Sunday, 2 November 2008

Junta sends prisoners in short-term sentences to Hard Labour camps

Written by KNG
Saturday, 01 November 2008

Burma's ruling military junta has been sending prisoners serving less than a year's prison term in a prison at Myitkyina, the capital of Burma's northern Kachin State to Hard Labour camps in lower Burma, according to local sources.

Prisoners serving prison terms between six months to five years in Zilon Prison have been selected and sent to the Htonbo Hard Labour camp in the south of Mandalay and the Hard Labour camps in the war zone in Karen State, sources close to the prisoners said.

The sources added that the prison authorities mainly selected young male prisoners for Hard Labour and if the prisoners wanted to be excluded from the list of Hard Labour candidates then their families or relatives would have to pay a bribe between 250,000 Kyat (US $105) to 300,000 Kyat (US $246) per prisoner to the prison authorities within a given time.

The main reasons for sending prisoners serving short-term prison sentences are that the prisons are becoming more and more crowded with the death toll of prisoners dying from Tuberculosis (TB) and AIDS increasing day by day, according to the prison.

Currently, both the diseases have not spread among too many prisoners however, policemen guarding the prisons are also falling victim to the diseases, the prison authorities said.

In Zilon Prison, there are prison cells to accommodate about 700 male prisoners and 500 female prisoners. However, there are now about 1,300 male prisoners and about 500 female prisoners in the prison. About twenty prisoners have to stay in a prison cell and most of the prisoners are the cases related to drug addicts and smugglers, according to the prisoners.

Of them, most prisoners are ethnic Kachins because they do not have enough money to bribe the policemen for avoiding imprisonment, the Kachin community sources in Myitkyina said.

Earlier, the junta used to send prisoners with more than five years prison terms in Zilon Prison, to the Hard Labour camps around the country and also as porters in the wars between Burma's army and the Karen National Union (KNU) on the Thailand-Burma border in the Southeast of the country, added local sources.

According to prisoners in Zilon Prison, if the prisoners are sent to the junta's Hard Labour camps, most of them have high chances of dying of torture and malnutrition.

Comparison of BSPP's and SPDC's Political Manipulation

Wed 29 Oct 2008 (Mon News) - The Burmese Army took power not during the bloodshed of 1988, but through a coup in 1962. The military has ruled the country under many different names. The commanders of Burma’s Army have noticed how delicious power tastes, and do not want the make way for democratic governance. They continuously manipulate the situation in Burma to maintain power. They will again during the election of 2010.

Under the name “Revolutionary Council,” General Ne Win ruled the country from 1962 to 1974. He ruled without any constitution, like the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) – and subsequent State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) – ruled from 1988 to 2008, and maybe will past 2010.

Ne Win imprisoned hundreds of democratic and ethnic leaders, including former Prime Minister U Nu and Mon leaders Nai Aung Tun. Similarly, SLORC's Gen. Saw Maung and Lt. Gen. Khin Nyunt arrested many activists – student leaders, NLD members and 1990 MPs – and imprisoned them for many years. SPDC's Sr. Gen. Than Shwe has been more aggressive and notorious. He ordered the imprisonment of almost all of ‘88 Generation Student leaders and killed unarmed monks and civilians during the 2007 September's Saffron Revolution.

Ruling the country without a legitimate constitution is lawlessness. And it is illegitimate in the eyes of international and diplomatic communities. Ne Win and his military men drafted a socialist constitution in 1974 and called for a sham “People’s Referendum.” Unsurprisingly, 99% of the people were said to support the one-party rule Socialist Constitution. Burmese Army's commanders took off their uniform, and took over politics through one-party elections and seats in the parliament and cabinet.

History is repeating itself. The SPDC's Sr. Gen. Than Shwe held a sham “National Convention” to draft a sham constitution. The product guarantees the military controls 25% of seats in parliament. After the 2010 Elections, the military will rule without taking off a uniform.

If compared with these situation, the current regime more openly expresses that they love the taste of power and will continue military rule of the country as long as possible. As prominent Journalist U Win Tin said, “all of us will die in this roadmap.” This roadmap cleared the way for military rule and it is the genuine political will of this regime. Therefore, there will be no liberal or participatory democracy in Burma.

The Faltering Asean Way

The Irrawaddy News

It is ironic that just as the much-heralded Asean Charter received its final approval through ratification by Indonesia, two Asean member states faced off across a disputed patch of land and started shooting at each other. It was an inauspicious start to what the Charter's preamble refers to as 'a region of lasting peace, security and stability...'

The Thai-Cambodian border is not the only fault line that threatens peace in South-east Asia. In recent weeks, Malaysia has rattled Indonesian nerves with the threatened exploitation of disputed waters off the island of Borneo. The reaction in Jakarta? Instead of requesting the good offices of the Asean Secretary-General to mediate as envisaged in the Charter, security agencies hurriedly planned a military exercise to practice confrontation with the Malaysian navy.

Southeast Asian nations have lived in relative peace and harmony for the past half-century. But they have been reluctant up till now to formalize the mechanism by which peace is maintained. Asean member states have displayed an allergy to formal security cooperation. They have preferred instead to use informal channels and personal connections to resolve disputes.

This was a fine arrangement when Southeast Asia was a more clubbable place, its leaders more or less on the same political plane, sharing the same demons (communist insurgency and uppity peasantry). But today, Southeast Asia has become a patchwork of rather different political landscapes.

In Indonesia, a vibrant democracy has injected nationalist stridency to the country's diplomacy. In Thailand, bitter domestic political conflict is doing the same as one side seeks to undermine the other by questioning its nationalist credentials. In the Philippines, the legislature holds the threat of impeachment over the President's head and makes it hard for the country's chief executive to follow a consistent foreign policy agenda.

Pluralism, therefore, is making it hard for Asean officials to knit together the much-vaunted regional consensus. Now more than ever, Asean needs to build a framework for dispute resolution that will allow the collective security of the region to trump domestic politics and nationalist breast-beating. The Asean Charter lays a good foundation for doing so.

But despite the Charter's ratification, there are few signs this is happening. The other day when Thai and Cambodian troops started trading fire, Asean officials were at a loss to know how to intervene. Asean Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan asked regional leaders like Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to appeal for restraint, which he did. Foreign ministers from Indonesia and Malaysia fell over themselves to offer mediation, but no invitation came from either of the parties. The current Asean chairman, Thailand, is a party to the dispute.

Eventually, calm was restored when it emerged that the Thai and Cambodian leaders would meet on the fringes of an Asia-Europe meeting in Beijing, which they did. That is hardly an endorsement of Asean's ability to resolve disputes.

At the heart of the problem is the reluctance of Asean member states to yield an inch of sovereignty in the interests of collective security. The past few months have seen a number of attempts to gently push the boundaries of acceptable intervention, but it has not been easy.

Witness how easily domestic politics derailed a Malaysian-brokered deal between Manila and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in Mindanao. Often, when regional mediation does get under way, jealous or competitive neighbors seek to sabotage or hamper these efforts. Not only has Bangkok been reluctant to embrace Jakarta's good offices as a mediator in the southern Thailand conflict, but also Malaysia appears to be unhappy to see Jakarta involved in a dispute along its border with Thailand.

Ever since the high-profile resolution of the long-running conflict in Aceh on the back of the devastating December 2004 tsunami, many in the region saw the so-called 'Aceh model' as a path to peacemaking easily replicated elsewhere, which is not necessarily the case.

Without a more formal mechanism to channel and regulate conflict management, with the implicit role of third-party intervention, Asean's efforts to forge a region of peace and security will fall on stony ground. There is something of a built-in contradiction between bedrock principles in the Asean Charter: on the one hand, it stresses respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity; and on the other, a 'shared commitment and collective responsibility' for peace and security. Put another way: How can Asean ensure the peaceful resolution of disputes when the Charter insists on non-interference in the internal affairs of member states?

This contradiction needs resolving.

When neighbours cannot settle quarrels between themselves, outsiders should be called on to do so. The irony of not allowing more space for regional mediation is that it leaves the door open for larger powers—like China in the case of the current Thai-Cambodian dispute—to act as the mediator.

The writer is Asia Regional Director for the Geneva-based Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue and this article recently appeared on Jakarta Post.