Saturday, November 22, 2008

US Congress warned of Chinese cyber, space threats

WASHINGTON (AFP) — China has developed a sophisticated cyber warfare program and stepped up its capacity to penetrate US computer networks to extract sensitive information, a US congressional panel warned.

"China has an active cyber espionage program," the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission said in its annual report to the US Congress. "China is targeting US government and commercial computers."

In its 393-page report, the panel also criticized Beijing for exercising "heavy-handed government control" over its economy and "continuing arms sales and military support to rogue regimes" such as Sudan, Myanmar and Iran.

The commission also issued a warning about China's space program. "China continues to make significant progress in developing space capabilities, many of which easily translate to enhanced military capacity," it said.

"Although some Chinese space programs have no explicit military intent, many space systems -- such as communications, navigation, meteorological, and imagery systems -- are dual use in nature," the commission said.

The commission, which was established by Congress in 2000 to analyze the economic and national security relationship between the two nations, said China was investing heavily in cyber warfare.

"Since China's current cyber operations capability is so advanced, it can engage in forms of cyber warfare so sophisticated that the United States may be unable to counteract or even detect the efforts," the commission said.

It said Chinese hacker groups may be operating with government support.

"By some estimates, there are 250 hacker groups in China that are tolerated and may even be encouraged by the government to enter and disrupt computer networks," the commission said.

It quoted Colonel Gary McAlum, chief of staff for the US Strategic Command's Joint Task Force for Global Network Operations, as saying China has recognized the importance of cyber operations as a tool of warfare and "has the intent and capability to conduct cyber operations anywhere in the world at any time."

"China is aggressively pursuing cyber warfare capabilities that may provide it with an asymmetric advantage against the United States," the commission said. "In a conflict situation, this advantage would reduce current US conventional military dominance."

The commission recalled that unclassified US military, government and government contractor websites and computer systems were the victims of cyber intrusions in 2002 codenamed "Titan Rain" and attributed to China.

And earlier this month The Financial Times, citing an unnamed senior US official, reported that Chinese hackers -- possibly with backing by the Beijing government -- had penetrated the White House computer network and obtained emails between government officials.

The commission made 45 recommendations to Congress including possible "additional funding for military, intelligence and homeland security programs that monitor and protect critical American computer networks."

On the economic front, the commission said "China relies on heavy-handed government control over its economy to maintain an export advantage over other countries."

"The result: China has amassed nearly two trillion dollars in foreign exchange and has increasingly used its hoard to manipulate currency trading and diplomatic relations with other nations," it said.

"Rather than use this money for the benefit of its citizens -- by funding pensions and erecting hospitals and schools, for example -- China has been using the funds to seek political and economic influence over other nations," said Larry Wortzel, chairman of the commission.

Beijing's "continuing arms sales and military support to rogue regimes, namely Sudan, Burma, and Iran, threaten the stability of fragile regions and hinder US and international efforts to address international crises, such as the genocide in Darfur," the commission added.

The commission acknowledged some progress by China, specifically its adherence to non-proliferation agreements and involvement in the six-party talks to dismantle North Korea's nuclear weapons production capacity.

But it criticized China's use of prison labor to produce goods for export and an "information control regime" that it said regulates the print and broadcast media, Internet, entertainment and education.

The report is available on the commission's website at

READ MORE---> US Congress warned of Chinese cyber, space threats...

The U.S. Should Move Beyond Sanctions

Sat, 2008-11-22

By Nehginpao Kipgen for Asian Tribune

In an apparent shift from the policy of traditional sanctions, the U.S. Congress created a post for policy chief for Burma to increase pressure on the military junta.

In response to this unprecedented action, the White House announced the nomination of Michael Green for the post on November 10. Whether this maneuver brings vigor to the Burmese democratic movement is a question remains to be seen.

Green, who has served as a senior director for Asian Affairs under the Bush administration, should have noticed the quandary over the Burmese political imbroglio, especially the futility of conflicting approaches by the international community.

According to this legislation, the policy chief will consult with the governments of China, India, Thailand and Japan, members of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and the European Union to coordinate international strategy.

Years of sanctions after sanctions, this is a new birth in the American policy toward Burma. Sanctions, however, still remain the popular way of punishing the rogue regimes and governments around the world.

When it comes to Burma, sanctions have little impact on the military regime due to engagements by neighboring countries, notably China, India and members of ASEAN.

A solution to Burma’s problems greatly lies in two possible ways:

  • Popular Uprising and
  • Intervention.
Popular uprising have been tasted twice in 1988 and in 2007. Both events were brutally crushed by the military with force.

The word intervention can be engagement or sanction. There is no doubt about the U.S. sanctions hurting the military generals and also the general public. Had there been a coordinated international approach, Burma could have been different today.

It must be difficult for the U.S. government to abandon its traditional policy of isolating the Burmese generals and start engaging with them. But they have to realize that sanction alone is not effective in resolving Burma’s crisis when there is engagement on the other end.

While sanctions are in place, the new envoy can start initiating a ‘carrot and stick’ policy by working together with key international players. The one similar to the North Korean six-party talk model should be given emphasis on Burma.

The six-party talks involving the United States, European Union, ASEAN, China, India, and Burma should be initiated. In the beginning, the military generals and some other countries might resist the proposal, but we need to remember that the North Korean talk was also initially not supported by all parties.

The hard work of the U.S. in North Korea is now paid off with North Korea being removed from the State Department’s list of terrorists, and in return, North Korea promised to shut down and dismantle its nuclear facilities.

It was not only the sticks that worked but also the carrots. The U.S. offered energy and food assistances to the North Korean leadership. A similar initiative could convince Burma’s military generals to come to the negotiating table.

Now that the U.N. Secretary General is heavily involved in the process, the U.S. can garner stronger support from the international community. Without such move from the U.S., Ban Ki-moon’s 'Group of Friends of the Secretary General on Myanmar' will yield little.

The most effective U.N. intervention would happen when the Security Council decides to take action. This scenario is bleak with China and Russia vetoing the move, and likely to do again if Burma issue comes up in the Council’s agenda.

The creation of U.S. special envoy and policy chief for Burma is a widely welcome move. With this new position coming into place, the U.S. should start moving beyond imposing sanctions.

Nehginpao Kipgen is the General Secretary of US-based Kuki International Forum ( and a researcher on the rise of political conflicts in modern Burma (1947-2004).

- Asian Tribune -

READ MORE---> The U.S. Should Move Beyond Sanctions...

Unlawful Convictions of Burmese Political Prisoners are Crimes Against Humanity – UNSC Should Refer Burma to the International Criminal Ct

Sourced: Global Justice Centre
19 November 2008


Unlawful Convictions of Burmese Political Prisoners are Crimes Against Humanity – U.N. Security Council Should Refer Burma to the International Criminal Court Certain judges in Burma, acting under the orders of Chief Justice U Aung Toe and Senior General Than Shwe, are themselves criminally liable as co-conspirators to crimes against humanity for their acts in “trying” and “convicting” 60 political activists last week. “These acts are the latest from the junta which uses the judiciary as one of its key weapons to commit grave crimes,” says Global Justice Center President Janet Benshoof. Judges including those listed below are criminally culpable and must be referred to the International Criminal Court.

• Chief Justice U Aung Toe
• U Thaung Nyunt, North District Court, Yangon Division
• Daw Soe Nyan, U Tin Htut, U Kyaw Swe, and U Sein Hla, Western District Court, Yangon Division
• Daw Aye Myaing, Hlaing Tha Yar Township Court, Yangon Division
• Daw Than Than, Tamwe Township Court, Yangon Division
• Daw Nyunt Nyunt Win, Kyauktadar Court, Yangon Division
• Daw Mya Mya Swe, North Dagon Court, Yangon Division
• Daw Thiri Tin, Ahlon township Court, Yangon Division

On November 11th approximately forty pro-democracy dissidents received prison sentences of up to 65 years. On November 13th twenty more activists were sentenced to terms ranging from 4½ to 9½ years. The convicted include members of the ‘88 Generation Students, labor rights activist Su Su Nway, musician Win Maw, HIV/AIDS activist Than Naing, blogger Nay Phone Latt, and members of Daw Aung San Sui Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy. Even the defendants’ lawyers were not immune from the regime’s revenge; in October defense lawyers Nyi Nyi Htwe, Aung Thein and Khin Maung Shein were sentenced to between four and six months imprisonment for submitting a complaint about the unfair trial conditions of eleven NLD activists.

Judges did not allow the defendants to question prosecution witnesses, many defendants did not have legal representation and those that did were not permitted to meet with their lawyers in private. Burma Lawyers’ Council General Secretary U Aung Htoo stated, “Rule of law in Burma cannot even be dreamt of when the judiciary has become an instrument of political oppression, exercised by the SPDC military junta.”

United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Burma, Tomás Ojea Quintana, said this past week in reference to these convictions, “There is no independent and impartial judiciary system [in Burma]." However, the judges actions go much further; these prison sentences are crimes under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, including violations of Article 7(1)(e) “Imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law” and 7(1)(h) “Persecution against any identifiable group or collectivity on political, racial, ethnic, cultural, religious, gender…or other grounds”.

GJC President Benshoof noted that top judges in Hitler’s criminal regime were convicted as co-conspirators of crimes against humanity and, more recently, in the Dujail1 decision, the Iraqi High Tribunal found Judge Awad Hamed al-Bandar jointly criminally liable for crimes against humanity committed with Saddam Hussein because he used the façade of “judicial authority and law” to “try” and then “execute” civilians. Burma Lawyers’ Council and Global Justice Center urge the international community to expose the regime’s criminal partnership with members of the judiciary and to join the call for a UN Security Council referral of all grave international crimes in Burma to the International Criminal Court.

Contact: Aung Htoo
General Secretary, Burma Lawyers’ Council
Mobile: 66 (0) 81 533 0605
Contact: Janet Benshoof, Esq.
President, Global Justice Center
Tel: 1-212-725-6530 x203; Mobile: 1-917-601-6200

1 A1-Mahkama al-jina’iya al-‘Iraqiya al-Uliya [The Iraqi High Criminal Court], al-Dujail Opinion, Unofficial English Translation, (Dec.26, 2006),

READ MORE---> Unlawful Convictions of Burmese Political Prisoners are Crimes Against Humanity – UNSC Should Refer Burma to the International Criminal Ct...

Army recruits murder suspect as soldier

by Nan Kham Kaew

Nov 21, 2008 (DVB)–Villagers from Nat Sat village in Bago have expressed disappointment over the military's recruitment of a man suspected of the murder of a 14-year-old girl from the village.

Zay Lay (also known as Zayar Soe), a resident of Nat Sat village, was wanted by the police for the suspected murder of his next door neighbour’s daughter Wut Yee Hnin, known as Sabai, on 22 September 2007.

The girl's father said he had reported her missing after she went out with Zayar Soe and never came back.

"That morning, she was preparing meal for us as we were planning to go to the monastery,” her father said.

“Then our next door neighbour Zayar Soe showed up and asked her to go with him so she did," he said.

"But she never returned home so we filed a missing person report at the police station."

After the provincial police had gathered evidence and interrogated Zayar Soe, they changed the focus of the investigation from a missing person case to a murder and robbery inquiry.

"Zayar Soe fled the village and the police issued a warrant for his arrest," the girl’s father said.

"The police searched for him all over the region but he was nowhere to be found."

The girl’s father said that Zayar Soe was now a soldier with the identification number P/384905 in the local Light Infantry Battalion 216's brigade 11, led by lieutenant Zaw Htike.

Zayar Soe was immediately arrested when he returned to Nat Sat village as a soldier but he could not be held because he had joined the army.

"He just came back into the village in a military uniform and was immediately arrested by the police accompanied by local authorities such as the ward Peace and Development Council and the Union Solidarity and Development Association,” the father explained.

“But lieutenant Zaw Htike who was with him at the time said it was an army matter as Zayar Soe is now a soldier," he went on.

"So the police had to hand him back to the army but the army official never charged him with anything," he said.

"We filed a complaint about this to senior general Than Shwe and other government leaders such as the minister of home affairs and police chief Khin Yee on 22 December but nothing has been done about it so far."

Bago police station was unavailable for comment.

READ MORE---> Army recruits murder suspect as soldier...

Ko Ko Gyi transferred to Mai Sat prison

by Nan Kham Kaew

Nov 21, 2008 (DVB)–Detained 88 Generation Student leader Ko Ko Gyi has been transferred for the second time since his 65-year sentence was passed earlier this month.

Ko Ko Gyi was transferred to Keng Tung prison in eastern Shan state along with fellow student leader Min Ko Naing after they were sentenced in Mau-ubin.

But Keng Tung locals said that Ko Ko Gyi was sent to Mai Sat prison near the Thai-Burma border two days after his arrival in Keng Tung.

His transfer came as families of the student leaders were preparing to visit their loved ones who are currently detained in various prisons across Burma.

Wah Wah Win, the wife of Pyone Cho who was transferred to Kaw Thaung prison in Tenasserim division, said the transfers of the activists to remote prisons made it difficult for families to visit.

"It's difficult for us both physically and financially as he was transferred to a very remote place but we are not depressed about it – he has done good things to help the majority of the people," she said.

"We will support him as best as we can."

READ MORE---> Ko Ko Gyi transferred to Mai Sat prison...

Seniors on the Streets

An elderly woman sells sticky rice in the street in Rangoon.
(Photo: Aung Thet Wine/The Irrawaddy)
The Irrawaddy News
November 21, 2008

RANGOON — On busy Maha Bandoola Street in Rangoon, an old lady trembles as she walks slowly along the potholed sidewalk. Old rags hang from her frail body as if from a coat hanger. She holds a worn-out bamboo basket in her bony hand and mutters to herself as she passes by anonymously.

Daw Ohn Myint is 78 and comes from Sin Phone village in Shwe Pauk Kan Township, a suburb of Rangoon. If anyone took the time to listen to her muttering, they would realize she was not talking to herself.

“My sons and daughters, please help me,” she whispers. “Please be kind and help me buy food.”

A few 10 and 20 kyat notes lie untidily in her basket.

"My home was destroyed in the cyclone and I can’t afford to repair it,” she told The Irrawaddy. “I used to sell stuff at the market, but nowadays I am too old.

“I live alone,” she added softly.

In Burmese tradition, when the parents and grandparents are no longer able to work, their children take care of them. If they have no relatives, the community looks after them. Burmese people have always been proud of this generous custom—the Burmese welfare system, so to speak.

However, the tradition of magnanimity is gradually disappearing in Burma. In the age of military rule, economic hardship, rising crime and high unemployment, most people are only concerned for themselves.

And more and more elderly people, like Ohn Myint, have to resort to begging in the streets to make ends meet.

On a repressively hot afternoon at Rangoon's Aung Minglar bus station, an elderly couple sits idly on a bench. They seem malnourished and skinny. On the ground in front of them lies a brown towel. They wait patiently for a passerby to drop a note on it—perhaps enough to buy a piece of fruit.

“Both our sons are dead,” explained 70-year-old Daw Mya Sein. “One died as a soldier, the other in an accident in a factory.”

Mya Sein indicated her husband beside her. He is paralyzed and unable to move or speak, she said. Now she has to beg and take care of him at the same time.

“I notice more and more old people begging,” said a well-known Burmese author who now works for an NGO. “Many are disabled, some are blind. When I ask them, they say economic hardship has driven them into the street. Many of them are alone in the world. Some have sons or daughters, but often they too are so poor they cannot afford to feed their parents.”

The Burmese government’s social welfare office—the Resettlement and Rehabilitation Ministry—estimated that there are currently 4.7 million people in the country above the age of 60.

According to data published by the Department of Labour in 2004, the life expectancy for Burmese men is 61.5 years. For women in Burma, life expectancy is 64.4 years, with rural women averaging 63.8 years and urban women living to 66.

"I see a lot of old people selling vegetables in the markets and collecting garbage for a living,” a journalist in Rangoon said, adding that he believes the military government has failed in its responsibility to provide for senior citizens.

Even government employees complain of being discarded once they retire.

"I worked all my life at state-owned textile factory, a 70-year-old grandfather said. “I retired with a pension in 1992. Nowadays I collect just 768 kyat (US $0.60) a month for my pension.”

He said he now works as a night security guard in Hlaing Thar Yar industrial zone.

A 63-year-old ex-warrant officer in the air force told a similar story. He said most low-ranking public servants cannot retire peacefully after a lifetime’s work. “Most have to find new jobs to make a living,” he said.

A retired army warrant officer, who had served more than 60 years in the defense services, told The Irrawaddy he receives a pension of only 7,000 kyat ($5.55) a month.

“It’s absolutely nothing,” he grumbled.

Although the Burmese authorities have failed to deliver on a policy to protect elderly people, they are quick to pay lip service to the proposals.

Aung Tun Khine, the deputy general director of Burma’s Social Welfare Ministry promised his department would—in cooperation with the UN—take care of elderly people whose homes had been destroyed by the cyclone.

"We will give preference to poor senior citizens who live alone, and to those without regular incomes," he told a weekly journal, adding that there are currently 59 shelters for senior citizens in the country, providing protection for some 2,000 people.

However, a local journalist scoffed at the junta’s efforts. He called on all levels of society in Burma to work together to fill the gap the regime had created.

“In the sunset of their lives, many of our senior people are in hopeless positions. Some end up in the streets,” he said. “Where the government has failed to do anything, we must step in. All people in Burma are obliged to help take care of our senior citizens.”
An old-age couple begs for money in the street.
(Photo: Aung Thet Wine/The Irrawaddy)

Elderly beggars are common sights at Rangoon’s markets.
(Photo: Aung Thet Wine/The Irrawaddy)

The despair and humiliation of begging.
(Photo: Yuzo/The Irrawaddy)

READ MORE---> Seniors on the Streets...

Zarganar, Ashin Gambira Get Long Prison Terms

The Irrawaddy News
November 21, 2008

Burma’s best-known comedian Zarganar and the prominent monk Ashin Gambira were among 35 regime critics sentenced to long prison terms in another day of trials in Rangoon’s Insein Prison on Friday.

Zarganar, whose anti-regime satire was a constant thorn in the side of Burma’s ruling generals, was given a 45-year term. Gambira, one of the leaders of the September 2007 uprising, was sentenced to a total of 68 years.

The media friendly Zarganar was convicted on several criminal charges, including infringements of the Electronic Act, 505 b.

Zarganar was arrested in the night of June 4 in a raid in which the authorities seized his computer, about US $1,000 (1,140,000 Kyat) in cash and three CDs containing footage of May’s cyclone devastation, the opulent wedding of junta leader Snr-Gen Than Shwe’s youngest daughter Thandar Shwe and the film “Rambo 4,” in which Hollywood star Sylvester Stallone fights Burmese government soldiers in a mission to rescue kidnapped westerners.

The 29-year-old Gambira was also convicted on several charges, including offences under 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 33 A of the Electronic Act and Section 6 of the Organization Act.

One of Zarganar’s associates, Zaw Thet Htwe, who helped him deliver aid to cyclone survivors, received a sentence of 15 years imprisonment. Another associate, Tin Maung Aye, was sentenced to 29 years imprisonment and a third, Thant Zin Aung, received 15 years imprisonment.

The trials of Zarganar, Zaw Thet Htwe and Thant Zin Aung are still proceeding, and the court is expected to pronounce further sentences on them next week.

Thirteen members of the 88 Generation Students group received prison sentences ranging from three to five years on Friday and they are also expected to face further sentences next week, sources said.

Five Buddhist monks were among a further eleven regime opponents who were also sentenced to prison terms on Friday, prison sources said. All took part in the September 2007 uprising.

The 11 condemned were identified as Pyinya Thiha, Pyinya Dipa, Narapatint, Okantha Marla, Zarnayya and dissidents Htun Htun Naing, Than Htay, Soe Shwe, Ngwe Soe, Khin Htun and Kyaw San Lay.

Htun Htun Naing, Than Htay, Ngwe Soe and Kyaw San Lay were each sentenced to four years imprisonment for offences under sections 145 and 505 b of the criminal code, said one source close to the court. Khin Htun sentenced to four-and-half-years for offences under sections 143, 145, 505 b.

The sentences handed out to the monks are not yet known. All of them are from Tharthana Theippan monastery in Rangoon’s Bahan Township.

Tharthana Theippan was the scene of a ceremony held by members of the 88 Generation Students group in August 2007 to mark the 19th anniversary of the 1988 uprising. The ceremony honored the students, monks and citizens who lost their lives during the uprising.

In Thursday’s sessions of the current wave of trials, about 20 detained activists were given prison sentences of between two and six years. They included the Burmese hip-hop star Zayar Thaw, who is a leading member of Generation Wave, a dissidents group founded by young Burmese activists during the September 2007 uprising.

More than one hundred democracy supporters, including Buddhist monks, defense lawyers, members of the opposition National League for Democracy and the 88 Generation Students group have so far been sentenced by Burmese courts since the beginning of November. The longest sentence was the 68 year term of imprisonment handed out to Ashin Gambira on Friday.

READ MORE---> Zarganar, Ashin Gambira Get Long Prison Terms...

HIV/AIDS Risk High Among Political Prisoners

The Irrawaddy News
November 21, 2008

Political prisoners in Burma run a high risk of contracting HIV/AIDS because of unhygienic medical treatment, according to reports from inside several of the country’s prisons.

One report, by Reporters without Borders, said an imprisoned member of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), Aung Than, probably contracted the disease after being forcibly injected during treatment in Insein Prison for a prostate condition.

Aung Than was sentenced to 19 years imprisonment in 2006 for writing and distributing a collection of poems called “Daung Man” (“The Force of the Fighting Peacock.”)

Another NLD member, Hla Than, who was elected to represent Coco Island Township in the 1990 election, named five political prisoners he knew had died of HIV/AIDS—Khin Sein, Mya Shwe, Naing Aung Lun, Bo Ni Aung and Thuta Aung.

One former political prisoner, Aung Kyaw Oo, who served 14 years in Insein and Tharawaddy Prisons, said detainees were forbidden to possess hypodermic syringes and injections were carried out with shared needles, usually by ill-trained medics drawn from the prisoners themselves.

“If prisoners refuse to be injected with used needles they are punished,” said Tin Aye, a former political prisoner, who served 15 years and nine months.

“Insein prison is a center of the HIV virus,” he said. “Prison conditions favor the spread of HIV.”

Aung Kyaw Oo said most of the medics in prison hospitals were drawn from convicts with little medical background or knowledge, including drug offenders.

NLD spokesman Nyan Win said the standard of medical treatment in Burma’s prisons had worsened since inspectors of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) stopped their routine visits.

The Geneva-based ICRC suspended its routine visits to Burmese prisons in December 2005 when the junta-affiliated Union Solidarity and Development Association insisted on accompanying ICRC aid workers. The ICRC pointed out that its protocols required that prison visits be independent and unsupervised.

According to the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma (AAPP), 137 political prisoners have died in Burma’s prisons since 1988. The AAAP says the prevalence of HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and other deadly transmitted diseases is high among prisoners.

READ MORE---> HIV/AIDS Risk High Among Political Prisoners...

U Gambira to serve total of 68 years in prison

by Than Htike Oo
21 November 2008

Chiang Mai (Mizzima)– The Burmese military junta's vendetta against monks came to the fore with U Gambira, a monk leader being sentenced to another 56 years in prison, totaling 68 years, by a Special Court sitting in session inside Insein prison today.

A person close to the family of the monk, who rattled the Burmese military junta during the saffron revolution, said that he was sentenced today by Kamayut Township court on nine counts and by another four counts by Ahlone Township court.

Earlier, Kemmendine trial court which held proceedings inside Insein prison sentenced U Gambira on November 19 to 12 ½ years in prison on three counts including under section 295(a) and 505(b) of Penal Code (insulting religion and inducing crime against public tranquility).

U Gambira was 29, when he headed the monk-led protest, popularly known as saffron revolution in 2007 September, while he was pursuing Buddhist studies – the 'Dhamasaryiya Course'. The monk who stirred the conscience of the anti-regime masses by his political activity became the leading Sayadaw of 'All Burma Monks Alliance' (ABMA) which spearheaded the movement.

After the saffron revolution was brutally crushed by the junta, he went into hiding. But he was arrested in Singai Township, Mandalay Division on November 4, 2007.

Similarly another leading monk U Kaylartha from ABMA (Mandalay Division) who has already been sentenced to 35 years in prison with charges under the Unlawful Association Act, was given an additional four years in jail again today by a court inside Mandalay prison on two counts. His total prison term adds up to 39 years.

The monk-led protests spread like wildfire in the entire nation after the local security forces tied the protesting monks to lampposts and beat them up in public when they staged demonstrations in Pakokku, Magwe Division on September 5, 2007 against rising fuel and essential commodity prices.

The 'National League for Democracy' (NLD) issued a statement yesterday which urged the junta to review and reconsider the harsh prison sentences being handed out to political activists and political dissidents in recent times in accordance with the existing laws, regulations and by-laws.

READ MORE---> U Gambira to serve total of 68 years in prison...

Comedian Zarganar handed 45-year prison term

by Nem Davies
21 November 2008

New Delhi (Mizzima) – Famous comedian and film director Zarganar, held in Insein prison, was sentenced to 45 years in jail today by the prison court.

The court held the trial inside Insein prison and sentenced him on three counts under the Electronic Law to 45 years in prison today for 'disaffection towards state and government' by using the internet.

"I am proud of my elder brother-in-law. He was arrested because of his relief effort among Cyclone Nargis victims. The government's action is arbitrary. My brother cracked a joke when the judge pronounced his judgment. 'I was given 45 years prison term on an 'I' case. I was sent to Insein prison when I used Internet to study IT (Information Technology)', "Ma Nyein, his sister-in-law quoted him as saying.

His family members had to wait at the main entrance of the prison as they were not allowed to attend the court proceeding. Only his defence counsel Khin Htay Kywe was allowed to enter the courtroom. She served as defence lawyer in this case along with lawyers Aung Thein and Khin Maung Shein.

The court fixed November 27 to hear five remaining cases against him.

His family and defence lawyer have not yet decided to go for an appeal. They will discuss the need for an appeal against today's judgment with him when they visit him in prison on Sunday.

Similarly the same Insein prison court sentenced sport columnist Zaw Thet Htwe and his co-accused Thant Zin Aung today to 15 years in prison each and gave 29 years prison term to another accused Tin Maung Aye a.k.a. Gadone for their rescue and relief operation for cyclone Nargis victims.

The authorities arrested Zarganar at his residence while he was into Cyclone Nargis rescue and relief operations for the victims.

The comedian joined the pro-democracy movement actively and he was arrested time and again for cracking political jokes and also barred from performing in public and in films.

Canada based 'PEN' (Canada) awarded him 'One Humanity Award' for 2008 for his bravery and integrity in his struggle for freedom of the press and freedom of expression and imprisoned him for these activities.

READ MORE---> Comedian Zarganar handed 45-year prison term...

Army frames charges against ILO complainants

by Myint Maung
21 November 2008

New Delhi (Mizzima)– Burma's Army has framed charges, under the Electronic Act, against farmers from Natmauk Township who lodged a complaint with the International Labour Organization (ILO) against the seizure of their farmland.

The farmers, from five village tracts in Natmauk Township, Magwe Division, lodged their complaint against the local Central Ordnance Depot, objecting to the seizure of their farmlands by the Army. Subsequently, Captain Phyo Wei Lin of the Central Ordnance Depot has prosecuted three farmers, held to be the leaders of the ILO filing, at a township trial court.

"We are in trouble now and we are on the run," U Tint, one of the villagers whose name appears on the ILO complaint and is listed in the prosecution's case against the farmers, told Mizzima.

Forty-nine villagers in all, from five villages, including Ngeyekan, Ywathit and Nyaung Pauk, lodged a complaint with the ILO on August 3rd against the Central Ordnance Depot for seizing about 5,000 acres of farmland situated along the Natmauk-Magwe railroad.

"We don't know about this Electronic Law and also don't know about the Video Law, as we cannot see movies regularly in our rural area," U Tint commented.

The Electronic Law is a common tool used by the junta against political dissidents who allegedly use the Internet to disseminate news held to be critical of or damaging to military authorities.

Captain Phyo Wei Lin accused the defendants of sending news and facts to the foreign media.

In a well known case, blogger Nay Phone Latt was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment on November 10th for violating the same law.

The Natmauk Police arrested Ngayekan villagers Ko Hla Soe, Ko Nay Lin and Ko Sein Sten on October 20th – later prosecuting them under the Electronic Law. Nine days after their arrests, another villager, Ko Zaw Htay, was also detained.

At first, Captain Phyo Wei Lin registered a case against the initial three detainees under section 31(a) of the Official Secrets Act and section 51(a) (making a photograph of an Army establishment), but the prosecution changed the charge against them to a violation of the Electronic Law.

In their complaint, the villagers said that the Central Ordinance Depot seized about 5,000 acres of farmland from them in 2005 for the purpose of growing physic nut – viewed by the state as being essential in addressing the country's energy shortfall.

READ MORE---> Army frames charges against ILO complainants...

At the mercy of Mother Nature and Burma's generals

by Khin Tun
Mizzima News
21 November 2008

Famine forces thousands to do whatever they can to survive in Chin state

On the surface, things can seem brighter than usual for villagers from Matupi in Southern Chin state of Western Burma, home to some 500,000 people. Fathers, mothers and children are busy in the paddy fields reaping their new crop of rice, which has just ripened this past month. However taking a closer inspection of the situation, it soon becomes apparent that there is a serious problem, a lack of food security – adding to the woes in a state where, according to the Chin Mobile Backpack Medical Team, "malnutrition and child mortality is one of the highest in the country." In a sign of desperation, even children, along with their teachers, are forced to leave school in order to harvest crops, because of the fear that the plague of rats might at any moment destroy the very thing which is so fundamental to their survival - rice.


Since 2006, Chin state has been hit by a plague of rats brought on by the dying of bamboo, a natural phenomenon occurring every 50 years in Chin state and the surrounding mountain ranges of northeast India. During the phenomenon, vast forests of bamboo covered jungle produce flowers and a type of fruit which attracts rats. The rats consume the bamboo seeds, which local people believe causes the rat population to rise exponentially.

In a twisted tale of bad luck, for a region which the World Food Programme describes as "one of the poorest and most isolated states in Myanmar," once the bamboo has flowered it dies, causing the plague of rats to turn on villagers' crops for survival. Village elders, who experienced firsthand the last mautam – as the plague is referred to in local jargon – in 1958, explained that this time the situation is much worse. Unusually strong winds have damaged crops, and the dying of bamboo forests at different times has caused the rats to shift unpredictably between areas.

Farmer turned rat catching expert

Local farmer Masie from Matupi is now highly experienced at catching rats. The previous night he caught eight rats, one of which his wife is cooking on the fire. By Masie's high standards, eight rats is a rather low count, as at the height of the rat infestation he caught over 40 rats in just one night. In trying to protect his fields, Masie has handmade over 150 rat traps, locally called, hmakhau, in addition to the more conventional traps he bought from a larger town three to four days walk away. He proudly shows off a collection of rat tails he has collected since this August, numbering over 1,000 so far. Masie describes how the rat infestation affected his family last year:

"Last year the rat infestation was much worse, and I wasn't able to build any rat traps, because I had never experienced this kind of huge rat infestation. I thought we could drive out and scare the rats and protect our crops with ease. But, just before the rice was about to be ripe for harvest the rats came and finished all the rice in the fields in only one night. We lost all our rice from the fields…we came home from the fields with empty hands."

This year things have improved, his family has collaborated with two other families to manage and secure their rice paddy fields. They have fenced in a six tin field area and added over 150 traditional hand-made rat traps alongside nine more conventional traps.

The villagers are trying to harvest very quickly, as they fear the rats might come again, similar to last year, and eat their rice. Masie hopes to harvest over 280 tins (one tin is approximately six kg of cleaned rice) for 18 family members. Unfortunately, even with the preparations of the villagers in protecting their crops – especially the rice, it couldn't stop the rats from wreaking havoc on the villager's cornfields. "This year our harvest of corn was totally destroyed and we harvested nothing," sighed Masie.

Bamboo shortage

Most villagers stay in the fields day and night as this helps to scare away the rats. Yet due to the mautam phenomenon of bamboo dying, there is a shortage of bamboo, which is traditionally used to construct shelter. Therefore villagers cannot construct appropriate huts for living in their rice fields. Instead, they have little alternative but to either walk to their fields for up to an hour each day, or stay in cramped pitiable huts.

Saichea is a crippled old widow staying alone in a small, confined hut. She tells of how her hut's roof is leaking, yet with everyone busy in the fields and a shortage of adequate bamboo, her roof cannot get fixed. "Every time it rains in the night I have to go to other houses to sleep, because my hut's roof is leaking," tells the old woman. When she was a child she sustained an agonizing accident, leaving her unable to use her right hand or foot or work to earn a living. Consequently, she depends on help from neighbors and church leaders. She displayed her meager food supplies of all she has left, consisting of one pot of rice and a few other essential foods donated to her, which she uses very sparingly.

Food crisis destroying communities – villagers flee to India

Since the start of this year, at least 11 households from a border village in Matupi, Burma, have left for neighboring villages across the border in India's Mizoram state. Some villagers departed in secret as it is seen as a disgrace to leave their village and community. Traditionally, the village elders used to kill a pig to compel them to reconsider leaving. However, village elders stated that some villagers who were offered the meat did not accept it, instead insisting on leaving the village.

In the same village, at least ten households last year faced the problem of finishing their rice early, forcing them to find work in India to try and support themselves. Due to job availability, many of the family members have to work apart, some in Saiha in Mizoram, the largest town closest to southern Chin state. They take up any work offered, usually jobs which the local people do not want, such as carrying wood, working in paddy fields, farm cleaning, constructing roads and digging holes for toilets.

Teiko is one such individual that has had to go to India to earn money, working for approximately 15 days at a time. He has been working on the construction of a bridge over the Kaladan River in India. With this money he then buys rice and carries it back to his village in Burma, over two days walk away. He explains his family's situation:

"Last year we could only harvest 30 tins, which lasted only two months. We survive by earning money in India. Because of the struggle for food we could not send all our children to school, our youngest daughter had to stay to work in the fields. She cried, pleading with us to send her to school, but we couldn't afford to.

This year we have nearly finished our harvest and expect 80 tins, but for one year we need at least 140 tins. When I was in India earning money, my wife borrowed rice from villagers, and we had to pay back the rice once I returned from India.

Working in India, luckily I didn't face any problems with getting paid. Most of us are dependent upon earning money in India. It's the only way to solve our food problems. We are struggling for life, but by the grace of God our health is good."

Limited aid assistance to Burma

Teiko's village has received some limited aid (35 rice bags in total, for over 250 people) from neighboring villages across the border in India, but the real need is substantially greater. Therefore, regretfully, there is no alternative for villagers but to find work in India to keep their families alive.

Chihu is a mother with two daughters from a neighboring village in Mizoram, India, an approximately five hour walk from Burma. She also was not spared the destruction of the rat infestation, yet some assistance is reaching them. She elaborates:

"Usually two fields give a crop of 150 tins, yet all our corn and rice fields were destroyed last year. This year we harvested only 50 tins, which lasted only one month, as we host many guests. In some fields the villagers harvested nothing due to the rats, only in some fortunate fields the rats didn't touch could rice be found. Luckily we are in a better condition than our brothers and sisters in Burma, because of help from NGO's from foreign countries. We received this June, 40 kilos of rice, four liters of oil and eight kilos of dal per household."

However, in an extremely positive development, DFID (Britain's Department for International Development), has offered assistance to six out of nine townships in Chin state, with an initial budget of US$ 1,083,450 for the six months from October 2008 – March 2009. An estimated 55,000 people will benefit from the undertaking. DFID's immediate aim is to improve the food security situation of farmers and their family members affected by the rat infestation and crop destruction, in addition to enhancing rural transportation and communication systems through work for food/money programs.

Yet, because the aid will have to come through Rangoon and the Burmese military government's Ministry for Development of the Border Areas and National Races and Ministry of Agriculture – in collaboration with the UN and other organizations active in the country – it is questionable just how much assistance will actually reach the most affected people. Exiled Chin groups based along the Indian-Burmese border have welcomed the aid, but are calling for a much broader relief approach, including cross-border aid, having set up their own food relief committees, including CFERC (Chin Famine Emergency Relief Committee) and CHRC (Chin Humanitarian Relief Committee.) These groups have a proven track record of being able to provide assistance to the most vulnerable victims, targeting over 70 villages.

However, due to a lack of financial capacity, local relief efforts are currently unable to have a sustainable impact and reach all the targeted villages.

Tlaiko, a father of four children from one of the worst affected townships in southern Chin state, passionately relates his thoughts on the aid proposal from Britain that will see all efforts first routed through Rangoon:

"You, the British, rescued and saved our spirits as R.A. Laurren (the first missionary from the U.K. to the people in this region, over 100 years ago) built our community, and now you have come to help us in our physical needs. But, we were so heartbroken when we heard that the donations of the U.K. are coming through Rangoon. It is impossible that the donations will reach us through Rangoon. The SPDC (military junta) have been stealing our belongings like thieves. They will surely steal all the assistance from you. How can your government believe them? We will get nothing I am sure. I would like you to think back to Cyclone Nargis in the Irrawaddy delta. I think you know much better than we do about this. Assistance from your government directly to us on the border would be the quickest and best way."

A village headman from Matupi talked about how the mautam and the Burmese military have affected his village:

"The majority of people have harvested much less compared to last year. We have harvested as a village approximately 1,300 tins of rice, yet we should harvest 3,500 tins. We get nothing from them (the SPDC). Rather, they beat us and take many things like rice, pigs and goats. We heard so many times that they would help, and sometimes they come, but they only give words. It's sure they will be cheating us. We heard that even after Cyclone Nargis they took many things which should have reached the people."

Work for food initiatives

In a self-initiative spawned from a village council in India, villagers asked those from a neighboring village in Burma to clean the road between their villages, receiving 20 rice bags as payment. When asked about this work for food program, village leaders from

Burma were unanimous in their support.

"We want to work for rice, we want more work. Why should we not accept that? That is the best program for us as it will not only solve our food problem, but also assist in our development," prospered one village headman. "We have been working for the SPDC for no pay, portering and serving them, even as they killed our animals."

Just across the border in another village in Mizoram, things are considerably better. The Indian government has actively responded to the mautam, and since 2005 has introduced a 10-year scheme called the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. The aim of project is to develop agriculture, plantations and fisheries, in addition to undertaking road construction – by means of the government employing erstwhile unemployed members of the local community.

Satae, from a neighboring village in Burma, is now 69 and has spent his entire life in his village. He explains about how he would like to see a similar work for food/money initiative for his village:

"When we think about our village's development, we first think of having good work which can bring about a better solution to our food shortage and development. We heard that our brothers in India are working under a work for food program in Mizoram, which is benefiting the people a lot. We are just dreaming of getting such a beneficial work program. If we could have such a program, that will solve our food shortage problem and will also bring about sustainable development as well. We envy them."

Threatening the very core of Chin livlihood

As part of the traditional approach of shifting cultivation practiced by the Chin, this December and January signals the start of cutting and cleaning the jungle to make way for new paddy fields. March will see the burning of these areas to allow for the planting of new rice paddy in April. Yet, with many villagers having to leave their communities for India to seek food and work, it may prove difficult for them to grow and harvest their own food. As such, some of the very basic tenets of traditional life in Chin state, which have supported local communities for generations, are being threatened by the ongoing food crisis and the inadequate response of external actors to the plight of the population.

However, one thing I have learned, living in India, can be summarized in one sentence from Ghandi: "We have to be the change we want to see..."

READ MORE---> At the mercy of Mother Nature and Burma's generals...

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