Monday, December 8, 2008

Comedian says Zarganar will boost prison morale

Dec 8, 2008 (DVB)–Comedian Pa Pa Lay has said the 59-year jail term given to fellow performer Zarganar will not demoralise him and will raise morale in the prison where he is being held.

Activist and comedian Zarganar was sentenced to 59 years in prison last month and sent to the remote Myitkyina prison in Kachin state.

Pa Pa Lay, a member of the Moustache Brothers performance troupe, spent seven years in Myitkyina prison and said Zarganar’s presence was likely to boost the spirits of inmates and staff alike.

"We are concerned that he is being detained, of course, but Zarganar and I have the same mentality. We are healthy as long as we can sing, dance and joke,” he said.

"If we can crack jokes as soon as roll call is made, everyone feels better for the rest of the day,” he went on.

“We can even make the people who are giving the orders smile and that is a tonic – they even ask us to crack more jokes."

Pa Pa Lay said conditions were very difficult during his time in prison.

"I was moved to a new cell every month or two. The food was poor and there was not enough water. The roof leaked and I had to sleep on the concrete floor," the comedian said.

"The weather was bitterly cold and it was worse in the labour camps with no protection from the elements,” he said.

“As a result, we contracted skin conditions and chronic gastric diseases with bloody stools. We received no treatment from outside.”

Pa Pa Lay said the recent long-term prison sentences and transfers to remote prisons were intended to demoralise the detained activists and their families.

"I want to offer them words of encouragement, to tell them that they will be free one day,” he said.

“Those who work for the people will pray for them and for their immediate release."

Reporting by Naw Say Phaw

READ MORE---> Comedian says Zarganar will boost prison morale...

Land seized from farmers for steel factory

Dec 8, 2008 (DVB)–Over 1200 acres of land have been taken from farmers in villages between Myin Chan and Taung Tha townships in Mandalay to be used in the development of a military-owned steel factory, according to locals.

A local farmer said Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings, known locally as U Paing, had started seizing the land a few years ago.

"The government's U Paing company started seizing hundreds of acres of land from local farmers in Hnanphat, Phattaw and Sakha villages between Myin Chan and Taung Tha for a steel factory development in the area," the farmer said.

"Farmlands surrounding the factory were destroyed and the land was used for roads and electric cable towers," he said.

"They just took the land from us just like that by showing off their guns without even waiting until we’d finished harvesting our crops."

The farmers were told they would receive compensation for the loss of their land, but they have so far received nothing.

"The company promised to give us compensation for our land and we had to buy application forms for 3-4000 kyat, but in the end we didn’t receive anything from them," the farmer said.

Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings is part-owned by the Burmese ministry of defence, while the rest of the company is owned mainly by senior military officials and their families.

It is among the companies designated by the US Treasury, which means that any assets it holds within US jurisdiction will be frozen and US citizens are prohibited from conducting business with the company.

Reporting by Aye Nai

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Asian Lawmakers Push UN Chief on Burma

The Irrawaddy News
Monday, December 8, 2008

More than 240 Asian lawmakers have called for the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to press Burma’s junta for the release of all political prisoners in the country.

The Asean Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC), which organized this campaign, said in a press release on Monday that a total of 241 parliamentarians from Cambodia, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand have sent a public letter to Ban urging him to ensure the release of all Burma’s political prisoners by December 31.

It is believed to be the first time in history that a large group of Asian lawmakers have sent a public letter to the UN.

Roshan Jason, the executive director of the AIPMC, told The Irrawaddy on Monday that the group of Asian representatives has chosen Burma’s political prisoner issue because it is an essential step in the process of national reconciliation in the country.

“The most important human rights issue is the release of political prisoners [in Burma] now,” he said.

In the letter to the UN secretary-general, the Asian lawmakers said that the Burmese junta has used prisoners of conscience as political pawns, releasing a handful during and after visits by UN envoys while avoiding a complete release that would allow pave the way for true national reconciliation.

“The suffering of the people must not be allowed to continue and the world can no longer sit idly by and only assist them when there is a devastating natural disaster,” said Kraisak Choonhavan, president of the AIPMC and a member of parliament for Thailand’s Democrat Party.

The Asian parliamentarians’ call followed a similar petition on December 3 by 112 former world leaders—including Corazon Aquino, Tony Blair, George H W Bush, Jimmy Carter, Mikhail Gorbachev, John Howard, Chandrika Kumaratunga, John Major, Margaret Thatcher and Lech Walesa—to the head of the UN, calling for the release of all political prisoners in Burma.

However, Ban told reporters on Friday that he will not visit Burma in the near future unless political progress is evident in the country.

“At this time, I do not think that the atmosphere is ripe for me to undertake my own visit there,” he said. "But I am committed, and I am ready to visit any time when I can have reasonable expectations my visit will be productive and meaningful.”

Commenting on Ban Ki-moon’s response, Roshan Jason said that he should reconsider his decision of canceling the trip.

“He should realize that he would perhaps create a greater impact and [bring discussions over the political prisoners to the forefront of negotiations] with leaders of the regime,” the executive director of AIPMC said. “It is better to see them (the Burmese generals) in person—there will be more opportunity to talk about this particular issue and he can show his commitment to making sure prisoners are released.”

Meanwhile, analysts are skeptical of the impact of the international campaigns to free political prisoners in Burma.

“The international community highlighting the Burma crisis, such as issuing statements and petitions, is good,” said Aung Naing Oo, a Burmese commentator based in Thailand. “But the junta will think of this kind of action as just shooting them with flowers.”

Since early November, courts in Burmese prisons have sentenced more than 200 people—from pro-democracy activists to bloggers—with jail terms of up to 65 years imprisonment.

Aung Naing Oo said the junta often uses long-term imprisonment as a tool of “pre-emptive repression” to deter dissident movements.

READ MORE---> Asian Lawmakers Push UN Chief on Burma...

Asian parliamentarians urge Ban to persuade Burmese junta

by Salai Pi Pi
Monday, 08 December 2008

New Delhi (Mizzima) – Over 240 parliamentarians from Asian countries on Monday renewed calls to the United Nations chief to make a fresh trip to Burma and goad the military junta to release all political prisoners including Nobel Peace Laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

The 241 parliamentarians of Asian countries including those from Korea and Japan on Monday endorsed a letter by the Asean Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC) which urged UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to visit Burma and press for the release of political prisoners and kick start political reforms, a call that Ban had earlier refused to make citing the junta's unwillingness to implement reforms.

Son Chhay, a legislator from Cambodia, a member state of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), told Mizzima that the UN chief should not delay in dealing with Burma's military regime but find an alternative approach to mount pressure on it.

"He [Ban Ki-moon] has a mandate of the UN to a find way out for a political process in Burma," said Son Chhay, Chairperson of Committee on Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation and Media of the National Assembly of the Kingdom of Cambodia.

"He cannot be into dalliance with the regime. Otherwise, it will provide an opportunity to the junta to continue to abuse the people," he said.

The UN chief last week said he will not be making a fresh trip to Burma unless there are concrete signs of 'progress' in the military-ruled country. He felt that such a trip would yield no fruit.

Ban made the statement on Thursday, after more than 120 former presidents and prime ministers around the world sent him similar petitions urging him to visit Burma and press for the release of political prisoners including those that have been recently sentenced to lengthy prison terms.

Inspite of international condemnation, Burma's military rulers in recent months have sentenced several political activists to inordinately long prison terms of up to 68 years.

Son Chhay said despite international calls "We found that there is no moving forward in the political process in Burma. On the contrary, there is a reversal."

"More and more people were arrested and sentenced to long years in prison which has only added to people's suffering," he added.

Son Chhay suggested that the UN must look out for alternative solutions to Burma's political crisis and should not allow the junta to continue to abuse and disrespect the will of the Burmese people. It must take a decision to punish the regime.

"At the same time, Ban should put pressure on Russia and China to push the regime to enter into a dialogue with opposition groups in the run up to [2010] the elections," he added.

But a Burmese observer based in Thailand said there are doubts over the UN general secretary's role in attempting to address political and human rights crisis in Burma.

"Ban Ki-moon knows that his trip to Burma won't make any difference. It will only mean disgrace for him. That's why he is refusing to go," Aung Thu Nyein, a Burmese analyst said.

Aung Thu Nyein also said only UN Security Council member countries will be able to persuade the regime to bring about change in Burma.

But the AIPMC in its letter said the UN chief needs new initiatives on Burma as calls by the United Nations Security Council, General Assembly, and Human Rights Council have all failed to yield any political break through.

READ MORE---> Asian parliamentarians urge Ban to persuade Burmese junta...

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