Tuesday, 19 August 2008

UN Dodges Myanmar Questions as Losses and Arrests Mount, in Zimbabwe Too

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

UNITED NATIONS, August 17 -- As the UN in Myanmar moved to cover-up its foreign exchange losses to the Than Shwe military government, in New York its Associate Spokesperson spend last week evading questions about the country, neglecting to follow-up on some and deferring others to the upcoming trip by UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari.

On Monday August 11, Inner City Press asked Spokesperson Farhan Haq, according to the transcript:

Inner City Press: It is reported that the Government of Myanmar has extended the house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi for another year, which is, some people say it violates... You can only be five years unless charges are being filed. Does the UN have any response to this?

Associate Spokesperson Haq: I believe that that decision was taken about a month or so ago... this is a topic that Mr. [Ibrahim] Gambari has brought up in previous meetings, and when he visits Myanmar again, which he is expected to do some time over the coming weeks, he does expect to bring up the issue.

But "a month or so ago" -- actually, May 28 -- the extended sentence was said to be six months, which would keep the confinement under the five year limit. CNN of August 11 quoted sources that the extension was for one year. But the UN relied on past statements and Gambari's upcoming trip.

Also on August 11, Haq dodged the question of UN Envoy Haile Menkerios having been barred from Zimbabwe, and why he spends so much time in South Africa, on which we'll have more.

On Tuesday August 12, Inner City Press asked Haq

Inner City Press: in Myanmar two opposition leaders have been now locked up by the Government. Two that actually wrote to Ban Ki-moon in mid-July, asking him to take a second look at expanding the scope of [Ibrahim] Gambari’s mandate. Does the Secretary-General have any comments on these interlocutors or these opposition leaders that wrote to him being arrested?

Associate Spokesperson Haq: We don't have a specific reaction to that. In general, we have wanted to see an end to the arrests of figures in the opposition, of members of civil society. Mr. Gambari has brought up the concerns about the need for all political detainees to be released in his past visits and we do expect that he will bring up those concerns again when he visits Myanmar in the coming weeks.

But it is alleged that these two were arrested because they wrote to Ban.

Also on Tuesday, while belatedly denying that Ban has received any negative comments on reducing the UN Mission in Kosovo's staffing by 70%, Haq dodged the question of whether the 70% will be implemented in Serbian-majority areas in North Kosovo. "Ask UNMIK," Inner City Press was told by email. But UNMIK had, at that time, said it didn't know if it would do the same in North Kosovo. Later in the week they said they will, but not update was provided by the UN Spokesperson's Office in New York. Wishing there'd be no coverage of Kosovo won't make it so.

On Wednesday, August 13, Inner City Press shifted questioning to Timor Leste, the report that Reinado was shot point blank, and the lack of UN follow-up on its commitment to investigate the actions of UN security for Jose Ramos-Horta.

Inner City Press: In East Timor, there was reported today that Reinado -- the one who attacked [Jose] Ramos-Horta -- may have been executed. That was found in an autopsy, based on the ballistics. So number one, given the UN's role in protecting Ramos-Horta at the time, was there ever an outcome to the UN's investigation into what went wrong in the protection of Ramos-Horta? And do you have any response to this new autopsy done in East Timor?

Associate Spokesperson Haq: I don't have a response, we'd have to check up. As you know, Reinado died during an exchange of gunfire. Apparently, the information we had at the time, which we had said, was that he died in an exchange of gunfire during the assassination attempt against Mr. Ramos-Horta. I am not aware of this latest report and will check with the Mission whether they have any response to that.

But four days later, there has been no response. The August 13 transcript, purportedly verbatim, does not include statements by Haq that no more questions would be allowed.

On Thursday August 14, Haq not only read out the UN's whitewash of its currency exchange losses in Myanmar, he also said he would "ask Bangkok" why the UN Human Rights Council's rapporteur had cancelled his scheduled press conference about human rights in Myanmar. Later Haq said this was just a scheduling conflict. But it has not been rescheduled. From the transcript:

Inner City Press: Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Mr. [Tomas Ojea] Quintana was supposed to hold a press conference in Bangkok after his visit to Myanmar. This was cancelled and nobody was given any reason why it was cancelled. Given the importance of the issue, why was it cancelled?

Associate Spokesperson Haq: I am not one of the people in Bangkok. You could consult with my colleague there and he might be able to help you with that.

[The Associate Spokesperson later added that scheduling conflicts were given as the reason for the cancellation.]

On Friday August 15, among the topics dodged was Zimbabwe:

Inner City Press: There are reports that the UN had asked to send a team to assess the political violence in Zimbabwe between 29 May and the run-off, but that the Government had refused entry to the UN team. Can you confirm first that the UN has tried to send such a team, and second that it has been denied access?

Associate Spokesperson: I will check. I am not aware of that one, but I'll check if we received such a request.

There has been no update; there was another mystery left unanswered on Friday on which we wll have more. For now we note that the dodging of Myanmar questions may not be entirely the fault of the Spokesperson's Office, but rather reflect instructions from higher in the UN building to avoid the issue. Why would the UN, faced with a scandal of loss of aid funds, issue a joint press release with the Than Shwe government? To be continued.

Daw Suu receives visits from lawyer and doctor

Aug 18, 2008 (DVB)–Detained opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was allowed another meeting yesterday with her lawyer, Kyi Win, which lasted for about two hours.

Kyi Win said they had mainly discussed getting photocopies of official documents and her house arrest order, which would be necessary for submitting her appeal.

He said he would need to have more meetings with his client to finalise her appeal letter which would then be reviewed and sent to Naypyidaw.

Kyi Win also said he met Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's family doctor, Dr Tin Myo Win, who arrived at her house as the lawyer was leaving.

The last time Dr Tin Myo Win was allowed to visit Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was in January 2008.

Kyi Win said he had also raised the possibility with the authorities of having the family of Daw Khin Khin Win, who has been doing housework and cooking for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, to come in and out of her house freely.

Analysts have suggested that the government’s willingness to allow these visits to the detained National League for Democracy leader is intended to create a positive impression for United Nations special envoy Ibrahim Gambari, who arrives in Burma today.

Reporting by Htet Aung Kyaw

Five Taunggok activists jailed for 8 August march

Aug 18, 2008 (DVB)–Five young activists who were arrested in Taunggok township, Arakan state, on 8 August for staging a demonstration have been sentenced to two and a half years in prison.

The five were arrested after they held a protest march to mark the 20th anniversary of the 8888 uprising, according to U Thein Hlaing, joint secretary of the Arakan state National League for Democracy.

Ko Moe Naing Soe, Ko Maung Maung Thet, Ko Chit Maung Maung, Ko Than Lwin and Ma Ni Ni Nay Myint, who are all aged around 20, were sentenced by Sandoway township court on 15 August.

The five young people were among a group of 43 people who joined the silent march on 8 August.

The other protestors were also detained and held overnight, but were released the following day.

Other activists who were arrested in Rangoon on the anniversary of 8888, including members of the 88 Generation Students group, the All Burma Federation Of Student Unions and the Human Rights Defenders and Promoters network, have not yet been charged.

U Thein Hlaing said a total of 17 people had been jailed in Arakan State in the past 12 months.

In particular, U Thein Hlaing expressed his concern about Arakan NLD chairman and MP-elect U Nyi Pu who was arrested on 11 August, and said he hope United Nations special envoy Ibrahim Gambari would look into the matter.

U Thein Hlaing said NLD youth activists were stepping up their campaign despite the stream of arrests, citing as an example a solo protest by NLD youth wing member Ko Myint Thein Kyi on 15 August calling for the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners.

Reporting by DVB

Burmese MPs in exile call for ASEAN support

Aug 18, 2008 (DVB)–A five-member delegation from the Burmese exiled Members of Parliament Union attended an Indonesian parliamentary function to mark the 63rd anniversary of Indonesian independence on 15 August.

The MPU delegates were invited as official guests to present a report about the current political situation in Burma and to make their case in the Indonesian parliament.

U Win Hlaing, one of the MPU delegates, said the delegates had told Indonesian parliamentarians how the Burmese regime had focused its attention on the 2010 elections while neglecting what was truly needed.

“[The regime should focus on] achieving national reconciliation, establishing foundations for democracy which is the true aspiration of the people of Burma, and holding a genuine inclusive national convention in which all stakeholders can participate,” he said.

“If the SPDC proceeds unilaterally as it is doing now, we asked ASEAN countries, particularly Indonesia, to do their best to help sway SPDC away from this course of action.”

U Win Hlaing welcomed the fact that Indonesia had officially invited the Burmese representatives elected in 1990.

“The MPU delegation was invited and given special treatment as official guests. They also made the arrangements for us to attend the Special Plenary Session in Parliament and to meet with the Speaker of the House,” U Win Hlaing said.

“This shows that they have high regard for the elected representatives of the people of Burma and deep sympathy for the suffering and struggle of our people,” he went on.

“They told us that ASEAN was not without problems but that they were willing to get more involved and deal with Burma issues tactfully.”

From Indonesia, the delegation will go to Singapore to discuss the issue of the MPU being admitted to the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly, U Win Hlaing said.

On 13 August, MPU secretary U Khun Myint Tun testified before the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Philippines House of Representatives.

U Khun Myint Tun said he had told the committee that ASEAN’s constructive engagement policy on Burma had been a failure because it allowed the SPDC to avoid political dialogue.

“Another point I raised is that a tripartite dialogue [between the military, ethnic leaders, and the NLD] was imperative if national reconciliation is to be achieved in our country,” U Khun Myint Tun said.

“For that to happen, I said, appeasement policy and a pacified approach would not work and that strong pressure was needed,” he said.

“The [SPDC's] roadmap and its constitution need to be rejected and I suggested that the Philippine president and government take the lead within the ASEAN to initiate the move,” he continued.

“Under the present conditions, I said, the SPDC does not represent our country and therefore world countries should stop giving it de facto recognition.

Following his proposal, the Philippines Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee passed a resolution to step up pressure for tripartite dialogue in Burma, said Khun Myint Tun.

“After my report, the chairperson of the Foreign Affairs Committee said they were 100 percent behind the people of Burma and that they would use whatever pressure they could to bring the SPDC to the negotiating table,” Khun Myint Tun said.

“The key resolutions passed are to recognise the results of the 1990 elections, to work for the emergence of a tripartite dialogue, and for the Philippine and other ASEAN governments to censure SPDC for its human rights violations and suppression of democratic forces in Burma,” he said.

“They also said that they would be asking the Philippine government to take more effective measures on Burma.”

Reporting by DVB

Students allegedly involved in fight face trial: police

Mizzima News
18 August 2008

New Delhi - Four university students belonging to Monywa town of Sagaing division upper Burma, who were arrested last week for a fight, were produced before the Monywa township court, police said.

The No (2) police station of Monywa said the four students, who were arrested for beating a fellow university student – Aung Kyaw Soe Win - on Thursday, were produced before the court on Monday.

While declining to elaborate on the case, the police said Aung Kyaw Soe Win was in good health but did not mention whether he was among the four who were produced in court.

Earlier, Mizzima received contradictory reports that said Aung Kyaw Soe Win died in a fight on Thursday. Four of his friends were arrested and are in custody at No, (2) police station.

A person, who claimed to have witnessed the fight on Thursday, in an interview with Mizzima said Aung Kyaw Soe Win, a second year Bachelor of Arts student in Monywa University, was killed while four of his friends were arrested after they were attacked by local policemen following an argument near the university campus on Thursday evening.

The five students were returning to the University after singing in front of a girl's hostel when they were stopped by about 10 policemen, who asked them to come with them to the police station, the eyewitness said.

But when the students refused, the policemen charged at them, severely injuring Aung Kyaw Soe Win and his friend Tun Min, the eyewitness added.

Reportedly, Aung Kyaw Soe Win (19), and his friend Tun Min were beaten up severely and were pushed into a police van, where Aung Kyaw Soe Win died even before he could be admitted to hospital.

But contrary to the eyewitness account, a Buddhist Monk from Okkan Thawya monastery, located near the University Campus where the fight had allegedly taken place told Mizzima that the fight was among rival students.

"It was between students and we heard that one of them died," the monk, who spoke on condition of anonymity told Mizzima.

But on Friday and Saturday, University students said, several police vans were seen inside the university campus though it was not clear why the police were there.

The Monywa hospital, when contacted by Mizzima, said there is no record of any patient by the name of Aung Kyaw Soe Win being admitted to the hospital since Wednesday.

"We have no such patient by the name of Aung Kyaw Soe Win since August 13," an official at the hospital said.

A local resident of Monywa, whom Mizzima had requested to investigate the case said, while there has been a death of a student, it was impossible to understand the nature of the fight – whether it was student versus students or police versus students.

"As far as I could understand there was a fight on Thursday night and a man has died but it is impossible to confirm who died and who were involved in the fight as there were no eyewitness," the local said.

A person claiming to be a close friend of Aung Kyaw Soe Win in an email message told Mizzima that he had seen Aung Kyaw Soe Win's body and it was cremated on Sunday. But he declined to be interviewed on telephone and failed to provide contact details of Aung Kyaw Soe Win's family.

Reporting by Mizzima reporters; writing by Mungpi

Gambari's visit has created no political breakthrough: Burmese opposition

By Mungpi
Mizzima News
18 August 2008

New Delhi - Burma's main opposition party – the National League fro Democracy – on Monday said it welcomed another round of visit by the United Nations special envoy to Burma, but pointed out that so far Gambari's efforts had failed to create any political breakthrough.

Nyan Win, spokesperson of the NLD, said they have always welcomed efforts by the UN and hope that it will bring about a breakthrough in the current political stalemate in Burma.

"We hope this time he [Gambari] will be able to work towards resuming the talks between Daw Suu and U Aung Kyi," Nyan Win said.

Following Gambari's first visit after Burma's military rulers brutally cracked down on protesters in September, the junta appointed its Labour Minister Aung Kyi as the liaison person to meet Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

Both Aung San Suu Kyi and Aung Kyi, since then have met five times but the talks have been stalled since January with the Nobel Peace Laureate complaining of the slow pace of talks.

"So far, we have not seen any tangible result of his [Gambari] visit but we hope he will bring about some kind of breakthrough," Nyan Win said.

Gambari on Monday arrived in Rangoon on his fourth visit since Burma's rulers brutally cracked down on protesters in September last year.

But it is still not clear whether Gambari will be allowed to meet top military leaders as well as opposition and ethnic groups including detained opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

NLD leaders, who were allowed to meet Gambari on his earlier visits, said they have not received any invitation to meet the visiting UN envoy.

Win Min, a Burmese political observer in Thailand, said Gambari's visit this time could have no significance as "Gambari seems to continue to use his old plan which is to revive the talk, rather than formulate a new plan, while the regime has already discontinued talks between Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Aung Kyi."

"The regime didn't listen to Gambari's suggestions on inclusiveness on drafting the constitution and the UN's monitoring on referendum in the past. So, they're unlikely to listen to him this time," he added.

He also said a rare meeting between Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her lawyer, Kyi Win, could be a little concession by the military regime to appease Gambari in replacing the talks between Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Aung Kyi.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was allowed for the second time in a month to meet her lawyer Kyi Win, and granted a visit by her family doctor, Tin Myo Win, on Sunday.

Gambari last visited Burma in March, more than a month before the military regime held its referendum on a draft constitution in May, and urged the junta to allow the UN to monitor the process of its referendum.

But the junta flatly rejected his suggestion saying the Burmese government was capable enough of conducting a free and fair referendum.

However, the international community including human rights watchdogs have dubbed the junta's referendum as 'rigged' and lacking in credibility.

Despite the international community's condemnation, the junta continued with its planned referendum and announced that its draft constitution was approved by more than 92 per cent of the total eligible voters in Burma. The voter turn out declared by the regime was more than 98 per cent.

Charity fund-raiser


(Bangkok Post) - This is a charity cause that will help both the recipient and the giver. The Phuttika Network, a coalition of socially engaged Buddhists in Thailand, is raising funds to support the poor children of Burma.

After almost fifty years of military dictatorship, the situations in our neighbouring country have become more aggravated than ever. According to the Central Intelligence Agency's World Fact Book web site, 32.7 per cent of the population in 2007 lived below the poverty line. Despite its rich resources, less than 10 per cent of Burma's national budget has been spent on education (whereas up to 30 per cent was allocated to the military).

Children are among the worst affected. It is estimated there are up to 70,000 child soldiers in Burma, making it the world's highest figure. One-sixth of children under five were found to suffer from severe malnutrition. About 35 per cent of all children have spent less than five years in school. A large number have become orphans, after their parents were killed during the government's suppression of ethnic minority groups, or turned into forced labour on state's development projects. These children, if neglected, are likely to end up as cheap migrant workers (most probably sent to Thailand) or worse, exploited by human trafficking rings.

As the majority of the people in Burma are Buddhists, temples have thus played a crucial role serving as both schools and orphanages for the destitute youths. The Phuttika Network estimates there are more than 1,400 temples across Burma, which provide help and with very little support from the government (especially after the peaceful demonstration by monks last year). In Rangoon alone there are over 160 temple schools, each of which houses 300 to 500 children of both Burmese and other ethnic origins. Some even accommodate as many as a couple of thousands.

The Fund for Education of Poor Children in Burma, initiated by the Phuttika Network, is aimed at alleviating hardships faced by these temples. Recently, donations from the locals have fallen sharply due to the dire economy and calamitous Cyclone Nargis, which prompted thousands of the victims in the Irrawaddy delta to seek refuge at the monastic sanctuaries.

The raised money may not seem large for Thais, but it will be of pivotal importance to the people of Burma, says Phra Paisan Visalo, chair of the Phuttika Network.

"True compassion," he said, "transcends any race, language, or geographical boundaries. For above it all, every human is related as brothers and sisters. A heart full of compassion will be so big that 'they' become part of 'us', or even better, that there will be neither 'us' nor 'them'.

"In the past, Thailand used to receive help from other richer countries, and millions of Thai children have been relieved from malnutrition, and can enjoy better health and education. Today, we are in a position to help others, especially those in the neighbouring countries, who are much poorer than us. The offer of our generosity will thus not only bring the feeling of joy to the givers themselves, but can also inspire hope for a better future for these children."

Donations made through the Children's Foundation at PO Box Krutumlom 73220, or at Siam Commercial Bank, Phetkasem Soi 114 branch; savings account 115-2-14733-0. A Buddhist ceremony will be held on August 24 at Wat Thong Nopphakhun to coincide with the charitable project. Call 02-883-0592, 02-886-9881, or 08-6300-5458.



- Orphans: Ban San Rak, meaning house of woven love, provides loving care to a group of orphans from the northern hilltribes as well as Thai-Japanese children whose mothers used to be in the flesh trade. The shelter is located in Mae Lao district of Chiang Rai.

To help, contact Phimphan Kaewsrinuan at 74 Moo 5 Tambon Phakhodham, Mae Lao district, Chiang Rai 57250. Call 05-360-4203 or 08-1952-8865, or email phimphanw@yahoo.com.

Bank info: Krung Sri Ayudhya Bank, Chiang Rai branch. Savings a/c name: Phimphan Kaewsrinuan Account no: 110-1-36902-1.

- Glasses: Your old, unused spectacles can help needy children see better. Thanks to the Mettapracharak Hospital's Eyeglasses Bank in Nakhon Pathom province, you can donate your old glasses so they can be repaired and distributed to needy children with poor eyesight, who cannot afford to buy spectacles.

To donate, contact the Mettapracharak (Wat Raikhing) Hospital's Eyeglasses Bank.

Contact person: Dr Pannet Pangputhipong. Address: 52 Moo 2, tambon Raikhing, Sam Phran district, Nakhon Pathom, 73210. Call 03-4321-983 - 5, 03-4321-244. Fax: 03-4321-243.

- Hornbills: You can help "adopt" these endangered birds and save them from extinction by joining the hornbill adoption campaign.

In need of help are the wrinkled hornbills, white-crowned hornbills, helmeted hornbills, black hornbills, rhinoceros hornbills, great Hornbills and wreathed hornbills.

To help, contact the Hornbill Research Foundation.

Address: c/o Department of Microbiology, Faculty of Science, Mahidol University, Rama 6 Road, Bangkok 10400.

Call 02-246-3026 ext 4606. Fax: 02-644-5411.