Thursday, November 20, 2008

Rights group highlights abuse of children in conflict

by Peter Aung

Nov 19, 2008 (DVB)–The Human Rights Education Institute of Burma has published accounts of numerous violations of the rights of children due to armed conflict, in a new report released today.

Forgotten Future: Children affected by armed conflict in Burma was launched today at a press conference in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Aung Myo Min, executive director of HREIB, said the report was based on interviews conducted over the last year with about 100 children, parents, school teachers and local influential figures in different regions across Burma.

"A unique thing about this report is that it pointed out all six different types of child abuse that take place in areas of conflict," he said.

"These include the killing of children in areas of conflict, sexual abuse of children, abduction of children, forced recruiting of children into the army, preventing them for receiving humanitarian assistances and attacking hospitals and medical centres."

These six categories were identified as grave violations of children’s rights by United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon and were set as a framework for investigation by a task force on Burma established by the UN Security Council in 2005.

The HREIB report claims that violations in all these categories have been committed against children in Burma over the past five years, mostly by government forces.

The recruitment of underage children into the military was identified as a war crime by the International Criminal Court in 1998, but the use of child soldiers continues, notably in Burma, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Sudan and Somalia.

The Burmese government has often claimed in the state-run media that the army does not use child soldiers, though there are regular reports of children being abducted by military officers and forced to enlist.

According to human rights groups, about 70,000 children in total are still being used as soldiers by the government military and ethnic rebel groups in Burma.

READ MORE---> Rights group highlights abuse of children in conflict...

UN, Asean Must Speak Up

The Irrawaddy News

Twice in little more than a year, Burma’s rulers have earned international opprobrium for crimes they have committed against innocent people.

Last September, the world was horrified to witness the regime’s ruthless crackdown on peacefully protesting monks. Then, in May of this year, the junta demonstrated its callous disregard for human life in another way—by refusing for several weeks to allow foreign aid workers to assist hundreds of thousands of people whose lives were torn apart by Cyclone Nargis.

Compared to these outrages, the generals’ latest display of contempt for fundamental human rights seems to pale into insignificance. But the recent spate of lengthy prison sentences imposed on detained activists by kangaroo courts at Rangoon’s notorious Insein Prison deserves a much stronger response than we have seen so far.

Since late last week, there has been a steady and depressing stream of news about court decisions against some of Burma’s bravest and most capable dissident leaders. Some have been given 65-year prison sentences, signaling that the junta remains as indifferent to world opinion now as it was during the outcry over the Saffron Revolution and Cyclone Nargis.

That should not be too surprising. The junta has learned that it can ride out any storm of international criticism as long as it has the backing of powerful supporters in the United Nations Security Council and a buffer of non-confrontational neighbors who see its atrocities as little more than occasional sources of embarrassment.

But this latest development threatens to further undermine the credibility of international efforts to hold the Burmese generals accountable, at a time when both the UN and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) are still trying to portray the regime as a serious “partner” in the Nargis relief effort.

It may be one of the greatest ironies of the Nargis tragedy that it has bestowed upon the junta the very air of legitimacy that the generals have long sought. Simply by ceasing to be as obstructive as they were during the first month after the disaster, they have suddenly been elevated to the status of responsible players on the world stage.

And now, as a further, and even more perverse, irony, it seems that the generals have been emboldened by this “partnership” to believe that it entitles them to treat their opponents any way they please.

After all, the generals may reason, would the world body and a major regional grouping be willing to stand side by side in a humanitarian endeavor with a rogue regime? If the junta can’t be trusted to dispense justice to its critics, why would some of the world’s most respected organizations be so willing to embrace it on equal terms?

Of course, it is impossible to know what is going through the minds of Snr-Gen Than Shwe and other senior members of the ruling junta. But it should not be necessary to wonder what UN and Asean leaders think about the current situation and how it impacts on their relationship with the regime.

So far, however, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has issued a single pro forma statement expressing “deep concern” about the latest round of assaults on the dignity of Burma’s pro-democracy activists, while his Asean counterpart, Surin Pitsuwan, has had nothing to say about the gross miscarriages of justice being committed in Burma.

There have also been the usual obligatory statements from human rights experts attached to the UN, calling for free and fair trials, but as we have seen time and again, these carry precious little weight with the Burmese authorities.

Like it or not, it is now up to Ban and Pitsuwan to put more of the prestige of their offices on the line, or risk sending the Burmese regime the message that it has carte blanche to continue with its criminal behavior.

READ MORE---> UN, Asean Must Speak Up...

Burma appears to have suddenly dropped off the UN Security Council’s radar.

The Irrawaddy News

What has surprised many a Burma watcher is the silence of members of the Security Council at a time when the Burmese military junta has been indulging in one of the worst ever crackdowns on pro-democracy activists in the country.

More intriguing is the relative silence of three of the permanent members of the UNSC—the US, Britain and France—who have, until now, kept Burma at the forefront of the UN’s agenda.

The three nations, for their part, strongly condemned the harsh sentences passed down on pro-democracy supporters in Burma recently.

In a statement earlier this week, the White House said that the UNSC "must not remain silent" as the regime demonstrates yet again its contempt for universal freedoms and its disdain for the international community's calls to release all political prisoners.

The president of the Security Council for the month of November, Jorge Urbina of Costa Rica, told reporters at the UN headquarters in New York on Wednesday that Burma is not yet on its program for the remaining part of this month and that none of the 15 members had brought the matter to his attention.

"I have not heard any delegation asking for a briefing on [the Burma] issue, but as you know, in the Council very often new initiatives come almost every day," Urbina said.

An Asian diplomat told The Irrawaddy that none of the 15 members, including the US, Britain and France, had officially or unofficially tried to raise the issue inside the Security Council.

Meanwhile US President George W. Bush plans to bring up the Burma issue with his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao, when the two leaders meet on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) Summit in Lima this weekend.

Briefing reporters on the APEC summit, Deputy National Security Adviser for International Economic Affairs Dan Price listed Burma as a major issue of discussion with Hu Jintao when the two leaders meet on Friday afternoon. Other issues will include Iran, Zimbabwe and Sudan. The issue of Tibet would also be taken up, he said.

"As the president has always done in all of his meetings with Chinese leaders, the president will discuss issues of human rights and religious freedom, including the ongoing dialogue between Beijing and the Dalai Lama," Price said.

Bush, who has led the Western world in imposing sanctions on the authoritarian military regime of Burma, believes that China can play an important role in the restoration of democracy in Burma and protection of human rights.

Two days ago, the White House in a statement condemned the arbitrary sentencing of pro-democracy political prisoners of from two to 65 years in prison. The statement cited a complete lack of due process by the courts in handing down the sentences.

Earlier this month, Bush nominated Michael Jonathan Green as the White House representative and policy coordinator for Burma, to fill a new post created by Congress.

READ MORE---> Burma appears to have suddenly dropped off the UN Security Council’s radar....

Burmese Workers Head Home as Recession Begins to Bite

The Irrawaddy News

RANGOON — Burmese workers are rapidly losing the last economic lifeline available to them—employment in the more vibrant economies of other Asian countries.

As the deepening recession takes hold in the world’s fastest-growing region, many companies are cutting jobs and reducing work hours in a bid to survive the crisis. For many Burmese employed in countries such as China, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, this means fewer job prospects and, in many cases, a one-way ticket back to Burma.

“Some general laborers have already returned from Malaysia, the most popular destination for Burmese working abroad,” said the director of an overseas employment agency in Rangoon.

“In many sectors, from commodities to furniture and electronics manufacturing, companies are laying off workers and cutting back on overtime pay,” he added.

“This has put low-paid workers in a difficult position, giving them little choice but to pack up and return to Burma.”

The situation is much the same in Singapore, where the downturn has hit everything from manufacturing and retail jobs to the financial sector and the tourism and transport industries.

“I was working for a subcontractor, but I lost my job earlier this month,” said a Burmese man who worked at an air-conditioner factory. “I was paid 500 Singapore dollars (US $327) per month for 5 months. Now I cannot repay my debts.”

Most Burmese workers pay substantial sums to employment agencies for the privilege of having jobs that pay far more than they can earn at home. A general labor position, for instance, typically costs US $850-1,650 (depending on the job and the country). In many cases, workers borrow money or mortgage their homes to pay the agencies.

“I took out a 1.5 million kyat ($1,180) mortgage on my father’s house to pay for a job overseas,” said one man who had recently returned from Malaysia. “Now I have to do my best to find another job abroad so I can pay back the interest.”

But that isn’t going to be easy. According to the director of one employment agency, there have been no new orders from overseas employers since October. Moreover, he added, many of those who were working a month ago have returned as a result of job cutbacks.

The loss of this income from abroad is expected to have a significant impact on Burma’s economy, which is barely able to support the country’s population.

“Families depending on overseas remittances will be in a very tough situation,” said a professor of economics. “They will have no way to pay back their debts. If unemployed workers can’t find new jobs, there will be problems in the economy.”

He added that the country’s military government has so far taken no actions to mitigate the effects of the global slowdown on the local economy. It was especially important, he said, to create new job opportunities.

There are estimated to be around three million Burmese working outside the country, around half of whom are legally employed. The rest are illegal migrants working mainly in Thailand and China.

READ MORE---> Burmese Workers Head Home as Recession Begins to Bite...

Stop use of child soldiers: Rights group

by Phanida
20 November 2008

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Child soldiers continue to be used in armed conflicts in Burma, a rights group activists said.

The Thai based 'Human Right Education Institute for Burma' (HREIB) has compiled a report titled 'Forgotten Future' after interacting and interviewing 119 child soldiers in refugee camps inside Burma along borders with India, Thailand and China.

"The child soldiers used in armed conflicts in Burma are unhappy and dissatisfied with their lives. These children are deprived of a pleasant, happy and active life. They are always sad and their existence and future are forgotten. So I would like to urge all rights and democracy activists to join in striving for the welfare and rights movement for these children," Aung Myo Min, Director of HREIB said.

Interviews were conducted with parents of child soldiers, school teachers, leaders' of social organizations, armed organizations and workers. The report focused on six child rights violation mentioned in the UNSC resolution 1612.

The violations include killing children, sexual harassment, arrests, using them as child soldiers, denial of humanitarian assistance, attacking schools and hospitals where children stay.

The regional rights group 'Asia Human Right Watch' said that there are 70,000 child soldiers in the Burmese Army and the number keeps mounting.

But the Burmese junta consistently denies the use of child soldiers in its army when accused by UN and the international community.

Similarly the HREIB (Burma) is advocating and persuading the Karen National Union (KNU), Karenni Army, Kachin New Democracy Army, Chin National Army and the Kachin Independence Army to stop recruiting and using child soldiers.

READ MORE---> Stop use of child soldiers: Rights group...

Gold miners head for the hills

by Maxwell Smith
20 November 2008

Magway (Mizzima) – One decade ago the hills near the town of Yamethin in Mandalay Division were free from human settlements. There were no huts, no satellite televisions, often no human beings; only brush-covered terrain and the local flora and fauna.

But that all changed eight years ago when villagers discovered gold in the foothills 50 kilometers (30 miles) east of the town.

Now, this area, 500 kilometers north of Rangoon, is a hive of activity, with miners coming from all over Burma to dig for the precious yellow metal with single-minded enthusiasm. And many of them do not like outsiders scrutinizing their activities.

"Last month a group of gold diggers attacked a visitor who snapped some photographs," said Tun Kyaw, 34, himself a gold miner.

"They don't like people shooting photographs or video about what they are doing. They don't care who they are. What they care about is the gold," he said.

Tun Kyaw, who comes from Theikbeikkyinn Township, where the mines are located, said his once quiet native area is now famous throughout the country for its gold.

"You can see there are now thousands of people living here hunting for gold. The area is famous. They say nine out of ten people who come here can find gold," he said.

Local estimates put the number of miners at more than 100,000, many of them living in the collection of 800 or so huts that have been erected along the banks of several creeks that wind through the area.

The thousands of workers fulfill a number of different duties, with some digging 24-meter tunnels into the hillsides with the help of manual mining equipment, while others carry or crack stones.

"I moved here from Shan State to work as a carrier. I carry bags of gold nuggets for three miles and earn 5,000 kyat (US$ 4) for one small bag," said 20-year old Maung Lay.

Still others, like Moe Thwe from Shan State, work panning for gold in area creeks.

"We work by commission and get one-third the value of the gold we find. So we can earn more than 100,000 kyat (US$ 80) a month," she said.

More than 60 gold companies work in the area, each of them allotted 20 acres of land. Most of the 3,000 or so workers employed by each company are paid according to the one-third commission scheme.

According to mining experts, each company can expect to extract at least five to ten viss (one viss equals 3.6 lb) of gold from each mine.

Since 2004, numerous companies have commenced work in the area. "Many companies wanted to dig at the old block. Some of them gave five million kyat (US$ 4,000) to the guards to dig at the block for one hour. It's risky but the return is double," said Myo Win, a 29-year old who used to work for a foreign mining company.

But others say the practice is not quite so lucrative, including Myo Thein from Singu Township in Mandalay Division, who said he has lost 30 million kyat (US$ 24,000) searching for gold in prohibited areas.

"Our group found such a small amount of gold we were unable to make back our investment," he said.

"There are still a lot of gold hunters working near the Ivanhoe blocks, gnawing like rats to try to get to the gold veins that foreign experts working for Ivanhoe had identified," he said.

Aside from panning, many miners in the area still use cyanide extraction techniques despite the fact that the method has been banned by the government because of its negative impact on human health and the environment, especially water resources.

Many companies have built 9-square-foot ponds using tarpaulin sheets in which the powder of gold-bearing stones, lime, water and cyanide are mixed and soaked for a week. The gold is then absorbed by carbon cylinders as the mixture passes through pipelines, while the cyanide and other toxic by-products are leeched into the ground.

"If we use the simplest process of panning for gold we cannot make a profit. So we use the cyanide process like everyone else," said Aung Kyaw, a worker whose company recently discovered five viss of gold.

"It is dangerous for people because the cyanide can make them sick and damage the environment. That's why the government has banned the method, but miners still use it," said 29-year old gold hunter Han Kyaw.

Moe Moe, 30, who runs a food shop near a creek that flows from the mining area, said no one dares to drink from local wells because of the presence of cyanide and other toxins.

"Even the people who work in the mines do like we do – they drink bottled water," she said.

But some miners apparently did not get the message. Moe Moe said that just a couple months ago a number of miners suffered from cholera after drinking contaminated water and a team of doctors and nurses had to be brought from town to the mine to treat the victims.

Compounding the problem is the fact that most of the leeching ponds are located near creeks that flow into Kyee Ni Lake in Yamethin Township or into the Paung Laung River. Villagers who live near the creeks, including children, use the water for washing and bathing on a daily basis.

"We use it for bathing because it is the main source of water, but we don't drink it," said Ma Mya from the village of Kindar, about six kilometers (4 miles) away from the mining area.

Aung Kyaw said cyanide wasn't the only danger that miners had to contend with.

"There are also lots of robberies in the area. We all carry knives to protect our gold and our lives," he said.

In an effort to deal with this Wild West atmosphere, the government has appointed about 60 staff – half of them police officers and the other half from the Ministry of Mining – to maintain law and order in the area.

"We often educate the miners not to commit crimes and not to use cyanide for mining," said a high-ranking police officer in Mandalay Division on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to media.

"We also have three checkpoints where we inspect people coming into the township because we don't know who they are, where they are from or whether they are trying to smuggle cyanide into the area," he said.

He said the police used to keep those who used cyanide or other illegal mining techniques in custody for 15 days.

"It didn't work because the people we caught just viewed the punishment as a 15-day vacation for their relaxation," he said.

"In September we changed the punishment to seven years in prison. However, we're still making nearly 100 arrests a month because every day more migrants move into the area and keep breaking the law," the police officer said.

He said they have even arrested people who have impersonated military officers by donning uniforms and carrying toy guns.

"They pretend they have the authority to stop people and inspect their goods on their way to the gold mine. When they have confiscated enough goods they take them away to resell them," he said.

"We are also trying to curb the increase of migration into the area by turning away people who are coming to work in the mines," he added.

However, many locals said that Yamethin Township has benefited from the influx of mine workers, which has fuelled a business spurt that has seen the opening of new restaurants, teashops and beer pubs, as well as the development of the transportation and telecommunication sectors.

Locals also said rental prices have increased fivefold since 2000 as demand for housing has skyrocketed.

"Many residents are now making money by renting out rooms and houses to newcomers," said Daw Khin, who rents her house out for 60,000 kyat (US$ 48) a month.

People who own vehicles have also benefited said driver Ko Tun, who uses his small tractor to carry workers up to the mining village.

"Every day I drive more than 20 workers to the mining area. There are a lot of people aside from me making money this way," he said, adding that the fare was 15,000 kyat (US$ 12) each way.

"It costs so much because the road to the mine is in such terrible shape," he explained.

In a country where many estimates place per capita income at less than 200 dollars per year, the prospect of gold in the hills around Yamethin Township has turned this isolated pocket of Burma into a surrealistic bonanza town.

READ MORE---> Gold miners head for the hills...

China to start constructing new pipelines through Burma

by Mizzima News
19 November 2008

New Delhi - China is set to commence construction in the first half of 2009 on a giant pipeline project that will connect Sittwe, on the Bay of Bengal in Burma, with China's Yunnan Province.

According to the China Daily newspaper, the China Natural Petroleum Corporation, with a 50.9 percent stake in the project, will head the US $2.5 billion pipeline project. The remaining stake will be held by the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE).

The project will include the construction of two separate pipelines, a US $1.5 billion oil pipeline and a US $1.4 billion gas pipeline.

Once completed, the pipelines are expected to provide an alternative route for China's crude imports from West Asia and Africa, Mi Gongsheng, Director of the Yunnan Provincial Development and Reform Commission was quoted as saying.

Currently, 80 percent of China's annual crude imports of 200 million tons must pass through the Strait of Malacca, located more than 1,800 kilometers farther to the east than Sittwe.

READ MORE---> China to start constructing new pipelines through Burma...

Icons under fire


Both the Dalai Lama and Aung San Suu Kyi face criticism from their own sides

BORN to leading roles among their people; one a devout Buddhist, the other a reincarnate Buddha; Nobel peace prize-winners; championed by the famous; admired around the world: Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and Myanmar’s detained opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, have much in common.

Add two more items to the list. Both, so far, are political failures. And both are now facing quiet criticism for that from their own supporters.

The Dalai Lama’s policy of negotiating with China about the status of Tibet seems to be leading nowhere, as he himself has admitted. And Miss Suu Kyi’s long, lonely vigil in Yangon seems not to have weakened the junta ruling Myanmar. Indeed, the generals seem as solidly entrenched as at any time since they brutally crushed the pro-democracy movement in 1988.

In Dharamsala, the Dalai Lama’s seat in exile in northern India, exiled Tibetans have convened this week to discuss the future. Many have long felt uneasy at the Dalai Lama’s policy of offering to accept Chinese sovereignty in Tibet in return for the promise of genuine autonomy.

Two setbacks, probably related, have made the Dalai Lama’s efforts seem even more futile. Late last month, the British government, the only one in the world not to recognise China’s full sovereignty in Tibet, came as close as it could to doing so.

This undermined the historical basis of the talks the Dalai Lama’s envoys have been holding sporadically with China. At the eighth round, the latest, in Beijing this month, China’s position seemed to harden, and it denounced the Tibetans’ proposals for autonomy as a bid for “disguised independence”.

Similarly, Burmese activists have long whispered grumbles about Miss Suu Kyi—criticised either for not being flexible enough when there have been opportunities for talks with the junta; or for being too docile, and refusing to call for an uprising.

Some of the grumblers spoke to journalists who were writing a long feature on Miss Suu Kyi that appeared in The Guardian this month. Entitled “Not such a hero after all”, it has created, as its writers clearly intended it to, a bit of a stir, with its attack describing Miss Suu Kyi as recalcitrant, ineffective, “authoritarian and proud”.

The article is deeply unfair. It ignores the much more stringent conditions of her detention and isolation in recent years. And it accuses her of some things she never did—of, for example, “drumming out” NGOs working on humanitarian calamities, such as an HIV epidemic.

But, as with the Dalai Lama’s critics, the authors and the disillusioned Burmese activists they quote have a point. Miss Suu Kyi’s strategy, articulated in a brief period of relative freedom in the late 1990s, has failed. Encouraging international sanctions to isolate the regime has not brought it close to collapse. Rather it has reduced the influence of the West in favour of that of Myanmar’s regional neighbours.

Behind the sniping at both Miss Suu Kyi and the Dalai Lama is an important argument that is rarely made explicit: about whether non-violence can ever effect change. This is fundamental to what they both stand for. Both loathe violence.

The Dalai Lama is famous for his good-humoured optimism, even in the most trying circumstances. Yet a leading Indian politician, who was attending a series of religious lectures that he gave in March, as Lhasa erupted in bloody riots, recalls that the Dalai Lama found teaching almost impossible.

Similarly, this columnist met Miss Suu Kyi several times in the 1990s. Only once did she lose her poise, when the government had mobilised thugs to menace her supporters on the streets, and a nasty confrontation seemed to loom.

Many Tibetan and Burmese activists believe pacifism does not work. In fact, one surprising recent study by two American academics, Maria Stephan and Erica Chenoweth, suggests non-violent campaigns are more effective than armed uprisings. They analysed 323 resistance campaigns from 1900 to 2006, and found that non-violent campaigns achieved success 53% of the time, compared with 26% for campaigns of violent resistance.

This is scant comfort to Tibetan and Burmese activists impatient for change. And both groups face another difficulty in common: that there is no alternative or individual in place to succeed Miss Suu Kyi or the Dalai Lama. Their passing will be a huge blow to both movements.

Yet it would also remove the only credible interlocutors available to China and the Burmese junta. They tend to see the Dalai Lama and Miss Suu Kyi respectively as the embodiment of their problems with restive populations. In fact, they may represent the only hope of a peaceful solution.

READ MORE---> Icons under fire...

Myanmar activist follows dad, grandfather to jail

YANGON, Myanmar (IHT): A court in military-ruled Myanmar sentenced a student activist to 6 1/2 years in jail on Wednesday, a week after his father received a 65-year prison term for his own political activities and a decade after his grandfather died in custody.

Colleagues said Di Nyein Lin was one of three student activists sentenced by a court in a suburb of Yangon for various offenses, including causing public alarm and insulting religion. They spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.

In an intensive crackdown on the country's pro-democracy movement, at least 70 activists have received prison sentences in the past two weeks, many after being held for more than a year before being tried.

The courts' actions — which would keep many of the activists in jail long past a general election set by the ruling junta for 2010 — have received worldwide condemnation.

Di Nyein Lin's father, Zaw Zaw Min, was one of 23 members of the 88 Generation Students group who were each given 65-year sentences last week. Many members of the group were at the forefront of a 1988 pro-democracy uprising that was smashed by the military.

Di Nyein Lin's grandfather, Saw Win, was a member of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party, and died in prison about 10 years ago.

Di Nyein Lin is a leader of the outlawed All Burma Federation of Students Union, to which several of the 88 Generation Students' members belonged in 1988.

Most of the 88 Generation members were arrested on Aug. 21, 2007, for protesting a fuel-price hike. Others were arrested after the government violently suppressed rallies in September of that year that followed the fuel protests and were led by Buddhist monks.

They were sentenced under various charges, including a law calling for a prison term of up to 20 years for anyone who demonstrates, makes speeches or writes statements undermining government stability, and for having links to illegal groups and violating restrictions on foreign currency, video and electronic communications.

The other student activists sentenced Wednesday were Kyaw Swa Htay, who received a five-year sentence, and Kyaw Hsan, sentenced to four years in jail.

Amnesty International and other human rights groups say the junta holds more than 2,100 political prisoners, up sharply from nearly 1,200 in June 2007 — before last year's pro-democracy demonstrations.

The prisoners include Suu Kyi, who is under house arrest, as she has been on and off since 1989.

READ MORE---> Myanmar activist follows dad, grandfather to jail...

NCGUB seeks ASEAN mobilization as human rights crackdown intensifies

Washington DC, 20 November, ( The Burmese government in exile has called for ASEAN governments to initiate UN-backed Commission of Inquiry to investigate the military regime's latest human rights violations. The call comes as Burma's junta is intensifying its campaign of imprisoning democracy supporters as a means of clearing the ground prior to nominally free elections set for 2010.

"Regional powers cannot sit idly by," says the NCGUB's UN representative, Dr. Thaung Htun, "and reap the rewards of immorality."

"We condemn the arbitrary sentencing of Burmese citizens to long periods in jail. We believe Burma's regional partners cannot fail to do so too and to act accordingly by taking on this issue on at next month's ASEAN Summit in Thailand."

In the past weeks, around 80 Burmese have been arrested and rushed through "kangaroo courts", often behind closed doors. Sentences have gone as high as 65 years for such acts as providing defence counsel to pro-democracy advocates, aiding international media during the recent Nargis cyclone aftermath and even for publishing a poem which includes a line critical of the Burmese leader, General Than Shwe.

The sentences have included jail terms in far-flung regions, making it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for family and friends to visit and support them.

Some of those sentenced are monks who have been identified as being involved in the peaceful Saffron Revolution street marches in September 2007. Also included have been high ranking members of the influential 88 Generation Students group.

The NCGUB is proposing a plan which sees the ASEAN Summit calling for a Commission of Inquiry by the United Nations Human Rights Council. This inquiry should be carried out on a similar format as that which was established to investigate human rights violations in Sudan.

The Commission should be coordinated by UN Human Rights Special Rapporteur for Burma, Mr. Tomas Ojea Quitana and should include other input from UN Thematic Rappoteurs on such matters as:

* Independent Judiciary

* Violence against Women

* Children and Armed Conflict

* Freedom of Expression and Information

* Arbitrary Detention

"ASEAN should fully commit to this process, facilitate its evolution and, fully co-operate in its investigations. Such an initiative will give weight to the body's calls for a human rights office within ASEAN and would enhance its reputation as a body concerned about the abuses of its members."

ASEAN as a bloc is a major trading partner of Burma, while the ASEAN+3 countries, who are also meeting next month, would constitute a significant majority of Burma's total foreign trade and investment.

"If Burma's political prisoners wore sponsorship," adds Thaung Htun, "they would be emblazoned with the logos of major corporations, governments and finance companies of our neighbors." "It's time action was taken."

The National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB) is a government-in-exile constituted by members of parliament elected in 1990, Burma's last free and fair national elections in which the National League for Democracy won over 80% of the vote. Since 1991, it has served as a representative government in exile and is headquartered in Washington, D.C.

- Asian Tribune -

READ MORE---> NCGUB seeks ASEAN mobilization as human rights crackdown intensifies...

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