Friday, September 25, 2009

Burmese-American Tortured in Prison: AI

By KO HTWE
The Irrawaddy News


Amnesty international has issued a statement of grave concern about Burmese-American activist Nyi Nyi Aung (aka Kyaw Zaw Lwin), who it says has been tortured and suffered other ill-treatment while in detention in Insein Prison in Rangon.

Nyi Nyi Aung, who has dual citizenship, was arrested in Rangoon on Sept. 3 after returning from exile.

While in detention he has been tortured including beatings and kicking, lack of food for seven days, no sleep and denial of medical treatment for injuries sustained while tortured, said the report.

The New Light of Myanmar, the state-backed newspaper, reported in detail on Thursday on Nyi Nyi Aung’s arrest. The report included photographs of Nyi Nyi Aung, explosives and a satellite phone he was alleged to have had in his possession.

The story described underground activities allegedly undertaken by Nyi Nyi Aung and connections between dissidents inside and outside Burma.

Nyi Nyi Aung’s mother, San San Tin, is severing a 5-year prison sentence and his cousin, Thet Thet Aung, is serving a 65-year prison sentence for participating in the anti-government demonstrations in September 2007.

Meanwhile, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) released a statement on Thursday that welcomed the amnesty of prisoners and noted reports of torture undergone by some detainees during interrogation and imprisonment.

The AHRC said torture and abuse of prisoners is endemic across Burma and singled out Myo Yan Naung Thein, Bo Bo and Aung Myint as having been tortured after their arrest and imprisonment followed by a lack of appropriate medical treatment.

The statement called on the junta to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit detention facilities in Burma without further delay.

Also, the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (Forum-Asia) issued a statement criticizing the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) silence on Burma at the recent UN Human Rights Council meeting and called on Asean to stand with victims of human rights abuses in Burma.

Yap Swee Seng, the executive director of Forum-Asia, said “While we appreciate the efforts of some governments to make a joint appeal of the Asean at the General Assembly for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, we deeply regret that the same effort has not been taken at the Human Rights Council nor has any Asean member country spoke out on Burma in its own national capacity.”

Burma Newscasts - Burmese-American Tortured in Prison: AI

Friday, September 25, 2009

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Engaging Naypyidaw

By AUNG ZAW
The Irrawaddy News


If the United States believes engaging the repressive regime in Burma will change the behavior of the generals, I would just like to say, “Good luck, but I’m afraid that leopards don’t change their spots!”

In fact, the “new” US policy on Burma comes not so long after the Tom Lantos Block Burmese JADE Act 2008, the US’s attempt at a strong-arm policy on the generals.

The 2008 act has three aims:
1) to impose new financial sanctions and travel restrictions on the leaders of the junta and their associates;
2) to tighten the economic sanctions imposed in 2003 by outlawing the importation of Burmese gems to the US;
3) and to create a new position of special representative and policy coordinator for Burma.

The proposed US special envoy would have the task of working with Burma’s neighbors and other interested countries, such as those within the EU and Asean.

The envoy’s mission would also involve developing a comprehensive approach to the Burma crisis, including pressure, dialogue and support for nongovernmental organizations providing humanitarian relief to the Burmese people.

It remains to be seen if the Obama administration is going to appoint the special US envoy to Burma anytime in the near future.

Burmese dissidents and observers by and large think that the generals in Naypyidaw may be more receptive to a US envoy than someone from the UN or EU—after all, we all witnessed how generously Snr-Gen Than Shwe treated US Senator Jim Webb in August.

In any case, the Tom Lantos Block Burmese JADE Act was a mixture of sanctions and engagement. Unsurprisingly, the new US policy on Burma is a mixed bag of sticks and carrots.

In her most recent statement, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “Engagement versus sanctions is a false choice in our opinion.

“Going forward we will be employing both of those tools,” Clinton said, but added that lifting sanctions would send the wrong signal.

On the surface, the substance of the policy is to encourage credible, democratic reforms and the immediate release of all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, and serious dialogue with opposition and ethnic minority groups.

Speaking on behalf of detained democracy leader Suu Kyi, party spokesman Nyan Win said that she accepted the concept of engagement by the new US administration.

In fact, the Nobel Peace Prize winner’s message to the US is clear and well-calculated.

“She said she has always espoused engagement,” Nyan Win said. “However, [she] suggested that engagement has to be done with both sides—the government as well as the democratic forces.”

The statement forces the US to ponder whether it can be seen to betray or abandon the pro-democracy camp in Burma and the issue of human rights.

In any case, several pundits and scholars have voiced their opinions on the “new US policy”; however, I think it is important to listen to Burmese who continue to live under the regime.

I believe the main skeptics of the new US policy are the oppressed Burmese citizens, and political dissidents and Buddhist monks who remain in prison.

On the international front, the generals’ powerful allies China, India and Russia will be carefully eyeing the US’s new approach.

I believe an extra dimension to the Obama government’s new engagement policy is the issue of China.

China remains the junta’s major arms supplier and trading partner. It offers security guarantees at the United Nations Security Council, investment and trade links, as well as development assistance.

However, Beijing was displeased by the instability on its border when the Burmese government forces attacked ethnic Chinese and the Kokang ethnic rebel group recently.

China’s repeated requests to solve the issue peacefully went ignored. Beijing must have seen this as a breach of their fraternal relationship and time to reassess its own Burma policy.

In a rare move by China, the foreign ministry spoke out urging Burma to “properly handle domestic problems and maintain stability in the China-Burma border region” and to “protect the security and legal rights" of China’s citizens in the country.

“The insular and nationalistic generals do not take orders from anyone, including Beijing,” said Robert Templer, International Crisis Group’s Asia Program Director.

Regarding China-Burma relations, Templer warned: “By continuing to simply expect China to take the lead in solving the problem, a workable international approach to Myanmar [Burma] will remain elusive.”

The ICG also said that the West should emphasize to China the unsustainable nature of its current policies and continue to apply pressure in the Security Council and other fora.

The joke among Burmese dissidents is that Beijing has been left broken-hearted after seeing Washington’s move on Naypyidaw.

China definitely doesn’t want to be left out in the cold, but, simultaneously, it should feel some form of victory as it has for years pushed the US and its allies not to punish or isolate the Burmese regime.

Common ground between the US and China would appear to lie in their approach to the 2010 election in Burma.

“The Burmese election should not be dismissed at this time,” said Clinton in New York. “At the same time, we should continue discussions with the Burmese authorities to emphasize that the international community will only recognize the planned 2010 elections as a positive step to the extent that the Burmese authorities allow full participation by members of Burma's opposition and ethnic minority groups.”

To sum up, the US and China may both be repositioning and trying out new policies with Burma. And both will know that while they may not have suffered a defeat, they most certainly have had to make concessions.

The intransigent, stubborn, brutal regime in Naypyidaw, however, maintains its grip on power and does not need to make a concession to anyone.

Burma Newscasts - Engaging Naypyidaw
Friday, September 25, 2009

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Arrested Dissident Accused of Terrorist Intentions

By SAW YAN NAING
The Irrawaddy News

The Burmese regime’s official newspaper The New Light of Myanmar accused arrested dissident Nyi Nyi Aung on Thursday of being a terrorist and planning to create unrest.

Nyi Nyi Aung (aka Kyaw Zaw Lwin) was arrested in early September after returning from exile in Thailand. A second Thailand-based dissident, Ko Htut, was also arrested after crossing separately into Burma.

Nyi Nyi Aung aka Kyaw Zaw Lwin

The New Light of Myanmar reported in detail on Thursday on Nyi Nyi Aung’s arrest. The report included photos of Nyi Nyi Aung, explosives and a satellite phone he was alleged to have used.

The report described underground activities allegedly undertaken by Nyi Nyi Aung and connections the paper said existed between dissidents inside and outside Burma.

The arrests of Nyi Nyi Aung and Ko Htut were followed by crackdowns on Burmese dissidents in Burma and Thailand.

Shortly after the two were taken into custody, 16 ethnic Arakan youths were arrested—seven in Rangoon and the others in Sittwe, capital of Arakan State. They were accused of maintaining links to the Thailand-based All Arakan Students’ and Youths’ Congress (AASYC).

Activists belonging to Generation Wave and Best Manure, members of the opposition National League for Democracy and several Buddhist monks were arrested in the crackdown.

In neighboring Thailand, the offices of several Burmese exile groups were raided by Thai police— including the Human Rights Education Institute of Burma, where Ko Htut used to work.

In Chiang Mai, 10 Burmese women activists were arrested and held in custody for several days. Other dissident groups closed their offices, and several remain shut in the Thai-Burmese border towns of Mae Sot and Sangkhlaburi according to dissident sources.

Sources reported that staff of Burma’s Bangkok Embassy are photographing activists attending demonstrations and other functions in Thailand.

Win Min, a Chiang Mai-based Burmese analyst, said a Burmese military attaché in Bangkok is active in requesting Thai security officials to harass Burmese opposition groups in exile.

Burmese opposition groups last faced close Thai scrutiny during the administration of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Many offices closed for several weeks, fearing official crackdowns.

Burma Newscasts - Arrested Dissident Accused of Terrorist Intentions
Thursday, September 24, 2009

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

At least 104 political prisoners released

(Mae Sot – Thailand) -The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma) (AAPP) can confirm that so far 104 political prisoners have been released from 22 different prisons in Burma.

The 104 released include 37 members of the National League for Democracy, including 3 MPs; 18 women; 11 former political prisoners; 4 monks; 4 journalists; 9 members of the Human Rights Defenders and Promoters Network; 6 members of the 88 Generation Students; and 1 lawyer.

On the evening of September 17, 2009 in Rangoon, state-run MRTV carried a news bulletin announcing that 7,114 prisoners were to be released “on humanitarian grounds.”

The list of political prisoners released will be continually updated at our web site www.aappb.org as AAPP receives more information. In alphabetical order:

1. Angaelay (Mandalay prison) - student
2. Aung Gyi (Insein prison) - student
3. Aung Gyi @ Aung Thwin (Shwebo prison) – journalist, former political prisoner, 88 Generation Students
4. Aung Ko Oo (Tharawaddy prison) - student
5. Aung Lwin (Thandwe prison)
6. Aung Myint (Myaungmya prison) - NLD member; Human Rights Defenders and Promoters member
7. Aung Myo (Shwebo prison) – NLD Township Organiser
8. Aung Naing (Insein prison) – NLD member
9. Aung Swe (Shwebo prison) - NLD member
10. Aung Tun (Tharawaddy prison) – student; member of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions
11. Aye Min (a) Aye Min Min (Tharawaddy prison) – private tutor
12. Ba Chit (Tharawaddy prison) – Ex-captain in the army
13. Ba Min (Kale prison) – NLD member
14. Bo Bo (Myingyan prison)
15. Bo Gyi (Pegu prison)
16. Cho Mar Htwe, (Female) (Moulmein prison) – NLD member
17. Eimt Khaing Oo, Female (Insein prison) – journalist; Cyclone Nargis volunteer
18. Hlaing Aye (Kale prison) - NLD MP, Former Political Prisoner
19. Hla Shein, (Hinzada prison) , Human Rights Defenders and Promoters
20. Htay Win (Thayet prison) – NLD Township Organizer
21. Khaing Kaung Zan, (Thayet prison) – Arakan League for Democracy in exile member
22. Khin Khin Lay (a) Khin Lay, (Female) (Pegu prison) – NLD member
23. Khin Maung Chit (Meiktila prison) - NLD Local Secretary
24. Khin Maung Thein (Shwebo prison) – NLD member
25. Khin Moe Aye (a) Moe Moe (Female), (Myingyan prison) – 88 Generation Students member; former political prisoner
26. Kyaw Kyaw Thant (Insein prison) – journalist; Cyclone Nargis volunteer
27. Kyaw Lwin, (Hinzada prison) , Human Rights Defenders and Promoters
28. Kyaw Maung (Myitkyina prison) – NLD MP
29. Kyaw Thu Htike (Taunggyi prison)
30. Kyaw Win (Tharawaddy prison) – All Burma Students Democratic Front
31. Kyi Kyi Min, (Female) (Insein prison) – NLD member
32. Kyi Lin (Myintkyina prison) – NLD member
33. Ma Ei (female) (Paungde prison)
34. Ma Htay (a) San San Myint, (Female) (Insein prison)
35. Ma Mi Mi Swe (female) (Henzada prison)
36. Maung Maung Htwe (Shwebo prison)
37. Maw Si (Shwebo prison) – NLD Youth member
38. Mi Mi Sein, (Female) (Insein prison) – NLD Township Joint-Secretary
39. Michael Win Kyaw (Kale prison) – 88 Generation Students member; former political prisoner
40. Min Min (a) La Min Tun, (Hinzada prison) , Human Rights Defenders and Promoters
41. Min Min Soe (Myingyan prison) – 88 Generation Students member
42. Moe Hlaing (Moulmein prison)
43. Moe Kyaw Thu (a) Bo Bo (Mandalay prison)
44. Moe Lwin (Moulmein prison) – individual activist
45. Monywar Aung Shin (a) U Aye Kyu (Insein prison) - Member of NLD and poet
46. Mya Sein, (Hinzada prison) , Human Rights Defenders and Promoters
47. Myint Oo (a) Ni Ni (Mandalay prison) – NLD Township organizer; former political prisoner
48. Myint Oo (Thayet prison) – NLD Township Joint Secretary
49. Myo Min Lwin (Moulmein prison)
50. Myo Yan Naung Thein (Thandwe prison) – 88 Generation Students member, former political prisoner
51. Nay Win (Myintkyina prison) – NLD Township Organizer
52. Nine Nine (Insein prison) – NLD MP, Former Political Prisoner
53. Nu Nu Swe @ Pauk Pauk (female) (Myaungmya prison)
54. Nyi Nyi Min (Buthidaung prison) – NLD member
55. Nyo Mya (Kale prison) – NLD member
56. Pe Tin (Pegu prison) – NLD member
57. Pyae Phyo Aung (a) Hnan Mue (Pa-An prison)
58. San Pwint (Kale prison) – NLD member; teacher
59. San Ya (Tharawaddy prison) – NLD member
60. Sandar Min (a) Shwee, (Myaungmya prison) – 88 Generation Students, Former Political Prisoner
61. Sandar, (Female) (Myingyan prison) – NLD member
62. Saw Myo Min Hlaing @ James (Thaton prison) - Private Tutor
63. Saw Taw Kyi (Thayet prison) – Karen National Union member
64. Shin Sandaw Batha, Monk (Insein prison) – All Burma Monks’ Alliance
65. Shwe Thar (a) Tin Win (Tharawaddy prison) – Karen National Union member
66. Soe Han (Lashio prison) – lawyer; Chair of the National League for Democracy’s (NLD) legal advisory body
67. Soe Wai (a) Than Zaw (Myitkyina prison)
68. Than Min (a) Tin Tun Aung, (Taungoo prison) – NLD member
69. Than Than Htay, (Female) (Insein prison) – student
70. Than Than Sint, (Female) (Insein prison)
71. Than Tun (Shwebo prison)
72. Than Zaw Oo (Tharawaddy prison) – NLD member
73. Thar Cho, (Thayet prison) – NLD Township Organizer
74. Thein Zaw (Tharawaddy prison)
75. Thet Oo (Taungoo prison) – Human Rights Defenders and Promoters member
76. Thet Zin (a) Maung Zin (Kale prison) – journalist; former political prisoner; member of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions and the Democratic Party for a New Society
77. Thin Min Soe, (Female) (Insein prison) – labour activist
78. Thura Win @ Thura Lin (Buthidaung) – Student
79. Tin Mar Swe (female) (Mandalay prison)
80. Tin Maung Nyunt (Shwebo prison) – NLD Township Organiser
81. Tin Mya (Insein prison) - National League for Democracy Township chairperson, Former Political Prisoner
82. Tin Myint (Insein prison) – NLD member
83. Tin Myint (Tharawaddy prison)
84. Tin Myo Htut (a) Kyaw Oo (Insein prison) – Generation Wave; former political prisoner
85. Tin Tin Myint, (Female) (Insein prison) – third year chemistry student
86. Tin Tun (a) Kyaw Swa (Tharawaddy prison) – UN Development Program staff (New Era journal distributor)
87. Tun Hla (Tharawaddy prison)
88. Tun Oo (a) Ngar Kalar (Taungoo prison)
89. Tun Tun Nyein, (Thayet prison) – NLD Youth member
90. Tun Tun Oo (a) Nanda Malar (Taungoo prison) – monk
91. Tun Tun Oo (Thandwe prison)
92. U Han Sein (Tharawaddy prison) – NLD member
93. U Myint, (Hinzada prison) , Human Rights Defenders and Promoters
94. U Pannita (a) Myint Aye (Taungoo prison) – monk; Human Rights Defenders and Promoters member
95. U Peter (Loikaw prison)
96. U Win, (Hinzada prison) , Human Rights Defenders and Promoters
97. U Zawana (a) Soe Myint (Taungoo prison) - monk
98. Win Myint (Insein prison)
99. Wunna Soe (Pa-An prison) – Democratic Party for a New Society member
100. Yan Aung Shwe (Thayet prison) – All Burma Students Democratic Front member
101. Yan Naing Min (a) Nan Wai (Mandalay prison) – student
102. Zaw Htet Aung (Kale prison) - student
103. Zaw Tun (Taungoo prison)
104. Zin Mar Aung (female) (Mandalay prison) – student; NLD member

-ENDS-

For media interviews please contact:

Tate Naing, AAPP Secretary +66(0)89-899-7161
Bo Kyi, AAPP Joint-Secretary +66(0)81-324-8935
19 September 2009 18:45 Thailand Standard Time


Burma Newscasts - At least 104 political prisoners released
as at 19 September 2009

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Don’t Let the Junta off the Hook

The Irrawaddy News - Editorial

On the eve of the 21st anniversary of the bloody coup that crushed the 1988 student-led pro-democracy uprising, Burma’s junta announced plans to free 7,114 prisoners. MRTV, the state-owned television station, announced on Thursday night that the prisoners were being released on “humanitarian grounds.”

Previous mass releases have mostly involved petty criminals, with just a handful of political detainees among those freed. No details were provided about the identities of the prisoners included in this latest amnesty, so it is difficult to even confirm if the regime has actually released the number of prisoners it said it would. But according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), 87 political prisoners have so far been set free, while other sources estimate that the total could reach as high as 250.

This is good news for the prisoners and their families, and we should welcome it. However, we should also note that this apparent act of magnanimity comes as Prime Minister Gen Thein Sein prepares to travel to New York to attend this year’s United Nations General Assembly. Indeed, it has been widely expected for several months. In July, Burma’s ambassador to the UN, Than Swe, promised the Security Council that his government would grant an amnesty to an undisclosed number of political prisoners to allow them to participate in democratic elections scheduled for 2010.

Thein Sein will be the highest-ranking Burmese official to attend a UN meeting in over a decade, so it should come as no surprise that the regime decided to do something to deflect criticism of its abysmal human rights record ahead of his visit. Releasing some of the country’s estimated 2,100 political prisoners was an obvious course of action, as there are growing concerns over the dramatic increase in the number of activists detained since the monk-led Saffron Revolution was crushed almost exactly two years ago. Human rights watchdogs estimate that the political prisoner population has doubled since late 2007, when Burma witnessed its largest anti-regime protests in nearly two decades.

Conspicuously absent from the list of those released so far are the names of some of Burma’s most prominent activists. Far from considering leniency towards these prisoners, the regime appears to be intent on making their lives as miserable as possible. U Gambira, one of the leaders of the All Burma Monks Alliance, the group that spearheaded the 2007 uprising, has been moved to a remote prison, making it harder for his family to visit him. Other prisoners, including Shan ethnic leader Khun Tun Oo, activist-comedian Zarganar, labor activist Su Su Nway and 88 Generation Students group leader Min Ko Naing, are also suffering from physical and mental health problems due to their mistreatment, according to AAPP.

Political prisoners have always been treated like pawns in the junta’s political game. The regime continues to insist that there are no political prisoners in any of the country’s 43 prisons and more than 50 labor camps, but the fact is that the generals do not hesitate to imprison anyone who speaks out openly against their brutal misrule. Even as the junta makes a show of releasing some prisoners, it continues to round up new ones, including several democracy activists and monks who were arrested just last week.

With this in mind, the international community must continue to confront the regime and demand the release of all political prisoners in Burma, including pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Until this happens, and until all activists are allowed to participate freely in the country’s political process, we can only assume that the generals’ occasional release of political prisoners is just part of a cynical game.


Burma Newscasts - Don’t Let the Junta off the Hook
Saturday, September 19, 2009

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More Political Prisoners Released: AAPP

By WAI MOE
The Irrawaddy News

At least 87 political dissidents were among the more than 7,000 prisoners released by Burma’s ruling junta on Friday, according to the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners—Burma (AAPP).

The AAPP announced on Saturday that it had confirmed the release of 87 political dissidents from 16 prisons across Burma. They include 36 members of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) and six members of the 88 Generation Students group. Three of the NLD members were elected to serve in parliament in 1990.

According to the AAPP, there were 15 women, four monks, four journalists and one lawyer among the released prisoners.

Bo Kyi, joint-secretary of the AAPP, told The Irrawaddy on Saturday that the release of the prisoners, though welcome, still falls far short of international demands.

“It is still too early to say that this signifies any real change in Burma,” he said, noting that some of the political prisoners who had been released had nearly finished their prison terms.

“We continue to call for the immediate release of all the more than 2,100 political prisoners still behind bars,” he added.

Critics of the regime say that the latest prisoner release is little more than an attempt to deflect international criticism ahead of trip to New York by Burmese Prime Minister Thein Sein, who will attend the UN General Assembly next week.

Thet Zin, the editor of the Myanmar Nation weekly, was one of four journalists released on Friday.

He was arrested in February 2008 for possessing a video of a crackdown on pro-democracy protests in September of the previous year, as well as a report by Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, the UN special rapporteur for human rights in Burma.

Shortly after receiving a seven-year prison sentence in November 2008, he was transferred from Insein Prison in Rangoon to a remote prison in Kele, Sagaing Division.

When the Burmese state-run media announced an amnesty for 7,114 prisoners on Thursday evening, his family was hopeful that he would be among those released. Late Friday evening, he called them from Kele Township to let them know he had been freed.

“We are very happy to know that he has been released,” said one family member, adding that Thet Zin was now on his way back to Rangoon to be with his teenage daughter and son.

Another released political prisoner is Moe Kyaw Thu, also known as Bo Bo, who was serving a 20-year sentence for anti-junta activities at Mandalay Prison.

“When we heard that he was released, the whole house was noisy with happiness. His son was very, very happy about his father’s release,” a family member told The Irrawaddy on Saturday.

“When he was arrested, his son was just a few months old,” she said. “I am very happy to see that they will finally be reunited after nearly 12 years apart.”

On Friday, a high-ranking official of Burma’s Corrections Department told reporters at a press conference at Insein Prison that about 250 political prisoners would be released. However, so far only 87 political prisoners are confirmed to have been among the 7,114 prisoners included in the amnesty.

The junta has announced several mass amnesties in the past, but usually includes only a small handful of political prisoners among those granted early release. In February, 6,313 prisoners were released for “humanitarian reasons” and to enable them “to participate in fair elections to be held in 2010.” only 31 were political prisoners.

In September 2008, the regime freed 9,002 prisoners, saying it wanted to “turn them into citizens to be able to participate in building a new nation.” But only nine political prisoners, including Win Tin, a prominent NLD leader, were included in the amnesty.

In an amnesty in November 2007 to mark the conclusion of the National Convention, the junta released 8,585 prisoners. Twenty political prisoners were among them.

“Release of political prisoners is good. But many other political dissidents, including ethnic leaders, are still in prison. For national reconciliation, all of them must be freed,” said NLD spokesperson Nyan Win, speaking to The Irrawaddy on Saturday.

Meanwhile, as some families celebrate the release of loved ones, many others were disappointed to learn that their relatives remain behind bars.

One girl whose father was sentenced to 13 years in prison in 2002 said she was saddened to see that he was not on the list of released prisoners.

“I am sad that my father did not receive an amnesty, but I am happy for the other political prisoners who were released,” she said.

Burma Newscasts - More Political Prisoners Released: AAPP
Saturday, September 19, 2009

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Monday, September 14, 2009

Tensions slightly easing on the Sino-Burma border

S.H.A.N.- The siege by joint Wa-Mongla forces to the Burma Army garrison at Mongyang, 260 km north of Maesai since 26 August, was lifted on 9 September last week following a number of official requests by the Burma Army, according to sources on the Sino-Burma border.

People who had fled from Panghsang (the Wa capital), Mongyang and Mongla, as a result, are slowly trickling back since. “The transport fare between Tangyan (west of the Salween) and Panghsang, up to K 120,000 ($120) the previous week, is almost back to normal (K 40,000),” said a local official in Panghsang. “Now about 50% of those people have returned.”

The siege was prompted by the disappearance of 3 Burma Army officers and men who were found moving suspiciously around Khosoong, the border between Wa and Mongla late last month. “Maj Kyaw Soe Aung, the 2IC (second-in-command) of IB 279 (based in Mongyang) was reported to have demanded the immediate release of his men or else,” said an informed source from Mongla.

The Burma Army’s Kengtung-based Triangle Command officers and Lt-General Ye Myint, Naypyitaw’s chief negotiator on the controversial Border Guard Force (BGF) plan, had in person and by letter to Mongla, requested the released of the said three saying the latter had no cause for worry about an impending attack.

While it wasn’t clear if the Wa and Mongla were convinced about the Burma Army’s intentions, both had finally decided to call off the siege, said the source. “I believe China must have a hand in the alliance’s decision,” commented a Burma watcher from Thailand.

A 15 member Chinese delegation had visited Panghsang on 8 September, the day before the lifting of the siege.

Thousands of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops backed by armored vehicles and artillery were seen in Meng Lien (Monglem), opposite Panghsang, according to a source who was recently visiting the Wa territory. “ ‘We will fight to the last man or woman,’ the Wa was reported to have told the delegation,” he said. “But it wasn’t clear how the Chinese representatives had responded.”

Peng Jiasheng, the deposed Kokang leader, who was reported by Global Times to be taking asylum in the Wa State, is believed to have left it, according to a reliable source in Panghsang. “He’s not in Mongla, where his daughter and his son-in-law Sai Leun are, either,” he said. “To both the Wa and Mongla, he’s a Ho Hsang (the Brahma head, meaning too hot to handle). The farther he’s away from them, the better it is for him and themselves.”

The Burma Army had earlier demanded his extradition, to which the Wa replied he had not been seen since 30 August, a day after the fall of Qingshuihe, the Kokang stronghold.

Burma Army forces laying siege to the Wa territory since late last month, meanwhile, have so far remained in place. “So despite the lifting of the siege Mongyang, the alert is still on,” said another source close to the leadership.

The UWSA has deployed 3 divisions plus supporting units for the defense, he added: the 318th commanded by Bao Ai Roong in the north; the 418th, commanded by Zhao Saidao in the west; and the 468th, commanded by Sai Hsarm in the South.

Along the Thai border, the UWSA’s southern 171st Military Region command has 5 “divisions”, commanded by Wei Xuegang, according to a UWSA publication: 772nd (Mong Jawd), 775th (Hwe Aw), 778th (Khailong), 248th (Hopang-Hoyawd) and 518th (Mongyawn).

Burma Newscasts - Tensions slightly easing on the Sino-Burma border
Monday, 14 September 2009

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Opposition-backed Constitutional Amendments will be Difficult

By KAY LATT
The Irrawaddy News


"If a girl is short, she just needs to wear high heels." Those are the well-known words of Kyi Maung, the late leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD) in a press conference just after the elections in 1990 responding the needs of constitution for transfer of power proclaimed by the military junta.

The NLD prepared a temporary constitution to be used during the transitory period to take over power from the ruling military government, but the military government then led by Snr-Gen Saw Maung did not accept the temporary constitution.

In the absence of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, Kyi Maung, a de facto NLD leader, said that the constitution could be amended in response to the military leaders' claim for the necessity of a new constitution before the transfer of power.

Any efforts to amending the constitution would be a challenge since ethnic nationalities wanted to change the form of the Union to that of a federation.

The late dictator Ne Win made a coup d'état in March 1962 while contending that he was saving the Union from disintegrating, when ethnic nationalities, various political parties and U Nu, then the prime minister, agreed to amend the 1947 Constitution.

In the 1947 constitution, any provision could be amended, whether by way of variation, addition or repeal. After an amendment bill had been passed by each of the chambers of Parliament, the bill had to be considered by both chambers in joint sessions. And then the bill could be passed by both chambers in joint sittings with votes in favor of not less than two-thirds required by members of both chambers.

Therefore, the constitutional problems of the 1947 constitution could be solved within the framework of negotiations among stakeholders.

In the 1974 constitution, some provisions could be amended with the prior approval of 75 percent of all the members of the Pyithu Hluttaw (People’s Parliament) in a nation-wide referendum with a majority vote of more than half of eligible voters. The rest of the provisions could be amended only with a majority vote of 75 percent of all the members of the Pyithu Hluttaw. No major amendment had been made to the 1974 constitution.

Before Kyi Maung made his quip, Thomas Jefferson, one of the founding fathers of the United States, said in a letter to Samuel Kercheval, written in July, 1816, "I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind."

He continued, "We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors," clearly reflecting the need to interpret a constitution in light of changing circumstances.

Constitutions can generally be classified as “rigid” or “flexible.” A rigid constitution provides difficult procedures to modify at least some part of the constitution. A flexible constitution allows simple procedures to amend its provisions.

The US constitution is rigid. It requires a supermajority in the amendment process. The most common method of amendment is for a bill to pass both houses of the legislature by a two-thirds majority in each body followed by ratification by three-fourth of the states.

This is the method used for all current amendments. Nevertheless, 27 amendments have been made to the U.S constitution over a 200-year period. An interesting point is that the president has no role in the formal amendment process.

In Switzerland, it requires a majority vote in a national referendum to approve an amendment of the federal constitution proposed by the legislature or by a petition of 100,000 citizens. Then it requires ratification by a majority of voters in each of a majority of the cantons. The Swiss constitution has been amended significantly over the years.

The United Kingdom’s constitution is flexible. Its constitutional institutions and rules can be modified by an act of Parliament.

The great majority of countries have rigid constitutions. Nevertheless, a rigid constitution does not by itself guarantee the stability and continuity of a country’s constitutional law.

The constitution of South Africa is also flexible and can be amended by an act of Parliament by introducing a bill amending the constitution in the National Assembly. Most amendments must be passed by an absolute two-thirds supermajority in the National Assembly. However, amendments of some important provisions must be passed by the National Council of Province with a supermajority of at least six of the nine provinces.

Although the amending process in the United States is difficult, it is easier than the process in other countries with rigid constitutions. Provisions of a rigid constitution are over time subject to interpretation by the courts or by the legislature or the executive.

Pro-election groups in Burma are advocating a process of embracing the constitutional system and proposing gradual change by amendments to unfavorable provisions in the constitution.

“The military presumably wants to use the elections to ensure its continued dominance, but this is the most wide-ranging shake-up in a generation,” said Jim Della-Giacoma, Southeast Asia project director of the International Crisis. “The government, opposition, neighboring countries and the wider international community must all prepare for the possibility of change they may not be able to control.”

The 2008 constitution requires careful study of the process of amendment to assess whether it is rigid or flexible, and whether there are any loopholes in the constitution that could result in positive or negative consequences.

According to constitution, it requires 20 percent of the members of the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, (Union Parliament or the two houses combined) to submit a bill of amendment with approval requiring a vote of more than 75 percent in favor.

For important provisions such as basic principles, state structure, qualifications for the presidential and vice presidential candidates and the National Defense and Security Council and a state of emergency, it further requires a nationwide referendum with more than half of eligible voters in favor.

It is clear that the 2008 constitution is rigid requiring difficult procedures to amend its provisions.

In the present constitution of Indonesia, the country which the Burmese military once looked to as a model for the dominance of the military, it requires only a simple majority for any proposed amendment in the People's Consultative Assembly with two-thirds of its members in support.

Suharto, who officially became president in 1968, did not allow any changes to the constitution. Under the rule of Suharto, it required a nationwide referendum with a 90 per cent turnout and approval of 90 percent of the voters to change the constitution.

With the fall of Suharto and the New Order regime in 1998, the amendment process was simplified in order to make it more democratic. The People's Consultative Assembly made constitutional amendments a flexible procedure and as a result, only 11 percent of the original articles remain unchanged from the earlier constitution.

In the 2008 Burmese constitution, the military is given 25 percent of the seats in every state legislature and both national assemblies. The constitution requires more than 75 percent of all the representatives of Union Parliament to amend the constitution important provisions.

To amend the constitution would require the support of all civilian representatives plus the support of at least one military representative in the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw.

Because of the rigidity of the constitution, there appears to be little chance for opposition members of parliament to look to the amendment process as a way to influence the future course of government. As a result, a theory of gradual change through the constitution also appears unrealistic.

Kay Latt can be reached at kaylatt((@)gmail.com

Burma Newscasts - Opposition-backed Constitutional Amendments will be Difficult
Monday, September 14, 2009

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Beijing’s Influence on Junta ‘Overstated’: ICG

By WAI MOE
The Irrawaddy News


A leading political think tank, the International Crisis Group (ICG), said on Monday that although many believe China is the key to pushing the Burmese junta toward political reform, its influence is overstated.

In a new report covering Sino-Burmese relations, the Brussels-based NGO said that Beijing’s influence on the Burmese junta is clearly limited, a fact highlighted by the Burmese government forces’ invasion of the Kokang region, an act that caused some 37,000 refugees to flee to China.

Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, left, holds a welcoming ceremony in honor of Gen Maung Aye, right, vice-chairman of Burma’s ruling junta at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on June 16, 2009. (Photo: www.english.cpc.people.com.cn)

Titled “China’s Myanmar Dilemma,” the ICG report was written by ICG staffers in Beijing, Jakarta and Brussels.

“Simply calling on Beijing to apply more pressure is unlikely to result in change,” the ICG report said. “The insular and nationalistic leaders in the military government do not take orders from anyone, including Beijing.”

It said that “after two decades of failed international approaches to Myanmar [Burma], Western countries and China must find better ways to work together to push for change in the military-ruled nation.”

The Kokang conflict highlighted the complexity of China’s relationship with Burma, and that Beijing was unable to dissuade the Burmese generals from launching their bloody campaign, said the report.

It also noted that the relation between Beijing and Naypyidaw is “best characterized as a marriage of convenience rather than a love match.”

ICG, which is frequently contracted to advise world bodies such as the UN, the EU and the World Bank, said that while China sees major problems with the status quo [in Burma], particularly with regard to economic policy and ethnic issues, Beijing’s preferred solution is a gradual adjustment of policy by a strong central government, not federalism or liberal democracy, and certainly not regime change.

The ICG noted in its report that unstable Burmese factors on the Chinese border, such insurgency, drugs and diseases, affect China’s interests in the country.

It said that Beijing’s interest in Burma was mainly economic.

However, to highlight the close ties, the report said that from 2003 to June 2009, leaders of the Chinese government and the Burmese junta met 30 times, 15 of which were after the Burmese regime’s brutal crackdown on peaceful demonstrators in September 2007.

ICG has published two reports regarding Burma within the last two months. A report titled, “Myanmar: Towards the Elections” was released on August 20. It said the 2010 elections are likely to create opportunities for generational and institutional changes despite major shortcomings.

However, it questioned whether the elections could solve the conflict in Burma, including the clashes at the Sino-Burmese border.

Burma Newscasts - Beijing’s Influence on Junta ‘Overstated’: ICG
Monday, September 14, 2009

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Chinese Blood on Burmese Soil

By Tom Kramer
The Irrawaddy News

Peng Jiasheng is the Kokang leader whose residence was raided by government troops on August 8, setting off a regime offensive and leading to the loss of the Kokang region to junta troops. He was interviewed by The Irrawaddy on the reasons for the offensive, the role of China, the allegations of illegal drug trafficking, the borders guard force and the future of ethnic minorities in Burma.

Question: How would you describe the current situation in the Kokang region?

Answer: The incident on August 8 was the junta’s excuse. It wanted to do away with the local ethnic minority army a long time ago. A larger nationality wants to eliminate a smaller one. This is typical nationalistic chauvinism. This was a massacre.

Peng Jiasheng (Photo: Tom Kramer)

In order to avoid further harm to the Kokang people, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) retreated. This is not what we wanted and also it is not what the people in the international community who support our people would like to see.

Now the situation in Kokang is even more complicated. Currently, the situation is very bad.

The government troops took over the Kokang area for about 10 days, but there were many reported cases where their soldiers committed robbery, rape and killed civilians. Many people are still afraid to go back home. Most of the shops owned by Chinese businessmen were either destroyed or robbed. This is a calamity. The prosperous environment of Kokang of only a few months ago no longer exists. People are living in deep distress.

This conflict has brought great trauma to the Kokang people. The war will be long. It will be impossible to end soon.

Q: The ceasefire agreement you signed with the regime in 1989 has collapsed. What do you believe was the motive behind the offensive and the regime’s attempt to arrest you?

A: In March 1989, the Kokang people agreed to peace and development. In the same year, 17 other local ethnic armed forces also started peace talks with the junta. This brought to an end the large scale of armed conflict in the country.

The alliance army is also one of the legal ethnic armed forces that were recognized by the military government. Over the past 20 years of peace and development, the Kokang was the first group in the country to promise the international community that we would stop drug production. We enforced the ban on poppy cultivation in 2002 in our area. The anti-drug production effort and success were recognized by the UN and the international communities.

With help from the World Food Programme, the Chinese government and other international aid agencies, we implemented a lot of poppy substitution projects, mainly to grow sugar crane, tea, walnuts and other crops. We achieved very good progress in the poppy substitution.

Step by step, the people in our area began to work their way up from poverty. This can be seen by everybody. However, as the military government wants to achieve their goal of controlling the whole country, it felt it needed to take action against the peace and the ceasefire groups.

Q: Soon after the government troops captured Laogai, the state-run-media repeatedly accused you of involvement in illegal arms factories and drugs. How do you respond to those allegations?

A: Burma is still a country without a real government. The army cannot represent the government. After the election in 1990, the junta usurped power in the country. Ever since then, there has been no proper government in our country. The international community has never officially acknowledged them as the government. Burma is currently a country managed by a temporary council that was set up by the junta. It was called the State Law and Order Restoration Council and was later changed to the State Peace and Development Council. The government army is also an ethnic armed force, so it can not represent this country.

In 1989, for the sake of the peace and welfare of the country, the Kokang people took the initiative to approach the junta-controlled council. This was to protect peace in the country, and to let the people live in peace. Over the past 20 years, we trusted the junta and have been respectful of them. Our political proposition is always the same: support the central government, take the road to peace and development, maintain nationality unification, guard national unity and strive for the autonomous rights of the Kokang people. We never wanted to separate from the country; we only wanted a recognized position for the Kokang people among all of Burma’s nationalities.

Q: How many people were killed in the latest conflict?

A: In this conflict, the Kokang people suffered great loss. We had 14 alliance army soldiers killed in battle, but what we do not know is the number of civilians killed. For example, some na?ve young people joined with the traitor Bai Suocheng and his army. In the battles, they were to be used by the government troops to fight against us. These young people refused because they were Kokang and could not kill their own people. The government troops took their weapons away and shot them with machine guns. On Aug. 27, 27 Kokang youth were killed together.

Q: Why did the junta decide to single out your group? Was there any reason other than the regime’s allegation of your involvement in opium and illegal drugs?

A: A lot of things happened over the past month that we never thought could happen. The Kokang alliance army is one of the legal armed forces in the country. All our weapons are old and the ammunition is left over from the days of the Burmese Communist Party. Many of these weapons are in need of repair. It is reasonable to have a factory to repair weapons. This factory is well known by all the SPDC officials in Kokang. They have visited it before. But now they used it as an excuse to take action against us.

The motivation behind this is obvious. They want to eliminate the Kokang and other ethnic armed forces and achieve their goal of a junta-managed “unified” country. It goes without saying that the junta will not stop with the Kokang.

They will take the war to other groups with all kinds of excuses. If you want to condemn something, you can always find a charge. The government army is the strongest in the country. It can crack down on whichever ethnic groups it wishes. It can accuse any ceasefire group of drugs, or weapons…anything. The current situation on drugs, for example, in the four special regions in Shan State is that there is no poppy cultivation, according to investigations by the international agencies. However, in SPDC-controlled areas, there is more than 250,000 mu [Chinese land unit: 667 square meters] of poppy cultivation. This is the work of the junta, and this is how it behaves.

Q: Several ethnic ceasefire groups including the MNDAA rejected the junta's proposal for a Border Guard Force (BGF). Why did you reject the BGF plan?

A: We are not really against the idea of transferring the army to a BGF, but the terms and conditions were too rigorous. For example, all the officers above 50 would be forced to retire and find their own livelihood. The key leaders of the local government and the commanders of the army would also be appointed by the junta. These proposals are not acceptable to any of the ceasefire groups. It is also not acceptable to the local people. Our requirements were simple: we want to have a high level of national autonomy to protect the interests of the Kokang people.

Q: The Kokang and other ethnic groups are unhappy with the 2008 constitution. What do you see as its faults?

A: Regarding the constitution proposed by the junta in 2008, it is all about the power and interest of the junta. We do not believe that any rights and interests of the minorities are ensured in the constitution. How can we accept such a constitution that does not represent the people of the country? on the approval of this constitution, there are things that happened that few people know about. For example, in some of the Kokang villages, the junta sent people to vote in the referendum. The local people did not want to participate, so the junta officials themselves wrote [out] all the votes. There were villages where about 100 people voted No, but on their ballots it was reported that more than 3,000 people voted Yes. This is how it was approved.

Q: You merged with the CPB in the past and led the successful mutiny in 1989. You went to Beijing and you were closely associated with Chinese officials in the past. Today, China is the closest ally of the regime as well as a good friend of ethnic groups along the Sino-Burmese border. What was China's role in the recent conflict in the Kokang region?

A: During the Aug. 8 incident planned by the junta and the armed conflict afterwards, the Chinese government did not give us assistance. We could not talk to the Chinese government about protection and asylum. However, as the Kokang are in fact Chinese, when the refugees fled to China the local authorities took very good care of them. That we really appreciate.

Q: What is your message to Chinese leaders who plan to build a gas pipeline through the Kokang region?

A: What I want to say here is no matter what happens in Burma, we are ethnic Chinese and our roots are in China. This we will never forget. For the sake of the rights and position of the Chinese in Burma, we will continue our struggle.

Q: How do you see the future of Burma and the ethnic minorities?

A: Regarding the future of the ethnic minorities in Burma, this is a complicated issue. If Burma does not set up a democratic government that is elected by the people and therefore really represents the people, the future of the minorities in Burma will get worse.

Q: Did you receive any political backing or military support from other ethnic groups along the border? Are they united in their goals?

A: All the minority ceasefire groups along the China-Burma border areas have good relations with each other and have supported each other over a long period of time. Our fate and experiences are the same. But due to certain difficulties, our alliance is not as strong as it should be. Therefore the junta had its opportunity, and now the Kokang area is under junta control.

Q: Are you worried about losing your personal property and your businesses in Burma and China?

A: Currently, all my personal property has been confiscated by the junta. My property in China was also taken away by the relevant department of the Chinese government. This is a problem that I can not solve by worrying about it.

Q: Please describe the refugee situation. There were reports of government officials and soldiers attacking Chinese nationals? Was the recent attack designed to demonstrate that the government is not a puppet of China?

A: I think the reason why the junta attacked the Kokang is because of the following:

First, the junta wanted to develop better relationships with America, India and some Western authorities, in particular with America. In order to improve the relationship with America, the junta is eager to prove that the junta is not a puppet government supported by the Chinese government. That is why the junta chose the Kokang to fight against.

They also wanted to test the response of the Chinese government. The Kokang and the Chinese have a blood relationship. The Kokang people are basically Chinese; they are part of the Chinese family. The Chinese in Burma were not officially recognized by the Burmese and therefore for centuries they lived in a very low economic and social position. Only after the meeting in Ninakan in 1947, after the national government’s recognition, were the Chinese living in these areas called Kokang. But as a matter of fact, the Kokang people are Chinese. We are the descendants of the Yellow emperor. The anti-Chinese movement in 1967 in Burma feels like yesterday.

Even today, many Chinese living in Burma still do not dare to declare that they are Chinese. In 1989, when the Kokang Alliance Army was established, all the Chinese in Burma looked at the Chinese armed forces as the “lighthouse.” Now the ‘”lighthouse” has gone off.

The second reason I think is that the SPDC forces were already in Kokang for more than 10 years, and they understood the situation in Kokang, including the relationships among the Kokang leaders.

They therefore bought off the traitors Bai Suocheng and Wei Chaoren. This resulted in an internal split in Kokang before the war broke out. Bai Suocheng and Wei Chaoren betrayed their people and surrendered to the junta.

Now the junta has taken over the Kokang area, and it is clear about the response of the Chinese government. So their next step will be to reinforce the policy of cracking down on other minority groups along the border. The junta will act recklessly and become more unbridled.

Q: Where are you living now?

A: For many years, I worked in Kokang. I never had a chance to travel to the big cities in Burma. Now that I have more time, I am travelling in the big cities in Burma. I really feel that my country is beautiful, and it deserves a government that can represent the people by building and developing the country. I currently have no plans to go back to Kokang.

Burma Newscasts - Chinese Blood on Burmese Soil
Monday, September 14, 2009

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Crackdown on Burmese Dissidents in Chiang Mai

By THE IRRAWADDY

Thai police officers on Sunday raided the offices of several exiled Burmese opposition groups including the Human Rights Education Institute of Burma, the Burmese Women’s Union and the National Health and Education Committee.

A Burmese source confirmed that 10 Burmese women from the Burmese Women’s Union who were attending a capacity-building workshop in Chiang Mai were apprehended and are now in custody.

The police came with information and photos of the locations of Burmese offices. The arrests took place on Sunday when many offices were closed for the weekend.

The offices of several Chiang Mai-based Burmese opposition groups and media organizations have remained temporarily closed on Monday. The motive for the arrests and the reason why Burmese human rights workers and dissidents have been targeted is not yet known.

Several exiled Burmese and foreign groups have opened NGOs and advocacy offices in Chiang Mai in recent years.

Burmese groups faced the most repressive times under Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s administration in the early 2000s. Many offices were shut down for several weeks due to fears of intimidation and crackdowns.

International human rights groups and Western governments expressed concern for the safety of exiled Burmese dissidents living in Thailand at the time.

Under the current Thai government, Burmese groups in Thailand have enjoyed relative freedom without any major harassment.

According to diplomatic sources, Western embassies in Bangkok are closely watching the situation.

Burma Newscasts - Crackdown on Burmese Dissidents in Chiang Mai
Monday, September 14, 2009

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Retired Military Personnel to Form Political Party

By AUNG THET WINE
The Irrawaddy News

RANGOON — The Myanmar War Veterans Organization (MWVO) will meet on Oct. 6-9 to form a political party to field candidates in the 2010 general election in Burma.

Members will reportedly be selected to run campaigns in every division and state, said sources in Naypyidaw, the capital.

Sources said that those selected are likely to be high-ranking retired officers, such as retired generals and colonels.

MWVO has more than 3,800 members who are former officers, more than 80,000 from lower ranks and more than 50,000 auxiliary members.

The MWVO has divisions devoted to politics, national defense and security, economics, social welfare and welfare.

The meeting will focus on preparing for the election and will be attended by retired Burmese officials who have represented states or divisions, according to sources.

“After the meeting, a list of retired officers who could contest elections will be released,” said a retired Burmese official in Rangoon.

Also, the regime-backed Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) will meet in late October to iron out preparations for the 2010 election, including the selection of candidates, said sources.

The junta will form numerous proxy parties to increase their chances of sweeping the election, said a Rangoon journalist.

The Burmese people have both positive and negative perspectives on the upcoming election. Some view it as the beginning of positive change in Burma while others see it as an extension of military rule.

A resident in Pegu said, “We were forced to vote ‘Yes’ in the national [constitutional] referendum. If we look at the example of the referendum, there is no way that the election will be fair.”

Ethnic ceasefire groups also have different perspectives on the election. Some Kachin and Mon leaders have already formed political parties field candidates while others say they will not take part in the election.

Burma Newscasts - Retired Military Personnel to Form Political Party
Monday, September 14, 2009

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China’s Failed Foreign Policy

By NYO OHN MYINT/MOE ZAW OO
The Irrawaddy News


The recent breakdown of a two-decade-old ceasefire between Burma’s military junta and ethnic militias in the country’s north demonstrates the failure of China’s outdated foreign policy, according to Burmese political analysts.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Beijing has aggressively pursued a path of rapid economic development as the surest way to avoid a similar fate. Although it has dramatically expanded its trade ties with the rest of the world, the principle of non-interference in other countries’ political affairs remains the cornerstone of its foreign policy.

However, as the situation in Burma attests, this principle may no longer be sufficient to protect China’s national interests.

Beijing certainly enjoys the economic benefits of being the Burmese junta’s best friend. Since 1989, China has been the regime’s most important supplier of military aid, providing jet fighters, armored vehicles and naval vessels, as well as extensive training to Burmese military personnel. In exchange, it has been given access to Burma’s abundant natural resources.

A joint statement on “Future Cooperation in Bilateral Relations between the People’s Republic of China and the Federation of Myanmar,” issued in June 2000, indicated the future direction of Sino-Burmese relations, which were to be based on the “Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence” and the consolidation of mutual relations for wider regional stability and development.

Despite Beijing’s willingness to be more direct in persuading Burma to enhance its economic reforms and to push for political reconciliation at home, China still regards Burma’s poor human rights record as an “internal affair.”

At the same time, the United States has continued to denounce the Burmese generals’ human rights records and refusal to honor the 1990 election results. Washington’s harsh criticism, especially during the Bush administration, gave the Burmese generals no other choice but to turn to the Chinese government for support. In 2003, when the US imposed tougher sanctions against the regime under the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act, Beijing was highly critical of the move.

China’s foreign policy is completely divorced from the harsh realties of life under military rule in Burma. Without taking this suffering into consideration, Beijing has used its veto at the United Nations Security Council to block resolutions designed to push Burma toward genuine political reform. This has allowed the junta to simply move forward with its efforts to orchestrate a political transition from an absolute dictatorship to a faux democracy within the framework of a militarized constitution.

China has continued to back the Burmese regime as part of its policy of extending its influence within the region. However, Burma’s long history of ethnic conflict and political dissent presents serious challenges to Chinese policy, which may not be viable in the long run.

Another problem facing Beijing is that the Burmese regime is deeply distrustful of China. In the 1970s and early 1980s, Burma’s armed forces fought hard against the Burmese Communist Party, which was backed by China’s ruling Communist Party. This experience has left a bitter taste in the mouths of many Burmese generals and continues to affect the thinking of the current military leadership.

China’s current dual-track policy of supporting both the junta and the ethnic groups living along the Sino-Burmese border has helped to keep these memories alive. It has also raised the specter of renewed conflict with China. In a 2006 quarterly report, Burma’s ruling military council said that it needed to brace for an invasion from the northeast—obviously referring to China.

According to a reliable source, officials from China’s Yunnan Province have recognized the significance of developments inside Burma and are seeking to minimize the negative impact of Beijing’s policy. However, China can’t change its foreign policy within a few years; it will take decade, said a high-ranking diplomat from Beijing.

However, other China watchers have argued that Beijing is less interested in dealing with the Burmese junta since it purged Gen Khin Nyunt, the former intelligence chief, in 2004. Chinese leaders know that the current rulers in Naypyidaw have little interest in engaging with the outside world, but believe that the generals would not dare to turn their guns against China.

China may also feel that it is paying too high a price for backing Burma politically. Some analysts suggest that Beijing could move away from its long-held position on Burma in international forums to protect its broader geopolitical interests. China realizes that defending Burma may have triggered a more aggressive US policy in the Asia-Pacific region. Beijing is carefully observing the current US administration’s reengagement in the region to decide whether Burma should be a center of China’s foreign policy.

China is aware that regional countries have supported a new Burma policy by the US government in terms of their constructive engagement and economic interests. China could be isolated by its Burma policy, proving its policy is still inferior to that of the US.

In the post-Cold War era, China should have more pro-active and tangible fairness to the citizens of the region, rather than putting its emphasis on ruthless authoritarian rulers. Beijing’s ignorance may have impacted the understanding of the Burmese generals. All the socialist states in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) are willing to yield to the US political engagement while they enjoy China’s limited favor in economic prosperity.

In recent years, Burma has moved to develop strategic and commercial relations with India, with which it shares a long land border and the Bay of Bengal. Increasing trade and military cooperation with India and developing bilateral relations with Japan within Asean shows a shift in Burma’s foreign policy to avoid excessive dependence on China.

Chinese analysts closely observed the Kokang incident in August and questioned whether the Sino-Burmese relationship was really impacted. In line with the 2008 constitution, the regime was attempting to ensure the stability of border areas by neutralizing armed forces that are independently standing outside the framework of the constitution.

“They (the Burmese military) don’t always heed China’s advice. China has so little leverage against them because China, in some sense, depends on them,” said Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing.

Chinese officials were not only extremely upset over the lack of forewarning about the border clash but were also worried about the future political consequences.

China-Burma relations may be at a crossroads. Only demanding ethnic rights and showing concern about the situation at the border cannot reflect China’s foreign policy in terms of its status in the international arena. China should bring the role of Aung San Suu Kyi and a settlement of the general political crisis to the forefront of its Burma policy in order to show China’s role in finding a solution along with the US and the international community.

Nyo Ohn Myint is a chairperson and Moe Zaw Oo is secretary of the National League for Democracy (Liberated Area) Foreign Affairs Committee.

Burma Newscasts - China’s Failed Foreign Policy
Thursday, September 10, 2009

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China and West need coordinated approach on Burma: ICG

by Mungpi

New Delhi (Mizzima) - With Beijing having limited influence over Burma’s military rulers, the West needs to find a way to work together with China to push for changes in the Southeast Asian nation, the International Crisis Group (ICG) said in a new report.

The ICG, a non-profit group working in conflict areas around the world, in a new report “China’s Myanmar Dilemma” said Beijing’s influence over Burma is often overstated while it is limited, and may not be able to deter the junta from attacking ethnic armed rebels along its border with China.

“The insular and nationalistic generals do not take orders from anyone, including Beijing,” said Robert Templer, ICG’s Asia Program Director, in a statement on Monday.

“By continuing to simply expect China to take the lead in solving the problem, a workable international approach to Myanmar will remain elusive,” Templer added.

The ICG also warned that China, which is known to have influence over Burmese generals, might not be able to deter the junta from launching yet another attack on ethnic armed rebels long its border with China.

The late August offensive against the Kokang rebels in Burma’s North-eastern Shan State, which resulted in the influx of about 30,000 refugees into China, according to the ICG, is an indication of the limited influence of China on the Burmese junta.

“Beijing was not even forewarned about the late August raid against the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), the Kokang ceasefire group,” the ICG said.

Should the junta launch attacks against the Wa and the Kachin rebels, China would have to deal with another humanitarian crisis on its border, and “yet it is unclear whether Beijing will be able to dissuade the generals from undertaking further offensive,’ the ICG said.

“Both Chinese and international policies towards Myanmar [Burma] deserve careful reassessment,” said Donald Steinberg, ICG’s Deputy President for Policy in the statement.

“An effective international approach also requires a united front by regional actors as well as multilateral institutions such as ASEAN and the UN,” he added.

Stephanie T. Kleine-Ahlbrandt, North East Asia Project Director of the ICG, in an email interview with Mizzima said, the Burmese junta balances the influence of China as well as other countries with its non-alignment foreign policy and multilateralism.

“It is not a matter of simply using one country to check the influence of another. The [Burmese] government uses this relationship just as it uses its ties with other Asian countries - to prevent any one country from gaining too much influence,” Kleine-Ahlbrandt said.

But in the absence of coordinated regional or UN response, Kleine-Ahlbrandt said, the stalemate will continue and “from China's perspective, not only is instability on the border a serious concern, but if this situation continues, it will certainly negatively impact Yunnan’s trade and economic development.”

While China shares the aspiration for a stable and prosperous Burma, it differs from the West on how to achieve these goals. The ICG said, in order to bring Beijing on board, the international community will need to pursue a plausible strategy that takes advantage of areas of common interest as well as China’s actual level of influence.

“The West should emphasise to China the unsustainable nature of its current policies and continue to apply pressure in the Security Council and other fora,” the group said, adding that at the same time, international pressure should not exclude other regional states pursuing their own narrowly defined self interests in Burma.

Burma Newscasts - China and West need coordinated approach on Burma: ICG
Monday, 14 September 2009 20:20

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Offices of Burmese groups in Thailand raided

by Mungpi

New Delhi (Mizzima) - Unprecedented security checks has led to Thailand’s police raiding the offices of some Burmese opposition groups based in northern Thailand’s Chiang Mai city on Sunday, opposition members said.

The police, according to Burmese opposition members, came with a list of addresses of Burmese offices and took photographs.

“Since there was only our office worker in our office, we did not have any problem, but the police took photographs of the office,” a Burmese activist, whose office was also among those visited by the police, told Mizzima.

While Thailand’s Royal Police could not be reached on Monday for comment, a Burmese activist said, “This is the first time in many years that this kind of widespread search and interrogation has been made. I believe there is something behind this. “It is a targeted search, because it has been carried out only on Burmese organizations. It could be politically connected,” he further speculated.

The Thai police have often raided the offices of Burmese organizations in the past. But the source said it was never conducted in such a widespread manner.

“They have the list of most of the Burmese groups including some of the media offices in exile,” said a Burmese activist, who requested not to be named for security reasons.

Aung Myo Myint, Director of the Human Rights Education Institute of Burma (HREIB), whose office was also among those searched, said interrogating a human rights office is in violation of the basic rights of the people and condemned the action of the police.

“We are working to promote human rights and coming to our office and interrogating us is violating our basic rights,” he said.

According to the Migrant Assistant Program (MAP) and other NGOs, currently Thailand hosts about two million Burmese migrant workers and about 140,000 refugees in nine camps along the Thai-Burma border.

Burma Newscasts - Offices of Burmese groups in Thailand raided
Monday, 14 September 2009 16:46

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Friday, September 11, 2009

China’s Failed Foreign Policy

By NYO OHN MYINT/MOE ZAW OO
The Irrawaddy News


The recent breakdown of a two-decade-old ceasefire between Burma’s military junta and ethnic militias in the country’s north demonstrates the failure of China’s outdated foreign policy, according to Burmese political analysts.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Beijing has aggressively pursued a path of rapid economic development as the surest way to avoid a similar fate. Although it has dramatically expanded its trade ties with the rest of the world, the principle of non-interference in other countries’ political affairs remains the cornerstone of its foreign policy. However, as the situation in Burma attests, this principle may no longer be sufficient to protect China’s national interests.

Beijing certainly enjoys the economic benefits of being the Burmese junta’s best friend. Since 1989, China has been the regime’s most important supplier of military aid, providing jet fighters, armored vehicles and naval vessels, as well as extensive training to Burmese military personnel. In exchange, it has been given access to Burma’s abundant natural resources.

A joint statement on “Future Cooperation in Bilateral Relations between the People’s Republic of China and the Federation of Myanmar,” issued in June 2000, indicated the future direction of Sino-Burmese relations, which were to be based on the “Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence” and the consolidation of mutual relations for wider regional stability and development.

Despite Beijing’s willingness to be more direct in persuading Burma to enhance its economic reforms and to push for political reconciliation at home, China still regards Burma’s poor human rights record as an “internal affair.”

At the same time, the United States has continued to denounce the Burmese generals’ human rights records and refusal to honor the 1990 election results. Washington’s harsh criticism, especially during the Bush administration, gave the Burmese generals no other choice but to turn to the Chinese government for support. In 2003, when the US imposed tougher sanctions against the regime under the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act, Beijing was highly critical of the move.

China’s foreign policy is completely divorced from the harsh realties of life under military rule in Burma. Without taking this suffering into consideration, Beijing has used its veto at the United Nations Security Council to block resolutions designed to push Burma toward genuine political reform. This has allowed the junta to simply move forward with its efforts to orchestrate a political transition from an absolute dictatorship to a faux democracy within the framework of a militarized constitution.

China has continued to back the Burmese regime as part of its policy of extending its influence within the region. However, Burma’s long history of ethnic conflict and political dissent presents serious challenges to Chinese policy, which may not be viable in the long run.

Another problem facing Beijing is that the Burmese regime is deeply distrustful of China. In the 1970s and early 1980s, Burma’s armed forces fought hard against the Burmese Communist Party, which was backed by China’s ruling Communist Party. This experience has left a bitter taste in the mouths of many Burmese generals and continues to affect the thinking of the current military leadership.

China’s current dual-track policy of supporting both the junta and the ethnic groups living along the Sino-Burmese border has helped to keep these memories alive. It has also raised the specter of renewed conflict with China. In a 2006 quarterly report, Burma’s ruling military council said that it needed to brace for an invasion from the northeast—obviously referring to China.

According to a reliable source, officials from China’s Yunnan Province have recognized the significance of developments inside Burma and are seeking to minimize the negative impact of Beijing’s policy. However, China can’t change its foreign policy within a few years; it will take decade, said a high-ranking diplomat from Beijing.

However, other China watchers have argued that Beijing is less interested in dealing with the Burmese junta since it purged Gen Khin Nyunt, the former intelligence chief, in 2004. Chinese leaders know that the current rulers in Naypyidaw have little interest in engaging with the outside world, but believe that the generals would not dare to turn their guns against China.

China may also feel that it is paying too high a price for backing Burma politically. Some analysts suggest that Beijing could move away from its long-held position on Burma in international forums to protect its broader geopolitical interests. China realizes that defending Burma may have triggered a more aggressive US policy in the Asia-Pacific region. Beijing is carefully observing the current US administration’s re-engagement in the region to decide whether Burma should be a center of China’s foreign policy.

China is aware that regional countries have supported a new Burma policy by the US government in terms of their constructive engagement and economic interests. China could be isolated by its Burma policy, proving its policy is still inferior to that of the US.

In the post-Cold War era, China should have more pro-active and tangible fairness to the citizens of the region, rather than putting its emphasis on ruthless authoritarian rulers. Beijing’s ignorance may have impacted the understanding of the Burmese generals. All the socialist states in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) are willing to yield to the US political engagement while they enjoy China’s limited favor in economic prosperity.

In recent years, Burma has moved to develop strategic and commercial relations with India, with which it shares a long land border and the Bay of Bengal. Increasing trade and military cooperation with India and developing bilateral relations with Japan within Asean shows a shift in Burma’s foreign policy to avoid excessive dependence on China.

Chinese analysts closely observed the Kokang incident in August and questioned whether the Sino-Burmese relationship was really impacted. In line with the 2008 constitution, the regime was attempting to ensure the stability of border areas by neutralizing armed forces that are independently standing outside the framework of the constitution.

“They (the Burmese military) don’t always heed China’s advice. China has so little leverage against them because China, in some sense, depends on them,” said Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing.

Chinese officials were not only extremely upset over the lack of forewarning about the border clash but were also worried about the future political consequences.

China-Burma relations may be at a crossroads. Only demanding ethnic rights and showing concern about the situation at the border cannot reflect China’s foreign policy in terms of its status in the international arena. China should bring the role of Aung San Suu Kyi and a settlement of the general political crisis to the forefront of its Burma policy in order to show China’s role in finding a solution along with the US and the international community.

Nyo Ohn Myint is a chairperson and Moe Zaw Oo is secretary of the National League for Democracy (Liberated Area) Foreign Affairs Committee.

Burma Newscasts - China’s Failed Foreign Policy
Thursday, September 10, 2009

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Kokang Crisis Disrupts Border Trade

By KYI WAI
The Irrawaddy News


Rangoon — The conflict in the Kokang area near the Sino-Burmese has disrupted border trade and caused shortages of Chinese goods in markets as far away as Rangoon and Mandalay.

The shortages will lead to price rises, according to local traders.

A shopkeeper who sells popular brands of Chinese-made snacks at Rangoon’s Yuzana Plaza in Rangoon said: “If we don't get fresh supplies by the end of this month, prices will jump.”

Other major Rangoon markets such as Mingala, Nyaung-bin Lay and Thein-gyi also report shortages of Chinese goods. One trader said supplies of food, medicine and electronic equipment had dropped in the past 10 days by one-third.

A Chinese trader in Nyaung-bin Lay market said supplies of Chinese-made formula milk powder, biscuits and dry noodles had run out. Suppliers were reluctant to travel to the Kokang area, he said.

"No one dares to go to the border, because we are still receiving information that the situation in that area is still not good,” said a Mingala market trader. “So, there are no new imports. We are buying supplies from other local traders from Muse and Mandalay. I am sure prices will rise.”

In Mandalay, a trader said 70 percent of the consumer goods in local markets came from China.

"We still have some consumer goods in storage to last the next two or three months,” he said. “But we don't know when we can get fresh supplies. So, we have to sell things very carefully."

The trader also thought prices were bound to rise.

Some traders with long experience of market conditions fear that the Kokang conflict could have long-term effects on the Burmese economy.

One Mandalay trader said the Kokang crisis was being followed with concern by Burmese-born Chinese.

"If the Wa group gets involved in this conflict, it will get much worse,” he said. “My relatives in Lashio live in fear, because Burmese government troops are collecting people at night and forcing them to be army porters. Half the population in Lashio are Kokang and Wa.”

The trader said government forces in Northern Shan State are selectively conscripting only Chinese, Kokang and Wa people as porters to be used in the front line.

Meanwhile, the state-run newspaper Myanma Alin reported on Thursday that the Kokang area is now peaceful and stable. The refugees who fled into neighboring China are returning and 14,253 had so far crossed back into Burma, the newspaper said.

Myanma Alin also reported that the authorities are selling chicken and fish cheaply to residents of Laogai, the Kokang capital. Local stores, shops and market are open for business as usual.

The newspaper said government troops were digging new drains and working on other municipal projects for Laogai.

Burma Newscasts - Kokang Crisis Disrupts Border Trade
Friday, September 11, 2009

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The Junta’s Twin August Offensives

By WAI MOE
The Irrawaddy News


After more than four decades of rule, the Burmese military government is confronting the two main centers of domestic opposition to its power in a bid to increase security and prolong military rule before the elections next year.

Having effectively kept pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi out of the elections by sentencing her to a further 18 months of house arrest, the military regime’s forces broke the ceasefire with ethnic groups by seizing the Kokang capital of Laogai on August 24.

Since the military regime’s attack, instability has been reverberating through Kachin State, Shan State and the towns along the Sino-Burmese border in China’s Yunnan Province.

Other ceasefire groups in northern and northeastern Burma, such as the United Wa State Army, the Kachin Independence Army and the eastern Shan State-based National Democratic Alliance Army have been building up defenses against a potential attack by regime troops.

“The [Burmese] government would like to assert more authority over the ethnic minorities in the highlands, leading to the problems of the past few days,” said Michael Charney, a Burma expert from London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies, in an email to the The Irrawaddy. The ceasefire agreements between the ethnic groups and the junta left potentially volatile situations in place, he said.

According to journalists and political observers in Rangoon, the junta is not yet ready to promulgate the election law, though the elections are scheduled to be held in 2010. With only three months remaining this year, time is running out.

If the junta wants to hold elections under the 2008 constitution, in accordance with the provisions of the constitution, it has to demonstrate that there is only one commander-in-chief and that the regime’s army is the only armed force in Burma, observer’s say.

“We can see that by sentencing Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on August 11, the military regime made sure there would be no worthy political challenger in the 2010 elections. After removing her from the picture, the generals turned on their other main enemies,” said Chan Tun, a veteran politician from Rangoon.

The National League for Democracy (NLD), led by Suu Kyi, and the Wa, Kokang and Mongla ethnic ceasefire groups have called for the constitution to be reviewed before the elections.

In 2005, Wa, Kokang and the Mongla delegates to the National Convention called for full autonomy and separation from Shan State, as well as guarantees that their armed militias would remain under their control.

At the end of the fourteen-year-long national convention process in 2007, however, the junta ignored all their demands when the handpicked Constitution Drafting Committee finalized the constitution.

“After the junta ignored their demands at the national convention, the ethnic groups knew a showdown had to come soon,” said Aung Kyaw Zaw, a former communist who observes Burma military affairs from China’s Yunnan Province.

“But ceasefire groups, particularly the Kokang, failed to prepare properly, which is why Laogai fell to regime troops so easily,” he said.

The junta generals, meanwhile, must be wondering whether the simultaneous offensives against urban political opposition and ethnic ceasefire groups have been wise.

“I wonder why the regime is risking conflict with the ethnic militias now. They may want to get control before the elections—but the junta could destabilize the whole country,” said Mikeal Gravers, a Burma expert from Aarhus University, Denmark.

Charney said the Burmese junta will face many similar problems in the coming year, because the generals want ethnic and political stability in order to hold elections and conclude the domestic problems that are bringing so much international attention.

Burma Newscasts - The Junta’s Twin August Offensives
Friday, September 11, 2009

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Webb to hold congressional hearing on Burma

by Mungpi

New Delhi (Mizzima) - US senator Jim Webb announced on Thursday that he will hold a congressional hearing on the impact and effectiveness of United States policy on Burma, according to a statement released by his office.

“Senator Webb intends a comprehensive hearing to examine Burma’s current economic and political situation and to seek testimony regarding that country’s long history of internal turmoil and ethnic conflicts,” the statement said.

The announcement came after Webb’s two week long visit to five Southeast Asian nations including Burma, where he became the first US official to visit the military-ruled country in a decade.

During his visit, Webb met the Burmese military supremo Sn. Gen Than Shwe, and was allowed a rare meeting with detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. He also obtained the release of the American, John William Yettaw, who was sentenced to seven years in prison with labour, for intruding into the house of detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in early May.

Webb, who is the chair of the East Asia and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, is a strong advocate for lifting US sanctions against the Burmese generals.

During his Southeast Asian trip Webb also told leaders of Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam that they and other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations should join together in calling on the Burmese junta to free Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest and allow her to fully participate in the 2010 elections.

“The hearing will evaluate the effectiveness of U.S. policy towards Burma, with a focus on U.S.-imposed economic sanctions that have not been matched by other countries, will discuss what role the United States can and should play in promoting democratic reform in Burma, and hear testimony on how to frame a new direction for U.S.-Burma relations,” the statement said.

Meanwhile on Thursday, the New York-based Human Rights Watch said the US should wrap up its policy review on Burma immediately and urged it to take the initiative to make the US policy of Diplomacy, Sanctions and Humanitarian aid more meaningful.

HRW, in a report, said delays in announcing its policy could encourage the Burmese generals to think that the US is weakening on its commitment to human rights and pluralism.

The HRW, however, said the US should reconsider generalized sanctions as it hurts the common people and phase it out at an appropriate time but carefully implement targeted sanctions on the military generals of Burma.

Burma Newscasts - Webb to hold congressional hearing on Burma

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