Wednesday, 6 August 2008

UN in Myanmar Still Losing 20% on Currency Exchange, Asks for More, Problem Widens

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, August 5 -- While the UN in Myanmar has yet to resolve or even minimize the 20%, $10 million currency exchange losses it admitted eight days ago, it is going public with requests for more funds. At the UN's noon briefing on Tuesday, spokesperson Michele Montas quoted UN humanitarian coordinator for Myanmar Dan Baker that $51 million is needed for rice paddies, and that of the UN's July 10 revised appeal, there is a $285 million, or 59%, shortfall. Video here, from Minute 4.

Inner City Press, which back on June 26 first reported on the UN's losses to government-required currency exchange, asked Ms. Montas if the UN is still losing 20% of each dollar spent in Myanmar. "The information you have stands," Ms. Montas said. "I have heard of no changes." Video here, from Minute 12:03.

That each dollar of aid must be converted with Myanmar's military government for a Foreign Exchange Certificate with, now, 80% of the value means that 20% of aid is directly benefiting the regmine led by General Than Shwe. This puts in a different light -- bribery, some call it -- Chevron Corporation's self-described "$1 million cash contribution." $200,000 of that goes to the government, which controls licenses, including of those few money changers which in turn convert the devalued FECs. Other corporate contributors include French oil company Total, Siemens AG and JP Morgan Chase.

On July 28, the UN's John Holmes publicly admitted $10 million of losses and promised both to get to the bottom of it, and at Inner City Press' request to produce a list of other countries in which the UN is losing more than 5% to currency exchange. So far neither has been done.

UN's Holmes and Baker, follow-up to currency exchange loss admission not yet shown

A representative of the UN Development Program telephoned Inner City Press the day after Holmes' public admission, by contrast providing UNDP's answers only on a not for direct attribution basis. He said that the Myanmar government, in order to "control" foreign exchange, licensed a few approved money changers. He jotted down Inner City Press' request for UNDP's pre-cyclone currency exchange losses and a list of other countries in which UNDP is losing 5% or more to currency exchange, but said that UNDP will be relying on and deferring to John Holmes' inquiries in this regard.

Now, however, well-placed UN sources tell Inner City Press that the reason for the delay on making any disclosures, even about Myanmar, is that UNDP demanding a re-do of the numbers, trying to whittle down Holmes' admission of $10 million in losses. The attempt to re-fudge the numbers is being down through the UN Country Team, headed by UNDP's Bishow Parajuli, previously the head of the UN World Food Program in Egypt.

Meanwhile, UNDP has been unable to provide any figures about how much money it has converted in Myanmar, including for a program it calls "Micro-Finance." The spokesman-without-name repeatedly like a mantra, our work is good. But how much was converted and spent? How much money has been and is in UNDP's account with the Myanmar Foreign Trade Bank? There has still been no answer.

Belatedly joining its Western Permanent Five compadres the U.S. and UK, the French Mission to the UN provided Inner City Press with the following response to the scandal:

"Obviously, we are sharing the concerns expressed by John Holmes toward these difficulties. Since the beginning, France has been very engaged in the international effort to hurry assistance to the victims of Cyclone Nargis. Consistent with the principle of the responsibility to protect, we have also urged the Myanmar government to fully allow access of international aid to victims. We pay tribute to the UN involvement to improve the situation. It is obviously crucial that no financial resources dedicated to humanitarian assistance should be wasted, and we therefore support the UN efforts to find a solution to that problem."

But for now the efforts focus on cover-up, and nothing is being done to ensure that the problem doesn't continue, and in countries beyond Myanmar.

On August 5, to try to get answers since UNDP Administrator Kemal Dervis has refused to answer questions or to hold a press conference, Inner City Press attended a meeting of UNDP's Executive Board. After a presentation by UNDP controller Darshak Shah, comments were sought by UNDP from the member states on the Board. Nothing was said about Myanmar or the currency exchange losses. Rather the talk was of boosting UNDP's "direct budget support" to governments, and ensuring "government ownership" of funds. This has been UNDP's priority in Myanmar.

[Since Kemal Dervis does not, as he puts it, "answer questions in the hallway," nor hold press conferences, Inner City Press has formally posed the questions here.]

Similarly, despite a commitment by World Health Organization official Eric Laroche -- previously of UNDP -- to provide a description of WHO's currency exchange practices and losses in Myanmar, no information has yet been provided by WHO, despite reminders to Mr. Laroche's spokesman. Apparently the cover-up mentality of UNDP spreads with its former employees.

Inner City Press asked Ms. Montas when the Holmes-promised list of other countries with currency losses would be provided, and how that would cover UNDP and UN Peacekeeping. Ms. Montas said that Inner City Press will have to ask each agency, even each department, separately. One agency spokesman told Inner City Press that the agency's controller / accounting department might not be tracking currency exchange losses, even now, and that if is such information were being collected, it is not the UN's job to "do research" for Inner City Press. How about making basic disclosure, of losses up to 25% of each aid dollar, to donors? Apparently the UN does not that that is required, either.

The time for semi-proactively disclosing other countries with currency losses is now.

20 years on: How much closer to the goals of 8888?

By Htet Aung Kyaw

Aug 5, 2008 (DVB)–While the whole world is busy with the Beijing Olympics, many Burmese are preparing for the 20th anniversary of the 8888 uprising which falls on 8 August 2008, or 080808.

But how many Burmese people have seriously reviewed how far this 20-year journey has taken them towards the goals of 8888?

There will be no chance of holding a big ceremony inside the country as key activists such as Min Ko Naing of the 88 Generation Students group have been in jail since last August after they led a peaceful demonstration against the fuel price hike which led on to September's saffron revolution. But many activists across the globe plan to hold a big ceremony to mark the 20 years.

In neighbouring Thailand, US president Bush and first lady Laura Bush will encourage Burmese activists in Bangkok to fight on for their freedom in a 6 August address before the couple head on to the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony. This is significant support from the world’s most powerful country at this particular time but not significant enough to bring about change in Burma.

The US has tried to push the United Nations Security Council to punish the Burmese regime after two decades of economic and diplomatic sanctions have not had the desired effect. But China, the main supporter of the Burmese regime and business partner of the US has continually used its veto to oppose US plans.

"We want to urge the UNSC and world leaders to take action, not just give us words," said Htun Myin Aung of the 88 Generation Students group in a telephone interview with DVB from his hiding place in Rangoon.

"The UNSC and the US need urgently to announce that they do not recognise the junta's referendum result," the fugitive leader adds, in a comparison with the Zimbabwean election result. If the UN can do that, the 88 Generation Students group, 1990 election representatives and many activists believe that there will be negotiations between junta leader senior general Than Shwe and detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

But the leader of the rival 88 Generation Students group, Aye Lwin, does not agree with Htun Myint Aung. "This is just their dream of outside help. In reality, there is no dialogue but they need to try to win the 2010 election," the pro-junta student leader said.

"They blame the Tatmataw all the time but never try to organise. That is why we have not reached the goal or gained power in 20 years," the controversial figure criticised from his government-backed office in Rangoon.

There is no doubt that many activists, especially in exile, will react angrily to his comment. Why? Has he got his facts wrong or is it just hard to recognise the opinion of a rival group which differs from the traditional thinking of Burmese politicians over the past 20 years?

No matter whether we agree or disagree on that matter, we need to seriously consider why we have not yet reached the goal after 20 years.

Lack of unity

According to some leading activists and researchers, the main reason that the goal has not yet been reached is the lack of unity among leaders of the democratic movement. They point out that the opposition had a chance to found an interim government in the power vacuum between the 88 uprising and the 18 September coup. Secondly, they also had a major opportunity to take power after 1990 election which was won by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party with 80 percent of the vote.

When the junta refused to recognise the result of the 1990 election, some politicians and activists went to the rebel-controlled areas where thousands of students from the 88 uprising founded a self-styled Student Army. In this Thai border area, they faced a similar lack of unity between the leaders of various groups.

The Student Army divided into two factions in 1991 while their allies in Kachin and Mon armed rebel groups signed ceasefire agreements with the junta in 1994 and 1995. The powerful Karen rebel groups split in late 1995 when the Buddhist Karen faction joined with the junta. This lack of unity among leaders made for a growing distrust between factions, and many students and politicians, including some Karen rebels, put down their guns and went to third countries while the junta troops occupied many of their bases.

Back in Rangoon, the junta held its National Convention in 1993 but the NLD walked out in 1996 after Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest in 1995. Since then, the NLD has called for dialogue with the junta but never successfully, although there were some good meetings between Than Shwe and Aung San Suu Kyi sponsored by the ousted prime minister Khin Nyunt before the 2003 Depayin massacre.

As for the international community, the UN General Assembly has been calling on the junta to respect the result of the 1990 election and engage in dialogue with the opposition since the 1990s. There have been at least three UN special envoys to Burma, including Gambari who is heading to Burma later this month. Even the UNSC has discussed Burma, and still there is no sign of Than Shwe changing his mind.

Hope for the future?

However, a good opportunity to deal with the junta has opened up since Cyclone Nargis hit Burma, leaving 135,000 people dead and missing while millions were made homeless. The junta needs million of dollars in urgent assistance from the outside world, though it criticises the west in the state-run media.

But the world body needed to know that “international aid is not the first priority for junta, but power". UN chief Ban Ki-moon and other world leaders well know how badly the SPDC has dealt with the aid operation to support millions of survivors. But Ban did not say a word about politics when he meet Than Shwe in Naypyidaw and focused only on the humanitarian mission. However, Than Shwe didn't listen to the UN chief's warnings but instead went ahead with all his political plans; the constitutional referendum in May, the adoption of the constitution in June and now the preparations for an election in 2010.

In this scenario, can there be any opportunity left to reconsider the SPDC-led seven step road map before the 2010 election in favour of dialogue as demanded by the 88 Generation Students group and 1990 election representatives?

No one can give a 100 percent guarantee but there is a still chance to try.

This is dependent on how much unity there is among world leaders, especially the five permanent members of the UNSC. This is dependent on how much unity there is among the leaders of Burmese democratic forces. This is also dependent on how much thought the junta gives to its future and the scenario of a changing world order.

"We need action now - not more words." This is what young activists will shout on the streets of Rangoon on 080808.

Htet Aung Kyaw was one of the students involved in the 1988 uprising and a former Student Army rebel. He is now working for the Oslo-Based Democratic Voice of Burma as a senior journalist.

Monks pressured for accepting NLD offering

Aug 5, 2008 (DVB)–Monks who accepted a meal from the National League for Democracy during last month’s Martyrs’ Day celebration despite warnings from the authorities’ have come under pressure from local officials.

One of the monks said they had come under increased pressure since the Martyrs’ Day celebrations.

“Government officials came to our monastery before the celebration and told us not to accept meals from the NLD as their members were destructive elements to our nation who were trying to put us all in danger,” the monk said.

“But we accepted the meal anyway and now we are being pressured.”

The monk said the authorities had recently come to the monastery to collect the personal details of the monks.

“Maybe because of the 8888 anniversary, there are military trucks parked near our monasteries and we are being watched by soldiers” he said.

“If they come to arrest us, we will just go with them. It is a monk’s duty to accept meals from anyone who donates to them – even from beggars.”

Reporting by Aye Nai

An Olympian question of legitimacy for Burma's generals

By May Ng
5 August 2008

(Mizzima) Twenty years ago on 8 August 1988, the Burmese people rose up and ended the first chapter of military dictatorship in Burma, the Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP). But after months of countrywide anti-government demonstrations, on 18 September 1988, the army staged a coup and formed the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC). After suspending the 1974 constitution, SLORC promised to conduct multiparty elections in the future.

The army announced four "duties" under SLORC Declaration No.1/88 that included the "holding of a multiparty General Election." And SLORC Law No.14/89, "Pyithu Hluttaw (Assembly) Election Law," in chapter 3, section 3, stated that the "Hluttaw shall be formed with the Hluttaw representatives who have been elected." In addition, SLORC statement No. 1/90 stated that the people's representatives must make the constitution, for the army will not accept the establishment of a government with a temporary constitution.

According to the Burma Lawyers Council (BLC), on several occasions-- including 23 September 1988, 27 March 1989, 3 July 1990, September 1990 and at General Khin Nyunt's (former Secretary (1) of the SPDC) - 100th press release held on 13 July 1990-- the army repeatedly promised that: "We, soldiers, will go back to the barracks and try to serve our original primary duties, from the past to the present day." And the army also stated that, "The parties which won the election have to draw up a constitution for the future sake of the people of Burma." But the BLC said that despite these public announcements, election results from the free and fair election in 1990 were never officially recognized by the military junta.

Today, the All Burma Monks Association (ABMA), the All Burma Federation of Students' Union (ABFSU), the '88 Generation Students and elected MPs of the 1990 general election have all rejected the result of the junta's recently tightly controlled constitutional referendum, and declared that they will boycott the 2010 general election-- the most important step of the junta's own roadmap. In New York, the International Burmese Monks Organization, led by Pinann Sayadaw, has asked international political activists to raise the issue of Burma at the 63rd session of the United Nations General Assembly, which will open on 16 September 2008.

Since the Saffron Revolution last fall, the ABMA inside Burma is still refusing alms from the military - the religious boycott commonly referred to as the "overturning of the alms bowls" still being in effect.

For some, violence against the revered Buddhist monks in Burma last September may evoke the memory of Adolph Hitler. Hitler suggested in 1937 that the best way for the British to deal with Indian Nationalism is to just "shoot Gandhi, and if that does not reduce the Indians to submission shoot a dozen leading members of the Congress and if that does not suffice shoot 200 and so on until order is restored."

Besides Hitler, Sun-Tzu's The Art of War also sheds light on the military's conduct. For it articulates that the army is established on deception, mobilized by advantage, and changed through dividing up and consolidating the troops. Sun-Tzu continues, writing that after plundering the countryside, the army divides the wealth among the troops…and after expanding territory, divides and holds places of advantage.

This warrior-philosophy helps explain the regime's conduct against its own citizens in treating them as enemies. After which, as its own political legitimacy becomes more elusive, the military's ability to extinguish potentially explosive situations becomes extremely limited, meaning that only the use of force is left to protect its power.

Sun-Tzu, the master of war, once ordered the execution of a king's two top commanders as an example to command complete obedience from the rest of the soldiers; this method may explain how the Burmese junta keeps absolute control over its foot soldiers, who were ordered to shoot monks in September.

The junta's brutality toward its own monks has shocked the world, and clearly the Burmese army's temple of worship is not the Buddha's, but that of a warrior's - as evidenced by the grandiose statues of long gone warring rulers in the new capital.

In the 12 November 2004 issue of Constitution and Legitimacy, Milan Petrovic wrote that dictatorship usually results from illegal activities, and through a coup d'état usually carried out by the army. But Petrovic continued, saying that illegal dictatorships can be both legitimate and illegitimate; a legitimate dictatorship in the past, after restoring order and performing the most urgent reconstruction of state bodies and public services, generally gave power back to civilians; but a dictatorship can also become illegitimate if the old, civilian tyranny was only exchanged for a new, military one, as when Napoleon won unlimited power in a coup not to preserve, but to overthrow the constitutional system.

But unlike a handful of other non-democratic, but still legitimate governments throughout the world, the Burmese military government has lost its legitimacy in the eyes of its people.

In speaking of the American Constitution, Richard H. Fallen, Jr. argued in the Harvard Law Review of April 2005, that even if the Constitution had been lawfully adopted, it would not provide a morally legitimate foundation for coercive action unless coercion pursuant to it could be justified morally. The legal legitimacy of the Constitution depends much more on its present sociological acceptance than upon the legality of its formal ratification. He said that the Constitution is law not because it was lawfully ratified, as it may not have been, but because it is accepted as authoritative.

The justification of the central role of the military in the future government of Burma is the need of discipline in state affairs in a country of over 100 ethnicities, said Timo Kivimäki on 11 December 2007. His comments were based on massive comparative evidence, Paul Collier had earlier claimed that societies with many, equally powerful ethnic groups are no more war prone than homogenous societies. And thus Burma, with it's over 100 ethnic groups, is no more vulnerable and in need of discipline than any other country.

Kivimäki wrote that the fact that the future role of the ethnic armies has been planned in a secret process within the Ministry of Defense could easily be the main immediate concern, and the least unlikely trigger of war between the center and the regions.

Kivimäki continued, arguing that according to Rudolph Rummel's extensive comparative evidence, the risk of a citizen of getting killed in wars is reduced from 0.54% to 0.24% if the country is democratic, rather than authoritarian. Kivimäki suggested that on the basis of comparative evidence, Burma should demilitarize in order to achieve optimal probability for peaceful resolution to its territorial wars.

In a recent Shan Herald Agency News report; even though as many as 76,000 refugees in 2007 were forced to leave their homes for the relative safety of Thailand due to the abuses of the Burmese military, many are being sent back by Thai authorities and may end up in makeshift shelters in the jungle.

Lt. Col. Sai Aung Mya, a commander of the Shan State Army (South), recently said that he now spends most of his time protecting and developing the welfare system for people who are trying to escape military brutality, but are prevented from being recognized as refugees by the United Nations because of Thai government policies. It was clear in the case of Sai Aung Mya that as a peaceful and religious person he had taken arms against the military junta in self defense, the necessity of which became evident last fall when thousands of unarmed people were not able to protect their monks from the army's assault.

Even Aung San Suu Kyi, the winner of Nobel Peace prize, said that she will never disown students who are fighting for democracy, even though they have chosen to take up arms. She also said that nothing comes free in life and, one way or another you will have to pay for everything.

According to Thomas Carothers, the United States, and to a lesser extent other Western powers, have often talked grandly in the past several decades about their commitment to global democracy. But underneath the rhetoric is a long record of a very mixed policy and the role of outside actors in most attempted democratic transitions is relatively limited.

But the time has now come for the United States and the rest of world's democratic community to give tangible support to the people of Burma; including the victims of Cyclone Nargis and the victims of military brutality on the borders of Burma - especially because of the unwillingness of the United Nations and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to assert their utmost influence for democratic change inside Burma.

In conclusion, Carothers noted that the terrible socioeconomic conditions and weak rule of law apparent in so many developing countries is, in many cases, a legacy of decades of misrule by autocratic regimes that claimed a deep commitment to developmental goals but in fact gave greater priority to narrower, self-interested and countervailing concerns.

Even after the 8-8-08 Olympics, China's misguided support for the destructive regime in Burma will come back to haunt them. As General Aung San, the architect of Burma's Independence said, "a man sows so shall he reap and that if any individual or nation oppresses or exploits another and violates natural and social justice in that way that individual or nation shall pay for that sin against justice and humanity."

Lastly, as a young man Abraham Lincoln used to worry that no one would remember that he had lived. But like Lincoln, the heroes of Burma from 1988 to 2007 will never be forgotten.

Especially in this Olympic year, Burma's heroes will be remembered for having fought beyond their limits of endurance, in striving to leave behind a much better world than the one they have endured.

May Ng is the New York regional director of Justice for Human Rights in Burma. To view her poems about Burma, please visit:

China urged to change Burma policy before Olympics

By Solomon
05 August 2008

New Delhi (Mizzima) - China has been urged to use its leverage on Burma's military rulers and to facilitate democratic reforms in the troubled Southeast Asian nation. The appeal was made by several Burmese activists groups along with international supporters.

Over 50 organizations including several Burmese activists groups and international campaigners in a joint statement on Monday urged the international community to stand with the people of Burma, and particularly call on China to address the problems of Burma.

"China is uniquely positioned to address Burma's problems and to facilitate democratic reform," the statement said.

Though 20 years have passed since the largest pro-democracy protests broke out in Burma, the people are still under the repression of military rulers and international community's efforts have failed to bring about tangible political changes, the statement said.

"This is why international demands for change must be matched with action, including an arms embargo and targeted financial sanctions," the statement said.

Soe Aung, a member of the 88 generation student group in exile said, it is high time the United Nations and the international community give a time-line to Burma's military rulers to implement political reforms.

"UN must give a time limit to the Burmese government to implement political reforms otherwise there will be no changes," Soe Aung said.

The joint statement, issued in the run up to Burma's historic day, when student-led nationwide protests broke out demanding democracy on August 8, 1988, said the situation in Burma and its regional impact have worsened since 1988.

Burma's ruling junta has used hundreds of millions of dollars from the country's vast oil and gas reserves to buy weapons from China, Russia and India to continue their oppression, the groups said.

The junta's misrule has led to increasing displacement, drug trafficking and other threats to human security in the region.

In 2007 alone, 76,000 people in eastern Burma, bordering Thailand, were displaced due to the junta's increased military offensive, the statement said.

But August 8, 2008, the 20th anniversary of the largest pro-democracy protests in Burma, will also mark the beginning of the Beijing Olympics. And in keeping with the Olympic spirit, China should stop supporting the brutal junta in Burma, campaigners said.

"China must stop protecting Burma at the UN Security Council," the joint statement added.

Soe Aung said, Burma's military rulers are continuing with their dilatory tactics in implementing reforms as they are certain that China and Russia are behind them and support them.

China and Russia, two veto wielding countries in the UN Security Council, in January 2007 blocked a proposed Council resolution on Burma sponsored by the United States and backed up by United Kingdom and France.

"Their [China and Russia] support is heightening the sufferings of the people of Burma and is causing a threat not only to the security of the country but also to the region," said Soe Aung.

China and Russia should use their leverage to talk to the Burmese government for political reforms, he added.

However, China and Russia are two of the few friends that Burma's military rulers have and the junta is more than willing to allow China and Russia to do business in the country while the two countries in turn supply military hardware and provide technical training.

Meanwhile, a campaign group - Free Burma Coalition-Philippines (FBC-Phils) on Tuesday reminded China of its pledge to improve its own human rights record by changing its foreign policy on Burma.

"China's pledge to improve its own human rights record should extend to its foreign policy especially to Burma, where human rights abuses are rampant," the group said.

The FBC-Phils said, as part of the aim of the Olympics is to place sports for the harmonious development of people, promotion of a peaceful society, and preservation of human dignity, the Chinese government must now replicate that in their policy on Burma.

"With just a few days remaining before the Olympics, we hope that the Chinese government realizes that another torch must be carried: the torch of freedom and democracy for the people of Burma," Egoy Bans, spokesperson of the FBC-Phils said in the statement.

"If that happens," Bans said, "the Beijing Olympics will bring victory not only for the people of Burma but also for China and the whole world. No amount of Olympic gold medals could ever match that."

Detained sport editor allowed a rare meeting with family - Zaw Thet Htwe

By Phanida

Chiang Mai (Mizzima)– Sports columnist Zaw Thet Htwe, who was arrested for assisting cyclone victims in Burma's Irrawaddy delta, was finally allowed to meet his family at notorious Insein prison on Tuesday (5 Aug).

After being detained for about two months, Zaw Thet Htwe was produced before the court for the first time last Wednesday (30 Jul), but was denied meeting his family.

"We had a long chat… His health is good but he is a little thinner," said his wife, Khaing Cho Zaw Win Tin, adding she could deliver things she brought for him.

Khaing Cho Zaw Win Tin said she is privilege to meet her husband after two months as many detainees do not always enjoy the same opportunity in Burma, a country ruled by military dictators.

"We are glad to see him again after two months because some are only allowed to meet their families after three or four months. He was calm and stable when he met his daughter, who came along," she added.

After more than a month of detention, prominent comedian cum actor Zarganar, sports editor Zaw Thet Htwe and five other persons were produced before the Rangoon West District court in the Insein prison premises on July 28.

They were reportedly charged with cases under section 505(b) of the Criminal Code, which is a charge for disturbing public tranquility, and under other sections. The court reportedly fixed August 7 for the next hearing.

Defendant counsel Khin Maung Shein said, "We heard that there are at least six cases against them. We will know the details after seven days."

Reportedly, comedian Zarganar, who was arrested on June 4 for helping cyclone victims, was also allowed to meet his family on Monday. Zaw Thet Htwe was arrested on June 13.

Zaw Thet Htwe, however, was not arrested for the first time. He was earlier arrested for writing an article on corruption among the Burmese sports community and was sentenced to death on November 28, 2003.

But his sentence was later commuted to three years' imprisonment and he was released after serving his prison terms.

Similarly, Zarganar was also detained for 21 days after offering alms to the protesting monks in September 2007.

In their latest arrest, they were detained in unknown places for about a month and their families were not informed when they were first produced before the court.

Though the court had earlier fixed the date for hearing the cases of a few other activists on Tuesday, the activists were not produce before the court. Though the reason for not producing the activists is unknown, it is believe that it might be due to the UN Special Rapporteur Tomas Ojea Quintana's visit to Insein prison.

The court had earlier fixed Tuesday for the hearing of the cases of blogger Nay Phone Latt, student leader Sithu Maung, Myo Thant from Human Right Promoters and Defenders (HRPD), 2007 generation student leaders Zin Lin Aung, Thein Swe, Ye Min Oo, Ye Myat Hein and Kyi Phyu.

Khin Maung Shein said, the cases of Sithu Maung, blogger Nay Phone Latt and six others were fixed to be heard on Tuesday but they were not produce at the court as the UN Human Rights Special Rapporteur entered Insein prison, annex hall in the afternoon.

"He [Quintana] entered at about 1:30 p.m. He came out at about 2 p.m. and then again entered the main jail. We were there till 4 p.m. but he hasn't yet come out. Then we asked the court for the next hearing date and left the prison. Till that time, the Special Rapporteur was still inside the prison," he added.

Rangoon Students Launch 8.8.88 Pamphlet Campaign

The Irrawaddy News

University students in Rangoon have launched an anti-government pamphlet and poster campaign ahead of the 20th anniversary on August 8 of the 1988 uprising.

Students at Rangoon’s Dagon University have also written to its rector and vice-rector asking them to participate in protest actions in commemoration of the uprising, an assistant lecturer told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday.

Security appeared to have been tightened in Rangoon universities, the assistant lecturer said. “It seems that the government doesn’t want another pro-democracy protest like September’s monks-led uprising.”

Former student activists said they plan to wear black on August 8 in memory of up to 3,000 protesters, including monks, who died when troops and police cracked down brutally on the mass demonstrations.

A former student activist said prayers would be held at temples and offerings of food made to the monks.

Bush Set to Meet Burmese Activists

US President George W. Bush, left, and first lady Laura Bush wave upon their arrival at a Seoul military airport in Seongnam, South Korea, the first stop on their week-long visit to Asia. (Photo: AP)

The Irrawaddy News

US President George W Bush will have a private lunch with Burmese activists in exile in Bangkok on Thursday in a stopover on his way to the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics.

“He will have a lunch in Bangkok with Burmese activists and hear their stories,” said Dennis Wilder, a press officer at the White House. “And then he will be interviewed by the press in Thailand that broadcast into Burma, so that he can give a message directly to the Burmese people.”

First lady Laura Bush will travel to Mae Sot, near the Thailand-Burma border, where she will visit the Mae La Refugee Camp, the largest on the border. She will also visit a refugee clinic operated by Dr Cynthia Maung, according to the White House.

“The US policy on Burma is already very heavily influenced by [Burmese] activists,” said John Virgoe, the Southeast Asia director of the International Crisis Group. “I am not surprised he is interested to meet with activists.”

Nyan Win, a spokesperson of Burma’s main opposition party, the National League for Democracy, told The Irrawaddy on Monday that the party welcomed Bush’s meeting with exiled activists.

Thakin Chan Tun, a veteran politician and former Burmese ambassador to China, said, “President Bush’s meeting with Burmese activists shows how he and his wife strongly support Burma’s democracy movement.”

The US administration has strongly supported the democracy struggle in military-ruled Burma since 1988, the year thousands of demonstrators were killed by the military regime.

Bush has been under criticism by human rights activists around the world because of his decision to attend the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics.

Virgoe said the US is not very outspoken about human rights in China. “When we talk about China, of course, human rights is not on top of the [US] agenda,” he said.

During Bush’s eight years in office, the US has witnessed several important events in Burmese history. The democracy movement leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her convoy were ambushed in Depayin in Sagaing Division, northern Burma in May 2003 by thugs, backed by the junta. More than 100 people were reportedly killed. After the attack, Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest.

“The [Burmese] military authorities should release Aung San Suu Kyi and her supporters immediately,” Bush said in early June 2003. “We have urged Burmese officials to release all political prisoners and to offer their people a better way of life, a life offering freedom and economic progress.”

In July 2003, Bush signed economic sanctions against the military regime. “These measures reaffirm to the people of Burma that the United States stands with them in their struggle for democracy and freedom,” Bush said.

In September 2007, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators led by Buddhist monks marched in Rangoon, the largest city in the country and many other towns, calling for a better life and national reconciliation. Burmese troops killed at least 30 people, including a Japanese photojournalist. Thousands of monks and activists were arrested.

Since the brutal crackdown in 2007, the US has put fresh “targeted sanctions” on the Burmese generals and their cronies. The new sanctions affect many state-controlled businesses and large businesses doing deals with the junta.

Deadly Cyclone Nargis hammered Burma on May 2-3, causing an estimated 134,000 deaths. The junta stalled for weeks, blocking large shipments of foreign aid and access to the affected area by foreign relief experts.

Bush sent a group of US Navy vessels, led by the aircraft carrier USS Essex, to stand by near Burma. Some aid from the vessels was shipped into the country by air, but the regime denied the massive amounts of aid the US was ready to provide to the devastated Irrawaddy delta.

Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, said the impact of US policies on Burma is limited. “He [George W Bush] needs to put pressure on China, India, Thailand and Asean on the Burma issue. He needs to put more pressure on countries that trade with Burma,” he added.

Myanmar Cyclone Survivors Living in `Dire Conditions,' UN Says

By Paul Tighe

(Bloomberg) -- Villagers in areas of Myanmar's Irrawaddy River Delta are living in ``dire conditions'' three months after Tropical Cyclone Nargis devastated the southern region, the United Nations said.

``We have seen significant progress being made in the affected areas,'' Daniel Baker, the UN humanitarian coordinator in Myanmar, said yesterday, according to the UN. ``Much more urgently needs to be done in remote areas where affected communities are still living in dire conditions.''

Food will need to be supplied to about 924,000 people ``on a systematic basis'' for the next nine months, the UN said. Assistance to isolated villages in the delta ``remains a challenge,'' it said.

Nargis struck the delta, Myanmar's main rice-producing region, May 2-3, causing a tidal surge that left more than 138,000 people dead or missing and 2.4 million requiring assistance. The country formerly known as Burma needs aid to ensure that farmers are able to plant crops by the end of the season this month, the UN said in July.

The region lost 85 percent of seed stocks and about 50 percent of buffalos as a result of the cyclone, the UN said yesterday. The agriculture industry is the least funded among the UN's aid programs and requires emergency support of about $51 million, it said.

Damaged Houses

Relief workers have provided shelter materials for about half of an estimated 488,000 houses damaged in the storm.

``Aid workers now have access to cyclone-affected areas,'' Baker said, adding that recovery work is being boosted by cooperation between Myanmar's military government, the UN and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a 10-member group that includes Myanmar.

International aid was slow to reach survivors because Myanmar's military, which has ruled the country since 1962, delayed permission for relief workers to visit the delta until about three weeks after the cyclone struck.

More than 780,000 hectares (1.9 million acres) of rice paddy fields were flooded, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization said last month. Livestock, fishing, agriculture and forestry-based industries need to be restored, it said.

The junta has set an exchange rate that has cost the UN about $10 million in cyclone relief funds, John Holmes, the emergency relief coordinator, said last week.

UN agencies have to buy foreign exchange certificates issued by the government which are then used to purchase local currency. The UN has made losses of as much as 25 percent when converting the certificates into cash, said Holmes, who visited the country last month.

To contact the reporter on this story: Paul Tighe in Sydney at

Burma Without Blinkers - Editorial

Some help is arriving in the wake of Cyclone Nargis,
but for the Burmese
the real disaster is a despotic government.

(WP) - ON THE OPPOSITE page today, we publish the views of a senior U.N. official, John Holmes, on progress in Burma since a devastating cyclone struck more than three months ago. His rather upbeat assessment comes as President Bush and first lady Laura Bush, during a visit to Thailand, are about to draw the world's attention to persistent problems in Burma (also known as Myanmar), Thailand's neighbor in Southeast Asia.

You may recall that after Cyclone Nargis swept through Burma's Irrawaddy Delta on May 2, leaving 138,000 people dead or missing, Burma's dictator, Senior Gen. Than Shwe, refused almost all offers of international aid. U.S. Navy ships loaded with tents, food and other humanitarian supplies steamed in circles offshore but were never given permission to help. After weeks of begging and pleading, Than Shwe allowed more aid workers to enter, and they have been at work since. Having traveled to Burma twice, Mr. Holmes, who is U.N. undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, reports the good news that "the overwhelming majority" of survivors "have received help, even if in many cases they still need a good deal more."

It is difficult to know the true conditions in the delta, since the regime won't let foreign journalists look and imprisons any Burmese journalists who seek to report accurately. Just this week, a popular Burmese comedian and blogger and a sports journalist were brought up on charges -- "disturbing public order" -- that could bring two years in prison because they tried to help cyclone victims and talked about their plight. Aid agencies, meanwhile, tend to play down negative news because, understandably, they want to preserve their access. Still, a joint assessment last month, including from U.N. agencies, reported that most households in the hardest-hit delta region still lacked access to clean drinking water, a situation posing a risk of disease, and that more than half had food stocks for one day or less and faced "an increasing risk of acute malnutrition."

We agree with Mr. Holmes that the United Nations did the best it could -- for the simple reason that countries with influence in Burma, such as China, Thailand and India, were more interested in preserving their commercial and military ties to the Burmese regime than in pressing it to allow its people to be helped. We also understand Mr. Holmes's desire to separate humanitarian considerations from politics.

But Burma, before and after the cyclone, was and is a humanitarian disaster because of politics: because its regime systematically impoverishes much of the population, conscripts children into forced labor, sends its army on internal campaigns of mass rape and ethnic cleansing, and persecutes monks and others who seek to help their fellow citizens. To consider such issues, or the criminal neglect of cyclone victims, as separable from politics is similar to hailing visits of U.N. human rights ambassadors as successful simply because they take place, even as the number of political prisoners -- 1,900 at latest count -- steadily rises.

So we think it is highly useful that Mr. Bush will meet with Burmese exiles tomorrow while Mrs. Bush visits a camp that houses 40,000 Burmese refugees. We hope their visit will be a reminder that by almost every measure of human misery and political repression, Burma in the past year has gone backward. Friday will mark the 20th anniversary of Burma's massacre of 3,000 democracy protesters. We hope that when Mr. Bush travels onward to Beijing, he will tell his Chinese hosts that history will not judge kindly their unstinting support of Burma's misrule in the 20 years since that black day.

Disaster Lessons

By John Holmes

(WP)-Three months have passed since Cyclone Nargis and an accompanying tidal surge swept across Myanmar's fertile Irrawaddy Delta region, claiming nearly 140,000 lives and devastating the livelihoods of many more people. All told, some 2.4 million people were seriously affected by Nargis, ranking it among the worst cyclones in Asia in the past 15 years and the worst in Myanmar's history.

I recently completed my second trip to Myanmar, where I was again sobered by the immensity of the tragedy but was also cautiously hopeful about relief efforts. In May, government reluctance to allow international aid workers into the affected region sparked a storm of international criticism.

We have made a lot of progress since then. Touring the delta by helicopter, I could see that many houses had been repaired one way or another. There was agricultural activity in the fields and commercial activity on the waterways. Schools are in session, in tents if not permanent classrooms. And hundreds of international aid staffers are now working in the delta. The promises about access made to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon when he saw Myanmar's head of state, Senior Gen. Than Shwe, in late May have essentially been kept.

Without question, the international response has helped save lives and reduce suffering. While it is impossible to be sure all survivors have been reached, I am confident that the overwhelming majority have received help, even if many still need a good deal more.

Crucially, a much-feared second wave of deaths from starvation or disease has not happened -- no small achievement, given that 75 percent of hospitals and clinics in the affected areas were destroyed. The people's resilience has been remarkable, as was the degree of help and solidarity from individual citizens and organizations in Myanmar.

Challenges remain, of course, including over issues such as aid exchange rates, and it would be unwise to gloss over them. But the main priority now is to help remote communities further and to ensure that assistance is continued systematically until all concerned can feed themselves and rebuild their lives.

So, what can we learn from this crisis?

First, no nation, rich or poor, can go it alone when confronted by a natural disaster of the magnitude of a Cyclone Nargis. It would have been much better, not least for the survivors, if the government of Myanmar had recognized the value of an international presence from the start. I encourage Myanmar's leaders to continue down the path of cooperation, including in response to other humanitarian challenges, based on the universal principle of the impartial provision of aid.

Second, we must stay focused on the goal: assisting people in crisis. From the first, the aid operation in Myanmar -- as is true everywhere we work -- had to be about helping vulnerable people in need, not about politics. In this post-Iraq age, I am concerned that humanitarians are often pressured to choose between the hammer of forced intervention and the anvil of perceived inaction. Was there a realistic alternative to the approach of persistent negotiation and dialogue that we pursued? I do not believe so. Nor have I met anyone engaged in the operations who believes that a different approach would have brought more aid to more people more quickly.

This is not to say that there can never be a role for humanitarian intervention, even in natural disasters. But it must be the last resort, when all else has been tried and the only alternative is death and suffering on a mass scale.

Third, Nargis showed us a new model of humanitarian partnership, adding the special position and capabilities of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to those of the United Nations in working effectively with the government. This may prove the most important -- and, I hope, enduring -- lesson of the cyclone response, with implications for how we respond, anywhere, in the future.

ASEAN's leadership was vital in building trust with the government and saving lives. In recent years, ASEAN members have significantly stepped up participation in the humanitarian arena. Given that eight of the 10 worst natural disasters last year occurred in Asia, this represents a lifesaving investment, where the United Nations is helping to build local capacity.

Fourth, Nargis demonstrated once again the importance of disaster risk reduction and preparedness. Simple, low-cost measures -- local evacuation plans, shelters, community early-warning systems -- have saved tens of thousands of lives in neighboring Bangladesh when it has been faced with similarly devastating cyclones. We need to help the people of Myanmar strengthen their resilience and reduce their vulnerability. Building back better, to minimize future disaster risks, is a top priority.

In coming years we can expect to see more, and more intense, weather-related natural disasters as the effects of climate change become more pronounced. We must be better prepared and must cooperate as neighbors and an international community in meeting this challenge. The need for effective global humanitarian partnerships has never been more apparent -- or more necessary.

The writer is U.N. undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator.