Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Britain brands Myanmar elections unfair

LONDON - British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's office said Tuesday there was "no prospect" of Myanmar's first elections in two decades being "free, fair or inclusive".

Brown said the country's military rulers had "squandered" the opportunity for national reconciliation, and called for opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to be allowed to participate.

The National League For Democracy said Monday it would boycott polls expected later this year, after the country's military rulers introduced a controversial new election law.

Aung San Suu Kyi's party decided to refuse to register for the elections, a move that would have forced it to oust its detained leader and recognise the military's constitution in the country formerly known as Burma.

"Sadly, the Burmese regime has squandered the opportunity for national reconciliation," Brown said. "Aung San Suu Kyi must be allowed to take her rightful place at the heart of Burmese politics."

His spokesman added: "Regrettably, recent announcements mean there is no prospect of (the elections) being free, fair or inclusive."

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Suu Kyi's NLD party to boycott Burma election

Burma's main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), says it will not take part in the country's first polls in two decades.

An NLD spokesman said the party had decided not to register because of "unjust" electoral laws.

The laws recently announced by the junta required the NLD to expel its detained leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, because she has a criminal record.

Its refusal to register means the NLD will no longer be legally recognised.

No date has been set for the elections, but the military has pledged to hold them this year.

The NLD won the last elections in 1990 but was never allowed to take power.

The BBC's South East Asia correspondent, Rachel Harvey, says the party's decision to boycott the coming election, rather than ousting its charismatic leader in order to participate, was largely expected.

But the move will do nothing to ease international concern about the country's already heavily-criticised political standards, she adds.

No compromise

The NLD's decision followed a meeting of more than 100 party members in Rangoon.

NLD spokesman Nyan Win said the party had agreed that it could not participate in the elections under the new laws, which were announced in early March.

Constitution: 25% of seats in parliament reserved for the military
Constitution: More than 75% approval required for any constitutional change
Election law: Those with criminal convictions cannot take part - ruling out many activists
Election law: Members of religious orders cannot take part - ruling out monks
Election commission: Handpicked by Burma's military government

"After a vote of the committee of members, the NLD party has decided not to register as a political party because the election laws are unjust," Reuters news agency quoted him as saying.

The decision did not come as a surprise - last week Nyan Win said Ms Suu Kyi had told him the party should "not even think" of taking part in the polls because of the nature of the election laws.

If the NLD had chosen to take part, it would have implied its acceptance of the military's constitution - something it has so far refused to do.

Some senior NLD leaders had argued the party risked rendering itself irrelevant if it chose not to contest the polls, even though that participation would be constrained by the military.

Aung San Suu Kyi (file image)
Aung San Suu Kyi had indicated that she opposed her party taking part

Win Tin, a veteran NLD member and one of Burma's longest-serving political prisoners, described the meeting as a "life-or-death issue".

"If we don't register, we will not have a party and we will be without legs and limbs," he said ahead of the announcement.

But Tin Oo, the party's recently-released deputy leader, said that the decision did not signal the end for the NLD. "There are many peaceful ways to continue our activities," he said.

The new election laws have been condemned by the UN, US and UK, among others.

The laws state that parties cannot have any members with criminal convictions - which rules out many top NLD leaders who have been jailed because of their political activism.

The laws also ban members of religious orders and civil servants from joining political parties. Buddhist monks were the driving force behind anti-junta protests in 2007.

Critics say both the election laws and the constitution under which the elections will be held are designed to ensure that the military retains a firm grip on power in Burma.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Burma stages landmark army parade (BBC News)

Thousands of soldiers are taking part in Burma's annual Armed Forces Day parade in the capital Nay Pyi Taw.

The parade will be the last before elections later this year which should replace Burma's military government.

Military ruler General Than Shwe is expected to address the crowds, outlining Burma's moves towards democracy.

However, critics say the military is aiming to keep power even after the elections.

No date for the poll has yet been set.

Future role

Analysts say it may be revealed in Saturday's speeches from the generals along with possible indications of Than Shwe's future role.

There has been speculation that he will want to remain as army chief or may try to become president.

"They will talk about ideology, policy and the steps they've taken towards democracy," said Aung Naing Oo, a Burmese academic based in Thailand.

"More symbolic is their attempt to show everyone at home and abroad that the military will not, and must not, be discounted."

Burma recently revealed new laws under which the multi-party elections will take place.

Many key opposition figures - including detained leader Aung San Suu Kyi - are not allowed to take part.

Members of religious orders are also banned from taking part, a rule which covers the monks who led anti-government protests two years ago.

Friday, 26 March 2010

The Curious Case of Nyi Nyi Aung

Six months ago, a man named Nyi Nyi Aung landed at the Yangon International Airport in Myanmar (formerly known as Burma). He had come to Myanmar in the hopes of visiting his mother, who is currently in jail for pro-democracy activities and sick with cancer. Before he could clear customs, Aung's baggage cart was seized by airport personnel and he was told to come into their offices to answer some "personal questions." Although Aung has a background as a human rights activist, and was a prominent leader during Burma's 1988 uprising, he had broken no laws. Perhaps more important, Aung is also an American citizen, which should have provided some insurance against wrongful incarceration.
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Once inside the airport offices, Aung said he was interrogated about his political activities and contacts by military security from both the Myanmar Air Force and Navy. He was then handcuffed, blindfolded, and driven for several hours to an unknown destination. While in the car, Myanmar police threatened to beat and kill him. When Aung was finally dropped off at an interrogation center, he was placed in a small, dark room, handcuffed to the table and kicked repeatedly while security officials grilled him on purported terrorist activities.

In an apparent attempt to tie him to illegal activities inside Myanmar, they demanded, Where are the C4 explosives? Where are you hiding the weapons? Where are the satellite phones? Aung, who claims he was innocent of any wrongdoing, answered only that he hoped for national reconciliation and a free, democratic Burma. Security forces were unrelenting in their interrogation, he said, and kept him awake for two weeks while torturing him and denying him food of any kind. On the 14th day, they let him take a shower.

Aung relayed these details to me over the phone this week from suburban Maryland, where he has finally returned after being held for more than six months in a Myanmar jail. Because there was no evidence to support the government's initial terrorism charges, Aung was convicted on trumped-up charges of forging a national identity card, possessing undeclared foreign currency, and failing to renounce his Burmese citizenship when becoming an American citizen. For this, he was sentenced to five years of hard labor.

Last Friday, the Myanmar government announced that they were giving Nyi Nyi Aung an early release because of their "friendship" with the U.S. government. While this gesture was certainly not lost on an administration that is attempting a policy of engagement with the Myanmar military junta, one can safely say that no part of Myanmar's treatment of Nyi Nyi Aung was in any way friendly. But it is perhaps also safe to say that the U.S. response to his abduction and incarceration wasn't exactly angry or contentious, either -- it wasn't much of anything, really. Neither the president nor the secretary of state released a statement after Aung's sentencing -- a pointed counter to Bill Clinton's televised airlift of imprisoned U.S. citizens Euna Lee and Laura Ling a few months earlier. The only response was a brief three-line statement from State Department spokesperson P.J. Crowley, who called Aung's sentencing "unjustified."

For the first 14 days of his incarceration, Aung told me, he felt "very alone." He had no contact with anyone from his family or from the U.S. Embassy in Rangoon. His thoughts, he said, went from being sure that, as a U.S. citizen, his release would be imminent, to fear that the U.S. government was powerless with the Myanmar regime. Aung estimates that on the 18th or 19th day, a deputy from the U.S. Embassy was able to visit him, and assured him that they were "following his case" and that "requests had been filed."

Over the next few months, Aung estimated that consular officials visited him once a month, every two months, and sometimes, every 45 days. In the meantime, he was kept in solitary confinement. Because of his history as a human rights organizer, Myanmar security apparently feared he would find a way to impart his knowledge to other political prisoners, so he was kept as far removed from the rest of the prison population as possible, oftentimes in pens reserved for security dogs. This did not deter him. Aung said: "We just shouted to each other through the walls. Many of the prisoners are much younger than me, so I told them my thoughts about community organizing, about human rights and democracy. I was trying to train them, in a way."

When Aung tried to take up the case of Myanmar's estimated 2,100 political prisoners, U.S. Embassy officials told him "they were unable to discuss political issues." He would ask what, precisely, was being done for incarcerated activists, and their response, he said, was that they were trying, but "the Burmese regime was very difficult." According to Aung, the top U.S. Embassy official in Rangoon never visited him.

In the end, what may have secured Aung's release is a confluence of things. Several weeks ago, the Myanmar junta announced its election law, which, among other things, requires the expulsion of Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi from her party, the National League for Democracy, and excludes many pro-democracy activists from running. The international community has responded to the junta's election law with overwhelming criticism. This law holds particular importance for the regime, which is intent on legitimizing its rule via elections scheduled for later this year.

The U.S. State Department, in the meantime, has found itself defending the efficacy of its engagement policy as the Myanmar regime has, in recent months, increased persecution of dissidents, violent attacks on ethnic minorities, and shown an increasingly hostile attitude toward Aung San Suu Kyi, who remains under house arrest. Nyi Nyi Aung's fiancee, Wa Wa Maw, publicly aired much of her frustration at the lack of progress on Aung's case in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal. For a regime looking for a distraction and an administration hungry for a win (or just a decisive development on the international stage), perhaps the time for a backroom deal on Nyi Nyi Aung's freedom, 197 days later, had arrived.

When he learned of his impending freedom, Aung said he didn't feel much. "I might have gotten released, but all my colleagues, my family -- they are still in jail. I can't really be happy." And though Aung said he was thankful for efforts by the international community to secure his release, he still wondered: "I know the U.S. government has a lot of responsibilities, but I am an American citizen, too. Why is it that [Missouri resident] John Yettaw [who swam illegally across a lake to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi] was freed so quickly?" Aung further took issue with current U.S.-Myanmar policy: "The U.S. keeps talking about carrots. How many Burmese lives will be lost before they get to the sticks?"

Since he arrived home, Aung has been seeking emergency medical attention for injuries incurred during his interrogation and incarceration. While in jail, Aung remained in considerable pain, and though he received injections of painkillers, Burmese prisons are notorious for transmitting deadly viruses (including Hepatitis and HIV) via contaminated needles. His fiancee has reported that so far tests have come back negative. Right now, she said, her primary focus is on applying for financial assistance to help pay for Aung's mounting medical bills, for which they have no health insurance. "He's in excruciating pain," she said. "I can see it in his face."

To make a contribution towards Nyi Nyi Aung's medical care, visit Freedom Now (please earmark the donation as "Nyi Nyi Aung Medical Care")

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Myanmar rulers urged to free political prisoners

UNITED NATIONS — Myanmar's military rulers must free all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, and ensure that upcoming polls are inclusive and transparent, a group of UN member states said Thursday.

The call came at a meeting of the so-called Group of Friends of Myanmar convened by UN chief Ban Ki-moon to review the country's new electoral laws that disqualify Suu Kyi ahead of what will be the first national polls in 20 years.

The group comprises Australia, Britain, China, the European Union, France, India, Indonesia, Japan, Norway, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, the United States and Vietnam.

"The group stressed the need for elections to be inclusive, participatory and transparent in order to advance the prospects of stability, democracy and development for all the people of Myanmar," Ban told reporters after the meeting.

He said participants also urged all parties to work in the national interest and the government to "create conditions that give all stakeholders the opportunity to participate freely in elections."

"This includes the release of all political prisoners,including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi -- and respect for fundamental freedoms," he added.

Ban deplored the fact that despite the government's engagement with key parties to the national reconciliation process, "it is disappointing that we have not seen the progress that we had expected."

And he pointed to his comments earlier this month that Myanmar's "published electoral laws and the overall electoral environment so far do not fully measure up to what is needed for an inclusive political process."

The new laws relate to the registration of political parties and bar anyone serving a prison term from being a member of an official party.

Wednesday, the UN Security Council also examined Myanmar's new electoral laws, with several members also voicing concern about their impact on the upcoming polls.

Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) has yet to announce whether it will take part in the polls, which are expected in October or November although the government has still not set a date.

The 64-year-old opposition leader has been in detention for 14 of the last 20 years since the previous elections.

She was already barred from standing as a candidate under a new constitution approved in a 2008 referendum that stipulates that those married to foreigners are ineligible. Her husband, British academic Michael Aris, died in 1999.

The Nobel Peace laureate was sentenced to three years' jail last August over an incident in which a US man swam to her lakeside home. The sentence was commuted by junta supremo Than Shwe to 18 months under house arrest.

Thursday, 25 March 2010 Burma News

In the last 2 hours

UN Security Council mulls Myanmar's electoral laws Channel NewsAsia - AsiaPacific 20:25

In the last 4 hours

Security Council mulls Burma's electoral laws Bangkok Post - Asia 19:57

Security Council mulls Myanmar's electoral laws Yahoo! US 19:56

UN chief calls key nations’ meet on Myanmar Asian Tribune 19:02

In the last 6 hours

UN to host meet on Myanmar The Manila Times 18:03

UN Security Council to Discuss Burma Voice of America - Asia 16:16


Myanmar high court rejects Suu Kyi lawsuit challenging election laws Jurist's Paper Chase (Weblog) 13:30

NLD's Fate Still Uncertain The Irrawaddy - News 13:00

Suu Kyi's party 'in disarray' over polls The Sydney Morning Herald - Technology 13:00

Top UN Briefing on Burma to Focus on Election Laws The Irrawaddy - News 12:29

New Party to Form in Arakan State The Irrawaddy - News 12:19

Voters Divided on NLD's Fate The Irrawaddy - News 12:19

Burma's Looming Guerilla War: Junta Prepares to Take on the Ethnic Militias Der Spiegel - English Site 12:13

Lest we forget BBC News - South East Wales 11:59

Amadeus delivers Myanmar Airways International’s first e-commerce solution Breaking Travel News - Airlines 11:27

Burma: Unwanted in their homeland, given no rights, Rohingya fear they will languish indefinitely in... i On Global Trends (Weblog) 10:45

Suu Kyi against party registering for elections One World - South Asia 10:13

Political prisoner comes home to Montgomery Village Gazette.Net, Maryland - Gaithersburg News 08:44

Myanmar political prisoner returns home Gazette.Net, Maryland - Rockville News 08:43

Political prisoner returns home to Montgomery Village Gazette.Net, Maryland - Bethesda News 08:41

Political prisoner back home; spent six months in solitary Gazette.Net, Maryland - Poolesville News 08:39

Suu Kyi slams 'unjust' Myanmar vote Aljazeera.Net, Qatar - Asia Pacific 08:14

Supporting community-based emergency response at scale - Cyclone Nargis case study ReliefWeb 07:32

Suu Kyi against party registering for polls One World - South Asia 07:09

Prisoners' Group Celebrates 10th Anniversary The Irrawaddy - News 05:12

Myanmar opposition party to decide next week on contesting polls Monsters and Critics 04:59

Myanmar: Monthly Recovery Update - March 2010 ReliefWeb 04:57

Rohingya boat people stuck in limbo Aljazeera.Net, Qatar - Middle East 04:51

Suu Kyi against her party joining polls Himalayan Times 04:31

Soldiers Collapse At Burma Camp! Ghana Web 04:29

Myanmar poll to take center stage at summit Jakarta Post - Business 04:15

Myanmar International TV to be formally launched on March 31 03:01

World Briefing | Asia: Myanmar: Dissident Against Role in Next Elections The New York Times - Africa 01:32

Myanmar: Dissident Against Role in Next Elections The New York Times - Africa 01:25

Aung San Suu Kyi says her party should not run Irish Sun 00:10


Foreign GROs caught having sex with clients in hotel The Star Online 23:10 Tue, 23 Mar 10

UN to meet on Myanmar The Straits Times 22:29 Tue, 23 Mar 10

Suu Kyi won’t register party in Myanmar polls The Peninsula - Qatar 22:18 Tue, 23 Mar 10

Suu Kyi is opposed to registering for polls Gulf Times - Philippines/East Asia 21:05 Tue, 23 Mar 10

Suu Kyi against party joining elections The Statesman - World 20:47 Tue, 23 Mar 10

n Suu Kyi against registering party for polls Emirates Business 24/7 20:27 Tue, 23 Mar 10

UN to host informal meet on Myanmar this week Channel NewsAsia - AsiaPacific 19:49 Tue, 23 Mar 10

UKaid in Burma ReliefWeb 19:19 Tue, 23 Mar 10

Suu Kyi calls on party to abstain from elections Radio Netherlands 19:04 Tue, 23 Mar 10

Suu Kyi opposed to registering her party for elections Asian Tribune 18:47 Tue, 23 Mar 10

Suu Kyi against party joining polls The Daily Star, Bangladesh - International 18:47 Tue, 23 Mar 10

A step in the right direction The Daily Star, Bangladesh - Op-Ed 18:05 Tue, 23 Mar 10

CASE STUDY NO. 4 Supporting community-based emergency response at scale: innovations in the wake of... ReliefWeb 16:26 Tue, 23 Mar 10

Burma's Suu Kyi against party 'registering for poll' Bangkok Post - Asia 15:58 Tue, 23 Mar 10

Suu Kyi opposes party registering for polls Channel NewsAsia 14:22 Tue, 23 Mar 10

Detained San Suu Kyi Says Would Snub Myanmar Polls The Post Chronicle 14:17 Tue, 23 Mar 10

Suu Kyi opposes her party 'registering for polls' Bangkok Post - Asia 14:06 Tue, 23 Mar 10

Suu Kyi to snub Burma elections The Irish Times 13:57 Tue, 23 Mar 10

Suu Kyi against party register The Straits Times 13:49 Tue, 23 Mar 10

Detained Suu Kyi says would snub Myanmar polls Washington Post 13:48 Tue, 23 Mar 10

Against joining polls 13:33 Tue, 23 Mar 10

MISC launches East India service Lloyd's List 13:02 Tue, 23 Mar 10

Aung San Suu Kyi's lawyers say she opposes registering her party for upcoming... San Diego Union-Tribune, California - North County 12:42 Tue, 23 Mar 10

Myanmar's Suu Kyi against party 'registering for poll' Yahoo! US - Asia 12:15 Tue, 23 Mar 10

Suu Kyi Against NLD Joining Elections The Irrawaddy - News 12:15 Tue, 23 Mar 10