Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Two NLD youth members arrested - Htet Soe Lin and Thet Pain Min

(DVB)–Two National League for Democracy youth members from Dala township in Rangoon were arrested at their homes in the early hours of yesterday morning, according to party spokesperson Nyan Win.

Nyan Win said the Dala township NLD youth wing coordinator Htet Soe Lin and youth organising wing leader Thet Pain Min were arrested by about 20 Special Branch police officials from their houses at around 2am on Monday morning.

"We still don't know the reason for the arrests or any other details," Nyan Win said.

Reporting by Nan Kham Kaew

READ MORE---> Two NLD youth members arrested - Htet Soe Lin and Thet Pain Min...

When the Market Speaks


(Irrawaddy News) -The sharp fall in oil prices on world markets has created a unique situation in Burma, where the cost of fuel on the black market is now lower than at government-controlled pumps.

Until the recent precipitous fall in world oil prices, the government was cashing in by rationing fixed-price fuel at state-run pumps while also attempting to control the flow of gasoline and diesel on the black market.

The sudden drop in world market prices by more than half has turned the system upside down. Today, the black market price for a gallon of gasoline is 300 kyat (US $0.27) lower than the 2,500 kyat ($2.20) charged at government-run pumps, while diesel is 400 kyat ($0.35) cheaper than the official price of 3,000 kyat ($2.70).

The official price of gasoline and diesel had remained unchanged since sharp increases at the state-run pumps sparked the demonstrations that led to the September 2007 uprising.

Burma’s “black” economy controls everyday life, where consumers contend with differences between state-decreed prices and black market rates for many basics, particularly fuel.

The military took advantage of the situation by selling to the black market while keeping rationing. Ordinary citizens are allowed only two gallons (nine liters) a day and often have to queue for hours at the pumps. Black market sources, on the other hand, were readily accessible—although at a price—and many found a handy means of income by dealing in this dark side of the Burmese economy.

Trapped in a spiral of rising costs by having to buy fuel on the international market in dollars and then selling it in the local currency, kyat, the regime’s Ministry of Energy dropped its subsidy on pump prices in 2007.

The junta undertook a partial "liberalization" of Burma’s energy market by allowing Myanmar Economic Holding, Ltd, which is owned by the military, and Htoo Trading Co, Ltd, which belongs to Tay Za, a close associate of leading figures in the ruling junta, to import fuel.

When oil prices on world markets hit $100 a barrel in early 2008, the regime again tried to control fuel sales. In May 2008, black market prices spiked at 7,000 kyat ($6.20) for a gallon of diesel and 6,000 kyat ($5.30) for gasoline.

In response to the impact on businesses, the regime authorized the formation of a “diesel committee” to ensure that companies operating heavy equipment had adequate access to fuel at reasonable prices. The committee, at that time, set the price of gasoline at 4,500-5,000 kyat ($4.00-4.40) a gallon and diesel at 4,600-5,200 kyat ($4.10-4.60).

Along with a dramatic decline in world oil prices in recent months, according to business sources in Burma, large amounts of lower-priced fuel are being smuggled into the country from China, India and Thailand, making it additionally difficult for the military to reap profits from its own artificially created black market.

Pressure is now increasing on the Burmese regime to free the country's fuel market from government price-control.

That should be a good news. Declining energy prices should lower other living costs and provide some much-needed relief to consumers.

Traditionally, the regime has shown little understanding of the dynamics of a market economy, looking instead only at short-term problem-solving. Now the market is starting to speak loudly—and this time the regime has to listen.

READ MORE---> When the Market Speaks...

Clinton Makes No Remarks on Burma


WASHINGTON (Irrawaddy)— During her Senate confirmation hearing, the US Secretary of State-designate, Hillary Clinton, made no remarks about her views on Burma, but praised first lady Laura Bush for taking up the cause of the people of Burma.

"Mrs. Bush has been outspoken on behalf of the plight of Afghan women, on behalf of Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma, and other women facing oppression around the world," Clinton said during the course of her nomination hearing at the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday.

Except for this, there was no reference to Burma during the hearing convened by Senate Foreign Relations for the secretary of sate-designate. During the day-long hearing, almost all other aspects of the US foreign policy were discussed.

Clinton said that she intends to revitalize the mission of diplomacy in American foreign policy, calling for a "smart power" strategy in the Middle East. She implicitly criticized the Bush administration for having downgraded the role of arms control.

Clinton spoke confidently of President-elect Obama's intentions to renew American leadership in the world and to strengthen US diplomacy.

"The best way to advance America's interest in reducing global threats and seizing global opportunities is to design and implement global solutions. This isn't a philosophical point. This is our reality,” she said.

There were no questions on Burma from any senator on the committee and no remarks from Clinton on what the new administration's policy would be towards the Burmese military junta.

READ MORE---> Clinton Makes No Remarks on Burma...

Army officers lash out in karaoke bar

(DVB)–Two army officers from Light Infantry Battalion 15 based in Myin Chan, Mandalay division, lashed out at customers in a karaoke bar in ward 19 on 8 January after the owner refused their demand to hand over female singers.

A Myin Chan resident said police officers were present during the incident but did not intervene to stop the two men.

"LIB-15 sergeant Ko Tun Win and an unidentified army captain arrived at the New Life karaoke bar owned by a man named Ko Kyaw Htoo and said they wanted to have some of the girls who were working there as singers," the resident said.

"Kyaw Htoo refused their demand and said it would not be possible. The army officers went berserk after the argument and started breaking bottles and held people in the bar up at gunpoint," he said.

"Police corporal Than Myaing from Myin Chan police station 1 was on the scene with a group when it happened but did not try to stop them," he went on.

"Finally the two army officers left the place after loudly cursing the whole ward."

The Myin Chan resident said the police officers could have been afraid to intervene because a police private had previously been sacked after intervening in a fight between army personnel and locals at a pagoda festival.

"We want the police to do something. We don’t feel safe with these young army officials being able to do whatever they want in our community just because they have weapons,” he said.

“Now it's like the army can commit any crime they want and get away with it."

LIB-15 and the police station were unavailable for comment.

Reporting by Naw Say Phaw

READ MORE---> Army officers lash out in karaoke bar...

Burma's gem industry: profit that fills the generals' pockets

by Mungpi & Solomon

New Delhi (Mizzima) – To promote production of gems and jewellery, Burma's Ministry of Mines said it is allocating six blocks in three states to local entrepreneurs to mine gems, an official at the ministry said.

An official at the Ministry of Mines in Naypyitaw said, the six blocks, located in Shan state's Mongshu and Namhyar, Kachin state's Moenyin and Sagaing division's Mawhan, Mawlu and Hkamti will be leased out to private entrepreneurs for a three-year term.

"These areas are regular mining zones and we are giving out new blocks in these areas. Those who are interested can apply now," the official told Mizzima.

While Burma's military government by occasionally granting gem mining blocks claims that it is promoting domestic entrepreneurs, local residents in the mining areas said mining and the gem trade has largely deteriorated since the current batch of generals grabbed power in 1988.

A local businessman in Mogoke in Mandalay division, a mining town which produces one of the world's finest rubies, said, mining business has largely been monopolized by a few businessmen who maintain a close relationship with the junta.

"Even those (the announced) blocks will be dominated by some of the cronies of the junta, others will only get it if the sites are not producing much gems," he said.

He said, since the early 1990s, the junta has taken control over all gem mines and only permits companies to carry out mining in collaboration with government enterprises, popularly known as Oo Paing.

Since then, companies such as Shwe Pyi Aye, Lynn Yaung Chi and Kadekada, who have close relations with the ruling generals, have dominated gem mining and production in Mogoke.

While Burma's Ministry of Mines designates Mogoke, Mongshu, Lonkin, Phakant, Khamhti, Moenyin and Namyar as gem mines, Phakant of Kachin State and Mogoke of Mandalay division and Monghshu of Shan state are the most famous areas, where mining of gem is carried out on a large scale.

According to a veteran gem trader residing in Mogoke, with the mining industries solely dominated by junta's allied companies, most high quality gems are directly transported to Rangoon and Mandalay to be sold to foreign buyers.

He also insists that a part of the high-quality gems produced is also smuggled directly to China, Thailand and Hong Kong.

"The mining scene in Mogoke today has drastically changed. Earlier we could look for gems in 'Hta Pwe' but now the machines do the work and most products, specially the high quality gems, would not even be noticed by local traders," the trader said, referring to a local gem-bazaar in Mogoke town, known as 'Hta Pwe', where traders and local miners come to meet and bid.

Despite the big companies coming in to take control over mining, Mogoke, a town with abundant gems beneath, still holds the 'Hta Pwe' where small time businessmen and private, now illegal, miners still hold business meets.

Similarly, in Phakant in Kachin State, a town popularly known for its quality and abundance of jade products, with the advance of Oo Paings, most jades have disappeared from local businessmen only to be sold off to China, Hong Kong and other countries, through the borders.

But the business community in Phakant said a few of the products still reaches Rangoon to be exhibited in government sponsored gems and jewellery exhibitions.

The Burmese government has been conducting annual exhibitions in Rangoon since 1964, and later in 1992 extended it to twice a year by having a mid-year exhibition. Through these exhibitions, the junta earns millions of dollars. In October 2008, the junta said, it earned more than US $ 172 million from the sale of gems in such an exhibition.

But a long time jade businessman in Mandalay calculates that the junta's generals are earning much more from sale of gems mainly jade to China through the borders, which are then re-sold to buyers in Hong Kong and other parts of the world.

Burma, from its various gem mines across the country produces some of the best quality rubies and jades in the world, and also produces emerald, topaz, pearl, sapphire, coral and a variety of garnet tinged with yellow.

"If all of these precious stones and gems are made use for the development of the country, people won't be starving," the veteran businessman, who now resides in Mandalay, said.

READ MORE---> Burma's gem industry: profit that fills the generals' pockets...

Food Aid Starting to Reach Chin Villages


The director of the Country Agency for Rural Development (CAD), a nongovernmental organization, says his group has handed out food aid to about 20 villages in Chin State, in an area that has experienced food shortages for about two years.

At least 70,000 Chin have faced food shortages after rice crops in Chin State were destroyed by a rat infestation and drought, according to NGO workers in Rangoon.

“There are thirty more villages where our aid hasn’t reached yet because of poor transportation,” said Joseph Win Hlaing Oo, the CAD director. He said the Burmese military government allowed aid groups to distribute rice starting in the middle of November 2008.

"We’ve started rice distribution under a food-for-work program, and we started two weeks ago," he said.

“They had no food when we arrived in some villages,” he said. “They try to borrow food from village to village. They promise to pay it back next year. That is how they survive.”

The 50 villages earmarked by the CAD group are near three townships, Haka, Lantalang and Matupi.

Joseph Win Hlaing Oo said an unknown number of additional villages could be experiencing food shortages. He said the CAD group can help only about 50 villages because of budget restrictions.

Many villagers cried when thanking the aid workers who handed out food, he said.

Ray Hay, a resident of Haka Township, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that other villages are receiving rice aid from other NGOs and religious groups.

A report by the UN World Food Program said 75 percent of the crops in the area had been destroyed by rats and 30 percent of the villagers surveyed had been forced to abandon their fields.

The rat infestation began two years ago in Chin State, sending hundreds of Chin to live near the Indian border where they sought to enter the country illegally in order to find work.

In September 2008, about 50 village elders from Chin State traveled to Mizoran on the Indian border to appeal for international aid to address the food famine. The Chin Union Council previously reported that 31 children had died from a lack of food.

Chin Union Council leaders based on the Indian border said the Burmese military authorities had banned ethnic Chin people from receiving food supplies donated by Burmese in foreign countries.

According to a Mizoram-based Chin relief group, the Chin Famine Emergency Relief Committee, about 100,000 of the 500,000 people in Chin State had experienced food shortages. The shortage began in December 2007. Many people were surviving on boiled rice, fruit and vegetables.

A famine occurs about every 50 years in the area when the flowering of a native species of bamboo gives rise to an explosion in the rat population, say experts. The International Rice Research Institute had warned of widespread rice shortages in the region.

READ MORE---> Food Aid Starting to Reach Chin Villages...

Abhisit Needs to Set a New Course on Burma


(Irrawaddy News) -Here’s some good news: Thailand’s new prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, says he shares the West’s desire for change in Burma.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that the Kingdom is about to impose sanctions on its recalcitrant neighbor. Because of its culture and geographic proximity to Burma, Thailand could not embrace such an approach, he explained.

The young prime minister was disappointingly short on details about what his country could do to bring about change in Burma, but at least he made a clear break from the policies of former PM Samak Sundaravej, who visited Burma a year ago and returned full of fulsome praise for his hosts.

Samak, who was widely regarded as a proxy for ousted PM Thaksin Shinawatra, infamously came to the defense of Burma’s brutal generals, describing them as pious Buddhists who pray and meditate every morning.

More importantly, Samak was intent on restoring Thaksin’s policy of highly personalized, business-based relations with Burma. Under Thaksin, Thailand’s Burma policy was driven by purely commercial considerations. The lack of transparency that characterized some of his deals with the Burmese junta was widely criticized.

Most Burmese now hope that Abhisit will be able to restore transparency and accountability to Thailand’s dealings with its troubled neighbor. But even if he succeeds in staying in office long enough to undo some of the more damaging aspects of Thaksin’s legacy, he will have his work cut out for him setting relations with Burma on a straighter course.

Almost from the moment the Burmese regime seized power in a bloody coup in 1988, Thailand has been deeply conflicted over how to respond to its neighbor’s problems.

In the immediate aftermath of the army’s crackdown on protests, Burma’s nascent pro-democracy movement enjoyed strong popular support in Thailand, which soon became an important base for thousands of anti-junta dissidents; even now, hundreds of exiles remain in the country, to the perennial irritation of Burma’s rulers.

At the same time, however, many in Thailand’s ruling class saw the bloodshed as an act of desperation by a military clique despised by the majority of Burmese and with few friends abroad. The government of late PM Chatchai Choonhavan wasted no time in exploiting this rare opportunity to win access to Burma’s resources in exchange for Thailand’s economic and diplomatic support of the regime.

For most of the past 20 years, Bangkok has pursued a policy of “constructive engagement” with Burma. Only during the two terms of former PM Chuan Leekpai has Thailand’s Burma policy been guided by principles other than economic self-interest.

In 1993, the Chuan government allowed Nobel Peace Prize laureates, including Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, to visit Thailand to lobby for the release of detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and to highlight the need for democracy in Burma. The regime in Rangoon was furious and the relationship was strained.

During his second term, from 1997 to 2001, Chuan took an even tougher stance toward the generals in Burma. He declined to pay an official visit to Burma and he put Thailand’s defense in the hands of then-Army Chief Gen Surayud Chulanont and then-Third Army Commander Lt-Gen Watanachai Chaimuenwong—two hawks who looked askance at their neighbors to the west. Gen Surayud was also known to be sympathetic to Burma’s ethnic minorities.

As a result, troops from both sides massed along the border, leading to serious skirmishes and repeated border closures. Relations were then at their lowest ebb.

All this changed when Thaksin became the prime minister in 2001. He quickly restored a business-based approach to relations with Rangoon. But after Thaksin was deposed by a military coup in October 2006, relations with Burma were put on the back burner.

Surayud returned to a position of influence, this time as Thailand’s interim leader, and Bangkok kept its distance from Burma.

Surayud condemned the regime’s bloody crackdown on Buddhist monks and activists in September 2007 and called for a concerted international process to deal with Burma, modeled on the six-party talks which successfully persuaded North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program.

So what can we expect from new Thai government?

Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya has indicated that the new Democrat-led coalition government in Bangkok would depart from Thaksin’s business-oriented Burma policies, saying that Thailand would now run “an ethical foreign policy.”

“We shall have no [personal] business deals with the [Burmese] junta; we shall observe human rights and environmental concerns; we shall treat Burmese as we do Thais,” he said at an academic conference on December 19.

Burmese who listened to Kasit via shortwave radio stations hailed the remark. But we all know that Thailand cannot afford to allow ties with Burma to sour too much.

In reality, Thailand is Burma’s leading investor and trading partner. Thai state-owned energy firms are the largest buyers of natural gas from Burma and Thailand has won a concession to energy from the 7,110-megawatt Tasang dam on the Salween River in Burma’s Shan State. The Thai-financed project has seen no progress to date.

Under Samak, the two sides also discussed a plan to build a deep-sea port in Tavoy in Burma’s southeast, for which the regime leaders reportedly asked assistance from Thailand.

Thailand and Burma can do more business in the future, but Abhisit’s government must also take the lead in pushing for political change in Burma.

There are several ways it can do this.

As a chairman of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), Bangkok can help to formulate a comprehensive policy to bring about positive change in Burma. If Thailand, in coordination with Asean, begins to make a move, China and India, the regime’s two major allies, will listen.

Abhisit has already indicated that his Burma policy is likely to involve a more proactive stance on human rights issues in the military-ruled country. In an interview with the Qatar-based Al Jazeera news network, Abhisit said that he would try to convince fellow members of the Asean of the importance of human rights to the international community.

Unless Asean’s efforts to enshrine human rights are credible in the eyes of the international community, “the grouping will not be able to achieve its objectives,” he said.

Abhisit, an Oxford-educated economist, can also help Asean and the West to find some common ground in their approach to Burma.

Thailand could, for instance, take a more active role in humanitarian relief efforts in Burma’s cyclone-stricken Irrawaddy delta, which have brought together a wide range of international participants focused on addressing some of Burma’s immediate needs.

Perhaps with this in mind, the Thai foreign minister has offered to help Burma coordinate fundraising for the reconstruction of temples damaged by Cyclone Nargis.

But Abhisit must also take care to ensure that Thailand’s efforts to rebuild Burma do not end with its temples. He should remind his Asean counterparts that Burma’s political system also needs to be fixed, and that the sooner that can be achieved, the better it will be for the whole region.

READ MORE---> Abhisit Needs to Set a New Course on Burma...

Burma’s Economy Feeling the Pain


(Irrawaddy News) -Businesses in Burma are struggling to sell a backlog of stock buildup due to the global financial recession, which is undermining trading and the economy, said Khin Maung Nyo, a Rangoon-based economic analyst.

“Even though the financial crisis hasn’t affected the banks in Burma, because the banking system is not integrated with global banks, in trading a lot of businesses have been affected,” he said.

Business people at the wholesale Nyaung Binlay and Mingalar markets said consumers are not buying as much and as a result, manufacturing and commodity sales could decrease as much as 50 percent.

Many business sectors have been letting workers go because of falling orders due to the global financial crisis and lack of local demand.

“We reduced workers’ wages because we cut the normal working hours,” said one business owner in the Hlaing Tharyar industrial zone on the outskirts of Rangoon. “I am not sure how much I can control labor under these market conditions.”

According to statistics from the Ministry of Labor, there are 134,900 registered workers in 18 industrial zones in Rangoon Division. No statistics were available on how many have been laid off.

Burma’s garment industries have faced factory closures since September last year.

“Since the financial crisis, orders for new consignments have been reduced, and we will see a serious impact by the middle of December,” Myint Soe, the chairman of the Myanmar Garment Manufacturers Association, told The China Post on October 15, 2008.

The success of the country’s apparel industry is largely tied to global demand, so a fall in orders will lead to workers being dismissed and the closure of some production facilities, Myint Soe said in the report.

More than 100,000 garment workers have already been laid off at garment factories across the country, according to sources with the Myanmar Garment Manufactures Association.

Meanwhile, the powerful Burmese businessman, Tay Za, told senior officials at his Htoo Trading Company that the global recession has affected his businesses.

Tay Za, a crony of Burma’s junta chief Than Shwe, plays a major role in the Burmese economy. Htoo Trading’s business activities range from logging, tourism, hotels, air transport and construction to technological investment in Yadanabon Cyber City in Mandalay Division.

Htoo Trading, which is one of Burma’s largest timber exporters, has been hit heavily by falling global demand.

Burma businesses associated with tourism declined severely in 2007 and 2008 compared to previous years, following the 2007 September pro-democracy uprising and the 2008 Cyclone Nargis.

READ MORE---> Burma’s Economy Feeling the Pain...

Mark My Words - Mark Canning

Interview - The Irrawaddy News

British ambassador to Burma, Mark Canning, talks to The Irrawaddy about the role of the UN and Asean in Burma, the Cyclone Nargis relief effort and his expectations for the election in 2010

Question: How do you assess events in Burma in 2008?

Answer: It was a bad year on almost all fronts. It was especially cruel that on top of all their other problems, the people of this country had to cope with the devastation caused by Cyclone Nargis—but at least there we’ve seen some good progress. After a difficult start, relief reached those who needed it, a creative mechanism was established for overseeing the operation and a number of tricky problems were overcome.

Elsewhere, there was no movement, in fact quite the opposite. The UN secretary-general himself said very recently that the degree of cooperation between Myanmar and the UN had been unsatisfactory. There was no move towards any sort of dialogue between the government and the opposition. There was continued repression.

The number of political prisoners doubled, and more than 200 activists, who’ve done nothing but espouse peaceful protests, were given massive prison sentences. Aung San Suu Kyi remains locked away and prevented from playing the conciliatory role she could fulfil if allowed. The various concessions made at the turn of the year, like the series of meetings between her and the labour minister came to nothing. The population has been told to expect the introduction of “disciplined democracy” in 2010—they’ve seen plenty of the former but not much of the latter.

Q: Many critics, including Burmese both inside and outside the country, believe that Gambari’s mission has been a failure. What can he do to win greater credibility for his mission and to achieve political reconciliation in Burma?

A: The UN is playing a key role and we support it 100 percent. Dr Gambari has been working the problem extremely hard, but, as he and the secretary-general have made clear, the level of cooperation from the government has simply not been good enough.

There’s always been a tendency to criticise the envoy—you saw the same with Razali Ismail, you see it now with Dr Gambari, but that’s a mistake. It’s quite clear where responsibility lies for the lack of forward movement. The priority for 2009 therefore is to rebuild more solid international backing for what the UN is trying to do. The secretary-general’s personal engagement is a great asset and should help achieve that, and we hope very much to see him back here once conditions allow. We have now a clear assessment of where things have got to on which to build. It’s crystal clear there’s not been the kind of progress over the past 12 months which a number of countries claim to have seen. In fact, the situation has gone backwards and will continue to do so until there is clear and unambiguous backing for the UN. Issues like the release of political prisoners, rather than being internal matters, are central to what the UN is trying to achieve—political reconciliation.

Q: The UK played a major role in the cyclone relief operation—where do you see things going now?

A: The operation is going far better than we feared at the outset. The Tri-Partite Commission Group mechanism has proved a great success, and there has been excellent collaboration between the government, Asean and the UN. Most of the affected population is getting some form of support, a wave of secondary deaths has been avoided, and the operation has been instrumental in saving hundreds of thousands of lives. As you say, the UK has been the largest contributor, and we’re proud of that. Most of all though it’s been a fantastic co-operative effort which has involved a range of donors, agencies, and local and international NGOs, all of which has rested on the hard and innovative work of the three TCG partners.

Our ministers are now in the process of assessing what more we might do. Looking ahead, we—and I think most donors—hope to see the TCG mandate extended beyond July so that it can build on what’s been achieved. We hope also that in partnership with government, some of the underlying policy issues in the area of agriculture and livelihoods, that affect the ability of those in the delta and elsewhere to make a sustainable living, can be considered. There’s good work going on there too, but there’s probably more that could be done. The key point is that there’s no point bandaging the patient if you then send him back into the environment that helped cause the problem in the first place.

Q: Do you think that the “humanitarian space” in the delta can be expanded to other areas of the country? What makes you believe that this will be possible, and what obstacles do you foresee?

A: That’s certainly the hope of all of us who are involved in the operation. The Nargis operation has helped build confidence and trust between the government and the donor community. We’ve seen good co-operative working, and both local and international NGOs play a fantastic role. All this has been excellent, but, as you say, the rest of the country is out there and it’s important in coming months that collectively we start to raise our eyes from the delta to address some of the serious situations elsewhere. Whether we’ll succeed, and the environment will almost certainly be difficult and unpredictable in the period up to 2010, remains to be seen, but it’s essential we try to build on the gains and keep up the momentum.

Q: The UK has tended to take a hard political line on Burma. Why in this case were you willing to donate so generously? And how would you respond to sceptics who say that
aid organisations cannot operate effectively in Burma because of government restrictions? You recently asked the Burmese military government to increase its assistance to the Burmese people. Do you think that they have increased their aid to people who are in need?

A: We’ve always believed that, while the search for a political solution goes on, the people of this country should not be made to suffer further. We’ve steadily extended our humanitarian work in-country, particularly in health, but in other areas too, like livelihoods and primary education. Our role in the relief operation was consistent with this, and we hope that the success it’s enjoyed will encourage other donors to work in this country, which remains one of the most under-aided in the world.

To the sceptics you mention, I’d say that while this is not always the easiest of environments, good work can and is being done. The Three Diseases Fund is a good example. It’s delivering real health benefits to vulnerable populations, has benefited from excellent cooperation from the Ministry of Health and has at all times operated within the guidelines donors set at the outset. We very much hope to see more donors come in and are more than happy to share our experience with them. We hope to see the government’s contribution increase—that not only makes more funds available for the delivery of health, education, etc, but it also sends a signal of commitment that helps draw in new donors and encourages those already here to provide more assistance.

Q: Turning back to politics, what about Burma’s neighbours? Apart from the members
of Asean, what do you think other countries, such as India, China and Russia, can do to bring about positive change in Burma?

A: There’s a key role for the countries of the region. Everyone understands the intractable nature of this problem. There are no easy solutions, and it must be tempting at times, when the issue is on your doorstep, to give up on it. Regional integration is hard enough at the best of times, yet alone when one of the members is moving in the opposite direction in political and economic terms. For the members of Asean, the situation poses an obvious reputational challenge—at the very time they are launching the human rights charter, we have a member flouting the standards it is designed to promote and as the situation declines—and it will—the practical effects on the neighbours, are likely to become more pronounced.

The fundamental question for the region therefore is whether the course on which the government is embarked is going to deliver the sort of stability and prosperity they have achieved in their own countries? There’s very little evidence in my view that it is. Nobody is under any illusions about the scale of the challenge, and a number of countries in the region have been working to address it, but the key in coming months is to build a more unified backing for what the UN is trying to achieve. It’s essential that the government should constantly be reminded, by those that have influence, of the need for change and meaningful cooperation with the UN.

Q: There has been a great deal of speculation that Aung San Suu Kyi could be released this year. If so, what do you think she will be able to achieve?

A: Whether she’ll be freed we obviously don’t know, but she should be. She has made clear repeatedly her willingness to work with the government and other political and ethnic nationality forces to address the challenges this country faces. She has made clear her wish to work for gradual, stable, evolutionary change, and change which takes account of the interests of the many different parties involved, including the military.

The fact that she’s under house arrest suggests she’s regarded as a threat. But she’s actually an opportunity in the sense that she could be instrumental in helping to forge the sort of broad-based dialogue with government that is the only way that progress is going to be made. If she’s not allowed to play that role, then it’s difficult to see how this will be done.

Q: The regime has accused the British and other Western embassies of meeting with
NLD members. How do you respond to this charge?

A: We keep in touch with as wide a range of opinion as we are able. That includes government, as well as a range of other actors, and that’s very much the role of an embassy.

Q: How do you see Burma’s political landscape in 2010 and beyond? What is the UK government’s stance on the 2010 election?

A: The coming year will obviously be dominated by preparations for the elections in 2010, and we’ll presumably soon get some more detail of what the SPDC will allow in terms of participation. This can all represent a healing process, and a step on the way to resolving longstanding political difficulties—or it can be the opposite—as has been the case till now.

There’s clearly time to make the process more inclusive. We hope to see that happen. The European Union has always made clear that it is willing to respond to movement in a positive direction. Clearly, you can not have a credible electoral process without certain things happening—the release of political prisoners, engagement between government, opposition and the ethnic nationalities—and those are the criteria against which it should be judged.

READ MORE---> Mark My Words - Mark Canning...

104 Years Given to Political Dissident - Bo Min Yu Ko


(Irrawaddy News) -A Burmese court sentenced Bo Min Yu Ko, a member of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (Upper Burma, ABFSU), to a total of 104 years in prison on January 3, according to the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma) (AAPP).

Bo Min Yu Ko, known as Phyo Gyi, in his early 20s, was sentenced by a special court in Obo Prison in Mandalay. He was arrested on September 18 and charged under different laws, including six charges under the Burmese immigration act, said the AAPP.

Bo Min Yu Ko’s 104-year sentence is the harshest punishment for a political dissident since the recent series of dissident trials which started in October 2008. He was not allowed to be represented by a lawyer, and his family was prevented from attending the trial.

“This is yet another harsh and cruel sentence handed down by the regime’s kangaroo courts,” said Bo Kyi, joint AAPP secretary. “The courts are not independent and simply follow orders from the regime.”

“Criminals sentenced on drug charges are often given relatively light sentences, but political activists are given very long terms of imprisonment,” Bo Kyi said.

Meanwhile, three other members of the ABFSU (Upper Burma) were sentenced by an Obo Prison court in late December.

Kay Thi Aung, 23, who is pregnant, was sentenced to 26 years; Ko Nyi was sentenced to 50 years; and Wai Myo Htoo was sentenced to 26 years, according to Tun Tun, an ABFSU member.

Since October 2008, Burmese military courts set up in prisons across the country have sentenced scores of political dissidents and their supporters on charges relating to involvement in peaceful demonstrations or freedom of expression. At least 280 political activists have been sentenced.

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