Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Villagers afraid to report forced labour to ILO

(DVB)–The International Labour Organisation has stated that complainants of forced labour in Burma are at greater risk of imprisonment if they have affiliations with political opposition groups.

The comment came after reports surfaced that villagers in Irrawaddy division had been forced to work on the reconstruction of a road, and were afraid to make a complaint to the ILO for fear of imprisonment.

"We heard about two men from central Burma who were recently thrown into prison for reporting a case to the ILO,” said one of the villagers.

Labour activist Zaw Htay was sentenced to ten years imprisonment in January after helping farmers in Magwe divison file a report to the ILO on land seizures.

His lawyer Pho Phyu, was subsequently sentenced earlier this month to four years imprisonment after defending him at the trial.

“So we are scared we might end up the same way if we complain about what happened in our villages," the villager added.

Steve Marshall, ILO liaison officer in Rangoon, said that, although the vast majority of complainants received no subsequent action from the government, there were some that had.

“The ILO is of the belief that in those cases it is because they are firstly politically active, but are secondly active within the ILO’s supplementary framework as well,” he said.

The supplementary framework is the mechanism which deals with complaints to the ILO in Burma. It stipulates that the government must not harass or arrest people who report forced labour to the ILO or collect information on such practices.

“If someone who has got affiliations and is active in other political activity takes action then the risk of them having some retaliation taken against them increases,” he added.

The ILO reported last month that there has been no reduction in forced labour over the past year, despite ongoing attempts to tackle the problem.

Reporting by Francis Wade and Naw Say Phaw

READ MORE---> Villagers afraid to report forced labour to ILO...

Burmese democracy a daunting task: Abhisit

by Mungpi

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - Thailand’s Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva says Burma remains a hideous blight on an Asian map of otherwise expanding freedoms and growing economies.

Abhisit, during a speech at the 15th anniversary of the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats (CALD), held in Bangkok from March 27 – 30, said while democracy and freedom are expanding in Asia, the struggle in several countries, including Burma, remains daunting.

Abhisit said even as detained Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s unwavering fight for democracy in Burma continues to provide great inspiration and hope for members of CALD and freedom fighters the world over, the struggle for democracy in Burma remains the largest obstacle in the regional expansion of democracy.

“Some of our struggles are more daunting than others. Burma's repressive regime remains a hideous blight on Asia's map of expanding freedoms and growing economies,” Abhisit countered.

The Thai Premier said several countries in Asia are in a transitional stage of economics and governance, and affirmed the challenge for liberal democratic parties is to ensure that such competition occurs within the parameters of credible and free elections, accountable and transparent governance, and the rule of law.

“As liberals, we must tirelessly continue to promote dialogue and seek common ground in mediating disparate interests and opposing positions,” said Abhisit.

READ MORE---> Burmese democracy a daunting task: Abhisit...

More NLD Members Receive Lengthy Prison Sentences

By MIN LWIN
The Irrawaddy News

A court in Rangoon’s Thingangyun Township sentenced six members of the National League for Democracy (NLD) to five years in prison on Monday and extended the sentence of another party member to 18 years, according to sources close to Insein Prison.

It was unclear what the charges were against Tin Mya, the chairman of the NLD’s Thingangyun office, and five other local party members who received five-year sentences. Observers suggested, however, that the timing of the court’s decision was intended to link the six to recent bombings in the former capital.

There were also no details available concerning the ten-year extension of Thingangyun NLD member Ye Zaw Htike’s prison sentence. He was initially sentenced to eight years last November.

Meanwhile, Burma’s military government transferred two other political detainees from Mandalay Prison to prisons in more remote parts of the country.

Than Lwin, the vice-chairman of the NLD’s Mandalay Division headquarters and an elected member of parliament, was transferred to Loikaw Prison in Karenni State on Saturday, while Win Mya Mya, a female NLD party activist, was sent to Putao Prison in Kachin State.

Than Lwin, who is suffering from a serious injury to his left eye, has been serving an eight-year prison sentence since 2007, when he attempted to file assault charges against members of the junta-backed Union Solidity Development Association.

He accused the pro-junta thugs of attacking him in June 2007 while he was returning from a pagoda in Madaya Township, Mandalay Division, where he prayed for NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s release from house arrest.

READ MORE---> More NLD Members Receive Lengthy Prison Sentences...

Than Shwe’s Election Plans

By Yeni
The Irrawaddy News

Without Snr-Gen Than Shwe’s say-so, Burma can’t make a move. That was the subtext of his message to the nation on March 27, Armed Forces Day. It was a sobering reminder to the world and the Burmese people that this is a general who sees no need for compromise, and who expects the whole country to fall in line with his plans with the same unquestioning obedience as the 13,000 troops who paraded past him in a display of military might.

In his 17-minute speech, delivered at his new “royal” capital of Naypyidaw, Than Shwe rejected calls from the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) for a review of a new constitution approved last year in a referendum widely denounced as a sham. There will be no review, the general said, because the “constitution [was] adopted by the people.(JEG's: the ones who were dead during the cyclone and provided their fingerprints towards approval of the constitution, the favourable votes counted from the ones that were not allowed to vote, the votes obtained under duress and threats... all is fair to the Don's game)

In defiance of diplomatic pressure to engage with the NLD and other pro-democracy forces, Than Shwe has made it abundantly clear that he is in no mood for reconciliation. After nearly twenty years of relentlessly persecuting the winners of the last election in 1990, he now believes that he is close to achieving his ultimate victory: an electoral outcome that guarantees his perpetual grip on power.

So far, the junta has disclosed few details about the election it has promised to hold sometime in 2010. No date has been set, and no candidates have been named. But in his speech, Than Shwe left no doubt about his intention to keep a firm hold over the proceedings. Political parties that carry out “mature party organizing work will receive the blessing of the government,” he said, implying that those who are “immature” enough to question the military’s right to rule as it sees fit can expect to be sidelined, or worse.

The regime has made no secret of the fact that “disciplined democracy” is essentially an extension of the current political arrangement, which elevates the armed forces above all other institutions.

Under its new constitution, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces—currently Than Shwe—is entitled to appoint military officials to 25 percent of the seats in each of the country’s two legislative assemblies, the 440-seat People’s Parliament and the 224-seat National Parliament. And if this is not enough to guarantee that other political forces march to his tune, there is another provision which permits the commander-in-chief to reinstate direct military rule at his discretion.

It was not surprising, then, to hear in Than Shwe’s speech this year a note of growing confidence that was absent from his last Armed Forces Day address, in which he reassured any who cared to listen that he was not power hungry and would, in due course, hand over power to an elected successor.

A lot has changed since then. A year ago, Than Shwe was still under intense international pressure following the brutal crackdown on peaceful demonstrations led by Buddhist monks in late 2007. But by May, he had successfully pulled off a rigged constitutional referendum that delivered more than 90 percent approval. And while this farce was playing out in the background, the world’s attention was transfixed by a humanitarian catastrophe that also, ultimately, played directly into the hands of the generals. Unlike the killing of untold numbers of monks in 2007, the regime’s callous disregard for the suffering caused by Cyclone Nargis was easily redeemed by belated and grudging cooperation with international aid groups.

This year, there was no need to talk about transferring power. Instead, Than Shwe used his speech to issue a series of warnings. Politicians should “refrain from inciting unrest [and] avoid personal attacks and smear campaigns against other parties.” And, most importantly, candidates must not follow the example of another, unnamed opposition group that went astray because it looked to foreign countries for “guidance and inspiration [and] followed the imported ideologies and directives irrationally.”

At the moment, Than Shwe seems quite certain that he will achieve his goal of legitimizing perpetual military rule. But if his plans hit a snag, don’t be surprised if the election is suspended indefinitely. Even as he approaches his moment of triumph, he appears to be wary of raising expectations. That is why he quoted a well-known Burmese proverb—“a recently dug well cannot be expected to produce clear water immediately”—and concluded his speech with these words: “Democracy in [Burma] today is at a fledgling stage and still requires patient care and attention.”

Keeping the hopes of the Burmese people at bay while satisfying the international community’s perfunctory calls for something resembling democracy in Burma are all part of the delicate balancing act that Than Shwe has had to perform over the past two decades. Now, however, he appears to be reaching the end of his tightrope. But one small misstep—or a sudden gust of outrage from a nation that is more at the mercy of economic forces than almost any other—and he could soon find that the heights that he now commands are not as unassailable as he imagines.

READ MORE---> Than Shwe’s Election Plans...

Capitalizing on a flawed electoral process

by Joseph Ball

(Mizzima) As ripples continue to reverberate from the recently concluded and rare visit of an American official to Burma's administrative center of Naypyitaw, and the announcement by the Obama administration that it is conducting a review of the Burma policy it inherited from its predecessor, it becomes even more imperative for Burma's democratic opposition to contemplate a strategy for the 2010 elections, and beyond.

A lasting, durable democracy demands commitment to democratic norms, a vibrant and well-rooted party system and active public debate and pursuit of competing, though not mutually exclusive, agendas. There should be no illusion, such an environment does not exist in Burma and will not, under any scenario, be in place within 12 months' time.

Presently, the 2010 general elections can only serve one purpose, that of a legitimating action for whatever party comes out on top. The elections themselves are ultimately drastically more significant for a select group of elites inside and outside the country than for the tens of millions of citizenry eligible to vote. Far from anchoring a system of majority rule and symbolizing the existence of a complex political scene epitomized not by absolutes but rather by a myriad of overlapping interests and agendas, an election next year – as currently encapsulated – will simply have one outcome: the labeling, among the elite, of unconditional winners and losers.

To this end, it is self-defeating for the mainstream opposition to conceive of American overtures toward the junta as a conduit through which to reiterate demands of the generals ensconced in Naypyitaw. And further, it should be understood that the U.S., for multiple reasons related to both international and domestic interests, is not positioned to unilaterally and effectively make demands of the junta.

For example, insistence on the part of the opposition and related through an American envoy that the election must be free and fair and results honored is tantamount, or is at least perceived to be by the country's elite, as rubberstamping what the outcome must be beforehand. There is no trust being built and precious little outlook as to how the country might pull itself out of its downward spiral in the critical years following 2010 – merely an assurance that Burma will continue to epitomize national bifurcation.

As much as it may not speak to the ideal endgame of some within the democratic opposition, if the crisis paralyzing the country is to be reoriented in a positive direction, Burma's predicament likely mandates that democratization be conducted gradually and characterized by a spirit of political compromise – by all sides. Such a process is not altogether dissimilar to those initiated by several regional countries in recent decades.

Consideration will need to be given to what hybrid civilian-military forms of bureaucratic administration could be made, in the short term, acceptable to all concerned. Without question, the current proposal birthed from last May's troubled constitutional referendum leaves much room for improvement, and changes to its current form are imminent if a successful compromise is to be found.

Yet, it must also not be forgotten that democracy demands institutionalization, and the Army is a rarity in this regard in today's Burma.

Agreeing in principle to a less than ideal hybrid form of government should not be confused with abdicating from democratic goals and ideals or capitulating to the junta's long aired 'roadmap to democracy' or 'disciplined democracy', it is but an alternative, and potentially less volatile, means of reaching the same destination by accounting for the structural and strategic realities of the country today – an approach that could see the advent of renewed economic development, observance of rights and respect for the rule of law, not to mention the return of U.S.-led engagement and financial interests.

At its crudest, the proposed elections of next year could at least reintroduce multi-party politics to the citizenry of Burma. This is true even, as is likely, only state authorized and sanctioned parties are permitted to participate.

For a population, and corresponding infrastructure and institutions, virtually bereft of electoral experience and familiarity with a democratic process, 2010 can at least serve as the point of inception for a multi-party democratic society, the first vestiges of a fragile political seedling in its growth toward durable maturity.

In such a domestic political environment, opposition parties may still opt to stand outside the electoral process, voicing concerns for the shortcomings of the system at hand and continuing to educate and inform the general population as to the merits and means of a democratic process. However, importantly, the rhetoric of such opposition groups would need to drastically change from its current form – and the standing government would need to accommodate the need for divergent voices within society to have freer access to the dissemination of information inside the country.

If parties do in fact choose to manifest their opposition by remaining outside the formal political process, it will fall to their leaderships' best judgment as to when to reenter the formal political system, a move that will then further strengthen and legitimate an evolving democratic political landscape.

This scenario could provide the U.S., other countries and entities whose relationships vis-à-vis Burma's generals are currently epitomized by an unmistakably aura of hostility, to pursue a spirit of engagement with the Burmese government that transcends the current polarization and allows for constructive, if not necessarily warm, relations to take root. The international community could come to play a significantly larger and more visible role in monitoring political progress inside Burma and ensuring that wrong turns – along what is sure to be a much potholed road – are avoided.

If another opportunity to redress the flawed means of exercising political power in Burma is not to be lost – and the system made at least less imperfect and imbued with a new sense of hope for the future – a principle component of political strategy by the opposition camp for 2010 and beyond must be precisely just that…forward looking and long-term in approach.

READ MORE---> Capitalizing on a flawed electoral process...

Numbers of the beast: the politics of superstition

By Joseph Alde

(DVB)–In many parts of the world it is easy to forget that a government - the apparatus that controls our economy and that has the power to send us to war or to jail - is, like any institution, at the mercy of human idiosyncrasies.

In Burma, however the idiosyncrasies of those ceaselessly in power are painfully present in decisive moments in the nation’s as well as individuals’ lives.

Often viewed as the light-hearted past time of housewives, astrology takes on a new meaning in Burma these days. Studying the imprisonment of political dissidents one may notice that an awful lot are sentenced to 65 years for a variety of benign actions. The choice of this number, a painfully long stint at the best of times, is done because the two numbers equal 11.

The prerogative for this number that crops up time and again as a sentence is pronounced is that, in Burmese numerological mythology, 11 is the number that vanquishes enemies. As simply sentencing them to a mere 11 years would not be enough, some have even had their sentencing delayed so it can occur at 11am/pm on 11 November; roll on 2011.

The brunt of such idiosyncrasy is not just borne by those questioning rule in their country. The site for the new capital Napyidaw, the latest ‘place of kings’ hidden deep in the Burmese jungle 350 miles north of the old capital, was chosen by astrologers.

The unfortunate new residents, mainly government workers, were forced to move from the old capital Rangoon at an astrologically opportune moment, one that unsurprisingly was not so auspicious in the construction world. The buildings they were to live and work in were not complete, meaning government officials were forced to shack up in unfinished shells of buildings. To relieve any worries however, the new capital will sport a new astrology museum.

Living or, even more worryingly, ruling on such a basis takes governing to unprecedented levels of incompetence. No example has been more potent than former Prime Minister Ne Win’s infamous dabbling in the Burmese currency soon after he rose to power following the 1962 coup. People watched as overnight he scrapped all banknotes that were not divisible by nine – Ne Win’s lucky number – and the country woke up to find that the majority of banknotes they had were useless.

Superstition and idiosyncrasy is not unfamiliar ground for dictators to tread. Indeed former Ugandan ruler Idi Amin would probably have gladly bathed in dolphin’s blood with Ne Win, as the latter was alleged to have done to reinvigorate his youth. His political leanings likewise can be viewed as somewhat malleable: fighting for fascists, against communism, all under the banner of socialism.

Violent psychosis

The current junta’s method for ensuring longevity is often the adherence to a belief system known as ‘yadaya’. It is expressed, amongst other things, by the forcing farmers to grow sunflowers despite there not being any viable market for them. They apparently ensure perpetuation of the regime and ward off any evil, likely to include opposition movements.

It is sad that Burma’s ‘non-interfering’ trade partners and arms dealers across the world don’t recognise that they are perpetuating a violent psychosis at the heart of the Burmese government.

But perhaps they do; perhaps the ambassadorial reports sent home tell of the Ouija board events at official functions, although it is unlikely that the recipients care. For nations looking to do business, whether it be selling arms or extracting resources, it is usually beneficial, economically, to have a delusional tyrant who can be bought off at the expense of his people.

But if one assumes that the prevalence of superstition amongst the military leaders of Burma is all bad news, think again. They are also said to possess similar weaknesses. The Lanna Action group exposed this when they encouraged women to send their underwear to Burmese foreign ministries abroad under the banner of ‘Panties for Peace’: the ruling junta suffer from an awkward superstitious belief that merely touching women’s garments will sap their powers.

Superstition is not unique to the military junta or Burma. Much of the world’s population possess similar beliefs but there are few whose use it in quite the same way. From Bush’s ‘God-sponsored’, bloodstained meddling in the Middle East, to Hitler’s eugenics, real lives are scarred by the fantasy worlds inhabited by leaders. The truth of the matter is that when the going gets weird, the weird need to get going, from office.

READ MORE---> Numbers of the beast: the politics of superstition...

The sky is not blue in Burma

By David Calleja
Online Opinion

The recent decision by the Burmese military to release 6,313 prisoners indicates that the rulers are well-versed in undertaking public relations exercises ahead of proposed multi-party elections in 2010.

Some parties see this as a positive first step in the seven-stage roadmap to democracy; a sign that the junta may be ready to enter the international community after years of isolation. But Burma has been at war for more than six decades. The military uses armed conflict, rape, torture and displacement of civilians. Of the inmates that have been released, 24 are deemed political prisoners.

According to the Burma Campaign UK, there are more than 2,100 political prisoners still behind bars. As for a people’s power movement, an anonymous Burmese blogger on the BBC website remarked that the junta’s way of dealing with such a concept is to “simply shoot everybody”.

The military authorities are grinning because they have tossed a bone to the outside world with the promise of an election next year, and in doing so, have driven a wedge in the international community who are divided over what to make of this announcement.

The United Nations and the Japanese government adopt a policy of dialogue and diplomacy with the junta, and see this as a breakthrough. However, history has shown us that military authorities in power are unlikely to give up authority so easily. The Burmese army’s condition is the insistence that will play a powerful role in the parliamentary make-up and retain 25 per cent of seats in parliament.

Naturally, the most famous political prisoner in Burma and around the world, leader of the National League for Democracy, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, continues to remain under house arrest. Her party’s deputy leader, 82-year-old Tin Oo, also remains confined to his home in detention. The United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, has repeatedly called for the unconditional and immediate release of Aung San Suu Kyi. Yet the UN’s Special Envoy for Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, has failed to win any concessions. It is little wonder that Aung San Suu Kyi is tired of appearing for the media when it is clear that the Burmese leadership will not change their hardline stance.

The Burmese military are the only party interested in seeing Gambari on a regular basis because they know it serves as a distraction from their failure to assist the victims of Cyclone Nargis and for the endless and well-documented abuses against its own people, especially ethnic minorities.

In a response to the Asian edition of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial criticising the value of Gambari’s visits published on August 28, 2008, the Consulate-General of Burma (Myanmar) to Hong Kong defended Gambari by praising the mutual respect shown between the junta and the Special Envoy for Burma. At the same time, the unnamed official has accused critics of failing to listen to the Burmese government’s side of the story, saying that if “such people wear dark glasses, you cannot see the truth”.

When the 2007 Saffron Revolution commenced, the junta stopped the flow of information to the outside world by blocking 85 per cent of e-mails and blocked foreign news agencies from reporting within Burma's borders, thus restricting live streaming of events.

One courageous individual, Nay Phone Latt, who streamed a rare glimpse into the actions of the armed forces was arrested and tried without legal representation. He was found guilty of breaching both the Electronics Act and the Video Act and sentenced to 20 years in jail. One year later, Burmese publications in exile such as The Irrawaddy and Democratic Voice for Burma were shut down by the junta.

Too many nations have forgotten that the Burmese military brutally crushed unarmed monks and civilians showing their support, resulting in the death of hundreds of protestors and detention of thousands more.

The events of 2007 must now seem distant with international media attention shifting to cover the global financial crisis. Each country is implementing measures to protect their economies. United States President Barack Obama will obviously review policy towards Burma, but his priorities are stopping the war in Afghanistan, and improving diplomatic relations with Iran, North Korea, and Russia. Now is the time for the rest of the world to go beyond the stages of talking tough.

The United Kingdom, the European Union, Canada, the members of ASEAN and Australia need to take a more proactive role. Burma's allies, notably China and India, need to stop insisting that private diplomacy will work in convincing the regime to step down and change their ways. The proposed elections in Burma will allow the military to commit more crimes against its own population and give General Than Shwe a chance to make an honourable exit.

Under the present climate, no polls will be free or fair. The National League for Democracy will be barred from fielding candidates, and restrictions on voting will be implemented to prevent an overwhelming protest vote against the junta’s candidates by the rural population who have suffered the most.

The Burmese government also has the option of cancelling the election if they suspect a perceived or genuine threat to their power is possible by citing security concerns in the country’s best interests. This ploy will be undoubtedly described as “despicable” and “unacceptable”, but for all of the colourful adjectives that world leaders and the United Nations are capable of using, the military junta will not listen nor care.

The Burmese government’s ignorance for the plight of its own people is best demonstrated in the closing line of a letter defending Ibrahim Gambari’s visits: “The sky is always blue in the Union of Myanmar.”

Their version of reality cannot be any further from the truth. For far too long now, the military dictatorship of Burma has held a gun to the heads of their own people and left bloodstains and bullets as calling cards. The innocent people of Burma cannot afford to be left vulnerable in the dark anymore.

About the Author

David Calleja is a freelance writer who is a regular contributor to Foreign Policy Journal and Hack Writers. In 2008, he worked as a teacher and soccer coach in the Internally Displaced Persons camp based in Loi Tailang, Shan State, Burma. His writing focuses on human interest stories in Burma, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. David has also worked as an English teacher in South Korea, China, Thailand and Cambodia. His video depicting the lives of families living on the grounds of Steung Meanchey Waste Dump in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, A Garbage Diet, can be viewed here.


READ MORE---> The sky is not blue in Burma...

Burma PM asks businessmen for unity

JEG's translation:
UNITY in junta's language = $$$donation$ from busine$$men

(Bangkok Post-AFP)-Burma Prime Minister Thein Sein on Tuesday urged businessmen to display unity with the country's military government ahead of elections planned for next year.

The country's ruling junta has announced the polls under its so-called "roadmap to democracy" but critics have denounced the vote as a sham designed to entrench the generals' rule.

Thein Sein told an annual meeting of the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chamber of Commerce and Industry in the capital Naypyidaw that businessmen should help the government.

"As the government is implementing the tasks step by step within the timeframe towards a new democratic nation which people expect, the main step of the country's future elections will be held," Thein Sein said.

"I believe that we can implement this road map to form the Union of Republic of Myanmar by uniting together with national businessmen," he said.

Burma has been ruled by the military since 1962 and is under tough sanctions by the US and European countries because of its human rights records and continued detention of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The military regime plans to hold the elections under a new constitution that was approved in May last year, days after Cyclone Nargis devastated southern regions of the country and left 138,000 people dead or missing.

"We need future plans to... overcome all political disturbances to the nation as well as challenges especially in this global economic crisis," Thein Sein said.

The chairman of the business group, Win Myint, said they would follow the premier's call.

"We businessmen will act unitedly as per the prime minister's instructions," he told AFP.

"We have made no preparations recently for coming 2010 elections but our organization will help (the government) in a private capacity. We welcome the coming elections," he said. (JEG's: bankrolling corruption and the TS-regime --- how nice, that is a western custom by the way,,, perhaps conveniently adapting west to Burma's generals elections? :):):))

Win Myint also said sanctions that are supposed to target the junta harmed businessmen and workers instead, adding that they had quizzed the UN's top envoy to Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, about the topic when he visited in February.

"We asked the visiting UN special envoy Mr Gambari when we met him to ease sanctions as it delays our work and harms our workers," he said. (JEG's: The sanctions were imposed on the generals' pockets not on the workers...)

READ MORE---> Burma PM asks businessmen for unity...

Monday, March 30, 2009

Ethnic Karen armed group announces new, official presence in Three Pagodas Pass

MonNews-IMNA
By Mon Son and Blai Mon, IMNA

An ethnic Karen armed group has opened a new office in Three Pagodas Pass. The new presence in the border town follows reports that the group would be given control of territory for a new “economic development zone” after agreeing to turn its soldiers into a border guard force for the Burmese army.

Yesterday morning, the KNU/KNLA Peace Council (KPC) formally opened an office at a meeting with other armed ceasefire groups and officials from the Burmese government. The meeting, held at an office announced as the “KPC Communications Office” on a signboard outside, began at 8am and ended before lunch.

Prior to opening the office, the KPC had no official presence in Three Pagodas Pass. How the opening of the office was related to recent reports of the economic zone and border force agreement could not be confirmed; IMNA could obtain no comment from the KPC.

Details of the economic zone have also remained sketchy. Last month, sources in Three Pagodas reported to IMNA that the group had been granted 100 acres adjacent to territory officially controlled by the New Mon State Party (NMSP) since the Mon group agreed to a ceasefire in 1995. The agreement followed reports published by the Irrawaddy that the KPC would act as government controlled border guards.

The KPC said that their new office will be for economic activities, said a source at the meeting. No mentions of the levying of taxes or creation of KPC border guards were made, added the source.

Three other ethnic cease-fire groups operate with official sanction in the Three Pagodas area, raising questions about how the new KPC will fit into the existing order. Representatives of the groups, known as the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), the Karen Peace Front (KPF) and the NMSP all attended the meeting, along with officials from the Three Pagodas Pass Township Peace and Development Council and the Sa Ya Pa Military Intelligence.

The DKBA and the KPF collect taxes inside Three Pagodas Pass Town, while both groups plus the NMSP and Karen National Union/Karen National Liberation Army (KNU/KNLA) – which has yet to agree to a ceasefire – operate checkpoints and tolls along area travel routes. The NMSP, too, has officially controlled territory near Three Pagodas Pass since agreeing to a ceasefire in 1995.

The DKBA, KPF and KPC were all formed after splitting from the KNU/KNLA in 1994, 1997 and 2007 respectively; the KNU/KNLA continues an armed insurgency began at the dawn of Burma’s independence in 1948.

“The KPC opening a new office will not make a problem,” said a source in the KPF. “The KPC will also have a chance to do their own economic activities in Three Pagodas Pass. The NMSP, KPC, KPF and DKBA will all do their own projects too – there does not need to be conflict.”

Three Pagodas Pass residents are less sanguine, at least about the prospects of paying taxes to group on top of already steep demands by government and cease-fire groups alike. “If they open an office, they will open a checkpoint later. It is sure,” a truck owner who makes his living transporting goods to and from Three Pagodas Pass told IMNA. “And we will have to pay more taxes than before.”

“The KPC does not only want to open an office and do business,” said another resident. “They also want to extend their area.”

Space for operation of new groups was not so freely abundant just 6 months ago, however, when the KPC was unable to get permission to set up a road checkpoint to tax travel about 50 miles away near Kya-inn-seik-kyi, Karen State. “We can’t allow the council to set up a checkpoint. There are already too many groups operating in the area,” IMNA quoted a government military source in Three Pagodas Pass during the first week of October. “The peace council delegation already left Three Pagoda Pass, and will retreat from the Kya-inn-seik-kyi area.”

There have also been rumors in Three Pagodas that the KPC has been struggling to finalize its special economic zone, for which there has been no official announcement.

Earlier this month, a source in the KPF told IMNA that the KPC delegation that traveled to Moulmein to obtain official permission for the economic zone was refused on the grounds that the government does not control the territory in question. A source in the NMSP next door, however, maintains that the land is in fact government controlled.

Rumors about the location of the proposed zone continue, with sources in Three Pagodas Pass saying it is now to be near Taung Wine quarter, just outside of Three Pagodas Pass Town. In February, a KPC officer had told IMNA that the group had been granted the “full amount” of what it wanted, including the territory adjacent to the NMSP.

READ MORE---> Ethnic Karen armed group announces new, official presence in Three Pagodas Pass...

Political prisoners transferred despite worsening health

(DVB)–Imprisoned National League for Democracy member Win Mya Mya has undergone a prison transfer for the second time in a week amid reports that she is in declining health.

She was imprisoned in September 2007 along with five others under charges of sedition after joining the monk-led protests. She was sentenced to 12 years in prison after a court case held inside Mandalay jail.

She was transferred from Mandalay jail on 22 March and then transferred again last Saturday to Pu-tao jail in the far-north of Burma.

Her family members were notified of the transfers but learnt of them from local people, her brother Ba Soe said.

"NLD members living along the Mandalay-Myikyina railroad said they saw Daw Win Mya Mya on the train,” her brother Ba Soe said.

“She is suffering from nerve diseases caused by the [2003] Depayin massacre and her blood level is low and she has diabetes."

The Depayin massacre occurred in May 2003 when around 70 NLD members were killed by a government-backed militia.

Win Mya Mya maintains her defiance despite her appeal being rejected, he added, claiming she said:

"I am being sent to where I deserve for my works. You live one day, you die one day. I don’t care if they sent me to the moon."

Meanwhile, 88 generation student leader Min Ko Naing is suffering from immobility in his hands and high blood pressure due to lack of exercise, his sister Kyi Kyi Nyunt said.

“He is not allowed to take a walk,” she said. “He is not sweating, so they ask him to jump.

“He only develops pains, but no sweats, he said in a letter.”

There is no regular doctor at Kengtung jail in eastern Burma where he is being held, Kyi Kyi Nyunt said.

In other news, 13 people including members of National League for Democracy, the 88 generation students and aid-workers for victims of cyclone Nargis were given prison sentences last Monday ranging from three to seven years.

Four cyclone aid-workers, Yin Yin Wai, Tin Tin Cho, Myat Thu and Nemo Hlaing, were sentenced to three years each under the Unlawful Association Act.

88 Generation Students member Myo Thant was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment under sedition charges.

Three people who were arrested in links with the 88 generation students; Htin Aung, Than Htun Zin and Tin Htun, were sentenced to five years’ imprisonment each under the unlawful association act for allegedly forming an unlawful association.

All sentences were passed during court cases held inside Insein prison.

Reporting by Ye May Aung and Nam Kham Kaew

READ MORE---> Political prisoners transferred despite worsening health...

Lawyers group request abolition of Unlawful Association Act

(DVB)–A Thailand-based Burmese lawyers group has requested that Burma’s ruling junta abolish the Unlawful Association Act under which many political dissidents have been sentenced to imprisonment.

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma, the Act has so far been used by the ruling State Peace and Development Council to sentence 365 political activists.

It is used as a charge against people alleged to have connections with groups deemed illegal under Burmese law. Even members of parties not listed as unlawful, however, were being targeted, said U Myo, a legal analyst for Burma Lawyers Council.

“The SPDC is also jailing people [under the Act] from groups that are not listed as unlawful associations, such as [opposition party] National League for Democracy,” he said.

“That is highly inappropriate under legal terms.”

U Myo added that the Act, which was endorsed by the British occupiers of Burma in 1908, was no longer suitable.

Furthermore, he said, the junta is yet to revoke declaration of Unlawful Association upon armed groups that have cease-fire agreements with the government.

“According to what was written in the law, the junta has to declare that these groups are no more listed under Unlawful Associations when they make a cease-fire agreement them,” said U Myo.

“They have not done it yet and that shows they are being dishonest.”

On 18 March, lawyer Pho Phyu was sentenced to four years imprisonment under the Unlawful Associations Act.

He had been representing four farmers who were arrested in January after they complained to the International Labour Organisation of land seizures by the military.

According to AAPP there are around 17 lawyers serving sentences in Burmese prisons.

Reporting by Aye Nai

READ MORE---> Lawyers group request abolition of Unlawful Association Act...

General’s Promotion Signals Power Struggles at the Top

By MIN LWIN
The Irrawaddy News

Burma’s top-ranking generals know that they must hang together or risk hanging separately. But that doesn’t mean that there are no real rivalries among the men who rule the country with an iron fist.

When Snr-Gen Than Shwe promoted Thiha Thura Tin Aung Myint Oo to the rank of four-star general last Wednesday, two days before Armed Forces Day, he was not just rewarding a junior colleague for his loyal service: he was undercutting potential rivals for power.

Burma’s three four-star generals: Shwe Mann, Thein Sein and Tin Aung Myint Oo (Photo: AP)

Tin Aung Myint Oo, who is now one of only three four-star generals in the country, is reportedly close to the regime’s second-most powerful figure, Vice Snr-Gen Maung Aye. By promoting him, however, Than Shwe has ensured that Tin Aung Myint Oo’s first loyalty will now be to the senior general.

“This is a power struggle between Than Shwe and Maung Aye,” said an observer in Rangoon.

Tin Aung Myint Oo’s promotion comes as no surprise. He was often seen accompanying Maung Aye and powerful commanders, including the air defense department and intelligence chiefs, on trips around the country.

Burmese military observers suggest that Tin Aung Myint Oo’s promotion marks the rise of a third powerful faction to rival those led by Gen Thura Shwe Mann, the coordinator of Special Operations, Army, Navy and Air Force, and Lt-General Myint Swe, chief of the Bureau of Special Operation No 5.

All three groups now vie for Than Shwe’s favor, even as they seek to keep each other from rising any higher within the inner circle.

Tin Aung Myint Oo, who is in his early 60s, is the fifth-ranking general in the military hierarchy. More importantly, he holds the title of Secretary 1 of the ruling military council and has long been groomed for a prominent position in the junta.

In 1995, he was appointed head of the No 1 Military Operation Command, based in Kyaukme Township in northern Shan State, as a brigadier-general. He became commander of the Northeast Military Region in Lashio in 1997. Ten years later, when Gen Thein Sein became prime minister, Tin Aung Myint Oo took over as Secretary 1.

Burmese observers say that Tin Aung Myint Oo is a hardliner who is skeptical of offers of foreign humanitarian assistance and UN involvement in the Cyclone Nargis relief effort. He recently visited the cyclone-hit Irrawaddy delta and has been named deputy head of the National Disaster Preparedness Central Committee.

According to these observers, Than Shwe watches Shwe Mann, Tin Aung Myint Oo and Myint Swe closely to decide who will become the next Burmese military chief.

Sources inside Burma have noted that all three are close to Than Shwe’s family and loyal to the top commander, making it unlikely that any one of them would stage coup against him.

But Than Shwe doesn’t just prize loyalty towards himself: he also likes to cultivate mutual mistrust among his protégés.

At the moment, the most noteworthy rivalry is that between Tin Aung Myint Oo and Shwe Mann, another Than Shwe favorite who is said to be close to several businessmen and scholars involved in getting humanitarian assistance to the cyclone-affected areas of the delta.

Nyo Ohn Myint, head of the foreign affairs office of the National League for Democracy (Liberated Area), said that Tin Aung Myint Oo’s promotion was a classic Than Shwe maneuver.

“He wants to make competition between Shwe Mann and Tin Aung Myint Oo,” said Nyo Ohn Myint. “Than Shwe doesn’t want to rely on just one person, Shwe Mann.”

READ MORE---> General’s Promotion Signals Power Struggles at the Top...

The Consequences of Elitism

By ARTHUR SIM
The Irrawaddy News

In the mid-1990s, Burma began to see the emergence of a new class of foreign-educated civilian elites at home and abroad. Many Burmese youths on the border had decided to settle in a third country and Western embassies in Rangoon started to sponsor study trips and professional training for notable local personalities in media and social work who would later be known under the banner of “civil society.”

By the early 2000s, the ruling junta had learned how to cleverly manipulate different stakeholders for its own strategic interests by allowing them well-calculated and limited political space instead of merely using crude methods of oppression.

After Depayin, a few leading Western-trained Burmese activists came to reckon that there was no prospect of ending the deadlock in the traditional paradigm of the conflict between the junta on one side and the mainstream opposition led by Aung San Suu Kyi on the other.

Renouncing sanctions and advocating Track Two diplomacy, they came to highlight the role of moderates in national reconciliation. This, in effect, seemed to be the beginning of a movement which would be joined a few years later by like-minded intellectuals, veteran bureaucrats, media people, NGO careerists, ethnic peacemakers and business people in and outside Burma.

Regular scholarly seminars and increased networking among the best-trained Burmese have finally given the movement an air of elitism. Ideological underpinnings can influence elite behaviour and ambitions. Is this movement just an elitist maneuver of masterminding strategic assumptions in closed-door meetings? How much are these new elites prepared for different scenarios of political and social change in Burma?

The movement obviously is not monolithic. Media organizations have attempted to pin down some of its voices as Third Force or Third Group. Policy circles want to promote it as “emergent civil society” or “alternative elites” that differ from military and opposition elites.

The third force can be understood in two different ways. The first one is to see it as a movement that is agnostic about the traditional power struggle between the military regime and pro-democracy oppositions. The second is to understand it as a force which would pursue its interests by collaborating (or cooperating) with status quo powers in a “given” political process. Two other forces are hardliners refusing to work with the regime and hardcore activists aiming to participate in the process as a battleground for further confrontations.

The third force therefore shows more political ambition in the second interpretation. Empirically, the process means the Road Map and 2010 elections. Several third forcers accordingly view the 2008 constitution as a “transitional document,” and the future legislature as a substantial political platform.Their optimism has been reinforced by certain theories of “pacted transition” that focus on agency in the context of elite bargaining. They apparently take structural conditions only lightly and argue that 2010 will be a “structural shift.”

This second definition of the third force not only presents analytical problems, but also makes it unattractive. For one reason, the idea can accommodate a myriad of agents ranging from pro-Road Map clans, disgruntled former opposition members, veteran and seasoned politicians to ambitious kingmakers and power brokers of all stripes who would receive relative gains in the new system. This conceptual ground will be untenable if one group wants to exclude the others on value judgement.

For another, political leanings and independence of these groups vary greatly, raising the question of the definition of “moderates.” In a democratic transition, moderates will not be marked with “moderate” sign on their foreheads. Were the handful of former National League for Democracy MP-elects who decided to remain at the National Convention moderates? Will an outspoken, democratic representative highly critical of the regime’s dishonourable policies be considered too confrontational and branded as a hardliner? Will institutional contexts allow such a citizen to make it to Burma’s legislature and survive?

The regional political atmosphere indicates that Burma is moving in the direction of an “authoritarian transition”, but without enlightened leadership and respect of liberal values. Against this backdrop, domestic civilian elites will have a role to play. However, the reality on the ground may not be as simple as a few select strands of strategic thoughts, speculations, and wishful thinking that some of them have chosen to believe.

One of the striking features of the third force intellectualism is its optimism about Burma’s new constitution. Many third forcers choose to overlook the fact that the 2008 constitution was never meant to be a “transitional document” by the ruling military. Burma’s constitutional conundrum actually runs deeper than conceding 25 percent of legislative seats to the armed forces. The amendment procedure is purposely made rigid and difficult. Even if an amendment in favor of further democratization is procedurally successful, the commander-in-chief can stage a coup d’état under the pretext of preserving the constitution.

In terms of rights and freedom, the constitution adopts a parsimonious approach. Even the most fundamental rights are at the mercy of the whim of the regime which it vaguely refers to as “laws”. In post-colonial, developing countries, the most disturbing problem is the system of “rule by law” in the guise of “rule of law.” In such a system, governments may use any law, colonial or post-independence, arbitrarily to suppress political dissent. Mainly identifying democracy with elections and constitutions, some third-force strategists make irrelevant comparisons between consolidated democracies and illiberal regimes, magnifying checks and balances, real and imagined, in the latter.

Commonsensical reading of the country’s history implies that structural conditions and the essence of the Union Parliament after 2010 will be similar to those in the National Convention or in the Burmese Socialist Programme Party-era People’s Assembly. The most likely scenario will be representatives or delegates reading out the scripts that have been prepared in advance and authorized by centralized committees. The constitution requires a minimum of only one session of the Union legislature per year. With military representatives who also are public servants, one session might not be able to run for more than a few months. In fact, the constitution does not even need legislators to make laws. Union level organizations can also initiate a bill.

Thus, in the years that follow 2010, Burma’s alternative elites will be judged not by how much fascinating ideas about elite agreement they possess, but by how much they can achieve inside rigid and illiberal institutions. It is the essence which really matters. The ideas that disproportionately pay attention only to the form will be no more meaningful than those of Burmese exiles writing one constitution after another or forming one parallel government after another.

Indeed, a variety of elite groups that can closely associate with policy circles have gradually emerged over the past decade. Some enjoy cosy relationships with the military top brass and have come to believe they can actually influence the men in uniform. Overestimating their own ability and underestimating the psychological game the regime plays with them, they ignore important aspects of societal attitudes and mindsets which constitute the nation’s political culture. For these pseudo-political Brahmans, lobbying, networking, and tea-leaves reading on military elites have become rites and rituals.

Elitist movements downplay mass preferences, and the correlation between politics and passion. Yet, how will it be possible to explain the choice of political prisoners prepared to spend several years in prison for their beliefs? Why are some activists taking great personal risks to engage in specific civic movements?

Burma has a paradoxical political culture that oscillates between two extremes. At one end lies the “zero sum” mindset which sees everything from an “absolute gain” perspective. On the other, there is lax accommodation which allows ample space for contradictory thoughts and actions. The tension between them seemed to have created both radical breaks and unresolved conflicts in the nation’s history. Under oppressive regimes, Burmese political elites who tried to change or undermine the system from “within” never had much success. They mostly became ineffective and unresponsive to the people’s inputs with time.

Burmese political culture also has been marked by populism exploited by paternalist elites. A number of pre-war Burmese politicians, who also were elitist conservatives, shrewdly ran their campaigns on populist platforms. The electoral victories of late prime minister U Nu and Aung San Suu Kyi came from their direct appeal to populist roots.

Democratization is a long, evolutionary process. Western consolidated democracies also had to undergo elite-monopolized stages of transition until this was effectively challenged by civil and political rights movements of the 1960s. The fact that there are dynamics of social movements in every political development should not be overlooked. Such dynamics were recurrent about every ten years in Burma under colonial administration and authoritarian regimes. Burma’s road to democracy will be long, but civilian political elites will not have an indefinite tenure to reform decades-old structural conditions. In a future government, they will also be countered by their military colleagues, a highly-opinionated class mostly trained in authoritarian political cultures.

Furthermore, the constitution carries inherent seeds of endless conflicts. The largest and major ethnic groups are left out from the process and military domination has been institutionalized. If third-force elites cannot prevent further escalations of conflicts, violations of human rights, outflows of refugees, and improve livelihoods of the masses over the next ten years, the intellectual excitement they are currently showing for 2010 will be completely in vain.

The emergence and survival of democracy depends not only on economic development but also on certain cultural factors. The latter can be shaped by empowering the people in the form of civic education and democratic values. Burmese society must be transformed from one driven by fear into one driven by wisdom. Without these factors, as in many countries in the region, elites’ disregard or manipulation of the masses will only bring paternalism and crony capitalism, even if Burma can manage to have formal institutions of electoral democracy. In the worst case scenario, Burma will be as poor and unfree under despotic rulers as it is now. After all, third-force intellectuals should know even the worst-case scenarios are useful for strategic calculations.

Arthur Sim is an independent observer on Burmese politics and society.

COMMENT:
Maung Wayban Wrote:

31/03/2009
Elitism will always be there as long as there are states and political organizations that are designed to deal with millions of people. Even in the so-called ‘consolidated democracies,’ people of non-elite background hardly get into the highest echelon of government, despite the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Elite breeds more elite and that's the way politics is and will always be.

Elite are not called elite when they appeal to the masses, as Aung San or U Nu in the 1940s and the 1950s or Aung San Suu Kyi in the 1990s showed. Burmese political culture has largely been monochromatic. The country never has had a third-force elite as such. For the sake of democratic pluralism, the breakdown of the traditional, consolidated elite into fractured elite groups should be encouraged.

READ MORE---> The Consequences of Elitism...

Immediate talks unlikely between NMSP and junta

by Salai Pi Pi

New Delhi (Mizzima) – A Burmese ethnic Mon ceasefire group, New Mon State Party (NMSP), has denied a rumor of possible further talks in the near future between the organization and Burma’s military junta.

Speaking to Mizzima, Nai Ohn Mange, spokesperson for the NMSP, on Monday said the organization has no exact schedule for continuing talks with Burma’s generals following a secret meeting with junta officials in southeast Burma during the first week of March.

“At present, it is impossible that we are going to have further talks with them [Burmese regime],” Mange said.

The rejection by Mon officials of additional talks came after the exile-based Independent Mon News Agency (IMNA) on Friday carried a report that said the NMSP had decided to meet with Burmese generals on matters related to the upcoming 2010 election.

IMNA also said Lieutenant General Ye Myint pressed delegates of the NMSP to contest the forthcoming polls.

Mange said, regarding the upcoming 2010 election, the NMSP will continue to adhere to the electoral resolution passed at its party congress held on January. The resolution states the party will not consider contesting the election unless the regime allows a review of the newly adopted constitution.

“We will keep on holding to the resolution of the Party Congress,” Mange reaffirmed.

In the first week of March, some central executive committee members of the NMSP, led by party Chairman Nai Rotsa, quietly met with Lieutenant General Ye Myint at Southeast Command headquarters in Mawlamyaing, capital of Mon state.

“They [Burmese generals] asked about the results of the party’s conference. And what sort of help we need from them,” Mange said.

Moreover, he said the junta assured delegates of the Mon ceasefire group in a secret meeting that there would not be pressure for the NMSP to disarm.

“They said we should not be worried concerning disarmament,” maintained Mange. “It seems they were trying to console us.”

However, he added that the regime did not reveal how it expects to treat the NMSP in the future.

The NMSP was formed in July 1958 to fight for self-determination and reached a ceasefire agreement with the Burmese regime in 1995.

After originally attending the National Convention as a ceasefire group, which began in 1993 and only concluded in 2007, the NMSP later in 2005 only participated in proceedings as an observer after arguing that ethnic rights were being ignored during the convention’s proceedings.

Despite opposing the election slated for 2010, the NMSP pledged to maintain the ceasefire agreement with Burmese regime.

“We will keep on maintaining our ceasefire agreement. But, regarding talks, we will never start to offer [further talks],” said Mange.

Meanwhile, Thailand’s Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said last week that he was asked by the Burmese junta in his last trip to the neighboring country to assist in persuading the Karen National Union, another ethnic army fighting for self-determination, to join the 2010 electoral process.

However, the KNU has since told Mizzima that while the organization is open to peace talks, they will remain firm in their demand for a revision of the junta’s constitution before agreeing to join in next year’s national polling.

READ MORE---> Immediate talks unlikely between NMSP and junta...

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Burmese sharing

As Burmese are mostly Buddhist they are "considered" the
LOVING, caring kind
therefore this pictures resembles all the "social classes" presently in and out of Burma
including the Rohingya, the satin monsters and Non-Buddhist as well

READ MORE---> Burmese sharing...

Friday, March 27, 2009

The ‘Sherpas’ of Burma

By KYI WAI
The Irrawaddy News

KYAIK HTI YOE—After paying homage to the pagoda, 14-year-old Than Naing bent down and hooked over his shoulders the straps of the huge bamboo basket—which was almost the same size as himself. His knees almost buckled as he pushed himself up from a squatting position. He wobbled for a minute, getting his balance. Then he set off from the famous Kyaik Hti Yoe Pagoda back down the hill.

Pilgrims and tourists coming to this world-famous Buddhist pagoda in Burma’s Mon State are forced to endure a steep 2-kilometer climb to the top of the hill where the photogenic golden rock and pagoda stand precariously overlooking a cliff.

Than Naing, 14, sets off on the one-hour climb to Kyaik Hti Yoe.

Almost invariably, visitors prefer to hire porters to carry their bags, picnics and assorted offerings for them. After all, it’s a breathless enough journey without having to carry your bags as well.

Elderly family members or those too unfit to manage the ascent by foot can hire a porter to carry them up too. For a US $8 fee, four porters will carry him or her in a hammock suspended from a bamboo pole on the one-hour pilgrimage to the top, wait for them to pray, make merit and take photos, then carry them back down again.

Most of approximately 400 porters are local residents of Kyaik Hti Yoe. Their ages range from 13 to about 70. To qualify as porters, they must register at the labor office where they are issued a blue shirt with an official registration number on the chest.

For each trip, the porters receive a standard fee of 4,500 kyat ($4.50). From this, the labor office deducts a 500 kyat ($ 0.50) “tax,” so the porter takes home 4,000 kyat ($ 4) for each trip he or she can manage.

Four porters carrying a person to the pagoda will receive 2,000 kyat ($2) each, but again they must deduct 500 kyat each time for the labor office.

Bo Aye (right) has been working as a porter for 40 years.

The labor office at Yathei Hill organizes the tours and coordinates the visits to Kyeik Hti Yoe Pagoda with the tour groups and drivers. They maintain a fairly rigid system and if customers complain about a particular porter, he or she will most likely be suspended for 10 days as a punishment.

With more than 400 porters vying for business, many go home each day penniless.
The busiest time of the year for pilgrims to the site is during the religious festival of Tazaung Mone in November.

But sometimes in rainy season, barely a single pilgrim will visit the pagoda. Outside the holiday season, many porters have to find alternative jobs.

Some of the porters use their unemployed time during the rains to scavenge the nearby mountains for herbal tree roots and fruit to sell at the market. Others work as farm hands.

In the off-season, Than Naing cuts down bamboo plants near his village, then chops them up and sells the bamboo to souvenir shops. But he only earns 100 kyat ($0.10) per plant and can barely manage five plants a day.

With six persons in the family, Than Naing’s mother must spend an average of 3,000 kyat ($3) per day on basic meals alone. Than Naing knows his salary from cutting bamboo is not enough.

On the other hand, working as a porter at Kyaik Hti Yoe Pagoda earns him in the region of 4,000 kyat ($4) to 8,000 kyat ($8) per day.

“As long as Kyaik Hti Yoe is standing, we’ll never starve,” he said confidently.

But while the energetic teenage porters bound up and down the hill happily three times a day, the veterans of the trade, some of whom have been doing the job for 40 years, get exhausted after one trip.

Aware of the steepness of the hill, most visitors prefer to choose young porters. More often than not, the “old boys” will spend several days sitting in the shade of the trees waiting for an officer to call their registration number.

“I’ve been working here for more than 40 years,” said 68-year-old porter Bo Aye. “I can carry any amount of baggage from Kinpun Point to the pagoda or even from Yathei Hill to the pagoda. But the visitors seldom hire me.”

Kyaik Hti Yoe Pagoda is a natural wonder that defies gravity.

Bo Aye said that, in the past, he could always earn enough as a porter to feed his family of four. But now he only gets work perhaps one day out of three or four, and is unable to provide for his family. His eldest son joined the military and died in battle when he was 17, but a younger son is also a porter.

“Some of the older porters want to retire or open a shop because they can no longer climb the hill every day,” said a 30-year-old woman, one of the few female porters at Yathei Hill. “Sometimes, they get exhausted by mid-journey and another porter has to take their load.”

She said the porters generally believe that by carrying the bags of Buddhist pilgrims they are not only making money, but making merit too.

“But I don’t want to work as a porter my whole life,” she said. “It’s very hard work.

“Each time I reach the top of the hill I pray at the pagoda that I can save enough money to quit this job and open a stall at the market.”

READ MORE---> The ‘Sherpas’ of Burma...

Than Shwe Sets Guidelines for 2010 Polls

The Irrawaddy News - AP

NAYPYIDAW — Burma's junta chief set some ground rules Friday for historic elections scheduled for 2010, calling on political parties to avoid smear campaigns and to remember it will take awhile to establish a "mature" democracy.

Snr-Gen Than Shwe rarely says anything in public except at the annual Armed Forces Day, a holiday celebrated Friday to mark the military's might with a customary ostentatious display of troops and military equipment.

Burmese soldiers march during the 64th anniversary Armed Forces Day held at the parade ground in the country's administrative capital Naypyidaw on March 27. (Photo: AP)

As a traditional practice, the public was not allowed to attend the tightly guarded event at a massive parade ground in Naypyitaw, the remote administrative capital the junta moved its government offices to in 2005.

After reviewing more than 13,000 troops from inside a moving convertible, Than Shwe gave a 17-minute speech that focused on elections scheduled for 2010—which will be the first polls in almost two decades.

The elections are the last stage of the junta's so-called "roadmap to democracy," a process critics have called a sham designed to cement the military's four-decade grip on power.

The 76-year-old Than Shwe said political parties that contest the elections should "
refrain from inciting unrest, avoid personal attacks and smear campaigns against other parties." (JEG's: there you go, a blank card boys... let the games begin)

Parties that carry out "mature party organizing work will receive the blessing of the government," he said, but added the country should not expect a "well-established democracy" overnight.

"Democracy in Myanmar [Burma] today is at a fledgling stage and still requires patient care and attention," Than Shwe told the invited guests, which included military leaders, government ministers and reporters. Foreign media were denied visas to cover the event.

"As a Myanmar proverb puts it, 'a recently dug well cannot be expected to produce clear water immediately' — understanding the process of gradual maturity is crucial," he said. (JEG's: he means, maturity in establish the army firmly to touch)

A precise election date has not been set and it is not yet known who will contest the polls. Before a political party can participate it must meet the standards of a "political parties registration law," which has not yet been announced by the government.

Burma has been under military rule since 1962.

The current junta took power in 1988 after violently crushing a pro-democracy uprising. Two years later it refused to hand over power when Aung San Suu Kyi's political party won a landslide election victory.

Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has been under house arrest for 13 of the last 19 years.

As part of its roadmap, the junta drafted a new constitution that enshrines the military's leading role in politics. One of the provisions of the constitution effectively bars Suu Kyi from holding any kind of political office in Burma.

Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy did not participate in the drafting process and says last year's constitutional referendum—which adopted the charter by 92 percent—was engineered by the junta. It has called for a review process that includes pro-democracy groups and ethnic representatives.

In his speech, Than Shwe clearly indicated there will be no review, saying the "constitution (was) adopted by the people."

Armed Forces Day is held every March 27 to commemorate the day in 1945 when the Burma army rose up against Japanese occupation forces.

Initially called Resistance Day, the name was dropped in 1974 to avoid offending Japan, Burma's top aid donor in the 1970s. In recent years, commemoration speeches have refrained from mentioning the fight against the Japanese.

READ MORE---> Than Shwe Sets Guidelines for 2010 Polls...

Burmese Armed Forces Day Celebrated in Naypyidaw

By By MIN LWIN
The Irrawaddy News

The 64th anniversary of Armed Forces Day was observed on Friday in Naypyidaw with the troops on parade before high-ranking members of the junta.

The 400,000-man army, navy and air force, called the tatmadaw, is one of the most battle-tested forces in Southeast Asia, having engaged ongoing armed Communist insurgents and armed ethnic separatist armies for more than six decades.

Burmese soldiers march in formation during the 64th anniversary Armed Forces Day held at the parade ground in the country's administrative capital Naypyidaw on March 27. (Photo: AP)

Since the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the Burmese generals have doubled the size of the armed forces, now the most dominant and strongest institution in the country.

“In 1988, the army had not more than 180,000 armed personnel, but nowadays it reaches more than 400,000 personnel,” said Aung Kyaw Zaw, a Chinese-based Burmese researcher.

He said that although Burma has upgraded its military arsenal, it has not produced high quality military commanders since the military sized power in 1988 and it suffers from low morale among the troops.

“They have formed many battalions, but a battalion has decreased in the number of personnel,” he said.

About 200 troops make up a battalion in the Burmese army.

The military has a tradition of religious and racial discrimination in the promotion of officers, according to analysts.

Burma's No. 3 leader, Gen Thura Shwe Mann, top right, speaks at the award giving ceremony held after the parade show at the 64th anniversary of Armed Forces Day. (Photo: AP)

Defense scholar Maung Aung Myoe said there was no discrimination on racial or religious grounds in the military until the mid-1990s; Christian officers, for example, were appointed to senior staff and command positions.

Since then, however, religion and race appear to be important criteria. Although there is no official regulation, non-Buddhist officers or officers with non-Buddhist spouses are unlikely to climb beyond the rank of major or hold important command position, noted the defense scholar.

“If your spouse is a non-Buddhist, you will be sacked,” one retired captain who now works as a security officer in a hotel in Rangoon told The Irrawaddy.

The Burmese military faces problems of low morale among its forces, and the desertion rate is a concern.

Defense scholar Maung Aung Myoe quoted a confidential report that said between May and August 2006, a total of 9,467 desertions were reported; 7,761 desertions were reported between January and April 2000. Some estimates claim that the tatmadaw has a monthly average desertion rate 1,600 troops.

A retired army officer said, “The tatmadaw has low morale, especially in army.”

“Officers are involved in taking money from illegal trading in their areas,” he said. “While high-ranking Burmese military officers become wealthier, pay for ordinary soldiers at the bottom is below-standard.”

The officer-level morale is high, he said, partly because they earn more than civil servants, and they are given other benefits such as trips abroad to study on scholarships. (JEG's: this why they are against democracy as the good boys are being "looked after, all is dandy in their world but if they were at a lower rank they will be able to SEE and feel the light")

Even through the Burmese army is Southeast Asia’s second largest military force, it has many financial and logistic difficulties.

Maung Aung Myo said the air force is still very limited in its ability to project power. Problems include a shortage of trained pilots to fly existing aircraft, especially advanced aircraft such as the MiG-29.

READ MORE---> Burmese Armed Forces Day Celebrated in Naypyidaw...

Thursday, March 26, 2009

China eyes foreign shopping spree

China will encourage its energy companies to make more forays abroad to ensure the country's energy security, an even more important strategy than exploration at home, a senior energy official said today.

"Appropriately obtaining global resources is our inevitable choice and legal right...Winning foreign resources is even more important than stepping up domestic production," Reuters quoted Liu Qi, deputy head of National Energy Administration as telling an industry forum.

He said that his office is helping big Chinese oil companies talk with Papua New Guinea about oil and gas co-operation and has made good progress.

Liu also said China will offer more tax and other policy incentives to oil and gas companies to explore abroad.

He did not elaborate, but state media have said low-interest loans and capital injections could go to oil giants China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), Sinopec and China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), that aim to expand overseas as the global recession lowers the share prices of possible targets.

Last month, CNPC launched a friendly C$443 million (US$360.6 million) offer for Canada's Verenex Energy, which owns a stake in a promising Libyan oil concession, though the offer was blocked by Libya.

China is working with Burma to build an over 2000 kilometre-long gas and oil pipeline running through Ruili and Kunming in Yunnan province, Guizhou province to Chongqing municipality in southwestern China, Liu said, without providing more details.

The line would help China cut out oil cargoes' long detour through the congested Malacca Strait as well as strengthen China's access to rich energy reserves in Burma itself.

Liu also said that China will not loosen its grip on energy efficiency and environmental protection despite the financial crisis and slowing economy.

S: Upstream Online

READ MORE---> China eyes foreign shopping spree...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

On Myanmar, a Tale of Three Browns, Gordon at UN, Two in Foggy Bottom

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, March 25 -- While the UN's Ban Ki-moon is said by his advisors to be close to announcing a visit to Myanmar, as early as next month's ASEAN meeting, with U.S. support, the situation in Myanmar, particularly for minorities like the Rohingya and the Karen people, continues to deteriorate.

Meanwhile, at the US State Department on March 25, a visit to Myanmar by one US official named Brown was denied, while another was confirmed but downplayed. A rapprochement appears to be afoot, not based on any human rights improvement by the Than Shwe military regime, but out of lack of imagination or hunger for natural gas.

At the UN's noon briefing on March 24, Inner City Press asked

Inner City Press: On Myanmar, the UN’s working group on arbitrary detention has said that the imprisonment of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi violates not only international law, but also Myanmar domestic law. And there is also a report in The Times of London about villages being laid to waste in the Karen areas of the country. Is this something that either Mr. [Ibrahim] Gambari or Ban Ki-moon as Secretary-General is looking at in advance of a possible visit to the country?

Associate Spokesperson Farhan Haq: Well, the Secretary-General and Mr. Gambari are certainly aware of this report. Obviously the report speaks for itself and you can get it through the website of the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights. As for a visit by the Secretary-General, nothing has changed in terms of what we’ve said. There is no visit planned at this stage.

While this final statement may technically be true, a senior UN official happily told Inner City Press that the visit will happen, and named April 18 at as the likely date.

Following UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's meeting with the UK's Gordon Brown on March 25, Ban said that Myanmar was one of four country conflicts they discussed. The others were Sudan, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. Brown offered some specifics on Sudan and Afghanistan, but nothing on Sri Lanka or Myanmar. Afterwards, Inner City Press asked the UK Mission spokesman for a read out of the meeting as regards Myanmar, which will be reported on this site upon receipt.

UN's Ban and UK's Brown: talked Myanmar, but about what?

In what they call the Foggy Bottom, at the US State Department media briefing on March 25, the following occurred and then was supplemented:

QUESTION: Can you confirm that a U.S. official met with Burmese officials in Burma yesterday, and that is a sign of softening of the U.S. position on Burma?

Acting Deputy Department Spokesman, Gordon Duguid: No, I will not confirm that because it’s not correct. I did see that this was a report on a blog. I’ve been directly in touch with the officials that the blog named, and there was no contact that either official recalls, let alone sought out. So the report is incorrect.

QUESTION: So it’s incorrect to say that the – Mr. Blake [Ambassador Robert O. Blake] met with the Burmese Government?

MR. DUGUID: It is incorrect.

QUESTION: Okay. And – but is it correct to say that he was in Burma, was in Myanmar?

MR. DUGUID: In what time period? I believe he has visited Burma once in the past. He has not, however, had any substantive conversations with Burmese officials, nor has the U.S. position on Burma changed.

QUESTION: If you say it’s not substantive, what does that mean? Does that mean he’s had other, less substantive conversations?

MR. DUGUID: As all diplomats know, if you go to a reception and the host has invited someone else, you may in that setting come across someone from a – in this case, the Burmese Government. The ambassador has no recollection of that happening.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. DUGUID: But that is a possibility at some point in the future, of course.

QUESTION: When he last visited Burma? You said he visited there recent past.

MR. DUGUID: I did not say the recent past. I said at some point in the past. I don’t have that – those dates for you. I do believe he has been to Burma at some time in the past. I don’t think it’s relevant to this particular question.

The above was later clarified in the form of a "Question Taken" e-mail update:

Question: Can you confirm that a U.S. official (U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Robert Blake) met with Burmese officials in Burma yesterday and does this represent a softening in policy towards Burma?

Answer: No. As the Acting Deputy Spokesman said at today’s Daily Press Briefing, Ambassador Robert Blake did not meet with Burmese officials yesterday.

However, Stephen Blake, the Director of the Office for Mainland Southeast Asia at the State Department went to Burma as part of a five-country tour of the countries that fall under his office: Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam.

In Burma, Mr. Blake met with a variety of people representing a wide range of views regarding the current situation, including Foreign Minister Nyan Win, other members of the Burmese government, members of ethnic minority groups, and members of the National League for Democracy’s Central Executive Committee (aka “The Uncles”).

His visit does not reflect a change in policy or approach to Burma; Office Director-level officials, including Mr. Blake’s two immediate predecessors, have visited Burma and met with Burmese officials on a number of occasions in recent years.

The Burma policy review announced by Secretary Clinton is still underway. While we have not yet finalized our approach, we remain committed to encouraging a genuine dialogue between the Burmese authorities and opposition that leads to a free and democratic Burma that respects the rights of its diverse citizens and is at peace with its neighbors.

We'll see. Back on March 17, at the UN's noon briefing Inner City Press asked:

Inner City Press: in the last 24 hours, Myanmar has arrested five more democracy activists. Meanwhile, at least it’s said from United Nations officials that Ban Ki-moon is considering visiting in and around the ASEAN summit. First, is there any response to these more recent arrests of democracy activists? And two, what are the standards that Ban Ki-moon is going to use for visiting Myanmar or not, and does he plan to go on 18 April?

Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe: I have nothing to announce in terms of any visits today. In terms of the Secretary-General -- the criteria are spelled and nothing has changed on that as well. As for the immediate comments to today’s arrests, his Adviser, Mr. Gambari, has been very clear on the subject of arrests.

How about clarity about the Karen people or on the questions raised about how the Myanmar Constitution's reservation of 25% of seats for people of "military background" not only would make it still a military government, but also excludes women, based on non-attendance at the two military academies in Myanmar which would give the required "military background"?

READ MORE---> On Myanmar, a Tale of Three Browns, Gordon at UN, Two in Foggy Bottom...

Negotiations Always Possible for Rebels: Junta Secretary 1

CRYSTAL CLEAR... the junta are pushing Thailand into convincing the rebels to assimilate but the junta continue with their soft delicate flowery language 'saying nothing'... just empty words

By WAI MOE
The Irrawaddy News

The Burmese junta’s Secretary 1 Lt-Gen Tin Aung Myint Oo has signaled that talks with armed groups who have not signed ceasefire agreements are possible at any time, according to Burmese state media.

The state-run New Light of Myanmar reported on Wednesday that Tin Aung Myint Oo said during a meeting on March 21 with Htay Maung, the chairman of a splinter group of the Karen National Union (KNU), that the “peace door is always open to remaining groups” that have not yet signed ceasefire agreements. (JEG's: they are talking about CEASEFIRE and we are talking about reviewing the constitution for a REAL TRUTHFUL DEMOCRATIC GOVERNMENT - we are talking different languages here)

Currently, three non-ceasefire armed groups—the KNU, the Kareni National Progressive Party and the Shan State Army-South—still fight with Burmese troops in eastern Burma. Among them, the KNU is the largest.

Tin Aung Myint Oo said ceasefire agreements can make it easier for rebels to be able to shape the future in the own areas instead of living under hardships without hope.

On March 21, Tin Aung Myint Oo met with Than Htoo Kyaw, the chairman of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), a Karen splinter army. He said the military regime will continue to encourage the development of DKBA-controlled areas.

The KNU/KNLA Peace Council separated from the KNU in February 2007 and Buddhist Karen rebels split from the KNU to form the DKBA in 1995.

Last week, Prime Minister Gen Thein Sein asked Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya to serve as a mediator to convince rebel ethnic minorities, particularly the KNU, to join the junta’s seven-step roadmap to democracy. Since February, Thai authorities have tightened restrictions on KNU leaders who live on Thai soil on the border.

During the past decade, there were unsuccessful peace talks between the junta and the KNU. In early 2004, the late KNU leader Gen Saw Bo Mya flew to Rangoon to meet with ousted Prime Minister Gen Khin Nyunt.

The KNU is a leading organization in exiled pro-democracy umbrella groups such as the Democratic Alliance of Burma and the National Council of the Union of Burma.

Observers say that if the KNU gave up its 60-year rebellion to bring freedom to the Karen people it would be a blow for the pro-democracy movement on the Thailand-Burma border. The junta officially blamed dissident groups on the border for the mass demonstrations led by Buddhist monks in September 2007.

READ MORE---> Negotiations Always Possible for Rebels: Junta Secretary 1...

Thailand supports democratization of Burma: Abhisit

by Usa Pichai

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - The Prime Minister of Thailand has said talks with ethnic rebels, the Karen National Union, depends on the Burmese military junta and the United Nations, reiterating that Thailand supports democratization and national reconciliation in the country.

Abhisit Vejjajiva, Thailand’s Prime Minister on Tuesday was commenting on the Burmese government’s desire that Thailand persuade the KNU to begin a process of reconciliation with the junta and contest the 2010 general elections.

“The issue depends on the Burmese regime and the UN to make the discussion operational. Thailand would help as a neighbouring country. However, the negotiation should be held to solve the problem because some ethnic group members migrated to live in Thailand,” Abhisit said, according to a report in a Thai government website.

The Thai PM also added that he has not yet been informed that the Thai Foreign Minister agreed to hold talks with the ethnic group, which does not see eye to eye, with the junta’s constitution.

“At the moment, the Burmese junta has worked mainly with the UN rather than with the ASEAN,” he said. (JEG: conveniently he switches listeners)

He said the Thai government supported efforts by the Burmese government regarding national reconciliation and the restoration of democracy in the country.

In addition, he added the position of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations was clear. It wanted to see all parties take part in Burmese general elections in the coming year. (JEG: it wants all parties to TAKE PART based on what?)

However, numerous voices from among the international community have expressed doubts whether the 2010 election will allow fair participation by all parties.

Abhisit’s comment came after Thailand’s Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said, during his visit to Burma that he was asked by the military junta to meet representatives of ethnic rebels and to persuade the KNU to join the junta’s road map to democracy.

Kasit made his introductory two-day visit to Burma on Sunday and Monday, discussing bilateral issues and laying the groundwork for an official visit by Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

The Karen Nation Union and the Shan State Army, which rejected the junta-backed seven-step road map to democracy, are two major armed factions continuing to wage war against the regime.

On Tuesday David Takapaw, Vice-President of the KNU, reacted saying that they will not yield to any form of pressure to partake in the 2010 general election unless Burma’s generals implement changes in their roadmap.

However, Takapaw said the KNU is ready to hold talks with the Burmese regime if it is aimed at addressing the ongoing conflict in Burma.

READ MORE---> Thailand supports democratization of Burma: Abhisit...

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