Monday, January 5, 2009

Taunggok NLD chair’s jail term extended by 15 years - Min Aung

Jan 5, 2009 (DVB)–Burmese authorities last month extended the sentence of Taunggok township National League for Democracy chairman Min Aung, who had been serving a two-and-a-half-year jail term in Sagaing's Kalay prison.

NLD spokesperson and information wing member Nyan Win said Min Aung was sentenced to an additional 15 years in prison under the electronics act at a court hearing held in Sagaing division's Tamu township from 10 to 17 December.

Min Aung was detained by the authorities in October 2007 after the monk-led demonstrations in September and was sentenced to nine and a half years in prison four days later.

His term was later reduced to two and a half years and he was transferred from Rangoon's Insein prison to Sandoway prison, and then later to Mandalay prison.

In March 2008, Min Aung was transferred to Kalay prison in Sagaing division.

"We just can't understand this - he has been in prison for over a year and obviously was not able to take part in any [political] activities during that time," said Nyan Win.

"Min Aung told his father who visited him not long ago that he had been brought to Tamu court where he had 15 more years added to his term for an offence he didn’t know about," he said.

"It's like [the authorities] are deliberately making it impossible for these people to leave the prison, and sending someone to jail for something he or she doesn’t know about is not fair at all."

Reporting by Khin Hnin Htet

READ MORE---> Taunggok NLD chair’s jail term extended by 15 years - Min Aung...

Looking Back at Burma 2008

DECEMBER, 2008 - VOLUME 16 NO.12- The Irrawaddy News


11—Detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi met with the Burmese junta’s liaison officer, ex Maj-Gen Aung Kyi. The meeting was the fourth since the crackdown on pro-democracy protests in August and September 2007.

18—The UN Security Council (UNSC) held a closed door meeting on Burma. Ambassador Giadalla Ettalhi of Libya, UNSC president for January, said that the Security Council members regretted the slow rate of progress to date toward meeting its objectives. The presidential statement that followed said that the UNSC emphasized the importance of the early release of all political prisoners.


Tay Za, left, speaks with transport minister Maj-Gen Thein Swe and Rangoon Regional Commander Maj-Gen Hla Htay Win. (Photo: AP)

5—The US government slapped additional targeted sanctions on the cronies of Burma’s authoritarian regime. Four companies and three individuals connected to a well-known Burmese tycoon, Tay Za, were added to the list. The individuals were: Aung Thet Mann, son of Gen Thura Shwe Mann; Thiha, Tay Za’s brother and business partner; and Kyaw Thein, the director of Tay Za’s business ventures in Singapore. Also targeted were the wives of four senior Burmese government officials: Gen Thura Shwe Mann, Construction Minister Saw Tun, Lt-Gen Ye Myint and Foreign Affairs Minister Nyan Win.

25—The US government added more names to the targeted sanctions list of the Burmese junta’s business cronies. On the list were Tun Myint Naing, aka Steven Law, his father, Lo Hsing-han, and his wife, Cecilia Ng, a Singaporean citizen. Ten companies they own which are based in Singapore and four companies they own based in Burma were also targeted.


10—UN Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari met Suu Kyi for the second time during his third mission to broker political reconciliation efforts and to encourage democratic reform in Burma. Junta leader Snr-Gen Than Shwe had already refused to meet Gambari and the junta would later reject Gambari’s call to allow international observers to monitor the upcoming referendum on a new constitution in May.

Burmese soldiers march during the 63rd Armed Forces Day in Naypyidaw on March 27, 2008. (Photo: AFP)
27—During a ceremony in the capital, Naypyidaw, to mark Burma’s 63rd Armed Forces Day, Than Shwe denied that the regime was power hungry, saying “The handing over of state power can be done after multi-party elections in 2010.”


1—The enshrined body of revered abbot U Vinaya, known as Thamanya Sayadaw, was stolen from its resting place at a temple in Karen State in eastern Burma by a group of armed men wearing camouflage uniforms. Thamanya Sayadaw was renowned and respected for his integrity and generous donations to local development projects and was a supporter of and spiritual adviser to Suu Kyi. He died at age 93 in 2003.

9—Fifty-four Burmese migrants suffocated to death in a container truck in Ranong Province on the west coast of Thailand while they were being transported to the resort island of Phuket to work illegally. Among the victims were 37 women. Sixty-seven migrants survived the ordeal.


2—Tropical Cyclone Nargis, which was rated Category 3 and formed in the Bay of Bengal, started to rip through the Irrawaddy delta and Rangoon on the night of May 2. At wind speeds of 190 km/h (120 mph), the cyclone wreaked havoc on the region, causing Burma’s worst natural disaster in modern history. Nargis claimed the lives of more than 140,000 people and directly affected millions.

8—The US announced it was ready to airdrop relief materials and food to hundreds of thousands of people in the cyclone-hit areas of the Irrawaddy delta upon approval of the Burmese government. Three US ships in the Gulf of Thailand sailed toward Burma to be in position to provide help. A French amphibious naval craft, Mistral, and the British Royal Navy frigate HMS Westminster joined the American ships a few days later. However, all appeals to allow relief supplies ashore were rejected by the Burmese authorities.

Cyclone Nargis devastated the Irrawaddy delta and once again drew international attention to the Burmese regime’s brutal indifference to the needs of the country’s people. (Photo: AFP)
10—Despite the natural disaster, Burma’s constitutional referendum went ahead as planned in areas not affected by Cyclone Nargis, amid accusations of massive cheating at polling stations and reports of a very low turnout. Many voters told The Irrawaddy that referendum officials had handed out ballot papers already filled in with ticks indicating approval of the government’s draft constitution.

23—Than Shwe finally met with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in Naypyidaw to discuss the UN’s role in the aid operation. Ban had previously complained that Than Shwe would not take his calls or communicate with him. After the meeting, Ban announced that Than Shwe had agreed to allow all foreign aid workers into Burma to assist in the humanitarian mission.

25—The Asean-UN International Pledging Conference was held in Rangoon with 51 donor nations attending. The UN secretary-general later said he was cautiously optimistic that this could be a turning point for Burma to “be more flexible, more practical and face the reality as it is on the ground.”


10—A major multilateral operation of some 250 experts from the UN, the Burmese government and Southeast Asian nations was launched to assess the needs of Burma’s cyclone survivors.

1-18—Ten social activists were arrested for helping victims of Cyclone Nargis. The arrested aid workers were identified as Zarganar, Zaw Thet Htwe, Ein Khaing Oo, Myat Thu, Yin Yin Wine, Tin Tin Cho, Ko Zaw, Tin Maung Oo, Ni Mo Hlaing and Toe Kyaw Hlaing. Zarganar is Burma’s most popular satirist and an outspoken critic of the regime.

26—The head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, Antonio Maria Costa, said that the alarming increase in opium production in Afghanistan and Burma in 2007 is posing a serious threat to the progress made in drug control over the past several years. The 2008 World Drug Report noted that after six years of decline, opium poppy cultivation increased by 29 percent in Burma.


21—The Burmese regime signed the new Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Charter, which includes a regional human rights body.

Asean Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan holds up a copy of the Post-Nargis Joint Assessment report at the Asean Ministerial Meeting on July 21. (Photo: Reuters)
21—The Post-Nargis Joint Assessment Report, prepared and released by the UN, Asean and the Burmese regime, said the damage from Burma’s Cyclone Nargis in May was estimated at US $4 billion. That was in sharp contrast to the Burmese government’s initial report, which called for $11 billion in aid.

29—US President George W Bush signed into law the Block Burma JADE Act, restricting the import of precious Burmese gems and stones. The US Department of Treasury said the sanctions targeted two conglomerates: the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited and the Myanmar Economic Corporation. Both are extensively involved in a variety of sectors critical to the Burmese government, including the gem, banking and construction industries.


7—US President Bush met nine Burmese activists in Bangkok while first lady Laura Bush visited Mae Lah refugee camp and Mae Tao Clinic at the Thai-Burmese border.

20—UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari was snubbed by Suu Kyi. In an attempt to meet Burma’s detained opposition leader, two aides shouted for Suu Kyi through a loudspeaker outside the gate of her house in Rangoon, but to no avail. Observers later said that Suu Kyi’s refusal to meet the UN envoy showed her disappointment with his failed attempts to broker a solution to the country’s decades-old political standoff.


12—After weeks of refusal to accept deliveries of food and household supplies in protest against her unlawful detention, Suu Kyi won some concessions from the military regime, including deliveries of international magazines and personal mail. She had earlier discussed an appeal against her current term of house arrest with lawyer Kyi Win.

23—Burma’s longest-serving political prisoner, 79-year-old journalist Win Tin, was freed after 19 years in prison. He was among 9,002 prisoners released, only a handful of whom were political detainees. Press freedom organizations throughout the world welcomed the release of Win Tin, winner of the 2001 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano Press Freedom Prize.


13—Seven people died and one person was critically injured when an explosion ripped through a passenger-carrying pickup truck in Rangoon. It was later confirmed that a compressed natural gas (CNG) cylinder had exploded, one of several such accidents since the introduction of CNG on public transportation in Burma in recent years.

Members of the National League for Democracy march in support of their detained leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, on May 27, 2008. (Photo: AFP)
16—More than 100 youth members of the opposition NLD resigned, complaining that the party hierarchy did not give them a democratic voice in the decision-making process. The group urged the NLD leaders to air discussions on the junta-drafted constitution as well as campaign for the support of the people and conduct a dialogue with ethnic leaders.

17—Zipporah Sein, a well-known Karen leader and the 2007 winner of the Perdita Huston Human Rights Award, was elected general-secretary of the Karen National Union (KNU) at its 14th Congress. She became the KNU’s first woman general-secretary, succeeding Mahn Sha, who was assassinated on February 14.

27—Burma’s Foreign Minister Nyan Win visited North Korea for the first time since the two reclusive regimes resumed diplomatic ties more than a year ago. Burma severed relations with North Korea in 1983 following a bombing in Rangoon, allegedly by North Korean secret agents targeting South Korea’s then President Chun Doo-hwan.


11—Twenty-three leading activists, including five women, from the 88 Generation Students group were each given 65-year sentences for their political activities during the monk-led uprising in 2007.

Throwing away the key: Lengthy prison sentences for dissidents will likely mean continued international isolation for Burma’s junta. (Illustration: Harn Lay/The Irrawaddy)
14—The United States named 26 individuals and 17 companies as “specially designated narcotics traffickers” and imposed new economic sanctions, including the freezing of assets held in the US. The individuals and companies were associated with Wei Hsueh Kang and the United Wa State Army.

16—At least 21 convicted political prisoners, including Buddhist monks, 88 Student Generation group leader Min Ko Naing and prominent human rights activist Su Su Nway, were transferred from Rangoon’s Insein Prison to remote prisons around Burma.

7-18—The military government sentenced at least 86 activists, including monks and women, in special courts held in Insein Prison in Rangoon. The White House said that the international community and the UN should not remain silent to the oppressive, anti-democratic actions of the junta.

21—Ashin Gambira, one of the leaders of the September 2007 uprising, was sentenced to a total of 68 years.

25—About 25,000 people died of AIDS-related illnesses in Burma in 2007 and 76,000 out of an estimated 240,000 people who are believed to be carrying HIV/AIDS urgently need antiretroviral treatment, said Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).

27—Zarganar, whose anti-regime satire was a constant thorn in the side of Burma’s ruling generals, was sentenced to an additional 14 years imprisonment, following an initial sentence of 45 years imposed on November 21.

READ MORE---> Looking Back at Burma 2008...

The Drama of 2008

The Irrawaddy Editorial
DECEMBER, 2008 - VOLUME 16 NO.12

Kyaw Zwa Moe

EVENTS in Burma during 2008 added up to a drama packed with mixed emotions. They began with an appalling disaster, arousing sympathy and anger, and ended with frustration as the year approached its end. Out of the drama, however, lessons can be learnt for the year ahead by all those involved, from the average Burmese citizen to national and international leaders, by organizations of all kinds, global and local alike.

The year 2008 was scarcely four months old when immense misfortune hit this beautiful but economically battered and politically stalled country. Cyclone Nargis swept in from the Bay of Bengal, killing about 140,000 people and leaving some two million homeless and bereft of their livelihoods. The world watched with horror—but this was just the first act of the drama.

The international community responded with immediate offers of assistance, but governments and relief agencies hadn’t reckoned with the callousness of a suspicious regime, which at first barred aid organizations and workers from entering the country before eventually allowing them in under tight restrictions.

An angry but impotent world watched helplessly as the cyclone victims struggled to survive, neglected by their own government. Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd spoke for many world leaders when he said: “The Burmese regime is behaving appallingly.”

Even when US, British and French ships loaded with thousands of tons of relief supplies sailed to the region, the Burmese government banned them from landing emergency aid that would have saved an unknown number of lives. Frustration grew as helicopters sat on ships’ decks just half an hour flight from starving communities, and some foreign government members, led by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, called for the employment of a little-known UN principle, the “responsibility to protect” (known as “R2P”), allowing outside intervention in situations where a national government is unable or unwilling to protect its people.

While the world dithered, cyclone victims suffered and died, and finally the fleet of foreign relief ships withdrew and the regime was able to report that all had returned to “normalcy.” Faced with growing international pressure, the regime did, however, agree to allow relief flights to land, although tight restrictions were still imposed.

Much more important for the regime than the cyclone crisis was the smooth execution of its pet project—the national referendum on the draft constitution that had taken a convention of hand-picked delegates 14 years to draw up and which not even the worst natural disaster to hit the country in living memory was allowed to delay.

A UN demand for a review of the draft constitution by a special committee, to make sure it provided for an all-inclusive political process, was rejected by the regime. The result of the referendum was no surprise, and the outside world was asked to accept the absurd fiction that the draft constitution had been approved by more than 90 percent of the electorate.

Some consoled themselves with the belief that “something is better than nothing.” Burma has lacked a constitution for the past 20 years, after its second post-independence charter was revoked at the time of the 1988 national uprising, and it was certainly time for a new one.

Like it or not, the people of Burma will have to live for now with this constitution, which won’t be easy to review or amend. Its salient features are:

• The perpetuation of a leading political role for the military, with the commander in chief of the armed forces, currently the junta supremo Snr-Gen Than Shwe, entitled to fill 110 seats in the 440-seat parliament with appointees from the ranks of the armed forces. The commander in chief will occupy a political position on the same level as that of the two vice presidents. In the event of a “state of emergency,” which the military can declare at any time, the commander in chief will assume full legislative, executive and judicial powers.

• No role for opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and limited participation by other veteran politicians and activists. Suu Kyi’s exclusion is determined by a clause reading: “The President of the Union shall be a person who has been residing continuously in the country for at least 20 years up to the time of the election and the President of the Union himself, parents, spouse, children and their spouses shall not owe allegiance to a foreign power, shall not be a subject of a foreign power or citizen of a foreign country. They shall not be persons entitled to the rights and privileges of a subject or citizen of a foreign country.” As the widow of a British scholar and mother of two sons who are not Burmese citizens, Suu Kyi is, therefore, barred from any leadership role. The same applies to political exiles who have lived outside the country since 1988.

• The inviolability of the constitution is guaranteed by its Chapter 12 which states that any amendment requires the approval of more than 75 percent of all members of parliament. Since 25 percent of the parliament will be made up of military appointees, the constitution is as good as cast in stone.

Under these conditions, only a massive uprising on the scale of the 1988 turmoil could lead to changes in the constitution. With the country now in the grip of a regime determined to eliminate all opposition to its rule, this is highly unlikely to happen.

Frustration with military rule is still very evident, however. Suu Kyi’s unprecedented refusal to meet UN Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari during his last trip to Burma in August was evidence of this.

The failure of Gambari’s repeated missions to Burma should lead the UN to do some serious soul-searching. It should at least ensure that its envoys aren’t exploited by the regime or even negotiate with the generals without the promise of some tangible result.

The UN’s future role in the Burma question will amount to nothing as long as it lacks the capability to convince all key players to play their roles effectively. That means the Burmese government and opposition groups, regional players such as China, India and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and—on the wider international stage—the US, EU and the UN Security Council (UNSC). It won’t be an easy task. But nothing is impossible.

World politics have had a big impact on the Burma issue.

The UNSC issued its first presidential statement on Burma in October 2007 in an attempt to pressure the Burmese generals to enter a dialogue with the opposition.

In May this year, the UNSC issued another presidential statement, toned down because of opposition by China and Russia to some of the wording. The three authors of the resolution—the US, France and Britain—not only had to water down their original draft but they also had to delete a demand for the release of all political prisoners, including Suu Kyi. In an attempt to persuade the 15-member council to approve the presidential statement, the three Western powers were also forced to scrap the portion which urged the junta to take tangible and timely steps towards a genuine dialogue.

Chinese and Russian support within the UNSC also ensured that Burma avoided total isolation in the world community.

In October, Foreign Minister Nyan Win visited North Korea and met his counterpart, Pak Ui Chun, in Pyongyang, a significant encounter following the resumption of diplomatic ties ruptured in 1983 when North Korean agents plotted to assassinate the then South Korean president in Rangoon.

The world’s divided approach to Burma has emboldened the regime to resist international demands for political change and to challenge the Western powers, including the US. The question is how much those powers are interested in getting directly involved in the issue.

In November, outgoing US President George W Bush appointed Michael J Green as the special representative and policy coordinator for Burma with rank of ambassador. Since the junta’s brutal crackdown against the uprising in 1988, the US has lowered its official representation in Rangoon to the rank of chargé d’affaires.

Although the US is the world’s staunchest supporter of Burma’s pro-democracy movement and the strongest critic of the regime, the Burmese people realize that world politics don’t favor drastic US action against their country’s leaders. But, like a drowning man clutching at a straw, most Burmese still hope for a real change-oriented policy by the international community led by the US.

They ask whether the “change” promised by US President-elect Barack Obama means anything for the Burmese people. Will a “changed” foreign policy mean more than remaining a staunch supporter of the pro-democracy movement and the strongest critic of the regime?

The Burmese appreciate the US stand, but many realize that they can expect little more. They haven’t lost all hope, however, and feel a resolution of the political stalemate could yet come. The resolution could materialize from a greater engagement by the US and other Western powers alongside China, India and Asean.

Burma signed an Asean human rights charter in July, but already the regime has blatantly breached it by hauling more than 150 activists—including monks, journalists, lawyers and volunteer relief workers—before kangaroo courts, which have been handing out sentences of unbelievable severity—up to 65 years imprisonment for leaders of the 88 Students Generation group.

Asean’s political culture and deeply-rooted non-interference policy appeared to combine to allow these monstrous acts by a member state.

Despite Asean’s stand on non-interference, differences between East and West or between governments which advocate sanctions and those which favor engagement must be bridged. The differences can only serve to maintain Burma’s status quo, and nobody benefits except the country’s rulers.

The US, other Western nations, the EU, China, India and Asean must take a united approach, based on one common strategy, including the appointment of an ambassador to Burma possessing a powerful mandate from the whole international community.

The aim will not be to remove the regime, but to get it to work together with all opposition parties, ethnic groups and the international community in a combined effort to break the deadlock.

Burma’s opposition groups are not talking about regime change. They are calling for reconciliation. Pragmatists recognize that the role of the military will have to be accepted in the future political structure of the country—although it will have to be different from what is envisaged in the constitution.

History has shown that Burma’s military leaders possess no will for reconciliation or collaboration with the outside world. Rewards and punishment will have to be employed to bring them to their senses.

There must be a will for national reconciliation, the relief of the economic and political suffering inflicting the Burmese people and the release of all political prisoners.

The achievement of this dream belongs in the hands of a new united front of all domestic and international parties. With a combined policy of a united world, this mission can be accomplished. It will be much more than just difficult—but nothing is impossible.

Burma’s drama has by no means ended, and it’s still uncertain whether its finale will be tragic or happy.

READ MORE---> The Drama of 2008...

Burma - Refugees International

The international community must address Burma’s humanitarian crisis with increased aid nationwide.

For more than five decades, Burma has been entrenched in political and armed conflict between the repressive ruling military regime, political opponents, and ethnic groups, resulting in the displacement of over 3.5 million Burmese.While most analysts, including Refugees International, believe only a change in political leadership can address the structural causes of poverty in Burma, few forecast an end to the country’s political stalemate. Refugees International believes the international community must do more to address the humanitarian needs of Burma’s 55 million people in the absence of political progress.

Current Humanitarian Situation
Although Burma is a resource-rich country with a strong agricultural base, it is believed to be one of the poorest countries in the world. The UN Development Program estimates that Burma’s GDP per capita is the 13th lowest in the world. According to UNICEF under-5 child mortality averages 104 per 1,000 children, the second-highest rate outside Africa, after Afghanistan. Burma also has the highest HIV rates in Southeast Asia, and malaria, a treatable and preventable disease, is still the leading cause of mortality and morbidity. Despite this, Burma receives less international assistance – at $3 per person – than any other of the poorest nations in the world, where the average is $58 per person.

Following the disaster caused by Cyclone Nargis in May 2008, international aid entered the country at an unprecedented rate, but these additional resources remain only in cyclone-affected regions. Because of these increased resources, aid agencies report an unprecedented level of access and mobility. But the gains these agencies have made in delivering relief supplies, gathering information about needs and supporting local communities are at risk without continued international support for food security, livelihood and early recovery activities.

Action Needed
The U.S. government and the European Commission should immediately commit funds to continue humanitarian cyclone relief past the emergency stage and into 2009 for food security, early recovery and livelihoods programs nationwide. They should allocate these funds based on revised assessments of need and the ability to effectively implement such programs.

Field Reports

Rohingya: Burma’s Forgotten Minority
Among Burma’s ethnic minorities, the Rohingya, a stateless population, stand out for their particularly harsh treatment by Burmese authorities and their invisibility as a persecuted minority. Despite decades of severe repression, there has been minimal international response to the needs of this extremely vulnerable population compared to other Burmese refugees. The United Nations (UN) and donor governments should integrate the Rohingya into their regional responses for Burmese refugees. Host countries should allow the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and implementing partners to provide basic services to all the Rohingya and officially recognize them as a refugee population.

Burma: Building Upon Success
Three months after Cyclone Nargis, the world has an outdated image of the situation inside Burma. Although aid agencies delivered assistance within days after the storm and continue to do so, the story of a recalcitrant government that rejects aid from the generous nations of the world has not been updated.

In Depth Reports

Ending the Waiting Game: Strategies for Responding to Internally Displaced People in Burma
Burma is experiencing one of the most neglected humanitarian and human rights crises in the world. No less than half a million people are internally displaced in the eastern part of the country and at least one million more have fled to neighboring nations. This report provides an in-depth look at the causes of displacement in Burma, the acute needs of the internally displaced population and the current response to those needs.

In 2008, the U.S. provided $50 million in assistance after Cyclone Nargis struck the Irrawaddy Delta -- killing 140,000 and affecting 2.4 million others. This was a tremendous increase over the U.S. government’s previous $3 million budget for aid to Burmese people inside the country. Refugees International slowly began to change the U.S. government’s stance against funding humanitarian aid programs inside Burma after two years of being one of the few organizations calling for increased assistance.


READ MORE---> Burma - Refugees International...

Human Rights Abuse in Myanmar?

By David Watermeyer

It is tragic, yet sadly unsurprising, that the Korean government has rejected a serious complaint filed against Daewoo International and Korea Gas Corporation (KOGAS) by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) regarding their ``complicity in human rights abuses" in Myanmar (Burma) in the course of building a pipeline through the country.

``Burma'' is used here to show solidarity with those who denounce as nothing less than evil the actions of military junta who were responsible for naming the county Myanmar.

According to a news release put out by the Shwe Gas Movement (SGM), SGM global coordinator Wong Aung, a member of the Arakan ethnic group, through whose community the proposed pipeline will traverse, strongly criticized the Korean government's decision on Tuesday.

An extraction from the report says, ``The Korean government has decided to ignore the reality of major resource extraction projects in Myanmar and the specific devastating effects of the Shwe project on the people in the pipeline regions.

The Korean government has a responsibility under OECD guidelines. In rejecting the complaint they are abdicating their responsibility to investigate violations and mediate disputes in line with the guidelines; guidelines to which the have agreed to be obligated.''

All over the world people have watched in horror as atrocity after atrocity is committed by the military junta in that country, where unarmed Buddhist monks were gunned down like flies and rations from foreign countries after Cyclone Nargis devastated the country on May 3 meant for the starving millions by were blocked from delivery by this same military junta in an unspeakable act of callousness.

What is less known is how the junta continues to empower itself to rule over its people through dealings with various other countries and companies.

If these entities would not support the military junta but rather join the rest of the world in condemning and boycotting it, the tyrannical regime would not be able to continue.

The news release said, ``Daewoo International and the KOGAS have breached and will continue to breach a number of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises related to their activities in Burma (Myanmar)."

``These breaches are related to the companies' exploration, development, and operation of the natural gas project in Burma known as the Shwe Gas Project, meaning ``gold" in Burmese."

Few are unaffected by the trying economic times we are living in and that may play a part in why KOSGAS and Daewoo International, despite being told clearly at the highest level what is going on, appear to be paying no heed to the cries of the Myanmarese population.

But surely there are other options to explore than being complicit in evil.

David Watermeyer is a freelance writer residing in Seoul. He can be reached at The views expressed in the above article is those of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of The Korea Times.

READ MORE---> Human Rights Abuse in Myanmar?...

Understanding new Thai policy towards Burma

By Kavi Chongkittavorn
The Nation

AFTER EIGHT YEARS, it will not be easy to undo the Thai foreign policy towards Burma initiated by the Thaksin-led government and its nominees. A complete overhaul of the Burma policy is out of the question. However, some major shifts by the current government could be forthcoming that would firm up bilateral ties and strengthen Bangkok's voice on Burma within Asean. Additional principled guidelines, drawing from the Asean Charter, are imperative aimed at supporting the international community's effort to promote an open society there.

Gone quickly would be the preponderance of one-man decisions on key policies, especially those dealing with cross-border security, investment and trade cooperation.

In the past few years, Thailand has been rather compromising in its security considerations in exchange for economic benefits, which often went to individuals rather than the country as a whole. In particular, from 2001 to 2006, the Thai side allowed the Burmese side greater leeway along the 2004-km border such as issues related to Burmese migrant workers, illegal cross-border activities and harassment of minorities and Burmese exiles.

Picking up the pieces of Burmese policy where the Democrat-led government left off in early 2001, this time around the Thai foreign policy will be decided in a transparent way without any hanky panky as in the past. Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said succinctly that from now on, Thailand will deal with Burma in a straightforward manner without any dubious deals or transactions based on "four-eye meetings", which was the trademark of Thaksin's personalised diplomacy.

Prior to the return of the Democrat-led government, Thai-Burmese relations were very superficially closed, representing no real national agenda. Thai leaders were myopic, deluded in thinking that defending the Burmese regime within Asean and the international community would help them win favours from the junta leaders and subsequently secure the country's future energy and natural resources need. Indeed, the energy dependence on Burma was exaggerated to justify Thailand's closer ties with Burma, including its passivity.

Throughout the year 1999-2000, before Thaksin came to power, the Burmese people's struggle for democracy and open society was at its peak with all the support of the international community. Asean was far more united as far as peer pressure on Burma was concerned. Thailand dutifully played the leading role on Burma throughout by bringing in the international community. Former foreign minister Surin Pitsuwan, currently the Asean secretary-general, pushed Asean to engage in enhanced dialogue with Burma as well as emerging transnational issues affecting the region.

However, soon after the arrival of the Thaksin-led government in early 2001, Thai policy towards Burma turned upside down. After a few weeks of border tension and tough talks on Burma's role on cross-border illegal drugs trade, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra unexpectedly softened his Burmese policy, much to the chagrin of the international community. Since then, Thailand's credibility on Burma has disappeared.

During the Cambodian conflict, Thailand's role in Asean as a frontline state was well recognised as it was pursued based on the region's interest, not tempered with vested personal interests. Asean helped to internationalise the conflict playing out at the UN continuously for nearly a decade, which gave Asean an international voice, before the Paris peace agreement in 1989. In Burma's case, it was the opposite. Thailand failed miserably to assert itself in the Asean overall approaches albeit it was the most affected by the Burmese growing oppression. Bangkok's willingness to play second fiddle to Burma further divided Asean and stymied broader cooperation with international community.

Subsequent revelations by Surakiart Sathiratai, foreign minister in the Thaksin government, showed that investment and commercial deals with Burma at that time were not honest as they were coaxed with conflict of interest.

The scandal over the Export and Import Bank of Thailand's Bt4-billion loan to the junta was just one example. Like rubbing more salt into the wounds, former prime ministers Samak Sundravej and Somchai Wongsawat made ridiculous remarks defending Burma.

Samak was the most embarrassing as he praised the military junta leaders as peace-loving leaders and boasted about their closed friendship. Under the Surayud Chulanont government (2006-7), Thailand maintained a strict policy of no new contacts or improvement of existing ties.

Burma could have made a transition to democracy if the Thai governments in question had not indulged in personalising, nationalising and making the Burmese problem bilateral. The leader's personal and group interests linked to Burma weakened not only Thai credibility, it also belittled Bangkok's voice within Asean. That helps explain why in the absence of a Thai role, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia have become more pro-active in shaping the grouping's views and positions on Burma.

Coming to power at this juncture poses serious challenges to both Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and Foreign Minister Kasit on Burmese policy. They have to revitalise and synergise the role of Thailand, Asean and the international community to move the situation in Burma forward.

At present, the Asean Charter, imperfect as it is, will serve as a useful tool to encourage reluctant Asean countries to get more involved on issues of human rights and democracy. The rumblings over the charter's ratification in Indonesia and Philippines were indicative of the strong desire for such endeavour.

As the Asean chair, Thai leaders will adopt a comprehensive strategy on Burma that put together various parts and needs from within region. Furthermore, this strategy must also work in tandem with the current international efforts, especially through the offices of the United Nations and related agencies and its special envoy.

After all, the Burmese quagmire is not the problem of any particular country or regional community.

It must be kept at the multilateral level so that all stakeholders can work together to end the current impasse and sufferings.

READ MORE---> Understanding new Thai policy towards Burma...

China's chance to come clean

By Michael Pascoe

The popping of the commodities bubble
provides the opportunity for China
to abandon its criminal associates and clean up its industries.

There's a common belief that the Chinese word for "chaos" also means "opportunity". Unfortunately it's just a popular myth - unfortunate because it's such a good line and because the present financial crisis does indeed contain plenty of opportunity.

That's especially the case for China which now has a great opportunity to come clean on two highly problematic fronts: the Middle Kingdom's opportunistic support for the world's worst thugs and criminals; and its domestic mishmash of dirty factories and export licences.

Think of the world's worst regimes, its most bloody and ruthless tyrants, the blood-sucking murders and thieves who routinely rape and pillage their own people and you'll compile a list of tin-pot dictators and juntas propped up by Beijing.

Wherever there are Western sanctions and pressure being applied on despots, you'll find China happily undermining those international efforts. Zimbabwe, Burma (with plenty of Indian help for the military kleptocracy there as well), Sudan et al all depend on China's willingness to fence what the criminal ruling classes steal.

The big surprise about China sending war ships to the Gulf of Aden is that they're allegedly going to fight Somali pirates - it would be more in keeping with Beijing's record if they intended to trade with them.

So focused has China been on securing natural resources, it would happily deal with the devil himself - Lucifer (TS he means :-) ) apparently has access to plenty of heat energy for a start.

The popping of the commodities bubble provides the opportunity for China to abandon its criminal associates. With the mania taken out of the resources scramble, China has the capital and the presence to start trading a little ethically.

And that could reasonably become one of the conditions for allowing more direct Chinese investment in Australian resources projects. After all, would you want to jump into bed with someone who also sleeps with Sudan's Omar al-Bashir or Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe? (Nooope I am jealous)

(And whether you care for cricket or not, Peter Roebuck's excellent piece on one aspect of South African-supported Zimbabwean corruption is a most educational read.)

Then there's China's internal dirty business - its literally dirty business.

During the boom times of 12% growth, countless inefficient and filthy factories continued to pump out pollutants of every type. They still are, but with the slowdown reducing production, Beijing has the opportunity to see that it's the worst polluters that close down as demand lessens.

It's axiomatic that the most inefficient steel mills, for example, are also the worst polluters. Good riddance to them - and the cleaner and more efficient mills will benefit from their absence.

Rather than causing the abandoning or delaying of Beijing's five-year plan to reduce pollution, a period of slower growth has the potential to speed it up. (There's an echo here somewhere about Australia and greenhouse pollution, but let's stick to China for now.)

China has made the best of mass dislocation before and can do so again.

To mark the 30th anniversary of Deng Xiaoping's opening up of the economy, China's official media listed the "top ten catch phrases" of the three decades.

Right up there as the No. 2 catch phrase, two places ahead of "It doesn't matter if the cat is black or white, so long as it catches mice", is "Be laid off and get re-employed", as Xinhau reports:

"To adapt to the market economy and improve competitiveness of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) in the 1990s, China began restructuring.

"Encouraging mergers, standardising bankruptcy, laying off and reassigning redundant workers, streamlining for higher efficiency was a guideline in the SOEs reforms.

"No official statistics show how many workers were laid off during that period, but experts estimate the number could be tens of millions.

"To avoid social unrest and help most of those workers find new jobs, the Chinese central government offered occupational trainings, small loans and preferential tax policies."

And that's just Xinhua's version of events. The cadres once again have their work cut out to "avoid social unrest" as the economy adjusts and some of that adjustment needs to be in their own red tape.

Just as various surveys have shown that Australia's best companies tend to be exporters and our exporters tend to be our best companies, China's export-oriented factories are generally of a higher order than those dedicated to the domestic market.

Unlike Australia, many of China's exporters are not licensed to supply their domestic market.

There's been plenty of coverage of export orders slowing and factories shutting, but not of the challenge for the bureaucracy to reform its licensing system and unleash its full export capabilities on domestic consumers.

Of course none of this is the stuff of magic bullets, but they are another dose of "Reform and opening up" that can help towards a reprise of "Rise abruptly" - which is just what Australia needs China to do.

Michael Pascoe is a BusinessDay contributing editor - SMH

READ MORE---> China's chance to come clean...

DKBA Attacks KNU

The Irrawaddy News

Further attacks against the rebel Karen National Union (KNU) by the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) look likely to continue after a major clash that began on Saturday, according to Karen sources from both camps.

An armed clash between the KNU’s military wing, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), and the breakaway Karen group DKBA broke out on Saturday in the KNLA’s Brigade 6 region in southern Karen State in Eastern Burma.

According to a source close to the DKBA, battalions 907 and 999 moved in against the KNLA Battalion 103 base. However, he said that the Burmese army did not participate in the operation alongside the DKBA troops.

The KNU’s newly elected Joint-Secretary 1 Hla Ngwe said that further attacks against the KNLA soldiers in Brigade 6 are expected as the DKBA has long coveted the region to control business and collect taxes along the Thai-Burmese border.

The area where the clash took place is rich in zinc mines, said the sources.

Hla Ngwe claimed that about six soldiers from a joint-Burmese/ DKBA force were seriously injured during the clash. However, the source close to the DKBA did not confirm any casualties.

Hla Ngwe said that a joint force of Burmese soldiers and DKBA troops have increased attacks around the border areas since late 2008.

Some observers said that the Burmese army and DKBA forces are intent on targeting in 2009 the KNU Brigade 6 region opposite Thailand’s Tak province, including the KNLA military bases in Kawkareik Township in southern Karen State.

A KNLA source said that the Burmese- DKBA troops were preparing to launch an assault mainly against KNLA battalions 201 and 103 in Kawkareik Township.

In late 2008, KNU’s tax department in Brigade 6 stated that the DKBA had plans to wrest control of Kawkareik from the KNLA, expecting to earn from agriculture, logging and mining in the area.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Monday, the source close to the DKBA said, “This is our New Year’s present for the KNU.”

READ MORE---> DKBA Attacks KNU...

Than Shwe Fails to Attend Independence Day Dinner

Too embarrassed to show face... :)
The Irrawaddy News

For the second time in three years, the head of Burma’s ruling military junta, Snr-Gen Than Shwe, failed to make an appearance at a state dinner marking the country’s Independence Day on Sunday.

According to a front-page report in the state-run New Light of Myanmar on Monday, the regime’s second highest-ranking member, Vice-Snr-Gen Maung Aye, and his wife Mya Mya San hosted the annual state dinner on behalf of Than Shwe and his wife, Kyaing Kyaing. No official explanation was given for the senior leader’s absence.

The dinner, held in the junta’s capital Naypyidaw, was also attended by third-ranking Gen Thura Shwe Mann, Prime Minister Gen Thein Sein, and another high-ranking general, Lt-Gen Thiha Thura Tin Maung Myint Oo.

Some observers suggested that Than Shwe’s absence was due to his reluctance to meet with foreign diplomats attending the event, as the regime has come under intense criticism from the international community over its latest crackdown on dissidents.

There was also speculation among Burma watchers about the state of Than Shwe’s health. In 2007, he missed the dinner because he was in Singapore for medical treatment. Now 75 years old, Than Shwe reportedly suffers from diabetes and hypertension. (so he is touch and go anytime... only if we get close to him could send him off hummm)

Despite persistent rumors of his failing health, however, the state-run media reported that Than Shwe traveled extensively in the final weeks of the year.

On December 13, he attended a graduation ceremony at the elite Defense Services Academy in Maymyo (also called Pyin Oo Lwin) in Mandalay Division. He made his last public appearance on December 30 as he was traveling to Zalun and Bassein townships in Irrawaddy Division.

His tour of the country ended with him paying his respects to Zalun’s Mahn Aung Myin Pyidawbyan Buddha statue, which is famous as a symbol of Burmese resistance to foreign pressure.

The Burmese word pyidawbyan means “return to the native land.” The British took the statue to India following their conquest of Lower Burma in 1855 and attempted to use it to make coins, ammunition and cannons. However, they were unable to break it down and returned it to Burma in 1857.

READ MORE---> Than Shwe Fails to Attend Independence Day Dinner...

Private tutor stages solo protest - U Aung Pe

by Phanida

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – A teacher into private tuitions staged a solo protest in Twante, Rangoon Division protesting lack of genuine freedom in Burma yesterday on the 61st Independence from British rule.

The private tutor U Aung Pe (52) tied his hands with a plastic rope symbolizing bondage and observed two minutes silence, saluting the Independence stone pillar at about 7:30 a.m. yesterday in Twante town.

"The protest took place just 50 yards from his home. He tied his hands with a plastic rope and raised his hands at about 7:30 a.m. yesterday in his ward. Then he saluted the Independenhce stone pillar solemnly for about two minutes and returned home," one of his friends told Mizzima.

"He expressed sympathy for those who are languishing in prison when he himself is free by staging this solo and silent protest," he added.

Similarly he was detained for over a month by Twante Township Police force on November 22 last year on 'National Day' when he was on his way to the 'National League for Democracy' (NLD) party headquarter in Bahan Township, Rangoon.

He also observed the 20th anniversary of the 8888 uprising on August 8 last year, and objected against vote rigging during the constitutional referendum held in May last year in his ward polling station. He distributed 'NO' campaign posters of the NLD by wearing a T-shirt with 'NO' letters. After indulging in these anti-government activities, the Twante Township Court restricted his movement starting from December 16 last year for one year.

Moreover he held the birthday ceremony of Independence hero Bogyoke Aung San at the same Independence stone pillar in his town on 13 February 2005 with his 10th Grade students. The next day, the township court charged him with a case under section 23 of the Tuition Law and sentenced him to three years imprisonment. He was released on February 14, 2008.

The township authorities have not yet asked him any question for yesterday's activity.

The Twante Township authorities also held their Independence Day ceremony starting at about 4 a.m. yesterday which was attended by about 100 government employees and Ward and Village Tract authorities. The participants saluted the stone pillar.

Burma regained independence from British colonial rule on January 4, 1948. The military rulers have grabbed power in a coup in 1962.

READ MORE---> Private tutor stages solo protest - U Aung Pe...

Ethnic veteran political leader Saw Mara Aung dies - Dr. Saw Mara Aung

New Delhi (Mizzima) - Burma's veteran ethnic politician Dr. Saw Mara Aung died on Monday evening at his Rangoon residence, political allies said.

Dr. Saw Mara Aung (92), chairman of the Arakan League for Democracy (ALD) passed away at about 7 p.m. (local time), Nyan Win, spokesperson of Burma's main opposition party – National League for Democracy – said.

The veteran Arakanese politician was an elected member of Parliament from Marauk-U constituent No. 1 in Burma's last general election in 1990, which the ruling military junta refused to recognize.

Saw Mara Aung, like many of his political allies,was arrested and detained by the military for his political activities and was released in 2001.

He served as Chairman of the Committee Representing Peoples Parliament (CRPP), a committee formed in 1998 to convene Parliament based on the1990 election results.

Nyan Win said, "I heard that the burial will take place on Tuesday morning."

READ MORE---> Ethnic veteran political leader Saw Mara Aung dies - Dr. Saw Mara Aung...

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