monitoring.

Sompong Amornwiwat, the Thai minister of justice, told prison officials in Bangkok that the ministry plan to create special prison zones for selected drug-related detainees, who currently make up a total 60 percent of all prisoners.

About 1,000 drug detainees will be separated from other cases to prevent them from dealing drugs outside the prison and high-technology tools will be used to monitor this zone.” Sompong said, according to a report on the Thai government’s Web site.

The ministry has plans to tighten restrictions in eight high-security prison zones.

In one of the latest examples, in April, crystal methamphetamine, or Ya Ice, was discovered hidden inside the cover of a pocket book sent to Lueng Pak Lun, a Korean convicted of drug offences, in Zone 10 of the Khlong Prem Central Prison in Bangkok. Prison officials suspect the drug was ordered by mobile phone and delivered through contacts inside and outside the prison.

The Corrections Department has started blocking mobile phone signals at three maximum security prisons to cut off contact between prisoners and drug dealers on the outside, after officials found a series of attempts to contact dealers and bring drugs into the prisons.

The signal-blocking devices are at Khlong Prem Central Prison, Bang Kwang Prison and the Central Correctional Institute for Drug Addicts, which house high-profile drug traffickers. Drugs may still enter the prisons. Officials admit it is difficult to screen items sent to prisoners by mail. Narcotics have been discovered sealed inside cups of yoghurt, bottles of lotion and other items.

There have been complaints from foreign prisoners who have protested that parcels addressed to them had been rifled through. Some cases have ended in lawsuits against prison staff and wardens. Prisons normally must obtain a warrant from a court to search a prisoner’s mail.

The Justice Ministry, however, is now seeking a change in the law that would allow a prison commander to decide whether to authorize a mail search.

In early July, authorities arrested a group of drug traffickers and seized more than 170,000 methamphetamine tablets sent from Chiang Mai under the direction of detained Thai and Burmese drug dealers in Zone 10 of the Central Correctional Institute for Drug Addicts.

Quote on Unity

"if Thais and Burmese activists can join efforts towards freedom,
Burmese ethnic groups ought to practice

to reach our goal with higher strength"

Thai, Burmese Note 8-8-8 Anniversary

The Irrawaddy News

BANGKOK — Burmese and Thai activists in Bangkok on Sunday renewed their efforts to bring democracy to Burma at a 20-year anniversary commemoration of the 8-8-88 uprising.

“If I have to state my view, there has been no progress in Burma. But I still have a positive view,” said Dr Charnvit Kasetsiri, a historian and the former rector of Thammasat University, in a keynote speech. “The situation in Burma is serious, but it is not hopeless.”

The commemoration was co-hosted by the Faculty of Liberal Arts at Thammasat University and the Thai Action Committee for Democracy in Burma (TACDB) in collaboration with several organizations working on Burma issues.

A panel discussion, “A Two-decade Overview on Changes in Burma,” included Burmese and Thai democracy activists and scholars. Panel participants included Dr. Naruemon Thubchumpon, the director of Master of Arts in International Development Studies at Chulalongkorn University; Dr. Thaung Htun; Ajarn Pornpimon Trichot; Nang Hseng Noung of the Presidium of Women’s League of Burma (WLB); and Aung Thu Nyein, an exiled Burmese scholar.

“In the last 20 years, even though I have witnessed a sort of fluctuation in Thai policy towards Burma,” said Dr. Thaung Htun, a representative of the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB), “the support of Thai academia and civil society organizations remain unchanged and it is a great encouraging sign.” However, ordinary Thai citizens need to be more aware of the Burmese issue, he said.

Regarding the NCGUB’s efforts during the coming UN General Assembly, he told The Irrawaddy, “At this moment, we haven’t seen the concrete conclusion or comment made by the UN secretary-general regarding the progress and the outcome [of the constitutional referendum]. We have a plan to advocate the background history of the referendum process and how it failed to be inclusive and to reflect the will of the people.

“We will convince all the international players [that] the key is to find a solution, and the 2010 election is not a solution for our country.”

Ajarn Pornpimon Trichot, a senior researcher at the Institute of Asian Studies at Chulalongkorn University, who visited Burma soon after Cyclone Nargis, said “Distrust is rampant in Burmese society, resulting in a difficult situation to cooperate with each other and this has been for 20 years.”

She said distrust can be overcome with more people-to-people cooperation and understanding.

“Some of the people can overcome [distrust] because a lot of them from all walks of life came out and helped people [after Cyclone Nargis] with love and compassion,” she said. “These kinds of activities [should] keep going on and on.

“In fact, the Burmese people are strong, hardworking and determined to develop their livelihood. I am surprised that the Burmese government treats their citizens as enemies.”

Other Thai academic and civil organizations involved included the Thai Allied Committee of the Burma Foundation, the Cross Cultural Foundation, the Peace Foundation and the Alternative Asean Network on Burma.

“It is very important to remind the Thai community and the world that though we haven’t seen change, we expect it will come soon,” TACDB chairperson Laddawan Tuntivityapitak told The Irrawaddy. The TACDB is one of the staunchest Thai groups in support of Burmese activists in Thailand.

Meanwhile, a group of Burma supporters have launched a Thai-English bilingual Web site www.thaifreeburma.org to inform Thai citizens on Burmese issues.

About 100 Thai and Burmese activists, academics and students attended the commemoration. After the panel discussion, participants placed white roses on a black desk in remembrance of the Burmese people killed by the military government in 1988.

UN Rights Envoy Meets Burmese Buddhist Monks

RANGOON (Irrawaddy News-AP) — A United Nations envoy met senior Buddhist monks Monday at the start of a four-day mission in Burma, but it remained unclear if he would hold talks with junta officials and detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, diplomats said.

Tomas Ojea Quintana, the UN Human Rights Council investigator for Burma, met early Monday with senior members of the State Sangha Organization, the body that supervises the country's monasteries and monks, said Asian diplomats speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose the envoy's itinerary.

He also met leaders of other religious groups and representatives of a government-sponsored women's group, the diplomats said. They had no details of what was discussed at any of the meetings.

Quintana has also requested talks with senior government officials, representatives of ethnic groups and political parties, according to a UN statement Sunday. The statement did not mention Suu Kyi, the opposition figure under house arrest, but all former UN human rights envoys have asked for such a meeting.

Quintana's predecessor, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, was not allowed to visit the detained opposition leader when he visited in November.

The diplomats said Quintana was expected to travel to meet government ministers in the capital, Naypyitaw, but it was not known if he would be granted a meeting with junta chief Snr-Gen Than Shwe.

A UN spokesman could not be immediately reached for comment Monday and the UN has not released a full itinerary of Quintana's visit.

He was expected to visit the Irrawaddy delta where a May 2-3 cyclone killed more than 84,000 people. Burma's military rulers were accused of initially preventing foreign relief workers from accessing the area, then dragging their feet on providing food, water and shelter to the estimated 2.4 million survivors.

Quintana was due to meet the Tripartite Core Group that oversees cyclone relief work later Monday, the diplomats said. The group comprises representatives of the government, UN agencies and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nation, Asean, of which Burma is a member.

Quintana's scheduled departure Thursday comes a day before the 20th anniversary of a 1988 uprising against the military junta. The government has already beefed up security, fearing pro-democracy activists could launch anti-junta protests to coincide with the anniversary.

Burma has been under military rule since 1962. The current junta came to power in 1988 after crushing a nationwide pro-democracy movement, killing as many as 3,000 people. It called elections in 1990 but refused to honor the results when Suu Kyi's party won overwhelmingly.

The junta ruled mostly unchallenged until last August when thousands of Buddhist monks joined rallies against a fuel price increase. The junta cracked down on anti-government demonstrations in September by shooting and arresting protesters, killing as many as 31 people. Dissident groups put the death toll far higher.

Activists Urge Olympic Boycott of Chinese Jade

The Irrawaddy News

Burmese pro-democracy activists are calling for a boycott of jade during the Olympic Games in Beijing, claiming the event could boost demand for stones mined in Burma.

Cristina Moon, an activist for the New York-based “8-8-08 for Burma” campaign said that while her organization was pleased to know that official souvenirs would not be made of Chinese jade, “there is a growing demand for Burmese jade that will increase due to the Olympic promotion of jade. The generals will keep using their jade profits to buy weapons and crush dissent in Burma unless individuals take a stand.”

Jade sales are Burma’s third highest source of foreign income.

At least 90 percent of jadeite on sale in China comes from Burmese mines, which are controlled and operated by the Burmese regime and its business partners, according to a report titled: Blood Jade: Burmese Gemstones & the Beijing Games.

The report, released on Monday by an ethnic activists group, the All Kachin Students and Youth Union (AKSYU) and the “8-8-08 for Burma Campaign,” says the Burmese government earns about US $300 million (348 billion kyat) yearly from the export of jade, mainly to China.

Naw La, a Kachin environmentalist and member of the AKSYU, said the expansion of jade mining in Kachin State had led to land confiscation, forced relocation and environmental destruction.

“Our mountains have disappeared and our youth are dying,” he said. “The generals are letting their cronies mine away our future.”

Security Tightens as 8.8.88 Anniversary Campaign Begins - Red Campaign

The Irrawaddy News

A Burmese student movement has launched a so-called “Red Campaign” ahead of the anniversary of the 1988 uprising, spraying red paint on the walls of schools and other public places in Rangoon to remind people of the event.

The campaign, organized by the student-based “Generation Wave,” despite stepped up security by police and troops.

“The army and riot police are everywhere,” said Burmese clerk who works for an international non-governmental organization in Rangoon. Security was also reportedly tightened in Mandalay.

The anniversary of the uprising and its brutal suppression falls on August 8. Up to 3,000 protesters are thought to have died in clashes with the authorities, while 2,000 arrested during and after the uprising are still in prison.

Moe Thway, a leading member of “Generation Wave” told The Irrawaddy on Monday that the movement had organized the “Red Campaign” to raise awareness among young people of the significance of August 8, 1988.

“We are doing this as evidence that we are not defeated, despite military suppression,” he said. “We young people will continue our struggle for justice and freedom for all Burmese citizens.”

The campaign kicked off as the UN Human Rights Council investigator for Burma, Tomas Ojea Quintana, arrived in Rangoon on his first mission to the country.

Cyclone Nargis response enters a new phase in relief and early recovery

Fourth Press Release of the Tripartite Core Group (TCG)

Yangon, Myanmar (Relief Web), 30 July 2008 - The Government of Myanmar organised a field trip involving more than 148 representatives of foreign missions, UN agencies, international non-governmental organisations, relief organisations and the media to the cyclone Nargis-affected areas in the Ayeyarwady Delta using six Myanmar Air Force helicopters on 29 July 2009.

‘This is to reassure that access to the disaster-affected areas continues to be unimpeded and is expanding. This is also to give first-hand information to encourage the international community to work with us to intensify the emergency relief and early recovery for the affected communities,’ explained U Kyaw Thu, Myanmar’s Deputy Foreign Minister and TCG Chairman. He also expects the field trip will bring forward and provide complementary support to the government’s 50-billion-kyat recovery programme. Other TCG members also joined the field visit.

The field trip follows the release of the Post-Nargis Joint Assessment (PONJA) Report on the sidelines of the 41st ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Singapore on 21 July and concurrently in Yangon. US$303 million is urgently needed to intensify the relief and early recovery efforts as presented in the 10th July Revised Appeal by the UN, while recovery needs are estimated at US$1 billion over the next three years as assessed in the PONJA Report.

On the ground, the TCG reported that all of the disaster-affected communities have received relief assistance at least once. Bishow Parajuli, UN Resident Coordinator and also a member of the TCG said, ‘Now, we have double challenges, one, sustaining the relief and two, advancing the support for early recovery in terms of livelihood and subsequently local level recovery on the ground. There is progress in the ongoing farming recovery activities. However there is still a lot to do and we are concerned that many farmers may be unable to catch up with the fast-ending monsoon paddy crop planting season, with their subsequent future food security concern’.

The TCG has facilitated more than 2,000 visas for humanitarian workers involved in Nargis-related tasks. Humanitarian clusters continue to deliver aid together with the line ministries and local governments.

Along that line, the TCG recently launched a Community-Based Early Recovery Pilot Project at Seik Gyi in Kungyangon Township. This TCG special project will focus on early recovery efforts, such as community infrastructure repairs including monasteries and cleaning of community dug wells; and livelihood stimulation support such as planting of betel leaves, building fishing boats and providing fishing nets for the affected communities.

During the first TCG’s visit to the village on Saturday, 26 July 2008, H.E. Bansarn Bunnag, Thailand’s Ambassador to Myanmar and senior ASEAN member of the TCG explained, ‘This project will serve as the model for an integrated relief and early recovery that we could replicate quickly in other places in the affected areas’.

* Note: The TCG is an ASEAN-led mechanism to facilitate trust, confidence and cooperation between Myanmar and the international community in the urgent post-Cyclone Nargis humanitarian relief and recovery work. The TCG started its work on 31 May 2008 and has been meeting at least once a week in a spirit of mutual understanding, trust and cooperation. It has been working closely with the National Disaster Preparedness Central Committee chaired by His Excellency Prime Minister General Thein Sein, Union of Myanmar.

The TCG comprises three members from the Myanmar Government: (Deputy Foreign Minister H.E. U Kyaw Thu who is the Chairman; Acting Director-General, Ministry of Social Welfare and Resettlement U Aung Tun Khaing; and, Deputy Director-General, Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation U Than Aye); three members from ASEAN (Thailand’s Ambassador to Myanmar H.E. Bansarn Bunnag; Dr Puji Pujiono, a senior UNDP officer seconded to the ASEAN Secretariat; and, Dr. Anish Kumar Roy, Director of Bureau for Resources Development of the ASEAN Secretariat alternating with Ms. Adelina Kamal of the ASEAN Secretariat); and three from the UN (UN Humanitarian Coordinator Mr Daniel Baker; UN Resident Coordinator Mr Bishow Parajuli; and, a rotating UN agency representative).

For further information, please contact:
Ms. Adelina Kamal
Head, Coordinating Office for the ASEAN Humanitarian Task Force
Phone No.: +951 544500 ext 417
E-mail: akamal.aseanhtf@gmail.com

Original Source: Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN); Government of Myanmar; United Nations Country Team in Myanmar

Burmese activists urge UN rights Rapporteur to meet detainees

New Delhi (Mizzima-Relief Web)— The UN human rights Rapporteur, during his visit to Burma should meet political prisoners, independent organizations and listen to the people in order to understand the nature of the ongoing human rights violations, a Burmese human rights activist said.

Tomas Ojea Quintana, the newly appointed UN special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights in Burma, is currently on a four-day visit to Burma.

The Thailand based Human Rights Education Institute of Burma's director Aung Myo Min said, Quintana's mission cannot be a success unless he is able to meet political prisoners, talk to political parties, leaders of ethnic nationalities and listen to the peoples' voices on the ongoing human rights violations in the country.

"If he cannot meet political prisoners then his mission will not be called a success," Aung Myo Min said.

Quintana, who took over from his predecessor Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, on the first day of his mission on Sunday, met government officials including Burma's Deputy Foreign Minister Kyaw Thu, who also chairs the Tripartite Core Group formed with the UN, Association of Southeast Asian Nations and Burmese government to help Cyclone Nargis victims.

According to the UN, Quintana was briefed by Kyaw Thu on the progress made in terms of helping victims of Cyclone Nargis that lashed Burma's coastal divisions of Irrawaddy and Rangoon and left 138,000 killed or missing.

Attending meetings and following the junta's schedule would not help the Rapporteur to understand the nature of abuses that the people of Burma had faced since 1962, which significantly accelerated after the 1988 mass uprising that was brutally crushed, critics said.

Aung Myo Min said, the Rapporteur must insist on meeting political detainees including pro-democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who have been arrested and kept in solitary confinement for the past 12 of 18 years.

"He should also raise the issue of the May referendum where there have been widespread allegations of vote rigging and intimidations," Aung Myo Min added.

Another Human Rights activist in Burma, Myint Aye, said Quintana needs to go beyond the government's schedule and look for people in the cyclone hit region, and conduct prison visits to see the real situation.

"Much will depend on whether he can insist on his own plans," Myint Aye, a member of Human Rights Defenders and Promoters Network in Burma, told Mizzima.

The HRDP, which has been actively taking initiatives to promote human rights awareness in Burma, has been on the government's targeted list with several of their members brutally beaten by government-backed thugs and detained.

"We, even human rights activists, are subject to harassment and attacks," said Myint Aye adding that they are willing to meet the visiting Rapporteur to explain the true situation that they are facing.

Meanwhile, Burma's main opposition party the National League for Democracy said it does not believe that Quintana will be able to bring about any kind of change in Burma but expects that the Rapporteur will at least discover the ongoing rights abuses.

"We hope he [Quintana] can reveal the human rights abuses in Burma as United Nation Special Rapporteur," Nyan Win, the NLD spokesperson said.

But in order to do so, he must not confine his meetings to the government's schedule but should meet civil organizations, and non-government groups.

According to the UN, while Quintana asked to meet State officials and Heads of State institutions, he had also requested that he wanted to meet representatives of ethnic groups, political parties, religious groups, civil society, NGOs and members of Human Rights Bodies.

He has also requested for a visit Yangon and areas affected by cyclone Nargis and travel to Kayin State and Rakhine State, the UN said.

Nyan Win said, he and his group are also waiting for invitations to meet the visiting Rapporteur and are willing to explain the situation of human rights as they see it on the ground.

"So far there is no invitation to us for meeting him," Nyan Win added.

It is the UN Rapporteur's first visit to Burma after his predecessor made his last visit in November 2007. He will conclude the trip on August 7.

Gems And Justice In Burma

02 August 2008
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(VOA)-Despite growing international pressure for democratic reform, the military junta that has ruled Burma for decades shows no inclination of loosening its repressive grip. Hoping to get the attention of the generals where it can't be missed – in their bank accounts – the United States has tightened economic sanctions on regime leaders, its supporters and companies that are linked to them.

President George Bush approved legislation enacted by the U.S. Congress to strengthen financial sanctions against regime leaders and their supporters and to outlaw the importation of rubies and jade mined in Burma. The East Asian nation is a major supplier of the world’s jade and rubies, and the gem trade provides substantial income to the regime. After timber and oil, gems are Burma's third largest export. The trade provides crucial revenue to the military government and the generals themselves since it is believed that members of the junta own a majority interest in each of the country's mines. Many of the operations sit on land confiscated from private owners or local communities.

Some large jewelry companies around the world, worried about being associated with the junta, already have given up sales of Burmese gems. But it is also possible to mask the origin of a stone as it often changes hands many times and in many countries, before it ever reaches the U.S. as a finished necklace or ring. The new sanctions now make it harder for unscrupulous traders to circumvent the ban on trading in Burmese gems.

These new sanctions aim to increase financial pressure on the regime. At the same time, the U.S. and others continue to apply political pressure on the regime leadership to move towards democratic transition.

"On the Burmese regime, our message is: The United States believes in democracy and freedom," President Bush said.