Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Soldier’s Arrest for Transporting Drugs a Sign of the Times

The Irrawaddy News

A warrant officer from Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) 701, based in Hmawbi Township, Rangoon Division, was arrested for drug trafficking in late December, according to a source close to Rangoon Regional Military Command.

“He was not selling, he was just a carrier,” said the source. “He did it because he couldn’t support his family on his salary.”

The man was found to be in possession of the drug while going through a checkpoint on the main road from Rangoon to Mandalay, the source said. No further details about the type or quantity of the drug were available.

The arrest highlighted a growing problem among low-ranking members of Burma’s 400,000-strong armed forces. Unlike the top generals who use the military to maintain their hold on power in the country, most rank-and-file soldiers are struggling to get by.

“Regional military authorities don’t provide sufficient rations and other supplies for soldiers and their families,” said a sergeant from LIB 701, speaking on condition of anonymity. “That’s why soldiers are always looking for some other way to support their families.”

While many military families try to subsist on earnings from a variety of side businesses, from raising livestock to making bricks or wooden furniture, even this extra income is often not enough. Like other public servants in this impoverished country, many soldiers survive on the spoils of petty corruption and other illegal activities, including drug trafficking.

Non-commissioned members of the armed forces are paid less than half as much as junior officers, with monthly salaries starting at 21,000 kyat (US $16) for a private. First class warrant officers can make as much as 50,000 kyat ($40) per month.

“We earn small salaries and work six days a week, even though we are not on the frontlines,” said the sergeant from LIB 701. “We don’t care where we get our money from, as long as we can support our children.”

With such attitudes prevalent among lower-ranking soldiers, commanding officers often look the other way or engage in illegal activities themselves. When caught, however, soldiers often face harsh sentences for their crimes.

Unlike soldiers near the bottom of the military hierarchy, those close to the ruling generals rarely face serious penalties for breaking the law.

Last year, Aung Zaw Ye Myint, son of Lt-Gen Ye Myint, was briefly detained at the Wat Htee Kan military camp in Prome, Pegu Division, after Burmese police raided his office at Rangoon’s Yetagun Tower on May 29 and found illegal drugs and six guns.

The Wat Htee Kan camp has served as a sort of reform school for the miscreant sons and grandsons of top-ranking generals since Burma’s socialist era.

Aung Zaw Ye Myint was a familiar figure in Rangoon’s elite circles, mingling with movie stars and the children of other top generals. He was well known as a reliable source of hard-to-find street drugs for a small but well-connected clientele.

READ MORE---> Soldier’s Arrest for Transporting Drugs a Sign of the Times...

NCUB Plans to Form Parallel Government in 2009

The Irrawaddy News

The National Council of the Union of Burma (NCUB), an umbrella organization of Burmese opposition groups, announced on January 1 that it will found a parallel government as part of its action plan for 2009.

In a special New Year statement, the NCUB said that it would establish a “National Unity Government” and “National Unity Parliament” to counter plans by Burma’s ruling military regime to hold an undemocratic election in 2010.

“As a tactic to challenge the junta’s legitimacy, we will form a parallel government,” Nyo Ohn Myint, a member of the NCUB’s Foreign Affairs Committee, told The Irrawaddy on Monday.

He added that plans to create a new government would go into effect after a forthcoming conference of the Members of Parliament Union (MPU), a group consisting of MPs elected in Burma’s last election in 1990. The MPU’s annual conference is scheduled to take place on January 19 in Dublin, Ireland.

Nyo Ohn Myint added that the parallel government will include both elected MPs and representatives of ethnic groups who have their own territories and armies.

The NCUB statement has excited controversy among Burmese exiles, many of whom question the value of forming a new parallel government when the democratic opposition already has a government in exile, the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB).

The NCGUB was formed by exiled MPs elected in 1990 and is led by Dr Sein Win, the cousin of Burma’s detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Founded in December 1990 in Manerplaw, the former headquarters of the Karen National Union, the NCGUB now operates out of Washington, DC.

Nyo Ohn Myint denied that the new National Unity Government would function in the same manner as the NCGUB, saying that it would not merely consist of a prime minister and five cabinet ministers like the NCGUB.

He also questioned the NCGUB’s leadership because of its failure to cooperate with the NCUB’s efforts to challenge the Burmese junta’s seat at the United Nations.

Responding to criticism about its effectiveness, the NCGUB accused the NCUB leadership of embarking on a meaningless campaign without any attempt to form a consensus among members of the umbrella group.

Khun Marko Ban, the NCGUB’s federal affairs minister and a member of the MPU, said that the NCUB’s secretary-general, Maung Maung, did not even inform all concerned parties before issuing the New Year statement.

“Even though I am an executive member of the NCUB, I knew nothing about the statement until after it was released,” said Khun Marko Ban, who is also President 3 of the NCUB.

“We need to respect the organization’s consensus principle and ensure that this does not happen again,” he added.

The NCUB was formed in September 1992 by four organizations: the MPU, the ethnic-based Democratic Alliance of Burma, the National Democratic Front, and the National League for Democracy (Liberated Area).

Khun Marko Ban said that at its last conference in February 2008, the MPU initiated reforms that would make the NCGUB more proactive in the future. The MPU, which elects the NCGUB’s cabinet, will choose a new lineup at the conference in Dublin, he added.

READ MORE---> NCUB Plans to Form Parallel Government in 2009...

Detained Hip Hop singer Yan Yan Chan released

by Than Htike Oo

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – The Burmese military junta authorities on Tuesday released popular Hip Hop singer Yan Yan Chan, who was arrested in April 2008.

The popular singer was released on Tuesday evening by the western district court in the notorious Insein prison in Rangoon after the judge during the court session ordered his release, a lawyer close to the singer's family said.

"The judge ordered his release and so he was freed yesterday evening," the lawyer said.

The lawyer, however, said he is not aware of the charges against the singer and the reasons for his release.

"As far as I understand, he [Yan Yan Chan] was charged in a drug related crime but I am not sure what the charges exactly were. I have not been able to speak to him yet," the lawyer, who requested anonymity, told Mizzima.

When contacted, Yan Yan Chan's family members confirmed his released but refused to elaborate.

Yan Yan Chan was arrested in early April 2008, while staying at his friend's residence in Monywa town in upper Burma.

Yan Yan Chan along with Kyaw Kyaw (alias) Zeya Thaw, was arrested in February 2008 for his political activities and for being a member of the 'Generation Wave (GW)'. He co-founded the first Burmese hip hop band the 'Acid'.

READ MORE---> Detained Hip Hop singer Yan Yan Chan released...

Rangoon's Christians banned from worshiping

What is the purpose of having a church if not allowed to congregate for praying?
by Mungpi & Phanida

New Delhi (Mizzima) - Christians in Burma's former capital of Rangoon find themselves in a precarious state as local authorities on Monday banned the holding of regular church services and threatened to seal off churches if congregations failed to comply.

The Kyauktada Township Peace and Development Council on Monday summoned a meeting of local church pastors from leading downtown Rangoon churches and informed them to stop the conduct of worship services in residential apartments.

"They [the authorities] warned us that our churches would be sealed off if we continue worshipping," said a pastor of a church in Pabedan Township who attended the meeting.

The pastor, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal, told Mizzima that nearly 50 church leaders and pastors who attended the meeting were made to sign more than five papers of pledges concerning the cessation of church services.

"The papers also said that we could be punished [and could be jailed] if we fail to obey the order and the church would be sealed off," the pastor said.

When contacted by Mizzima, an official at the Kyauktada Township Peace and Development Council office confirmed a meeting was held on Monday but declined to further elaborate on the substance of the ensuing dialogue.

However, according to the pastor, authorities sent an invitation to representatives from over 100 churches, mostly located in the downtown Rangoon area, and informed them of the new order.

"We received the meeting invitation last Sunday," said the pastor. "Now we don't know what to do with our Sunday services."

Burma's military authorities had long stopped issuing permits to religious organizations and churches for the possession of land and the building of churches, forcing several local churches in Rangoon to conduct worship services in residential apartments, which are often rented or purchased in the names of private owners.

"Since the late 1990s authorities have stopped issuing permits [to churches] to purchase land or construct church buildings," the pastor said, adding that he himself bought an apartment in Pabedan Township for use as a place of communal worship.

According to church leaders including the pastor, there are at least 100 churches located in residential apartments in downtown Rangoon, including those in Kyuaktada, Lanmadaw, Latha, Pabedan, Bothathaung, Minglar Thaung Nyunt, Dagon, Tamwe, Hlaing, Kamayut, Ahlone, Sanchaung and Bahan Townships.

A Christian youth in Rangoon in an email message to Mizzima said the order virtually puts a stop to Christians worshiping, as most churches in Rangoon are convened in apartments.

"Eighty percent of the churches in Yangon [Rangoon] are included in the order. Only a few churches have their own land. Most churches use rented buildings, houses and office style rooms for worship places," the youth explained.

"We need your prayers for Christian communities in Myanmar [Burma]," the youth added.

While religious persecution and the prohibition of religious rites are not uncommon in military-ruled Burma, the new order, according to another pastor, is an attempt to stop Christians from regularly meeting.

In September 2007, Burma's military junta, in its determination to suppress the people and sustain their rule, violently crushed Buddhist monk-led protests, killing what opposition sources say were hundreds of monks, a highly revered population in the predominantly Buddhist country.

READ MORE---> Rangoon's Christians banned from worshiping...

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