Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Blogger produced before court again - Nay Phone Latt and GW

by Phanida

Chiang Mai (Mizzima)– Youth blogger and writer Nay Phone Latt held in Insein prison, was produced in court again.

Today the court heard one of his cases where he is being charged under section 505(b) of the Penal Code (inducing crime against public tranquility). His court hearing started in early July this year.

"A policeman from Bahan police station testified today as the prosecution witness. He said my son got involved in demonstrations without being able to produce any evidence and exhibits such as a photograph in court," his mother Aye Than said.

He has been kept in solitary confinement in Insein prison special cell since early July this year, when the court started hearing his case. He was not allowed to stroll outside his cell, his mother added.

"He is disappointed as he is in solitary confinement. Maung Weik (business tycoon) is in the neighbouring cell. But he is allowed to troll outside the cell. My son and Zarganar are not allowed to do so. Though he is a youth, I worry about his health in the prison environment," Nay Phone Latt's mother said.

Nay Phone Latt was arrested and detained on January 29 this year and was charged under 505(b) of the Penal Code, section 32(a), 36 of the Video Law and section 33(a), 38 of the Electronic Law.

The hearing was adjourned today by the court, which was hearing the cases of 35 students of the 88-generation, including Ko Min Ko Naing after an argument between the judge and the accused on addressing them as defendants.

"The student leaders reacted immediately as soon as the judge referred to them as defendants. They said they are just the accused and could not be referred to as defendants before being formally charged by the court after it hears prosecution and defence witnesses. The court had to adjourn the hearing after that," a family member of one of the 88-Generation Students, Ko Ko Gyi, said.

Similarly other 88-Generation Students, Sithu Maung and six others, were produced before the court today. They were accused of staging demonstrations protesting against the rising fuel prices.

Advocate Khin Maung Shein said that they are presenting an argument for discharge of the case against the student leaders made under section 124(a) of the Penal Code (disaffection towards State and government) as no case against the accused has been made out which would warrant their conviction.

"We presented our argument made under section 253 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) to consider discharging the accused from the case on hearing the last witness. The accused have to suffer a lot because of this wrongful charge. So the accused should be discharged as no case against them has been made out under section 124(a) of the Penal Code, we argued in court," he added.

The authorities changed the charges made against the student leaders later --- from the previous 124(a) of the Penal Code to new charges made under sections 505(b) (inducing crime against public tranquility), 143 and 145 (unlawful assembly), and 295 (insulting religion) of the Penal Code. These student leaders face prison terms ranging from two to a maximum of 8 years if found guilty.

Cyber cafes ordered to close early

IMNA - Suffering from an unnamed fear on the 1st anniversary of the saffron revolution the Burmese military junta has ordered cyber cafes to close early in the capital of Mon state, Moulmein (Mawlamyine).

According to cyber café owners in the city, government officials went to each café in Moulmein and ordered owners to close before 8 p.m.

"Earlier, we could use the internet until midnight. But the café owners are closing early and not allowing customers to stay beyond 8 p.m.," an internet user in Moulmein told IMNA.

In Moulmein there were six cyber cafes—the MYC, MCC, POST, INFORMATIC, HTAKASON and SKY NET.

According to an internet shop owner and a surfer the regime has blocked them from accessing dissident websites and media websites in exile.

Monks students and Moulmein university students rely on the internet to communicate with the outside world even though they are closely monitored.

Currently the Burmese military junta officials have deployed additional security in Moulmein city and have been closely watching Ye monastery, Shin Phyu monastery and university students. The military has also tightened security in the place where Moulmein monks started marching during the saffron revolution.

During the September 2007 saffron revolution thousands of monks in Moulmein joined hands with university students and demonstrated against the military junta in Rangoon.

Naypyidaw auctions seized vehicles in southern Burma

Tue 30 Sep 2008, IMNA

The Burmese military establishment in Mon State has been auctioning vehicles seized from residents in southern Burma on the orders of Naypyidaw.

The vehicles are kept in Moulmein Stadium and the Southeast Command has been urging ethnic cease-fire groups and business establishments to buy it.

According to New Mon State Party (NMSP) sources, the order to auction vehicles came from Naypyidaw, "But I am not sure when the order came."

Sources in NMSP, which reached a cease-fire with the Burmese government in 1995, said Naypyidaw drew up the prices depending on the make of the vehicles.

The organization which pays the auction price will get the vehicles from the Southeast Command.

The auction began early this month, following which local car prices fell.

According to car traders, prices of old Toyota and Hilux cars dropped from 17 million Kyat (13,386 US$) to 12 million Kyat (9,449 US$).

"We are facing losses for over a month. Many stopped buying these cars, even though the cars have license," a car dealer told IMNA.

More than a thousand illegal vehicles which were seized in 2003-2004 have been stored at the Southeast Command base.

Most vehicles were seized from local residents and the cease-fire group. In 2003 the Burmese regime made a new law where those who owned illegal cars and things imported from neighbouring countries would face three years in prison and started seizing the cars.

The NMSP, Karen Peace Front (KPF) and Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) had their vehicles seized. The junta only gave back the seized cars to DKBA.

NMSP lost dozens of cars in 2003 and does not dare to buy it back afraid that regime's law is not consistent.

Some businessmen from Moulmein industrial zone are interested and most of them are close to military officers.

The Southeast Command sold vehicles at low prices in 2004 after they seized it. The colours of the seized vehicles were changed.

ENC calls on the international community to help starving people in Chin State after crops are destroyed

Wed 01 Oct 2008, IMNA

More than a hundred thousand people in Chin State, in northwest Burma, face starvation after a plague of rats destroyed crops in the area. Burma’s military government is offering no help, says the Ethnic Nationalities Council (ENC).

According to an ENC statement made on September 30th, people from more than twenty villages – one fourth of Chin State’s population – face food shortages and disease. More than two thousand ethnic Chin people have fled to India in search of food. At least thirty children have died from lack of food, though the number is thought to be higher.

The ENC, a Thailand-based exile group comprised of representatives from Burma’s many ethnic groups, called upon the international community for support. “We call on UN agencies such as the World Food Programme, UN OCHA [United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs], UNDP [UN Development Program] and other international aid organization to provide food and assistance to people who have faced food shortages since 2006, while the military government ignores the case,” ENC General Secretary Duwa Mahkaw Hkun Sa told IMNA.

“The food crisis in Chin State has reached a point where immediate action is warranted in order to prevent a human tragedy of great proportions. The international community should now act immediately on this crisis to avert a Nargis-like situation,” says Dr. Salai Lian Hmung Sakhong, ENC Vice Chairman, in an official statement by the group. ENC also called upon the government of India and Mizoram to extend assistance to avert a humanitarian tragedy in Chin State.

The junta, on the other hand, has disregarded the situation and is providing no help to Chin State. It has even prevented international NGOs from providing aid to the region, says Duwa Mahkaw Hkun Sa. The ENC statement addressed the junta’s restrictions, demanding the junta “immediately to allow complete and unfettered access to the affected area in Chin state and cooperate fully with aid organizations and provide them a conductive environment for a meaningful and effective relief efforts in Chin State.”

The situation is likely to get worse, as the rats have destroyed rice paddies and other farmland. The crop destruction comes at a time when Burma is already struggling to recover from the loss of twenty percent of its rice paddies, which were destroyed by Cyclone Nargis in May. The boom in the rat population, and the attendant impact on agriculture of the region, is being caused by the life cycle of “Melocanna Baccifera,” a type of bamboo that flowers once every fifty years and, according to a report by the Chin Human Rights organization, covers one fifth of Chin State. After flowering in 2006, the bamboo produced a fruit with a large nutrient-rich seed. Rats fed on the seeds, their population skyrocketed and the animals eventually descended upon farms looking for food.

Journal Suspended after Running Child Labor Photo

The photograph that appeared in Tuesday’s True News ran with the caption: “A Burmese child working on a construction site in Phuket, Thailand.”

The Irrawaddy News

RANGOON — Two weekly publications have been suspended by Burma’s notorious censorship board, after being accused of violating rules and regulations, local journalists said on Tuesday.

The decision came after a large photograph depicting a Burmese child working on a construction site in Thailand appeared on the front page of Tuesday’s True News. It is unknown why Action Times has been suspended as it did not run the picture or one similar.

“The Press Scrutiny and Registration Board summoned the editors of True News and Action Times and ordered them to stop publishing their journals for two months and one month respectively,” said a Rangoon-based journalist who is close to staff at the two publications.

The censorship board reportedly accused the editors of failing to submit clear draft layouts to its office for inspection.

According to the board’s regulations, every journal in Burma must submit a draft of its final layout with clear photographs, captions and pullouts.

A freelance journalist in Rangoon who requested anonymity told The Irrawaddy that the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division’s decision is related to the sensitive photograph published on the front page of True News.

The caption under the photograph that ran in Tuesday’s journal read: “A Burmese child working on a construction site in Phuket, Thailand.”

However, another source, who claimed to have spoken to a reporter at True News, said the censorship board had passed the photo and its caption, so the journal published it.

According to a source within the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division, certain authorities were annoyed by this photo and because the censorship board had failed to spot it.

The source said that the head of the censorship board, Maj Tint Swe, was reportedly admonished by Minister of Information Kyaw Hsan over the incident.

Rights group to probe Burma war crimes

By P. Parameswaran in Washington - October 01, 2008

AN independent US group is to carry out unprecedented studies to determine whether Burma's military rulers, accused of rampant human rights abuses, have committed international crimes.

The Centre for Constitutional Democracy at Indiana University's school of law said it would launch the research based on anecdotal human rights evidence of "severe mistreatment" of marginalised ethnic groups by the military junta.

"At this stage of the project, I can't honestly say that there are international crimes," the centre's executive director, David Williams, told AFP by telephone.

"What I can say is there may be, and part of our goal would be to gather the evidence and try to come out with some objective conclusions about whether there are or not," he said.

The centre's goal, he said, was to make focused research "in areas where perhaps it is most likely that international crimes were committed".

Only the Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) can determine whether international crimes, such as war crimes and crimes against humanity, have been committed by any individual or group.

So far, Professor Williams said, there has been no institutional focus on possible international crimes committed by Burma's junta, which imposed a bloody crackdown of pro-democracy protests in September last year that was condemned worldwide.

The crackdown - according to United Nations figures - left 31 people dead and 74 others missing, and resulted in thousands of arrests.

The military rulers had also come under international fire and were called "heartless" by some humanitarian groups for initially not allowing foreign aid into the country when a cyclone left 138,000 people dead or missing in May.

Burma also houses more than 2100 political prisoners, including democracy icon and Nobel peace prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, who has spent more than 12 of the last 18 years under house arrest.

Prof Williams said that although the ICC had not initiated any study on the military junta's record so far, "ours might be a good place for them to get started".

"It might help the various investigators know where to go and what allegations to examine and so forth," he said.

When asked whether in his personal opinion some of the junta's actions could be deemed as international crimes, Prof Williams said: "What I might be able to say is that it looks to me, in my professional opinion, like there is a good chance that it is.

"And it makes sense therefore to bring a prosecution because there is enough evidence that a court should be able to see it," he pointed out.

The university group's staff had been for the last six years helping ethnic groups inside Burma - at their request - draw up constitutional reforms in their struggle to win greater freedom and rights.

Law professor David Williams had smuggled himself into Burma on various occasions and worked on constitutional reforms with the Karen ethnic group, waging the world's longest running civil war against the government since 1947.

"I am hearing endless stories about how the military government is murdering villagers, it's blowing up rice paddies so that they dry out, it's setting fires to villages, it's laying mines in those villages so that when the people come back some of them get blown up," he said.

"The result is that they have to move often to hills and find a new place to build a village and start growing rice. That means in a relatively short period of time there is famine because old rice paddies have to be abandoned."

Prof Williams said while he did not witness the Burma military units attacking the Karen guerrilla resistance units, he saw "evidence of the military going after the civilian population".

"That's just the tip of the iceberg in itself and that doesn't constitute conclusive evidence of an international crime but it makes you think," he said. - Article from: Agence France-Presse

Burma’s State Media Still Mum on Tainted Milk Powder

The Irrawaddy News

The Burmese military government has still failed to take strong action to protect the public following the revelation of tainted powdered milk products imported from China, according to sources in Rangoon.

“Most families are still using the cheap Chinese-made unsafe milk powder,” a Rangoon resident said. “The government hasn’t publicized to avoid use of China-imported milk powder in state-run newspapers.”

She said the general public has received no clear information from state-run media about tainted baby milk formula.

She told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that the semi-official Myanmar Times weekly newspaper earlier published a story that said all imported dairy products from China had been banned, but failed to cite the reason. There was no mention of specific brands.

The newspaper reported on Monday that the Burmese Commerce Minister said it barred entry of all dairy products made in China since Tuesday last week.

The health ministry is testing samples of dairy products, especially from China, according to Kyaw Myint, a health ministry official, the newspaper reported.

According to the report, Burmese military government said it will destroy 16 tons of powdered milk made by one of the 22 Chinese dairy companies that produced melamine-tainted products. The milk was confiscated in Rangoon last week.

However, the Chinese brands of Yashili, Suncare and Red Cow milk powder are popular in Burma and are still selling at local markets in Rangoon, said a sales manager at a Rangoon commodity company.

“I found prohibited milk powder at local markets,” he said. “Most people can’t afford Thai imported milk powder, so they buy the [Chinese] milk powder because it is cheaper than other imported milk powder.”

“A 500-gram box of Chinese-made Red Cow is 800 kyat (US $0.64). Thai-made milk powder is four times more,” he said.

He said some Rangoon stores, including City Mart stores and Ocean Supercenter, have informed customers that they are not selling Chinese-made milk powder.

Meanwhile, the privately owned weekly Voice Journal published on Monday reported that some Rangoon supermarkets and local markets are still selling Chinese-made milk powder.

The Sanlu Group, based in Shijiazhuang, one of China’s best-known dairy product companies recalled 700 tonnes of its formula on September 12 after the product was linked to the tainted milk scandal, which so far has made 53,000 Chinese children ill and caused the death of at least four babies.

Melamine can cause kidney stones and other complications. An ingredient in plastics and fertilizers, the chemical has been banned in foods, but was introduced by dairy suppliers in China to give watered-down milk the appearance of having higher protein levels.

China is the world’s second biggest market for baby milk powder. Sanlu has been the top-selling company in the sector for 15 years, with 18.3 percent of sales in 2007. In 2006, the country produced 32.2 million tons of milk, up from 8.6 million tons in 2000.

DKBA Recruited Villagers for Assault on KNLA

The Irrawaddy News

The Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), a splinter group of the Karen National Union (KNU), reportedly forcibly recruited villagers to bolster its forces for a military offensive against the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA).

According to the Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG), which documents the human rights situation in Karen State, the DKBA Brigade 999, led by Maung Chit Thu, began a recruiting campaign in mid-August, ordering village heads in T’Nay Hsah Township, Pa’an District, to muster local people to take part in an assault on a stronghold of the KNLA’s Sixth Brigade in Kawkareik district.

Selection was carried out by a lottery system. Those chosen were enlisted for at least 18 months service in the DKBA army.

Poe Shan, field director of KHRG, said: “About 175 villagers from 11 villages in Pa-an district are now intensively being trained to be soldiers in the DKBA army.”

Villagers selected under the lottery system could hire others to take their place, but had to guarantee that the replacements would not desert the army. Villages were also required to pay the DKBA 300,000-400,000 kyat (US $235-313) for the upkeep of each recruit.

A KNLA Sixth Brigade official confirmed that DKBA battalions 907, 903 and 333 were being deployed for a military offensive. The Sixth Brigade was ready to confront the attackers, he said.

Hser Gay, a senior member of the Brigade’s taxation department, said the DKBA wanted to wrest control of Kawkareik district from the KNLA because of the economic advantages to be gained, in logging and mining.

Several skirmishes between KNLA and DKBA forces have occurred this year, and DKBA troops overran a KNLA Battalion 201 base in early July, forcing many Karen villagers to flee across the border to Thailand.

Despite the military buildup, the KNU is proceeding with preparations for its 14th congress, at which successors will be chosen for its assassinated General Secretary Padoh Mahn Sha and deceased President Ba Thein Sein.

Karen Group Opposes Salween River Dams

The Irrawaddy News

The Burmese government’s plan to build two major hydropower dams—the Wai Gyi and Hat Gyi—on the Salween River in eastern Burma threatens the human rights of local residents and the biodiversity of the area, says an environmental organization.

According to the report “Khoe Kay: Biodiversity in Peril” released by the Thailand-based Karen Environmental and Social Action Network (KESAN) on Monday, more than 40 rare seeds and animal species in the Salween River watershed are likely to vanish if the Burmese government completes construction of the hydropower dams.

Ko Shwe, a researcher who spent three months collecting data in the area, said, “According to our research, we found about 394 different species. Among them, there are 40 indigenous species including plants and animals. If the dam is completed, these species will be totally vanished.”

The report urged the government to conduct a professional environmental assessment as well as an environmental impact study before construction work begins on the hydropower dams.

The Wai Gyi and Hat Gyi dams are both located in Karen National Union controlled areas.

Meanwhile, Saw Nay, the director of Karen River Watch, said the Hat Gyi dam on the lower Salween River threatened several thousands of residents as well as wildlife.

According to its research, about 5,000 reside in more than 20 villages in the upper Hat Gyi dam area will be forced to relocate if the dam is completed, he said. He said human rights abuses such as forced labor, forced relocation, the disappearance of culture heritage as well as environmental damage including disforestation and flooding are likely to occur.

The Hat Gyi dam, the first to be built, is designed to power a 600-megawatt turbine. The project is expected to be complete by 2010.

The Hat Gyi dam project has drawn strong protests from nongovernmental organizations concerned about the potential environmental impact and the dam’s effect on the livelihood of villagers.

Silencing voices of dissent

Bangkok Post - On the approaching anniversary of the barbaric Burmese government crackdown and murders of monks and newsmen, web and Internet sites run by Burmese dissidents overseas came under heavy cyber attack; "We regret to inform you that the Irrawaddy web site is still unavailable," said an email from that popular magazine; also under denial-of-service flood attacks were the Burmese-language New Era Journal, and the Democratic Voice of Burma, based in Oslo; the blocking appeared to be coming from sites in China and Russia, the usual source for cyberwar activities, where both the government and pay-for-play hackers are generally friendly to the Burmese dictatorship; inside Burma, the extraordinarily slow Internet connections decelerated several more teeth-grinding degrees as intimidating government agents stepped up their already bullying surveillance of all customers; of course the Burmese regime knew absolutely nothing of what could cause any of this.

Iranian officials said Sunni hackers launched a series of cyberwar attacks on hundreds of Shiite web sites, including one run by the top Shiite cleric Ayatollah Ali Hussein al-Sistani; special targets were sites of seminaries and popular Shiite teachers; the officials blamed Sunni Wahhabis, particularly a group identified with the United Arab Emirates, for breaking into Shiite-run sites and defacing them with the slogan "group-xp" and Arab-language banners denouncing Shiite beliefs; unlike the Burma cyberwar, the pro-Wahhabi hackers struck fast and left the web sites defaced but fully accessible.

Pasa Intermation announced it had launched Namathai, a proxy service allowing surfers to type Internet addresses in Thai characters; the service aims to have 25,000 users within 15 months tied to what is called the Thai Internet Address translation system for people wholly illiterate in English.

If you noticed the mood was a little glum at Pantip Plaza - a new "study" by Business Software Alliance said that Montenegro is the world's top software pirate, with 83 per cent of all programs copied, not bought; meanwhile, BSA "reported" use of illegal PC software dropped an entire two per cent in Thailand in only one year, to a mere 78 per cent piracy rate - not even in the Top Five in Asia, and now just 32nd in the world.

Thai negotiators from the Intellectual Property Department went to Peru to listen to US delegates to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) Intellectual Property Expert Group plead for international support for laws against anyone intercepting and using cable and satellite transmission; deputy director-general Wiboonlasna Ruamraksa laughed and said maybe later, because since the content is already copyright, why have another law about it?

The International Intellectual Property Alliance described Thailand harshly as something of a piracy haven for cable and satellite hijackers, with illegal decoding boxes and smart cards freely available, and precisely 1.33 million customers of pirated cable and pay-TV broadcasters. Jareuk Kaljareuk, president of the Federation of National Film Association, explained that tougher piracy laws will help the Thai economy by attracting more film companies, especially for post-production.

Samsung of South Korea announced it will be pushing large-screen, large-format display (LFD) monitors this year, average price 50,000 baht and sized 40 to 82 inches.

True Internet Gateway announced plans to run your CAT Telecom a little competition by building a submarine cable directly to the US, doubling the nation's Internet bandwidth overnight; it's almost finished except for the planning, finding some foreign partners, finding some local partners such as your TOT ... just a couple of details, really. Your CAT Telecom president Phisal Jorpocha-udom actually signed a contract with Marubeni (Thailand) for a two billion baht fibre-optic network; the network is to radiate out from Bangkok with 9,000km of cable; the Office of the Auditor-General says the whole deal is non-transparent and your CAT Telecom doesn't care.

Stung by the growing popularity of VoIP international phone services charging around 1.5 baht per minute, your CAT Telecom cut its own Internet-based overseas rates to 75 satang (about 3) per minute to major countries including the US, UK, China and Singapore, from fixed-line or mobile; like the private competitors, you will need to prepay with cards available at stores or online at

The Department of Livestock Development announced plans for an "e-traceability" project for 8,000 chicken farms; the web-based venture will track birds everywhere, meaning small- and medium-scale farmers will not have to invest in their own technology.

The National Telecommunications Commission assured Thai mobile operators that foreign companies will definitely not be allowed to run third-generation (3G) phone networks without Thai partners; in addition, every foreign firm will be given a deadline to cover 90 per cent of the country within a certain time frame or lose its investment.

Myanmar on the cyber-offensive

By Brian McCartan

MAE SOT, Thailand (ATimes)- The distributed denial of service attacks, or DDoS, that hit and disabled several exile media websites between September 17 to 19, are widely held to be the latest attempt by Myanmar's military regime to silence its legion of critics.

The cyber-attacks, which flood a website with information requests which block regular traffic and eventually overload and crash it, coincided with the run-up to last year's "Saffron" revolution, in which soldiers opened fire and killed Buddhist monks and anti-government demonstrators. But the junta's cyber-warfare specialists appear to have wider designs than just censoring an uncomfortable anniversary and they are receiving plenty of foreign assistance in upgrading their political dissent-quashing capabilities.

The Defense Services Computer Directorate (DSCD) was set up by the War Office in around 1990, originally with the aim of modernizing the military's communications and administration systems. By the mid-1990s, however, the center had become much more focused on Information Warfare operations, according to a signals intelligence expert who spoke with Asia Times Online.

The center became responsible for monitoring telephone calls, faxes, e-mails and other forms of electronic data exchange. Another computer center was later set up at the Directorate of Defense Services Intelligence (DDSI), Myanmar's main military intelligence service. The DSCD is aimed more at military communications, while the intelligence service's computer center is more politically focused, including monitoring opposition groups both within and outside Myanmar.

The service was disbanded in 2004 after the arrest of former prime minister and intelligence chief General Khin Nyunt. It was later reformed as the Military Affairs Security (MAS), which has also presumably taken over cyber-warfare functions, and its capabilities have reportedly substantially improved in recent years.

Singapore has been the military's main partner in bolstering those capabilities. The DSCD was originally set up with computers from Singapore and the city-state has been heavily involved in the cyber-units technological evolution, including upgrades to the regime's computerized information systems hardware and training, says the signals intelligence expert. The intelligence service's center was also set up with Singapore-provided assistance.

Several opposition media sources, including The Irrawaddy magazine and Democratic Voice of Burma satellite television station, have said they received information that the most recent attacks on their Websites may have been conducted by Myanmar military officers trained or undergoing training in Russia and China. A longtime analyst of Myanmar's signals intelligence capabilities noted that many of the officers who have undergone training in Russia and China have taken courses in computing and information technology.

While China has been heavily involved in improvements to the Myanmar military's radio communications and, together with Singapore, connecting major military commands with fiber-optic cable, it apparently has been less involved in developing the regime's cyber-warfare capabilities, experts say.

The opposition movement has become noted for its extensive usage of the Internet to send and receive information, reports and news the regime has tried to suppress. As activists and underground journalists have become more tech-savvy, the intelligence service has become more determined to counter the outflow of information. Much of this has taken the form of harassment and more recently DDoS attacks.

Long-running media list server, BurmaNet News, has been a target of Myanmar's junta, which is known to have posted misleading and often inaccurate information to discredit the pro-democracy movement. In 2000, a wave of e-mail messages were received by activists with attachments containing a virus that many suspected came from the regime.

Exile-run political groups, human-rights groups and non-governmental organizations have all repeatedly accused the regime of launching viruses, and Trojan horses, defacing websites, sending waves of spam e-mail and even purchasing domain names with political significance. Although it is difficult to prove who exactly is behind the waves of cyber-harassment, the sheer volume of the attacks points to the regime's trained cyber-specialists, experts say.

Last year, the day after the regime's violent crackdown on street protesters, the Thailand-based Burmese media organization The Irrawaddy was hit by a virus that also infected visitors to their site. The timing of the attack raised suspicions of the junta's involvement.

In July 2008, the websites of the exile-run, Oslo-based Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) and New Delhi-based Mizzima News were hit by DDoS attacks that shut down their websites for several days. The attacks followed both news organizations' extensive reporting on the junta's inept and some say corrupt response to the Cyclone Nargis disaster.

On September 17, another wave of DDoS attacks was launched, this time against The Irrawaddy, DVB and the Bangkok-based New Era Journal. Two community forums, Mystery Zillion and Planet Myanmar, were disabled and shut down by similar attacks in August. Although not political in nature, both websites provided information and instruction on how to circumvent the regime's tough Internet controls and firewalls, which include blocks on internationally hosted e-mail services gmail and Yahoo!.

Strategic attacks
Analysts say the cyber-attacks have notably ramped up during the anniversaries of the August 1988 pro-democracy uprising and military repression, and the September 2007 crackdown. Servers involved in the most recent attacks have apparently been situated in Russia and China - however, experts say this may have been done by hackers trying to cover their tracks.

According to communications security expert and Australian National University Professor Desmond Ball, DDoS attacks are relatively simple and can be engineered without the aid of powerful computers or an advanced computer science degree. Similar attacks, he says, have been carried out against Taiwan and Japan for years by young nationalistic Chinese hackers.

DDoS attacks, redirection and defacing of websites are all overt forms of cyber-harassment, but the real essence of cyber-warfare, says Ball, lies in the ability to penetrate a computer or a network, cover your tracks to avoid detection on the way in and out and steal information or disrupt systems without the target knowing that they have been hacked.

The military regime's capabilities in this regard may be where the real danger lies, he says. So far there is little known about the ability of Myanmar's government cyber-warriors to carry out these attacks, partly because the nature of these kinds of attacks is to remain undetected.

Internet security among computer users worldwide is notoriously lax and this includes Burmese exile political and media organizations. Without firewalls and anti-virus programs configured properly and IT specialists monitoring computer systems - an expensive proposition for most exile groups - they are at a distinct disadvantage against the junta.

Domestically, the regime has spent considerable effort to block the flow of information into the country through the use of filtering software that block certain media, human rights and political sites, as well as gambling, pornography and other sites deemed socially unacceptable. Through the use of proxy servers and encrypted webmail services, many of Myanmar's citizens have been able to circumvent some of these controls.

Their tech savvy was shown to the world in September 2007, when graphic images and video of the military's brutal crackdown on protesters were broadcast from an instant army of citizen reporters, who sent their files to outside news organizations over the Internet. In Myanmar's heavily controlled communications environment, there are only a handful of Internet service providers (ISPs), all of them either state-owned or with strong government ties, and thus easy for the regime to disconnect.

Exile groups and much of the media pointed to the three-day period between the beginning of the crackdown in late September 2007 and the shutdown of the Internet as evidence of the junta's lack of technical expertise. Ball, however, contends that the opposite is true.

The generals were willing to endure some international criticism in order to monitor who was communicating with whom before shutting the system down altogether. This information would likely have fueled their post-demonstration manhunts, where thousands were put behind bars, he says.

Myanmar's original ISP is the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications, which was later joined by Bagan Cybertech, a private communications company established by the son of former intelligence chief Khin Nyunt. Following his arrest, the company was partially taken over by the government and renamed BaganNet/Myanmar Teleport.

A third ISP was reportedly set up by the government-supported mass organization the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) in 2007 and is known as Information Technology Central Services. In July 2008, a fourth ISP was launched called Hanthawaddy National Gateway.

Established with technical assistance from China's Alcatel Shanghai Bell, the service is currently only available to military officers, but is expected to eventually expand throughout the country. Alcatel Shanghai Bell is represented locally by Myanmar tycoon Tay Za, a close associate to the country's leader Senior General Than Shwe and other senior officers.

Speculation as to the extent of the regime's cyber-warfare capabilities comes during a fast expansion of Internet access across the country. In addition to two new ISP providers, the generals are pushing local and foreign investment in its Yadanabon Cyber City project, located east of Mandalay.

Over one-fifth of the 4,500 hectare city is slated for computer hardware and software factories and is expected to have modern Internet services available through ADSL, CATV, Triple Play and Wi Max. In July, 12 local and foreign companies, including CBOSS of Russia, agreed to invest US$22 million in the development of the city.

Although ostensibly a civilian initiative, much of the technology to be developed, built and used there would have dual use capabilities, experts say.

Brian McCartan is a Chiang Mai-based freelance journalist. He may be reached at