Monday, 21 June 2010

Burmese tycoon brokered arms deal with China

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Burma’s richest business tycoon and close ally of despotic ruler Senior General Than Shwe, went to China early this month to broker a deal enabling the regime to buy 50 multi-role jet bombers for its air force, trusted sources said.

Tay Za was also spotted at the Kunming regional trade fare on June 7, in China’s southern province of Yunnan. The purpose of his visit was to help the Burmese regime acquire the K-8 Karakorum, a two-seat intermediate jet trainer and light attack aircraft developed in a joint venture between China and Pakistan.

Estimates for the price of the aircraft vary widely. Last October, Bolivia announced that it would spend US$57.8 million to buy six of the planes. According to Jane’s Defence Weekly the deal also included “two spare engines, a KTS2000BW test vehicle, an Interactive Multimedia Instructor system, initial spare [parts], training and maintenance equipment”.

Since then, Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez had announced on June 7 that his government would spend US$82 million on 18 of the planes. The air force of the country on the northern coast of South America already has at least 200 aircraft.

The Burmese Air Force had bought 12 K-8 Karakorum. Sources close to the air force told Mizzima that Burma’s rulers want more ground attack fighters than strategic fighters such as the Russian-made MiG-29 or its Chinese-built version, the F-5. Such ground attack fighters could be used to intimidate ethnic groups under ceasefire which have refused to bring their troops under the supervision of the junta’s Border Guard Force.

Aircraft part of a mystery deal announced by Hongdu Aviation in September?

Last year Jane’s Defence Industry (also part of the Jane’s Intelligence group) reported that K-8’s Chinese manufacturer Hongdu Aviation had released a cryptic statement in September saying it had just secured a contract with an “unnamed Asian country” to export 60 K-8 planes. According to Jane’s, the statement disclosed that a deal had been struck between Hongdu, the mystery Asian nation and China’s National Aero-Technology Import and Export Corporation on September 6 at Hongdu’s offices in Nanchang, Jiangxi province.

Jane’s speculated that the unnamed Asian partner could be Iran or Indonesia, both seeking to upgrade their air forces. While it is possible that the unnamed partner was in fact the Burmese regime, Mizzima was unable to determine if this was the case.

According to Jane’s the statement Hongdu issued in September disclosed that the deal would transpire in three stages. The first stage would involve the export of 12 aircraft. The second stage would involve the customer acquiring K-8 related technologies, equipment and tools. The third would involve the customer producing the final 48 aircraft under licence locally.

Mizzima has learned that Tay Za was looking to buy an ATR-72 twin-turboprop short-haul regional airliner from Chinese Southern Airlines for his own airline, Air Bagan. He had bought two A-310 Airbuses from China but was unable to use the aircraft because they were grounded in Rangoon for safety reasons.

China is one of the few places where Tay Za can now conduct business transactions with relative ease since he was put on the American, European, Canadian, Australian and Swiss financial sanctions blacklists for Burma. The US government, which commonly refers to Tay Za as “an arms dealer and financial henchman”, was the first Western nation to target the portly tycoon on their black list, citing his close financial ties to Than Shwe and the reclusive dictator’s children. Despite the sanctions against him Tay Za is estimated to have amassed a fortune of more than US$10 billon dollars.

News From Mizzima

Karen-junta troop clashes become online hit

New Delhi (Mizzima) – Footage of clashes between Karen rebels and the Burmese Army posted on You Tube has become a hit with the Burmese online community.

The video was recorded during running battles between government troops from the 60th Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) and the Karen National Liberation Army’s (KNLA) 3rd Brigade, which took place in last year in Kyaukgyi Township in Pegu Division. It has been posted on You Tube since June 12 and has had 5,200 hits.

A person titled “Maungwto” who is living in Japan posted the video after receiving it from Saw Myo Khaing Shin, a top Karen representative in the country.

“This is my first ever posting of a KNLA battle on You Tube. Previously I posted a battle scene between SPDC and Shan State Army troops in March 2009,” Maungwto told Mizzima.

In the latest posting, seven junta troops and a KNLA soldier were killed, while two were seriously injured, Saw Myo Khaing Yan Shin said.

While You Tube was banned in Burma and internet speeds were still at dial-up-level quality, some people have still managed to download the footage using proxy servers, an internet-savvy youth in Rangoon said.

“I could watch this video clip sent by my friend with e-mail and feel sorry to see … what’s happening in our country,” he said.

IT professionals in Burma said that seeing such video clips on the Net was only possible thanks to new media, which was they said a new development for the country.

Despite tight controls on news media and the internet by the military regime, people are increasingly able to access banned information through new media such as social networking sites including Weblogs, Facebook and mail groups.

“We could receive some news, photos and information almost instantly through blogs, e-mail and Facebook,” a young IT professional from Burma told Mizzima.

Thai-Burmese border town Mae Sot based blogger Dr. Lun Swe examined the impact that Web 2.0 and other new media was having on the Burmese opposition community and those living in exile.

“The role of new media is a playing crucial role in our pro-democracy movement,” he said. “The quickest way to post Burma-related news on the internet is on blogs at home and abroad.”

Use of the new media has increased since the 2007 “saffron revolution”, when monks led nationwide demonstrations, as the Web was one of the only sources of unregulated news and information.

As the military regime tightly controls the flow of information over the internet, people in Burma use proxy servers to bypass censorship and news blackouts.

“These blogs are the earliest source of information and the government is facing difficulty in controlling them, but the quality and reliability of this type of news may be substandard,” Dr. Lun Swe said, without elaborating.

News From Mizzima

World unites to honour Suu Kyi

Eminent international leaders including Kofi Annan, Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama have joined thousands of activists and democracy figureheads the world over to honour Aung San Suu Kyi’s birthday today.

The Nobel laureate and Burmese opposition leader will celebrate her 65th birthday inside the dilapidated lakeside mansion, where she has been held a prisoner of the Burmese regime for nearly 15 years.

US president Barack Obama said: “I wish to convey my best wishes to Aung San Suu Kyi, the world’s only imprisoned Nobel Peace Laureate, on the occasion of her 65th birthday on June 19. Her determination, courage, and personal sacrifice in working for human rights and democratic change in Burma inspire all of us who stand for freedom and justice.”

The Elders, a group of prominent global figures founded by Mandela, yesterday left an empty chair for Suu Kyi as a gesture of her honourary membership of the group. Elder member Desmond Tutu lamented the “deep fractures in society” caused by nearly half a century of military rule in Burma, and urged reconciliation to “achieve the peace and prosperity [the Burmese people] deserve.”

Jimmy Carter, former US president and 2002 Nobel Peace Prize recipient, said that Suu Kyi remains “a global symbol of moral courage in the face of repression”.

“As she spends yet another year in captivity, we urge the world, and especially Burma/Myanmar’s partners in ASEAN, to recognise that it is an oppressive and misguided regime that excludes her and thousands of other political activists from playing a part in their country’s future.”

ASEAN refers to the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations bloc, whose policy of non-interference in the domestic affairs of member states, including Burma, has been heavily criticised.

But perhaps the most striking message was delivered by one of Suu Kyi’s closest confidantes in a letter smuggled out of Burma and given to the Independent. The letter, penned by fellow Burmese pro-democracy icon, Win Tin, began: “I want to repeat and echo her own words”.

It went on to make a passionate plea to the outside world to “use your liberty to promote ours”, a quote first ushered by Suu Kyi in 1997. Win Tin added that Burma, one of the world’s poorest nations, was “starving” for freedom.

A collection of previously unseen photographs of Suu Kyi was published by the Guardian newspaper yesterday to mark her birthday. Gifted to the newspaper by Suu Kyi’s family, it gives a rare glimpse into the life of ‘The Lady’ before her return to Burma in 1988 and subsequent years under house arrest.

Activists from Australia to the Philippines to Britain today and yesterday rallied in tribute to Suu Kyi, urging the Burmese junta to release the 65 year old. But her current spell under house arrest is not due to expire until early 2011, months after Burma’s elections likely further cement the status quo in the country and leave Suu Kyi’s fate in the hands of the military generals.

News From DVB