Saturday, February 28, 2009

Stop pushing back Rohingyas to Burma: Protect the Rohingya refugee boat people

By Vang i Valdres

Norway, 01 March, ( In a statement released by Rohingya Human Rights Council based in Norway has said “We are appalled to know that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has decided to send hundreds of Rohingya boat people back to military-ruled Burma. Meeting at its annual summit, the 10-member bloc agreed to compile and pool information and interviews on the Rohingyas, who washed up on the shores of Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia having fled oppression in Burma."

On the other hand, the Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said Burma is ready to take back the Rohingya migrants if they can prove they are of Bengali descent.

The statement released by the Norway based Rohingya Human Rights Council further said, "The Rohingyas have been fleeing Burma because of extreme human rights violations unleashed by the Burmese military regime to annihilate the entire Rohingya populations from Arakan which is a state under the Union of Burma. They have been subjected to severe persecutions including denial of citizenship, a ban on marriage without government permission, severe restrictions of movement, religious persecution, extortion, land confiscation and restrictions on access to education.

The Rohingyas are not the descendants of the Bengalese. They are an indigenous group of Arakan where they have been living since the 7th century.

These unfortunate Rohingya refugee boat people have already suffered a lot. They have come back to life from the mouth of death after passing many days in the deep sea without food and water. And hundreds of them have perished in the deep sea after the Thailand's navy has left around 1,000 Rohingya refugees adrift in the ocean in boats without engine or food or water.

Under the above circumstances, the decision of the ASEAN to send the Rohingya refugees back to Burma is a clear violation of human rights and international law for refugees.
So, we fervently appeal to the ASEAN nations to stop push back of the Rohingya boat people and to grant them asylum.

We also fervently appeal to the international community, the world bodies including the UNHCR to stop push back of the Rohingyas to Burma and to
take necessary steps for the protection of the Rohingya refugee boat people.

- Asian Tribune -

READ MORE---> Stop pushing back Rohingyas to Burma: Protect the Rohingya refugee boat people...

Civil Society Representatives Challenge Asean Leaders on Burma

The Irrawaddy News

CHA-AM, Thailand — Burmese issues were raised once again at the 14th Asean Summit in Cha-am, Thailand, this time at Saturday’s midday meeting between representatives of Southeast Asian civil society and the 10 heads of state of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

The meeting—termed “historic” by Asean Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan because it was the first time Asean leaders had scheduled a face-to-face meeting with civil society groups—was threatened with a boycott by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and Burmese premier Gen Thein Sein because they did not agree with the participation of certain members of the civil society grouping.

The matter was resolved at the 11th hour when two civil society representatives—including Burma’s Khin Ohmar of the Network for Democracy and Development—were barred from attending the meeting.

“This afternoon’s interface meeting between the 10 Asean leaders and civil society groups spread doubt whether the Asean is ready to make Article 1 of the Asean Charter on civil society participation come into reality,” said a press release by three civil society activists, including Khin Ohmar.

But the 20-minute meeting was most notable for the united stance by the civil society representatives against policies of the Burmese military government.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy after the meeting, Wathshlash G. Naidu of Malaysia-based International Women’s Rights Action Watch—Asia Pacific said;

* “We raised the issue of political participation [in Burma].
* We raised the issue of the political [opposition] leadership in Burma being detained and
* we raised the issue of the illegal constitution.”

She said that the civic group had called for the release of all political prisoners in the country, including pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and had urged Asean members not to recognize the 2010 elections in Burma.

“We want Asean countries to really pay attention to these issues,” she said.

Naidu said that Burmese Prime Minister Gen Thein Sein had read a prepared statement at the meeting, but did not respond to criticisms. (JEG's: do they ever respond? )

According to Naidu, the Rohingya crisis was also highlighted by the civil society representatives at the interface meeting.

On Friday at a foreign ministers’ meeting, the Burmese government for the first time addressed the matter of the Rohingya, saying it would take back any boatpeople who were ascertained to have been born in Burma. However, Burmese Foreign Minister Nyan Win rejected the term “Rohingya” and would only refer to the ethnic group as “Bengalis.” (JEG's: not a good approach here, if we allow the Rohingya to be returned their lives are in more danger than adrift)

Analysts said that the question of semantics signaled the Burmese junta’s policy of rejecting the estimated 800,000 Rohingyas living in Arakan State as among Burma’s 135 ethnicities.

Earlier on Saturday, a small group of activists held a protest against the Burmese regime in Hua Hin, close to the venue of the Asean Summit. Calling the protest “Peace for Burma,” about 15 human rights activists, most of whom were Thai, held a cycling rally through the coastal town.

“We choose the Burma issue among others in Asean countries because Burma is the hottest issue in the Asean democratization process,”
said a Thai female activist who joined the protest.

READ MORE---> Civil Society Representatives Challenge Asean Leaders on Burma...

Activists raise Burma issues with ASEAN leaders

by Salai Pi Pi

New Delhi (Mizzima) - Activists representing civil society organizations in Southeast Asian countries raised the Burma issue including freedom for Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi in the forum of ASEAN leaders on Saturday.

Malaysian woman activist Wathshlah, who also participated in the meeting, said that civil society organizations' representatives held talks with ASEAN leaders including Burmese Prime Minister Thein Sein on Burma's affairs such as Suu Kyi, Burmese refugees including Rohingya boat people and the ensuing 2010 election.

"During the meeting, we raised the detention of Aung San Suu Kyi, Burmese refugees and Rohingya people and the 2010 election," Wathshlah from Malaysia based International Women Rights Action Watch Asia-pacific told Mizzima.

The 20-minute interface between ASEAN Leaders and civil society organizations took place at the Dusit Thani Hotel in Hua Hin in Thailand shortly before the start of the on going ASEAN summit from February 27 to March 1.

Though Thein Sein did not reply to questions on Burma, Wathshlah said, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva agreed on the need to start a dialogue on Burma but ruled out interference in the internal affairs of the country.

"He [Abhisit] recognized the need to engage in dialogue, however he said that it is important to preserve the principle of state, sovereignty and non-interference," Wathshlah said.

However, Wathshlah added, "He promised that all ASEAN members will engage in the issue to start a dialogue on Burma"

The 10-nation members of ASEAN in December ratified a charter, which pledged to protect human rights and promote democracy in the region.

However, the charter maintains ASEAN’s tradition of non-interference in member states, and does not have provisions for the punishment of states if they flout it.

Wathshlah said, the representatives of civil society organizations also discussed with ASEAN leaders about people participating in a regional grouping, human right bodies, promoting and protection of the rights of migrant workers in the region and gender issues.

Abhisit told the activists that the human rights body will be set up according to the principle of Asean Charter to ensure the protection of human rights and the people’s participation in the body, Wathshlah said.

"He said that human rights body is to be in line with the Asean Charter. He will try as much as possible to ensure the protection of human rights", Wathshlah said and added, "He encouraged people’s participation".

Earlier, the Thai government arranged for 10 persons representing civil society organizations including the exiled Burmese women activist Khin Ohmar to participate and hold a dialogue with ASEAN leaders on Saturday.

However, Burma and Cambodia objected to the participation of Khin Ohmar and Cambodian volunteer activist Pen Somony at the meeting, saying they will boycott the meeting if civil society organizations, which were not affiliated with them, were involved.

Khin Ohmar, the chair of the Network for Democracy and Development (Burma) in exile said that Burmese regime's delegates to the 14th ASEAN summit objected to her participating in the 30-minute talk between ASEAN leaders and civil society organizations.

"Without giving any reason, they [Burmese representatives] rejected my involvement in the meeting," Khin Ohmar told Mizzima. (JEG's: do they ever give reasons?)

However, on Thursday, Khin Ohmar could meet Abhisit for 10 minutes.

Khin Ohmar said Abhisit told her to raise Burma's human rights and political reform issues at the ongoing regional summit.

"He said that he will raise the matters related to human rights, national reconciliation and 2010 election in Burma," Khin Ohmar said.

READ MORE---> Activists raise Burma issues with ASEAN leaders...

US to boycott UN racism conference

(The Jakarta Post) -The Obama administration said Friday that the United States will boycott an upcoming U.N. conference on racism unless its final document is changed to drop all references to Israel and the defamation of religion.

At the same time, it said the U.S. would participate as an observer in meetings of the U.N. Human Rights Council, a body that was shunned by the Bush administration for anti-Israel statements and failing to act on abuses in Sudan and other states.

The racism conference is a follow-up to the contentious 2001 meeting in the South African city of Durban that was dominated by clashes over the Middle East and the legacy of slavery.

The U.S. and Israel walked out midway through that meeting over a draft resolution that singled out Israel for criticism and likened Zionism - the movement to establish and maintain a Jewish state - to racism.

Israel and Canada had already announced they would will boycott the next World Conference Against Racism in Geneva from April 20-25, known as Durban II, but the Obama administration decided it wanted to assess the negotiations before making a decision on U.S. participation.

Last week, the State Department sent a team to Geneva to attend preparatory meetings for the conference but on Friday it said the closing statement under consideration mirrored the 2001 draft and was was unacceptable.

"Sadly ... the document being negotiated has gone from bad to worse, and the current text of the draft outcome document is not salvageable," spokesman Robert Wood said in a statement.

"As a result, the United States will not engage in further negotiations on this text, nor will we participate in a conference based on this text," he said.

The United States will not take part in the conference unless its final statement does not single out any one country or conflict for criticism nor embrace the draft's stance on the condemnation or take up the issue of reparations for slavery, Wood said.

"We would be prepared to re-engage if a document that meets these criteria becomes the basis for deliberations," he said.

Israel, which was deeply concerned when the administration sent a delegation to the preparatory meeting, lobbied hard for the U.S. to stay away from the conference and pro-Israel groups hailed the decision.

"President Obama's decision not to send U.S. representation to the April event is the right thing to do and underscores America's unstinting commitment to combating intolerance and racism in all its foms and in all settings," the American Israel Public Affairs Committee said.

"It's a clear signal to the international community that this administration refuses to validate the hijacking of human rights by regimes led by Libya and Iran," said the Simon Wiesenthal Center, referring to countries that are supporting the draft statement.

U.S. officials said they are pressing European nations to boycott the conference unless there are revisions to the final statement. The Netherlands and France have already expressed concern about the contents.

Howard Berman, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said he hoped the U.S, position "will galvanize like-minded countries and those who have been sitting on the sidelines to end this mindless march toward an outcome that serves none of the victims of racism, xenophobia and intolerance."

Although it announced the boycott of the Durban II conference, the tate Department also said it would attend, as an observer, meetings of the U.N. Human Rights Council that the United States had previously stayed away from of criticism of Israel it said was one-sided.

Despite those concerns, Wood said the Obama administration believes that "it furthers our interests and will do more (to) advance human rights if we are part of the conversation and present at the council's proceedings."

"These times demand seriousness and candor, and we pledge to closely work with our partners in the international community to avoid politicization and to achieve our shared goals," he said.

The Obama administration had declined to speak during the council's review earlier this month of the human rights records of China, Russia and other countries the United States has previously criticized for abuses.

READ MORE---> US to boycott UN racism conference...

Best of Harn Lay's for this season

READ MORE---> Best of Harn Lay's for this season...

New Report Slams Junta for Nargis ‘Crimes’

A new report says that the Burmese junta’s response to Cyclone Nargis could constitute crimes against humanity. (Photo:

The Irrawaddy News

In stark contrast to an earlier assessment of the Cyclone Nargis relief effort by Burma’s ruling junta and its international partners, a new report released today accuses the regime of widespread rights abuses that “may constitute crimes against humanity.”

The report, “After the Storm: Voices from the Delta,” is the first independent inquiry into the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis, which struck Burma on May 2-3 last year, killing as many as 140,000 people.

Unlike the Post-Nargis Joint Assessment (PONJA) report released last July by the Tripartite Core Group (TCG), consisting of the junta, the United Nations and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), the new report does not shy away from the issue of human rights abuses by the Burmese regime.

“We did not prompt this. We asked a number of questions about relief efforts and agencies, and what kept coming out was people trying to struggle and negotiate their communities’ relationships with the junta,” said Dr Chris Beyrer, director of the Center for Public Health and Human Rights at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, which released the report.

The report is based on interviews with 90 private relief workers and cyclone survivors conducted between June and November 2008. The interviews were carried out by the Emergency Assistance Team—Burma (EAT), a social organization based on the Thai-Burmese border and staffed by community aid workers from cyclone-affected areas.

The interviews detail a pattern of abuses by the military authorities, including the misappropriation of relief supplies, forced labor and harassment and arrest of local aid workers.

“After one month, they came to the village, saw my supplies and started asking—they sent my information to Yangon [Rangoon] to investigate me. They were asking why there were so many supplies. They think it was anti-government. So I left; I don’t like prison,” recounted one relief worker who was interviewed for the report.

The authors of the report say that such abuses “may constitute crimes against humanity through the creation of conditions whereby the basic survival needs of victims cannot be adequately met,” in violation of Article 7(1)(k) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

“These allegations, taken together, may amount to crimes against humanity and may need to be investigated,” said Beyrer, adding that the case could be referred to the UN Security Council for consideration.

The report also highlights the international relief effort’s failure to engage community-based groups, and calls for a more thorough assessment of the situation in the cyclone-stricken Irrawaddy delta, including the junta’s role in obstructing aid.

“There are some [international] groups working directly with community organizations, but they have to be very careful about how they work together. It is very risky. That is why we want the UN and Asean to tell the government to allow the community-based organizations to work freely to do their humanitarian work,” said Dr Cynthia Maung, who serves as the chairperson of EAT.

“We would also like to recommend that the UN or the international community do a more thorough assessment,” she added. “Unless we get a proper assessment or report, it may be very hard to continue working to improve the situation [in the cyclone-affected area].”

The report was released as Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, speaking at the annual Asean summit being held in the Thai resort town of Hua Hin, revealed that the Burmese regime was set to extend the TCG’s role in the delta.

It is unclear how the regional grouping, which has generally closed ranks in defense of the Burmese junta in the past, will respond to the report.

“We hope that there is a positive and constructive response, not a response of denial or obfuscation, but rather that people will say, all right, these kinds of practices must cease and desist,” said Beyrer.

“These kinds of allegations simply cannot be ignored. The people of the Irrawaddy delta deserve to have a reconstruction effort that’s free of rights abuses,” he added.

READ MORE---> New Report Slams Junta for Nargis ‘Crimes’...

ILO, Burma extend ‘supplementary understanding’

by Mungpi

New Delhi (Mizzima) - The International Labour Organization and Burma’s military regime on Thursday extended Supplementary Understanding on the treatment of complaints lodged against forced labour for another 12 months, Burma’s state-run newspaper said.

The New Light of Myanmar, Burma’s military junta’s mouthpiece, on Friday reported that Burma’s Labour Minister Aung Kyi and ILO’s Executive Director Mr. Kari Tapiola on Thursday signed the extension of the Supplementary Understanding.

The ILO and Burma reached an agreement in February 2007 to establish a complaint mechanism for victims of forced labour. Under the agreement, the ILO was allowed to have a liaison officer in Rangoon.

This Supplementary Understanding supports the application of existing laws prohibiting the use of forced labour in Burma and provides a complaints’ mechanism, facilitated by the ILO Liaison Officer in Rangoon.

Under Article 1 of the Supplementary Understanding, Burmese citizens can, with protection from reprisal, seek justice under the law if they are subjected to forced labour.

The Burmese junta’s Labour Minister Aung Kyi said, signing the extension of the Supplementary Understanding supports Burma’s “political commitment to the eradication of forced labour.”

Human Rights groups have criticised military-ruled Burma for its appalling human rights records and has documented the widespread use of forced labour in building army camps, constructing roads and even including forced conscription of children into the army.

Aung Myo Min, the director of the Thailand-based Human Rights Education Institute of Burma (HREIB), in an earlier interview with Mizzima said, the Burmese Army has at least 60,000 child soldiers.

READ MORE---> ILO, Burma extend ‘supplementary understanding’...

Singing a requiem for the rohingya boat people

"We can also perhaps stop all payments to the United Nations and its numerous agencies, use the money to feed the refugees and send a debit note for that amount as our annual subscription to the world body…
The Nation Multimedia

THIRTY YEARS AGO, I wrote the article that is partly reprinted below. It was published in The Nation on June 27, 1979, against the backdrop of the Vietnamese boat people. Things have not changed much since then. Today's inhumanity still rears its ugly head while our leaders cling to the excuses of "national interest" or "security concerns" to justify the drowning of the Rohingya boat people, instead of taking a moral stand.

A few generations ago, prisoners of war, refugees or economic migrants, as many of our forebears were, having come from Shantou in South China, were welcomed as a positive economic force for the Kingdom. Going back further in history, in the 16th century, my ancestors were Mon refugees from Burma (namely Phya Kien and Phya Ram). I feel that we, refugees or descendants of refugees, made this country - against all odds, against the inhumanity and the animal-like cruelty of modern day nationalists.

This then, was my requiem for the boat people of the world as it would be for today.

"In my student days, I remember marching behind Bertrand Russell and participating in his rallies. Since that time, I assume that the world no longer has a conscience.

"But a few days ago Sartre came out of the oblivion to speak for the Indo-Chinese refugees and, in effect on behalf of what remains of homo sapiens. I felt then that in humanity's four-million-year progression, there may yet be a ray of hope.

"Here, in this part of the world, to entertain views other than towing the desperate refugees back to sea or pushing them back to their war-torn country is to be unpatriotic. This being the case, I want everyone to know that I am the most unpatriotic person around. Whatever the wickedness, passiveness and guilt of other nations in regard to the refugee problem in Southeast Asia, I cannot enlist my soul to repeat after the popular cry to evict those unfortunate people regardless of everything else.

"We can also perhaps stop all payments to the United Nations and its numerous agencies, use the money to feed the refugees and send a debit note for that amount as our annual subscription to the world body…

"I have no idea what people see when they look at pictures of old folk, young people, children and women being towed out to drift in the sea. Certainly at this point in time, I am witnessing the lowest ebb in human evolution.

"What is happening in [a neighbouring country] makes us seem relatively humane. Nevertheless, except for the social workers along the border who toil without saying a word, the lack of compassion or metta amongst our rank and file convinces me that ours is hardly a Buddhist country. Notwithstanding, I believe that karma or the reciprocal law applies whether the country is Christian, Muslim, Buddhist or nothing at all. Whoever tows out those poor souls into the sea will find themselves recompensed accordingly.

"Setting people adrift to die is as cruel as processing Jews in the Nazi solution for Europe. I ask myself whether it would not be easier, and perhaps less cruel, to make the refugees queue up and take the 'showers' in the chambers. At any rate, if I were a refugee I would ask the authorities to issue death pills instead of towing me out in a junk to eventually drown in the middle of nowhere. At least I shall not have to see old folks, women and children going through such an ordeal.

"Actually the entire humanity is in the same boat - Spaceship Earth as R Buckminster Fuller called it - a tiny craft amongst nine others orbiting around a tiny star called the Sun, which in turn is the centre of a minute system amongst 30,000 million such systems in one of the myriad of galaxies.

"In this grand scheme of things - and we can see it clearly if we only look to the sky on a clear night - humans on a tiny spacecraft quarrel over 300 metres of ill-defined borders which cannot even be seen with the most powerful telescope from the nearest spacecraft called Mars, and whether people should be defined as refugees or displaced persons.

"In spite of fantastic tool inventions, I now question whether humans without the capability to understand the universe will survive into the 21st century. It must seem a long time ago since hominids took the road to become human or since life germinated on our spacecraft four billions years ago. Scientists now see a rapid deterioration on the latter's physical condition: man-made pollution in both the stratosphere and atmosphere, the destruction of the natural balance of land and sea, and the burning up of the spacecraft's non-renewable energy.

"As a humanist, I can see that perhaps long before the craft's self-automated mechanism stops functioning completely, the human race may have already raced itself out of existence through incredible selfishness. For humans, the four million years of evolutionary effort might yet be undone in less than a hundred!

"With this article, I take leave of my readers in order to research into the origins of our species. Perhaps something worthwhile did exist then, in which case this column might be reactivated."

READ MORE---> Singing a requiem for the rohingya boat people...

Friday, February 27, 2009

Ethnic delegation urges Australia to lend more support

by Solomon

New Delhi (Mizzima) – The apex body of Burma’s ethnic nationalities, the Ethnic Nationalities Council, said it had called on Australia to send a special envoy to Burma, in order to facilitate a process of dialogue.

Delegates of the ENC, an umbrella organization of Burma’s ethnic political and armed groups, said they had urged the Australian government to designate a special envoy to put pressure on Burma’s military rulers for political reforms.

During an eleven-day lobbying trip to Australia, the Thailand-based ENC representatives, urged Australia to take a stronger stand on Burma and boycott its proposed 2010 elections, as it was a process to legitimize military rule in the country.

The representatives also explained the importance of a tripartite dialogue that would include the government, the opposition led by Aung San Suu Kyi and representatives of ethnic nationalities and urged Australia to mount pressure on the junta to kick-start a tripartite dialogue.

Duwa Mahkaw Hkunsa, General Secretary of the ENC, who is among the four-member delegation, told Mizzima that the Australian government had given a positive response to their requests of pressurizing the Burmese junta on ethnic issues, and to provide more support for the Burmese democratic movement both politically and financially.

The ENC delegation, has so far met an Australian parliamentarian, Assistance Secretary of Foreign Affairs Ministry and the Minister of Immigration and Citizenship. The delegation began their trip on February 20 and it will continue until March 3.

“They [government] agreed to our suggestions and they told us that there would be discussions later in the government meetings,” Mahkaw Hkunsa said.

He added that the main goal of the mission was to urge Australia for increased support on Burma’s movement for democracy and to highlight the need for ethnic participation in Burma’s political solution.

Mahkaw Hkunsa said the ENC would continue with its lobbying mission to Canada, Japan and the United States in order to gain more support for Burma’s democratic movement and to boycott the junta’s one-sided roadmap, including the 2010 elections.

In a statement, the ENC made a 13-point recommendation for the Australian Government to implement, in support of Burma’s democratic movement, including pressurizing the Burmese junta to release all political prisoners, to ensure ethnic nationalities’ participation in political processes, to provide financial support for democracy and humanitarian assistance to the people of Burma.

ENC said, Burma’s political problems could only be solved through a tripartite dialogue, which included the military government, ethnic representatives and opposition party led by detained Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

READ MORE---> Ethnic delegation urges Australia to lend more support...

Civil Society Edges Deeper Into Regional Summit

The Irrawaddy News

CHA-AM, Thailand — In a nod towards greater engagement with people's organizations, a summit of Southeast Asian leaders in this resort town will slightly extend its customary face-to-face with civil society representatives.

The 30 minutes that civil society leaders from eight countries in the region will have with the 10 presidents and prime ministers on Saturday is, symbolically at least, an advance from past summits, where only 15 minutes were provided for such engagements.

This widening window is in keeping with the promise of a more "people centred'' Association of South-east Asian Nations, the 10-member bloc founded in 1967 to stall the spread of communism. In December, a new Asean charter came into force, making the regional alliance a rules-based entity and one that could hold governments to be more accountable.

The pledge to make it an inclusive body is part of the charter. And the theme of the summit held in this town south of Bangkok is "Asean Charter for Asean Peoples.''

The 10 members of Asean span the political spectrum, where space for a politically active and critical civil society and grassroots organizations is often not embraced by all. They range from Brunei, an absolute monarchy, Burma (or Myanmar), under the grip of an oppressive military dictatorship, Laos and Vietnam, both one-party states headed by their respective communist parties, and Singapore, a one-party state that crushes dissent and tolerates little opposition.

The only countries in the region where shades of democracy are visible are Indonesia and the Philippines, less so in Malaysia, Thailand and Cambodia, albeit with increasing space for political and civil liberties.

The 10 civil society representatives who will meet the leaders at the 14th Asean summit are from Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam and hosts Thailand.

"Issues running into three or four pages addressing concerns of civil society are up for discussion,'' says Thitinan Pongsuthirak, a political scientist at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University who will chair the dialogue between the leaders and the civil society organizations (CSOs). "The treatment of the Rohingyas by Burma-Myanmar, freeing the political prisoners there, the economic crisis, and the food crisis are some of the issues.''

"CSOs also want to institutionalize this engagement. They want to make it a regular event at Asean summits, not a one-off meeting or one done off-and-on,'' Thitinan said in an IPS interview.

"I have to give a lot of credit to the Thai foreign ministry for organizing this dialogue,'' he added. "They have made an important push to make this a people-centred Asean.''

Saturday's dialogue is the culmination of a range of CSO activities held ahead in Bangkok over the week to drum pressure for the summit in Cha-am. A record 1,000 CSO representatives from across the region have been meeting since the last weekend to shape their agenda.

The key themes that CSOs rallied around during the Asean People's Forum and the Civil Society Conference included the plans by Asean leaders to create a regional human rights body, the free trade agreements the bloc's leaders are to sign with India, Australia and New Zealand, and how the region will be impacted by the global economic slowdown.

In a first for Asean, Surin Pitsuwan, secretary-general of the regional bloc, and Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, representing the host country, participated in an hour-long engagement with activists on Sunday afternoon.

"I don't think we are afraid of anything,'' Surin told IPS. "With the charter, every issue is open for discussion.''

They are words that Asean activists are determined to use as guiding principle. "We want to open the Asean process to everyone,'' says Joy Chavez, a researcher at Focus on the Global South, a regional think tank and a Philippine national. "The participation of CSOs here reflects that. Four years ago the number of participants would have been 20 percent (of the number attending the current Asean summit).''

The spirit of accommodation on show at the summit is coming in for praise by long-time observers of Asean. "For the past four decades, Asean has seldom heeded, let alone listened to, the voices of ordinary people,'' writes Kavi Chongkittavorn, a senior editor and columnist for The Nation, and English-language daily in Thailand.

He credits Malaysia for ushering in the change when Kuala Lumpur hosted the Asean summit in 2004. "(The Malaysian leader) initiated the meeting between Asean leaders and civil society groups and, in the process, provided input to them directly. That first encounter ignited the civil groups' interest in Asean.''

The meetings that followed in the Philippines and Singapore mirrored this shift in relations between government leaders and CSOs. Yet such an opening has not ended the distrust CSOs have of the region's governments and, consequently, are reluctant to cheer the welcome mat being rolled out on Saturday by Asean leaders.

"Civil society groups that have tried to engage their governments on Asean Charter-related issues such as human rights and democracy have been subjected to serious and even brutal retaliation in member states such as Burma, Laos and even the Philippines,'' says Gus Miclat, executive director of Initiatives for International Dialogue, in a statement released on Wednesday.

READ MORE---> Civil Society Edges Deeper Into Regional Summit...

Asean Will Not React to Pressure: Thai FM

The Irrawaddy News

CHA-AM — The chairman of the Association of South Asian Nations (Asean) said on Thursday that issues such as human rights in Burma and the Rohingya crisis would be discussed at the 14th Asean Summit, but not in reaction to pressure.

As the current chair of Asean, Thailand is hosting the three-day summit at Cha-am in Petchaburi Province. The 14th Asean Summit was originally due to be held in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, in December, but was postponed due to political unrest in the kingdom.

Responding to questions at a press conference on the eve of the summit, current Asean chairman, Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, said, “Anything of concern, we can talk about with one another without making demands.”

He said that delegates will also talk about human rights issues in the region at informal meetings.

On the Rohingya boat people issue, he said Thailand will handle the matter through the Bali process. He added that he would talk with his Burmese counterparts about the matter at informal meetings during the summit.

Initiated in 2002 and co-chaired by the governments of Australia and Indonesia, the Bali Process brings together more than 50 countries and numerous international agencies to help combat people smuggling, human trafficking and related transnational crimes in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond.

Asean foreign ministers held an “informal working dinner” on Thursday evening ahead of Friday’s foreign ministers meetings, which will specifically concentrate on an Asean human rights body and the Asean Charter.

Burma is expected to be the main focus of any discussions on human rights. The military-ruled country has some 2,100 political prisoners in its jails, including pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is under house arrest.

In the past, the United States and the European Union have criticized Asean for neglecting to react to human rights violations in Burma.

Aside from the Rohingya boat people issue, Asean leaders are due to talk with Burmese delegates on an extension to the Tripartite Core Group (TCG)—comprising Asean, the United Nations and the Burmese regime—which acts in response to last year’s Cyclone Nargis disaster in southwestern Burma.

An emergency meeting of Asean foreign ministers in Singapore in May 2008 agreed on the forming of the TCG.

However, the TCG agreement expires in July. According to the UN, both the UN and Asean are prepared to continue humanitarian and rebuilding projects in Burma, but the Burmese regime has not officially approved an extension of the TCG.

A Thai official at the summit, who spoke to The Irrawaddy on condition of anonymity, said, “We are waiting for an answer from Myanmar [Burma] about the TCG, but there are some hardline ministers.”

READ MORE---> Asean Will Not React to Pressure: Thai FM...

Burma’s corridor to democracy depends on regional partners

by Moe Thu and Htet Win

Rangoon (Mizzima) - In an increasingly interconnected and interdependent world, every nation has to deal with the international community in one way or another in order to achieve aims including domestic improvements and peaceful coexistence regardless of how strong or weak it stands up among world nations.

For Burma, which is no exception, the United Nations is still the best option, through the mandate of which the Association of South-east Asian Nations (ASEAN) is well positioned to take further steps forward to being a modernized entity democratically demonstrable.

There has already been a recent, concrete example. As well thanks to the ASEAN’s lobby, the UN’s humanitarian intervention took place in Burma, delivering a great supply of relief assistance, when it was hard hit by Nargis Cyclone last May, which left more than 130,000 dead or missing and some 2.4 million in need of continued support.

Also in response to the UN’s political facilitation, the military government released more than 6,300 prisoners soon after UN Human Rights expertTomas Ojea Quintana visited the Southeast Asian country. Unfortunately there were only 24 political prisoners included out of more than six thousand prisoners released.

“This is the time for Burma to seize the opportunity before it, to send positive signals,” said the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, expressing his willingness to visit Burma again. He last travelled to Burma in May after the cyclone devastated the Irrawaddy coastal areas.

At this juncture, it is for the military government to show its more positive and responsive actions and gestures to the international community’s sincerity with Burma’s democratization process.

The military regime already knew how fast the cyclone-devastated areas came to recover because it allowed the delivery of international assistances (after initial resistance and delay) through a newly-formed body called Tripartite Core Group, which comprises the government authority, the UN and the ASEAN.

That could be a sign that the junta is gradually departing from its isolationism stance amid situations, which demand greater cooperation with the international community in this globalised age to be able to address domestic issues, although a few top-ranking military officials falsely claimed that the country could manage to recover from the natural disaster then.

It would be fair to say that the military elites could have adopted much more precaution to offset any political string, which is likely to come along with international aids to the local needy. The military government might have learnt from Indonesia province of Aceh experience. After Tsunami in 2004, it got huge assistances from all over the world, which had negative effects on the Acehnese, contaminating the Acehnese. For example, money politics and under-age-voting occurred in the 2006 elections on Aceh for its governor and mayor.

Frankly speaking, a full recovery with Burma’s suffered areas is a national concern. Needless to say that the planned 2010 elections is an issue that can be crucial for the country and that many world nations and ASEAN are interested in it and watch out for, as a step to transition to democracy.

It is sure that not just Burmese people but their military government would like to be proud of their country’s goal to a prosperous, democratic one, though there are differences in what kinds of democracy one actually wants to see for the country.

Looking back the recent past, ASEAN may be the most important component of any international Burma policy, inviting the country to join it in 1997, partly because it thought that the integration would be more workable than pursuing the isolation to influence the military government. That’s also partly because ASEAN is intent on containing China’s influence on the nation’s natural resources.

At the same time, the 10-member bloc has come to recognize that Burma is not only a stain on its international reputation but also a drain on its diplomatic resources, plus a trauma to peace and stability in the region of more than five hundred million population.

Inside Burma, however, since 1996, four years after Senior General Than Shwe took the chair of the junta, repression grew more brazen, sending thousands of democracy activists and ordinary citizens to prison and displacing over one million people – mostly Karen and Shan minorities, which has resulted in their open-exile in Bangladesh, China, India, Malaysia and Thailand.

The United States limited its diplomatic contact with the junta and eventually imposed mandatory trade and investment restrictions on the regime and its business back bones. Europe became a vocal advocate for Burma’s reforms and human rights. However, many Asian states moved to expand trade, aid, and diplomatic engagement with the military elites. China and Russia have vetoed attempts to impose international sanctions on Burma in the United Nations Security Council.

The answer is simple: Some countries still want Burma as it is. China and India could be the greatest obstacles to efforts to introduce genuine democratic reforms in the country. China has many interests in Burma. Over the past 15 years, it has developed deep political and economic relations with Burma, largely through billions of dollars in trade and investment and more than a billion dollars' worth of weapons sales. It enjoys important military benefits, including access to ports and listening posts, which allow its armed forces to monitor naval and other military activities around the Indian Ocean and the Andaman Sea.

To feed its insatiable appetite for energy, it also seeks preferential deals with the ruling generals for access to Burma's oil and gas reserves.

Beijing's engagement with the SPDC has been essential to the regime's survival. China has provided it with moral and financial support -- including funds and material to pay off Burma military elites -- thus increasing its leverage at home and abroad. By throwing China's weight behind the SPDC, Beijing has complicated the strategic calculations of those of Burma's neighbours that are concerned about the direction the country is moving in, thus enabling the junta to pursue a classic divide-and-conquer approach.

Like China, India is hungry for natural gas and other resources and is eager to build a road network through Burma that would expand its trade with ASEAN implementing its “Look East” policy. As a result, it has attempted to match China step for step as an economic and military partner of the SPDC allowing it to become now Burma's fourth-largest trading partner. Successive governments in India after 1990s including the present Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government have also fallen for the junta's blackmail over cross-border drug and arms trafficking and has preferred to give it any assistance necessary rather than let Burma become a safe haven for insurgents active in India's troubled northeastern region.

Amid such challenges to move Burma forward, ASEAN leaders are highly expected to consider the interests of millions of people in Burma, and avoid an elite-to-elite vanity fair. All in all, multilateral-scale honesty and transparency are much in need, if the regional leaders are really working on a true development and democracy in the region including Burma. What’s more, it is ASEAN leaders, who gather at the 14th Summit in Thailand, to use an opportunity to be forging a new Burma leadership.

READ MORE---> Burma’s corridor to democracy depends on regional partners...

Malaysian PM: Push back Rohingya refugees

CHA-AM, Thailand (IHT): Malaysia's prime minister has called for Myanmar's Muslim boat people to be pushed back if they attempt to land on any Southeast Asian shores in search of asylum, a newspaper said Friday.

Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi also took swipes at Myanmar and Thailand on the issue of the Rohingya refugees, which has escalated into a major problem for the region and one of concern internationally.

Thousands of the stateless Rohingya have fled Myanmar as well as refugee camps in Bangladesh in recent years, but their plight was only highlighted recently when hundreds were believed to have drowned after being pushed out to sea by the Thai military.

"But if we cannot be firm we cannot deal with this problem. We have to be firm at all borders. We have to turn them back," Badawi said in an interview with the English-language Bangkok Post.

Badawi was scheduled to arrive at this beach-side resort Friday for the annual summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a 10-nation bloc with includes Myanmar. The Rohingya issue is expected to be discussed on the sidelines of the three-day conference but is not part of the official agenda.

Thailand has called for a special regional conference on the refugees, who often attempt to land in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.

"We feel that they are being pushed onto us instead of Thailand accommodating them somehow," Badawi said who also criticized Myanmar's military regime.

"Of course, we know they come from Myanmar (Burma). When we ask Myanmar, they ask: 'Are you sure they are our people? What evidence have you got?'" he said. (JEG's: and so the believers turn back in sadness)

It was unclear from the interview how Bawadi reconciled his call for Thailand to accommodate the refugees while at the same time saying that they should be pushed back from Southeast Asian shores.

The Rohingyas, an ethnic minority not recognized by Myanmar's government, number about 800,000 in that country. Hundreds of thousands have fled to Bangladesh, Malaysia and the Middle East.

"From Thailand they come to us, from us they go to Indonesia. We don't want to be unkind. But the problem has been about people who come to us without permits," Badawi said.

The prime minister said he would be pleased to see international organizations helping to solve the problem. (???) (is he saying we should solve government problems? it is a government problem and they are too soft with Myanmar which is to solve the problem once and for all... now they turn to international activism to SOLVE THE GOVERNMENTS PROBLEMS?)

"They (the organizations) are very concerned and at times they are critical of actions taken by governments," he said. (JEG's: that is right we are concerned, the problem should be solved and the victims should be treated humanly, but the problem should be fixed by governments, we just make the noise)

Human rights groups have been highly critical of Thailand for allegedly abusing groups of Rohingya refugees whose rickety boats reached its shores and then towing them out to sea without adequate provisions or fuel for their craft. Thailand has denied the allegations.

"This is not just Thailand's problem. It's a problem for all the region's countries, whether they are countries of origin, countries of destination or countries of transit," Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has said.

READ MORE---> Malaysian PM: Push back Rohingya refugees...

Burma blocked aid supplies - report

Irish Time

THE UNITED Nations Security Council should refer Burma (Myanmar) to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for the manner in which it blocked humanitarian relief efforts during last year’s cyclone in the country, according to an independent inquiry into the episode.

A report, framed around extensive interviews with relief workers and survivors, says the government’s “systematic obstruction” of relief aid, penalisation of minority ethnic groups and use of forced labour in reconstruction could constitute crimes against humanity.

The report, published today by a group of leading international healthcare experts, says the Burmese government had been more concerned about forcing through a referendum on an authoritarian new constitution on May 10th last year rather than dealing with Cyclone Nargis, which struck eight days earlier, killing 140,000 and affecting 3.4 million people.

“The data reveal systematic obstruction of relief aid, wilful acts of theft and sale of relief supplies, forced relocation, and the use of forced labour for reconstruction projects, including forced child labour,” the report states.

“The slow distribution of aid, the push to hold the referendum vote, and the early refusal to accept foreign assistance are evidence of the junta’s primary concern for regime survival and political control over the well-being of the Burmese people.”

The report, After the Storm: Voices from the Delta , is jointly-authored by the US-based Centre for Public Health and Human Rights at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and Emergency Assistance Team (EAT), an umbrella group of health care workers which helped an estimated 180,000 survivors without the approval of the Burmese government. Among the 90 relief workers and survivors interviewed was a physician who said he had to flee the country when the military started asking questions about his connections with external relief agencies. Another relief worker said the government refused to give aid to Christian minorities “because they know they may be helped by Christian organisations”. The report says there is evidence of “multiple human rights violations and the abrogation of international humanitarian relief norms and international legal frameworks for disaster relief”.

These could constitute crimes against humanity, it says.

Burma Action Ireland said European members of the UN Security Council should request an immediate ICC investigation.

READ MORE---> Burma blocked aid supplies - report...

Asean parliamentarians urge action on Burma

By Supalak Ganjanakhundee
The Nation (Thailand)

Parliamentarians from Asean countries yesterday urged leaders attending the Asean Summit from today until Sunday (March 1) to seek solutions to pushing Burma toward democracy and social justice.

The junta run country will hold a general election next year but the poll might not be inclusive enough to have participation from all stakeholders, notably ethnic minorities, said Charles Chang, a parliamentarian from Singapore.

A group of parliamentarians from Southeast Asian countries under the Asean Inter Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC) gathered yesterday at a Bangkok hotel to discuss social justice in Burma.

They met Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, as Thailand holds the chairmanship of Asean, to highlight key issues of the current situation in Burma, including human rights suppression and the 2010 junta sponsored general election.

The issue of Burma has dominated Asean meetings since the country failed to reform politics and release key opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Kasit told the parliamentarians that his government would address the issue of Burma a lot more seriously and with more engagement of civil society, according to an Asean MP who attended the meeting.

The minister was quite open as he allowed former elected MPs from Burma who are now in exile to see him yesterday, said AIPMC president Kraisak Chonhavan.

"It [more open discussion] would be like turning to a new chapter, but how to put it into political practicality in Burma is another question. This is the most open pre-Asean meeting I have ever seen," he said.

Asked whether the foreign minister, as the representative of Asean, had promised any action towards change in Burma, Kraisak declined to be specific, saying that the Asean charter had set out the standard for human rights in the region. :(...:( ...:(

"The point is that countries which are dictatorships, or countries which are democratic in name only, can no longer dictate the Asean theme.
Human rights is now an open horizon and will not stop," he added.

READ MORE---> Asean parliamentarians urge action on Burma...

Malaysia wants Myanmar to be open about refugee problem


HUA HIN (Thailand) The Star: The problem of Rohingya refugees fleeing from Myanmar has become a regional problem and Malaysia wants the military junta to address the matter.

Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim raised the issue at the Asean Foreign Ministers informal dinner on Thursday night where he stressed to Myanmar that the problem was immense.

“We need to float this matter as something that Asean must look at and the best level to discuss this is at the foreign ministers level,” he said.

“The difficulties are immense because no one authority is in charge of this exodus. “The data seems be to different from one authority to the other. There are authorities that say Malaysia has no less than 14,000 but these are (just) the registered ones, so there no could be more,” he told Malaysian journalists.

Lately Indonesia has been facing an incoming exodus of Rohingyas after allegations that the Thai navy turned them away from their shores after fleeing from Myanmar.

Dr Rais said Malaysia and Indonesia should be together in voicing the matter to Myanmar which he said appeared to be avoiding the problem.

“Myanmar must understand this is their problem as much as ours,” he said. “We understand these people are encouraged to leave but we do not know the actual story. So we would like Myanmar to be open about it.”

He said that if Myanmar refused to own up to the issue, it would become a worldwide problem and the United Nations might have to step in.

Dr Rais also said Malaysia was working towards getting a separate statement on Gaza to be issued by Asean leaders at the 14th Asean summit this weekend.

The matter was raised at Asean seniors officials meeting Thursday.

READ MORE---> Malaysia wants Myanmar to be open about refugee problem...

Burmese election will be a sham and change nothing

The Nation

Once again, UN and US pleas for the release of all political prisoners in Burma will be met with deafening silence, as is always the case where the Burmese junta is concerned.

It should be evident to the UN, the US and the EU that the junta is determined to carry on its charade of a 2010 election. Everyone knows that this fiasco is aimed at cementing the regime's rule through some "democratic" trappings and is in no way going to lead to real democratisation and reconciliation.

Just as a reminder, the constitution is drawn by the military and the election rules will be the same. In the end, the junta will be allotted 25 per cent of the seats without election and the rest will be for its self-created USDA-like parties or affiliates. It is all going to be stage-managed. A few individual parties will be allowed to contest, for the sake of window-dressing, and nothing radical will come out of it.

The junta could create a turning point for the better, just in a single day, simply by releasing all political prisoners, calling for a nationwide ceasefire and implementing a process of reconciliation and all-inclusiveness in the political arena.

However, this scenario is just wishful thinking. The world body and influential stakeholders can only make a difference by imposing a new, fair game plan, rather than going along with the junta's self-serving roadmap.

READ MORE---> Burmese election will be a sham and change nothing...

Break the Broken Record

The Irrawaddy News

The Burma issue is like a broken record: the same things are repeated over and over.

No 1: The junta routinely arrests political activists; it says economic sanctions should be repealed and blames the opposition party for it; it tries to sell its upcoming election in 2010, as part of its democracy roadmap.

No 2: The opposition parties, including the National League for Democracy (NLD), call for dialogue without any new, results-oriented strategies. They simply oppose whatever the government does.

No 3: All the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) countries are afraid directly confront the Burmese military leaders.

No 4: Without action, the international community calls for the release of all political prisoners and for dialogue between opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and junta chief Snr-Gen Than Shwe.

No 5: The US remains the strongest vocal critic of the military leaders.

After hearing most of these positions repeated over and over for two decades, it’s not surprising that people are jaded and complacent. But things may be changing.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said during her first trip to Asia: “We want to see a time when citizens of Burma and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi can live freely in their own country.”

The big question is when and how? During her trip, Clinton talked about Burma with Japan, Indonesia and China. She noted that US policy has failed to achieve positive results. “Clearly, the path we have taken in imposing sanctions hasn’t influenced the Burmese junta.”

She noted the path taken by Burma’s neighboring countries, a “constructive engagement policy,” hasn’t influenced the military leaders either.

The new administration of US President Barack Obama can be expected to create a new approach to Burma, based on Obama’s track record of creative thinking and pragmatism.

In his inaugural address, his message was clear: "We will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist." Definitely, his message was heard by Burma’s military leaders.

Two core political bargaining chips stand out: the release all political prisoners and the removal of economic sanctions.

The first is a key principle of the NLD; the second is a key principle of the junta.

These two issues are probably the keys to unlocking the status quo in Burma.

When UN Special envoy Ibrahim Gambari visited Burma recently, premier Gen Thein Sein told the envoy, “The UN should make an effort to lift economic sanctions imposed on Myanmar [Burma], if the organization wants to see a prosperous Myanmar with political stability.”

The prime minister said economic sanctions have hindered Burma’s efforts to alleviate poverty. He said the country is “like a person who is forced to run quickly while his legs are tied together.”

The prime minister sent a clear message to the Western world, especially the US, which has led the world effort to impose sanctions since 1997.

During her meeting with Gambari, Suu Kyi and senior NLD leaders emphasized the release of all political prisoners and a return to real dialogue.

President Obama and his secretary of state should make these two issues the focus of direct, or back channel, talks with the junta, and the sooner the better.

To drive home the message that direct talks are needed, the US administration should immediately name a special envoy to Burma, to carry the administration’s negotiating views directly to Than Shwe.

Last November, former President George W Bush appointed Michael Green as his special Burma policy coordinator with a rank of ambassador. But President Obama has yet to nominate him for the job.

With a special Burma envoy in place, the United States can get down to business, focusing on a basic quid pro quo: the release of all political prisoners for a lifting of economic sanctions.

If progress can be made on these two key issues, then the door is open for more change, and the old broken record will be broken.

READ MORE---> Break the Broken Record...

Thai PM Calls for All Sides to Participate in Burmese Elections

The Irrawaddy News

CHA-AM, Thailand — Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said he has asked Burmese Premier Gen Thein Sein to encourage the opposition to compete in the forthcoming general election in Burma and expressed optimism that the military junta was making progress in its steps toward democracy.

Speaking to reporters at the 14th Summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) on Friday, the Thai premier said he had asked his Burmese counterpart “to encourage all sides to participate in the 2010 Burmese elections” and said that he could see “clear progress” in the military junta’s steps toward holding democratic elections next year.

Abhisit said he had held bilateral talks with the heads of state of Burma, Cambodia and Malaysia that day.

“We hope to see progress [in Burma]. We hope to see involvement, particularly from the UN. I also said that the process should be as inclusive as possible,” he told assembled reporters.

He added that Thailand’s policy toward Burma was “clearly one of engagement.”

However, the Thai prime minster, like most other delegates at the summit, found that his press conference became driven by reporters toward the sticky issue of Rohingya boatpeople.

Calling the Rohingya crisis a “complex and complicated issue;” Abhisit said Thailand will deport the migrants if it could ascertain their point of origin. In response to a question by The Irrawaddy regarding boatpeople whose point of origin could not be identified, the Thai premier was not specific, but reiterated that Thai policy was “to promote cooperation and consultation in the region, so that the problem will not recur.”

Five or six countries are involved in the Rohingya issue, he said, adding that the matter would be dealt with again at a Bali Process meeting iin Indonesia in April.

At an earlier press conference, the secretary-general of Asean, Surin Pitsuwan, said that the Burmese Prime Minister, Thein Sein, had confirmed a one-year extension (until July 2010) of the Tripartite Core Group (TCG) for rebuilding and humanitarian projects in areas affected by Cyclone Nargis.

The TCG proposed a three-year rehabilitation plan for the cyclone victims at a conference in Bangkok on February 9.

READ MORE---> Thai PM Calls for All Sides to Participate in Burmese Elections...

Burma sets condition for accepting Rohingya migrants

by Usa Pichai

Hua Hin (Mizzima) The Thai Foreign Minister has said that the Burmese military regime has agreed to take back only those migrants, who have been verified as “Bengalis” from Burma, at the regional bloc’s summit in Thailand.

Kasit Piromya, the chairperson of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), told the press on Friday after he had a meeting with foreign ministers from the 10 member countries, that the solution to the refugee problem required cooperation from these countries as well as the ASEAN Secretariat.

He said the Bengali ethnicity of the Rohingya in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia would be verified and then it would be confirmed that they were from Burma.

“The Burmese officials said that in the official ethnic groups list of Burma, there is only a Bengali group, but Rohingya has not been approved as an ethnic group in Burma,” Piromya added.

The solution to this issue would be worked out at two levels, firstly enlisting the cooperation of related countries at ASEAN and the second would be at a bigger level during the Bali Process.

Secretary General of ASEAN, Dr Surin Pitsuwan also said at a press conference that the Rohingya issue was a regional problem, and at the moment the solution could not be reached only by the countries in the bloc, so it would be raised during the “Bali Process” that is scheduled for April 14 to 15, 2009.

In addition, the ASEAN Secretariat would play a role in building a census of the Bengali population in Burma. However, the time frame has not been announced yet.

Apart from the Rohingya issue, the meeting also discussed matters regarding the Cyclone Nargis, expressed relief that the ASEAN‘s relief programme had succeeded. It also decided to extend the programme for another year, till the middle of 2010.

The Thai Foreign Minister also added that the common experience in humanitarian work, among member countries both during the Tsunami in 2004 and Cyclone Nargis in 2008 would help to find a solution for the Rohingya issue.

Meanwhile, the rights groups, which are concerned about the issue, said that ethnic verification was not the solution to the problem.

Kodchawan Chaiyabut from Amnesty International, Thailand, said that this reaction showed insincerity of the related government. “However, I hope that they will improve their actions in the future. We (rights group) expect the plan of setting up a new human rights body will be a new ray of hope for the region,” Chaiyabut said.

On Friday, a network of Peace for Burma (Thailand), Webster University and Burma Partnership, organized a forum “ASEAN: Is Burma an Internal Problem or a Regional Crisis?” at Webster University, Hua-Hin, to discuss and promote better understanding on the plight of Burma.

READ MORE---> Burma sets condition for accepting Rohingya migrants...

Public Health School Calls for Investigation into Burma's Handling of Cyclone Recovery

A young survivor of the cyclone Nargis wait for relief supplies in Bogalay,
Burma, 13 May 2008

By Ron Corben

(VOA)- A report led by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Medicine has called for a United Nations investigation into Burma's handling of aid and assistance to cyclone hit regions last year, accusing the military government of crimes against humanity. Relief groups are calling on Asian countries and the international community to press Burma's military government towards greater transparency and accountability in receiving assistance.

The report, a joint project of aid workers from the Thai-Burma border and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, charges Burma's military government with abuse and corruption in its handling of aid and recovery to the devastated Irrawaddy Delta region hit by last year's cyclone Nargis.

The report charges Burma's military of resisting international and regional aid, interference in assistance, confiscation of aid and resale, arrest of aid workers, discrimination in aid along ethnic lines, forced labor and confiscation of land.

Chris Beyer of the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

Chris Beyer, of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, says the key recommendation is for a United Nations investigation into the charges that may represent "crimes against humanity."

"Taken together there is an argument to be made for an assessment and we call for an investigation of crimes against humanity - that is based on the Rome Statute article 7-IK - essentially its based on the argument that there has been intentionally great suffering, mental and physical health," he said.

The project report, After the Storm: Voices from the Delta, was centered on interviews with relief workers and Burmese army defectors over several months after the devastation of the cyclone in May that claimed tens of thousand of lives.

Immediately after the cyclone, over 300 Burma aid workers from the Thai-Burma border worked as teams delivering assistance into the devastated Irrawaddy Delta region, often undercover to avoid military checkpoints and arrest.

Burma's military government has been widely criticized for its slow response to the disaster and restrictions it placed on access of assistance to the region, including direct aid from neighboring Asian countries.

Beyer says, based on the interviews with aid workers, the allegations of misconduct and abuse highlighted in the report appeared to be widespread throughout the Delta Region.

"We can say with some confidence that most of what was being reported was common," he said. "Force relocation, virtually everybody we interviewed reported forced relocation, forced labor was also common, forced child labor less common. The confiscation, thefts and resale of relief aid was ubiquitous - that appeared to be very much standard operating procedure throughout the area."

Dr. Cynthia Maung, who oversees a Burmese health clinic in the Thai border town of Mae Sot, said the Association of South East Asian Nations - ASEAN - and international community had to pressure the military to be held accountable in the delivery of aid.

"As you see in the report and as we found out in the information inside Burma - the relief effort should be more thorough and more accountable," she said. "Our aim is to how to become more effective to deliver assistance as well as for the reconstruction of the country, how to rebuild or broaden the cooperation between the community organization and the international comunity".

The report stands in contrast to a recent positive review by the tripartite U.N, ASEAN and Burma's military, that the leadership "had gained a higher degree of confidence" in working with the international community. The tripartite assistance group called for a further $700 million in funding over three years to assist in longer term recovery to cyclone affected regions.

READ MORE---> Public Health School Calls for Investigation into Burma's Handling of Cyclone Recovery...

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Funeral charities ordered to keep vehicles at cemetery

(DVB)–Funeral charities in Rangoon division, including the Free Funeral Service Society, have been told to park their vehicles at Yeway cemetery during the night, according to an order issued by the authorities.

The order, issued on 8 February, states that all funerary vehicles used by funeral services of all religions must be kept overnight at Yeway cemetery as of 28 February. (oooooh ooooooh ooooh)

FFSS patron and former actor Kyaw Thu said funeral charities could face legal action if they did not comply with the order.

"Rangoon municipal office summoned all religious groups in Rangoon and told us to keep the cars in respective cemeteries,” Kyaw Thu said.

“If we don't, we will be prosecuted."

The order was issued on the basis of a 1920 colonial law. Kyaw Thu has asked Rangoon municipal authorities to help him solve the problems caused by the order but has received no response from them.

Apart from FFSS, there are at least six funeral services including Muslim, Hindu and Christian services that have been giving free help to bereaved people.

Kyaw Thu said that FFSS had 16 funerary vehicles, some of which were worth millions of kyat.

Keeping the cars in the cemetery overnight as ordered would put a stop to the activities of the FFSS, Kyaw Thu insisted.

"We can't just park our cars in the alleys at Yeway as some of them are quite expensive,” Kyaw Thu said.

“We bought them with money from donors. The cars need to have covers and security,” he said.

“We have decided to carry on as before."

Christian and Muslim funerary vehicles which have been parking at churches and mosques in local townships are also worried about keeping them in Yeway cemetery.

"If the cars are kept in Yeway cemetery, the drivers will face problems,” a Muslim funeral official said.

“There is no [proper building to park the cars] yet. We are still discussing it."

A local Hindu funeral organisation which already keeps its five funerary vehicles at the cemetery said it had no problems with the new regulation. (bad apple)

Reporting by Aye Nai

READ MORE---> Funeral charities ordered to keep vehicles at cemetery...

NLD discusses 2010 election participation

(DVB)–National League for Democracy elected representatives and organising committee members from 10 townships in Rangoon division met at party headquarters on 24 February to discuss whether to contest the 2010 election.

The meeting was held in the morning and attended by Rangoon division organising committee secretary Dr Win Naing, chairman Thakhin Soe Myint and vice-chairman Dr Than Nyein.

"We discussed matters such as whether to contest the election or not and the party's position if it does not contest," Dr Win Naing said.

"What we had already said clearly is we do not accept this constitution and as the 2010 election is to be held on the basis of this constitution, we haven't considered contesting it yet," he said.

"But if we can carry out a bilateral and smooth review of the proposed constitution we would have a reason to contest the election."

The meeting was attended by township representatives and elected MPs from Kyauktada, Panbedan, Latha, Lanmadaw, Thanlyin, Kyauktan, Thonegwa, Kayan, Thaketa and Dawpon. More meetings between the ten townships are scheduled for 27 February, 3 March and 6 March, Win Naing said.

The NLD won the majority of seats and votes in the 1990 election but the ruling State Peace and Development Council failed to transfer power and is preparing to hold new elections in 2010.

The party has issued statements criticising the holding of a new election without recognising the result of the 1990 vote.

Reporting by Aye Nai

READ MORE---> NLD discusses 2010 election participation...

Films documenting poverty to be banned

(DVB)–Film directors in Rangoon allege that state-run Myanmar Film Production has told private producers not to make films about poverty, claiming they damage the nation’s global image.

A film director under condition of anonymity told DVB that the letter sent by MFP claims most of the Burmese films shown nowadays on cinemas were damaging to the country’s credibility.

Well-known and respected actor and charity worker Kyaw Thu said he was shocked by the news.

“I would just rather not make any films at a time like this with a lot of regulations and limitations,” he said.

“Films are supposed to reflect the closest of what is happening in the real life of the people.”

Myint Thein Pe, chair of Myanmar Motion Picture Association, said the claims were wrong.

“There is only a regulation to make the plots relevant and close to reality when portraying the poor, but the MFP has never stopped anyone from making these films,” he said.

Some film directors in Rangoon were speculating whether the new regulation will profit the owners of posh mansions in Rangoon, often used as scene locations in films about the rich.

Reporting by Naw Say Phaw

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NLD member released in amnesty

(DVB)–National League for Democracy member Nyo Gyi, who was sentenced to eight years in prison for intimidation of Union Solidarity and Development Association officials, has been released after serving one year and four months of his term.

Nyo Gyi, deputy-chair of Mandalay’s Maddaya National League for Democracy, who was imprisoned in Sagaing’s Khandee prison, was among 6313 prisoners across Burma who were granted amnesty by the government over the weekend.

In May 2007, Than Lwin – a relative of Nyo Gyi - was punched in the face with a knuckle-duster by an unknown assailant who fled into a USDA office after the attack.

Than Lwin’s attacker was never apprehended, but nine of his colleagues and family members, including Nyo Gyi, were sentenced to up to eight years in prison for intimidation of USDA officials.

“I was kept in a cell without receiving communication from the outside world,” he said.

“The food wasn’t too bad but it was still bad, and water, too – it contained a lot of dirt and we often got sick after drinking that.”

“I had an operation on my eyes while I was in prison and now my left eye cannot see anymore,” he added.

Nyo Gyi was also arrested, tortured and sentenced to nine years in prison during 2003’s Depayin massacre but he was released after serving 11 months.

Reporting by Khin Hnin Htet

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Engaging with Democracy or Authoritarianism?

The Irrawaddy News

The voices supporting engagement with the Burmese regime have been louder in some of the recent media coverage of the political crisis in Burma.

This new attempt to untangle a 20-year-old political knot seems to have coincided with the seventh visit of UN’s Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari to Burma on January 31 to February 3.

If we could point to any positive progress from this visit, it would be that it was the first time opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was able to meet the UN envoy together with her colleagues.

It is clear that the NLD are again urging the UN’s Good Offices to broker meaningful dialogue between the party and the regime. It is also clear that Gambari was aware that the NLD did not refer to the junta’s statement that “confrontation, utter devastation, economic sanctions and total isolation do not benefit the country or the people” in a manner that suggested the party concurred with the regime’s stance.

The NLD’s position was clarified in a Special Statement 2 issued on February 17, saying, “Daw Aung San Suu Kyi informed authorities through U Aung Kyi, Minister for Relations, that she was ready to cooperate and issue a joint communiqué to prevent these problems [misunderstandings] from happening.”

The NLD emphasized its position in an interview with The Irrawaddy. Spokesman Nyan Win said reiterated the party’s stand on “unconditional dialogue,” as well as emphasizing the NLD’s desire for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to visit the country.

The NLD, for its part, is ready to discuss and issue a joint statement on the country’s political problems, including the issue of economic and other sanctions. It is evident which party is avoiding meaningful dialogue.

During Gambari’s visit, Burmese Prime Minister Gen Thein Sein demanded that economic sanctions and visa bans be lifted if the UN wants to see stability in Burma.

The regime is playing a game of diplomatic ping-pong with the NLD and the UN in order to create a situation too complicated to be solved.

The generals have used—and will use—this same strategy time and again because they are confident they can manage the country without giving an inch to the opposition in any future political arena in Burma.

Meanwhile, a new US administration is reviewing its overall policy on Burma. The US, of course, is the main backer of economic and visa sanctions on the Burmese generals and their cohorts.

But before declaring a new policy on Burma, the Obama administration should consider this: will the Burmese regime really share space with the NLD in the future affairs of Burma?

Soldiers who are trained only to defeat their enemy will never sit down and talk with them as long as there is a possibility of winning the battle. Today, the regime sits confident that it is going to win the battle in 2010.

In recent days, a handful of foreign scholars and diplomats have issued pessimistic and critical statements regarding Suu Kyi’s political party. The opinions that popped up in the media showed an overall support for promoting engagement with the regime, and even went so far as criticizing the NLD as some breed of black sheep that is somehow blocking the country’s development.

The comments would not be surprising if Burmese politics were just another business, beholden to its shareholders and with a natural appetite for profits. But it is more than that. Activists, students, monks, journalists, writers, poets and even housewives—the entire spectrum of the pro-democracy movement—have been sacrificing their lives since 1988 in the belief that only democracy can bring about peace, freedom and prosperity, and most importantly, a life with dignity that each human being deserves from his or her community.

I believe that only an open democratic society can bring about economic development in Burma. We Burmese are struggling not to usurp power for the party we support, but to establish a functioning political system in the country.

If the international community wants to see Burma as a country governed by the rule of law, then it must get behind the democracy movement. If they want to see Burma as a stable nation in a prosperous region, the paramount task is to pressure the repressive military regime to come to its senses—to realize that a democratic system will ultimately alleviate the socio-economic crisis in Burma and lead to social stability within the society.

The author is a Bangkok-based independent researcher, graduating MA in International Development Studies at Chulalongkorn University.

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NLD Must Own Up to its Policy Mistakes

The Irrawaddy News

Burma’s National League for Democracy (NLD) has been sending conflicting messages about western sanctions.

Much is admirable about the NLD’s endurance in the uphill struggle to force the Burmese military to enter into dialogue with it as a political equal. However, the NLD leadership needs to come clean on the impact of sanctions on the country, and own up to the policy mess it has helped create over the past two decades.

In a February 24 article, Mizzima quoted NLD spokesman Nyan Win as saying: “We have nothing to withdraw, as the economic sanctions were not imposed by us but are only concerned with the country that imposed the sanctions. And we have not done anything that the junta accused us of doing.”

As a lead organizer who helped build the US sanctions and boycott campaign, I personally know for a fact that the top NLD leadership, most specifically Aung San Suu Kyi herself, was closely involved in the sanctions campaign after her release from her first period of house arrest in July 1995.

Our campaign “pigeons” based outside Burma slipped into Rangoon to deliver her our campaign slogans and policy advice. The NLD leader then personally modified and/or blessed these quotes and messages, which we subsequently disseminated in support of the sanctions, boycotts and media campaigns. She had moral authority and international appeal. We had campaigners’ zeal and strategic capacities.

In fact, as far back as June 4, 1989, the Bangkok Post reported on her public call for an international trade and economic boycott. Since then, she has not publicly shifted her position, despite the fact that domestic, regional and international realities are no longer conducive to the use of sanctions.

Originally our “targeted sanctions” campaign was aimed at hurting the generals through their pockets. Strategically, we had hoped to compel the regime to enter into dialogue with her, marrying her non-violent campaign inside Burma with international clamor for change in Burma through western sanctions, diplomatic isolation, media campaigns and other punitive measures at the United Nations.

These efforts were to be supplemented by the armed resistance along the Burmese-Thai borders. To any dispassionate analyst, this “inside-outside” strategy has clearly failed.

The Free Burma Coalition, which spearheaded the western consumer and tourism boycotts, sanctions lobby and media campaigns, was in part responsible for the blocking of the junta’s initial (limited) economic openings in the 1990s, and in consequence any political dividends which may have come from such openings.

Worse still, our well-meaning activism in the West drove, however indirectly, thousands of female workers from the country’s textile industry into economically vulnerable positions, including prostitution and cross-border migrant work.

In the 20 years since we hatched this campaign in the US—12,000 miles away from our country and her realities—the generals have only grown richer, further entrenched and more confident, thanks largely to the country’s strategic natural resources such as gas and oil, the global extractive industry, and the support and cooperation they received from the rising Asian powers, such as China and India.

The NLD, the flagship opposition party, no longer inspires the same degree of confidence among dissidents, neither does it continue to capture the hearts and minds of the bulk of the Burmese citizens. Western governments, the NLD’s greatest supporters, appear to be losing faith in the party’s strategic leadership.

During her Asian tour last week, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the US was reviewing its Burma sanctions policy and hinted at a possible policy shift.

In Washington, a cross-party consensus on sanctions is emerging, to the effect that they are not serving US interests. Republican Senator Richard Lugar, who chaired the
Senate Foreign Affairs Sub-Committee, has acknowledged the futility of 47 years of economic isolation against Cuba.

We know the ruling military government must be held responsible for the negative consequences of its policy and leadership failures since 1962, by virtue of the fact that it makes policy and political decisions unilaterally and undemocratically.

Principles of accountability and transparency should apply to tyrants and democrats alike. I call on the NLD leadership to reflect honestly on the failures of their policies and their impact on society at large, in order for the whole of the opposition movement, which takes cues from Suu Kyi, to move on spiritually and strategically.

The critics of the “constructive engagement” approach have pointed out that engagement with the regime has not worked either. They are right—“constructive engagement” only concerns the generals, rather than civil society.

It is the NGOs, professional associations, chambers of commerce, educational institutions, global citizens and civil society groups that are best positioned to help open up Burma—in all aspects.

Citizen participation in political and economic processes is the foundation for an open and tolerant society, without which no democracy can function. The development of an indigenous business and commercial sector must be seen as part of the change process.

We need to work to develop an open, tolerant society out of the existing conservative and militaristic society. An open society cannot be built at the policy gunpoint of sanctions, any more than instant national reconciliation and dialogue can be imposed by UN resolutions.

I am far less optimistic about high level engagement with the regime than engagement at the level of organizations, institutions and associations in technical fields, culture and art, higher and basic education, public health, agriculture, sports, travel, research, commerce, etc.

If the ultimate goal of democratization is the emergence of an open society which can sustain democratic processes, new policies need to be created to help open up Burmese society and institutions—including the military, exposing them all to the ways of the democratic world.

The NLD leadership can inject life into its politics by choosing to publicly acknowledge the need to adjust its own tried and failed policies and strategies.

Parties, governments and leaders all over the world make mistakes. There is no shame in acknowledging them. Even Burma’s national hero Aung San recognized his mistake in collaborating with Japanese Fascists to fight the British imperialists and he reversed his stance.

The NLD would do well to draw inspiration from his legacy, to save themselves from going down in history as principled but failed leaders whose policies have further impoverished and isolated the society that has been reeling from decades of isolation.

People’s well-being should be placed above the party’s principles or leaders’ “face” by practicing the policy accountability and transparency that they preach.

Even if one disagrees with the “middle class first, democracy second” view of many Asian leaders, one must not overlook the fact that democracy is not just a political process, but also an economic and cultural one, requiring change in all spheres.

We need to have dialogue, debate and formulate solutions for Burma in the genuine spirit of democracy, instead of stigmatizing anti-sanction views and analyses. It is not enough to call for dialogue between the two supreme leaders, Aung San Suu Kyi and Snr-Gen Than Shwe.

After all, democracy is not about the leaders, however brave, noble and admirable. It is about the people, their daily lives, needs and concerns.

Zarni is founder of the Free Burma Coalition and Visiting Research Fellow at Oxford University (2006-09).

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