Friday, January 9, 2009

Did Than Shwe’s Grandson Kidnap Model?

The Irrawaddy News

The Rangoon rumor-mill is frequently active, but this might be the juiciest story for years—a soap opera-style plot involving Than Shwe’s grandson, a celebrity model, a jealous ex-boyfriend and a sordid kidnapping.

Sources close to Burmese celebrities told The Irrawaddy that rumors have spread like wildfire around Rangoon in the last two weeks that Snr-Gen Than Shwe’s favorite grandson, Nay Shwe Thway Aung, 17, helped a friend, Aung Myo, kidnap his ex-girlfriend, celebrity model Wut Hmone Shwe Yee (in turquoise).

The two allegedly abducted Wut Hmone Shwe Yee from an unknown location in mid-December and drove her to Nay Shwe Thway Aung’s house in Hlaing Thayar Township where they held her for three days.

The teenage model’s friends apparently attempted to contact her during that time but could not locate her.

According to tabloid journals in Rangoon, model Wut Hmone Shwe Yee is currently the girlfriend of Burmese Hip-Hop star Sai Sai Khan Hlaing. Last year, a YouTube video clip of Sai Sai Khan Hlaing and Wut Hmone Shwe Yee was popular among Burma’s young internet users.

Private journals and magazines in Burma were reportedly refused permission by the Burmese censorship board to publish photos of the model for at least a week in late December after rumors of her kidnapping spread, according to members of the journalist community in Rangoon.

Rangoon-based Weekly Eleven published an interview with Wut Hmone Shwe Yee in its December 31 edition. However, no mention of any abduction was made.

Sources in Rangoon told The Irrawaddy that Wut Hmone Shwe Yee has taken out a lawsuit against Aung Myo. Nay Shwe Thway Aung has reportedly provided a lawyer for his friend.

Wut Hmone Shwe Yee declined to comment on the issue when The Irrawaddy contacted her by phone on Thursday, saying she was too busy.

Nay Shwe Thway Aung is currently studying at Yangon Institute of Technology in Rangoon and is known to be Than Shwe’s first and favorite grandson. He has often appeared in Burma’s state-run media alongside his dictator-grandfather at state ceremonies and on trips.

However, Nay Shwe Thway Aung is no stranger to controversy. In October, reports circulated that he had used influence to get his girlfriend, model Nay Chi Lin Let (Left in white), enrolled in Institute of Medicine 1 in Rangoon.

Nay Shwe Thway Aung was also implicated in a drug scandal in Rangoon last May. Two of his friends, Burmese tycoon Maung Weik and a son of Lt-Gen Ye Myint, Aung Zaw Ye Myint, were arrested after a member of the Than Shwe family found some pills—thought to be ecstasy—on Nay Shwe Thway Aung’s person.

Maung Weik and Aung Zaw Ye Myint were charged with procuring and selling drugs.

Than Shwe’s son, Thant Zaw Shwe, was also at the center of a scandal in recent years when rumors spread that he was involved with certain Burmese celebrities and models.

This is not the first time a kidnapping plot has been associated with the families of Burma’s powerful military elite. In the late 1990s, rumors spread that Gen Ne Win’s favorite grandson, Kyaw Ne Win, and his friends had kidnapped Nandar Aye, a daughter of junta No 2 Vice Snr-Gen Maung Aye.

A few years later, in early 2002, Ne Win’s grandsons and his son-in-law were arrested and charged with treason.

“Sometimes, government intelligence services produce rumors as tactics of psychological warfare,” said a journalist in Rangoon who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Sometimes rumors come from rival groups among the ruling hierarchies.”

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Police fail to investigate stabbing in Laiza

(DVB)–Police in the border town of Laiza in Kachin state have failed to investigate the recent stabbing of a visiting businessman, according to local residents.

A local man in Laiza told DVB that a visitor from another township had been stabbed by a local Military Affairs Security informer at around 10pm on 5 January, but the culprit has so far escaped punishment.

"The victim was visiting Lajahyan village in Laiza on business," the resident said.

"He was stabbed by local MAS informer Ko Htay but the police did not follow up the crime," he said.

"The military tried to get him medical treatment themselves but later they sent him to a private clinic."

The local resident said the incident was just the latest example of the police failing to properly investigate crimes in the area.

"The police are not bringing any criminals to justice. They just look at the crime scene as a way of filling their own pockets," he said.

"Whenever there is a road accident, they show up straight away and harass the driver of any vehicles travelling on the road," he continued.

"They threaten them, saying they will charge them with manslaughter and they only let them go when they pay them around 400,000-500,000 kyat."

If the vehicles are transporting smuggled goods, the drivers are happy to pay the fine to avoid further trouble with the police, the resident said.

"Most of the vehicles passing through the area are delivering goods, which have not been cleared by customs when they came into Burma from China," he said.

"So they cannot afford to have problems with the police and they just pay the money."

Reporting by ATK

READ MORE---> Police fail to investigate stabbing in Laiza...

Bean farms flooded by authorities in Bago

(DVB)-About 60 acres of bean plants were destroyed in Bago division's Nyaung Lay Pin province when authorities opened the nearby floodgates, allegedly to force farmers to grow summer paddy on the land.

A local farmer from Pyun Tansar township told DVB yesterday that the plants were completely destroyed in the deluge.

"Our bean plants were doing so well until three days ago when water from the floodgates submerged the farmland and drowned the plants," he said.

The farmer said locals believed the authorities had deliberately flooded the fields because the farmers had ignored orders to grow summer paddy this year instead of the beans they usually grow.

"Farmers are assuming that the authorities deliberately opened the water gates because they think we will grow summer paddy as they asked us to when our bean crops are destroyed," the farmer said.

"After our farms were flooded, township administration officials came to see us and told us they would grow summer paddy themselves on those fields," he said.

"We didn't want to have their people working on our farms, so we had to agree to grow summer paddy."

Authorities in Pyun Tansar were unavailable for comment.

Reporting by Naw Say Phaw

READ MORE---> Bean farms flooded by authorities in Bago...

Regional NLD members disillusioned with party leaders

(DVB)-Members of regional National League for Democracy branches are becoming increasingly disillusioned with the party leadership for not acting on their suggestions, according to an elected member of parliament.

Aung Soe Myint, the elected people's parliament representative in Taung-ngu township's voting zone 1 in 1990, said many regional NLD members felt the party's Central Executive Committee was not taking their suggestions into account.

"Most of the NLD organising wing members in other townships outside Rangoon are now less keen to attend meetings at headquarters as they are frustrated with the CEC for not giving significant attention to what they say," he said.

Regional NLD members had asked party leaders to include capable younger members on the CEC and to convene a parliamentary conference.

"We want [party leaders] to be more enthusiastic as leaders of the group and that's why we made this request to them to give positions to youth members on the CEC," Aung Soe Myint said.

"We are not very happy with the results. We have been asking the committee to call a conference for our people's parliament representatives, but they rejected that idea because of the difficulties in getting all of us together, government harassment and so on," he continued.

"But they never look for alternative plans. They can't just reject the idea because there are difficulties because then it will never happen."

Myint Myint Aye, secretary of Meikhtila NLD, said morale was low in regional branches.

"Now we have no work to do as we do not get any direction from the CEC," she said.

"We are depressed and morale is low. The NLD is slowly fading away in every township in Burma."

NLD information wing member Nyan Win said party leaders were open to suggestions from members.

"NLD leaders always welcome ideas and suggestions from them. But there are just so many things to follow up at the same time," Nyan Win said.

"The leaders have to keep the ideas in mind and implement them when the time is right," he said.

"But we can't just take up everyone's suggestions."

Reporting by Naw Say Phaw

READ MORE---> Regional NLD members disillusioned with party leaders...

Teenage Activist Transferred to Labor Camp

The Irrawaddy News

A teenage political activist, who was sentenced last month to three years imprisonment for taking part in the 2007 monk-led demonstrations, was transferred last week from Insein Prison to Shwe Tathay labor camp in Twante Township, according to a source close to his family.

Prisoners in Burmese labor camps have to endure harsh conditions and brutal treatment, and are compelled to work long days in chain-gangs at highways, dams, irrigation canals, special agricultural projects and rock quarries.

Kyaw Zaw, 19, a second year student at Yangon Eastern University, was arrested some months ago by Burmese Special Forces at his residence in Bahan Township, Rangoon Division, for his involvement in the 2007 pro-democracy uprising.

Sources in Rangoon said that in another case, political prisoner Zaw Naing Htwe was transferred last week to Lay Mine labor camp in Taungoo Township. He is currently serving a nine-year sentence for smuggling a letter from his brother—political prisoner Kyaw Kyaw Htwe, aka Marki—out of Insein Prison.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Thursday, Bo Kyi, the joint secretary of Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), said that his organization is worried for the lives and health of the political prisoners who have been transferred to labor camps across Burma.

“Several political prisoners, especially NLD party members, have been transferred to labor camps,” said Bo Kyi. “Some were killed working as porters during fighting at the front lines.

“Transferring political prisoners to labor camps is like pushing them into their graves,” he added.

He said that prisoners at Burmese labor camps are exposed to terrible health conditions and torture.

The Burmese military government has been exploiting prisoners in chain-gangs since 1962, when they were forced to work on the Pale-Gangaw road construction project. The junta later conscripted prisoners to work as porters in offensives against ethnic insurgency groups.

According to Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), a total of 17 political prisoners, including one Buddhist monk, who were arrested after the 2007 protests, have been transferred to labour camps across the country.

In September, a 28-year-old monk, Ashin Pannasiri, escaped from Lantalang labour camp in Chin State while he was serving a three-year sentence.

Comedians Par Par Lay, Lu Zaw, U Htwe and U Aung were transferred in 1996 to a labor camp in Kachin State, where prisoners constructed the Myitkyina Airport. Later, they were sent to Sumprabun labor camp in Kachin State to build a road.

In 1997, the military authorities forced 18 NLD political prisoners from Taungoo Township in Pegu Division to serve as military porters at the front line of military operations in an offensive against the insurgent Karen National Union. One prisoner, Saw Htun Nwe, 75, died of physical exhaustion while other NLD members were severely wounded.

READ MORE---> Teenage Activist Transferred to Labor Camp...

Nowhere to Hide

The Irrawaddy News

They are constantly running and hiding from the Burmese army. One 62-year-old Karen man said he believed he had fled in fear more than 100 times in his life. They build makeshift shelters in the jungle wherever they can and plant fields that might never see a harvest. With only the clothes on their backs and a few tools in their hands, they build schoolhouses from bamboo and try to give their children an education. More than anything, the Internally Displaced People (IDPs) of Eastern Burma try desperately to keep a candle of hope burning in their hearts.

Karen IDPs flee a Burmese army attack.

It is extremely difficult to reach IDPs in conflict areas. Humanitarian aid from NGOs and the UN World Food Program working in Burma does not stretch to the people of Karen, Karenni and Shan states who require it the most.

The IDPs of Eastern Burma rely on cross-border aid and intrepid groups such as the Free Burma Rangers (FBR) and the Back Pack Health Worker Teams to deliver it. The logistics are very difficult and the conditions are hazardous. With the dreaded Burmese army, or tatmadaw, controlling checkpoints on all roads, FBR teams must stick to jungle trails and use mules and porters for transportation.

It is a dangerous occupation. FBR teams have had eight members of staff killed since they set up 10 years ago. The tatmadaw often operates a shoot-to-kill policy in areas where villagers previously lived and regularly plant landmines around the villages to deter them from returning.

FBR teams travel into the most remote regions of Eastern Burma, as well as in ethnic areas in the west of the country to help IDPs with supplies of medicines, mosquito nets, blankets, tarpaulins and clothing. Sometimes, the vital aid is supplemented by organisations, such as the Committee for Internally Displaced Karen People or the Karen Office for Relief and Development, but is not enough to meet the desperate needs of the internal refugees.

An FBR medic treats a Karenni IDP.

Naw Eh Moo Paw, 30, from Thong He Der Village in Karen State, told FBR: “My brother was 14 years old when the tatmadaw attacked our village in 1997. We all ran away, but he was not with us at the time and was too young to know how to react. He ran the wrong way—toward the Burmese soldiers. They shot him dead. When I think about him, I am sad. I want to defeat the tatmadaw, but I cannot. And so when they come, I have to run away.”

Some 48 full-time FBR teams are in operation around the country. The volunteers are homegrown—drawn from the communities they serve—Arakan, Lahu, Chin, Kachin, Karen, Pa-O, Shan and Karenni ethnic groups. FBR teaches the volunteers how to navigate safely around the areas where they operate, how to interview people and record their stories, and about international human rights. They learn how to cross rivers with ropes and how to disarm landmines. Some are selected to be trained in medicine where they learn to treat the most common illnesses they come across, including acute respiratory infections, malaria, anemia and skin diseases. Some 50,000 people—essentially IDPs—are treated by FBR teams every year.

FBR says its teams bring hope, help and a message of love to the IDPs. One volunteer medic said, “I work with FBR because I want peace.” Another said, “I have known about the relief teams since I was a little boy and I decided to help our people as best I can.”

It appears the FBR and the Back Pack teams’ tasks will be ongoing—everywhere the IDPs set up home, the Burmese army reacts by hunting them down, attacking them, burning their villages and abusing them. Several organizations have recorded the staggering amount of human rights abuses, killings and rapes that are perpetuated by soldiers of the Burmese army against ethnic villagers in Eastern Burma, but no one seems able to prevent them.

One young villager had this message:

“We never think about going to the refugee camps on the border, because we want to live in our own country. Tell the Burmese regime to put a stop to the oppression, so we can move back to our homes and live in peace.”

James Forrest is a volunteer who works with displaced people in Burma.

READ MORE---> Nowhere to Hide...

Indonesian authorities investigate stranded Burmese

by Nem Davies

New Delhi (Mizzima) – The Indonesian Foreign Ministry has said it is still investigating over 193 Burmese and Bangladeshi, stranded off Sabang Island near Aceh province.

Teuku Faizasyah, spokesperson of the Indonesia Foreign Ministry told Mizzima, "Out of 193, only 17 are Bangladeshis and the rest are Myanmar [Burmese] nationals, and they are still on Sabang Island."

The authorities are conducting investigations while the locals and authorities on the Island continue to provide food and shelter, he said.

"They have problems of nutrition and local people and authorities are giving food and water to them," the spokesperson said.

A boat carrying the Burmese and Bangladeshi was found stranded off the coast of Sabang on the northern tip of Aceh province on Wednesday. According to reports, about 80 of them are in ill health and were admitted to hospital.

The official said, the authorities have not decided what to do with them as they are still unable to prove their full identity because none of them speak English or Indonesian.

"The authorities are still investigating and will know next week what decision to take," the Foreign Ministry official said.

Reports said the Burmese and Bangladeshis were heading for Malaysia in search of employment.

Earlier in December more than 100 Burmese and Bangladeshis, who were proceeding to Malaysia in search of jobs, were rescued by Indian coast guards when their non-mechanized boat stalled near the Andaman and Nicobar Island.

Some of the survivals said they started their journey from Bangladesh and they were altogether over 400 people. Indian authorities launched a search and rescue mission as about 300 people are still missing.

READ MORE---> Indonesian authorities investigate stranded Burmese...

Fresh offensive on Thai-Burmese border

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – A fresh offensive has broken out along the Thai-Burmese border between ethnic Karen guerillas of the Karen National Union (KNU) and a joint force of Burmese Army troops and those from the Karen splinter group Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), sources along the border said.

The offensive is taking place opposite the Burmese border in the vicinity Ohn Pyan village near the town of Mea Sot in Thailand's Tak province. Observers said the offensive could be an attempt by the Burmese Army and allied DKBA forces to occupy KNU controlled areas.

"The fighting has been continuing and they [the joint forces] have already occupied some of the KNU controlled areas. And with March 27 approaching, they are determined to take control over the rest of the areas," a source told Mizzima, referring to Burma's Armed Forces Day which falls on March 27.

According to military sources, Burma's army is also planning to cross into Thailand in order to execute a surprise attack against the Karen rebels.

READ MORE---> Fresh offensive on Thai-Burmese border...

Muslims proscribed from worshipping in residential flats

by Phanida

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Aping a recent diktat against the country's Christian community, authorities have summoned and warned leaders of Burma's Muslim community not to worship in residential flats.

Rangoon's Kyauktada Township Peace and Development Council office, as they did with Christian pastors from the city, summoned Islamic leaders on the 5th of this month and warned them to halt all religious services and the reading of the Quran in residential flats.

"The government doesn't give permission to build mosques, so people of the Islamic faith have to worship in residential areas such as those in Thaketa, North and South Okkalapa [towships]. Now local authorities have warned leaders not to provide religious services in these residential flats," an Islamic leader from Rangoon told Mizzima.

A similar ban against Christians was reported by Mizzima on Wednesday (

"We had special religious services at night. But now local authorities have banned such services. They warned us not to provide these services, and if we defy the order serious action would be taken against us. So the people are scared and dare not to gather at these places. It seems we have to perform our religious services in a mosquito net. The people now dare not ask us to provide religious services in their homes as has been customary up to this time. Instead, they come to the mosque and read the Quran. However, the poor cannot come to these downtown locations," explained another Muslim leader.

Thai-based Human Rights Education Institute of Burma (HREIB) Director Aung Myo Min said the position of the government is a clear violation of human rights in that the ruling discriminates against a religious minority in Burma.

"According to the latest constitution drafted and approved by the SPDC [government], all are equal before the law, irrespective of their race and creed. This is a violation of the fundamental rights of a citizen and moreover is discriminatory against a minority religion," he expounded.

Further, Burma is signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which clearly stipulates religious freedom and the right to practice one's faith.

"Previously we heard about such repression against religious minorities only in Chin and Kachin states. But now such restrictions are being imposed in major cities such as Rangoon, which shows the deterioration of the situation in this regard," Aung Myo Min added.

A majority, nearly 90 percent, of Burmese follow the Theravada Buddhist faith, with the country's Christian and Islamic communities representing five and four percent of the population, respectively.

READ MORE---> Muslims proscribed from worshipping in residential flats...

Visitation rights denied to families of political prisoners

by Than Htike Oo

Chiang Maing (Mizzima) – Family members of political prisoners have had to return from journeys to remote prisons without ever having a chance to meet with those detained, a result of the latest hardship brought against political prisoners by Burma's ruling military.

In one example, the Myitkyinar prison authority in Kachin State only informed visiting family members of noted comedian and film director Zargana on the 2nd of this month about a ban on prison visits by family members during the current month.

"They said that the ban is for all political prisoners, but only for this month. Apart from that, they said nothing. The higher authorities ordered them to do so, they said," Tayza, elder brother of Zargana, told Mizzima.

The decision greatly inconvenienced family members in Rangoon, who instead of spending at least 120,000 kyat (approximately US$ 100) for return airfare, opted to take a train to the northern city, a journey of some three days.

The popular comedian is serving a 59 year prison term for multiple charges, including committing disaffection towards the state and government by using the Internet.

Similarly, family members of Sports Journal editor Zaw Thet Htwe and 88 generation student female leader Nilar Thein, who are serving their prison terms in Taungyi in Shan State and Thayet prison in Pegu Division, respectively, have had to return home without meeting their loved ones.

Thai-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners – Burma (AAPP-B) Joint-Secretary Bo Kyi said that such a ban on visits by family members of political prisoners is but the latest punishment leveled against those already wrongfully imprisoned.

"This is giving extra punishment to these political prisoners without reason. They didn't commit any crime in the prisons. It seems personal grudges against these political prisoners is behind the ban on allowing meetings with their family members during prison visits," Bo Kyi said.

During monk-led protests in September 2007 in Rangoon, Mandalay and other major cities, protesters requested the government to enter into a dialogue with the opposition in the hope of putting an end to twenty years of political stalemate inside the country.

However, military authorities instead responded with the arrest of Buddhist monks, students, human right activists and National League for Democracy (NLD) party members in connection with the demonstrations, subsequently sentencing them to long prison terms in the final months of 2008 before sending them to remote prisons in Shan, Kachin and Rakhine States.

According to statistics compiled by AAPP-B, the junta has handed down sentences to a total of 410 political prisoners, of which 146 are monks, 126 women and 138 men. In all, the organization lists 2,137 political prisoners being held in prisons throughout Burma.

READ MORE---> Visitation rights denied to families of political prisoners...

FSA investigation finds Aon made payments to Burma

In its report into Aon's £5.25m fine over "failing to take reasonable care to organise and control its affairs responsibly and effectively, with adequate risk management systems", some payments pay have been made to third party in Burma, the regulator said.

"As a result of this weak control environment, a number of payments were made by Aon Ltd to Overseas Third Parties in Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Burma, Indonesia and Vietnam," said the FSA, noting that time was between mid-January 2005 and end-September 2007.

For dealing in business in Burma (also known as Myanmar), which is under US sanctions, the US Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control guidelines say: "Generally speaking, the exportation of financial services to Burma is prohibited. The term exportation or re-exportation of financial services to Burma is defined broadly to mean

(1) the transfer of funds, directly or indirectly, from the US or by a US person, wherever located, to Burma, and
(2) the provision, directly or indirectly, to persons in Burma of insurance services, investment or brokerage services,

banking services, money remittance services; loans, guarantees, letters of credit or other extensions of credit; or the service of selling or redeeming traveller's checks, money orders and stored value. This defined term is unique to the Burma sanctions program.

"There are limited exceptions to the ban on the exportation of financial services. For example, payments can be made for certain licensed or exempt transactions, such as diplomatic payments and payments for goods exported to Burma. Under no circumstances can payments be made from blocked accounts on the books of a US bank."

Early last year Reinsurance revealed that Aon's rival MMC brokered aviation business into London after an investigation.


READ MORE---> FSA investigation finds Aon made payments to Burma...

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