Thursday, 28 August 2008

Burmese refugee stops in Utica after 3,000-mile walk

DAVE LONDRES / Observer-Dispatch
Burmese refugee Athein speaks with Compass director Shelly Callahan at the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees Wednesday, August 27, 2008.

GateHouse News Service
27 August 2008 - UTICA

Burmese refugee Athein visited Utica after a 3,000-mile walk from Portland, Ore., to the United Nations building in New York City.

Athein, who said he did not have a surname, and friend Zaw Min Htwe stopped here Wednesday because of the large Burmese population, he said. His next stop: Washington, D.C.

“We are going to walk toward peaceful freedom and to witness to Burma,” he said, referring to the widespread persecution and lack of freedom reported in that country, now known as Myanmar.

Peter Vogelaar, executive director of Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees, said that the Burmese man’s walk was especially significant now because at this time last year, the Saffron Revolution began in Burma.

The Saffron Revolution is the name for massive protests by Burmese citizens, and comes from the saffron-colored robes worn by the thousands of monks involved in the protests.
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Gambari meets Indonesian President – ASEAN divided

Mizzima News, 27 August 2008 - United Nations Special Envoy to Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, today concluded a meeting with the President of Indonesia concerning his ongoing efforts toward brokering a political solution to the fractured country.

Speaking in Jakarta, Indonesian presidential spokesperson Dino Patti Djalal told reporters that Gambari refused to divulge details of his visit last week to Burma, maintaining that he must first brief U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

According to Dino, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudyohono informed the Special Envoy of Indonesia's desire that he increase the frequency of his visits to Burma in the run-up to the 2010 general elections, as this would assist in enhancing Burma's credibility in the view of the international community.

Also, with Gambari having failed yet again to meet with the top leaders of the junta, Dino added that, "The President also promised to maintain correspondence with Myanmar's Senior General Shwe."

However, Gambari has recently received mixed messages from ASEAN members Indonesia and Thailand as to what Burma's political landscape – and specifically the 2010 general elections – should look like going forward.

Meeting yesterday with Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda, the Special Envoy was again apprised of Indonesia's belief that opposition and National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi must be involved in the 2010 general elections.

Yet, Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, in meeting with Gambari ahead of the latter's stop in Jakarta, was quite clear in his remarks to the Special Envoy that insistence on the inclusion of Aung San Suu Kyi only hinders the process, referring to the opposition leader as a "political tool" of the West.

Instead, Samak advised the Special Envoy on Monday that the international community "should talk about how to bring democracy to Burma and focus on the constitution and the elections,'' instead of focusing on the incorporation of the Nobel Laureate into the process.

It is expected that Gambari will discuss his latest trip to Burma with Ban during a stopover in Italy in the upcoming days.

As for ASEAN, with Burma continuing to loom as decisive as ever, the ten nation consortium is poised to hold its summit this December in Bangkok, as Thailand currently holds the chair.

Ad industry in a spot over Mayor's order

Mizzima News

New Delhi — Chaos laced with loss of revenue prevails following a new order by Rangoon's Mayor where outdoor advertising companies are being forced to remove all advertising hoardings that have 'provocative' pictures.

Rangoon's City Mayor Brig. Gen Aung Thein Linn at a meeting on Tuesday told advertising companies to remove all 'provocative' outdoor advertising, including billboards, causing panic among advertising firms.

A proprietor of Burma's leading advertising company told Mizzima that the Mayor gave a deadline of a week to replace all outdoor advertisements that have indecent pictures as it is against Burmese tradition and culture.

According to the proprietor, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal, the Mayor's order has to do with removing all pictures that reveals much of women's bodies, women dressed in night gowns, and sensual postures of couples.

"The Mayor showed us pictures of some of the billboards with a projector and told us to replace them," the proprietor said.

The Mayor's presentation included pictures of model Moe Hay Ko in black leather shorts revealing her cleavage that is used in Rangoon's famous lottery shop, Moe Yan Shwe Lamin, the proprietor said.

It also included Nivea's body lotion advertisement in which a woman in a mini-skirt reveals much of her back as well as other parts of her torso, he added.

The Mayor was silent on compensating the companies for the removal and replacement of pictures and designs on outdoor hoardings.

Burma's amateur advertising industry, according to proprietors and marketing executives, has been struggling to survive amidst the agonizing procedures of getting permission from the Yangon City Development Committee, a civic body that oversees development of the city.

Advertising companies, before they can set up outdoor advertising such as billboards or light boxes, have to seek permission from the YCDC, which then checks and scrutinizes the contents of the advertisement before granting permission.

A marketing executive in Rangoon said, in order to obtain permission smoothly the palms of officials at the YCDC have to be greased heavily. And most businesses maintain a relationship, where they regularly pay the officials, to operate smoothly.

But the latest hurdle, according to another advertising business proprietor, impacts not only the advertising firms but the client companies that are advertising as it will require re-designing of the advertisements.

"As for us, we will not charge clients anything but incur all the expenses ourselves because they will be incurring expenses while redesigning the advertisements," said the proprietor.

He added that the new order entails taking pictures of outdoor advertisements and submitting it to the YCDC for fresh scrutiny.

"We will have to change whatever the YCDC finds unacceptable," he added.

A marketing executive of another advertising company said her company will bear all the expenses relating to the removal and change of the billboards, while the advertisers will incur expenses relating to changing the design or re-designing the advertisement.

"This means a loss for both, but we have to give priority to the clients because relationship with them is important," she added.

Cambodian MP urges UN, ASEAN to fulfill Burma promise


27 August 2008, New Delhi (Mizzima)- A Cambodian Parliamentarian on Wednesday called on the Secretary Generals of the United Nations and Association of Southeast Asian Nations to fulfill their promise on Burma by initiating a new approach to finding a political solution for the country.

Son Chhay, Chairperson of Committee on Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation and Media of the National Assembly of the Kingdom of Cambodia, in separate letters on Wednesday reminded both the Secretary Generals of UN and ASEAN the need for them to abide by their promises on Burma.

"They have both promised to look into the sufferings of the Burmese people and find a solution to the crisis. But till date there is no solid evidence that the promise has been kept or put into practice," Son Chhay told Mizzima over telephone.

Son Chhay, who is also the Chairperson of ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC) Cambodia Chapter, said it is a matter of deep concern for the international community to hear reports about detained Burmese democracy icon Daw Aung San Suu Kyi living without food.

"I believe that she [Aung San Suu Kyi] is on hunger strike… I think it is the right time to remind them [UN and ASEAN General Secretaries], that they must abide to their promise," Son Chhay.

Reports said Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under detention for the last 12 of 18 years, has refused to accept food supplies since mid-August, though the reason for her refusal is still not known.

A Burmese political party in exile told Mizzima earlier that Aung San Suu Kyi might be on hunger strike demanding direct talks with the ruling generals with regard to the ensuing 2010 general elections.

But spokesperson of her party – the National League for Democracy – Nyan Win said they could not confirm the information as they lack communication with their detained leader.

Son Chhay said Ban Ki-moon should realize that the current process of interaction with the Burmese military junta is not leading to a solution but is strengthening their rule.

Though Gambari had visited military-ruled country several times, there has been no productive outcome, Son Chhay said, adding that he agrees with Aung San Suu Kyi's decision not to meet the UN envoy during his last visit.

"We want a more serious action. Perhaps, the UN Secretary General should appoint somebody else," he added.

He said, Gambari had not been very effective or capable of producing any positive solution to the problems of Burma.

"I think it is about time that we find someone who is more capable," Son Chhay added.

And similarly, Son Chhay urged the ASEAN Secretary General, Surin Pitsuwan, to pay a personal visit to Burma and find a realistic solution to the political crisis in the country.

Meanwhile, the Asean Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC), in a press statement released on Wednesday expressed its concern over reports of Aung San Suu Kyi refusing food.

The AIPMC called on the UN and ASEAN to intervene and to ensure that Aung San Suu Kyi is given necessary attention.

The group urged the ASEAN Secretary-General to personally visit Aung San Suu Kyi and conduct a comprehensive assessment on her health.

"The Secretary General should also look into the reasons as to why she is refusing her food supply," the statement said.

The group also said Aung San Suu Kyi's refusal to meet visiting UN Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari last week is "an indication that his mandate is failing."

Dialogue Suu Kyi’s Real Motive

The Irrawaddy News

The burning question is: What was the real meaning and motive behind Aung San Suu Kyi’s refusal to meet UN Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari last week?

Does it represent the first step in a new political strategy to blunt the relentless march to the 2010 elections?

The Nobel Peace Laureate may feel that time is running out for the country’s opposition, and the momentum is now in favor of the ruling military regime in its effort to establish a civilian government based on “disciplined democracy.”

There’s no doubt she sent a strong message to the world, and many observers call it a “smart, but risky move.”

Yes, it’s smart and risky, but she had no other choice. It was time for a bold move, and she made it.

Actually the motive is clear—to initiate an effective, long-sought direct dialogue between her and the top military leaders. She clearly believes a dialogue—with compromise on both sides—is the most effective chance to establish real democracy in Burma, which she has called for since she entered politics in 1988.

Last November, Suu Kyi sent a message through Gambari in which she again called for direct dialogue with top military leaders, rather than with Aung Kyi, the liaison minister appointed by the junta last year in a move to ease mounting international pressure following the monk-led uprising in 2007 September.

Also, Suu Kyi, in the past months, has sent a specific message to the UN, one critical of its lack of backbone in demanding a time-bound dialogue process and sticking to substantive issues, rather than allowing itself to be manipulated by the junta’s efforts to legitimize itself.

Nyan Win, the spokesperson for her opposition group, the National League for democracy, quoting her when she met with seven NLD executive members in January 2007, said, “She must be really disappointed with the UN’s current process because of the lack of a time frame,”

Nyan Win recently told The Irrawaddy, “It would be one of causes of her refusal to meet with the UN envoy.”

“We can’t continue to work with Mr Gambari under this condition without a time frame,” said Nyan Win. During Gambari’s latest trip, said Nyan Win, he discussed the upcoming elections in meetings with the NLD executive members, and he met with junta-backed political and civil groups. “That was not on the list of what he is supposed to do,” said Nyan Win. “It’s outside his mission.”

Earlier, Gambari had said the UN has offered to assist in the upcoming elections in an effort to ensure fairness and establish international credibility. “We suggested that he not talk about the upcoming 2010 elections,” said Nyan Win. “But he said nothing about our suggestion.”

Gambari’s publically stated mission includes securing the release of all political prisoners, including Suu Kyi, and restarting direct talks between Suu Kyi and top junta leaders.

Nyan Win bluntly said Gambari’s latest trip was a waste of time. Marie Okabe, a deputy spokeswoman for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, countered such criticism, calling the envoy’s visits a “process, not an event.”

Suu Kyi must believe that she has very little time left to craft a constructive agreement with the junta that could bring true democracy to Burma. She knows the junta is good at using “a process” to stall. The countdown to the 2010 elections draws nearer with each day.

Indeed, Suu Kyi has probably made a risky move, but it may be the only chance left to alter the junta’s march to a “disciplined democracy,” a euphemism for military rule.

Arrested Monks Held in Rangoon Detention Center

The Irrawaddy News

Two young monks arrested at their Rangoon monastery on Saturday are being held at Insein interrogation center, according to colleagues.

A senior monk told The Irrawaddy that Burmese police and local authorities arrested the two monks, Damathara and Nandara, at Thardu monastery in Rangoon’s Kyimyindaing Township. He said it wasn’t known why they were arrested.

Meanwhile, the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma)—the AAPP—reported on Tuesday that at least seven detained monks, including U Gambira, leader of the All Burma Monks Association (ABMA), are in poor health. Three had been tortured and stripped of their monks’ robes, the AAPP said.

The AAPP said on Wednesday that 196 monks were among Burma’s more than 2,000 political prisoners.

One prominent prisoner, Ashin Gambira, leader of the All Burma Monks’ Alliance (ABMA), had been disrobed by the authorities and appeared in court on August 20 charged with offences he allegedly committed in the aftermath of the September 2007 uprising, the AAPP said.

Gambira’s lawyer, Aung Thein, told The Irrawaddy that the charges are connected with immigration laws, contacting banned organizations, illegal contacts with foreign organizations through the Internet and other offenses.

Pyinnya Jota, a leading ABMA member who fled to Thailand in February, said: “The military government never respects monks, the sons of Buddha, if they affect the government’s interests.”

Several thousand monks led last September’s massive pro-democracy demonstrations, which were brutally suppressed by the military.

More Deaths Reported from Famine in Chin State

The Irrawaddy News

Famine deaths are still being reported from a region of Burma’s northwestern Chin State, where inhabitants of 45 villages are being forced to forage for food in the jungle because their rice stocks have been lost to a plague of rats.

The villages are in the State’s Tlangtlang Township, the worst-hit area.

More than 40 children have already died in the famine, according to Chin humanitarian groups in exile.

Many of the children died from food poisoning as a result of eating plants foraged in the jungle.

"The people are hungry, so they are eating whatever they can find in the forest," said a Christian missionary in Vawng Tu village.

Exiled Chin groups say the famine is affecting about 20 percent of the state’s population, or at least 100,000 people. Many are leaving for Chin State towns or even neighboring Bangladesh in search of food and assistance.

Several UN agencies and international non-government organizations are working on a relief program for the region. They hope to launch the six-month program in early September.

Global, Asean Intervention Needed on Suu Kyi Case: AIPMC

The Irrawaddy News

Influential international and regional leaders should act immediately to help detained Burmese democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi get her message out to the world, according to a leading rights group.

Speaking with The Irrawaddy on Wednesday, Roshan Jason, executive director and spokesperson for Asean Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC), said, “We don’t know what Suu Kyi’s intentions are. She could be refusing food for many reasons. It may be a protest. But, if there is a problem, we cannot find out.

“Suu Kyi is not a criminal. We must at least allow her to have a voice. She cannot be cut off from the world.

“We are calling for international intervention from Asean’s secretary-general and the UN secretary-general to get involved,” he added. “The very least they should do is check her status—is she really on hunger strike?”

In a statement released on Wednesday, AIPMC urged UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, as well as Surin Pitsuwan, the general-secretary of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) to pay visits to Burma and meet with Suu Kyi as soon as possible.

The statement said that Suu Kyi’s refusal to receive UN Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari during his visit to Burma last week was a sign that his mandate is failing.

A comprehensive assessment of Suu Kyi’s health must be carried out as soon as possible, the statement concluded, adding that the secretary-general of Asean should also look into the reasons as to why she may be refusing her food supplies.

Suu Kyi, who has spent more than 13 of the past 19 years under house arrest, has reportedly refused to accept food supplies since August 15. Some observers have suggested she is on hunger strike.

The AIPMC also reminded the UN and Asean that the continued well-being of Suu Kyi is vital to achieving a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Burma.

Meanwhile, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who met with Ibrahim Gambari on Wednesday, said that the UN envoy’s mission to Burma had not failed yet, and that the “Group of Friends on Myanmar” still supported his role.