Friday, December 19, 2008

Than Shwe’s Dynastic Family Dream on Parade at State Function

The Irrawaddy News
December 18, 2008

A highly publicized appearance by the family of Burmese junta leader Snr-Gen Than Shwe at an important military function is being interpreted in some circles as further evidence that the elderly general is creating a ruling dynasty of his own.

Than Shwe’s wife Kyaing Kyaing, two of their daughters, a granddaughter and a favorite grandson were pictured by the state media in prominent positions at last week’s graduation ceremony at the Defense Service Academy in Pyinoolwin (formerly known as May Myo), Mandalay Division.

A report in the regime mouthpiece, The New Light of Myanmar, on December 13 described them as “distinguished guests” and gave them more prominence in its picture coverage than such leading members of the military government as the junta’s No 3, Gen Thura Shwe Mann and Secretary-1, Lt-Gen Thiha Thura Tin Aung Myint Oo. The report did not say whether the junta’s No 2, Vice Snr-Gen Maung Aye, was present at the ceremony.

Pictures of Than Shwe’s family showed “first lady” Kyaing Kyaing sitting on a sofa next to grandson Nay Shwe Thway Aung. Daughters Dewar Shwe and Khin Pyone Shwe and granddaughter Aye Thida Shwe sat on separate sofas. It wasn’t clear from the newspaper’s report whether Than Shwe’s daughter Thandar Shwe, whose opulent wedding two years ago aroused scorn and outrage, in Burma and internationally, was present.

In The New Light of Myanmar’s coverage of the graduation ceremony, a picture of Shwe Mann, Burma’s Chief of Staff and Coordinator of Special Operations, Army, Navy and Air Force, was relegated to an inside page. A picture of Tin Aung Myint Oo was assigned an even less prominent position in the newspaper’s coverage.

Shwe Mann is tipped by the Economist Intelligence Unit to succeed Than Shwe, but Tin Aung Myint Oo, who has more seniority, is emerging as a serious rival. Their positioning in The New Light of Myanmar’s report on the graduation ceremony and the prominence given to Than Shwe’s family are being interpreted by Burma observers as a sign of uncertainty about rankings within the military leadership.

Burmese who remember the rule of late dictator Ne Win point out that members of his family stayed away from important state functions, even though he had his favorites—such as daughter Sandar Win.

“Than Shwe is disclosing his intention of creating a new Burmese dynasty by parading his family members at state functions,” said Thakin Chan Tun, a former Burmese diplomat.

READ MORE---> Than Shwe’s Dynastic Family Dream on Parade at State Function...

Tumbling Kelly!

By Ko Soe
Rangoon - Mizzima News
18 December 2008

At the time of global financial crisis, our backward and underdeveloped country Burma could not find appropriate ways and means to face this crisis. It is like sailing on the rough sea with the boat having a hole at the bottom. I can't help laughing when I see 'Billiken State, Billiken nationals, no need to worry about' article by columnist 'Kyaw Ye Min' appearing in 'The Mirror' paper.

The recession is Burma's economy is following in tandem with global economy while it is in the worst phase. This is witnessed by every Burmese in the country. But the junta doesn't lower the fuel prices, forgetting the overpriced palm oil, exporting more gas by having blackouts in former capital Rangoon, relying heavily on the UN and aid agencies for cyclone relief and rehabilitation operation and stopping their own efforts. Moreover they (junta) pretend to relax their export restriction on rice and timber only when their cronies could not do business as the prices are falling. All these activities have one and only intention. Lowering deficit in its budget!

However hard they tried, as everyone knows, the Burmese economy has crash landed from vacillating in an economic rough sea. But even at that time, it's hard to believe 'Naypyidaw' (capital city) is saying 'no rise in vegetable price, falling price cannot harm us'. Everybody knows this is unwise and unrealistic saying of an idiot.

Aren't they concerned over the farmers who have to abandon their farmland because of falling prices which resulted in huge losses to them? What will happen to our country when the farmers are starving in an agricultural economy? Now we are seeing a million dollar scam in pulses and beans trading in our country. The price of these pulses and beans fell by 60 per cent to an unprecedented level. Similarly onions and garlic prices are experiencing the same fate. Astonishingly it fell to the level between Kyat 120-240. So these farmers cannot grow these crops again.

All construction works have been stopped. The USD exchange rate has also fallen to just over Kyat 1,100 as the global economic downturn and slowdown has started to bite the Burmese economy. The car dealers can hardly sell a single car a day in the entire market. The tourism industry has almost ground to a halt with an almost 70 per cent fall. The jewellery market is at a standstill. The electronic and home appliances markets have almost stopped too with nearly 50 per cent fall in prices.

In this situation, saying electric supply is normal and the economy is good only in newspapers cannot help our economy. They should discuss with other ASEAN countries, closely monitor how the powerful economies are doing, teach the people how to overcome the current recession, how to cope with their hardships and warn them to take care.

READ MORE---> Tumbling Kelly!...

2010 game plan: Clinging to power

Mizzima News
18 December 2008

More bad news has emerged from Burma again this month. The junta is planning to showcase its so-called civilian government with their handpicked people by changing their uniforms to mufti after the junta's planned 2010 general election. In our country, there is news blackout all the time and only Senior Gen. Than Shwe has the final say in everything. The junta kept the news regarding the planning of this general election a secret. It is the 5th step of their 7-step roadmap to democracy.

Their plans do not adhere to national reconciliation, neither for establishing a peaceful and developed country, but only for clinging to power. In their secret scheme, they winked at their staunch supporters and sympathizers to conduct organizational works. The election law is not yet made public and is being enacted in order to give little time to the opposition forces in their preparation for the polls by this dilatory tactics.

There can be three probable paths to follow in the post-2010 scenario. The first one is filling all 440 seats in parliament with generals, army personnel-turned politicians and their 'Yes' men by all possible means of letting them exclusively contest in this election and vote rigging. The second way is seat sharing between armed forces and the opposition through negotiation. The third way is holding free and fair election like in 1990.

After reviewing all their activities until today, the first path will be the most likely way that will be chosen by the ruling generals led by Snr. Gen. Than Shwe. They will do their best to marginalize the 'National League for Democracy' (NLD) including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other pro-democracy forces in this general election.

In this programme, the high army posts and the National Security Council is likely to be filled with generals and senior ministers. The current serving ministers can become new ministers by contesting in this election. About 110 seats in parliament are reserved exclusively for army personnel and the remaining 330 will be filled at the choice of the ruling generals. They are designing this election to restrict the number of seats going to persons who are not of their choice. They would be the ones who are unstoppable and will not comprise more than 10 per cent.

The serving ministers and mayors who have to change their uniforms after election have started canvassing in their constituencies. Similarly some regional commanders are rehearsing to be elected as the 'Chief Minister of the Region or State' in their controlled areas.

Freedom and justice can be hardly expected from this planned election. Those who hope for reform through the new parliament can only hope.

It will be silly and naïve if the ruling generals expect to win legitimacy through this election and get recognition by the international community. Similarly they have no chance to isolate themselves as done by their predecessor Gen. Ne Win in the age of globalization and Information Technology, which have no borders. They will certainly bring big challenges and a collapse with a sad ending.

But all of these things cannot take place spontaneously and dynamically. Those who wish to transform our society to respecting human rights and open society under these changing and developing situations should make preparations well in advance.

READ MORE---> 2010 game plan: Clinging to power...

Mandalay Division NLD Secretary suffers apoplexy in prison - Kan Tun

by Than Htike Oo
18 December 2008

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – A Mandalay Division 'National League for Democracy' (NLD) member suffered from apoplexy in prison, party sources said.

His family members realized about his health condition when they met him yesterday during a prison visit. Kan Tun (67) is serving a 12 -year prison term in Obo prison, Mandalay.

"He is apoplectic on his entire right side. He is bound to a wheelchair and cannot speak when his family members met him. He cannot move his leg and hand on his right side, they said, a person who has close contacts with Mandalay Division party members told Mizzima.

The NLD HQ spokesman Nyan Win in Rangoon also confirmed the news.

"According to news provided by our party sources in Mandalay he suffered apoplexy on in his right side. The prison is treating the ailment and providing necessary assistance. He cannot walk, cannot feed himself and cannot move his right leg and arm. That is what we heard,"he said.

Kan Tun apart, five other NLD members who are serving prison terms in Obo prison are in good health.

All of them were arrested after the saffron revolution in 2007 and sentenced to various prison terms ranging from 8 to 13 years on October 24 this year.

READ MORE---> Mandalay Division NLD Secretary suffers apoplexy in prison - Kan Tun...

Junta-backed USDA unlikely to contest 2010 election

by Mungpi
18 December 2008

New Delhi (Mizzima) – In contrast to what many observers expected, Burma's military junta plans to abolish its proxy organization - Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) - opting not to transform it into a political party for the purpose of participating in the upcoming 2010 election, sources close to the military said.

Owing to a poor public perception of the organization, particularly after its role in cracking down on peaceful demonstrators during the monk-led protests last year, the head of the military junta and the main patron of the organization, Senior General Than Shwe, has decided to scratch his original plan of making use of the USDA as a political party - a source said.

"The USDA will not exist in 2009," said a source in Naypyitaw, adding that members of the junta's proxy will instead be incorporated into political parties with different names.

"The USDA has such a bad image…and a criminal record internationally…they will not use that name… they decided at this meeting," he added, referring to the last quarterly meeting held in November.

Echoing a similar view, Burma affairs specialist Larry Jagan, a freelance journalist based in Bangkok, said the USDA is unlikely to be transformed into any political party to contest the upcoming 2010 elections.

"According to my sources, the USDA itself will not become a political party," said Jagan. But he added that at least three parties are likely to be formed under an umbrella of the discredited USDA and will make use of the former organization's funding.

However, Jagan added, "But there is a lot of speculation and none of us know for sure."

The original social organization, with several million members as claimed by the military government, has been a principle tool in attacking protesters and dissidents over recent years.

Further, the organization has established relationships with China and Vietnam through exchanging official visits.

The USDA was initiated on November 15, 1993, by the military regime. According to an official announcement in 2007, the USDA had 24 million members, mostly government servants. However, many of its members admit they enrolled in the organization in fear of any repercussions associated with denying orders from superiors.

An observer in Burma's former capital, who closely monitors the situation, said, "There is no news about the USDA in state owned newspapers and no USDA uniforms are seen in Yangon [Rangoon]."

The source in Naypyitaw explained that the regime is keen on forming regional political parties rather than a single, nationwide political party.

"All they [junta] want is the National League for Democracy and The Lady [Aung San Suu Kyi] out," the source emphasized.

According to Jagan, despite the junta's claim that it will conduct the 2010 general election freely and fairly, it is unlikely that the junta will allow detained Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to contest the poll, as they see her as a major threat to their determination to win the election. However, it is possible that her party, the NLD, without her, might be allowed to take part.

"But it does not necessarily mean that it [the election] would be free and fair, and that they [NLD] would be able to run unhindered," Jagan further elaborated.

The NLD, meanwhile, said they have not decided on whether to participate in the 2010 election and are still in the process of discussing the situation and brainstorming ideas, after which they intend to deliver a clear statement on whether they will join the proceedings or remain on the sidelines.

Meanwhile, some respected intellectual civilians, some of whom have been accused of being apologists for the junta by the mainstream opposition, are preparing to take part in the election. And the regime itself is looking for locally respected dignitaries, such as retired teachers, to partake in the election, sources said.

Similarly, a source in the military establishment said at least nine ministers and two mayors, including Rangoon Mayor Brigadier General Aung Thein Lin, will soon resign from their current positions in preparation to contest in the general election, the military junta's fifth step of its roadmap to democracy.

Meanwhile, a report on Wednesday by Khitpyaing, a Burmese news agency based in Bangkok, reported that three army commanders have been promoted to the level of minister, but were not assigned to any ministry.

The report argues that the promotion of the Mandalay-based commander of central command, Major General Tin Ngwe, the Bassein-based commander of southwestern command, Major General Kyaw Swe, and the Monywa-based commander of northwestern command, Major General Myint Soe, could be a move to sideline them from assuming active roles in the military before the election.

While the promotion is unprecedented, it could also be a trial by the junta to use military commanders in an administrative capacity, the report suggests.

Meanwhile, a senior official in Naypyitaw told Mizzima that the electoral law, which the military is carefully designing so as to avoid it being used as a stepping stone by the opposition, is expected to be made public by the end of December or in early January 2009.

"We have to wait and see the electoral law but what I can tell you is that they will not repeat the 1990 scenario," said a senior officer in Naypyitaw.

According to Jagan, the election law would impose restrictions on the NLD and other political parties from freely campaigning.

In 1990, the National Unity Party, a transformed party of former military strongman Ne Win's Burma Socialist Party, lost decisively to the NLD, which analysts see as an unacceptable result for Burma's new generation generals.

READ MORE---> Junta-backed USDA unlikely to contest 2010 election...

Burma’s nuclear temptation —Bertil Lintner

All that is certain is that Burma has a nuclear programme. It may be years, if not decades, away from developing nuclear-weapons capability. But the fact that the country’s military leadership is experimenting with nuclear power is cause for concern

Over the past year, Southeast Asia’s diplomatic community has tried to sort fact from fiction in a stream of unconfirmed reports from Burma, the region’s most isolated and secretive country. Burma’s fledgling nuclear programme with Russian assistance and its mysterious connections with North Korea raise concern in the region about its purpose.

According to Burmese exiles in Thailand, the Russians and North Koreans assist the Burmese in developing nuclear capability. But wary of similar reports by Iraqi exiles a few years ago, which turned out to be false, the international community remains sceptical. In a research paper for Griffith University, for example, Australian scholar Andrew Selth dismisses the reports.

Nevertheless, certain facts are not in doubt. Burma first initiated a nuclear research programme as early as 1956, when its then-democratic government set up the Union of Burma Atomic Energy Centre, UBAEC, in then-capital Rangoon. Unrelated to the country’s defence industries, it came to a halt when the military seized power in 1962. New power-holders, led by General Ne Win did not trust UBAEC head Hla Nyunt.

In February 2001, Burma’s present junta, the State Peace and Development Council decided to revitalise the country’s nuclear programme, and Russia’s Atomic Energy Ministry announced plans to build a 10-megawatt nuclear research reactor in central Burma. In July 2001, Burma established a Department of Atomic Energy, believed to be the brainchild of the Minister of Science and Technology, U Thaung, a graduate of Burma’s Defence Services Academy and former ambassador to the United States. US-trained nuclear scientist Thein Po Saw was identified as a leading advocate for nuclear technology in Burma.

At a press conference in Rangoon on January 21, 2002, Vice-Chief of Military Intelligence Major-General Kyaw Win issued a statement: “Myanmar’s consideration of building a nuclear research reactor is based on the peaceful purposes getting modern technologies needed for the country, availability of radioisotopes being used peacefully, training technicians and performing feasibility study for generation of electricity from nuclear power.”

While Burma suffers from chronic power shortages, the need for a research reactor, used mainly for medical purposes, is unclear. Radioisotopes allow imaging of the brain, bones, organs, lungs and blood flow, advanced technology for Burma’s basic health services.

However, observers pointed out the Russian-made nuclear-research reactor that the Burmese authorities sought to acquire is similar to the 5-megawatt research reactor that the then–Soviet Union installed at Yongbyon in North Korea in 1965, from which North Korea later extracted plutonium for a nuclear device. Burma’s military leaders couldn’t help but notice how North Korea stood up to the US, a harsh critic of the Burmese regime, mainly due to its nuclear programme.

Reports have been murky since. In April 2007, days after the restoration of diplomatic ties between Burma and North Korea — broken since North Koreans detonated a bomb in Rangoon in 1983 — a North Korean freighter, the Kang Nam I, docked at Thilawa port. Burmese officials claimed that the ship sought shelter from a storm. But two Burmese reporters working for a Japanese news agency were briefly detained when they went to the port to investigate, indicating possible other, more secret reasons for the visit.

According to the July 2007 issue of the Irrawaddy, a Thailand-based publication by Burmese exiles: “by a strange coincidence, the 2,900-ton North Korean cargo vessel MV Bong Hoafan...sought shelter from a storm and anchored at a Burmese port last November. The Burmese government reported that an on-board inspection had ‘found no suspicious material or military equipment’. But journalists and embassies in Rangoon remained sceptical.”

At about the same time, the South Korean news agency Yonhap reported “a North Korean ship under US surveillance was believed to have unloaded self-propelled artillery at a Myanmar port.”

The deal with Russia was stalled for several years, but in May 2007, Russia’s atomic energy agency, Rosatom, announced construction of the nuclear-research reactor. According to Rosatom, the reactor would use low-enriched uranium, not plutonium. Up to 350 Burmese nationals, most military personnel, trained in Russia under the initial 2001 agreement, and since then several hundred more trained at Russian institutions.

Signatories of the agreement reached in Moscow on May 15, 2007 were U Thaung and Rosatom head Sergey Kiriyenko. According to Rosatom’s press release: “The sides have agreed to cooperate on the establishment of a centre for nuclear studies in the territory of Myanmar (the general contractor will be Atomstroyexport). The centre will comprise a 10-megawatt light water reactor working on 20 per cent-enriched uranium-235, an activation analysis laboratory, a medical isotope production laboratory, silicon doping system, nuclear waste treatment and burial facilities. The centre will be controlled by IAEA.”

Despite that claim, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported on May 17, 2007, that Burma had not reported plans to build a nuclear reactor. As a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, Burma is required to allow inspections of any nuclear facilities. The agreement does not mention North Korea, but in November 2003, the Norway-based broadcasting station Democratic Voice of Burma, run by Burmese exiles, reported that 80 Burmese military personnel had departed for North Korea to study “nuclear and atomic energy technology”.

The report remains unconfirmed, its source unclear. If Burmese military personnel travelled to North Korea, it’s more likely for training in maintenance of missiles, which Burma then wanted to buy from North Korea but could not yet afford.

Alarm bells rang in August 2008, after India withdrew permission for a North Korean plane to fly over its airspace en route to Iran, just before taking off from Mandalay in Burma where it had made a stopover. The Il-62 carried unidentified cargo, and its destination after the stopover was unclear.

Reports of some cooperation between Burma, Russia, North Korea and Iran have also come from two Burmese nationals, an army officer and a scientist, who recently left the country. According to them, a Russian-supplied 10-megawatt research reactor is being built, at Myaing, north of Pakokku, said to be for peaceful research. But according to the defectors, another facility exists south of the old hill station of Myin Oo Lwin, formerly known as Maymyo. Three Russians supposedly work there while a group of North Koreans are said to engage in tunnelling and constructing a water-cooling system. The defectors also assert that in 2007 an Iranian intelligence officer, identified only as “Mushavi”, visited Burma. Apart from sharing nuclear knowledge, he reportedly provided advice on missile systems using computer components from Milan.

Burma has uranium deposits, and the Ministry of Energy has identified five sources of ore in the country, all low-grade uranium unsuitable for military purposes. But defectors claim that two more uranium mines in Burma are not included in official reports: one near Mohnyin in Kachin State and another in the vicinity of Mogok in Mandalay Division. The ore is supposedly transported to a Thabeikkyin refinery, conveniently located between the two alleged mines.

Until such reports can be verified, or refuted, speculations remain. But a nuclear-powered Burma would be a nightmare for all neighbours and would upset the balance of power in the region. All that is certain is that Burma has a nuclear programme. It may be years, if not decades, away from developing nuclear-weapons capability. But the fact that the country’s military leadership is experimenting with nuclear power is cause for concern. —YaleGlobal

Bertil Lintner is a Swedish journalist based in Thailand and the author of several works on Asia, including Blood Brothers: The Criminal Underworld of Asia and Great Leader, Dear Leader: Demystifying North Korea under the Kim Clan - Daily Times

READ MORE---> Burma’s nuclear temptation —Bertil Lintner...

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