Friday, 22 August 2008

Burma's children still forced into army

by Ring Aung & Htoo Htoo San

KNG, 30 Jul'08 - He said that he came from a very poor family and at the age of seven or nine, he started working. While he was on the way to sell garden produce in Rangoon, he was recruited.

“I lost my travel pass from the ward leader, and at Bago railway station and some soldiers came on board and asked everyone for ID cards. I realized I'd lost my recommendation letter, and they took me in. The same day they sent me to the Mingaladon Su Saun Yay in handcuffs”.

The Burmese government claims that its army is an all-volunteer force and the minimum age for recruitment is 18. However the New York based HRW testified in the report that the majority of new recruits are conscripts, and that a large number of them are children.

The HRW report findings are confirmed by the Human Rights Education Institute of Burma (HREIB) deputy Director Mike Paller who says “Thousands of children throughout Burma continue to be recruited into the Burmese Army. They are recruited while going to school or the market, while waiting for the buses or trains, or simply while hanging out with friends”.

Mike Paller says “Children are attractive recruits because they have long-term investment potential and they are susceptible to intimidation”.

Despite international pressure on the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) to stop recruiting and using child soldiers, the SPDC has been continuously violating child rights to recruit or use child soldiers in its army, says Mike Paller.

“Although there is a lot of pressure on the SPDC to stop recruiting and using child soldiers, evidence suggests that children are still being recruited and used in Burma's armed forces”.

Unfortunately, the military regime has not made enough progress with regard to putting an end to this grave violation of child rights.

The SPDC said in a letter sent to the HRW on September 2007 that they have formed a committee for the Prevention of Recruiting Child Soldiers and preventing forced recruitment of under-age children as soldiers and ensuring adherence to orders and instructions issued for the protection of under-age children.

In spite of the SPDC letter the recruitment of child soldiers continue.

HRW's World Report in 2008 found “The recruitment of children into the armed forces continues as a result of high desertion rates and chronic understaffing. Recruiters and civilian brokers used coercion, threats, and physical force to recruit children as young as 10”.

Several ethnic armed groups are still fighting against the SPDC, and some have alliance with them. And they have continually recruited and used child soldiers although the numbers were much lower than the Burmese Army, according to the HRW's world report and Child Soldiers Global Report 2008 by the Southeast Asia Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers (SEACSUCS).

Most ethnic armed groups denied recruiting of children into the army and use of child soldiers.

David Taw, a spokesperson for the Karen National Union (KNU) says, “We have a policy not to recruit children into the army and we take action against soldiers who flout the order”.

He continued that the KNU has an agreement with the international community not to use child soldiers in the army and the KNU invites them to investigate whether the KNU uses child soldiers.

The Shan State Army says they also have a policy against recruitment of child soldiers.

“We don't have a policy to recruit children into the army,” says Sai Hseng Merng, a spokesperson for Shan State Army (SSA). “We even let orphans attend school and open schools for them”.

The SSA says it recruits soldiers between the ages of 18 and 45. The SSA has also invited the international community to investigate their army regarding the use of child soldiers. The SSA-South is fighting against the SPDC to achieve autonomy for Shan State.

Khu Oo Re, a spokesperson of the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) says “We are sure that there are no child soldiers in our army and we don't have a policy to recruit children into the army. Even adults join the army voluntarily”.

“We have already released a statement thrice regarding the use of child soldiers in the army and we invite the international community to investigate if we are using child soldiers,” added Khu Oo Re.

The KNPP, based along the Thai-Burma border, was founded in 1955 to secure independence from the Burmese state.

While most ethnic groups denied the use of child soldiers in its armies, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) has been quoted in the HRW report, “Sold to be Soldiers” as saying that the KIA and its political arm the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) have no formal policy on child soldiers.

“We have child soldiers but not intentionally. We do not purposely mobilize children. In many cases child soldiers come and ask to join the KIA because they are from poor families. There is no minimum age in the KIA,” said a senior KIA officer.

According to Child Soldiers Global Report 2008 by SEACSUCS, “an unknown number of former child soldiers continue to flee to Thailand after deserting from the Burmese Army. But as fast as the children desert, agents and brokers working for the army recruit replacements”.

Junta commander: Thailand violating Burmese sovereignty

19 August 2008, (Shan) - In a public speech given to the local officials and people yesterday at a location in Shan State’s Mongton township, opposite Chiangmai, the Burma Army commander of the Triangle Region Command had charged Thailand of “violating the territorial integrity” of Burma, according to sources on the border.

Maj-Gen Kyaw Phyoe, who was appointed to his new post in June, succeeding the outgoing Min Aung Hlaing, added, “Just as they (Thailand) have unilaterally taken possession of the Cambodian territory, they are doing the same at Loilang (the 32 square kilometer disputed area between Burma’s Monghsat and Thailand’s Mae Ai). The time will come when we’ll have to deal with the issue properly.”

The general, a graduate of legal affairs from India and military affairs from UK, according to him, was referring to the ongoing border dispute over the Preah Vihear temple area between Thailand and Cambodia.

Kyaw Phyoe had been on an inspection trip on the Thai-Burma border since 16 August.

He also charged the kingdom of employing the anti-junta Shan State Army (SSA) South of Col Yawdserk as a buffer against the Burma Army.

“As for Yawdserk, we are open to talks with him anytime he’s ready,” he said. “But there is only one condition for him: he has to exchange arms for peace (a euphemism for surrender).”

Kyaw Phyoe left for Mongton, 53 miles from the border, at 18:00.

The SSA South has 5 main bases along the Thai-Burma border:

* Loi Wa Her - opposite - Maehongson
* Loi Taileng - opposite - Maehongson
* Loi Lam - opposite - Chiangmai
* Loi Hsarmsip - opposite - Chiangmai
* Loi Gawwan - opposite - Chiangrai

Loilang, under the now defunct Mong Tai Army (MTA)’s control since 1982, was taken over by the Thai Army in 1987.

The issue, after reportedly debating at length at the Regional Border Committee (RBC) #25 meeting in Chiangrai, 6-8 August, has now been forwarded to the respective governments for resolution, according to Bangkok Post. The Burmese side, which included Kyaw Phyoe, had demanded “full rights” over the disputed territory.

Burmese Dissidents Call United Nations for Openness and Accountability

Daya Gamage – US National Correspondent Asian Tribune

Washington, D.C. 22 August ( While US Campaign for Burma (USCB), a Washington-based dissident group, accuses United Nations of “misrepresenting” its recent mission to Burma (Myanmar), the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma) called for UN Special Envoy to Burma Ibrahim Gambari to call for tripartite talks with opposition groups, the release of political prisoners and to deliver frank accounts of his meetings with opposition groups and Burmese officials.

The USCB refuting the UN press statement of Gambari’s visit to Burma says that during the first four days of his five-day trip, Gambari appears to have spent most of his time meeting and dining with low level officials of the regime and pro-regime groups, with the exception of three hours of meetings with the UN Country Team, foreign diplomats and ICRC officials, while spending only 20 minutes with Central Executive Committee Members of the NLD on August 20, 2008, from 3:00 to 3:20 PM.

The UN press statement released August 20 said:
(Begin Text) the top United Nations envoy to Myanmar met with the country’s planning and health ministers today to discuss ways to tackle the socio-economic conditions in Myanmar on the third day of his five-day trip.

Ibrahim Gambari, Special Adviser on Myanmar, also held 10 separate meetings focusing on the need for national inclusive dialogue and a credible political process, as well as the country’s socio-economic challenges.

Participating in the meetings were political parties, civil society groups, including members of the National League for Democracy (NLD), student representatives and elected individuals from the 1990 elections.

August 19, Mr. Gambari also visited the delta region affected by Cyclone Nargis, and met with members of the State Peace and Development Council to exchange views on a range of issues, including the release of political prisoners. (End Text)

The USCB refutes this United Nations claim in the following press statement:
(Begin Text) This statement is not only misleading but patently false -- Gambari did not meet with "political parties and civil society groups," With the exception of the NLD. Instead, the UN Envoy met with nine Burmese groups, all of which are supporters and proxies of Burma's military regime.

For example, Gambari met with the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI), the major funder of the regime's brutal militia "Swan-Arr-Shin". This group led the regime's efforts in attacking and killing peaceful monks and democracy activists during and after last September's Saffron Revolution. Gambari also met with the notorious Union Solidarity and Development Association, a group comparable to Hitler's "Brown Shirts," that carried out an assassination attempt on Nobel Peace Prize recipient Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in May 2003. During that attack dozens of her party members were killed.

Gambari also met with the National Unity Party, the military-backed political party that lost severely to the NLD in 1990 elections -- gaining only 10 out of 485 seats in parliament. He also met with the 88 Generation Students and Youth, another pro-junta group, which had campaigned to support the regime’s constitution. This group is not related to the major dissident group, the “88 Generation Students”; instead, it is a front group formed by the regime to counter the activities of real student activists. (End Text)

The statement further notes: “This statement is not only misleading but patently false -- Gambari did not meet with "political parties and civil society groups," With the exception of the NLD. Instead, the UN Envoy met with nine Burmese groups, all of which are supporters and proxies of Burma's military regime."

Contrary to what the UN said, the USCB noted, Gambari did not meet with Burma's most influential opposition groups, including:

1) All Burma Monks’ Alliance (ABMA), a powerful organization of young Buddhist monks which led peaceful protests in September of last year. Many leaders of ABMA, including Ashin Gambira, are now in prison, sentenced to death.

2) 88 Generation Student Group, prominent dissident group comprised of former student leaders who have spent 10 to 16 years in prison for their belief in democracy and human rights. Many leaders of the group, such as prominent figure Min Ko Naing, Ko Ko Gyi, Pyone Cho, Mya Aye and Htay Kywe, are in prison.

3) The Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD), a major ethnic political party that won the second largest seats in the Parliament in the 1990 election. Its leaders Hkun Htun Oo and Sai Nyunt Lwin are in prison.

4) The Committee Representing the People's Parliament, a group of parliamentarians that represent Burma's last democratically elected parliament.

5) A key group of 92 members of parliament-elect, who have sent letters to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and UN Security Council, among them, two, U Nyi Pu and Dr. Tin Min Htut, were recently arrested. Others important figures -- U Pu Chin Sian Thang, U Thein Pe and Dr. Myint Naing -- are available in Rangoon but have not been contacted by Gambari.

Meanwhile the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma) issued the following statement:
(Begin Text) Burmese dissidents called for UN Special Envoy to Burma Ibrahim Gambari to call for tripartite talks with opposition groups, the release of political prisoners and to deliver frank accounts of his meetings with opposition groups and Burmese officials Bo Kyi, the joint secretary of the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), said, “He [Gambari] must do what he should do. After meeting with Burmese officials and the opposition, he should give frank accounts to the public.”

"For example, if the junta is stubborn and doesn’t want to negotiate, he must frankly report that so the UN can clearly understand the issues," said Bo Kyi.

Han Thar Myhint, a National League for Democracy spokesperson, said the party’s office was told by authorities to prepare for a meeting with the UN envoy, but did not indicate the day or time of the meeting.

The UN envoy met with Burma’s Foreign Minister Nyan Win on Monday in hope of continuing the stalled talks between the junta and pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

He also met with representatives of the diplomatic corps, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the UN Tripartite Core Group and was briefed by the UN country team, according to a UN report.

Cin Sian Thang, the chairman of the Zomi National Congress in Rangoon, said ethnic leaders have had little input into Gambari's past trips to Burma and knew little about his current five-day visit.

"We only knew that Gambari came to Burma and went back," he said. "We don’t know whether he would like a chance to meet with us or not," said Cin Sian Thang.

"We heard that he will meet with opposition leaders and ethnic leaders. So, we are hoping to meet him, and we are ready to discuss issues with him as well. We are now waiting for him, but we haven’t heard whether he will meet us."

On Tuesday, Gambari visited Kungyangone Township in southern Rangoon, one of areas most affected by Cyclone Nargis which struck on May 2-3 and left more than 140,000 dead and missing. Gambari met with Information Minister Brig-Gen Kyaw Hsan in Rangoon, according to a spokesperson with the UN Information Center in Rangoon.

Lian H Sakhong, the secretary-general of the Thailand-based Ethnic Nationalities Council, on Tuesday urged Gambari to try to persuade the military regime to create a tripartite dialogue that includes the government, opposition leaders and ethnic leaders.

Meanwhile, the Burma Campaign UK on Monday
urged Gambari to make the release of political prisoners a top priority during his visit.

"The release of political prisoners will be the benchmark by which Gambari and Ban Ki-moon will be judged," Wai Hnin, a political prisoners advocate at Burma Campaign UK, said in a statement.

"It’s a normal, first step when a country enters into political reform," he said. "If the regime is genuine about their claims, they will reform. They should release all political prisoners immediately."

The statement said conditions in Burma's prisons are deteriorating as authorities deny medical treatment to political detainees including leaders of the 88 Generation Students group such as Min Ko Naing, Ko Ko Gyi, Mya Aye as well as Myo Yan Naung Thein, a student activist, who are all in Insein Prison.

"The United Nations Security Council has said the political prisoners should be released, and Gambari and Ban Ki-Moon must make that happen," he said. "We have had 20 years of envoys going back and forth with nothing to show for it. It is time they delivered concrete results." (End Text)

- Asian Tribune -

Trials open for U Gambira and Htin Kyaw

Aug 21, 2008 (DVB)–Prominent monk U Gambira and activist Ko Htin Kyaw, who led demonstrations against commodity price hikes last August, appeared before the district court inside Insein prison yesterday.

U Gambira was arrested in November last year for his role in instigating public protests in September and is now facing 10 charges.

U Gambira’s trial began with the cross-examination of the defendant with regard to the charge of violating the electronic communications act, U Gambira’s lawyer U Aung Thein said.

The other charges against U Gambira include unlawful assembly and bringing the Sasana into disrepute, as well as violating the Unlawful Associations Act, the Illegal Border Crossing Act and the printing law.

The remaining charges will be heard at township courts outside the prison, in Kamayut, Kyauktada, Dagon, Ahlon and Kyimyintaing, U Aung Thein said.

“We will find out how they are going to allocate the charges on the day of the hearing,” U Aung Thein said.

When U Aung Thein was allowed to speak to U Gambira, the monk emphasised the fact that he had been forcibly and unceremoniously disrobed without the appropriate religious procedures.

“If they want to disrobe him, they should do it through his abbot or the Sanghamahanayaka [supreme monks’ council],” U Aung Thein said.

“Now they did not do that but just disrobed him and took him to the court [like a layman] and he said this was very damaging for the Sasana,” he said.

“He told me to tell the court that it should not happen like that; this matter is the concern of monks.”

In Ko Htin Kyaw’s case, which is being heard by the same judge, the court heard testimony from the prosecution about the protest in Thingangyun township.

The prosecution is deliberating whether to also bring charges for demonstrating in Rangoon’s Pabedan township last year.

Some witnesses in Htin Kyaw’s case could not make it to the court and so their testimony was rescheduled for the next day.

Reporting by Aye Nai

Authorities order chanting to ward off bad luck

Aug 21, 2008 (DVB)–Authorities in Sagaing division's Kathar township have ordered local residents to chant protective incantations to ward off bad luck during this rare month of two new moon days.

According to Burmese traditional beliefs, when there are two new moon days in the same month, which occurs rarely in the Buddhist calendar, it bodes ill for the rulers of the country.

Believers cite the example of King Thibaw, the last Burmese monarch, who was overthrown by the British during such a month.

Locals in Kathar said the township's Sasana administration had directed the government-elected township monk leader to organise the chanting of incantations to prevent bad luck.

Although the authorities claimed that the chanting was for the protection of Kathar residents, a monk in Kathar said locals believed it was in fact intended to protect the SPDC leaders from bad luck.

"That particular script of the incantations they were asking people to chant was written to protect the king's rule," the monk said.

"The authorities ordered that the chanting should be led by 10 monks and followed by 10 people from every ward in town and should last for ten days."

A resident of Kathar said the chanting which lasted for ten days was already done on the last full moon day.

"On the first few days we were chanting the incantation, we were not aware that it was a particular one to protect the rulers," said the resident.

"But over the next days we found out what it was and became uncomfortable chanting it," he said.

"While we were doing it we were praying in our minds that they would fall soon."

Reporting by Naw Say Phaw

International Text Messaging Approved in Burma

The Irrawaddy News

Mobile phone users in Burma can now send and receive e-mail and short messaging system text (SMS) outside the country through the E-Trade Company Web site, according to an E-Trade Myanmar Company staff member.

The Burmese government approved the international text messaging service several months ago, and about 1,000 customers are now registered with the company, according to the staff member.

Currently, the Burmese government bans transmission of short messaging system texts (SMS) and voice mail from GSM to GSM mobile phones outside the country.

“GSM phones in foreign countries can now send test messages to Burma,” he told The Irrawaddy on Thursday. “Before to use GSM all users had to register with a Web site abroad.”

To use the E-Trade Web site service, a user must register as a member. A membership fee is 5,000 kyat (US $4) and prepaid user charges are available at 15,000 and 20,000 kyat.

“Inside Burma, a text message cost 100 kyat for local GSM to e-mail,” he said, “SMS text messages cost from 216 kyat to 600 kyat according to the country the text is sent to.”

After learning about the service, a student at Singapore University said he would advise users to be careful when sending text messages using the company’s service since all messages are retained in the company’s server.

“It (registration with a company inside Burma) can intrude on your privacy because every message is saved in their server,” he said.

Information technology students in Burma note that the military government controls all communication, phone and Internet activity.

GSM phones were introduced by Myanmar Post and Telecom in 2002. Despite being more expensive, they’ve quickly become more popular than CDMA and cell phones because they more functions over a greater area.

“The Burmese mobile telephone market flourishes, and there are more than 200,000 GSM phones in use in Burma,” said a mobile phone shop owner. The price of a GSM phone now is about 1.1 million kyat (US $916).

Gambari May Leave Without Seeing Suu Kyi, Than Shwe

The Irrawaddy News

With one day of his current visit to Burma left, UN Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari has still not met either opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi or junta chief Snr-Gen Than Shwe, creating doubts that his mission will bring any tangible results.

Sources within Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) said on Wednesday that Gambari was expected to meet her that day, but no encounter took place. It was rumored that Suu Kyi herself had cancelled the meeting because she believed it would produce no result.

Some suggested that Suu Kyi wanted to make it clear to Gambari that she thought he should also meet Than Shwe and urge the junta leader to begin substantive talks.

Gambari met on Thursday with Aung Kyi, the “relations minister” appointed by the military government to liaise between the NLD leader and the regime.

The UN envoy met on Wednesday with members of the NLD central executive committee of Burma’s main opposition group, the National League for Democracy. The NLD complained they had not had sufficient time to discuss all issues with Gambari, and NLD Spokesman Win Naing said the talks had not been encouraging.

NLD member Ohn Kyaing said issues covered had included demands for the release of political prisoners and reconciliation talks between Suu Kyi and the regime.

Win Min, a Burmese political observer in Thailand, said positive results could not be expected from Gambari’s visit unless he met Suu Kyi and the two top generals and “policy makers,” Than Shwe and Vice Snr-Gen Maung Aye.

The UN said Gambari had so far had 10 separate meetings with political parties, civil society groups, student representatives and successful candidates from the 1990 elections. He had also had talks on socio-economic issues with officials from the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of National Planning and Economic Development.

In other developments, Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda said the UN Security Council was under “growing pressure” to take action against the Burmese government unless it takes more credible steps toward democracy.

Indonesia and other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) will meet in Singapore this week and will consider the admission of members of Burma's civilian government-in-exile as Asean observers.

Last weekend, a delegation of exiled Burmese politicians was invited to attend a plenary session of the Indonesian House of Representatives marking the 63rd anniversary of the archipelago's independence.

It was the first time exiled Burmese MP's had attended a parliamentary session of an Asean member state.

They were the official guests of House Speaker Agung Laksono, who said the invitation reflected Indonesia's support for Burma’s democracy movement and a desire to see change in Burma.

Dead-end in Burma for UN envoy

Larry Jagan
21 August 2008

Bangkok (Mizzima): The UN's special envoy to Burma, Ibrahim Gambari's current mission to help break the political deadlock between the military junta and the detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi seems to be heading towards complete failure.

His efforts to establish a dialogue between the sides has collapsed and he is expected to leave on Friday empty-handed. Even Aung San Suu Kyi -- the charismatic, leader of National League for Democracy or NLD-- has refused to see him so far during this trip, although he met her on all his previous visits.

Nevertheless, he also failed to meet any senior members of the country's ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). His failure to accomplish anything at all during this visit now raises serious doubts about his future role, and the UN's mediation efforts in Burma as a whole.

Mr. Gambari has had a busy schedule – meeting many people nominated by the regime to brief him -- but so far has been unable to meet any senior representatives of the regime. Instead he has been left kicking his heels in Rangoon.

The senior leaders, including the top general Than Shwe – who are all ensconced in their new capital Naypyidaw some 400 kilometres north of the old capital-- have been keen to keep him at arms length, and insisted he could meet everyone he needed to in Rangoon. The key meeting he wanted though, with the opposition icon, Aung San Suu Kyi, has also not taken place yet and is unlikely too according to sources inside Burma.

The UN envoy originally planned to meet her at the State Guesthouse on Wednesday, but she did not show up, according to NLD sources in Rangoon -- although UN officials in Burma contacted by Mizzima declined to confirm a meeting had been scheduled. "Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is refusing to see the UN envoy before he sees a senior representative of the SPDC," an opposition source close to the detained leader told Mizzima on condition of anonymity.

She feels there is no point in meeting Mr Gambari at the moment, as he has nothing from the Generals to report or offer, he said. "She definitely won't see him if he does not meet a top member of the regime," he said.

Many members of the pro-democracy movement in Burma no longer trust the UN envoy and feel it is no longer in their interests to co-operate with the process.

For many Asian diplomats though her actions are an affront. "It's un-Asian to let the envoy wait in vain for her to show up," said a Japanese diplomat, who closely follows Burma.

"It seems unusually rude, to the extent that it gives the impression of being insensitive." It will only serve to further undermine Mr. Gambari's credibility and strengthen the regime's belief that she is ill-tempered and uncompromising, the diplomat added. (JEG's: I suppose Than Shwe is very polite by ignoring the envoy :-) and it is better to listent to kyaw Hsan to call a person IGNORANT - then again Japanese are very famous for their crimes and cruelty under their soft politeness)

On the other hand, some diplomats believe it may actually boost Mr. Gambari's hopes of seeing Than Shwe, or another senior member of the SPDC. She may also be concerned at the protocol implications of meeting the UN envoy – as leader of the opposition, while he is only allowed to see junior members of the government.

"My hunch is that having stood him up once, she has made her point, and will agree to see him before the end of his visit," said a Rangoon-based western diplomat.

This is former Nigerian foreign minister's fourth trip to Burma since the brutal crack-down on the massive Buddhist monk-led protests a year ago and six visits to Burma since he replaced the previous envoy Ismail Razali more than three years ago.

In November last year, he smuggled out and made public a letter from the opposition leader that appealed to the country's military leaders to put aside their differences with her and to work together on national reconciliation for the sake of the whole country. This infuriated the regime, who denounced her claims in the state media for weeks afterwards.

So far on this trip Mr. Gambari has met only lower-ranking officials from the junta, including the foreign affairs minister Nyan Win and the information minister Brig. Gen. Kyaw Hsan. On Thursday, he also met the minister in charge of liaising with Aung San Suu Kyi -- the labour minister Aung Kyi -- who held several round of talks with the NLD leader after last October 2007, but has not seen her since January.

On Wednesday, Mr. Gambari was wheeled around meeting many small political parties that are all likely to contest the elections planned for 2010. Most of them were pro-government groups, including the dreaded Union Solidarity and Development Association which is expect to form at least three different political parties by the end of this year to contest the forthcoming elections.

He was only allowed a 20-minute meeting with five NLD leaders from the central executive committee – including Chairman Aung Shwe and Secretary U Lwin. Vice President U Tin Oo and Secretary-General Aung San Suu Kyi of course were absent – as they are both being detained under house arrest. It was a very inconclusive meeting, according to a NLD member who was present.

"He did say he had recommended that the government release all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi – and urged them to make sure the 2010 elections are open and fair -- but refused to talk about the 1990 election result," he said. The NLD overwhelmingly won those elections by a land-slide but were never allowed to form a government.

The international community, especially China has exerted substantial pressure behind the scenes on the junta to allow the UN envoy to visit the country. He originally wanted to return to Burma before the referendum that was held in May, despite the devastation caused by the Cyclone Nargis to Rangoon and the fertile and densely populated Irrawaddy Delta to the west of the former capital.

"The regime's only interest in allowing Gambari back is to try to get him to endorse their roadmap," said Win Min, an independent Burmese academic based in Chiang Mai.

"They have forced the new constitution through a sham referendum, and now they are planning elections that are likely to be less than fair or free. They're not interested in anything else. They have no intentions of changing their minds or making oncessions to the international community – let alone starting a genuine political dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi and other democratic or ethnic forces."

Mr. Gambari's priorities on this mission were to try to kick-start talks between the two sides, press for the release of all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, and discuss the junta's roadmap and the planned elections in 2010. The UN envoy did in fact raise all these issues with the government during his meeting with the information minister Kyaw Hsan earlier this week – but no response has yet been forthcoming. At least he did not get a ticking off this time – as he did when he met the government's spokesman last time. General Kyaw Hsan accused him of being ignorant, insensitive and irrelevant to Burma's future. The envoy's offer to provide international observers for the referendum on a new constitution was also roundly rebuffed.

Although Mr. Gambari may have avoided a dressing down this time, the regime obviously has no less contempt for him than previously – but this time the strategy seems to be to try to educate him so that he will accept the regime's Road Map to 'disciplined democracy'. On Thursday the regime pressed with its efforts to convince him with a long meeting with the Chairman of the referendum commission. But the junta are unlikely to get any joy from Mr. Gambari on this score.

"Individual governments are free to endorse or reject the roadmap," Mr. Gambari told Mizzima in an exclusive interview prior to his last trip to Burma in March.

"The UN's responsibility is to uphold international norms and standards, which countries apply in very different ways from one situation to another. It is not for the UN to take a position on the issue, beyond reporting objectively the views and concerns of all parties, which I have done and will continue to do," he added.

This time though Mr. Gambari is also reportedly trying to prepare the ground for the forthcoming visit of the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon later this year. He has passed a letter onto Than Shwe from the UN chief, according to diplomats in Rangoon.

The planned visit, pencilled in for December, according to senior UN officials in New York, remains tentative. "The SG has also indicated his intention to return to Myanmar (Burma), when conditions are right, to continue his dialogue with the Myanmar leadership," a senior UN spokesperson, Marie Okabe told journalists earlier this week. That means Mr. Gambari being able to continue his role in providing a channel of communication between the junta leaders and the pro-democracy opposition.

88 Gen Student leaders in custody for a year with remands in absentia - Min Ko Naing

Myint Maung
22 August 2008

New Delhi (Mizzima) – 88 Generation Student leaders have been in custody for a year without trial. They have been remanded successively by the court in absentia and are still in judicial custody.

Min Ko Naing and other 13 members of 88 Gen student leaders were arrested on August 21, 2007. But they have never been produced in court and formally charged. Today they complete one year in judicial custody.

"My clients are losing their rights. The accused must be produced in court to take remand for their judicial custody. Remand in absentia is not provided for in the law," advocate Aung Thein who is defence lawyer for the student leaders and has criminal power attorney from them, said.

"Only in this way, the court can examine their custodial situation, whether they have any injury and whether they need medical care during their custody or not. These are the important things for the accused. Now they have been remanded inside the prison for so long in absentia. The court didn't see and didn't hear their demands and grievances during custody. Remand means there have not been any formal charges against them and no case has been filed yet", he said.

The regime (SPDC) suddenly hiked fuel prices twice on August 15, 2007. Then the leader of the Burma Development Association Htin Kyaw demonstrated to launch a nationwide protest against rising fuel and essential commodity prices starting on August 22.

On the eve of the scheduled nationwide protest, the 88 Generation Student leaders were arrested and taken away from their homes. Two days before their arrest on August 19, the student leaders and about 500 people marched on the streets of Rangoon protesting against rising prices.

"They have been put in custody under successive remands. I think the court gave remand under five or six charges. The court gave two weeks for judicial custody in each remand. The accused have the right to present to the judge what they want to. In these remands given inside the prison compound, they were denied these rights. The court could not examine and question the accused while we could not ask anything to the judge," the defence lawyer Aung Thein said.

"The arrests of these student leaders were made unlawfully. And then they were deprived of their lawful rights in the prison including medical care. The government is doing what they should not do," Bo Kyi, Secretary of the Thai based 'Association of Assistance to Political Prisoners in Burma' (AAPPB), said.

"It reveals lack of the rule of law in Burma. They fought for democracy and human rights in the 1988 popular uprising. They have served long prison terms before. Now they have again been arrested for their struggle for democracy, human rights and for protesting against rising commodity prices. We pay our heartfelt respect to them for standing by the people. They are role models for the next generation of students," he added.

The student leaders who had served long prison terms before are now suffering from one or other ailment in prison.

"The student leaders have already suffered various diseases during their previous lengthy prison terms before being arrested again last year. My elder brother's chief complaint is indigestion. He is trying his best to prevent his disease from worsening. He's having only gruel in prison instead of rice," Aung Aung Tun, younger brother of student leader Ko Ko Gyi, said.

"No one's health is in good shape in prison. The prosecution has been constantly changing the charges leveled against them since their arrest. The last time he was charged under in the Foreign Currency case under section 24(1) of Foreign Currency Exchange Act. Min Ko Naing is suffering from eye, hypertension, high blood pressure, heart ailment and bone diseases," he added.

Similarly Mya Aye is suffering from heart disease and Min Zeya is suffering from hypertension. They badly need timely treatment and proper medical care, he added.

Rights groups lash out at U.N.

(Mizzima) - Prominent Burmese rights groups have lambasted the efforts of the United Nations in Burma, going so far as to accuse the U.N. of intentionally falsifying the details of Special Advisor to Burma Ibrahim Gambari's now concluded fourth visit to the country.

Aung Din, of the U.S. Campaign for Burma, yesterday challenged as pure fantasy the idea that Gambari had held "10 separate meetings with political parties and civil society groups, including members of the Central Executive Committee of the National League for Democracy, student representatives and elected individuals from the 1990 elections."

"This statement is not only misleading but patently false — Gambari did not meet with political parties and civil society groups," remarked Aung Din of the August 20th statement from the United Nations.

Describing virtually all groups having met with the Special Advisor as pro-junta, he further asked why Gambari had failed to meet several of the leading opposition organizations, including the All Burma Monks Alliance, 88 Generation Student Group and Committee Representing the People's Parliament.

This interpretation of Gambari's latest sojourn as unacceptably one-sided was seconded in a statement yesterday from the Burma Campaign UK.

"In his first three days in the country he spent more than two days in meetings with the regime, their business cronies and civilian front organizations, and just 20 minutes with the National League for Democracy," according the London-based rights group.

"How can Gambari achieve anything when he allows the Burmese regime to dictate his schedule and spends only 20 minutes with pro-democracy groups?" added Jeremy Woodrum, also of the U.S. Campaign for Burma.

When challenged as to the gross discrepancy in time commitments at a press conference in New York on Thursday, Deputy Spokesperson for the U.N. Secretary General Marie Okabe responded: "I now can't go into exact minutes. He has been meeting with a wide range of actors on the ground, with the focus on the need for a credible and inclusive political process and dialogue."

Okabe further defended the mission of the Special Advisor by telling reporters, "as I mentioned to you earlier, he is there to continue his dialogue with all concerned."

As a result of the perceived failure of Gambari to fulfill his mandate, Burma Campaign UK is urging the United Nations to abandon its "softly softly approach to Burma's Generals" and calling for the international grouping to set a firm timetable by which the junta must meet established goals.

"By any measure the record of Gambari and the UN is one of failure," chided Mark Farmaner, Director of the Burma Campaign UK.

The organization went on to argue that the human rights situation in Burma has actually deteriorated over the course of Gambari's tenure, citing a doubling in the political prisoner population and the inability to procure passage for vital aid supplies after May's cyclone.

The frustration of the rights groups comes as Gambari departs the country without securing a meeting with either Senior General Than Shwe or National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

"Because Gambari has kowtowed to the regime on his schedule, he was even unable to meet Aung San Suu Kyi, because she had made a simple request that she meet with Gambari and her political party members at the same time," voiced Woodrum.

In a last ditch effort to meet with the opposition leader, Gambari is reported to have waited outside Aung San Suu Kyi's residence for approximately 90 minutes this morning. However, the Nobel Laureate was steadfast in refusing the Special Advisor a sitting.