Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Burmese opposition demonstrate against visiting Burmese General

Dhaka, Bangladesh (Kaladan): Around 30 people belonging to the Burmese opposition in exile staged a demonstration in front of Eidga gate near the National Press Club and high court against the visiting Vice-Senior General Maung Aye, the Vice-Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council of Myanmar today morning.

The demonstration lasted only 30 minutes as the Bangladesh police intervened. There was palpable tension between the police and demonstrators for a while as the police seized posters from the protesters, said Naing Naing, who participated in the demonstration.

"We distributed leaflets written in English and Bengali to the local people on the streets near the press club, high court and Eidga gate before we started the demonstration, he added.

Vice-senior general Maung Aye arrived in Bangladesh today on a three-day official visit, at the invitation of the chief adviser, Fakhruddin Ahmed.

The Burmese general led a 55 member delegation including the Burma Foreign Minister, Nyan Win and some leading businessmen to discuss a host of outstanding issues between the two nations.

Maung Aye is scheduled to meet the chief of Bangladesh's interim administration, Fakhruddin Ahmed, to discuss bilateral issues today afternoon, said the official.

"We have a number of projects lined up with Burma. I'm positive the visit will boost our cooperation in all these areas," Foreign Adviser Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury told the media yesterday.

"Our discussions would focus on construction of a road, which would hopefully link Bangladesh to China, leasing land for agriculture and completion of the all-important maritime boundary talks. Repatriation of Rohingya refugees may come up in the discussion," said the foreign adviser.

"At the meeting, Burmese authorities would be asked to expedite the repatriation process which remains stalled since 2005," said a home ministry official.

The visit is taking place after Bangladesh and Burma signed an agreement in Dhaka in July 2007 to construct a 25-kilometre direct road link between the two neighbouring countries at a cost of $ 20million. The road will link Gundhum in Cox's Bazaar to Bawlibazaar (Kyein Chang) in Burma. It will also connect China's Kunming under a tri-nation road connectivity which will give further access to Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore and to the Asian Highway.

According to his itinerary, Maung Aye, the Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the defense services and Commander-in-Chief of the Burmese Army will call on the President, Iajuddin Ahmed, at Bangabhaban on October 8.

The next day, the Myanmar general will begin his day by paying tribute to the war of independence martyrs at the National Martyrs' Memorial at Savar. He will then hold a meeting with the Chief of Army Staff, General Moeen U Ahmed, in the army headquarters and visit the Military Institute of Science and Technology in Mirpur.

On October 9, Maung Aye, the second highest-ranking member of the Burmese military regime, will go to Rangamati and stay there until his departure for Rangoon from Chittagong in the afternoon. General Moeen U Ahmed will see the Burmese leader off at Chittagong Shah Amanat International Airport.

Maung Aye was scheduled to visit Bangladesh in 2007, but it was cancelled because of unrest in Burma after the monks staged nationwide demonstrations against the regime.

After 2002, this will be the third official visit between the two countries. Burma SPDC chairman senior general Than Shwe visited Dhaka in December 2002 and in 2003, then Bangladesh Prime Minister Khaleda Zia went to Rangoon.

See photos at: Kaladan Press

U Gambira Ill; Misses Court Date

The Irrawaddy News

Ashin Gambira, the detained leader of the All Burmese Monk’s Alliance (ABMA), did not appear for trial on Monday because of illness, his lawyer said on Tuesday.

The lawyer, Khin Maung Shein, told The Irrawaddy that Ashin Gambira is reportedly sick and receiving medical treatment in Rangoon’s notorious Insein Prison hospital.

“We do not know what kind of illnesses he is suffering, but he looked frail during his previous trail and he suffered from nausea,” Khin Maung Shein said.

Ashin Gambira is one of the monks who organized the 2007 pro-democracy uprising. After security forces brutally suppressed peaceful demonstrations on September 26-27, he was arrested and subsequently disrobed by authorities without consultation with the Sangha institution.

Ashin Gambira has been charged with nine separate criminal offenses by the military court. The charges include: State Offence Act 505 A and B, Immigration Act 13/1, Illegal Organization Act 17/1, Electronic Act 303 A and Organization Act 6, generally having to do with threatening the stability of the state.

The ABMA led thousands of monks and civilian protesters in street demonstrations last year in Rangoon and other cities. The military authorities’ bloody crackdown officially left at least 10 people dead, although human rights groups say up to 31 protesters may have been killed while thousands of monks and civilians were arrested and detained.

Meanwhile, relatives of student activists from the 88 Generation Students’ Group who were arrested for their involvement in last year’s protests have asked prison authorities to notify them when a detained family member is scheduled to stand trial.

In late August, the 88 Generation Students’ Group asked military authorities to allow family members to enter the courtroom and to allow a defendant to appear in court without handcuffs and in the presence of witnesses during a court hearing, in accordance with international laws.

Military authorities reportedly agreed to allow family members to enter the courtroom, but the agreement broke down on Friday when some family members were denied access to a courtroom.

“We were ordered by prison authorities on Friday not to come to the court anymore,” said Win Maung, the father of Pyone Cho, a student leader of the 88 Generation Students’ Group. “We are disappointed about this, and we have verbally appealed to the prison authorities to allow us to see our children and friends in prison.”

“We plan to summit an appeal letter if they do not take our informal request seriously,” he said.

NLD Seeking to Negotiate ‘Democratic Reforms’

The Irrawaddy News

The National League for Democracy (NLD) is seeking to negotiate “democratic reform” with the Burmese generals if they will establish a constitution review committee, a NLD spokesperson said on Tuesday.

“If we get those chances, we will hold bilateral negotiations and go on based on our agreement,” said Nyan Win, an NLD spokesperson. “Our idea is for ‘democratic reform.’ We willingly want to negotiate with them [authorities].”

Other NLD members said that if the military government is willing to review the constitution, the opposition NLD party may be willing to take part in the national elections in 2010.

The junta held a referendum in May on the constitution, which was drafted by its hand-picked delegates. After the referendum, it announced that more than 92 percent of the voters approved the constitution. Critics and opposition groups inside and outside the country called the constitution and referendum a sham.

The constitution guarantees the military continues to dominate the country’s political future by assigning its own representatives seats in the people’s parliament without contesting in elections.

On September 22, the NLD released a statement calling for a review of the constitutional process, calling the draft constitution “one-sided” and lacking the participation of the 1990-elected members of parliament.

Nyan Win did not discuss any details it might propose regarding the constitution. The Burmese authorities have not responded to the request

Some observers said they were pessimistic the junta would review its own constitution.

Cin Sian Thang, the chairman of the Zomi National Congress, said he didn’t think the generals would agree to a review because they are in the middle of their “seven-step road map” to democracy.

“Even if we [ethnic leaders and NLD leaders] didn’t agree with the junta’s road map, they [Burmese authorities] are likely to continue. If they finish their process, the situation in Burma will only worsen,” he said.

The UN Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari earlier this year also asked the junta to review the constitution but Information Minister Brig-Gen Kyaw Hsan told the envoy in March, “It is impossible to review or rewrite the constitution which was drawn with the participation of delegates from all walks of life.”

Thakin Chan Htun, a veteran Burmese politician in Rangoon, said the general election should be free and fair and the detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi should be allowed to participate.

To be a free and fair election, he said, the junta should first release all political prisoners including Aung San Suu Kyi.

All Burmese citizens should be allowed to vote in the multi-party election and the international community, including UN representatives, foreign observers and journalists, should be allowed to freely report on the general election, said Thakin Chan Htun.

The state constitution is step three of the regime’s seven-step “road map.” The fifth-step is the 2010 general election.

On September 25, after releasing a statement calling for a review of the constitution, the NLD was warned by the head of Burma’s police, Brig-Gen Khin Yi, to withdraw the statement. The authorities said it might motivate citizens to undertake activities critical of the military government and undermine the security of the state.

The NLD, the main opposition party in Burma, won a landslide victory in parliamentary elections in 1990. However, the current Burmese government, led by Snr-Gen Than Shwe, ignored the election results and refused to transfer power to Suu Kyi’s NLD.

Burma's IT Generation Combats Regime Repression

The Irrawaddy News

A truck carrying a squad of police pulls up in front of a Rangoon's Internet café. The police burst into the café and shout to the customers sitting at the computer terminals: "Hands off!" Then they tour the terminals and check every screen, asking users to describe what they are looking at.

If anyone is found using G-talk, the police inquire further—"Who are you chatting with?" "Where do they live?" Customers who come up with wrong or suspicious answers can be arrested.

This scenario is a common one in Rangoon's Internet cafes nowadays—in this era where tech-savvy young Burmese chat away on G-talk, check out the social-networking sites Facebook, Hi5 and Friendster, surf exiled Burmese websites and blogs and even share information about how to slip past regime censors by using proxy servers.

Since the September 2007 uprising, the Internet has shaped the way they think, relax and communicate in their isolated, military-ruled country. The Internet has created a virtual community and a new arena for freedom of expression.

"The uprising in Burma is ultimately an example of a protest where digitally network technologies played a critical role," researcher Mridul Chowdhury reported in his paper "The Role of the Internet in Burma’s Saffron Revolution," a case study for the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University.

Equipped with cell phones and digital cameras, and with access to the Internet, determined young Burmese are communicating with each other and the outside world as never before.

During last year’s monk-led demonstrations, known as the Saffron Revolution, Internet users also became publishers of text, audio, and video files illustrating what was happening inside the country. Suddenly, Burma was attracting the full attention of such international media as the BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera. Condemnation of the regime’s repression of the protests followed from many governments.

Burma’s IT generation had a chance to flex its muscles before the generals pulled the plug on the Internet at the height of their crackdown on the September protests.

The junta has prevented Burmese citizens from using services like Hotmail, Yahoo and Gmail and to block Web sites and blogs set up by exiled Burmese critics of the regime. But Internet cafes responded by installing foreign-hosted proxy servers to circumvent the government restrictions.

Risking arrest, imprisonment and torture, young Burmese—notably journalists and bloggers—have continued to play a crucial role in informing the outside world of the true situation in Burma.

They are more likely than ever to see the Internet as a means of achieving freedom of expression with the advent of information technology. In their blogs and chat rooms, they have been demonstrating the active role they play in sharing information and debating important issues in politics and other areas of domestic concern.

This is the reason why, one year after the Saffron Revolution, Internet cafes are becoming subject to severe surveillance by the police. Cafe owners are forced to take screenshots of user activity every five minutes and deliver these images to the authorities on a regular basis.

The owner of one Internet cafe in downtown Rangoon said the local authorities and police intelligence officers had issued orders to provide ID information about customers.

According to Internet cafe owners and users in Rangoon, Internet speeds have slowed down considerably since mid-September, making it impossible to upload large files such as photos or videos.

Meanwhile, the Web sites of the exile-run, Oslo-based Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) and New Delhi-based Mizzima News were hit in July by DDoS attacks, shutting them down for several days.

Another DDoS attacks were again in September launched against The Irrawaddy, DVB and the Bangkok-based New Era Journal. The Web site of Mizzima News was hacked on October 1 with a cross-site scripting, making it inaccessible.

According to Chiang Mai-based freelance journalist Brian McCartan, two community forums Mystery Zillion and Planet Myanmar—Web sites providing information and instruction on how to circumvent the regime's control—were also disabled and shut down by similar attacks in August.

This kind of action by the regime, however, may indicate that the Internet has had an influence not only on ordinary users but also on the government’s overall response to the street demonstrations, the experts argue.

"While any number of deaths is unacceptable, it is also possible that the government actually exercised restraint in the use of force against civilian protesters because of the Internet and international media attention," Chowdhury wrote.

He pointed out that at least 3,000 demonstrators were killed in the nationwide uprising in 1988, while the official death toll in the crackdown on the 2007 demonstrations was far lower—31.

"It is plausible that the military felt it was under greater scrutiny because of the Internet, and that it was therefore more restrained in its use of force," Chowdhury said.

Credential Challenge to Continue, Say Exiled MPs

The Irrawaddy News

The Members of Parliament Union (Burma), an exiled group of elected MPs who are heading the campaign to challenge the credentials of the Burmese military junta at the United Nations, have said that they are not deterred by the initial negative response from the UN, and that they would "intensify" their drive to have the junta denied recognition by the world body.

In addition, the “credential challenge campaign” of the Members of Parliament Union (Burma) has hired the services of two eminent US law firms, which will aid and advise it on the legal path to be followed, said Vice-president San San.

In his original letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon on September 8, San San challenged the credentials of the military junta to represent the people of Burma at the UN.

Asserting that the Members of Parliament Union (Burma) are the legitimate, democratically elected leaders of Burma, San San said they had appointed Thein Oo as their representative to the UN and as such he should be considered Burma's Permanent Representative to the United Nations.

The office of the secretary-general responded to the letter about a fortnight later, which was interpreted by many that the request had been rejected by Ban.

However, a copy of a letter signed by a senior UN official on behalf of the UN secretary-general indicates that Ban's office has raised technical points regarding legal requirements.

"The secretary-general's role is limited to a technical role in reviewing the formal criteria for credentials set forth in the Rules of Procedure,” said the senior official.

The procedure for the execution, submission and examination of credentials of representatives is set out in rules 27 through 29 of the Rules of Procedures of the General Assembly.

Rule 27 provides inter alia that "the credentials of representatives and the names of members of a delegation shall be submitted to the Secretary-General,” while Rule 28 provides that a committee “shall examine the credentials of representatives.”

"As such, the Secretary-General has decided not to take any action on your letter as it does not comply with the formal legal requirement set out in rule 27," the letter said.

"The Secretary-General, however, has taken note of the contents of your letter which together with its attachments, will remain on file with the Office of Legal Affairs, available for perusal by any member of the Credentials Committee at their request," the UN official said.

Members of Parliament Union (Burma) Secretary Ko Ko Lay said members of the campaign committee are not at all disappointed with the response from the UN.

He said that his team was now aided by a battery of eminent attorneys who were looking into how they can fulfill the legal requirements set out in rule 27.

"Credential challenge is only the first step in a new initiative to use all available international legal and political mechanisms to challenge the legitimacy of the regime and bring to light the multitude of abuses the regime commits against Burmese people," he said.

Encouraged by the support the Credential Challenge Campaign has been receiving from the international community, especially from Western nations, Ko Ko Lay said he was hopeful that they could achieve their goal within a few years.

At the same time, he conceded that none of Burma’s neighbors have been willing to support the committee on the issue.