Monday, August 31, 2009

An ‘Evening with Rohingya People’

KPN - An ‘Evening with Rohingya People’ was an event organized by the London based Burmese Rohingya community with the help of the Burma Campaign UK to share the dilemma of the Rohingya and discuss other Burmese multi-ethnic conflict topics on August 27, at 28 Charles Square London, said Tun Khin, the president of Burmese Rohingya Organization UK (BROUK).

An Evening With Rohingya People

READ MORE---> An ‘Evening with Rohingya People’...

Kokang campaign still on

Shanland - Despite victory over rebellious Kokang army announced yesterday through state-run media, the Burma Army has yet to slow down its war machine, reported sources from Shan State.

People in Muse, opposite China’s Ruili, and northwest of Kokang, were still being snatched by the official porter collectors yesterday and in Lashio, the capital of Shan State North, southwest of Kokang, civilian trucks were still in demand.

The Burma Army is proceeding with a mopping-up operation against isolated Kokang fighters who are still putting up a guerrilla resistance in the 22,000 sq.km territory, according to a source on the Sino-Burma border. Up to 30% of the original Kokang force (estimated strength, 800) loyal to the deposed leader Peng Jiasheng are believed to be still on Burma’s side of the border.

On the Thai-Burma border, militia units placed under full alert two days ago have been allowed to relax. “Civilian trucks requisitioned by the Army in Monghsat (opposite Thailand’s Mae Ai) have also been permitted to return home,” reported a local.

The United Wa State Army (UWSA)’s Thai-border based 171st Military Region, comprising 5 brigades, under the command of Wei Xuegang, however, have yet to come down from their mountain bases. “Unlike in the past, when Wa trucks passed by Burma Army checkpoints without being searched, they are now being subjected to thorough going-overs,” said another local source.

On the other hand, sources in eastern Shan State are betting that the next target for the Burma Army should be Mongla, the UWSA’s southern neighbor and ally. Kokang that fell on 29 August is the Wa’s northern neighbor and ally.

Even Mongla, 80 km northeast of Shan State East’s capital Kengtung, has become edgy, according to them.

Yesterday, some 470 Burmans working or seeking work in Mongla were rounded up by the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA) officials, loaded in trucks and dumped at Taping, the Lwe crossing that marks as the border between the NDAA and Burma Army controlled areas. “We used to have about 100 people working here,” explained one of the officials, on condition of anonymity. “But the number had jumped up to over 400 in a matter of weeks. We believe many of them, not all, must be spies.”

The Shan State Army (SSA) ‘South’, that has been fighting against Naypyitaw, meanwhile is yet to issue any official statements on the latest developments in Burma. “We are still closely following the developments,” said one of the senior officers.

One Thai border source reported that the UWSA has begun liaising with the SSA South. “There has been no such thing as yet,” replied the same SSA source.

Tension between the ceasefire groups and the ruling military junta has been growing since April when the former were demanded to transform themselves into Burma Army run Border Guard Forces.

READ MORE---> Kokang campaign still on...

The fall of Kokang raises questions

Shanland - After three days of heavy fighting, 27-29 August, the bulk of the anti-Naypyitaw Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), the name given to their armed force by the Kokang, moved yesterday into China where they were disarmed by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

The biggest question raised by the fall of Qingsuihe (Chinshwehaw), opposite Namteuk (Namtit), where the Kokang’s strongest ally United Wa State Army (UWSA)’s 318th Division is headquartered, may be: What were the Wa doing when the Kokang were being attacked at Qingsuihe?

At first, both the Wa and other sources reported that at least 500 UWSA fighters had been deployed to assist the embattled Kokang. However, on the 29 August evening, the Wa source told SHAN Qingsuihe had fallen, as the UWSA had decided only to make a stand along the Namting that forms as a boundary between Wa and Kokang territories in order to prevent any spillovers from the fighting.

What happened to the ‘all for one and one for all’ agreement reached earlier among the Wa, Kokang and Mongla? SHAN asked. But Panghsang has yet to answer the question, which has naturally prompted more questions:

• How strong is the Peace and Democracy Front (PDF), now that it has done practically nothing against the Burma Army’s attack on Kokang?

• Now that the UWSA has allowed Kokang its northern ally to go, is it ready to let go other allies, namely the Shan State Army (SSA) ‘North’ in the west and Mongla aka National Democratic Alliance Army-Eastern Shan State (NDAA) too?

• Does it think the UWSA will be able to make a lone stand against the Burma Army, after its allies have gone?

• What was China’s role in the Kokang debacle? Has the UWSA been advised that the Burma Army will not be allowed to make further attacks against it and its remaining allies?

Kokang’s deposed leader Peng Jiasheng has also voiced similar doubts in his special statement issued late in the evening of 28 August, a day before Qingsuihe’s fall:

• We have vowed that we would together overthrow the common enemy, the ruling military dictatorship clique. I request that we put our vow into practice starting today.

• If the Kokang force has been swallowed, the other allies armed forces will also be swallowed not long after. We therefore request you to counter attack the SPDC forces starting today.

Another big question arose when a report by a usually reliable source said that the mutiny in early August against Kokang’s supreme leader Peng Jiasheng was masterminded by a Liu Guoxi, a disgruntled member of the Kokang leadership, in cooperation with the deputy police of Burma.

With details lacking, SHAN as yet has no way to confirm the report, though Liu has been known in the past to be a colleague of Mong Hsala, the leader of now defunct Mongkoe Defense Army (MDA). MDA went into oblivion and its top leaders either jailed or executed in 2000 by the Burma Army during a mutiny against Mong Hsala.

Granted that the report is true, questions arise:

• Are there more Liu Guoxis among the ranks of the UWSA and its allied armies?

• Is the Burma Army in cahoots with them?

• Wei Xuegang, Commander of the UWSA’s Thai-border based 171st Military Region, is said to be close to Prime Minister Thein Sein. How close are they?

At present, the questions are hard to answer.

But investigations by the media and concerned agencies in the next few weeks will find whether the ideal goal of forming a grand alliance against the hated military regime is too late or can still be a dream come true.

READ MORE---> The fall of Kokang raises questions...

Sunday, August 30, 2009

China seals Myanmar border

One person on Chinese territory has been killed by a bomb flung across the border

LINCANG (Yunnan) ST- FRESH fighting in north-east Myanmar erupted yesterday morning after days of clashes that killed at least one person on Chinese territory and sent dozens of wounded to hospitals along the Chinese border.

Tens of thousands of people have fled to the border town of Nansan in China's Yunnan province this month after clashes in Kokang in Myanmar's Shan state, following the deployment of Myanmar government troops in the area.

'Our information is that as many as 30,000 people may have taken shelter in Nansan since Aug 8, saying they were fleeing fighting between Myanmar government troops and ethnic minority groups,' said spokesman Andrej Mahecic for the UN refugee agency.

Chinese soldiers are guarding the border area, which has been sealed off, said a staff member at the Zhenkang County Public Security Bureau, who gave only his surname, Hui.

One person was killed and several people were injured by a bomb thrown across the Chinese border on Friday, Mr He Yongchun, deputy president of Yunnan branch of the Chinese Red Cross, told the China Daily.

'We have received at least 22 injured people sent from Nansan. Most of them are from Myanmar,' a woman working at the surgical department of Zhenkang People's Hospital told Reuters by phone.

Nansan is a town in Zhenkang county.

China has called on Myanmar to maintain stability in the border region and sought more measures to protect the security and legal rights of Chinese citizens there.

Beijing is one of Myanmar's few diplomatic backers, often coming to the rescue when it is subjected to pressure by Western governments over issues such as the imprisonment of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The leader of the Kokang Group which is fighting Myanmar's army said his forces had captured at least 50 soldiers as well as killed more than 30 troops on Thursday and Friday, the Chinese-language Global Times newspaper reported on its website. -- REUTERS, AP

READ MORE---> China seals Myanmar border...

Rebel leader says more than 30 junta soldiers killed in Burma

(ABC Radio) -In Burma, the leader of rebel ethnic forces claims they have killed more than 30 government soldiers.

Chinese state media says fresh fighting broke out on Saturday in the country's remote northeast between the military and rebel ethnic forces.

The United Nations says clashes in Burma's remote northeast have also driven up to 30-thousand refugees across the border into Nansan in China's Yunnan province.

It says this has led to China issuing a rare warning to its neighbour and ally to resolve the conflict.

Battles that erupted this week in Kokang, a mainly ethnic Chinese region of Burma's Shan state, have violated a 20 year ceasefire.

There are fears the fighting could escalate into full-scale civil war.

READ MORE---> Rebel leader says more than 30 junta soldiers killed in Burma...

Aussie ship held for gun running

The Sunday Telegraph

AN AUSTRALIAN-owned cargo ship has been caught shipping a cache of banned arms from North Korea to Iran.

The Financial Times reported yesterday the ANL Australia was seized in the United Arab Emirates under new UN Security Council sanctions meant to derail North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

Chris Schultz, general manager of business development at ANL Australia, said he was unaware an ANL vessel was involved in any seizure.

"This is the first I have heard of it," Mr Schultz said.

He admitted the ship was the property of ANL but refused any further comment.

ANL is the Australian-based subsidiary of the CMA CGM Group, the third largest container shipping line in the world. Built in 1991, it was previously named Australian Endeavour and is owned and operated by ANL.

The UAE, a hub for Iranian goods, reportedly seized the ship several weeks ago. Diplomats claimed the ship was carrying rocket-propelled grenades and other weapons disguised as machine parts.

A spokesperson from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it was unaware of the incident.

The ship's seizure and reported violation of the arms embargo was reported by the UAE in a confidential letter two weeks ago to the council's sanctions committee for North Korea that is comprised of diplomats from all 15 nations on the Security Council.

Turkey's deputy UN ambassador, Fazli Corman, who chairs the sanctions panel, confirmed the incident and said council members are examining the seriousness of it.

"The committee received information from UAE authorities and the committee is processing the information," he said.

The Security Council imposed new sanctions on North Korea on June 12, strengthening an arms embargo and authorising ship searches on the high seas to try to rein in its nuclear program after Pyongyang's second nuclear test on May 25, violating a council resolution adopted after its first nuclear blast in 2006.

The council also has ordered an asset freeze and travel ban on companies and individuals involved in the country's nuclear and weapons programs and put five North Korean officials, four companies and a state agency on the sanctions list. Three other companies were put on the list after Pyongyang launched a rocket on April 5, a move seen as cover for testing long-range missiles.

READ MORE---> Aussie ship held for gun running...

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Impotent China

The Irrawaddy Editorial

The increased tension and fighting between Burmese troops and ethnic armies along the Sino-Burmese border has sent thousands of refugees fleeing to China. This has prompted Chinese foreign ministry officials to express hope that Burma can “properly deal with its domestic issue to safeguard the regional stability of its bordering area with China.”

Authorities in the southeastern Chinese province of Yunnan say some 10,000 people have already fled across the border from Burma in recent days due to the recent clashes. Most are Burmese-born Chinese and Chinese nationals living along the border.

Over the past few months, Beijing has been engaging in quiet diplomacy with Naypyidaw to urge the Burmese junta to solve the ethnic issue along the border in a peaceful way. When Gen Maung Aye visited Beijing in June, Chinese leaders again requested him not to use force against ethnic ceasefire groups and to maintain stability there.

Burmese leaders are also reportedly unhappy, as Chinese continue to support ethnic groups along the border. Many Burmese military leaders harbor anti-China sentiments, as China has in the past heavily backed ethnic armies and the now defunct Communist Party of Burma (CPB). The Wa and Chinese from the Kokang region were former members of the CPB.

However, it seems the Burmese leaders did not listen to China’s advice. Instead, the regime went ahead with plans to press the ethnic groups near the border to disarm and form border guard forces. The regime aims to complete this transformation before elections are held next year.

The current conflict has been 20 years in the making. It is a direct result of the regime’s refusal to grant the ethnic ceasefire groups the self-determination they seek within the framework of a federal union.

The greatest irony of this situation is that China, a major arms supplier and staunch ally of the repressive regime for the past two decades, has proven to be impotent in its efforts to persuade the junta leaders to find a political solution to this issue.

China has consistently backed the regime at the UN Security Council, exercising its veto power to block resolutions condemning the regime for its brutal repression of dissent, arguing that these actions do not represent a threat to international security.

In early August, Chinese foreign ministry officials even defended the regime’s decision to sentence detained Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi to a further 18 months under house arrest, saying that the international community must respect Burma’s judicial sovereignty.

After decades of defending the junta, China’s leaders are learning the hard way that the Burmese junta’s sole concern is its own self-preservation. It cares as little about what Beijing wants as it does about the democratic aspirations of Burma’s people.

Like it or not, Beijing’s approach to Burma—and its status as an emerging superpower—is being put to the test. Unless it can find a way to rein in the generals, China risks not only instability along its border with Burma, but also appearing to be powerless to defend its own interests.

READ MORE---> Impotent China...

Fighting Stops as Kokang Surrender Arms to Chinese

By WAI MOE
The Irrawaddy News


Fighting near the Sino-Burmese border came to an abrupt halt today after about 700 Kokang troops handed over their weapons to Chinese officials following days of clashes that sent thousands fleeing across the border.

Aung Kyaw Zaw, a Burmese military analyst who is close to the Kokang, told The Irrawaddy on Saturday that at least 700 soldiers from the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), an ethnic-Kokang militia, crossed the border into China today and surrendered their arms to local officials.

Kokang troops at a ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of the founding of the MNDAA.
He added that troops from the United Wa State Army (UWSA), a much larger force allied to the Kokang, have been repositioned to Wa-controlled territory.

The Irrawaddy was unable to verify this information with other independent sources.

The sudden end to the fighting came a day after Kokang and UWSA troops ambushed a convoy of Burmese army vehicles in Kokang territory. According to unconfirmed reports, more than a dozen Burmese soldiers were killed in the attack.

On Thursday, a 20-year ceasefire between the Burmese army and the armed ethnic groups broke down after government forces moved to occupy Kokang territory. Since then, the Burmese army has sent reinforcements into the area from Light Infantry Divisions 33 and 99.

The crisis began on Monday, when tens of thousands of refugees, including Chinese businessmen, started flooding across the border into China from Laogai, a town in Kokang territory. Cross-border trade in Laogai has since come to a standstill and trading at other border checkpoints has decreased, say sources in the area.

The rapidly deteriorating situation caused consternation in Beijing, which has long had close relations with both sides in the conflict. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu said China hoped the Burmese junta would deal with the situation properly and ensure stability along the border and protect Chinese citizens in Burma.

“China is following the situation closely and has expressed concern to Myanmar [Burma],” said Jiang.

Some observers said that junta head Snr-Gen Than Shwe’s decision to send troops into Kokang territory despite China’s concerns showed his determination to demonstrate that he will not be constrained by Beijing.

“The Burmese junta doesn’t care what anybody thinks, so I don’t think the generals are thinking about China’s response,” said Chan Tun, a former Burmese ambassador to China.

But while Naypyidaw showed little concern about the consequences of renewed fighting in the area, Beijing couldn’t ignore the worsening situation, as Chinese living near the border expressed outrage at the Burmese military’s actions.

“I feel upset with the Burmese government. The Kokang people have Chinese blood. And in China, many people are so angry that they are urging the Chinese government to send troops to help the Kokang,” said a Chinese journalist who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Although Beijing appears to have defused the potentially explosive situation for the time being, it remains to be seen if fighting will resume between the Burmese and the Wa, who command a much larger military force than the Kokang.

The current conflict stems from the refusal of ethnic ceasefire groups, including Kokang, Wa, Kachin and Shan militias, to transform themselves into border security forces under Burmese military command.

The 20,000-strong UWSA presents the greatest obstacle to Burmese ambitions to pacify the country’s borders after six decades of civil conflict. Although they were among the first ethnic groups to sign a ceasefire agreement with the current regime in 1989, they have also been the most resistant to any effort to weaken their hold over their territory.

In Rangoon, news of the clashes in the country’s north has revived memories of the insurgencies that wracked the region for decades.

“People here are talking about it at teashops. They are saying that this is the return of civil war,” said an editor of a private weekly journal in Rangoon.

Meanwhile, Burma’s main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), called for a peaceful resolution of the ongoing conflict in northern Burma.

“We want the junta to resolve the issue in a peaceful way with ethnic groups,” NLD spokesman Han Thar Myint told The Irrawaddy on Saturday. “The cause of the conflict is the Burmese regime’s failure to resolve problems in the country politically.”

READ MORE---> Fighting Stops as Kokang Surrender Arms to Chinese...

Friday, August 28, 2009

Popular Vietnamese Blogger Fired by Newspaper

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
The Irrawaddy News


HANOI — one of Vietnam's most popular and boldest bloggers has been fired by his newspaper after the ruling Communist Party complained to editors about his writings.

Huy Duc, who writes his blog under the pen name "Osin," was dismissed this week because his postings did not reflect the editorial positions of Saigon Tiep Thi, said Tran Cong Khanh, an editor at the newspaper.

Huy Duc sits reading a newspaper in downtown Hanoi. (Photo: Getty Images)

Khanh cited a recent Osin posting that praised the fall of the Berlin Wall and criticized the former Soviet Union's Communist leaders, saying their rule had led to years of misery for the people of Eastern Europe. Duc referred to the wall as "the wall of shame."

"The attitude of his entry did not reflect that of our newspaper, and we can't use him anymore," Khanh said.

Khanh said the newspaper made the decision to dismiss Duc on its own, without direct pressure from the government, which strictly monitors Vietnam's state-controlled media.

But he acknowledged that the Propaganda and Education Commission, the Communist Party's media watchdog, had complained about roughly 100 of Duc's blog postings and newspaper stories.

Duc's Osin blog has tested the limits of free expression in Vietnam, frequently featuring articles critical of government leaders and their policies.

He has chided leaders for chartering Vietnam Airlines planes to fly abroad, and criticized a controversial bauxite mining project in Vietnam's Central Highlands which critics say could devastate the environment of the region, home to many of the country's 54 ethnic minorities.

Vietnam has about 700 news outlets, all of which are state-controlled. While some newspapers have grown more aggressive in their coverage of issues such as corruption, they rarely challenge the government. Saigon Tiep Thi is published three times a week by Ho Chi Minh City's Trade and Investment Promotion Center. Duc had worked there for several years.

The Vietnam Journalists' Association, whose members work for the state-controlled media, declined to comment on Duc's dismissal.

Duc also declined to comment Thursday.

But on his blog, he wrote that he has lost many newspaper jobs during his 21-year journalism career. He said he plans to work on a book and hopes to eventually find a job at another paper.

"The media, although under state control, belongs to society," Duc wrote. "It must be a place for truthful articles, analysis and criticism."

Last year, authorities arrested reporters from two major newspapers, Thanh Nien and Tuoi Tre, after they reported aggressively on a major corruption case.

This year, the government tightened its rules for bloggers, who have proliferated in Vietnam. The new rules say bloggers must restrict themselves to writing about personal, not political, matters.

A blogger known as Dieu Cay was charged with tax evasion and sentenced to 30 months in jail after encouraging people to protest at the Olympic torch ceremonies in Ho Chi Minh City shortly before last summer's Beijing Olympics.

He criticized China's policies in Tibet and the Spratly islands, an archipelago in the South China Sea that is claimed by China, Vietnam and several other countries.

READ MORE---> Popular Vietnamese Blogger Fired by Newspaper...

New US policy is important for Burma's future

By Khin Maung Win - Oslo

(The Nation) -The visit by US Senator Jim Webb to Burma, in which he won the release of John William Yettaw, who was sentenced to 7 years' imprisonment with hard labour for swimming across Inya lake to the home of Burmese democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, draws scepticism from some stakeholders in Burmese politics.

Since the administration of President Obama stated that its Burma policy is under review, those in the camp who supported the previous US sanctions policy are concerned about the direction of the prospective new policy.

The major concern is that the policy shift would change the equation between the regime and its opponents by favouring Burma's ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), and would legitimise the regime and its controversial 2010 election. As of now the election is a critical battlefield on which the fight between the SPDC and the opposition groups will be played out.

It is a fact that both engagement policies advocated by Asean, Burma's neighbours and other Asian nations, and the sanctions and isolation policy held by the US and EU have equally failed to bring any positive change in Burma. Looking for an alternative becomes a natural reality.

Previous attempts by the US to use its power via the UN Security Council have never been realised due to vetoes from China and Russia. These two countries also intervened when the US, along with the UK and France, tried to practise "Responsibility to Protect" to save the victims of Cyclone Nargis that hit Burma in May 2008, leaving 135,000 dead and over two million homeless while the Burmese regime denied immediate humanitarian aid from outside. The US must find an alternative policy so that it can exercise its power to help 55 million Burmese people.

The US is the power the SPDC despises most, but at the same time, will listen to most if it has to. Some suggest that Senator Webb's success in meeting with Senior General Than Shwe and Aung San Suu Kyi is a result of mounting international pressure, which the regime wants to defuse following Aung San Suu Kyi's sentencing on August 11.

While the US needs to send a former president, Bill Clinton, to North Korea to secure the freedom of two Americans and to meet reclusive leader Kim Jong-il, it was politically cheaper for it to send only a senator to secure the freedom of Yettaw and meet Burma's reclusive leader. It indicates that the Burmese regime will listen to the US when it has to, even though unwillingly.

But the US cannot unilaterally exercise its power. Bringing more nations on board, along with a new policy, whilst remaining in the driving seat, would make a difference.

Some suggest the Obama administration is sending a mixed message to the regime, with the US president's recent renewal of Burma sanctions contradicting calls from some senior US officials for "affirmative engagement". Should we not see the renewal as a signal from the US that sanctions remain a possible punishment, whereas the doorway has been opened for engagement? Should it be understood as a "carrot and stick" policy which offers engagement in the first place and punishment later? This is not a new approach in dealing with Burma. Australia, for example, in the early 1990s advocated a similar concept using the name of "Benchmark Policy".

The division among the international players has allowed the regime's survival over the last two decades. Once the US develops a new policy, it must be able to bring more nations on board from both camps - those advocating engagement and those advocating sanctions and isolation.

The carrot and stick approach, offering engagement and sanctions, with proper use of both in a balanced manner, could be a bridge to bring both camps closer. It means that the new US policy must be multilateral, not unilateral.

Some Asian countries, including Asean members, India and China, may have prioritised their own interests when engaging with the regime. They are also major trading partners of the regime, and some supply weapons. A few may even wish that Burma never becomes a democracy. Some democracies, namely India and Japan, compromise universally-accepted values that are in practise in their countries, just for national interest - by giving in too much to the SPDC. This shows that countries in the engagement camp have less interest in changing Burma's status quo. Unlike these nations, the US is freer from any conflict of interest when it comes to Burma policy, whether using sanctions or engagement. It mainly sticks to the idea of sympathy for 55 million Burmese suffering under repressive military rulers for half a century.

Its democratic structure at home is unlikely to allow the US to compromise its values of human rights, freedom, justice, multi-party democracy and market economy when it comes to Burma policy. Planting such universally-accepted values in Burma can only be good.

Sympathy for the Burmese people, within the White House, State Department and both houses of Congress, as well as strong Burma advocacy groups in the country, could reduce the risk of a new US policy becoming another failed engagement.

The regime is not afraid to insult any international organisation, including Asean, the EU and UN. A recent example of how the regime blatantly fouled the international community was during UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's trip to Burma in early July. Most people assumed that pre-arrangements for his visit included securing the freedom of Aung San Suu Kyi, or at least meeting with her. The regime easily snubbed the secretary-general by denying him a meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi.

But the regime knows that it is difficult for it to insult the US the same way. Of course, it is up to the US to determine whether it will allow itself to be insulted.

Khin Maung Win is deputy executive director of the Democratic Voice of Burma, a Burmese radio and TV station based in Oslo. The views expressed in the article are his own.

READ MORE---> New US policy is important for Burma's future...

30,000 flee as China rebukes Burma

(DVB)–Around 30,000 refugees have crossed into China according to UN estimates as fighting between Burmese troops and ceasefire groups sparked a rare admonishment from China’s foreign ministry.

A spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said today that between 10,000 and 30,000 civilians have fled Burma’s northern Shan state into China in recent days.

Fighting broke out between Burmese army troops and the Kokang ceasefire group yesterday after weeks of heightening tension.

Kokang troops yesterday attacked a police outpost near to Laogai town close to the China-Burma border, killing one Burmese police officer and injuring two.

The Kokang group has been joined by the United Wa State Army, Burma’s largest ceasefire group who had held a 20-year truce with the government.

Today China’s foreign ministry issued a statement urging Burma to "properly deal with its domestic issue to safeguard the regional stability in the China-Myanmar [Burma] border area".

"We also urge Myanmar to protect the safety and legal rights of Chinese citizens in Myanmar," said spokesperson Jiang Yu in the statement.

China is a key ally of Burma’s ruling junta, and seldom criticizes the internal affairs of its southern neighbour.

The mass of refugees pouring into China however, in addition to reports that a Burmese army shell fired across the border today killed a Chinese troop, has created a rare fissure between the two countries.

China has reportedly increased its troop patrols along the border area, and is said to be assisting the refugees.

“We have been informed that local authorities in Yunnan Province have already provided emergency shelter, food and medical care to the refugees,” said the UNHRC spokesperson Andrej Mahecic.

Local sources report that a number of civilians have also escaped into inner Shan state.

Reporting by Francis Wade

READ MORE---> 30,000 flee as China rebukes Burma...

Scorched earth victims ordered to rebuild houses

(DVB)–Villagers in Burma’s central Shan state whose houses were razed in the junta’s latest scorched earth campaign this month have been ordered by the army to rebuild their property.

Some 500 hundred houses were burnt down by the Burmese army near Laihka town in Shan state between 27 July and 1 August, uprooting around 10,000 civilians.

Sein Kyi, deputy editor of the Shan Herald Agency for News, said that army officials in the area recently ordered those who fled to return to their villages and rebuild their homes.

“They also shot video and picture footage of the villages being rebuilt to make it look like the army was actually helping the villagers.”

He said the villages were burnt down by army soldiers together with troops from a splinter group of the opposition Shan State Army, known as the Brigade 758.

“Now the army officials are telling villagers it was the Brigade 758 who burnt down their houses, despite warning [the brigade] not to,” he said.

“But actually, it was the [government] troops who burnt down the villages and the Brigade 758 was only accompanying them.”

The order to rebuild the villages follows a press conference held two weeks ago in Bangkok by Shan right groups, who reported that around 40 villages have been targeted in the campaign.

According to the groups, it is the single largest forced relocation in Shan state since a campaign from 1996 to 1998 saw the uprooting of 300,000 villagers, many of whom fled to Thailand.

Some aid materials, brought to the displaced by sympathisers in nearby towns and villages, were reportedly intercepted by the army on August 7.

Sein Kyi said that the materials were recently distributed to the villagers under the army battalion’s name.

Much of the scorched earth campaign has focused on Laikha township, where over 100 villagers, including women, have been arrested and tortured, and three have died. Many of these were displaced by the previous campaign.

Reporting by Aye Nai

READ MORE---> Scorched earth victims ordered to rebuild houses...

Thursday, August 27, 2009

China Accused of Ignoring Burmese Junta's Graft

By JIM GOMEZ / AP WRITER
The Irrawaddy News

MANILA — China and other governments with lucrative business deals in Burma are ignoring massive corruption by its ruling military junta, a pro-democracy activist said Thursday.

Ka Hsaw Wa said corruption has become the second worst problem in Burma after widespread human rights violations and afflicts all levels of its government.

Ka Hsaw Wa gestures during a press presentation August 27 in Manila, Philippines. Ka Hsaw Wa, one of six 2009 Ramon Magsaysay awardees, is honored for Emergent Leadership and cited for his "dauntlessly pursuing nonviolent yet effective channels of redress, exposure, and education for the defense of human rights, the environment and democracy in Burma." (Photo: AP)

He spoke to The Associated Press in Manila, where he was named one of six recipients of the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay award, considered Asia's version of the Nobel Prize, for documenting human rights and environmental abuses in his country.

Corruption in Burma should be dealt with urgently, since most people struggle to afford three meals a day, Ka Hsaw Wa said. But obtaining evidence is almost impossible, he said.

"It's simply economic plunder," Ka Hsaw Wa said, adding that "99.9 percent of the ruling junta, from a normal soldier to the top generals, are completely corrupt."

He said corruption within the military should be apparent to friendly foreign governments like China, but they look the other way.

"We won't turn a blind eye to that (corruption), of course," said Ethan Sun, a spokesman at the Chinese Embassy in Manila. He added, however, that trade and economic cooperation "benefit the peoples of both countries."

China has often supported the junta against international pressure in the past.

Most ruling Burmese generals live in sprawling, heavily guarded compounds which are off-limits to the public, he said. When a secret video of the lavish 2006 wedding of Snr-Gen Than Shwe's daughter surfaced on YouTube, it caused outrage in his country.

International watchdogs have consistently ranked Burma among the world's most corrupt nations. Transparency International's 2008 list put it next to last, ahead of only Somalia.

The junta does not publicly respond to accusations of corruption, but it has launched anti-corruption drives mostly targeting low-level offenses. A call to the embassy in Manila was not answered Thursday.

"A lot of countries want to swallow Burma alive, it's so rich in natural resources," Ka Hsaw Wa said. "But they try not to see (corruption) in a way that they can do business there."

While the Burmese government officially restricts logging, middle-level military officers have cut down huge swaths of rain forests for personal profit, he said.

Ka Hsaw Wa, a member of Burma's ethnic Karen minority, was a 17-year-old student activist when the government violently suppressed 1988 pro-democracy demonstrations. After his arrest, he fled to the jungle where he witnessed atrocities committed against villagers, the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation said.

EarthRights, the nonprofit group he co-founded, filed a case in the United States in 1996 against the US-based oil company Unocal for alleged complicity in human rights and environmental abuses committed by Burma's military in the building of the Yadana gas pipeline. After 10 years of litigation, Unocal agreed to compensate the 11 petitioners.

EarthRights also runs a school in Thailand that trains young people from Burma and other countries in nonviolent social change.

READ MORE---> China Accused of Ignoring Burmese Junta's Graft...

Expert Doubts Napyidaw’s Nuclear Program

By WAI MOE
The Irrawaddy News


A well-known expert on Burma’s military affairs is skeptical about recent reports on nuclear cooperation between the Burmese regime and North Korea.

In a paper published on the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s Web site on Monday, Andrew Selth, an expert on Burmese military affairs and author of “Burma’s Armed Forces: Power without Glory,” expressed doubts about Burma’s nuclear capability.

Selth said that Burma’s recent arms and materiel purchases from various countries including North Korea “do not necessarily mean that the junta is engaged in a secret program to develop weapons of mass destruction (WMD).”

“Some generals—possibly including regime leader Snr-Gen Than Shwe—are clearly attracted to the idea of acquiring a nuclear weapon, in the belief that possession of WMD would give Burma the same stature and bargaining power that they believe is now enjoyed by North Korea,” Selth said.

“The key question, however, is whether this is just wishful thinking, or if there has been a serious attempt by the regime to pursue a nuclear weapons program,” he said.

In early August, based on interviews with defectors conducted over two years by Professor Desmond Ball of the Australia National University's Defense Study Center and Thailand-based journalist Phil Thornton, The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Bangkok Post published stories saying that the junta could develop a nuclear bomb by 2014.

Selth said US officials knew about the Burmese defectors more than two years ago. “Yet, even when armed with the apparent revelations of all these defectors, the Bush administration remained conspicuously silent about Burma’s nuclear status,” he said.

Selth also said that the tunnels pictured in recent news reports were “quite modest” and would be vulnerable to attack by “a modern air force equipped with latest weapons.”

“Many of these underground facilities are probably for military purposes, such as command bunkers, air raid shelters and protective tunnels for vehicles and weapons systems,” Selth said, noting that the Burmese generals have feared an air attack ever since the Gulf War.

“Some are more likely to be related to civil engineering projects. None of the photos support claims of a secret nuclear reactor, or nuclear weapons project,” he said.

Facing an arms embargo since 1988, the Burmese junta sought to reduce its dependency on foreign arms suppliers, Selth said, suggesting that recent purchases could be part of a program for the country’s large defense industrial complex to produce more sophisticated weapons, rather than WMD.

Selth said that it is certain that North Korea is “selling Burma conventional arms, sharing its military expertise and experience, and helping it upgrade its defense infrastructure.”

However, Selth does not totally deny reports of Naypyidaw’s nuclear ambitions, saying that Burmese natural gas sales have given the regime untapped foreign exchange reserves that could be used to fund a nuclear program.

“Russia is providing technical training for a large number of Burmese servicemen and officials, including in the nuclear field,” he said. “Some sophisticated equipment has been imported, and it is possible that sensitive nuclear technologies have been provided to Burma by North Korea.”

Speaking in an interview on National Public Radio, Bertil Lintner, a Thailand-based expert on the Burmese junta, said that the Burmese are “certainly interested” in acquiring a nuclear weapon.

“[The Burmese are] seeing how the North Koreans have been able to stand up against the Americans and the rest of the world because they are nuclear-armed. And they would like to have the same kind of negotiating position,” he said.

According to Lintner, Beijing is “well aware of Burma’s nuclear ambitions,” and “there’s definitely Chinese complicity in this new cooperation between North Korea and Burma.”

However, Lintner said the Chinese can conveniently deny any role by saying that it is the North Koreans who are cooperating with Burma, and that China cannot control them.

READ MORE---> Expert Doubts Napyidaw’s Nuclear Program...

No Turning Back

By AUNG ZAW
The Irrawaddy News


It’s no secret that the regime in Burma wants to repair its frosty relationship with America. It would especially like to see the lifting of US sanctions, which have an impact not only on the general population, but are also hampering the junta leaders’ ambition to build a modern armed forces.

Historically, there is little reason for the two countries to regard each other as enemies. Despite the US-backed occupation of northern Shan State by the Chinese Kuomintang in the 1950s, Burmese military commanders have never felt the same hostility toward the US that they reserve for Burma’s former colonial masters, the British.

Burma’s current rulers have not forgotten that their predecessor, Gen Ne Win, was a guest in the White House just a few years after seizing power. At the time, the US was keen to get a foothold in a country on China’s doorstep. Ironically, when Ne Win killed unarmed students in 1970s, it was Beijing, not Washington, that expressed outrage.

Fearing Communist China’s growing influence in the region, the US had no qualms about forming close military ties with Burma. For decades, top officers in the Burmese armed forces attended West Point and the Command and General Staff College, while key members of Burma’s most feared spy agency were trained by the CIA.

Washington was also generous with its military hardware. Until the late 1980s, Burma’s army and air force employed US jet fighters, helicopters and M-16 assault rifles. Bell helicopters supplied by the US to help Burma wage a war on drugs were also used in operations against ethnic insurgents. And when Burmese riot police fired on students in 1988, they were armed with American-made M-16s.

But it was at this point that US-Burma relations rapidly deteriorated. After decades of ignoring Burma’s poor human rights record and political repression, Washington suddenly became a staunch champion of the country’s brutally suppressed pro-democracy movement and an outspoken critic of the junta that seized power in 1988.

Now, after two decades of treating Burma’s rulers like pariahs, Washington is reviewing its policy toward the country as part of President Barack Obama’s new, less confrontational approach to dealing with the world’s dictators. Even as he tells “those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent” that they are “on the wrong side of history,” Obama says that he is ready to offer his hand to those who are “willing to unclench their fist.”

The Burmese generals were quick to read this as a sign that the US was likely to soften its stance toward them, and were only too happy to share Obama’s conciliatory message with the people of Burma in state-run media—except for the part about the need for dictators to “unclench their fist” if they want to enjoy better relations with the US, which was deemed too “sensitive” by the junta’s censors.

In August, the generals finally got their chance to show the world that they, too, were ready to extend their hand in friendship. The highly publicized visit of US Sen Jim Webb was lauded in the state-run press as “a success for both sides as well as the first step to promotion of the relations between the two countries.”

A commentary in The New Light of Myanmar, a regime mouthpiece, noted that Webb did not act like a typical “neocolonialist” or “loud-mouthed bully.” However, it cautiously added that Webb’s visit was just “the first step toward marching to a 1,000-mile destination.”

What was most remarkable about this encounter was how starkly Webb’s reception contrasted with that of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who traveled to Naypyidaw in June but was denied a meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi. The difference signaled the junta’s eagerness to cut a deal with Washington.

The immediate outcome of Webb’s visit was the release of John Yettaw, the American who had been sentenced to seven years in prison for illegally entering Suu Kyi’s residential compound in May. Meanwhile, Suu Kyi and her two live-in aides are now serving a further 18 months under house arrest because of Yettaw’s actions.

To the junta’s way of thinking, all of this makes perfectly good sense. Just as Suu Kyi’s trial and conviction were obviously politically motivated, Yettaw’s release was clearly a political gambit intended to improve the regime’s chances of repairing ties with the US.

But the regime is going to have to go a lot further if it expects the Obama administration to meet it halfway. Following Webb’s visit, the White House issued a statement welcoming the junta’s gesture, but also urging “the Burmese leadership in this spirit to release all the political prisoners it is holding in detention or in house arrest, including Aung San Suu Kyi.”

Clearly, then, Webb’s visit was not the breakthrough that he and other champions of engagement with the regime hoped it would be. If Burma’s rulers think they can simply return to the “good old days” when Washington didn’t care how dictators behaved, as long as they were friendly to America’s interests, they are mistaken. Until it makes real changes in its behavior, the junta’s dream of rapprochement with the US will remain a “1,000-mile destination.”

[This article appears in September issue of The Irrawaddy.]

READ MORE---> No Turning Back...

Thein Htay: Burma’s Terminator?

By MIN LWIN
The Irrawaddy News


To win respect and rapid promotion in the Burmese military you have to play hardball. Maj-Gen Thein Htay, who is deputy-chief of Defense Industry l, is one of the toughest players on the field.

Military insiders say that Thein Htay has played a key role in the modernization of the armed forces, and he is one of the prime promoters of the idea of purchasing missiles.

Maj-Gen Thein Htay, center, with Gen Thura Shwe Mann, right, and a delegation of North Korean officers in 2008.

If reports are true that Burma is trying to acquire nuclear weapons, then he is likely to be a key player in that effort.

Last year, he accompanied Gen Thura Shwe Mann, the regime’s No 3 general, on his clandestine trip to North Korea. During the visit, he and Shwe Mann visited several arms factories and a military hardware deal with the Communist regime was signed.

Known to be an extreme nationalist, Thein Htay didn’t serve long at the infantry battalion level, and he was quickly given an important position at the military industry ministry because of his extensive knowledge of the weapons industry.

Thein Htay received special attention when he advised junta leader Snr-Gen Than Shwe on how to upgrade the Burmese armed forces. He received a “jump” promotion when Than Shwe grew more serious about buying missiles and missile technology after a series of border skirmishes with Thai forces in 2001-2002.

In 1998, Thein Htay was a lieutenant-colonel on the general staff. In 2006, he was promoted to major general, followed by deputy-chief of Defense Industry 1—a sign that he had the trust of Than Shwe.

Sources say that the junta leader sometimes comes to weapons tests when Thein Htay demonstrates newly bought missiles or other weapons.

Defense Industry 1, one of Burma’s main military industrial complexes, operates 22 manufacturing or procurement facilities, many located on the west bank of the Irrawaddy River west of the Pegu mountain range. Several weapon testing grounds are located near Pegu and Pyi.

Military sources said that Thein Htay has been involved in the upgrading and creation of military facilities, including tunnels for missiles, aircraft and even naval ships. He has also expanded technological assistance of Russia, China, North Korea and Singapore.

Under Thein Htay’s command, military factories manufacture conventional weapons, including automatic rifles, light machine guns and landmines. Sources said that at least two military facilities are believed to be involved in refining uranium.

In earlier decades, the Defense Ministry purchased most of its arms and ammunition under contract with the Federal Republic of Germany’s state-owned Fritz Werner, according to defense analysts.

Burma has procured small arms, jet fighters and naval ships from the West particularly the US and EU countries. However, after the 1988 democracy uprising, Western countries imposed arms embargo and stopped selling arms to Burma.

Thein Htay often travels abroad to look for new sources of weapons and ammunition, upgrade missiles, defensive rockets, anti-aircraft radar and command and control technology.

Should Burma be trying to acquire a nuclear capability, Thein Htay and the Defense Ministry will be key players in that effort.

READ MORE---> Thein Htay: Burma’s Terminator?...

Fighting Breaks Out in Kokang Area

Refugees in Burma's Shan State arrive at Nansan town in Zhenkang County in Yunnan Province, China, on August 25. (Photo: Reuters)

By SAW YAN NAING
The Irrawaddy News


Several skirmishes broke out between the Burmese army and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) on Thursday near the Kokang capital, Laogai, in northeast Shan State, as tension between Naypyidaw and the ethnic Kokang ceasefire group boiled over.

The MNDAA, led by Chairman Peng Jiasheng, was reportedly joined in a counteroffensive against the Burmese army by its military allies, National Democratic Alliance Army, also known as the Mong La group, and the United Wa State Army (UWSA).

According to sources on the Sino-Burmese border, gunfire was exchanged between the Burmese army and the ethnic ceasefire groups at three different bases near the Kokang stronghold of Laogai for several hours on Thursday.

The red circle (see arrow) located southeast of Muse on the Sino-Burmese border is the location of tension between junta and Kokang troops. (Map created by Transnational Institute)

The sources said the Kokang troops and their allies took back one base from the Burmese army. No casualties were reported.

“The clashes occurred between the Burmese troops and the Kokang Battalion 7 near Laogai,” said Aung Kyaw Zaw, a Burmese military analyst based on the Sino-Burmese border.

“As far as I know, the Kokang have taken back one of their bases,” he added.

Also on Thursday, gunfire broke out briefly in Yanlon, a town near Laogai, when a unit of MNDAA soldiers encircled a group of Burmese policemen who exchanged fire before escaping to the Chinese side of the border, according to sources on the Sino-Burmese border.

Aung Kyaw Zaw told The Irrawaddy that the Burmese police officers inadvertently shot at each other as they fled over the border.

Another source said that at least one Burmese police officer had died during the clash.

“At least seven policemen fled into China. They were later sent back to the Burmese side by Chinese police,” he said.

The skirmish came after about 1,000 soldiers of the Burmese armed forces, or Tatmadaw, seized the Kokang stronghold of Laogai without a shot being fired on Monday night.

Recent tensions had escalated leading up to the fall of Laogai with a drugs raid on the house of Peng Jiasheng, and a military build-up by the Burmese army in the area.

In recent weeks, an estimated 10,000 Kokang civilians have fled to the Chinese side of the border where they are being temporarily sheltered by Chinese authorities.

MNDAA Chairman Peng Jiasheng, who abandoned his house in Laogai before the Burmese army entered the town, reportedly fled with his troops to the base of his closest ally, the UWSA, from where he released a statement on Thursday urging the Burmese regime to withdraw all its troops from Laogai and seek a peaceful solution to the conflict, said Aung Kyaw Zaw.

But tensions still remain high between the Burmese junta and the ethnic ceasefire groups in northeastern Burma as the Tatmadaw steps up its military maneuvers in the region, he said.

Analysts have said that after if they successfully oust the MNDAA from its stronghold, the Burmese regional military commanders will likely turn their focus to the other ceasefire groups.

“After the Burmese regime has control of the Kokang situation, it will make a move on the Mong La group,” said Saeng Juen, one of the editors of the Thailand-based Shan Herald Agency for News.

Instead of armed attacks though, the Burmese regime will likely explore alternative methods to break down the ceasefire groups, including the strongest insurgent army, the UWSA, said Saeng Juen.

About 700 Chinese troops have been deployed along the Sino-Burmese border for security reasons, he added.

After the fall of Laogai, several defecting MNDAA leaders were appointed by the Burmese regime as the new Kokang leaders.

However, in his statement, Peng Jiasheng rejected the formation of a new Kokang leadership, saying the new leaders did not represent the Kokang people, said Aung Kyaw Zaw.

Meanwhile, the Burmese authorities have released an arrest warrant for Peng Jiasheng and the commanders loyal to him.

The MNDAA signed a ceasefire agreement with the Burmese military government in 1989.

READ MORE---> Fighting Breaks Out in Kokang Area...

China to promote trade with Thailand and Burma

by Usa Pichai

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - With China keen on opening one more border trade checkpoint with Burma, a boost in trade is likely by corporates in Northern Thailand and southern China.

Thailand’s Department of Exporting Promotion organized an event on Wednesday to promote trading and investing in Xishuangbanna Prefecture in Yunnan Province, southern China close to Shan State in Burma.

Apmornphan Nimanan, Chiang Mai province Governor presided over the event and said that Thailand and Xishuangbanna have close cultural ties. Besides, transportation is smooth along Mekong River and over land by R3A route between Thailand – Lao – China or R3B between Thailand – Burma – China, according to a report in the government run Thailand’s News Bureau website.

Earlier, regarding discussions with officials in Chiang Rai Province, Qian Min, the Director of Trade Office’s Xixuangbanna said R3B is the shorter route but there are many checkpoints in Burma that result in excessive transport costs.

“Our officials will discuss this issue with the Burmese authority in Keng Tung and open the Mongla-Daluo border checkpoint soon,” he said. Kieng Tung is located in Shan State, Burma.

The Burmese side of the Mongla-Daluo checkpoint is under the control of the ceasefire group the National Democratic Alliance Army-Eastern Shan State (NDAA-ESS), led by Sai Linn aka Lin Mingxian, which is also known as Shan State Special Region 4.

Dao Linyin, Governor of Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture said in Chiang Mai that the R3A is used officially, which would benefit trading between China and Southeast Asian nations.

“China would speed up cooperation with Thailand in commercial, investment and tourism and infrastructure development. We will also provide more support for investors with special privileges. If there are problems that the local government can solve, we will do so immediately,” she said.

Early this year, Chinese authorities placed restrictions on this border checkpoint to curb drug smuggling, where trading and other business including casinos were affected.

Burma’s cross-border trade was banned by the late dictator Gen. Ne Win after the military assumed power in 1962 but the ban was lifted following negotiations in 1988.

Bilateral trade has risen steadily since, increasing by 60 per cent in the fiscal year ending 31 March, 2008, and constitutes 24 per cent of Burma's trade, making China a major trading partner, second only to Thailand.

Trading between China and Thailand has also risen steadily. In 2008 it was more than 36,000 million US$ which rose by about 20 per cent compared to 2007 but the global economic meltdown resulted in a significant drop early this year.

READ MORE---> China to promote trade with Thailand and Burma...

Fighting breaks out between Kokang and government troops

by Mungpi

New Delhi (Mizzima) – The palpable tension between Kokang and Burmese troops, finally sparked a clash on Thursday with at least three separate gun battles taking place along the Sino-Burmese border.

The first clash, according to border sources, occurred at about 7 a.m. (local time) near the town of Yan Lone Chai on the Sino-Burmese border. In another incident, the Peng Jiasheng led faction of the Kokang Army ambushed government troops which were trailing them in the jungle. Later in the evening, the two armies skirmished near the town of Chin Shui Haw along the border for more than an hour.

“The battle has begun between the Kokang and the junta’s troops,” said Sino-Burmese border based analyst Aung Kyaw Zaw.

On Tuesday, he told Mizzima that fighting seemed imminent as tension between the two groups was building up.

According to Aung Kyaw Zaw and other observers, tension began to mount between the Peng Jiasheng led Kokang rebels and Tatmadaw soldiers after the Kokang, like many other armed ceasefire groups, rejected the junta’s proposal of transforming their army into a Border Guard Force to be controlled by the regime.

Unable to persuade the ceasefire groups to transform, the junta had extended the deadline for the groups to decide on the proposal to October.

Though Peng and his loyalists had rejected the proposal, the junta exploited fissures in the Kokang force as Bai Xuoqian, deputy to Peng, was keen to comply with the junta’s proposal.

Meanwhile, government troops have been infiltrating Kokang Special Region (1) under the pretext of drug eradication, setting up a Regional Operation Command in Lao Kai.

Government troops and police raided Peng’s residence in Lao Kai on August 8 and again on August 21. But Peng evaded both the raids.

Following the raids, the Lashio police station on August 22 served a summons to Peng and three other colleagues, including his brother, to appear before the court. But the four did not show up and as a result the court issued an arrest warrant for Peng and his group.

On the wanted list of the Burmese junta, Peng and his troops, as of Tuesday, moved out of Lao Kai to the north, having lost control over Kokang’s capital.

On Tuesday, sources said government troops reorganized the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army and installed Bai Xuoqian as their leader.

But Aung Kyaw Zaw said, “Most of the Kokang troops have joined Peng and only a few remain with Bai in Lao Kai. Bai does not really have an army with him.”

Once members of the powerful Burma Communist Party (BCP), MNDAA, or the Kokang Army, broke away from the BCP in 1989 and signed a ceasefire agreement with the ruling junta the same year. The ethnic Chinese Kokang, following the ceasefire pact, enjoyed special privileges and were allotted several business concessions.

Mizzima’s correspondent on the Sino-Burmese border added, “Peng’s troops are now literally breaking away from the ceasefire agreement and are hiding in the jungles.”

Phoe Than Gyaung, spokesperson of the Burma Communist Party, on Thursday said he is aware of the ongoing conflict and tension in the Kokang area and feels sad that they have also fallen victim to the junta’s old and devious trick of divide and rule.

“It is the junta’s tactic to always divide the groups. Though the Kokang has broken away from us, we consider them our good friends and it is sad that there is a conflict amidst them,” Phoe Than Gyuang elaborated.

But he hoped that the Burmese junta might not come down heavily on the Kokang Army as they are busy with plans for the 2010 general election and handling the internal political situation revolving around the sentencing of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Aung Naing Oo, a Thailand-based analyst, on Wednesday told Mizzima that the Kokang case is another classic example of the junta’s tactics in action, and other ceasefire groups including the United Wa State Army (UWSA) can start preparing for their turn.

The UWSA and Kokang Army both broke away from the BCP, once a powerful group that posed a direct threat to the Rangoon government. But the loss of the UWSA, Kokang Army and other groups drastically weakened the BCP to where it is, today, almost non-functional with only a few remaining members.

READ MORE---> Fighting breaks out between Kokang and government troops...

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Kokang capital falls: “Not shoot first” policy under fire

Laogai (S.H.A.N), the capital of Kokang, just 5 months after celebrating the 20th anniversary of peace with the country’s military rulers, is under Burma Army control since Monday night, 24 August, according to sources.

“I haven’t seen any Kokang fighters all day,” said one of the few remaining residents told SHAN yesterday. “Everywhere it’s the Burmese the soldiers.”

Peng Jiasheng - Kokang supreme leader

Another source said he had gone past what was until yesterday the mansion of Peng Jiasheng, the Kokang supreme leader and saw only Burmese policemen both inside and outside the wall.

Peng and three others, which included his younger brother Jiafu and two sons, were said to have escaped to the north with his troops.

According to the latest information, Peng and troops loyal to him are still holding positions northeast of Laogai and at Qingsuihe (Chinshwehaw) aka Nampha on the southern border with Wa.

As the new base at Kunghsa is just 4km from Laogai, the Burma Army could have mounted an attack if it chose to. “But they have yet to do it, probably because it is too uncomfortably near the Chinese border,” said a source from the border. “The Burma Army has instead brought in other Kokang rivals of Peng to deal with him. Apart from Bai Souqian (his former deputy), there are now Kokang militias loyal to the Burma Army from Kunlong, Hopang and even his archenemy Yang Mouliang. If there is going to be any shooting, the Burma Army can now tell the Chinese it’s a fight among the Kokangs, the Burma Army has nothing to do with it.”

On the other side of the border, China has set up a temporary holding center for the refugees from Burma, according to the same source. “They are giving them a blanket and a mat each, besides food,” he said.

Meanwhile, the United Wa State Army (UWSA) is reportedly holding an emergency meeting with its Kokang ally this morning at Namteuk, south of Qingshihe.

Bao Ai Roong - UWSA’s 318th Division

The two towns are separated by the Namting and connected by a bridge over it. “The fall of Qingsuihe,” admitted a Wa source, “could greatly threaten the safety of Namteuk and restrict our movements.”

Namteuk is the headquarters of the UWSA’s 318th Division, commanded by Bao Ai Roong, the Wa supreme leader’s nephew.

The fall of Laogai without a shot being fired has brought into question the practicality of the “Not Shooting First” policy of the Peace and Democracy Front (PDF), whose members include Kokang, Wa and Mongla. “We should also have spelled out what movements by the Burma Army would be deemed as hostile acts,” said a Shan ceasefire officer. “Now, because we have said that we won’t shoot first, the Burma Army is being allowed to beef up its forces around us.”

The Kokang debacle could be repeated elsewhere, he warned, if the alliance continued to hold on the policy.

Kokang, since 1989, had been under the control of Peng Jiasheng. The Burmese authorities, now that an arrest warrant for him has been issued, is reportedly encouraging Peng’s rival groups to set up a new leadership.

READ MORE---> Kokang capital falls: “Not shoot first” policy under fire...

Floods from dam near Thai–Burmese border cause concern

by Usa Pichai

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) –The incident of flash floods near the Thai-Burmese border last week points to the ineffectiveness of the authorities in addition to its blatant blacking out of information, environmentalists have pointed out.

Witoon Permpongsacharoen, an environmentalist attached to the ‘Towards Ecological Recovery and Regional Alliance’, a Bangkok based organization working closely with environmental issues in the region told Mizzima that the recent flooding from the Srikakarin Dam in the Kanchanaburi Province bordering Burma, affected several villages in the area.

But information on this was not available from the authorities.

“While compensation is necessary it is important that the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat) and the Petroleum Authority of Thailand (currently the PTT Public Co. Ltd.) should clarify the facts. Earlier there had been warnings that the dam was vulnerable to earthquakes. Besides there was lack of study on the environmental effect in the area from the construction of the dam,” he said.

“The media seems to have no interest in following up the issue though it affects so many villagers,” he said.

Witoon pointed out that the planned series of dams to be built on the Salween River in Burma will also be at risk from earthquakes “even though the authorities claim that engineering technology could solve this problem and resist damage from earthquakes, measuring up to seven on the Richter scale. But who can guarantee whether earthquakes will not be stronger?” he asked.

The dams has been built on the Srisawat active fault near the Three Pagoda Pass, both on the Thai– Burma border and is at risk from earthquakes.

The incident follows an accident during gas transmission from the Bongkot in the Thai Gulf and Yadana fields in Burma last week. To avoid a power blackout in western Thailand due to the stoppage, the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat) decided to release water from the Srinakarin Dam in Kanchanaburi province close to the Burmese border to generate power, which resulted in flooding large areas and affecting hundreds of local villagers. There are rumours that the dam has been damaged by an earthquake.

The cabinet was given the report and has acknowledged the technical problems. It was informed that eight villages in Muang district had been affected by floods, along with three resorts, some raft operations and farmlands. A committee has been set up to investigate the sudden release of water from the Srinakarin Dam.

Deputy permanent secretary Norkun Sitthiphong will chair the committee, which has been given seven days to investigate and submit a report.

"The committee will find out why the water had to be released and whether the decision was appropriate. It must also come up with preventive measures," he said, denying reports that the floods were caused by an earthquake.

However, in 2007 the fault line in Burma caused small earthquakes in the Golden Triangle areas, connecting Laos, Burma and Thailand, when a 6.1 magnitude earthquake occurred about 700 kilometres from Bangkok.

Such tremors were however not dangerous, but has been causing worry about fault lines near the capital such as the Sakaing fault in the Andaman Sea, 400 kilometres from Bangkok or the Three Pagoda fault zone and the Srisawat fault in Kanchanaburi, 200 kilometres from Bangkok.

READ MORE---> Floods from dam near Thai–Burmese border cause concern...

Myanmar: Towards the Elections

Asia Report N°174
20 August 2009

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS

The bizarre prosecution and conviction of opposition leader and Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi for violating her house arrest has returned attention to repression in Myanmar, as preparations were underway for the first national elections in twenty years, now scheduled for 2010. This further undermined what little credibility the exercise may have had, especially when based on a constitution that institutionalises the military’s political role. The UN Secretary-General’s July visit, which produced no tangible results, added to the gloom. But while the elections will not be free and fair – a number of prominent regime opponents have been arrested and sentenced to prison terms over the last year – the constitution and elections together will fundamentally change the political landscape in a way the government may not be able to control. Senior Generals Than Shwe and Maung Aye may soon step down or move to ceremonial roles, making way for a younger military generation. All stakeholders should be alert to opportunities that may arise to push the new government toward reform and reconciliation.

At first glance, the obstacles to change seem over­whelming. The 2008 constitution entrenches military power by reserving substantial blocs of seats in the national and local legislatures for the army, creating a strong new national defence and security council and vesting extraordinary powers in the commander-in-chief. It prevents Aung San Suu Kyi from standing for president, even if she were not imprisoned. It is extremely difficult to amend. And while not all regulations relating to the administration of the elections have been an­nounced, they are unlikely to offer much room for manoevre to opposition parties.

But the elections are significant because the controversial constitution on which they are based involves a complete reconfiguration of the political structure – establishing a presidential system of government with a bicameral legislature as well as fourteen regional governments and assemblies – the most wide-ranging shake-up in a generation. The change will not inevitably be for the better, but it offers an opportunity to influence the future direction of the country. Ultimately, even assuming that the intention of the regime is to consolidate military rule rather than begin a transition away from it, such processes often lead in unexpected directions.

This report looks at the elections in the context of Myan­mar’s constitutional history. It examines key provisions of the 2008 constitution and shows how many of the controversial articles were simply taken from its 1947 or 1974 predecessors. Noteworthy new provisions include strict requirements on presidential candidates, the establishment of state/regional legislatures and governments, the reservation of legislative seats for the military, military control of key security ministries, the authority granted to the military to administer its own affairs (in particular military justice) and the creation of a constitutional tribunal.

Criticism of the constitution from groups within Myan­mar has focused on military control, ethnic autonomy, qualifications for political office, and the very difficult amendment procedures. The main reaction of the populace to it and the forthcoming elections is indifference, rooted in a belief that nothing much will change. Some of the so-called ceasefire groups – ethnic minorities that have ended their conflicts with the government – are endorsing ethnic political parties that will take part in the polls. These groups take a negative view of the constitution but feel that there may be some limited opening of political space, particularly at the regional level, and that they should position themselves to take advantage of this. There are increased tensions, however, as the regime is pushing these groups to transform into border guard forces partially under the command of the national army.

The National League for Democracy (NLD), winner of the 1990 elections, has said it will only take part if the constitution is changed, and it is given the freedom to organise. Assuming this will not happen, it is not yet clear if it will call for a complete boycott in an attempt to deny the elections legitimacy or urge its supporters to vote for other candidates. A boycott could play into the hands of the military government, since it would not prevent the election from going ahead and would mainly deprive non-government candidates of votes, potentially narrowing the range of voices in future legislatures.

The Myanmar authorities must make the electoral process more credible. Aung San Suu Kyi and all other political prisoners must be released now and allowed to participate fully in the electoral process; politically-motivated arrests must cease. It also critical that key electoral legislation be promulgated as soon as possible, in a way that allows parties to register without undue restriction, gives space for canvassing activities and ensures transparent counting of votes.

The international community, including Myanmar’s ASEAN neighbours, must continue to press for these measures while looking for opportunities that the elections may bring. This will require a pragmatic and nuanced strategy towards the new government at the very time, following a deeply flawed electoral process, when pressure will be greatest for a tough stance. The new Myanmar government, whatever its policies, will not be capable of reversing overnight a culture of impunity and decades of abuses and political restrictions. But following the elections, the international community must be ready to respond to any incremental positive steps in a calibrated and timely fashion. To have any hope of inducing a reform course, it is critical to find ways to communicate unambiguously that a renormalisation of external relations is possible.

RECOMMENDATIONS

To Members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN):

1. Make clear to Myanmar authorities that ASEAN member states support the release of political prisoners; enactment of timely and reasonable administrative regulations for registration of political parties; permission for domestic and foreign election monitors to be present throughout the country no less than a month before the scheduled polling date; and a green light for freedom of movement for print and broadcast journalists from ASEAN countries.

2. Consider offering, as and when appropriate, parliamentary exchanges with the newly elected government, assistance in setting up parliamentary committees and other steps that might push the door open a little wider.

3. Outline for Myanmar authorities the steps they would have to take for the elections to be perceived as credible.

4. Build on the positive example set by ASEAN following Cyclone Nargis by acting as a “diplomatic bridge” between Myanmar and the international community – explaining the latter’s concerns to Myan­mar and viceversa.

To Western Governments:


5. Articulate clear expectations for the electoral process and highlight where it fails to meet international standards.

6. State clearly what the West expects of Myanmar in order for relations to improve; send clear messages before the post-election government is in place that a process of normalising relations is possible; and indicate that positive steps will be met with timely, calibrated responses.

7. Suspend restrictions on high-level bilateral contacts with the new government, along with restrictions on its members’ travel, to enable the diplomatic exchanges that will be required in order to communicate the necessary messages.

8. Maintain the targeted financial sanctions against individual leaders, while keeping them under review so that they can be adjusted in light of developments.

To the UN Secretary-General and the relevant agencies of the UN System:


9. Keep an active good offices process, including the personal engagement of the Secretary-General as well as the efforts of his Special Adviser, so as to be in a position to take advantage of any unexpected opportunities that may arise. A multi-level political presence on the ground can be valuable in this respect.

10. Consider providing relevant and appropriate electoral assistance, while abiding by UN standards, including technical discussions with the Myanmar authorities at an early stage on international expectations and experiences from other countries.

11. Begin, through relevant bodies (such as the United Nations Development Programme) and in cooperation with other international institutions (such as the World Bank), activities aimed at strengthening the capacity of civilian institutions of governance. This should be implemented in an incremental manner, based on careful assessments of the space for conducting such activities.

To the Myanmar Government:


12. Release Aung San Suu Kyi and all other political prisoners.

13. Desist from pre-election arrests and prosecution of perceived political opponents or dissidents.

14. Promulgate fair administrative laws and regulations relating to the conduct of the election as soon as possible.

15. Minimise restrictions on the registration of political parties and on canvassing activities and put in place procedures to ensure the transparent counting of votes.

16. Give greater importance to the ethnic dimension of the political situation, including by:

a) implementing a nationwide ceasefire and ensuring and facilitating humanitarian access to former conflict areas;

b) taking steps to reduce tensions with ethnic political and ceasefire organisations and giving them assurances about their political and military status in the lead-up to the elections; and

c) committing to select chief ministers from among the elected representatives of state legislatures.

To Other Stakeholders in Myanmar, including the Political Opposition:

17. Encourage the broadest possible participation in the election process, even if individual parties or organisations choose not to participate.

18. Encourage full participation of the electorate in campaigning and voting.

To Donors, Non-Governmental Organisations and Institutes:


19. Support the provision of in-country civic education to the Myanmar electorate if possible, as well as through exiled media organisations and international Burmese-language radio stations.

20. Support the exposure of new legislators to the workings of other legislatures, particularly those in the region and in other countries that are emerging or have recently emerged from authoritarian rule, in order to build capacity and work towards normalising relations.

21. Be prepared to respond quickly to opportunities to rebuild and/or reform key political and economic institutions, as well as social infrastructure, if or when opportunities arise.

22. Provide humanitarian and development support to ethnic regions, particularly special autonomous areas.

Yangon/Brussels, 20 August 2009

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READ MORE---> Myanmar: Towards the Elections...

Without constitution amendment elections cannot herald change: NLD

by Mungpi

New Delhi (Mizzima) - Unless Burma’s military regime releases political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, and amends the 2008 constitution, the 2010 general elections will be meaningless and will not usher in any kind of change, the National League for Democracy has said.

The 2010 general election, proposed by the ruling junta, is based on the 2008 constitution, which enshrines the role of the military. It cannot provide an opportunity for change unless the regime considers reviewing the constitution, Dr. Win Naing, a spokesperson for the NLD said.

“The 2010 elections cannot be an opportunity for change in Burma unless the junta reviews and amends the constitution,” he said.

It has been 20 years now, and the junta is aware that it cannot continue ruling the country in an illegitimate manner. Since the junta is not prepared to make any kind of drastic reforms, it drafted the constitution to legitimize its role, he added.

Dr. Win Naing’s remarks came in response to the recent report released by the International Crisis Group, which urged all stake holders in Burmese politics to prepare to seize an opportunity of change that is likely to be a fall out of the 2010 elections.

The ICG in its report released on Thursday said the 2010 election is an opportunity for change and urged the international community, the Burmese opposition including the NLD, the military government and other stake holders not to squander the opportunity.

“All stakeholders should be alert to opportunities that may arise to push the new government towards reform and reconciliation,” the report, titled “Myanmar: Towards the Elections”, said.

The report also argues that boycotting or opposing the election would only push things into the hands of the military as it would not prevent the elections from taking place.

But Dr. Win Naing said if the elections take place without any consideration for the opposition’s demands, it would only produce a result that is predictable – continued military rule – and the only difference this time would be “a legitimized military rule”.

“We don’t see it as an opportunity. The conditions before the elections are important and if nothing changes and if the junta goes ahead with its plans, it is predictable,” he added.

But he did not criticize the ICG report stating, “It is their view and we appreciate it for expressing such ideas. It does not matter whether we agree with it or not.”

But functioning within a rigidly controlled environment, Dr. Win Naing said, people living in Burma understand the military’s mentality and need to assess the situation before taking any decision.

“As we have mentioned in our ‘Shwegondine Declaration’ (see below a copy of the declaration) if the ruling government does not implement our proposals, we would be forced to re-think how we should go about the 2010 election,” he added.

On August 11, the NLD’s general secretary Aung San Suu Kyi was sentenced to a further 18 months in detention, which is widely believed by observers as a move to keep her away from the 2010 election scenario.

Similarly, members of the NLD in Rangoon have been harassed and tortured for their political activities.

25 August 2009

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NLD Shwegondine Declaration
20090429_NLD Shwegondine Declaration

READ MORE---> Without constitution amendment elections cannot herald change: NLD...

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Daewoo invest $5.6 billion in Burma gas

(DVB)–South Korean company Daewoo International is waiting for the go-ahead from the Burmese government to invest nearly $US5.6 billion in Burma's gas fields, with the produce destined for China.

If approved, the deal will see Daewoo supplying the China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) over the course of 30 years with around seven percent of the country's current gas consumption, although this is expected to grow rapidly.

Burma has huge offshore natural gas reserves in the Bay of Bengal which already cater for much of Thailand's energy needs.

Advocacy groups have complained that the vast majority of Burma's natural energy is being shipped out of the country, despite many of the major cities suffering frequent blackouts.

Daewoo will be leading a consortium of companies, which includes India's Oil and Natural Gas Corp and GAIL company, the Myanmar Oil & Gas Enterprise, and the Korea Gas Corp.

The project includes the construction of 2,800 kilometer oil and gas pipelines, known as the Shwe Gas Project, running from Burma's western Arakan state to China's southwestern Yunnan province.

Until now China has relied on the congested Strait of Malacca, between Singapore and Indonesia’s Sumatra peninsular, to transport oil from the Middle East to its energy-hungry population. According to Reuters, Burma will be able to tap the pipelines once they are in operation.

In June the Korean government rejected a complaint from two environmental advocacy groups, EarthRights International (ERI) and Shwe Gas Movement, that allegedly exposed human rights abuses surrounding the project.

China and Korea are two of only a handful of countries that still invest substantially in Burma, with China being its main trading partner and political ally.

Burma is subject to sanctions from a number of Western countries, including the United States and European Union, although these do not block investment in Burma's natural energy.

The EU recently ratcheted up its sanctions package on Burma, following the detention of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi earlier this month.

The United States is currently reviewing its policy towards Burma, following comments from some senior officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, that sanctions had failed.

Reporting by Francis Wade

READ MORE---> Daewoo invest $5.6 billion in Burma gas...

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