Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Villagers forced to help prepare for visit of commander’s wife

Sep 1, 2008 (DVB)–Villagers in Muse township in northern Shan State have been ordered to contribute money and labour to preparations for the upcoming visit of the wife of the northeastern commander, a local told DVB.

Daw Cherry, the wife of the new local commander, brigadier general Aung Than Htut of Northeast Command, will be in Muse in early September to inspect the Maternal and Child Healthcare Association there.

A local resident said that representatives from villages in the Mutaunglon village tract had been summoned to a monastery in Mutaunglon for a special meeting on 26 August by Muse district Peace and Development Council chairperson U Kyi Win and township Peace and Development Council chairperson U Nyunt Han to talk about Daw Cherry’s visit.

The villager, who attended the meeting, said locals had been told they would have to help with the preparations for her visit.

“So since 28 August we have had to paint the monastery hall, clean, cut the grass and so on to prepare the place to receive her visit,” said the villager.

“We were also told that each village had to provide 10 bamboo poles to raise flags during her trip,” he said.

“Moreover, U Kyi Win said each family in Mutaunglon village tract had to contribute 1500 kyat to spend on welcoming and dinning costs for her. We don’t have any choice but to provide both labour and money.”

There are over 600 houses in Mutaunglon village tract, which comprises ten villages including Mutaunglon, Mutaungkut, Mahtnyu, Khopane and Khokay.

The villager told DVB that locals were very disappointed with the additional workload they had to shoulder for the commander’s wife’s visit since they were already busy clearing their farms and they also had to provide voluntary labour on castor oil plant fields every week.

Reporting by Htet Aung Kyaw

Burmese blogger conference banned

Sep 1, 2008 (DVB)–A technical conference for Burmese bloggers due to be held on 31 August in Rangoon was banned by the military authorities at short notice after organisers had already advertised the event.

The conference was organised by the Myanmar Computer Experts Association and was to be held at Rangoon’s International Business Centre, situated on the bank of Inya Lake.

The organisers had arranged for Burmese bloggers and writers such as Thitsani and Kyaw Win to attend the conference and deliver lectures.

A member of staff from the computer association said the government had claimed the theme of the conference was not valid.

“We said that we were going to talk about technical development and they insisted that [blogging] does not have much to do with technology,” he said.

“That’s why it was cancelled – the authorities insisted that it was not relevant.”

A blogger who was due to attend the conference said getting people interested in blogging had the potential to make news and information sharing more accessible.

“We planned to lecture on making the blogging world more effective and interesting,” the blogger said.

“We did it with the intention of sharing ideas about the technical difficulties faced by the participants,” he said.

“Some people know nothing about blogging. It is not like other media – it is far-reaching and easily sharable.”

In 2007, a technical conference for bloggers held at the International Business Centre was attended by more than 300 people.

The Burmese military regime has made efforts to control blogging since last September’s Saffron Revolution, when bloggers played a key role in getting the latest reports and images out on the demonstrations and the government’s crackdown.

One well-known blogger, Nay Phone Latt, was arrested on 29 January and is still being detained.

Reporting by Htet Yarzar

Burmese Coalition urges world community to save Aung San Suu Kyi's live

By Solomon

New Delhi (Mizzima)- A coalition of Burmese civic organizations across the world has expressed concern over the news of hunger strike by detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and has call on international communities to immediately intervene to save her life.

National Campaign for Food and Freedom, a coalition formed with 28 Burmese organizations, on Thursday said the health of the 63 years old, Burmese democracy icon, could be grave danger, following the news of her refusal to accept food supply.

"Her health is in terrible danger if in fact she has been on a hunger strike for two weeks," the coalition said in their statement.

Dr. Raymond Tint Way, spokesman of Australia-based Concerned Burmese Physicians and Professionals (CBPP), a member group of the coalition said, they are calling on the international community to exert strong pressure on the Burmese regime on their actions against Aung San Suu Kyi.

"She as the leader of the country has been suffering under the injustice practices of the junta and the international communities should not watch silently," Tint Way said.

Last week, following the UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari's visit to the country, Burmese people as well as the international community was shocked by the news that detained Nobel Peace Laureate had refused to accept her regular weekly food supplies.

While her party spokesperson said he cannot confirm the information due to lack of communication, the exiled wing of her party – National League for Democracy/Liberated Area – said she last receive her food supply on August 15.

"We believe she is into hunger strike protest, so we are worried over her health if she should continue," he added.

But the information was merely rebuffed by the military government, saying it was purely rumors.

But on Monday, Nyan Win said, Aung San Suu Kyi was allowed another rare meeting with her Lawyer Kyi Win, who then said her health condition was fine but she needed rest.

Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been detained for the past 12 of 18 years, was allowed a meeting with her lawyer as well as her family physician in August.

"We want the regime to allow physicians, visitors and diplomats and members of her party, National League for Democracy to see her," Dr Raymond said.

The NCFF said in urging the international community to immediately intervene, it is all set to hold protest rallies in major cities around the world.

Loudspeaker Diplomacy vs. the Rule of Law

The Irrawaddy News

More than a week after Aung San Suu Kyi apparently refused to meet with UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari, rumors that she is continuing her silent protest—by rejecting her weekly supply of food—have raised questions about her motives, as well as concerns about her health.

Officials from her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), told The Irrawaddy that Suu Kyi’s latest act of defiance may be linked to her continuing detention and the harassment of her housekeepers, who are subjected to stringent restrictions by the military authorities, despite the fact that they have not been charged with any offense.

Suu Kyi’s confinement to her lakeside home in Rangoon was extended in May, despite international pleas to the ruling generals to end her latest stretch of detention, which began in May 2003.

The NLD insists that her ongoing house arrest is illegal and has demanded that the junta accept an appeal against her detention. Suu Kyi met with her lawyer to discuss the case just before Gambari started his latest Burma visit.

When Suu Kyi failed to appear for a meeting with the UN envoy, it served to highlight the nature of the severe constraints placed upon her freedom, said lawyers for the NLD. Under normal circumstances, Suu Kyi is forbidden to leave her home or have any contact with foreign diplomats.

However, the junta conveniently ignores these rules when it suits its own purposes. NLD lawyers noted that when UN and military officials appeared outside her home with loudspeakers, they were trying to get her to do something that “would have forced her to violate the restrictions” imposed on her by the regime.

Suu Kyi was thus perfectly justified in declining to meet with Gambari, who is supposed to be working for her release—not providing the regime with a pretext for continuing her detention.

The UN Security Council has repeatedly stated that Suu Kyi’s release is a necessary first step towards political dialogue and reconciliation in Burma. But the world body is looking increasingly ineffectual in its efforts to get results in the country. It has failed not only to secure the release of more than 2,000 political prisoners, but also to ensure that a referendum held in May met even the most basic standards for a “free and fair” vote.

It seems that the UN, like the junta, badly needs to be reminded of its own rules.

Political activists in Burma have suffered prolonged and unlawful detentions, and the UN has done virtually nothing to change this sad state of affairs. According to family sources, the leaders of the 88 Generation Students group are calling for open trials and protections which guarantee their rights under the prison law.

However, Gambari, on his latest visit to Burma, failed to focus on the current lack of political freedom and rule of law. Instead of working to fulfill his mandate to negotiate between the military regime and the opposition, he followed a schedule set by the junta and offered to help prepare for regime-controlled elections in 2010.

Gambari still has no comment about what, if anything, his trip accomplished. It is time the UN, as well as China, India and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, to speak out sincerely and energetically about how to break Burma’s political deadlock.

This time, the UN and its “Group of Friends on Myanmar” must call on Burma’s supreme military leader, Snr-Gen Than Shwe, to come out of his bunker in Naypyidaw and begin a dialogue with Suu Kyi. This time, they might be justified in using a loudspeaker.

Nargis Orphan Numbers Don’t Add Up

The Irrawaddy News

Despite an estimated 138,000 people dead or missing after Cyclone Nargis lashed the southern Burmese coast some four months ago, only 112 orphans are officially registered in state-run temporary orphanages.

However, the UN has estimated the number of children orphaned in the May 2-3 storm at about 2,000 and observers have told The Irrawaddy they fear that many orphans have been recruited into the Tatmadaw, Burma’s armed forces.

An official from Myaung Mya temporary camp confirmed that 112 orphans are officially registered at the shelters, although initial estimates in the wake of the cyclone put the number at more than 500.

“There are 100 orphans registered at Myaung Mya camp and 12 orphans at Maubin camp, all between the ages of four and nineteen,” she said, referring to the only shelters that have been founded for orphans of Cyclone Nargis.

However, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said in June that at least 2,000 children in the region had been orphaned, while international and local aid agencies put the figure at much higher.

Sources in Laputta Township in Irrawaddy Division said there were more than 1,000 orphans in that area alone after Nargis struck.

Rev Lu Aye from Thanlyin Township, south of Rangoon, said that his church had planned to adopt 20 orphans from Pyapon, Bogalay and Laputta townships in the wake of the disaster, but had been unable to.

“We have already built the orphanages,” the Methodist church leader told The Irrawaddy. “However, although we are actively looking for orphans, we can’t get any information about them.

“I have no idea where they are staying,” he added.

The Burmese military authorities will not allow orphans to be adopted by any random organization or individual, according to an official from the Social Welfare Department.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official told The Irrawaddy on Monday that if a child had no parents the government would be responsible for them.

“We will not allow individuals to legally adopt orphans,” she said. “However, if family members can produce the correct documents we will allow them to be reunited with their orphaned relatives.”

She said that the government is also helping to locate the orphans’ surviving family members and is currently providing education for orphans up to university and institute level in accordance with the child’s educational standard.

Residents in cyclone-ravaged Laputta Township said that the military authorities had promised to build two orphanages in Laputta and Pyapon to house 300 orphans each.

However, according to a former teacher in Laputta, no facilities have yet been built.

“I was impressed by the local communities’ response to the orphans, especially by monks who offered shelters to orphans and took care of them,” she added.

Security Beefed up in Burma's Major Cities

The Irrawaddy News

Burmese authorities have increased security in Rangoon and other cities that were at the center of last year’s Buddhist monk-led protests, according local residents.

Residents claimed that security has been stepped up due to fears of a repeat of last year’s protests against the military government, which erupted one year ago this month. Sources said that the increased security may be deployed until the end of the month.

Other major locations where security forces have been increased are Burma’s second-largest city, Mandalay; Sittwe Township in Arakan state; Pegu Division; and Pakokku Township in Magwe Division.

“Security forces are now deployed all over Rangoon,” said one resident of the former capital. “The authorities are using more forces than we have ever seen before.”

A senior monk at Bawdi Mandine Monastery in Pakokku Township said that security forces were often seen patrolling downtown and some plainclothes security guards were deployed in public areas and around local monasteries, including his monastery.

“They are worried about the possibility of protests this month because of the protests that happened in September last year. So they are preparing in advance,” said the monk. “We think that they will deploy the security guards until the end of September.”

Pakokku Township was the scene of the first crackdown on protesting Buddhist monks last year. Burmese troops tied monks to utility poles and beat them with the butts of their rifles, sparking outrage that spread to other cities.

Pyinya Zawta, an exiled leader of the underground All Burma Monks Alliance, said that security forces, including members of the Union Solidarity and Development Association, have been deployed in local monasteries and public areas such as markets.

Speaking from the Thai border town of Mae Sot, he said that he had received reports that security has been especially tight around Mandalay’s New Masoeyein Monastery for the past three days.

As part of a brutal crackdown, the authorities raided more than 130 monasteries in Mandalay alone, forcibly defrocking and imprisoning monks. Tens of thousands of peaceful protesters were detained throughout the country, and according to the United Nations, 31 people were killed.

Burmese Troops on Alert over Border Dispute with Thailand

The Irrawaddy News

Burmese military forces have reportedly stepped up security along a section of Burma’s border with Northern Thailand as the two countries discuss a disputed piece of territory there.

At a session of the Regional Border Committee (RBC) in Chiang Rai, Northern Thailand, the Burmese delegation demanded the return of Loilang, known in Thai as Doilang, a 32 square kilometre area of land once controlled by the Mong Tai Army but taken over by the Thai Army in 1987. The land is sandwiched between Monghsat in Burma and the Thai village of Mae Ai.

The Shan Herald Agency for News reported that the leader of the Burmese delegation, Maj-Gen Kyaw Phyoe, commander of Burmese forces in the Gold Triangle region, had accused Thailand of “violating the territorial integrity” of Burma during a speech delivered to local officials in Mongton township, Shan State.

Referring to Thailand’s dispute with Cambodia over the Preah Vihear temple. Kyaw Phyoe said:

"Just as they (Thailand) have unilaterally taken possession of the Cambodian territory, they are doing the same at Loilang. The time will come when we'll have to deal with the issue properly.”

The English language daily The Bangkok Post reported that the issue has now been referred to the Thai and Burmese governments in the hope of resolving the dispute.