Friday, 5 September 2008

Hmawbi residents forced to work on road construction

Sep 4, 2008 (DVB)–Authorities in Hmawbi in northern Rangoon district have been collecting money from local residents in order to repair roads and forcing those who cannot pay to take part in reconstruction work.

The World Vision NGO had already donated money to repair the roads in Hmawbi’s Myoma Ward 4, which were damaged by heavy rain in August, a local resident told DVB.

But he said ward Peace and Development Council chairman U Myo Lwin Oo still collected 1000 kyat from each household and 25,000 kyat from every car owner.

“They have to quarry stones and lay them on the road,” the local resident said.

“At a time when people do not have enough food to eat, no one wants to contribute anything even if they have the money.”

The local said that people no longer even bothered to report these incidents to senior authorities because no action has been taken in past against the officials responsible.

Reporting by Naw Say Phaw

Red paint campaign commemorates protests

The boys were in town... lalala...

Sep 4, 2008 (DVB)–Activists have sprayed red paint on the walls of various public building in Rangoon, reportedly to commemorate last year’s September protests and their violent suppression by the military regime.

Red paint began to appear on 2 September in Lanmadaw and Pabedan townships on the walls of the Sanpya cinema, Thayettaw monastery, and the Theinggyi market overpass but was deleted by armed security personnel within hours, according to an eyewitness.

"They erased them straight away and made it match the original colour,” the witness said.

“Some of them were in civilian clothing and some were wearing the uniforms of the security forces."

Given the timing of the red paint campaign, the witness said it seemed to be intended to coincide with the one-year anniversary of the Saffron Revolution as a reminder to people not to forget the monks.

"It could happen again. I am hearing a lot of different voices; people are not very satisfied,” the witness said.

The witness said that an army truck was parked at city hall and vehicles carrying security forces armed with shields and batons were patrolling the city.

A journalist in Rangoon said the demonstrations and subsequent violent crackdown would be remembered as part of popular history.

"This history will never disappear. People won't forget the Saffron Revolution,” he said.

“People might disappear, but history stays with us – you can't kill it."

Last September’s mass public demonstrations led by monks, students and civilians were brutally suppressed by the Burmese regime.

The former United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Burma, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, said that at least 31 people were killed, though other estimates put the number much higher.

Thousands more were arrested, many of whom remain in detention or are awaiting trial.

Reporting by Htet Yarzar

USDA candidates for 2010 election shortlisted

Ala boys... corruption at its best...

Sep 4, 2008 (DVB)–A list of three candidates for the 2010 election from Yezagyo township, Magwe division, has been sent to the Union Solidarity and Development Association headquarters, according to sources close to the association.

The discussion of prospective candidates comes at a time when pro-democracy groups are continuing to protest against the proposed 2010 election.

Yezagyo township Peace and Development Council chairman U Mya Ngwe and his team held consultations in early August and selected five possible candidates and then narrowed it down to the final three.

The three selected are
Kan Pwint incense business owner U Aung Than, Aung Theiddit incense business owner U Aung San and National Convention farmers’ representative U Tin Maung Kyaw.

District USDA working member U Lu Min and Mahethi rice mill owner U Myint Thein, the two other potential candidates, were rejected by the committee.

USDA secretary U Kyaw Swe reportedly also wanted to be considered as a candidate was but was not included on the shortlist.

The relationship between Mya Ngwe and Kyaw Swe is said by locals to be strained, and his exclusion is likely to exacerbate tensions between the local PDC and the USDA.

Relations between the two took a recent downturn when brigadier-general Thein Zaw, minister for post and telecommunications, came to Yezagyo after the constitutional referendum in May, and allocated 400 phones for distribution.

Kyaw Swe requested 100 phones for his USDA members, but his request was refused by Mya Ngwe.

Mya Ngwe also used his clout and the help of 19 of the town’s power holders to push for his preferred candidates.

Businessman U Aung Than, one of the nominees, raised 4 million kyat, 2.5 million of which he contributed from his own pocket, and went to the capital Naypyidaw to lobby for the procurement of phones.

When the deputy post and telecommunications minister came to Yezagyo, he inspected the prospect of phone installation and allocated 20 phones for his home town, Myaing.

He also awarded one of the phones to U Htay Hlaing, the owner of Tawtharlay jaggery factory, and another to the son of a businessman called U Tin, who had looked after him when he was a schoolboy.

Reporting by Aye Nai

Natural gas favours regime, not national interest

By Moe Thu and Htet Win
Tuesday, 02 September 2008

(Mizzima) - While Burma's economy is largely pushed forward by the sale of its natural gas reserves, the military regime has failed to develop gas related industries though there is potential demand for gas consumption in several different sectors.

ႈႈႈIn the fiscal year 2007-2008, Burma earned US$ 2.56 billion, 40 percent of its total export revenue from gas.

Major natural gas finds off the Arakan off-shore in 2004 by South Korea's Daewoo International and more recent discoveries in the Gulf of Mottama by Thailand's PTTEP have put Burma's energy sector in the international spotlight.

Development of Burma's oil and gas fields draws more foreign investment than any other sector of the Burmese economy, although some economists have voiced concerns that the rush for gas comes as other sectors fall behind those of regional competitors.

On March 27, a report by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) said sales of natural gas were creating growing trade surpluses and a valuable buffer for Burma, but warned that national economic reliance on the export market puts the country's economy at risk should global gas prices fall.

However, using the gas primarily to support domestic industries rather than exports would be the best way to supplement long-term economic growth – including job creation, experts said.

Areas that could benefit most from Burma's gas reserves include the agricultural and industrial sectors, which, for instance, could use the gas to power fertiliser or cement factories.

"If we build fertiliser plants we can produce it for our domestic use and sell our surplus abroad," a Rangoon-based academic said, noting that such a move was consistent with import substitution policies, inexhaustibly pursued by the military regime with its inconsistent economic policies.

Only a third of Burma farmers use fertiliser, while the country currently produces just 200,000 tonnes of the 1.6 million tonnes of fertiliser it consumes annually, according to the recent data available from the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

The military government, which is well aware of the high demand for gas to be used to generate electricity for a wide range of industries, including manufacturing, however fail to utilize the gas.

Manufacturing industries, which need constant supply of energy, is the most favourable for job-creation even compared to agriculture, which is so-called the economic backbone of Burma, for the many young rural people who are increasingly migrating to urban centres in search of jobs.

The lack of consistent and sufficient supply of electricity has been one of the major set-backs to the Burmese economy and use of its natural gas and income from its sales to set up power plants, could be an immediate and first step to solve the electricity needs of manufacturing industries.

Gas power stations in Burma constitute 40 per cent of the total annual generation, while hydropower contributes 50 per cent, steam turbines 9 per cent and diesel engine one per cent, the Ministry of Electric Power No (1) figures indicated.

Though the country has an abundance of gas reserve and enjoys sale of natural gas, a recent Asian Development Bank (ADB) report on Burma's economy indicated that the best use of the resources is important for the country's long-term development.

The report said gas export, if properly utilized, will provide an opportunity to embark on structural reforms, including exchange rate unification, fiscal consolidation, and agricultural liberalization, and to redirect public spending for development of social and physical infrastructures.

"In view of the importance of agriculture and its impact on poverty, strengthening the sector should be a key goal," the report said.

Another possible benefit from natural gas is establishing natural gas revenue funds in the country, which will then help in developing the economy and stabilizing of commodity prices.

"Resources like natural gas are exhaustible. It will be good if we set up a fund with the income from gas sale for our generation and the economy," said a Rangoon-based economist.

Though Burma's trade volume saw an increase due to the export of natural gas, it does not, however, imply that natural gas is a catalyst for long-term economic development of Burma, which still has an agro-based economy. And experts said existing gas reserves are not big enough to rely on like the countries in Middle East and Russia.

This kind of fund will help sustainable economic development of the country as the country can invest the money from the fund in promising businesses and industries to acquire revenue and cope with the devaluation of the funds due to inflation.

Setting up gas revenue funds can help stabilize commodity prices and to keep inflation at bay. Burma, in a little over five years has witnessed skyrocketing of commodity prices, and seen soaring inflation rates.

Setting up funds from petroleum sales has been practiced in the countries such as Norway, Kuwait, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan with the aim of increasing transparency and better governance, the very things the Burmese military regime does not want.

However, some economists feel it is impossible to set up a gas revenue fund as earning from the natural gas sale cannot match the earning from oil sales in oil-rich countries, citing as a concrete example that Burma has no longer oil revenue.

Putting it bluntly, it is the government, in the first place, that continues to fail creating a 'business environment conducive to investment growth' – regardless of economic sanctions against the country.

It is apparent that the military government has left out the role of business or economic experts, who are crucial to pave the way for reform measures leading to in such a business climate.

But the saddest fact is that the military leaders are happy with cronyism, a scale which they could manage and a cause which continues fundamentally to backpedal the country's economy.

The Generals still pursue cronyism in economic affairs even as they continue to ignore the interest of the people by failing to take up economic reforms.

Therefore, gas in Burma can only entrench the power of the military junta, as long as the policy makers fail to come up with measures to best utilize it.

Junta arrests two more activists - Tin Myo Htut and

By Myint Maung
Thursday, 04 September 2008

New Delhi (Mizzima)- In another round of crackdown on dissidence, Burmese military junta authorities in Rangoon on Wednesday arrested two political activists, an eyewitness told Mizzima.

Tin Myo Htut (alias) Kyaw Oo, a member of an underground activists group the Generation Wave, and another unidentified activist, were taken away by plainclothes police at about 7:30 a.m. (local time) on Wednesday, from near a teashop in Kamayut Township, Rangoon, the eyewitness said.

"I saw them being taken away by three plainclothes policemen from near the teashop," the eyewitness added.

Moe Thwin, spokesperson of the Generation Wave said Tin Myo Htut had informed him of his appointment with a friend near 'Amayh Ywa' Teashop.

"And when I called him yesterday, he did not speak but put it on, and I could hear other voices interrogating him over the phone," Moe Thwin said.

According to the eyewitness, the two activists were to meet at the teashop, but the police were lying in wait for them and whisked them away.

The Thailand based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) said though they are aware of the arrest of the Tin Myo Htut, they are still unable to garner details of the arrest.

"We heard of the arrest of Tin Myo Htut, but we are still following up on details about the arrest," said Bo Kyi, Joint Secretary of the AAPP.

On Wednesday, Generation Wave, in a statement called on the government to immediately release their members including Tin Myo Htut and vowed that despite the government's crackdown, it will continue its struggle for a change in Burma.

Tin Myo Htut, according to the Generation Wave, is a political activist who had participated in the 1988 pro-democracy uprising as a high school student and was arrested in 1992 and detained for five years.

However, another activist, who was arrested along with Tin Myo Htut has not been identified as yet.

Generation Wave, mostly known as GW, was formed with students and young activists in October last year following the Saffron Revolution. However, the group remain underground and operated secretly in order to avoid attention by authorities.

Despite of their secret operation and networking, the junta in March arrested four key members including Zeya Thaw (alias) Kyaw Kyaw, who is the lead vocalist of Burma's popular hip-hop band Acid group.

Ceasefire groups in Shan State face renewed pressure to surrender

By Solomon
04 September 2008

New Delhi (Mizzima)- The Burmese ruling junta has mounted fresh pressure on ceasefire armed rebel groups in Shan State to surrender arms latest by the end of 2009, an ethnic news agency based in Thailand said.

The Shan Herald Agency for News' editor Khun Sai, citing sources in Shan state, said Brig. Gen Ya Pyae, commander of the eastern military command, during his visit to Ho Mong township in Shan State in August put pressure on ceasefire arm groups to lay down their arms before the 2010 elections.

"Last month, Commander Brig Gen Ya Pyae told ceasefire arm groups in Shan State to surrender before the end of 2009," Khun Sai said.

Besides, Khun Sai said local villagers who have fled to Thailand told him that Maj. Gen Kyaw Phyo, Commander of Kengtung Township has pressurised ceasefire groups from southern Shan State to surrender or join the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S), which has not signed a ceasefire agreement with the junta.

"He [Maj. Gen Kyaw Phyo] told armed groups that by 2009 there will be only two choices – either to surrender or regroup with the SSA-S," said Khun Sai, quoting local villagers.

However, Khun Sai said the armed groups are likely to try and avoid a situation of total surrender or laying down arms.

Meanwhile, the United Wa State Army (UWSA), a major ceasefire armed group, said they have not yet come across fresh pressure to surrender arms.

"So far we have not received any official statement from the Burmese government pressuring us to surrender arms," the UWSA spokesman told Mizzima.

The spokesperson, who requested anonymity, however, said his group has no plans to surrender or to lay down arms until there is visible justice and equality in the country.

"We want to resolve things peacefully, so there is likely to be more discussions between us and the government, but surrendering of arms is not possible," the spokesman said.

Similarly, the Kachin Independent Organization (KIO), one of the strongest Kachin ethnic ceasefire groups, also said they were not aware of any renewed pressure from the government to surrender arms.

Major Gun Maw, spokesperson of the KIO, said, "They [junta] did not tell us anything regarding arms surrender and we are not thinking about this issue right now."

He said there have been no thoughts in the KIO over the issue of changing the group's name or to surrender arms.

"This is not the kind of planning and we are not discussing it," Gun Maw added.

But Mya Maung, a Burmese military analyst based along the Sino-Burma border and having a close relationship with ceasefire groups said, pressuring the ceasefire groups to surrender might indicate the junta's intention to prove to the international community that it is able to bring peace to the country.

"Because the groups that it [the junta] has pressured are not strong enough to resist and the junta wants to use them, but just groups like the UWSA and KIO will be difficult to pressurise," Mya

He said it is unlikely that the junta will be able to pressure big groups such as the KIO or UWSA before 2010 general election, though it might be possible to do so after the election.

"If the junta forcibly orders them to surrender then the groups are likely to break their ceasefire agreements and wage an active armed struggle," Mya Maung said.

Mya Maung said, Burma's political crisis is about democracy as well as problems of nationalities and without solving these problems, the government will continue to face problems, and conflicts will remain.

"Suitable political reforms would mean forming a federal system where ethnic groups are guaranteed their rights. This is the only long-term solution to Burma's political problems," he added.

Illegal Timber Crossing Thai-Burmese Border

The Irrawaddy News

Burmese officials have been accepting bribes from a Thai logging company, which is smuggling timber across the Three Pagodas Pass border into Thailand, according to local witnesses.

A businessman in Three Pagodas Pass, who spoke to The Irrawaddy on Wednesday, said he witnessed trucks laden with logs passing through the border crossing at night several times.

A local motorcycle taxi driver, who asked to remain anonymous, also said that the Burmese border guards opened the gate at night or sometimes at about 5 a.m. to allow the logging trucks to pass through. He said the guards checked first to make sure there weren’t many people in the street before they waved the trucks through.

The local sources estimate that about 100 trucks containing teak and other hardwoods pass through Three Pagodas Pass every month and that the practice has been ongoing for several months.

Officially, Three Pagodas Pass border crossing is closed and the Burmese junta has not permitted border trade with Thailand since soldiers from the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) kidnapped two Thai border policemen in 2006.

However, according to the local businessman, Burmese officials have made an unofficial trade agreement with Sia Hook, a powerful Sino-Thai logging company.

The source alleged that Sia Hook has been paying Burmese officials bribes of 30,000 baht (US $947) per truckload of teak, and 15,000 baht ($473) for each truckload of any other type of timber, to pass through to Thailand.

It is not clear whether the company has received permission to log timber from the Burmese Forestry Department. However, Sia Hook has been known to cooperate with several Burmese logging companies in the past, whose representatives were able to arrange timber export agreements with local township authorities.

Sia Hook proved itself loyal to the Burmese regime in 1990, when it offered its trucks to transport Burmese troops onto Thai territory to engage the New Mon State Party army, which then controlled Three Pagodas Pass.

Journalist’s Arrest Triggers Regime Warning to Editors -Saw Myint Than

The Irrawaddy News

Editors of at least six Rangoon publications have been visited by the authorities and warned to avoid contacts with the Burmese media in exile and international news organizations in what is being seen as a new crackdown on the Burmese media.

The warning follows the arrest of the chief reporter of Flower News Journal, Saw Myint Than, who was reportedly charged with at least three offences, including an infringement of a section of the Electronics Act which bans contacts with unlawful organizations.

Saw Myint Than was interrogated by the police last week after he had reported on a Rangoon murder case. Burmese exiled media, including The Irrawaddy, reported on his interrogation, during which the journalist was reportedly accused of spreading rumors.

On Monday, nearly a week after his initial interrogation, he was arrested. The authorities also visited the offices of at least six Rangoon journals, including 7 Days and The Voice, and warned editors to avoid contacts with the exiled media and international news organizations.

The Irrawaddy’s editor, Aung Zaw, said
Saw Myint Than did not work for his publication.

"The regime is nervous and deeply concern about the anniversary of last September’s demonstrations," Aung Zaw said. "It knows very well that bloggers and reporters played a very important role in the September uprising. That's why it is now monitoring media groups in Burma very closely."

Aung Zaw also condemned the arrest of Saw Myint Than, saying it was a “great threat to freedom of expression in Burma.”

Rangoon-based correspondents Aung Thet Wine and Moe Aung Tin also contributed to this report.

AIPMC Appeals to Surin, Ban Ki-moon to Visit Suu Kyi

The Irrawaddy News

A rights advocacy group within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) has appealed to the heads of both Asean and the UN to visit Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and check on her health.

Roshan Jason, executive director of the group, the Asean Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC), told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that letters had gone to Asean Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon asking them to make a personal assessment of Suu Kyi’s condition—“Not just her physical health but also her emotional [state of mind].”

The letter told Surin and Ban: “We remind you that her continued well-being is vital for a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Burma.”

Suu Kyi’s political party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), says she has been refusing supplies of food to her home since mid-August, but there is no indication that she is on a hunger strike. Her lawyer said after visiting her this week that she has lost weight and is tired but otherwise appears to be in good health.

Suu Kyi has spent more than 13 of the past 19 years under house arrest.

The AIPMC letter reminded Surin that he had described Asean as a “tapestry of hope,” and said that Burma was a part of this tapestry. The AIPMC urged Surin to act to ensure the tapestry did not unravel.

Jason said Asean had acknowledged receipt of the letter, but nothing had been heard yet from the UN. The two bodies appeared to think Suu Kyi was not “relevant in the democracy process,” he said.