Saturday, January 12, 2008

200-tons of Burmese rice arrive in Teknaf land port

Teknaf, Bangladesh: About 200 metric tons of rice from Burma arrived at Bangladesh’s Teknaf land port on January 10, on board cargo ships after the two neighboring countries agreed to export rice from Burma to Bangladesh, sources said.

On January 10, the rice arrived at Teknaf land port on a vessel, and many more tons of rice is coming from Burma to our country by many vessels, according to official sources.

On January 9, another vessel with 250 metric tons was unloaded at Teknaf land port, which was imported by Bismilla trading company.

Another vessel with 1,500 metric tons will be arriving soon from Singapore to Bangladesh through Mahi and Brothers Company, according to official sources.

In November 2007, 398 metric tons, in December 1997.730 tons, in January, 2008, 450 tons were exported to Bangladesh through Teknaf land port.

An official source from Bangladesh said that the Burmese authorities have stockpiled up to 2,500 tons of rice at the Sittwe port for export to Bangladesh, with the rice expected to reach Bangladesh next week.

Businessmen from Bangladesh asked the Bangladesh government to import rice from Burma after many rounds of discussions with concerned authorities of Burma as the price of the rice is less than other countries.

Md Hashim, the owner of Mahi and Brothers from Teknaf said, "If we continue the import rice from Burma, the price of rice will fall in Bangladesh.”

One businessman, from Shwe Tin Ton Company in Maungdaw won a tender from the authorities of Burma to export 5,000 tons of rice to Bangladesh.

As the rice prices have increased dramatically in Bangladesh, the prices in Maungdaw Township have also increased. A 50 kilogram bag of normal quality rice increased from 24,000 kyat to 27,000 kyat. Many ordinary people are now suffering from the high rice prices in Maungdaw Township, said a local family.

At present, Bangladesh is facing a shortage of rice due to the damage to farms across the country by storms and flooding. The country is now importing large amounts of rice from neighboring countries, including Burma, India, Thailand, Pakistan, and Vietnam, to meet the shortage of rice and to check the price rise.

The World Food Program also agreed to provide support in preventing a crisis by bringing in 500,000 metric tons of rice to Bangladesh.

Source: Kaladan Press

READ MORE---> 200-tons of Burmese rice arrive in Teknaf land port...

Myanmar's ruling junta warns public to be vigilant after bomb blast kills woman

YANGON, Myanmar: Myanmar's ruling junta warned the public to be vigilant and report suspicious activities following a bombing that killed one woman in the capital, state-run media said Saturday.

A bomb exploded at a railway station in Naypyitaw early Friday, killing a 40-year-old ethnic Karen woman, the Myanmar Ahlin daily reported.

There were no immediate claims of responsibility. The government has not blamed any group, but the news report said terrorists were smuggling explosives into the country to carry out bombings.

Authorities warned the public to be vigilant against terrorists and to cooperate with officials by informing them of suspicious activities and turning in the suspects, the report said.

Terrorism is rare but not unknown in Myanmar, which has been under military rule almost continuously since 1962.

The country underwent extreme political turmoil in September, when the government crushed nonviolent, pro-democracy demonstrations, detained thousands and killed at least 31 people, according to a U.N. investigator, whose tally was twice the toll acknowledged by the junta.

Naypyitaw is in a remote area 400 kilometers (250 miles) north of Yangon, the country's old capital and biggest city. It became the country's new administrative capital and main military stronghold in November 2005 and is heavily guarded.

The most deadly terrorist incident in recent years in Myanmar took place in May 2005, when three bombs went off almost simultaneously at two upscale supermarkets and a convention center in Yangon. About two dozen people were killed and another 162 injured.

Several small bombings occurred in the country last year, causing minor damage and injuries.

The government often blames political opponents and ethnic rebels for the bombings, though no firm evidence has been produced. Government opponents deny carrying out attacks on civilians.

Myanmar's military government recently warned that such groups were planning more bombings in major cities.

Source: International Herald Tribune

READ MORE---> Myanmar's ruling junta warns public to be vigilant after bomb blast kills woman...

Bomb blast kills woman in Myanmar's military capital

Yangon - A bomb blast in a public toilet killed a woman in Myanmar's military capital of Naypyitaw, state media reports confirmed Saturday.

Naw Gay Lar, 40, died en route to hospital from injuries she suffered from the explosion at 4:30 am Friday in a public toilet near the Naypyitaw railway station, said The New Light of Myanmar.

Government sources claimed the bomb was the handiwork of 'insurgents who have sent terrorists and explosives to the country, across the border, to carry out sabotage,' said the paper, a government mouthpiece.

Myanmar's ruling junta shifted the capital in late 2004 from Yangon to Naypyitaw, primarily for security reasons.

The new capital, about 350 kilometres north of Yangon, has proven unpopular among the many civil servants forced to relocate to the remote area.

According to some sources, Myanmar's Foreign Affairs and Interior ministries may shift back to Yangon in the near future. (JEG's: ooooh they boys are coming back to town...)

Source: Monsters and Critics (M&C)

READ MORE---> Bomb blast kills woman in Myanmar's military capital...

Burma dissident attacks UN-backed talks

By Graeme Jenkins in Rangoon

Burma's most senior dissident leader to escape arrest in the crackdown following the pro-democracy protests in September has condemned United Nations-backed talks between the opposition and the military regime as a sham.

In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, held at a secret location in Rangoon, the former capital, the man known only by his codename "Phoenix" provided a rare insight into the obscure world of the country's underground pro-democracy movement, which while weakened and on the run still believes that people power can overthrow the junta.

Speaking before Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel laureate and leader of the National League for Democracy, was taken yesterday from house arrest to meet a government negotiator, Phoenix said that he feared the talks were a "trap" designed to fend off international pressure. The talks were brokered by Ibrahim Gambari, the UN special envoy, after the junta crushed the protests, killing at least 31 people.

Yesterday's meeting was their fourth, but the first in almost two months.

Phoenix said: "It seems like a trap set by the government to buy some time from the international community. Mr Gambari is trying to come again but I don't expect much of what he can do." (JEG's: actually Phoenix is right, everytime Gambari is coming the junta decides to show their "willing side")

He welcomed international pressure on the regime, but added: "International support is not where the answer lies. The answer lies within us, within the country. The problem is not that the government are strong but the opposition, we are not strong enough." (JEG's: UNITY is the answer here... united will be able to work their way through into power)

Phoenix is the acting leader of the "88 Generation" - activists who led demonstrations in 1988, when an estimated 3,000 demonstrators where killed by the army.

He was instrumental in orchestrating the protests in September, when thousands of monks took to the streets to demand political change.

After earlier protests had been disrupted by government thugs, he explained: "We thought of getting more power and that power we can get from the monks. We started talking to the monks to show their support for our movement and to back us up."

Rangoon is a city gripped by fear. Following the crackdown, during which hundreds of people were arrested in night-times raids, locals try to avoid a foreigner's eye. No one wants to talk.

There are informers everywhere. Each neighbourhood has a government office with photographs of every resident, where guests must be registered.

"Even inside their families people cannot talk loud," said Phoenix. The question for Phoenix and his allies is whether his movement can survive.

The first protest by monks took place in the north-western town of Sittwe at the end of August. Near there, in a candle-lit, windowless room, The Daily Telegraph recently met the leader of the Sittwe monks.

Many of his followers have been dispersed in the clampdown and he shifts location almost daily to avoid arrest.

"I am planning to try again to organise a demo," he said. "Whether it is possible or impossible to beat this government I don't know, but we must try."

Source: Telegraph

READ MORE---> Burma dissident attacks UN-backed talks...

Burma: Boycott Gems Funding Military Repression

New York

Consumers and merchants should not buy jade, rubies, and other gems from Burma until the military government ends its repression, which is partly funded by gem sales, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch called for a boycott in advance of a gem auction scheduled from January 15 to 19 in Rangoon.

The upcoming gem auction is organized by the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Company Ltd., a military conglomerate. Shares in the holding company are held by the Ministry of Defense and members of the armed forces. Its board of directors is comprised of senior military officers.

"Sales of rubies and jade help bankroll Burma's repressive military," said Arvind Ganesan, director of the Business and Human Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. "Consumers should insist that their jewelry is not made with Burmese gems."

The Burmese military government, notorious for decades of abuse, made international headlines in August and September when it used deadly force in response to peaceful protests by monks, pro-democracy activists, and ordinary civilians. Hundreds of people remain arbitrarily detained.

"Burma's generals are counting on gem sales to help pay for their abusive rule," said Ganesan. "They deserve to be disappointed."

Human Rights Watch advised consumers to ask retailers about the origin of the jewelry they sell, and to decline to purchase from retailers who are not able to offer informed answers or who are unwilling to identify the country of origin of the jewels in writing, such as on the sales receipt.

Retailers should require their suppliers to identify the country of origin on any invoices and to guarantee that gemstones were not mined in Burma, Human Rights Watch said. Retailers should also seek to verify the accuracy of their suppliers' claims.

Sourced: Human Rights Watch
Original Sourced: Reuters

READ MORE---> Burma: Boycott Gems Funding Military Repression...

Burma's long-neck women struggle to break out of Thailand's 'human zoo'

ZEMBER was a poster child for long-neck tourism. At 12, her neck coiled with brass rings, she sat on display at a Bangkok tourism fair, helping to create the buzz which would draw gawkers from around the globe.

Now 23, her neck is bare, the rings stripped off in anger after provincial authorities in Mae Hong Son, in northern Thailand, refused to let her emigrate to New Zealand, concerned about the negative impact on tourism of an exodus of long-neck women.

"When I was young, I wanted to wear the rings and keep my own tradition. In one way, I feel sad (that I've taken them off) but now I go to the city, no one cares, no one stares," she said. "The people who control us say if the people see us in the town, they won't pay to see us (in the village)." Riding motorbikes, a common, inexpensive form of transport, is also frowned upon because the Thais who control the long-neck villages say: "It's not part of your culture".

Zember, also called Mu Lon, has not rejected her culture, but she now sees her rings as a weapon of exploitation by powerful local Thai authorities. Long-neck tourism is big business in Mae Hong Son, but little of the money returns to the Kayans — the operations have always been run by Thais.

"It is the No. 1 attraction in this area. It's why tourists come here," said Wanchai Thiansiri, a Chiang Mai-based tour guide. "They may go to see caves as well, but the long-necks are the attraction."

About 100 Kayans (also known by the Burmese name Padaung), fled across the Burma border to Thailand from Kayah state in the late 1980s when civil war between Karenni separatists and the Burmese army became too intense.

"When we first came, we didn't know anything. In Burma, we had to work really hard and when we moved here (we worked hard) too. We don't know they are getting money from the tourists, we (couldn't) speak English or Thai," said Zember, who was five when her family fled.

She sits on the balcony of their flimsy wooden hut in Nai Soi village, one of three villages where tourists pay 250 baht ($A9.50) to take photos, talk to the women or just stare. Women who wear the rings are paid 1500 baht a month to run souvenir stalls and men receive a rice allowance of 260 baht a month. They make a little more from the traditional scarves they weave and sell. In one village, Hway Su Thao, the women have had their wages docked for riding motorbikes, talking to foreigners outside the village or attending educational courses that keep them away from the village during the day.

The older generation were grateful to have a means of surviving, said Zember in basic English, and they did not understand tourist comments that they were a "human zoo". "Ours is the first generation who can read and write."

In nearly 20 years, the community has grown to 520, still living in poverty, with few rights in Thailand or hope of return to Burma. Unlike other refugees, because of their commercial value, the Kayans have not lived in the largely sealed-off refugee camps, a fact the Thai authorities are now using to suggest they are economic rather than political refugees.

Provincial officials have also told The Age that the Kayans are in fact registered as a Thai hill tribe and so do not have the right to seek asylum.

For many years, the Kayans had no recourse, but the status quo changed in Mae Hong Son in 2005, when the UN High Commissioner for Refugees opened registration for third-country resettlement to the 50,000-odd refugees in the area.

Almost every Kayan family applied: three families that included women who wear rings were successful.

In Nai Soi, two families, including Zember's, were approved for New Zealand and one family for Finland. She takes the precious, crumpled confirmation letter from UNHCR and their International Organisation of Migration medical cards out of their plastic sleeve.

"When we heard, we were really happy, we think we can go there, we are really excited, Our friends from the (refugee) camp who have already gone to New Zealand told us they have seen the house we will live in. Kayan people without rings in the camp have gone."

Before she, her sister, her brother-in-law and their four children could leave, they needed then governor Direk Kornkleep's approval for an exit permit from Thailand. He would not sign, reportedly drawing the analogy of "an endangered species on the verge of extinction which needed protection" in discussions with non-government organisations.

At the governor's office in Mae Hong Song, Deputy District Officer Waricha this week insisted that the long-neck Karenni have never been approved to leave Thailand on refugee status because, according to Interior Ministry data, "they have been registered as Thai hill tribes".

Wanchai Suthivorachai, the vice-governor for security, clarified they were registered with the Interior Ministry as people of "asylum" but there was a problem, because this status only applies to someone living in the refugee camp and who was a war refugee.

"It is surprising at this stage to hear that any Thai authority is questioning their status as refugees," said Kitty McKinsey, spokeswoman for the UNHCR in Bangkok.

A large group of Padaung were submitted to New Zealand for resettlement but there had been no progress on these cases as no Padaung had been allowed to leave in more than two years, Ms McKinsey said.

New Zealand was told there were registration issues with the individuals concerned, said a spokeswoman for the New Zealand Labour Department, which oversees refugee resettlement.

While the then governor blocked their departure, he also announced a plan to consolidate all three long-neck villages, to preserve their culture and make one tourist centre.

As an incentive, the new village project at Hway Pu Keng offers the Kayans their own houses, free from a Thai controller, with the possibility of Thai citizenship in the future.

No other refugees have been offered this preferential deal. Eighty-nine Kayans have moved to the new village but many, including Zember's family, stayed in Nai Soi.

Zember took off her coils in anger, but even bare-necked, she attracts attention. Tour guides now point her out as one who rejects tradition.

"I take off my ring so they will let me go (to New Zealand). When I stay here in the village, they make money from tourists and I don't like that way," she said.

"I want to get my own education, work by myself and own by myself."

Source: The Age

READ MORE---> Burma's long-neck women struggle to break out of Thailand's 'human zoo'...

Dr Lee Boon Yang to attend ASEAN meeting in Myanmar

SINGAPORE : Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts Dr Lee Boon Yang will attend the Third Meeting of the ASEAN and ASEAN + 3 Ministers Responsible for Culture and Arts at Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar from Saturday till Monday.

A MICA statement said the ministers will discuss initiatives to enhance cultural cooperation among ASEAN countries.

During the visit, Dr Lee will also attend the opening ceremony of the Third ASEAN Festival of Arts.

Singapore will be represented by The Finger Players whose unique brand of puppet theatre has won awards in Singapore and recognition around the world.

Source: Yahoo News - Channel Asia

READ MORE---> Dr Lee Boon Yang to attend ASEAN meeting in Myanmar...

Myanmar leaders meet Chinese NPC Standing Committee Vice-Chairperson

First Secretary of the Myanmar State Peace and Development Council Lieutenant-General Thiha Thura Tin Aung Myint Oo met with visiting Vice-Chairperson of the Standing Committee of the Chinese National People's Congress He Luli in the new capital of Nay Pyi Taw Friday.

The two sides exchanged views on bilateral ties and issues of common concerns.

He Luli, who is also Chairperson of the Chinese People's Association for Peace and Disarmament, arrived here Thursday on a five-day goodwill visit to Myanmar at the invitation of U Htay Oo, Secretary-General of the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA).

Shortly after she touched down in Yangon on the same day, He Luli met with U Htay Oo.

Myanmar is He Luli's first leg of her tours to two Southeast Asian nations and she will proceed to the Philippines after Myanmar visit.

Source: China Economic

READ MORE---> Myanmar leaders meet Chinese NPC Standing Committee Vice-Chairperson...

Mission Impossible

By Min Zin
To the Burmese generals, accepting international mediation has become just another means of conducting the conflict as opposed to an option for settling it. In other words, it is a tactical maneuver.

In the wake of the protests in September last year, the regime accepted the mediation efforts of the United Nations simply because rejecting them would cause greater harm in the international arena. More importantly, the junta might not have wanted to upset relations with its staunch regional supporters.

It is hardly surprising that the Burmese government is defying the UN's attempts at mediation—it feels confident that it is successfully bringing the country back under control. Despite UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon repeatedly warning that a return to the status quo that existed before the September crisis is not sustainable, the present situation is heading all the way back to square one.

Ban is trying to revive his Good Offices’ mediation efforts and to dispatch Ibrahim Gambari to China and India before the end of January "to continue further consultations with Burma's neighbors," according to UN officials. At the moment however, the Burmese authorities have not even approved Gambari’s itinerary for Burma.

"As for Myanmar (Burma) itself, we don't have an exact date for Mr Gambari to go back there, although he does have an open invitation to visit the country," said Farhan Haq, a UN spokesman. "The question is about developing the right arrangements. We are keeping in touch with the authorities in Myanmar (Burma) to discuss when Mr Gambari may be able to return."

Burmese opposition party National League for Democracy sent a letter to the UN Secretary-General recently, expressing a readiness to accept Gambari's mediation efforts toward political dialogue and national reconciliation. "Though we cannot ascertain if Mr Gambari will be able to visit Burma during his trip to Asia, we urge the [Burmese] government to accept his visit and the resumption of the stalled political dialogue," said Nyan Win, a spokesman for the party.

However, some diplomatic sources within the UN spoke recently to The Irrawaddy and expressed doubts about the possibility of Gambari visiting Burma on this particular trip.

"He is more likely to come back to New York after visiting China and India," said a foreign diplomat at the UN who spoke on condition of anonymity. "Mr Gambari may not be able to give another Burma briefing at the UN Security Council after this trip, even though some council members will be expecting such a briefing in order to keep the Burma issue on board."

In fact, the UN envoy and other key international players realize that the momentum of the international mediation efforts toward Burma is now fading. They must try to reactivate the momentum and to prioritize a return visit by Gambari to Burma as soon as possible.

"The success of Mr Gambari's efforts largely depend on the readiness of China and India to use their leverage over the Burmese junta," said Dr Thaung Tun, UN representative of the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma—effectively the Burmese government in exile. "China retreated when they really needed to apply pressure on Burma, even though they said they supported Gambari's mission."

After the September uprising and the subsequent military crackdowns, Gambari managed to garner regional consensus on Burma. Those who had kept saying that the Burmese issue was an internal matter—China, India and Asean—came to the consensus that the country really did have a problem, and that the ruling junta should cooperate with UN for the benefit of national reconciliation and democratization.
"Mr Gambari has been dealing with a number of neighboring countries to see what contribution they can make in the process toward normalcy and democratization in Myanmar (Burma)," Haq told The Irrawaddy. "In his upcoming Asia trip, he will simply try to continue that process".

Of course, Gambari must hold China and India to their promise that they would ensure the Burmese regime’s full cooperation with the UN Envoy, especially given the situation that his access to the country is so uncertain. Otherwise, Gambari may face a similar fate to his predecessor, Razali Ismail, who ended his mission denied entry to Burma indefinitely.

The international community needs to be "more insistent with the junta that a special representative of the UN Secretary-General cannot be treated the way that the junta has treated Mr. Gambari,'' United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said late last month. "It's simply unacceptable," Rice added, referring to the way the Burmese authorities had undermined his entry to and movements around Burma last time round.

The outgoing US administration must surely realize its diplomatic constraints in pushing Burma at the Security Council in the face of harsh resistance from China. Contrary to a common misconception, Gambari's current mission is a non-binding mediation effort and he does not have any enforcement capacity. From the very beginning, the leverage he has wielded has largely lain at the mercy of military junta and, to a lesser extent, its key ally, China.

There is no other country in the region or within the Security Council that can initiate a credible alternative Burma policy to the current mechanism of the Good Offices’ role. Sadly, Chinese checkers is the only game in town.

The US Secretary of State recently said that Gambari's mission "needs more profile; it needs to have more vigor." However, she did not articulate how this could be done effectively. Unless the international community compels the Burmese junta to feel that the cost of rejecting the mission, the UN envoy will remain toothless.

Source: Irrawaddy News

READ MORE---> Mission Impossible...

Beyond 1988—Reflections -The Catapult Threat

September 26, 1988, Thabyay Kan village

One week has passed since the military coup—and what a week it has been! Hiding, evading the newly deployed soldiers and police, arrival in my hometown, then the day-long walk to the estuary of the Sitting River, where the Gulf of Mataban begins.

For the moment, our group—14 from my hometown and two from a nearby village—felt safe in the village. It was a backward area, without paved roads or telephones. There were no soldiers here—yet—and although the area had a large police station, we were not too concerned. Villagers and police alike relied for transport on the labyrinth of rivers connecting the gulf. Cars and buses could only be driven on dry riverbeds in the summer, from January to May.

I awoke from a good night’s sleep, hoping at last for a day to rest and reflect on the rapid chain of events that had set us on our unexpected journey. Ahead of us lay the gulf, with the “jungle”—or “liberated areas” of Karen and Mon resistance fighters—awaiting us on the other side. All we had to do was find a boat. Yet we felt a hint of apprehension at venturing into the unknown.

Soon after rising, we visited the local monastery. The abbot gave us his blessing, and together we prayed for the dead on the streets of Rangoon and for the swift arrival of democracy to our homeland.

That day, we had our most lavish meal since the tumultuous political revolt began three months earlier. Our host, a lady in her late fifties, was a relative of Zaw Gyi, my childhood friend. Although happy to see him, she did not ask us many questions. Like other villagers we had seen on our journey, she had probably heard rumors of students leaving for the “jungle.”

The BBC had broadcast news of events in Rangoon, and the exodus of students, with armed ethnic leaders also giving interviews about the sudden arrival of students in their areas. Just three days earlier, I heard Saw Moreh, a Karenni rebel leader, telling the BBC that the resistance had M16s, AK 47s, and other weapons ready to arm students willing to fight the Burmese military. There were already rumors about planes dropping weapons. Such statements greatly encouraged would-be student rebels.

While fleeing the military dragnet, we and many other political activists came to believe that the only way to bring democracy to Burma was to fight the military. In the words infamously uttered by Gen Ne Win before demolishing Rangoon University’s historic student union building in his war against unarmed students in 1962, we were ready to go “sword to sword, spear to spear.” It was romantic idealism, sure, but the mayhem in Rangoon and elsewhere left us with no choice—there was no return.

After lunch, we returned to the house where we had stayed the night. Drowsy from the heavy meal, I decided to take a nap, while Zaw Gyi and a few others who knew the village went to enquire about boats to cross the gulf.

My dream of a perfect day was shattered about 2 p.m., when I awoke to a sudden commotion and shouts. Dazed, I got up and looked around, and realized the house was empty. Outside, I saw my friends restraining a shouting man, and thought there was a fight.

But when someone in our group cried, “U Min Han is here,” I awoke completely. I knew why he was here; two of his sons—middle school students—were with us. I had asked them not to come with us, but they were adamant. So we had given in. But I never anticipated what would happen less than 24 hours after we arrived in the village.

Stepping outside, I saw U Min Han lunging forward to attack one of his sons. There was nothing I could do. U Min Han, like my father, worked in the government’s agricultural trading corporation. He was a very close family friend. But I feared him more than my father because he was always ready to berate me when I misbehaved or sometimes just over the shoddy way I wore my longyi.

Finally, my friends persuaded him to go inside and talk. I was asked to join the discussion. We sat in a circle, with U Min Han on one side and his two sons on the other, separated by us. As we began, U Min Han simply asked his sons to go home with him. They refused. Then he asked them again to go back with him.

He said: “Aung Naing (referring to me) has a degree and is old enough to take care of himself.” “Look at you”, he said to his elder son. “You have not even passed the middle school exam.” He was right; the boy had failed his middle school government exams repeatedly.

Yet his two sons were adamant. “I am going to fight for democracy,” the elder insisted. “I am going to the jungle.” U Min Han was visibly angry, though he tried hard to remain calm. Yet I knew his sons were trying his patience. Then, when the sons said “no” for the third time, he suddenly grabbed his lwel ate, or shoulder bag, and pulled out a catapult and a handful of dry mud pellets.

He immediately aimed the slingshot at his sons. All of us were totally taken aback. His sons jumped backward covering their faces. Catapults and mud pellets do not kill, but they can blind if the eyes are hit. Stunned and alarmed, we begged him to put down the weapon. He refused, threatening to use it against his disobedient sons.

I sympathized with him, though every time he pulled the leather strap back, as if to shoot his sons, I wanted to laugh. I did not, though, and in the end his threat worked and the two sons agreed to go home.

That afternoon we packed our bags, and left for what we thought was a more secure location—a monastery on a small island two miles away. The island was called “Aung Naing,” which I thought was a good omen, and I expected it would be a quiet refuge until we got our ride. Yet more eventful days lay ahead.

Source: Irrawaddy News

READ MORE---> Beyond 1988—Reflections -The Catapult Threat...

SA mag joins panty plan to oust Myanmar junta

By Melanie Peters

A popular South African women's magazine has joined the global call for people to join the "panty protest" against Myanmar's regime by sending women's underwear to the junta's embassy in Pretoria.

Marie Claire's current issue calls on its readers to send their knickers to the embassy as a form of protest against human rights abuses.

Thein Win, chairperson of the Free Burma Campaign South Africa, said: "It is an excellent idea. Send more panties to sap more power so that they know people do not support them."

The worldwide protest started late last year after Lanna Action for Burma, a pro-democracy group based in Thailand, urged supporters around the world to join its "Panty Power" campaign.

Its website urged supporters to "post, deliver or fling" underwear to, or at their nearest embassy to insult the country's leadership.

Activists seeking to pressure the regime are targeting the "superstitions" of its senior generals.

It is reported that the 73-year-old head of the military, Than Shwe, and members of the military junta believe that contact with women's panties - clean or dirty - will sap them of their strength. Embassies have received underwear from Thailand, Australia, Singapore and the UK.

Source: IOL

READ MORE---> SA mag joins panty plan to oust Myanmar junta...

Shetlanders force climbdown on Burmese woman's deportation

By Mark Hughes
The Independent

Squads of Vikings, wielding axes and flaming torches, will take to the streets of Shetland this month. They will march, singing and chanting, through the islands' towns, cheered on by crowds of thousands before setting fire to a huge Norse ship.

This is how the people of the Shetland Islands generally see out the cold winter nights – with a flurry of pagan festivity that makes the locals seem somewhat frightening to visitors.

Yet the Up Helly Aa fire festivals that celebrate Shetlanders' warrior past paint a misleading picture of Britain's northernmost people. For this week they once again showed that they are among the most welcoming of communities – willing to do battle on behalf of those who choose to settle there.

Their latest victory came when a Burmese woman, Hazel Minn, and her two sons were told that they would not, after all, be deported. Ms Minn fled Burma's military regime in 2002 but was told in 2004 that her application for political asylum had been turned down.

However the Government was forced into a U-turn after nearly four years of protest from islanders which saw more than 7,000 of the island's 21,000 population sign a petition demanding the family be allowed to stay. Ms Minn is not the only one to have benefited from the islands' unflinching community spirit in the face of the Home Office.

In 2004 Tanya Koolmatrie, an Australian national, was told she would have to leave the UK because she did not have a British passport; this was despite the fact she had a home and a child with a Shetland man. Again the Home Office backed down when the islanders rallied round.

And in 2006, in perhaps the islands' biggest show of people-power to date, Thai man Sakchai Makao was allowed to stay in Shetland after a deportation threat was thrown out by an immigration tribunal.

Mr Makao was told he would have to return to Thailand, a country he had not been to for 13 years, after a government directive stated that all foreign nationals who had served prison sentences in the UK would have to leave.

Mr Makao had spent eight months in jail in 2002 when he set fire to a car and a mobile cabin in a "moment of madness" after the death of his Scottish stepfather.

His case became another cause célèbre for the islanders, forcing another Home Office climbdown.

Alistair Carmichael, the Liberal Democrat MP for the islands, was involved in the campaigns to stop the deportations of Ms Minn, Ms Koolmatrie and Mr Makao, and one of 100 MPs who signed a petition supporting the latter.

He said: "The remarkable thing is that immigration is, in many ways, a unifying phenomenon in Shetland whereas in the rest of the country it is divisive. I think that is because we are an island community and every person is valued as an individual.

"There is a deep sense of fairness in Shetland and if people are seen to be treated unfairly it angers us.

"And I think in each case it has been very important that the community was behind them. The fact they were all able to demonstrate so evidently that they were a real part of their communities helped their cases enormously."

Davie Gardner, 52, started the campaign to allow Mr Makao to stay. He set up a petition which was signed by 10,000 people, including 100 MPs and the singer Elvis Costello.

Mr Gardner said: "In Sakchai [Makao]'s case, yes he had committed a crime, but he had served his time and was integrating back into the community.

"He was a well-known figure, he worked at the local leisure centre and everyone knew who he was. Sakchai may have been from Thailand, but to us he was a Shetlander."

The organiser of the campaign to help Mrs Minn was Bert Armstrong, the 71-year-old grandfather of her two sons, Simon, 15, and Vincent, 14.

He said: "People on the outside might see us as insular islanders, but these campaigns prove that's not the case. No matter where you are from you are welcome on Shetland."

READ MORE---> Shetlanders force climbdown on Burmese woman's deportation...

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