Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Funeral charity forced to close down offices

Nov 18, 2008 (DVB)–The Free Funeral Service Society has been ordered to move out of its current offices in Rangoon and in Saku township, Magwe division, by local authorities.

Kyaw Thu, an academy award-winning actor and vice president of the FFSS, said the organisation had been ordered to move out of its main office and free clinic which are currently located in Rangoon's Thingangyun township.

The order came from the government's Department of Human Settlement and Housing Development which claimed the land where the office was built was preserved for Sasana society, Kyaw Thu said.

"The monastery which owned the land wanted to expend their building as they have more monks staying there now," said Kyaw Thu.

"We were told we are not allowed to set up office buildings like ours in this location."

The FFSS building will now be relocated to Ba Htoo road in the northern part of Dagon township.

"The land preserved for our new building is actually a plastic garbage dump which goes deep into the ground - about seven or eight feet," Kyaw Thu said.

"We are going to have to set up pole foundations first in order to start the construction and that is going to be costly," he said.

"We would need some donations to do that as the current budget we have is only meant to be used for free funeral services."

Kyaw Thu added that more families in Rangoon had been seeking the group's assistance in funeral services due to financial hardship.

"Now we are giving assistance for about 50 funeral services a day," he said.

Meanwhile, locals in Magwe division's Minbu province said the FFSS branch in Saku township founded by local youths less than a year ago had been disbanded due to pressure from the provincial Peace and Development Council.

"Saku's FFSS project was founded by local youths less than a year ago and they were given permission by the authorities in the beginning," said one Minbu resident.

"But recently the authorities began to pressure them to stop their activities so they had to disband."

The local resident said the FFSS in Saku had started out with only a cart to carry the bodies to funerals but it has now managed to buy a hearse with the donations it received as its work became better known among locals.

"It was really useful for poor people who couldn't afford the funeral expenses for their loved ones and now locals are really disappointed to see it go," he resident said.

Reporting by Nan Kham Kaew

READ MORE---> Funeral charity forced to close down offices...

Burma’s women come out of the shadows

Commentary by Meelyin

Nov 18, 2008 (DVB)–On 27 October 2008, the Women’s League of Burma launched its shadow report on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

The shadow report, which was sent to the 42nd session of the CEDAW committee, was compiled by women’s groups, especially groups in exile and other networks.

The ruling State Peace and Development Council has already submitted its own report to the committee on the measures it has taken to comply with the treaty.

The shadow report explicitly claims that, “The face of public life in Burma is male, in large part because the culture of Burma today is profoundly militarized.”

In addition, it argues that the SPDC is unreasonably neglecting the reality of what is happening in the country when it states in its report, “Women are possessed of full rights from before birth.”

The shadow report also argues that even the many women’s organisations established by the SPDC inside Burma function as a mouthpiece for the SPDC instead of standing up for Burma’s women.

According to this CEDAW shadow report, Nang Yin, general secretary of the Women’s League of Burma, said, “The SPDC’s political objective of building a ‘disciplined democracy’ is entrenching the patriarchal society for a second time.”

Here, there is one question: are women discriminated against just because of the military government?

It is clear that while all Burmese citizens are exploited by the military regime, women are doubly abused. Around the world, in countries under military rule and other kinds of political systems, there are many women’s groups resisting gender-based discrimination. It is not only due to the political system that women are discriminated against and abused.

The first wave of feminism began during the 19th century. It moved to Burma’s democracy movement in the 20th century. Even though some women’s organisations were established during 1950s, it was not until 1999 when the Women’s League of Burma was founded that the women’s political movement took off.

Here is a second question: why are women in the pro-democracy movement attempting to bring about a double revolution of political change and equal rights?

This question is linked to the answer to the first question, which made clear that women are discriminated against not only due to the military regime but also because of the patriarchal structures of society. It should be explicitly stated that the Burmese democracy movement needs both political change and a commitment to gender equality to achieve real change in the country.

What are exile women groups are doing to promote women’s equality?

Initially, most women’s groups in exile were founded to deal with social issues. Then later, they realised that women’s participation in politics and at all decision-making levels is the basis for promoting gender equality and justice in society. While women’s organisations continued to work on social affairs such as raising awareness of women’s rights, women’s participation in politics became their priority.

The inclusion of a quota system in the Federal Constitution organised by the exile movement, whereby there must be at least 30 percent women at all decision making levels, is one of their greatest successes of the Burmese women’s movement and a mark of their solidarity.

However, even in the exile Federal Constitution Drafting Coordinating Committee, there is still a lack of participation by women and it clearly shows that the movement still needs to pay more than lip service to promoting women’s equality.

Looking back on the process of enacting the principle of a quota system, it took tears, anger and unity on the part of the women involved. Men often say that “tears are a woman’s weapon”, but it is more accurate to say that “tears and life are the symbol of revolution” given that no revolution has been achieved without these sacrifices which are built into the spirit and beliefs of human beings.

The CEDAW shadow report shows the unity and strong feelings of solidarity among Burma’s women. It may or may not change the SPDC’s implementation of policies on women’s rights, but at the very least it can surely shame the SPDC before the international community and bring regional pressure to bear on the regime.

It is impossible to estimate when women’s rights and gender equality will be perfectly practised in society and when the women’s movement will end its revolution. For the moment, Burma’s women are still on the road to revolution, offering their tears, anger and solidarity. But one day they must surely achieve their goal.

READ MORE---> Burma’s women come out of the shadows...

New Generation activists jailed

Nov 18, 2008 (DVB)–Seven leaders of the New Generation Students activist group, including Sithu Maung, Ye Myat Hein and Zin Linn Aung, were given prison sentences yesterday in connection with last year's Saffron Revolution.

The seven were each given six-and-a-half-year prison terms for inciting public unrest and unlawful assembly by the Insein prison special court.

On the same day, the court decided that Ye Myat Hein should serve an additional three-and-a-half-year term for obstructing officials on duty.

Sithu Maung was also given an additional five-year sentence by Tamwe township court under the Unlawful Association Act.

High profile commodity protester Hin Kyaw was also sentenced yesterday by Western Rangoon Province court inside the Insein prison compound.

He was jailed by judge U Kyaw Swe for 12 and a half years on six charges.

Monk U Sandawara from North Okkalapa township's Thiri Mingalar monastery was also jailed for eight and half years by Tamwe township court.

Blogger Nay Phone Latt and 88 generation student member Nyan Linn, who were both recently given lengthy prison terms, were transferred to Pha-an prison in Karen state on yesterday, according to family members.

Aung Zaw Oo of the Human Rights Defenders and Promoters network was transferred to Bago prison while network member Win Maw was transferred to Taung Ngu prison.

Reporting by Naw Say Phaw

READ MORE---> New Generation activists jailed...

Son of Pu Cin Sian Thang handed 33-year prison term

by Than Htike Oo
19 November 2008

Chiang Mai (Mizzima)– Thirty three years imprisonment was handed out to three activists involved in the saffron revolution including a son of 'Zomi National Congress' (ZNC) Chairman and an ethnic Chin leader Pu Cin Sian Thang today by a special court in session inside Insein prison.

The three activists were accused of taking part in protest demanding national reconciliation and arrested at a teashop in Rangoon on 28 October 2007. After being detained for over one year in Insein prison, his son Kan Lan Khote a.k.a. Kyaw Soe and Tin Htu Aung were sentenced to 33 years in prison each and another activist Kan Lan Khwar a.k.a. Khwar Pee was given eight years in jail.

"The monks staged peaceful protests during the saffron revolution. The authorities arrested not only the protesters but also bystanders and spectators. This shows their true colour and nature. It is unfair and unlawful to give them such long prison terms", Pu Cin Sian Thang told Mizzima.

The three activists were charged on eight counts including under sections 17/20 of the Printers Act, sections 13(1) of the Immigration Emergency Provisions Act, section 17(1) of the Unlawful Associations Act and section 505(b) of the Penal Code (inducing crime against public tranquility).

Pu Cin Sian Thang is Chairman of ZNC, and an MP-elect elected from Tiddim, Chin State constituency and a member of the 'Committee Representing People's Parliament (CRPP) which comprises of MPs- elected in 1990 general election. It was formed in 1998.

Similarly nine activists hailing from Bogale, Pathein and Myaungmya were sentenced to lengthy prison terms including 24 years in prison on November 11 by Insein prison court. Two of them from Bogale were given further prison terms under section 13(1) of the Immigration Emergency Provision Act.

Thein Zaw's prison term was increased to 18 years from the previous 10 and Thiha Thet Tin's prison term was increased to 13 from the previous eight years.

"I have no idea why they gave increased prison terms to them on charges under section 13(1) of the Immigration Act. We know nothing about their cases as we were not allowed to attend the court proceedings", Daw Hmwe, aunt of Thiha Thet Tin, said.

READ MORE---> Son of Pu Cin Sian Thang handed 33-year prison term...

Maritime Talks End without Progress

Narinjara News
November 18, 2008

Two-day long talks on the maritime dispute between Burma and Bangladesh ended yesterday without any progress on the issue, stated a report.

The report said, "The talk ended inconclusively with Myanmar's refusal to accept the 92 degree, 17 minutes, and 30 seconds longitude as the maritime boundary."

The Burmese delegation did not recognize Bangladesh's proposed maritime boundary line at the meeting and made no comment about stopping Burma's offshore exploration work while the dispute was worked out.

Bangladesh requested Burma to stop exploring for gas and oil in a disputed maritime area until a resolution was reached between the two countries.

However, Bangladesh Additional Foreign Secretary MAK Mahmood said that the talks ended fruitfully and the two sides agreed to sit again for further discussion on the maritime dispute.

Foreign Secretary MAK Mahmood led a 12-member Bangladesh team at the meeting while the 11-member Burmese team was led by Deputy Foreign Minister Maung Myint.

Both sides agreed to hold another round of discussion on the issue in January of 2009 in Burma.

The talk was the third round this year on the issue and was held under the moniker of "Technical-level Committee" of Bangladesh and Burma, and occurred on 16 and 17 November.

Meanwhile, the border tension between the two countries remains high and many armed forces are taking up positions in the mountain ranges and jungle along both sides of the border.

READ MORE---> Maritime Talks End without Progress...

Myanmar 'disperses' dissidents

Families fear for their welfare in far-flung jails

Pro-democracy activists Ko Ko Gyi (left) and Min Ko Naing,
both sentenced for anti-junta protests last year,
have been sent to far-removed Kentung prison in north-east Myanmar.

YANGON (ST): Myanmar's junta has sent dozens of political prisoners, recently sentenced to up to 65 years in jail, to far-flung corners of its country.

The move makes it hard for their families to deliver food and medicine, according to relatives.

Without the informal delivery of supplies such as anti-malaria and vitamin pills, detainees face a far greater risk of dying behind bars, said former political prisoners who have fled to Thailand.

Mr Ko Aung, younger brother of former student activist Ko Ko Gyi, said on Monday: 'They were taken in secret from Insein Central Prison through the back gate early on Sunday morning.

'We waited at the front gate hoping to see them but didn't get the chance.'

The US has criticised Myanmar's 'brutal regime' for what it calls the arbitrary sentencing of dozens of pro-democracy activists to harsh prison terms.

At least 31 dissidents, including Buddhist monks, members of the '88 Generation' student group and social activists, were given harsh prison sentences by a court in Yangon's Insein Central Prison last week.

Pro-democracy activists Ko Ko Gyi and Min Ko Naing - Myanmar's best-known political prisoners after detained opposition leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi - have been dispatched to Kentung in the north east, 1,200km from Yangon.

Other activists from the '88 Generation' students group arrested last August, after several protests over high fuel prices, were sent to Kawthoung in the south. Some others were sent to Putao, in the Himalayan foothills of the far north.

Many of the prisoners, some of whom have already spent more than a decade in jail, are thought to be in poor health.

'It must have been done with intent to punish their families too. It will be very difficult for people to visit them,' said MrNyan Win, a spokesman for Ms Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy. More than a dozen members of the party are among the 60-odd dissidents sentenced to jail in the last two weeks.

Terms range from 65 years for prominent dissidents to 20 years for the country's best-known blogger Nay Phone Latt and four months for defence lawyers.

The ruling junta's official media have made no mention of the sentences, which rights groups say are a campaign to eradicate all political opposition in the run-up to a 2010 election.

19 November 2008

READ MORE---> Myanmar 'disperses' dissidents...

Burmese people carry yoke of junta's survival

by Zai Dai
KNG News
12 November 2008

In Burma democracy has been taboo for the military junta. On the contrary pragmatically Burmese citizens have never dared to seriously aspire for civilian rule regardless of useless sanctions and pressure on the regime for nearly half a century.

While democracy has been taboo there has been no dearth of ways of making money by the regime's officials across the country.

Recently there have been certain ways to raise financial capital worth 5,000 million Kyat (est. US $4,098,361) in Kachin State by Phakant Military Strategic Commander and Northern Command Commander Maj-Gen Soe Win respectively.

Indeed this is the transitional period in this country for civilian rule as the regime wants to show this to the international community.

Meanwhile such taboo of the regime has in turn threatened its civilians who are the main root of the tree. In fact democracy is the catalyst for making money particularly by the authority.

The more pressure for democracy the more manipulation of unconditional economic snatches is being culminated in the State

It is often murmured that "we are fed up," it's nonsense," "its yaik sa akwek bae," of the authority from thousands and thousands mouths of innocent citizens. Of course there have been no legitimate and concrete laws and orders of one's security, one's rights and one's claim for both individual personnel and community as such, it has been a common motto referred that, there is a new way of law and order implication of power building along with every newcomer of military authority in the State.

This habit of the regime has spread virus among the body politics of Kachin State communities where anti-body has survived as the armed dictator.

These days unfortunate and socio-political slander of the State created by down from the lowest level of local military/authority up to the Northern Commander have come along with the flow and process of democratic engagement. Obviously such is the habit that certain pugnacity by authorities not on the basis of positive attitudes but on account of personal entity.

It has been just about one month after incident of the ban of Laiza-Myitkyina border trade road for a month by the oral order of Northern Commander Soe Win. Indeed the road has been the only trading route for the Myitkyina public whose export and import business depends on as it is vital for the main Kachin ceasefire group, Kachin Independence Organization and its armed wing Kachin Independence Army (KIO/A) headquarters in terms of both military and economic means. It was the first crude action that Maj-Gen Soe Win had conducted after taking over as Northern Commander. Meanwhile it is said that Soe Win has been bribed millions and millions of Kyat by local armed groups, business guilds and individuals.

Of course saying that the order has been issued due to the ban on Chinese food makes little sense because it could have been prohibited without closing the road.

This is how the tradition of military dictatorship has been inherited up to Soe Win. As tradition in the State such bans of Laiza-Myitkyina trade road has been entertained whenever certain commander or despot is mad to display his power before local people on the one hand and to threaten the KIO/A on the other hand.

Consequently the last regime check post on the road to Myitkyina-Laiza, of Lajayang has been the only check post which benefited most. Once there is very tight checking or strict prohibition of vehicles running to and from between Myitkyina and Laiza, the check post would accumulate millions and millions of bribe in cash. Convincing that the plot is usually initiated with the consensus of Northern Commander with whom the action branch would share bribed money as much as demanded by the highest one. Locally, it is said that, "Lajayang check post has profited much in terms of money in recent ban of the road."

Along with that there was massive demand of money by Lt-Col Khin Maung Cho, former Military Strategic Command Commander of Phakant last September before he was shifted. A certain local jade dealer unveiled that the plot is somewhat the same as the above as the Phakant-Myitkyina road had been banned for vehicles suddenly by the order of the military strategic commander. For that in order to ensure smooth movement of vehicles of companies, they had to pay. Therefore he continued that instead of the loss of all sort of investment in jade mine, companies had agreed to pay 300,000 Kyat (est. US $246) to 500,000 Kyat (est. US $410) to the Phakant military strategic commander.

Meanwhile when he eventually figured put the demand the sum might have been 3,000 million Kyat (est. US $2,459,016) since there are hundreds and hundreds of companies engaged in jade mining project in Phakant.

The rang of full swing consummation by way of justification of the democratic demand of the world

Another one-act-show performed for the international community on the process of democratic election of 2010 has been planned very systematically. There is a special policy and manipulated word among junior officers among the police, narcotics, advocates, lawyers, military officers and the rest saying that, "This is the time to do 'awaq saah' (making of money in full). Having been implanted very recently just after last Referendum, the strategic scheme of justification so as a response of democratic election has been laid to entertain the world.

Of course every level of business of the regime has been targeted a single point of 2010 election (regime's led election). As former dethroned/dismissed Prime Minister General Khin Nyunt once said at a certain judges' officiating training, "Dear boys think you are right and do what you do think is right. Let the others expose your mistakes and what your works are wrong only."

In this context every department will embrace the business that benefits both. For instance narcotic corps will arrest all sorts of drug traders or addicts as it is Naypyidaw's instruction.

Whatever comes in relation to the issue, the concerned officer would ask for bribe as much as he could from the clients beginning from results of narcotic urine test on whether it is positive or negative. Suppose when an arrested drug addict wants negative results of his urine test, he has to pay 1.2 million Kyat which is balanced with estimated US $984. Since Northern Commander Soe Win has arrived, there have been massive arrests on drug issues in Kachin State.

Democracy is taboo to the rulers and the term civil democracy in our context has been very upside down than those of the west. On the one hand whenever there is sanction and pressure from international community, the regime as such has succumbed with certain response of manipulated action.

As a matter of fact the targeted arrow of the regime has innocent citizens hazardously.

Meanwhile there has been special scrutinizing and torture and threats upon those whoever speaks in favor of sanctions and international demand. To some extent there has been arrest and misconduct upon whoever has been struggling for one's survival standing on one's own concept rather not in favor of the regime's centralized social political plots. Therefore the taboo of the term democracy by the regime in turn defines the taboo of the people being the bearers of the yoke to prolong the survival of the regime.

Therefore, would there be no taboo for the people of Burma when they breathe and bear the regime's yoke? Would that really be the taboo of the world around which creates such a trauma rather than a pragmatic solution?

READ MORE---> Burmese people carry yoke of junta's survival...

KIO should wage war again on Burmese junta: Kachin resident

KNG News
18 November 2008

The Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) should wage war again on Burma's ruling junta in Kachin state, was a suggestion made by a Kachin resident at a meeting between delegates in the KIO-led Kachin state Interim Committee (KSIC) and Kachin residents of Hpakant (Phakant) jade mining city on November 6, local sources said.

A Hpakant resident voiced his feelings in front of a group of KSIC delegates led by the committee chairman and Vice-president of KIO Dr. Manam Tu Ja, "The Burmese (junta) will never grant rights of Kachins without a war. Don't you (KIO leaders) be happy in your cars? Walk. Your (KIO leaders) bellies have swelled too much."

According to participants, the meeting was organized by the KSIC at the KIO-owned Buga Company in Maw One quarter in Hpakant city and it was attended by about 50 invited local people including jade miners, jade traders, church leaders and young people.

The meeting was meant mainly to garner support of the Kachin majority in the 2010 elections in the country where a future political party derived from the KSIC will represent Kachin state and contest the elections against the junta-backed political party, added KSIC sources.

The same resident of Hpakant also alleged that Kachin state was sold out by former deposed KIO chairman Gen. Malizup Zau Mai and Rev. Dr. Lahtaw Saboi Jum, former general secretary of Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC) and founder of Shalom Foundation (SF), a Church-based national NGO for peace.

Currently given Burma's political situation created by the junta's seven-step roadmap, the KIO has two political options. One is to obtain state autonomy (which has been ignored by the junta) or the KIO can indirectly participate in the 2010 elections as a party derived from the KSIC where KIO will not surrender weapons and try and initiate direct political talks with a new Kachin state government after the 2010 elections, said KIO leaders.

The KIO is the strongest Kachin armed group based in both Kachin state and northeast Shan state in northern Burma and it signed a ceasefire agreement with the Burmese ruling junta in 1994.

The KIO has a history of 47 years of struggle to obtain the rights of Kachin people in northern Burma by both armed struggle and ceasefire methods.

READ MORE---> KIO should wage war again on Burmese junta: Kachin resident...

Rice prices capped in Three Pagodas Pass as effects of recent supply restriction are felt

Kon Hadae
Mon News
Tue 18 Nov 2008

Authorities in Three Pagodas Pass, on the Thai-Burma border, have ordered rice traders to stop raising prices, capping the cost of a 35-kilogram sack at 1,350 baht. The order comes after rice prices have increased recently, up from 1,050 baht a few weeks ago.

Kyainnseikyi Township Peace and Development Council (PDC) authorities issued the order at a meeting held with rice traders on November 15th. The meeting took place in the Township PDC office in Three Pagodas Pass, and was attended by at least 24 rice traders. The meeting was organized by officials including Ko Ko Naing, who is the Township PDC chairman, That Zin Htun, who is the commander of a local battalion and police, and the chief of the Three Pagodas Town PDC.

According to a rice trader present at the meeting, Ko Ko Naing order traders to stop raising prices. “Sell the rice at the current price (1,350 baht per sack),” and local rice trader quoted him as saying. “If anyone sells for a higher price they will be punished.”

On October 15th, Mon State authorities, on the orders of the central government in Naypyidaw, prohibited rice traders elsewhere in Mon State from selling to traders in Three Pagodas Pass. The order was given because traders in Three Pagodas Pass were purchasing suspiciously large amounts of rice, tipping off authorities that rice was being illegally exported to Thailand. “We knew rice traders were sending the rice to the other country [Thailand] because more rice than necessary was being sent to the border pass. That is why Nayphidaw called and warned us that too much rice was sent to the border. So we had to close permission of trading rice to the border, police officer Than Htwe told us [last month],” said a rice trader.

After the November 16th meeting, Three Pagodas Town PDC authorities conducted an inventory of rice stockpiles in Three Pagodas Town. According to a source close to a local rice trader, the authorities asked “how many sacks of rice we have, how many of them did we sell on that day, who did we sell to, things like that.” PDC authorities conducted similar surveys at the end of May 2008.

READ MORE---> Rice prices capped in Three Pagodas Pass as effects of recent supply restriction are felt...

Army in Pegu forces young men to join army, villagers to work as unpaid laborers

Mon News
HURFOM, 18 Nov 2008

SPDC troops are forcibly conscripting young ethnic Karen villagers as the army launches an offensive against the Karen National Union (KNU) in Kyauk Kyi Township, Nayung-Le-Bin District, Pegu Division. According to local sources, villages that cannot provide the required recruits face must pay cash fines or work as forced laborers.

According to a HURFOM field reporter, Infantry Battalion (IB) No. 60 and Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) No. 264 are carrying out the forced recruitment of young villagers. Both battalions are located in Kyauk Kyi Township.

On November 7th, Lieutenant Colonel Ko Ko Aung, Commander of IB No.60, demanded that village headmen from Pattala, Waela-Taw, Thugabee, Inn-Nee, Noe-Nyar-Thu and Dow-Moo villages provide at least one young man per village tract, said Naing Htoo Byaing, the Chairperman of the Kyauk Kyi Township KNU. "At least six new members were asked to be supplied from these village tracts. We got the order from IB No. 60 that Lt. Col. Ko Ko Aung strongly required this set amount of recruits within two weeks. Any village tracts that could not afford to supply the conscripts have been ordered to pay 250,000 kyat (approximately $205 USD) per village as punishment,” said Naing Htoo Byaing. “Currently, all villagers are facing difficulties finding new recruits for the Army. On the other hand, people are too poor to give the money they (the army) demand.”

According to the HURFOM reporter, most villages arranged to pay the cash fines so they could avoid sending young men to the army. "I don't know about Thugabee and Pattala villages, but the other four villages decided to pay 250,000 kyat each to IB No.60 because no one wants to serve with the Burmese Army. People were forced against their will,” Moo Htoo, 35, from Dow-Moo village, told HURFOM.

LIB No. 264 is also reported to be conscripting villagers as soldiers. The battalion is commanded by 1st Lieutenant Aung San Win and based near Natha-Kwin village tract in Kyauk Kyi Township. “Three days before the conscription by IB No. 60 [November 4th], LIB No. 264 demanded one man per village from Aye-Nine, Kyauk-Khegyi, Ka Moe L and Natha-Kwin be recruit into their battalion. LIB No. 264 is threatening the same punishment as IB No. 60 if each village headmen fails to supply the recruits. "No villagers want to join the Army but they have no money to pay fines demanded by Lt. Aung San Win's troops. As the result, Lt. Aung San Win ordered each village headmen to send thirty villagers daily on rotations to work at LIB No.264,” said the HURFOM field reporter.

As a consequence of villager’s failure to provide conscripts or pay the fine levied by LIB No. 264, some villagers were also required to work as unpaid laborers. "Villagers were forced to fence off LIB No. 264 with bamboo. The soldiers demanded villagers make six layers of fences, and villagers were also forced to dig embankments between each fence around the battalion. Women and teenagers are also included in these unpaid jobs. They were forced to collect firewood and carry water for the soldiers,” an anonymous local witness form Natha-Kwin village told HURFOM. The forced labor continues, almost two weeks later, said a second source from Natha-Kwin.

According to a Karen resident of Htat-Htoo village, located about three kilometers to the east of Natha-Kwin village, the same troops led by Lt. Aung San Win ordered all men to patrol the village daily when troops were temporarily based there during October. "We were required to guard everyday, divided into three groups. Each group contained five men on rotation during the time troops stayed here."

According to a KNU official, conscription of villagers into SPDC battalions in Kyauk Kyi Township areas has been routine over the least three years, as have been the punishments for failing to provide recruits.

Editor’s note: This story courtesy of the Human Rights Foundation of Monland

READ MORE---> Army in Pegu forces young men to join army, villagers to work as unpaid laborers...

Global Financial Crisis Hits Burmese Jade Trade

The Irrawaddy News
November 18, 2008

The trade in jade at the China-Burma border has markedly decreased due to the global financial crisis with many Chinese buyers staying away from the markets, according to Burmese jade traders at the border.

According to the traders, regular jade buyers from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Beijing were coming less often to the China-Burma border since the global financial crisis took hold last month.

Unidentified Chinese trader walks past the piles of jade stones on display at the 45th Annual Gems Emporium held on March at Myanmar Convention Center in Rangoon. (Photo: AP)
A jade trader in Ruili said that a stone which would have cost 15,000 yuan (US $2,200) last month, is currently selling at just 5,000 yuan ($730).

“There is almost no one buying jade,” said the trader. “Prices are now very low. Even if I can sell all my existing jade, I will still make a loss.”

The trader said many Burmese jade traders had lost their investment and had returned to their homes in Burma. Others had stayed at the border, but were working for 40 to 50 yuan ($5.80—$7.30) a day doing casual labor to get by in the meantime.

A woman jade trader from Hpacan Township, Kachin State—Burma’s largest jade mining area—said she had recently come to the Chinese border with jade stones worth a total of 1 million kyat ($790). However, to date she had only taken in some 400,000 kyat ($314) in sales, all to Chinese buyers.

She said that some joint-venture jade companies in Hpacan had recently suspended jade mining operations due to the current financial crisis. She added that the companies only compensated the miners with enough food to live on, but could not—or would not—pay them a per diem while work was suspended.

Many workers didn’t know what to do, she said. Some were depressed and had taken to drugs.

Jade miners in Burma earn an average of just 2,000 kyat ($1.60) per day.

Awng Wa, a member of the board of advisers for the All Kachin Students and Youth Union (AKSYU), who regularly monitors the jade trade at the border, estimated that jade sales had dropped by 75 percent.

According to a report titled “Blood Jade: Burmese Gemstones & the Beijing Games” by the AKSYU and the activist group 8-8-08 for Burma, some 90 of Burmese jadeite is sold to China. That jade is almost exclusively the product of the Burmese military regime, said the report.

Sales of jade are Burma’s third highest source of foreign income, earning an estimated $300 million in revenue for the military junta.

READ MORE---> Global Financial Crisis Hits Burmese Jade Trade...

Conflict Threatens Karen Biodiversity

The Irrawaddy News
November 18, 2008

BANGKOK — on top of 60 years of military occupation, the Karen people of Burma are now facing severe impairment of their environmental and cultural foundations, say activists.

Burma’s incredibly rich and highly endemic biodiversity has a recorded 11,800 plant species including a species-collection of 800 orchids, 100 bamboos, 1,000 birds and 145 globally threatened mammals.

A great part of this biodiversity is found in Karen State in southeastern Burma bordering Thailand, now suffering heavily due to the ongoing conflict between the government’s State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) and the Karen National Union (KNU).

The conflict has displaced more than 500,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) within Karen State. Most are now living in the forests.

Civilians have become the target of the Burmese military as the SPDC aims to weaken the KNU by cutting off provisions and support from local Karen. And, according to Paul Sein Twa, director of the Karen Environmental and Social Action Network (KESAN), there is a toll on the environment as well.

In the forests, IDP families sleep in makeshift shelters on open ground. Healthcare and education are non-existent and the majority is severely malnourished.

In the northern Karen district of Mu Traw alone, 200 villages have been burnt or destroyed since 1997 and farmlands mined, leaving around 37,000 villagers hiding as IDPs in the hills, says a KESAN report, "Diversity Degraded" written by ethnic Karen researchers.

Marty Bergoffen, an American environmental lawyer helping KESAN develop a forest policy, told a gathering of journalists convened by United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in Bangkok, last month, that there were over 100,000 refugees on the Thai border and "literally millions of economic refugees in Thailand, Malaysia, India and elsewhere."

KESAN is a Chiang-Mai, Thailand-based organization of Karen activists working with indigenous Karen on both sides of the Burma-Thailand border.

Bergoffen says women are especially affected in the conflict, facing physical vulnerabilities and limited access to work because of border security issues.

"Thailand has no long-term refugee policy, so it’s hard for the Karen to plan any future", he says.

Bergoffen terms the Karen’s local biodiversity as the "lynchpin" of community-survival that the war is now threatening.

The military has mined the farmlands of those IDPs hiding in the hills, barring them from returning to cultivate crops.

The Karen had survived for centuries on a seven-year rotational cycle of cultivation that allowed fallow land to regenerate, but now with mined lands and military occupation, villagers make do with shrunken land space that is resulting in overexploitation of both biodiversity and land.

"In the past I didn’t cultivate on very sloped land or in old forest. But now I cannot survive if I don’t cultivate in the old forest. I know that these are not good places to use for cultivation but I have no choice," says a Ta Paw Der a villager in the KESAN report.

Besides the SDPC, the KNU have also been involved in unsustainable exploitation of Karen’s biodiversity, selling off timber for arms as they retreat from increased military offensives.

Increased militarization has already resulted in the loss of the severely endangered Sumatran Rhinoceros, says KESAN.

To add to the problem, indigenous knowledge, a tradition handed orally down the generations, is as threatened as local biodiversity, forests and traditional lifestyles disappear in the fighting.

Ta Paw Der village previously had over 150 kinds of edible forest products, including wild honey, bamboo shoots, mushrooms, gingers, tubers, roots, nuts and fruits, but it is now physically unsafe to collect such produce.

Another biodiversity survey of Karen’s arterial Salween River opposite Thailand’s Mae Hong Son Province, undertaken by KESAN, has identified over 40 endangered plant and animal species which are being threatened by ongoing military action.

Over two dozen endemic and unknown species, including eight endemic fish species have also been identified by Dr. Chavalit Vidthayanon of WWF-Thailand.

KESAN’s report shows that the Salween River still contains amazing biodiversity, and deserves more attention from international scientists.

But a deal between Thailand and Burma for the first large-scale hydropower project on the Salween river could displace and negatively impact upon tens of thousands of poor and marginalized people from ethnic minorities in that country.

Five giant hydropower dams, of which the first is the Wei Gyi has been planned on the Salween river by the Burmese, Thai and Chinese governments, adding to the threat from the cumulative impact of cascading dams.

KESAN activist, Ko Shwe says: "The Karen people depend on a healthy Salween ecosystem, including fish, forest products, riverside gardens and transportation. The proposed dams will ruin the ecosystem and the free flowing river, kill the surrounding forests and destroy the lives of thousands of people.

Burma has several ongoing and proposed hydropower, gem-mining and natural gas projects countrywide with various nations, including China, Thailand, Korea and India.

In northern Shan district, a 600 megawatts Chinese hydroelectric project will give Burma just 15 percent of the electricity generated and the rest will be sold to China at an undisclosed price.

According to EarthRights International, there are 69 Chinese trans-nationals involved in 90 completed, current and planned projects in hydropower, oil, natural gas and mining.

Ka Hsaw Wa, executive director of EarthRights International says on its website: "We’ve repeatedly seen foreign companies coming into Burma with disregard for local people and the environment. Given what we know about development projects in Burma and the current situation, we’re concerned about this marked increase in the number of these projects."

The New York-based Human Rights Watch group has called for countries to boycott Burmese gems, deals for which are going to support the military, while environmental activists say that indiscriminate mining for jade and rubies is destroying the ecology and ecosystems of northern Burma.

But despite such calls and a US ban on the import of Burmese rubies and jade gem dealers say their lucrative trade has buyers from China, Russia, Thailand, India, EU and the Gulf countries.

READ MORE---> Conflict Threatens Karen Biodiversity...

Activist Than Nyein Undergoes Surgery

The Irrawaddy News
November 18, 200

Burmese activist Dr Than Nyein, 71, an elected member of Parliament in 1988, recently underwent surgery on his liver in Singapore, according to a family member.

His son told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that Than Nyein is now in good condition. He was taken to Singapore on November 9.

“He has suffered with a tumor in his liver ever since he was a political prisoner,” he said.

On September 23, Than Nyein—the brother-in-law of Gen Khin Nyunt, a former prime minister and chief of military intelligence, who is now under house arrest—was released along with a group of other political prisoners including well-known journalist Win Tin.

After transferring from prisons at least four times in 11 years, Than Nyein was released from Prome Prison with liver problems and swollen lymph nodes.

In early 2008 during a medical examination, his doctor advised him to seek specialist treatment.

As a student of Rangoon Institute of Medicine, Than Nyein was elected chairperson of the Medical Students Union. He was involved the 1988 uprising. When the National League for Democracy (NLD) party was founded, he was elected vice-chairman of the Rangoon Division Organizing Committee.

Than Nyein was arrested in 1997 along with Dr May Win Myint and six other activists following an attempt to hold a meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi and NLD youth members in Mayangone Township in Rangoon.

“When I became involved in Burmese politics, I prepared myself to be in prison at some point,” Than Nyane said in an interview in late September.

Than Nyein completed his original seven-year prison sentence in 2004. After that time, he was held without charge or trial on renewable detention orders under Section 10(a) of the State Protection Act, an administrative law that allows the authorities to detain anyone without charge or trial if it’s believed the person is a danger to the state.

READ MORE---> Activist Than Nyein Undergoes Surgery...

Burma-Bangladesh Maritime Talks Fail

The Irrawaddy News
November 18, 2008

Burma and Bangladesh failed to resolve the simmering tension between the two countries over a disputed maritime boundary in the Bay of Bengal, according to Bangladeshi newspapers. Talks will resume in Burma in January.

The New Age newspaper said that the two countries ended the two-day maritime boundary delimitation talks inconclusively as both sides refused to change their positions on the method of marking the coastline of the exclusive economic zones in the Bay of Bengal.

“Myanmar[Burma] proposed a corridor in the Bay, and we have rejected it since we feel that equity should be the guiding method to settle the issue under the UN [United Nations] Convention on the 1982 Law of the Sea,” MAK Mahmood, Bangladesh’s additional foreign secretary, told reporters after the meeting on Monday.

He said the Burmese junta rejected the area claimed by Bangladesh. “So, Bangladesh’s plea is not acceptable to them,” he said.

Burma’s deputy foreign minister Maung Myint led the delegation to Bangladesh.

Dhaka’s The Daily Star reported that the next round meeting between the two countries will be held in Burma in January only four months ahead of the Burmese military regime’s deadline for maritime demarcation claims to the UN.

Burma will have to claim the maritime demarcation with Bangladesh by May 21 and the Bangladesh deadline is July 27, 2011 under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS-1982).

Burma and Bangladesh talks over the disputed area started in 1974, but the talks were put on hold for more than two decades and only resumed in January. The Dhaka meeting was the fourth round of talks following recent tension in the Bay of Bengal involving maritime vessels from both countries.

In October, the Burmese authorities sent navy ships into the area and permitted a South Korean company to explore for nature gas in the disputed area, prompting Bangladesh to position naval ships in the area.

Vice Snr-Gen Maung Aye, the No. 2 high ranking general at the Burmese junta, visited Bangladesh in early October to attempt to resolve the tension, but the talks failed.

Burmese ruling generals reportedly discussed the dispute at a junta meeting in Naypyidaw which ended last week.

Khine Myat Kyaw, a Burmese journalist who is based in Dhaka, said the two countries are still deploying army troops near the border.

Meanwhile, Burma and China agreed to construct a US $2.5 billion oil-and-gas pipeline project China, according to Japan’s The Nikkei newspaper.

Burma’s state-own Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise will own a 49.1 percent stake while the China National Petrol Corp will have 50.9 percent. A US $1.5 billion oil pipeline, and US $1.04 billion gas line will be built, as well as oil and gas storage tanks near Burma’s Kyaukpyu Port, The Nikkei said.

The Burmese regime earned an estimated US $2.5 billion by selling nature gas to Thailand last year.

READ MORE---> Burma-Bangladesh Maritime Talks Fail...

Prominent Monk, Others Receive Lengthy Prison Sentences

Mizzima News
November 18, 2008

Ashin Gambira, one of the organizers of a monk-led uprising that captured international headlines last year, was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment on Tuesday by a special court convened behind closed doors at Rangoon’s Insein Prison.

A source close to the leading dissident monk said that the sentence did not include all of the charges against him, and would likely be much longer once the court reaches a final decision on the remaining charges.

“His case hasn’t been closed yet,” the source said. “There are still other charges being brought against him.”

The 29-year-old monk, who helped spearhead peaceful protests by thousands of Buddhist monks last September, was charged with violating a number of laws generally having to do with threatening the stability of the state.

These include Section 505 A and B of the State Offence Act, Section 13/1 of the Immigration Act, Section 17/1 of the Illegal Organization Act, Section 303 A of the Electronic Act and Section 6 of the Organization Act.

Intelligence agents arrested Ashin Gambira along with his father last November while he was hiding in Sintgaing Township, Mandalay Division. The authorities later forcibly disrobed him without consulting with the Buddhist monastic community, which alone has the authority to expel monks.

Ashin Gambira co-founded the All Burmese Monks’ Alliance, which led last year’s massive protests in Rangoon and other cities. The subsequent crackdown by the military claimed at least 31 lives, according to human rights groups, while thousands of monks and civilians were arrested and detained.

Besides Ashin Gambira, at least four other people received lengthy sentences today for their involvement in the protests, including fellow monk U Kaylar Tha from Mandalay Township, who was sentenced to 35 years imprisonment by the Kyimyindaing Township special court in Insein prison.

U Kaylar Tha was charged with violating Section 505 B of the State Offence Act, Section 13/1 of the Immigration Act, Section 17/2 of the Illegal Organization Act and Section 6 of the Organization Act.

Three ethnic activists were also sentenced today in connection with the monk-led protests. Ethnic Arakanese protester Tin Htoo Aung and Chin activist Kam Lat Hkoat were sentenced to 33 years imprisonment each, while another Chin activist, Kat Hkant Kwal, was given an eight-year sentence.

READ MORE---> Prominent Monk, Others Receive Lengthy Prison Sentences...

Protester Ko Htin Kyaw jailed for 12 ½ years

by Than Htike Oo
Mizzima News
17 November 2008

Chiang Mai – Ko Htin Kyaw, a protester who led demonstrations against rising essential commodity prices last year was sentenced to 12 and-a-half years in jail on Monday by a court in session in Insein prison.

Ko Htin Kyaw, hailing from North Okkalapa Rangoon, was arrested after he staged protests against rising essential commodity prices burdening common people in August 2007.

The judge U Kyaw Sein did not allow the accused to defend himself. The verdict against Ko Htin Kyaw was under charges, namely extortion, insulting Buddhist religion, joining unlawful assembly and inducing crime against public tranquility.

"Previously he was produced before a special court inside Insein prison. He refused to appear before the court as he had no faith in it. Finally, he was produced before the court sitting in session in the main gate of the prison. He was sentenced by this court," a person close to the judicial department told Mizzima.

The junta suddenly and drastically raised the price of fuel in August 2007 and as a consequence, essential commodity prices shot up. Ko Htin Kyaw staged protests against fuel price and essential commodity price rise at 'Theingyi' market in Rangoon. He was arrested for protesting.

Similarly the Insein court and Tamwe Township courts sentenced other protesters to imprisonment today.

Rangoon West District Special Court sitting in session inside Insein prison sentenced Kyi Phyu Maung (North Dagon Township), Ko Zin Lin Aung, Human Right Defender and Promoters Network (HRDP) member Ko Myo Thant a.k.a. John Norton (Hlaing Township), National League for Democracy (NLD) party members Ko Ye Min Oo, Ko Ye Myat Hein and Ko Thein Swe (Pyapon) to six and-a-half years in prison each for inducing crime against public tranquility.

Moreover Ko Sithu Maung and Ko Ye Myat Hein were sentenced to 11 and 10 years in prison respectively by Tamwe court for founding an unlawful association and inducing crime against public tranquility.

"Handing out long prison terms to political activists is contrary to their claim of 'marching towards a modern and developed new country'. I feel instead of marching towards a modern and developed country, our country is going backwards to the age in the reign of King Kyansitha and King Anawratha (c 12th century AD), " Daw San Aye, mother of Ko Ye Myat Hein, said.

READ MORE---> Protester Ko Htin Kyaw jailed for 12 ½ years...

No headway in Burma-Bangla bilateral maritime parleys

by Salai Pi Pi
Mizzima News
17 November 2008

The two-day bilateral delimitation talks between Burma and Bangladesh over the disputed maritime boundary, held in Dakha, capital of Bangladesh, failed to make any headway, according to a Bangladesh Foreign Affairs Ministry official.

"The talk was fruitful but there was no consensus on the methodology for delimitation of territorial water boundary," a Bangladesh official talked Mizzima over telephone.

Since the delegations from the two countries' could not agree on a methodology in demarcating the maritime boundary, the next bilateral meet is scheduled to be held in Rangoon in the New Year.

"It was a part of series of meeting. The talks will continue. The next meeting will be held in Rangoon in January," a Bangladeshi official said.

The talk between the technical committees of the two countries followed in the wake of Burmese Foreign Minister Nyan Win meeting Bangladesh's Foreign Adviser Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury on the sidelines of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Corporation (BIMSTEC) meeting held in New Delhi between November 11 and 13.

The Burmese Deputy Foreign Minister Maung Myint who led nine delegates, discussed with their technical counterparts from Bangladesh on setting up a methodology that will be applicable for delimitation of the disputed maritime boundary.

On the first day of talks, delegates from both sides' differed on the methodology for delimitation of the sea boundary. At the second round today, no concrete resolution evolved.

"They fundamentally agreed on the demarcation of the boundary but they were still arguing on how to do it," said an editor of Bangladesh newspaper today.

Burma proposed the equi distance method for delimitation of maritime boundary but Bangladesh preferred a method on the basis of equity.

"Burma proposed a method that would give more areas to them that Bangladesh did not agree to. Bangladesh also came up with another method that Burma did not agree to," the editor added.

The tension between two countries over the sea border was triggered early this month after Burma sent two of its naval ships to escort Daewoo vessels in its gas and oil exploration work in block AD-7 in the Bay of Bengal that Bangladesh claimed was in its territorial waters.

Bangladesh protested immediately against the move by Burma and despatched its naval ships to AD – 7 areas and sent a high level delegation to Rangoon for a diplomatic resolution.

However, Burma rejected the claim of Bangladesh and vowed to continue its work in AD-7.

The withdrawal of Burmese war ships followed Daewoo putting a halt to gas drilling and removing its rigs.

So far, there is no sign of the two countries scaling down their security forces along the land border, according to a Burmese journalist on the Burma-Bangladesh border.

"Burmese soldiers are still stationed in all border trade stations across the border. The villagers were forced to build bunkers in the stations," the Burmese journalist said.

Bangladesh security forces had also taken up position at the deserted stations on the Bangladesh side, he added.

READ MORE---> No headway in Burma-Bangla bilateral maritime parleys...

White House deplores recent sentencing of Burmese activists

Mizzima News
18 November 2008

Stressing that the international community and United Nations Security Council can ill afford to remain silent, the White House on Monday issued a condemnation of the recent convictions of scores of Burmese pro-democracy activists.

In a statement issued through President George Bush's office, the United States decried the fact that, through the arbitrary actions of the Burmese junta, opposition figures in Burma are being denied the basic rights guaranteed under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

"Brave Burmese patriots such as Min Ko Naing, Ko Ko Gyi, and Htay Kywe, were among those who have been sentenced to 65 years' imprisonment for their peaceful participation in the August 2007 protests, in which Burmese citizens, including monks and activists, called on the regime to address the basic needs of the Burmese people," reads the missive from Washington.

At the center of the international storm enveloping the sentencing of the activists has been the issue of Burma's judicial system. Rights organizations, the United Nations and European Union have all voiced the need to reform Burma's judiciary, a call echoed on Monday by the words from the White House.

"We further deplore the complete lack of due process, as these men and women have been arrested, detained, charged, and tried behind closed doors without the benefit of counsel," states Washington.

According to the President's office, despite repeated calls from across the international community for the release of all political prisoners in Burma, Burma's military government has instead seen to the conviction of at least 86 dissidents since November 7th.

It is expected that Burma's courts will announce the further sentencing of activists over the course of the upcoming days and weeks.

READ MORE---> White House deplores recent sentencing of Burmese activists...

Rights experts adamant that reform must predate 2010 elections

Mizzima News
18 November 2008

Five prominent rights experts associated with the United Nations have today let it be known that fundamental reforms in Burma are necessary prior to the scheduled 2010 general election, if the poll is to stand any chance of being recognized as free and fair.

Issued from Geneva, as Burma's courts continue to sentence waves of activists and dissidents to lengthy prison terms, the called for reforms take as their basis the four points urged upon the Burmese junta by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights to the country, Tomas Ojea Quintana.

Identified by Quintana, the reforms include: a comprehensive review of national legislation to ensure its compliance with international human rights standards, the release of political prisoners of conscience and reform of the armed forces and the judicial system.

"The UN experts strongly urge the Myanmar [Burma] authorities to cease harassing and arresting individuals for peacefully exercising their internationally recognized human rights," iterate the United Nations representatives.

The five individuals especially pointed to the need for detainees to be granted open and fair trials with the right to defence counsel.

"The closed-door hearings are being held inside prisons by courts which lack independence and impartiality. Three of the defence lawyers have been sentenced to several months of imprisonment for contempt of court," note the rights experts.

Joining Quintana in the signing of the document, were Special Rapporteurs: Leandro Despouy – independence of judges and lawyers; Frank La Rue – freedom of opinion and expression; Margaret Sekaggya – situation of human rights defenders, and; Asma Jahangir – freedom of religion or belief.

The sudden surge of sentences handed down to opposition activists is widely understood to be a move on the junta's part to deflate and mitigate domestic opposition in the run-up to the 2010 general election – the first the country will hold in twenty years.

READ MORE---> Rights experts adamant that reform must predate 2010 elections...

Making a prison out of Burma

Mizzima News
17 November 2008

Gagging the voice of protests and imprisoning dissidents for an incredible 65 years, pairs Burma's governing junta with some of the most repressive regimes in the history of the modern world. The verdicts are making a mockery of the justice system and turning the judiciary on its head.

The regime is determined to push ahead with the 2010 general election and will resort to any measure at its disposal, a la the reported 93 percent approval in May's constitutional referendum, to emerge victorious. Laws regulating the election will soon be announced. But the writing is already on the wall, the opposition will struggle, under drastically curtailed opportunities, to contest the polls. A ban on Aung San Suu Kyi contesting the elections is already in force – as per the constitution pushed upon the people earlier in the year. In this context, the harsh sentences recently meted out to opposition figures are designed to discourage dissidents and anti-regime forces in contesting the 2010 poll.

To the civilized world, what is happening in Burma may seem like madness – a system gone horribly awry. But there is a method to the madness.

Burma's generals have unleashed terror in the run-up to its declared 2010 general election, the final phase of the so called "seven-step road map to disciplined democracy," that ostensibly promises to put an end to 45 years of what many people in the impoverished Southeast Asian country, and outside, call, "despotic military rule."

As has too often been the case with Burma, over the course of these four plus decades, caught in the eye of the storm are dissidents, political opposition leaders, party workers, ethnic leaders, human rights crusaders, journalists, literary figures, artists, bloggers, human rights activists and social workers. Their nomenclature means nothing to a regime fixated on a singular agenda -- to retain a stranglehold on power.

The unabated onslaught on the opposition in the aftermath of the 2007 Saffron Revolution is not new, what is new is the changed circumstances in the wake of the stage-managed constitutional referendum. Emboldened by the success of its countrywide deceit, the regime has gone ahead with preparations for the 2010 poll; the arrests and sentencing of numerous opposition figures and activists being yet one more calculated move by the junta in clearing and paving the way for victory through its civilian arm – Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA).

What has transpired following the sustained arrests of activists, monks and others, is a spate of sentences since November 11th, in which verdicts were handed down ranging from two to 65 years – making a mockery of the judicial system. Tomas Ojea Quintana, the U.N.'s Special Rapporteur on Human Right for Burma, following his initial visit to the county in August of this year, identified reform of the country's judicial system as one of four crucial elements to be addressed if the 2010 elections are to stand any chance of being widely accepted, both inside and outside Burma.

Astonishing as it may seem outside the bamboo curtain that encircles Burma; the youth arrested were sentenced to prison terms meaning they will be nonagenarians when released, should they even manage to survive the harsh and hostile conditions of Burma's notorious prisons.

Over the course of a single week this November, nearly 100 people have been cast behind bars in the wake of trials in which, in many cases, no defense counsel was permitted. Unfair trails and arbitrary sentences on trumped up charges are well designed to intimidate politicians, activists and the people at large in the run-up to the 2010 election, causing dismay and condemnation around the world.

The irony is that none of the activists did anything to deserve arrest, let alone be put on trial and made to languish in jails across the country. All they did was protest against tyranny, human rights abuses, spiraling prices and a deteriorating political and economic atmosphere in a nation which has sunk to abysmal depths.

In just about a year, the number of political prisoners has jumped from approximately 1,200 to 2,100, according to Amnesty International and other rights organizations. Heading the list of course is Aung San Suu Kyi, the only Nobel Laureate under detention – having now been detained for an astonishing 13 years.

The lessen apparently drawn by Burma's generals following last year's mass protests was certainly not that of the desperate need for dialogue and national reconciliation, rather, the junta has taken it upon itself to implement and escalate a campaign of repression and arrest throughout the country – in an attempt to maintain its position as unilateral arbiter over all affairs of the country.

READ MORE---> Making a prison out of Burma...

Ban urged to forge ahead with Burma visit

by Salai Pi Pi
18 November 2008

New Delhi (Mizzima) — Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) yesterday urged UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to go ahead with his planned trip to Burma next month.

CSW called for the visit of the UN Secretary General to the Southeast Asian nation despite the Burmese regime recently meting out a spate of harsh sentences to over 80 political activists, and continuing human rights violations in eastern Burma.

"We are concerned that he might cancel his visit because of the lack of political development in Burma," Mervyn Thomas, CSW's Chief Executive, told Mizzima by phone.

Last month, Ban Ki-Moon had expressed the possibility that his visit to Burma next month would likely be canceled if there was no prior progress along lines of political reform in the country.

CSW said that the visit of Ban Ki-Moon is essential for addressing the deteriorating human rights condition in Burma, especially since Ban Ki-Moon's Special Envoy to Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, has failed in facilitating change in the country.

"We all know that the visit of UN Envoys in previous years has not been successful. So, this time, the Secretary General himself shall go, with the office's weight behind him, to visit Burma and seek to facilitate change," stressed Thomas.

Meanwhile U Win Tin, a former political prisoner and central committee member of Aung San Suu Kyi's party, National League for Democracy, said the UN Secretary General must visit Burma on his own agenda, not the junta's, in order to solve the political problems in Burma.

"We will welcome him [Ban Ki-Moon] to visit Burma on his own agenda. But, we cannot agree with a program dictated by the junta," U Win Tin told Mizzima.

Recently, over 80 political activists, including a poet, a blogger and several Buddhist monks, have been given harsh sentences in prison. In addition, at least 23 student leaders, including Min Ko Naing and Ko Ko Gyi, have also recently been sentenced to 65 years in jail for their roles in the non-violent struggle for democracy.

Some political activists have since been shifted to camps stationed in remote area of Burma.

CSW called on Ban Ki-Moon to pressure Burma's leaders to release political prisoners and cease military offensives against civilians in eastern Burma.

CSW, in its press release yesterday, mentioned that the Burmese Army continues to launch offensives against villagers in ethnic areas, particularly in eastern Burma. On November 4th, one villager was killed and over 1,971 people were displaced following attacks in Mon Township in western Karen state.

"At least 12 villages have been looted, destroyed and abandoned, rice fields and food stores destroyed, civilians shot at and villagers taken for forced labor," CSW quoted the Free Burma Rangers as saying.

READ MORE---> Ban urged to forge ahead with Burma visit...

Aid agency helps 100,000 Burmese children return to school

by Solomon
18 November 2008

New Delhi (Mizzima)— The international aid agency Save the Children claims they have assisted at least 100,000 Burmese children affected by Cyclone Nargis in returning to school.

The non-governmental organization (NGO), which has worked in Burma for more than a decade, released a press statement on Monday saying it has been instrumental in facilitating a hundred thousand Burmese children realize their current educational needs.

"The cyclone destroyed 50 to 60 percent of schools," said Save the Children in a press statement. "Yet over the past six months Save the Children has improved the quality of education for over 100,000 children including the construction of over 350 temporary schools."

However, Andrew Kirkwood, country director for Save the Children in Burma, said in the press statement that there remain hundreds of thousands of children in need of educational assistance in the wake of the storm.

"There's a huge demand for this, from communities and children - there were about 400,000 children who were not able to go to school because of the cyclone," said Andrew Kirkwood.

He added, "Now, we've managed to get 100,000 of those kids back into school through, for example, the rebuilding of temporary schools, using very inexpensive materials."

Cyclone Nargis struck Burma on May 2-3, 2008, and left more than 130,000 people dead or missing and over 2.4 million in need of aid.

Nonetheless, the Burmese military government initially obstructed the flow of international aid into the country, as well as restricting the issuance of visas to international aid workers and impeding their freedom of movement to cyclone affected areas.

Save the Children has been working in Burma since 1995, focusing on providing services benefiting pre-school children, reducing the number of deaths from preventable diseases, helping those infected with HIV and AIDS and preventing child trafficking.

"It's hard to overstate how important getting children back to school is," stated Kirkwood.

"The best way to deal with trauma is to normalize the lives of children, get them back into a routine, enable them to pick up what they were doing before the cyclone," he added.

A local source in Laputta Township, one of the hardest cyclone hit areas of Irrawaddy Division, said there a lot of children in villages around Laputta that still are finding it difficult to return to school.

"In the town there is no more problem with children attending school, but in villages there is still a risk that children will be unable to attend school," said the local source, who wished to remain anonymous.

She said NGOs and companies inside Burma are continuing the work of rebuilding the region's outlaying areas.

"I saw some children received school bags and learning materials provided by a NGO, but in villages there are children studying in temporary classrooms and there might be a number of children still away from school," she added.

More than a hundred school teachers in Laputta Township also received training in October, though schools in some villages are already late in commencing classes for the year.

READ MORE---> Aid agency helps 100,000 Burmese children return to school...

Stitching together a life (Feature)

Mizzima News
Tuesday, 18 November 2008 19:20

'Burma's garment workers and the struggle to survive '

On virtually any given morning, as the first rays of sun break through tropical foliage and illuminate the factory walls and gates of Rangoon's Hlaing Tharyar industrial zones, a familiar sight can be seen. Along the roads leading to the factories, seemingly endless streams of female workers, faces smeared with thanakha and lunch boxes in tow, make their way to Burma's garment factories for another arduous day of work.

Even after the debilitative toll of U.S.-led sanctions some five years previously, government statistics still sight some 100,000 young women as reliant upon the industry for their basic livelihood.

Without doubt, a portion of money invested in business in Burma finds its way into the generals' coffers. However companies sourcing garments from Burma are also helping in putting food on people's plates.

"I have no other options except to do this job," relates a worker at the MIT Garment Factory in Rangoon's South Dagon Industrial Zone. "Actually, it is tiring work, but I cannot get any other job."

Ma Nway, originally from Sagaing Division in central Burma, told of how she came to be employed in Rangoon's garment industry: "There are no assured regular income jobs in my village. I am the eldest of four siblings and have only a grade seven education. My aunt working here called me to work here, so I came. Now, occasionally, I can send 5,000 to 10,000 kyat (1 US$ = 1,250 kyat) back to my family.

Where then, if at all, can the line to be drawn between Burma's garment factories lining the golden pockets of Burma's military rulers and filling the lunch pails of the industries tens of thousands of domestic workers?

The "lack of" opportunity cost

Garment workers in Hlaing Thar Yar Industrial Zone of Rangoon. Long working hours but low pay are common. Photo: Mizzima

"For women, the garment factories of Rangoon offer very rare job alternatives," tells a young female employee in one of Hlaing Tharyar's factories. "If we don't want to work in these factories, we will have to sell things or work as masons."

"Most of the workers here share a similar problem, since they have no idea what to do if they lose this job, they have to do this work for their families," adds another of the industry's workers.

"I'd like to be a tailor at home when I quit this job, but I can't expect many orders from my neighborhood, people can hardly afford to buy one new dress per year," adds Ma Sein , a slightly older member of the garment workforce.

A majority of the industry's employees come from rural areas and lack a proper education – the average duration of a child's educational curriculum in Burma being eight years of schooling.

"I arrived from my village and have been here [in the garment factory] for over three years," says Khin Kyi, "I had no other choice, as I am without a good education or a job to do at home. I can easily get a job here from any of the garment factories. They don't ask for academic qualifications."

And even for those lucky enough to have gotten a chance to pursue their education at higher levels, opportunities for gainful employment are often still difficult to come by.

"Because of a contact and I happened to be jobless, I began working here," says Ma Yu, a 25-year old buyer in a garment factory and holder of a B.A. in History. In her position she earns 70,000 kyat per month – permitting her what she describes as a relatively comfortable life in Rangoon while also allowing her to support other family members.

However, for those looking or needing a level of income greater than what the textile factories can offer, difficult decisions regarding employment need often be made – decisions which can expose women to other means of exploitation.

"Although I am working here [in a massage parlor] just for the good income, there is no happiness and I am very much disappointed. We have to knead whoever is in the room according to their command. Sometimes when I have to be with drunkard, I become very annoyed," laments one of the throngs of women who have sought some form of economic security in the business.

Poverty, a domestically depressed economy and a dilapidated educational system are three of the factors that have merged to create the impetus for tens of thousands of women to seek work in Burma's garment factories.

The numbers game

Mizzima's research into the expected wages of hourly garment workers found a base monthly salary of 20,000 kyat for unskilled labor. However, the income that garment factory employees can expect to receive varies considerably, dependent upon both the job performed and the factory concerned.

"Lower level helpers can get 25,000 to 30,000 kyat per month, including overtime. An operator can get 40,000 to 50,000 per month, while graduated office staff can get about 70,000 kyat," says a worker at the MIT Garment Factory.

They are working here, she continued, because they have no other job to do. They do not want to work here since it is very exhausting, but they have no other job contacts. Helpers do not earn enough for their families with a salary of 20,000 or 30,000 kyat.

For those who contribute more skill to the manufacturing process, a higher income can generally be expected. Tailors are typically paid on an output basis and can often look to take home up to 50,000 kyat or more per month.

"Currently, the income of a female tailor is a minimum of 30,000 kyat to more than 70,000 kyat per month, according to the amount of work done and working period," relates an employee of the conditions in her factory in one of Rangoon's outlying communities. She contends that low-level employees are the minority in the factory, and these are the people who struggle to scrape out an existence.

At the extreme opposite end of the pay scale to that of unskilled labor, the highest salaried laborers, called "all supers" and "line supers," who supervise the workers, can take home from 100,000 kyat to 300,000 kyat a month, which, in Burma, places them firmly in the country's middle class.

When compared with the average wage of a daily laborer in Burma – estimated by the U.S. Department of State at between 500 and 1,000 kyat (or $0.40 to $0.80) – the earnings of a garment worker translates to 937 kyat per diem for lower-level employees, or hedging toward the upper limit of what the average laborer in Rangoon could expect to earn, but well shy of what is needed to ensure subsistence existence – a meal at a typical restaurant in Rangoon costing 1,000 kyat.

Yet for those who work as tailors, for example, a 40,000 kyat monthly income equates to an annual income of just over US$ 384, double the country-wide average and affording a modest level of economic standing.

This is not to say that the social existence of many Burmese garment workers is anything short of extreme hardship. But, what it also alludes to is the overall depressed nature of the Burmese economy, where a pair of earrings can be bought on the sidewalks for 50 kyat and a train ride to work for 20 kyat.

Suffering under the weight of sanctions

From a height of 829 million dollars earned from the export of garments in 2001, according to the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, official statistics devalue earnings by 66 percent, to a total of 282 million dollars, for fiscal year 2007-2008.

The trend of the Burmese garment industry's decreasing relevance to the state sector is also borne out in Burma Economic Watch's 2008 study on the economy of Burma, which chronicles a garment exporting industry in decline since 2003, with the export value from the industry now ranking well behind that of gas, teak and other woods, pulses and beans.

The garment industry's significant drop in earnings in the first decade of the century is largely attributable to the impact of sanctions, which heavily effected export markets – especially to the United States.

In 2001 exports of garments to the United States accounted for 408 million dollars, or 49 percent of Burma's total export earnings from the industry. But, with the imposition of extensive sanctions stemming from 2003's Burma Freedom and Democracy Act, exports to the United States were nonexistent by 2005.

Burma scholar David Steinberg subsequently estimated the impact of sanctions to be the closure of some 64 textile factories and an eventual loss in domestic jobs totaling approximately 200,000, predominantly among young women.

Additionally, a 2005 study by the Japanese Institute of Developing Economies discovered that the garment factories most severely affected by boycotts and sanctions have been small and medium-sized domestic private firms and their workers.

Captive to failed policies

Economic and social innovations of recent decades have largely passed Burma by. It is within this context that the garment industry finds itself as one of preciously few venues striving to practice modern methods of mass production.

Hard fought, yet eventually won, battles for labor rights – and more – have before spawned from might have been thought unlikely breeding grounds. With their backs against the icy waters of the Baltic Sea, a strike of some 17,000 workers at the Gdansk Shipyard in 1980 realized ultimate victory on the political stage with the election, ten years later, of vocational school graduate and 1983 Nobel Laureate Lech Walesa to the Polish Presidency.

In early 2007 – well before monk-led protests captured the world's headlines – there was a large strike in the Taw Win Garment Factory over insufficient salaries. And only last month, workers at the MP Garment Factory went on strike over long hours and low pay.

Yet, ultimately, the situation that Burma's garment industry laborers find themselves in is but one more commentary on the depressed nature of the Burmese state and infrastructure, as well as the battle being waged over Burma in international forums well above the heads of the helpers and tailors of Hlaing Tharyar and the other industrial parks.

Garment jobs, with their long hours and low pay are far from what Burma's work force needs and deserves. Yet, the question has to be asked: Are they the best in a list of poor options available to those who staff the factories, people trying to do their best to be able to live one day at a time?

Mizzima reporters in Rangoon, Burma, and Chiang Mai, Thailand, contributed to this report. All names in the write-up have been altered as a precaution to protect the identity of the individuals concerned.

READ MORE---> Stitching together a life (Feature)...

NLD MP Dr. Hla Aung passes away

by Phanida
Tuesday, 18 November 2008 18:54

Chiang Mai (Mizzima)– National League for Democracy (NLD) MP-elect, Dr. Hla Aung, suddenly passed away today at his residence, it is learnt.

Dr. Hla Aung, one of the 398 NLD MPs elected in the 1990 general election, he is the 99th to have since died.

Wandwin Township NLD Joint Secretary Aung Thu told Mizzima that Dr. Hla Aung passed away at his home within an hour after suffering trouble breathing while meditating at Wandwin Township's Panpingyi meditation camp.

Dr. Hla Aung (68) joined the popular 8-8-88 uprising and contested the 1990 general election, representing Wandwin constituency No. 2.

He earned a B.A. from Mandalay University and a Diploma in International Relations from Rangoon University, later receiving a PhD in Economics and a Diploma in Russian language following five-years of study at Moscow University.

"His demise is a loss for the people of Burma as he was a smart and honest intellectual, capable of doing much for the country," his colleague U Aung Thu said.

He is survived by his wife Aye Nuu and four children.

According to the National Coalition Government of Union of Burma (NCGUB) and the Association for Assistance to Political Prisoners (AAPP), 34 NLD MPs-elect are now in exile and 17 MPs-elect are still behind bars.

READ MORE---> NLD MP Dr. Hla Aung passes away...

Myanmar courts imprison ethnic minority activists

YANGON, Myanmar (IHT): A court in military-ruled Myanmar sentenced three ethnic minority activists and a well-known Buddhist monk to prison Tuesday, continuing a crackdown that began last week with pro-democracy activists.

Meanwhile, five United Nations experts issued a statement in Geneva strongly condemning the "severe convictions and the unfair trials of prisoners of conscience in Myanmar." At least 70 activists were sentenced to prison terms last week, and another seven on Monday.

Chin leader Chin Sian Thang said a court inside Yangon's Insein Prison on Tuesday sentenced his son, Kam Lat Khaot to 33 years in prison and his nephew, Kai Kham Kwal, to eight years.

Chin Sian Thang said a member of the Arakan minority was also given 33 years. The Arakan, like the Chin, are clustered in western Myanmar.

Ashin Gambira, one of the most prominent monks leading pro-democracy protests in September 2007, was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment and still faces further charges, he said.

"The judicial system in Myanmar has collapsed and the courts are passing down sentences in contravention of the law. These secret trials are blatant violations of human rights," Chin Sian Thang said.

Chin Sian Thang is a prominent politician who won a parliamentary seat in elections in 1990, the results of which were never recognized by the ruling junta. He said he received information about the sentencing while waiting outside the prison.

The Chin leader said he was detained for about a month during last year's pro-democracy demonstrations, while his son and nephew were arrested in October. The junta's repression of the protests resulted in at least 31 people being killed and thousands detained, according to U.N. estimates.

The statement from the U.N. experts said they "strongly urge the Myanmar authorities to cease harassing and arresting individuals for peacefully exercising their internationally recognized human rights."

"They further demand that all detainees be retried in open hearings respecting fair trial standards and the immediate release of their defense counsels," it said. Three defense lawyers have been sentenced to several months imprisonment for contempt of court, while several others have been barred from representing their clients.

The U.N. experts are Tomas Ojea Quintana, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar; Leandro Despouy, rapporteur for the independence of judges and lawyers; Frank La Rue, rapporteur for freedom of opinion and expression; Margaret Sekaggya, rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; and Asma Jahangir, rapporteur for freedom of religion or belief.

READ MORE---> Myanmar courts imprison ethnic minority activists...


Zaw Myint Maung, who has endured 18 years as a prisoner of conscience in Burma.

By Zin Linn

Column: Burma Question
November 07, 2008

Bangkok, Thailand (upiasia)— Have you ever imagined what it would be like to be a prisoner of conscience for a few days in the Burmese military junta's infamous Insein prison? The military authorities confine you in an undersized cell, 8.5 by 11.5 feet, with only a bamboo mat on the concrete floor. Sleeping, eating, walking and going to the bathroom are all done in the same place.

You cannot see the sun, the moon or the stars. You are intentionally barred from breathing fresh air, eating nutritious food and drinking pure water. Books, periodicals, radio and television are out of the question. If you get sick, no medical worker will check on you until you have lost consciousness.

Under such harsh conditions, Zaw Myint Maung, an experienced physician who never committed even a small crime, has been languishing in prison for nearly two decades. As a one-time cell mate of his, each moment I think about his situation in the junta's atrocious dungeon, I feel uneasy.

It was 1994, in the cell compound of the infamous Insein Prison. I was in cell No. 10 of cell block No. 3 with Zaw Myint Maung, a healthy and handsome man of short stature with tan skin. He was very kind and helpful not only to inmates, but also to wardens and prison officers, who consulted him in health matters. Because of his calm, warm manner as an experienced medical doctor, the prison staff paid him respect behind the military intelligence officers’ backs.

Hence, he managed to form a medical assistance committee in prison, smuggling medicines and disposable syringes into prison cells. He treated his fellow inmates’ various sicknesses and even did minor surgeries with the help of the wardens who respected him. Many wardens regarded the doctor as their health consultant in those days.

A graduate from the Mandalay Institute of Medicine in 1979, he became head physician of Ywar-thit-kyi District Hospital in Sgaing Division in 1982. He worked in the biochemistry department of the Mandalay Institute of Medicine for eight years. During the 1988 People's Uprising, he was elected secretary of the Mandalay Doctors' Association.

Then he became a member of the National League for Democracy and was later elected as a member of Parliament from Mandalay’s Amarapura township in 1990. After the junta refused to honor the election results, he and some members of Parliament held secret meetings to find a political way out. As a result, Zaw Myint Maung was arrested on Nov. 22 and put on trial for allegedly participating in meetings to form a parallel government. He was charged with treason against the nation and sentenced to 25 years in prison at a military tribunal with no legal representation.

He has been languishing in the junta's hellish prison for 18 years, or one-third of his life. While in Insein Prison, he underwent many interrogations by intelligence officials about his views on the military regime and political dissident Aung San Suu Kyi. The authorities tried to persuade him to collaborate with them, but they could not win over his strong political aspiration of building a democratic Burma. As a staunch supporter of Aung San Suu Kyi, he is on the top of the junta's blacklist.

I remember one noteworthy vision of the doctor. He said, “Democracy is on the march around the world, including Burma. But we need commitment to work selflessly with grassroots people until the day that a free Burma emerges. The struggle for freedom may need more time. But it will not be beyond measure. It’s a war between the just and unjust. The just will prevail at last."

In 1995, fellow political prisoners from various organizations actively worked to collect valid facts and figures on human rights abuses experienced in prison, for a report to be sent to the United Nations on the situation of human rights in Burma. Zaw Myint Maung was one of the coordinators of this effort.

On July 15, 1995, the report, "Human Rights Abuses in the Junta's Prisons," together with a petition of over 100 political prisoners, was successfully smuggled out. Within weeks, the report was sent to Yozo Yokota, the U.N. Special Rapporteur for Burma.

The release of both the report and the petition hurt the junta’s image and made the generals extremely angry. Consequently, the prison cell compound was searched, and many inmates were thrown into dark cells and interrogated while being deprived of food and sleep.

Zaw Myint Maung was one of 24 political prisoners who were given further prison sentences on March 28, 1996, in connection with their circulation of news journals within the prison and their efforts to report human rights violations to the United Nations. The doctor was alleged to have written politically agitating poems and to have signed a petition for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi.

During the investigation, he and seven others, including U Win Tin, a famous journalist and senior member of the NLD, were held in cells designed for military dogs, made to sleep on concrete floors without bedding during winter and left without food and water.

Maung was held in a dog cell between Nov. 1995 and May 1996. The group of 24 had no attorneys to defend them against the charges they faced. They were charged with threatening prison security and forming anti-junta organizations in prison. The doctor was then sentenced to an additional 12 years’ imprisonment under both charges.

On April 3, 1997, he was transferred to the Myit-kyi-na prison in the state of Kachin, which is in the north of Burma and has extreme weather. Harsh prison conditions are still commonplace in Burmese prisons, and many prisoners suffer from serious mental disorders resulting from long periods of solitary confinement.

Prisoners cannot get essential medical treatment even in Insein Prison, which is the model prison in Burma. Even worse is the fact that when political prisoners face a fatal illness, they will not be hospitalized unless they abandon their dissident beliefs. Hundreds of deaths are due to the authorities' unnecessarily negligence in medical treatment. Currently, there are more than 2,100 political prisoners in Burma, including 18 members of Parliament, 178 female prisoners and 213 Buddhist monks.

The valiant, imprisoned physician has constantly refused to sign a confession promising to abandon his political beliefs as a condition for his release. Zaw Myint Maung is the father of two sons and one daughter. He has not been able to show fatherly love to his children for nearly two decades. He himself has been suffering from hemorrhoids and stomach pain. With his 57th birthday approaching on Dec. 11, the doctor deserves freedom as a birthday present for his contributions to society.

Burma has been called "the world's largest open prison for prisoners of conscience." There are over 2,100 political prisoners still languishing in Burmese prisons, among whom Zaw Myint Maung may be Burma's longest-serving prisoner of conscience.

Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says: "No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." But Zaw Myint Maung has been suffering from torture and three unjust prison sentences for almost 37 years.

It would be great if international NGOs launched a concerted effort to free political prisoners in Burma, since this situation not only involves regional politics, but is also connected with global humanitarianism. For that reason, the United Nations, ASEAN, the European Union and China should consider pressuring the State Peace and Development Council to free all political prisoners immediately and unconditionally.


(Zin Linn is a freelance Burmese journalist living in exile. He currently serves as information director of the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma in Bangkok, Thailand. He is also vice-president of the Burma Media Association, which is affiliated with the Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontiers. He can be contacted at ©Copyright Zin Linn.)


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