Friday, January 16, 2009

Burma deploys army on Bangladesh border

Kaladan Press

Maungdaw, Arakan State: The State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) of the Burmese military junta has been increasing army deployment on the Burma-Bangladesh border with heavy guns ahead of the bilateral meeting in January on the maritime boundary in the Bay of Bengal. It is also restricting the movement of the Rohingya community severely, said a close aide of the Nasaka.

The Burmese government is still tense over gas and oil exploration in Bay of Bengal after failing to resolve the issue between the two countries.

According to sources, the concerned authorities, especially Nasaka and army called some Rohingya elders including village Peace and Development Council ( VPDC) members and held a meeting in Nasaka area No.3 and 5 on December 26. In the meeting they declared the following points. They are as follows:

1. There is no permission to put up any fence surrounding the house.

2. There is no permission to keep women indoors and get out of the house and doing work with male and keeping the women indoor, the economic of the country down falls day by day.

3. All the documents of lands will be handed over to concerned authority.

4. Within ten days, Rohingya Muslims must build a road of a length of 3.5 kilometer from Taungbro sub-town under the Maungdaw Township.

5. Three sacks of rice bag (a bag =50 kg) from every household will be deposited to the concerned Nasaka camp within one month.

6. Besides, Rohingya villagers will pay toll when the concerned authority asks them to pay. If any one fails to abide by the above points, he/she must leave the country. These are orders of the SPDC.

In 1991-92, many Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh due to persecution by the ruling military junta. After an agreement between two countries, most of the refugees had been repatriated with the commitment of returning their lands. But, after arrival at Arakan State, the authorities did not return their land and the returnees were severely persecuted. As a result, most of the refugees returned to Bangladesh.

At present, the Burmese ruling junta have invited new Buddhist settlers from Burma proper and settled them in north Arakan after seizing lands from Rohingya villagers. For these reasons, Rohingya have become homeless and land less in their own country, said a trader.

READ MORE---> Burma deploys army on Bangladesh border...

Burma’s Crimes Against Humanity – A Test Case for the ‘Responsibility to Protect’

By Benedict Rogers
Kaladan Press

Burma is ruled by one of the world’s most brutal military regimes, guilty of every possible human rights violation. Known as the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) and led by Senior General Than Shwe, Burma’s junta is not only brutal, but illegitimate. Elections held in 1990 were overwhelmingly won by the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. The NLD won 82 per cent of the parliamentary seats – yet the regime rejected the results, imprisoned the victors and intensified its grip on power. Most of those elected in 1990 are either in prison or exile, and Aung San Suu Kyi remains under house arrest.

The regime is also guilty of deliberate negligence. When Cyclone Nargis struck last year, the junta did little to help the victims, and initially refused international offers of aid. Under pressure from the UN and Asian neighbours, international aid was subsequently allowed in, but with significant restrictions on access for international aid workers. Much of the aid was reportedly stolen by the regime, for its own use or to sell in the markets. The SPDC had received 41 warnings from India of the impending cyclone, but did nothing to prepare its people. Over 140,000 people died, and 2.5 million were left homeless.

A similar, though far less known, humanitarian disaster is unfolding in Chin State, in western Burma. Every 50 years, the bamboo in that part of the country flowers and, in a bizarre but predictable natural phenomenon, the bamboo flowers attract vast plagues of rats. The rodents destroy not only the bamboo, which is the major resource for local people, but also paddy fields, rice barns and virtually all other food sources. At least 200 villages, with 100,000 people, are facing severe famine. Like the cyclone, the regime knew it was coming – and did nothing. And like the cyclone, the regime has actively sought to block efforts to help the victims.

In September 2007, the military violently suppressed peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations led by Buddhist monks, in what became known as the ‘Saffron Revolution’. Over 2,000 political prisoners are in jail, subjected to inhumane treatment and terrible torture. Some have recently been sentenced to 65 years or more.

It is a regime which spends almost half its budget on the military, and less than 50p per person per year on health and education. It is one of the poorest countries in the world, with price rises making life even harder for most of the people.

In addition to the humanitarian crisis, the economic collapse, the grinding poverty, the lack of investment in health and education and the brutal suppression of democracy, Burma’s military regime stands accused of perpetrating a campaign of ethnic cleansing against many of its ethnic minorities, amounting to crimes against humanity, war crimes and, arguably, attempted genocide. Rape is used as a weapon of war on a widespread and systematic scale, and has been well documented by women’s groups in the ethnic areas. Forced labour is equally widespread, and has been reported by the International Labour Organisation (ILO). In eastern Burma, the military is carrying out an offensive against the Karen, Karenni and Shan ethnic peoples in which civilians are shot at point-blank range, including women and children, and people are used as human minesweepers – forced to walk across fields of landmines, clearing them for the military but losing their limbs and sometimes their lives in the process. Since 1996, over 3,200 villages have been destroyed in eastern Burma alone, and a million people internally displaced. Hundreds of thousands have had to flee, as refugees to Thailand, India, Bangladesh, Malaysia and further afield.

In other parts of the country, religious persecution against Christians and Muslims is rife, and the regime – which suppresses Buddhists that challenge it – uses a perverted, distorted form of Buddhism for political purposes. Christians in Chin State, for example, have been forced to tear down crosses on hilltops, and build Buddhist pagodas in their place. Muslim Rohingyas in Arakan are denied citizenship, despite having lived there for generations, and face severe restrictions on movement, marriage and religion. And Burma has the highest number of forcibly conscripted child soldiers in the world. At least 70,000 children have been taken from the streets and forced to join the Burma Army.

The United Nations has a concept known as the “Responsibility to Protect”, first expressed in 2001 by the Canadian-backed International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) and later enshrined in Security Council resolutions. This principle only applies to the most severe human rights violations – genocide, crimes against humanity and what former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans, one of the architects of the term, calls “mass atrocity crimes”. It mandates the international community to respond, using a range of policy options – but not to stand idly by. According to ICISS, the basic principles of the Responsibility to Protect can be summed up in this way: “Where a population is suffering serious harm, as a result of internal war, insurgency, repression or state failure, and the state in question is unwilling or unable to halt or avert it, the principle of non-intervention yields to the international responsibility to protect”.

The Responsibility to Protect is often misunderstood as meaning military intervention. But that is not at all what it is about. While it can include, in certain circumstances, military intervention on humanitarian grounds as a last-resort option, it encompasses a far wider range of policy instruments, relating to economic sanctions, diplomatic efforts, prosecution at the International Criminal Court (ICC) and increased humanitarian aid. In the case of Burma, some sanctions, some aid and some diplomatic initiatives are already in place, but they need to be intensified, prioritised and strengthened under the Responsibility to Protect framework. Much more humanitarian aid, for example, should be delivered through cross-border delivery mechanisms to those displaced in the jungles along Burma’s borders. A case of crimes against humanity should certainly be referred to the ICC. Through these means, the ‘R2P’ framework can be applied effectively – these measures are both practically and politically feasible.

The crisis in Burma surely meets the criteria defined by the ICISS. Not only is the regime “unwilling or unable” to halt the suffering in Burma – it is the perpetrator and the cause. The crimes inflicted on Burma’s people, particularly the ethnic peoples in eastern Burma, surely amount to crimes against humanity and mass atrocity crimes.

What can you do? You can start by joining a new online campaign, Change for Burma!, which you can find at You will find further information, resources and ways of getting involved. The people of Burma have suffered far too much for far too long. We have a responsibility to protect them.

Benedict Rogers works for the human rights organisation Christian Solidarity Worldwide, and is the author of A Land Without Evil: Stopping the Genocide of Burma’s Karen People (Monarch, 2004). He is currently writing two new books about Burma, and serves as Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party Human Rights Group. He has made more than 25 visits to Burma and its borderlands.

READ MORE---> Burma’s Crimes Against Humanity – A Test Case for the ‘Responsibility to Protect’...

Burmese Schoolteacher and Family Repatriated

The Irrawaddy News

A Burmese schoolteacher in Ranong in southern Thailand was arrested by Burmese police in Kawthaung after he and his family were repatriated by Thai officials on January 11, according to sources at the Thai-Burmese border.

Ko Gyi, who had been living in Ranong since 1995, was reportedly sent back to Burma with his wife, daughter and son-in-law, and is currently being detained in a police station in the Burmese border town of Kawthaung.

Sources said Ko Gyi had become a target for Burma’s military authorities because of his supposed links with Burmese opposition groups, as well as allegedly providing information to exiled Burmese news organizations.

Ko Gyi has previously been interviewed by BBC Burmese Service and The Irrawaddy.

Thai authorities also raided his home and school in Ranong and seized some computers and his car.

Ko Gyi founded a primary school in Ranong with the help of Jesuit Refugee Service, an international Catholic organization that provides assistance to refugees, forcibly displaced persons and Burmese migrant workers.

Ko Gyi and his wife worked at the school, which has provided free education to the children of Burmese migrant workers since 2003.

READ MORE---> Burmese Schoolteacher and Family Repatriated...

North Korean national dies in Meikhtila

(DVB)–A North Korean who was believed to be a weapon specialist working in a secret research facility in central Burma has died on the way to Meikhtila military hospital after suffering a serious headache.

According to a member of staff at the hospital, speaking on condition of anonymity, the unidentified North Korean was already dead when he arrived at the hospital on 9 January.

A Meikhtila resident said the man’s body was cremated at around 7am on 11 January with the assistance of a local charity called Yan Aung Myin funeral service.

An official from Yan Aung Myin funeral service said the funeral was attended by a group of North Koreans, assumed to be his family, and a few Burmese army officers in civilian clothing.

"We were informed of his death by Meikhtila military hospital who told us to arrange a funeral service for him," the official said.

"The funeral was held early in the morning and it was rumoured that the
authorities wanted to keep it a secret from the public as he was a foreigner who was involved with government work.

Sources close to the military in Meikhtila said the dead foreigner was working on a secret weapons project for the government.

Military analyst and researcher Htay Aung of the Thailand-based Burmese exile group Network for Democracy and Development said the group had received reports on secret facilities being built by the government around Meikhtila.

"We have obtained some information on the government building some secret facilities around Meikhtila, particularly on the one being built near Taung Thar township," said Htay Aung.

"No one from the outside world knows what they have been doing in that facility but foreigners have often been seen around the area," he said.

"I assume that if he was not just a regular tourist, then he must have been some sort of specialist working on a secret government project or in a research facility."

Htay Aung said residents of nearby Taungdwingyi and Myo Thit townships had often spotted foreigners, assumed to be North Koreans, in the area.

Last year there were reports on a Russian national who had gone missing in Shan state but that case was also given a low profile by the government.

Reporting by Ahunt Phone Myat

READ MORE---> North Korean national dies in Meikhtila...

Non-military Pilots to be Trained in Rangoon

The Irrawaddy News

Military-ruled Burma is set to open a pilot ground training school at Hmawbi Air Force Base in Rangoon Division that—for the first time—will allow non-military applicants to obtain commercial pilots’ licenses, according to sources at the base.

The pilot ground training school is due to be opened at the end of January to young men and women between 20 and 30 years of age. The 30-week course will cost 1.5 million kyat (US $1,300).

The January 5 issue of Rangoon-based weekly journal The Voice quoted a senior official from the Department of Civil Aviation as saying that the course will help develop civilian pilots and will be taught at the Department of Civil Aviation in accordance with the regulations of the International Civil Aviation Organization.

Burma has two air force training schools—the Meiktila Flying Training Base and the Ground Training Air Force Base in Meiktila, Mandalay Division—exclusively for air force personnel.

The two training schools were also home to the Burmese air forces’ specialist training facilities, including administration, electronics training and flight training.

According to sources, Burma’s first two female pilots are currently being trained to fly in Malaysia.

Air Bagan, a domestic private airline owned by Tay Za, a crony of Burma’s junta chief Snr-Gen Than Shwe, reportedly sponsored the two female pilots, who are staff members of Air Bagan.

Only state-owned Myanmar Airways, and three private airlines—Air Mandalay, Yangon Airways and Air Bagan—operate domestic routes in the country.

READ MORE---> Non-military Pilots to be Trained in Rangoon...

Burmese migrant workers evicted from campsite

(DVB)–About 200 Burmese migrant workers have been forced to go into hiding in the jungle after Thai authorities raided their campsite in a bamboo forest near the town of Phop Phraya.

Phop Phraya is located south of the Thai border town of Mae Sot, which is across the border from Myawaddy in Burma.

Htike Thu Aung, a school teacher who lived on the campsite, said officials had threatened to deport anyone who remained in the camp.

"On the 14th of this month, a group of Thai officials from Phop Phraya came to the campsite and announced that the place would be demolished," Htike Thu Aung said.

"They said anyone still living there, whether they hold legal documents or not, will be arrested and sent back to Burma and their property will be seized," he said.

"There were elderly people and small babies among those kicked off the campsite."

Nay Win Aung, a six-year-old kindergarten student, said conditions were difficult in the jungle.

"We had to run very deep into the jungle and it is so cold at night without any blankets. There are a lot of mosquitoes here too,” he said.

“We are not eating properly as no one dares to go into town to buy groceries."

Moe Gyo, chairman of the Thailand-based Joint Action Committee for Burma Affairs, said the Thai authorities’ actions were against international human rights norms and Thai domestic law.

"We think this is ridiculous. These Burmese workers were only making a living working for farming businesses owned by Thai people,” Moe Gyo said.

“Now the Thai authorities are even destroying houses where workers with legal documents are living,” he said.

“This is unacceptable both on human rights grounds and under Thai law and regulations."

Reporting by Htet Yazar

READ MORE---> Burmese migrant workers evicted from campsite...

Burma Situation Affects Region: Thai PM

The Irrawaddy News

Thailand’s Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said on Wednesday that because the situation in Burma could affect other countries in the region, it is time for change.

Abhisit spoke to journalists at a dinner at the Foreign Correspondent Club of Thailand in Bangkok.

Thailand shares more than 1,800 km with military-ruled Burma. Non-government organizations that work with Burmese migrant workers estimate there are 4 million Burmese, legal and illegal, currently living in Thailand.

Abhisit said that the regional bloc, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), should be more proactive on Burma issues, although the situation is difficult.

The Thai government will use a “flexible engagement” policy in relation to Burma under the Democrat administration, he said. The “flexible engagement” policy was outlined by Surin Pitsuwan, the former Thai foreign minister and current secretary-general of Asean in 1999. He proposed the regional bloc use a “constructive engagement” policy.

“Flexible engagement” was about open and frank discussion on issues such as human rights, leading to cooperative solutions—a pooling of sovereignty rather than its dilution, so as to make Southeast Asia a secure and prosperous region, according to analysts.

Abhisit said the sanction policy of Western nations on Burma was counterproductive.

Commenting on Abhisit’s Burma policy, Kavi Chongkittavorn, an assistant group editor of Thailand’s The Nation, told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that whether using “constructive engagement” or “flexible engagement,” Asean has to continue pressure on Burma.

He said the current Democrat administration can do a lot on Burma policy, and Abhisit’s approach will be different from the previous government of Thai Primer Thaksin Shinawatra.

“This government will be more transparent in its Burma policy,” he said.

Analysts say the Thaksin administration Burma policy was based on business interests and the government provided a 4 billion baht loan to Burma’s telecommunication sector—some of which was used to buy satellite services from a company owned by Thaksin.

Meanwhile, in a separate event, Abhisit told members of the diplomatic corps at Government House on Wednesday that Thailand will continue to play a constructive role in the sub-regional, regional and international community.

“We also continue to honor our international obligations and commitments at all levels and across all sectors,” he said. “Strengthening relations with neighboring countries remains at the heart of our foreign policy.”

Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya held a meeting with Burmese Deputy Foreign Minister Kyaw Thu in Bangkok on Monday to discuss bilateral relations.

After the meeting, Abhisit told reporters the goals of Western countries and the countries of this region are on common ground on Burma issues.

“But our methods may differ because of two main reasons: cultural differences and the distance of the countries,” he said, indicating that neighboring countries have a more delicate situation when there are policy differences.

READ MORE---> Burma Situation Affects Region: Thai PM...

Monk seizes farmland in Bago for pagoda

(DVB)–Local farmers from Tawwi in Bago division's Nyaunlaypin township have complained that a monk named Dhamma Pala has seized their land to build a pagoda.

A lawyer representing the farmers said the monk had claimed the Bago divisional army commander had ordered him to build the pagoda.

"The monk set up a fence one acre into some land owned by a farmer called U Tin Myaing,” the lawyer said.

“When the farmer refused to give up his land, the monk said he could take all the land if he wanted as he had to build a pagoda there for the Bago divisional army commander,” he said.

“In the end, Tin Myint had to give up the land as he was scared after hearing the name of the military authorities."

Dhamma Pala arrived in Tawwi about a year ago and has been living in the ruins of an old pagoda located on the farmland.

The farmers’ lawyer said the seizure of farmland was against regulations set out by the Burmese Head Monks’ Association.

"According to chapter 10, article 200 of the Burmese Head Monks’ Association code, the land on which a pagoda is to be built, must not be taxed and must be marked as Sasana property. But the land he is seizing now is farmland," the lawyer said.

"Also, land which is marked out for government projects such as agriculture cannot be used to build pagodas. U Tin Myint's land is reserved for growing crops for the government's agricultural plans," he said.

"Also the monk needs to get permission first from local government administrations and the Head Monks’ Association to build the pagoda but now he's doing all these things without permission from anyone, just claiming that he is acting on the orders of senior government authorities."

A local resident said Dhamma Pala had lost the respect of the local community because of his previous activities.

"If we respected the monk, then we would give away all the land we have for his project,” he said.

“But this particular one we are talking about has no respect from the locals. He is a monk who predicts illegal two-digit and three-digit lottery numbers."

Dhamma Pala has previously faced criticism from local monks, who said he set up a booth on the Rangoon-Mandalay highway and collected donations from passing vehicles.

When the village Head Monks’ Association reported the matter to the township Peace and Development Council, his booth was shut down, but Dhamma Pala reportedly bribed a member of the township Head Monks’ Association who had the village members sacked.

Local monks had also previously complained about Dhamma Pala's pagoda project to the divisional Head Monks’ Association, which issued an order to stop the project.

But this order was then revoked by the national Head Monks’ Association after he managed to bribe a member of the association and construction was allowed to continue.

Reporting by Naw Say Phaw

READ MORE---> Monk seizes farmland in Bago for pagoda...

Next battle against Karen rebels soon

By Daniel Pedersen

Maesot (Mizzima) - Soldiers of the Karen National Liberation Army's Special Battalion 103 are reinforcing troops of the KNLA's Sixth Brigade's 201st Battalion just south of Thailand's border town of Mae Sot.

The Special Battalion 103 in the past week has lost its base camp and for the past seven days has been moving constantly, deflecting their enemies - Burmese Army soldiers - with terrestrial mines and directional Claymore mines.

The vicious battle for the region surrounding Thailand's Phop Phra district has see-sawed back and forth across Thailand's northern border with Burma since June 30 last year.

Last week government troops overran - then destroyed - 103's base camp, a significant settlement equipped with solar power, fish holding tanks, a huge granary and a medical clinic that serviced 800 people living in two nearby villages.

The KNLA has lost and won back the base repeatedly since last year. Now there is nothing to win back.

The Karen National Union is the one of some significant groups yet to sign a ceasefire deal with the junta and the KNLA is its armed wing.

Colonel Nerdah Mya, a commander said his base camp was lost and his men were redeploying further north to defend 201st's Wah Lay Kee base camp.

That camp has stood since 1998 and was briefly overrun in early July last year, but won back after three days of heavy fighting.

In the last week's fighting SPDC troops suffered significant casualties from landmines and the corridors of Thailand's Mae Sot General Hospital were for a few days crammed with injured Burmese soldiers perched on stainless steel trolleys.

The battle is on over a region opposite Thailand's Umphang region, a tourist spot for its spectacular mountain scenery.

On Thursday, SPDC troops were positioning themselves around Wah Lay Kee camp for an all-out offensive and followed lobbing a few shells at the military encampment, but missed.

They have managed to occupy some high ground around the camp and are lugging 81mm mortars with them.

The KNLA has a Browning 0.5 inch machine gun, a formidable weapon usually mounted on top of armoured vehicles.

The KNLA desperately wants to hold the camp not only because it represents its last significant regional outpost, equipped with training halls and a medical clinic, but also because a military cemetery is maintained there.

The rebel claims that SPDC wants "full economic control", to wrest control of the region for its significant deposits of gold, tin, zinc and wolfram (from which antimony is refined).

Taiwanese and Thai mining companies are waiting in the wings, ready to strike a deal with whichever side can guarantee security for their capital investment.

For the KNLA, whose footprint in the region has always been somewhat precarious, this latest outbreak of fighting represents the most sustained series of attacks around Phop Phra for years.

Aid workers report that even Thai farmers have given up trying to harvest the hundreds of hectares of corn standing in field on both sides of the border and are heading for Karen refugee camps. At least there they will probably get a meal.

The Thai Army has reinforced troops on the border in the region and is keeping a close eye on comings and goings.

This weekend will be a critical time for the KNLA's future in the area.

Heavy fighting now looks inescapable barring a withdrawal, and that would mean the assured destruction of Wah Lay Kee.

On Monday before dawn a British photographer was escorted along jungle trails hidden underneath a blanket to safety in Thailand.

On Wednesday a foreign volunteer was asked to cut short a training programme and depart before hostilities broke out.

The trolleys look set to be wheeled into the corridors of Mae Sot General Hospital again this weekend.

READ MORE---> Next battle against Karen rebels soon...

Cold wave grips parts of Burma

By Ko Wine

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – The weather is getting cold these days and in some States and Divisions, it is colder than previous years, local people said.

In Myitkyina in Kachin State, the northern tip of Burma, Loi Lem in Shan State, eastern Burma, some cities in southeastern parts, Mogoke and Pyinmana in central Burma are significantly colder, it is learnt.

"It is extremely cold this year. Even those who like cold weather cannot bear it," a resident from Myitkyina said.

"It's much colder than previous years, especially these days. The more the sunrises the colder it gets. We cannot take off the warm clothes all day. But so far, we do not yet heard of any deaths related to the cold wave," he added.

In Mogoke, Mandalay Division, local residents said that it's getting cold day by day and it is colder than previous years.

Similarly in Shan State, Loi Lem, the temperature dipped to sub-zero level on some days and is getting colder, a resident from Mogoke who has regular contact with residents from Loi Lem said.

In Pyinmana-Naypyitaw in Mandalay Division, the weather is extremely cold until noon and local residents forced to put on thick woolen blankets as ordinary blankets cannot keep them warm, a government employee from Naypyitaw told Mizzima.

It is learnt that Tachileik, Mae Sai, Myawaadi, Mae Sot on the Thai-Burma border are also having similar weather conditions.

READ MORE---> Cold wave grips parts of Burma...

Indian Vice President to visit Burma to strengthen bilateral relations

By Salai Pi Pi

New Delhi (Mizzima) - India's Vice President Hamid Ansari is set to visit neighbouring military-ruled Burma, in a bid to further strengthen bilateral cooperation between both countries, according to reports.

Ansari's trip will focus on consolidating India's energy interests in Burma and cooperation in infrastructure development, an official source was quoted as saying by the Indo-Asian News Service.

"Ansari will go on a goodwill visit to Myanmar [Burma] early next month. Preparations are under way," the report said.

Ansari's visit to Burma, which is a first for Indian leaders in 2009, is seen as a part of India's growing efforts to strengthen bilateral relationship with the gas-rich Southeast Asian nation.

Dr. Tint Swe, a minister of the Burmese government in exile – the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma – said Ansari's visit is part of India's efforts to appease the Burmese military government in order to gain wider foothold in the country.

However, he said, "It has been about 15 years now, but India's Look East Policy has still not been a success," adding that it was time for India to reconsider its policy on Burma.

India, which is Burma's 4th largest trading partner after Thailand, China and Singapore, is competing with China, Thailand, South Korea and Japan to tap natural gas from offshore gas reserves on Burma's western coast.

However, in December 2008, Daewoo International Corporation along with it's four other partners - Myanmar Oil & Gas Enterprise (MOGE), ONGC, GAIL and Korea Gas Corporation (KOGAS) signed a deal with the China National Petroleum Corporation, to supply Burma's offshore gas to China for 30 years from 2012.

India's ONGC and GAIL both held 20 % and 10 % respectively in Burma's offshore A1 and A3 gas fields, and has been appeasing the junta so that it awards the right to import gas.

The Shwe gas fields on Burma's western coast are estimated to hold a reserve of 4.53 tcf (trillion cubic feet) of gas.

India, which lost out to China in its race to buy gas from Burma, however, is also looking for other energy cooperation options, with Burma including the building of hydro-electric projects.

The two countries recently signed a pact on the development of Tamanthi and Shwezay hydropower projects on the Chindwin River, in Burma's northwestern Sagaing division.

But Dr. Tint Swe, who is based in New Delhi and monitors Indo-Burmese relationship said, "The two countries' bilateral relations does not help the Burmese peoples' aspiration for democratic change."

"But it helps the junta in strengthening their rule," he added.

Indo-Burmese bilateral trade reached a record of 995 million US dollars in the fiscal year 2007-08, while Burma's exports to India accounted for 810 million US dollars and its imports from India touched 185 million US dollars, according to Burma's official statistics.

READ MORE---> Indian Vice President to visit Burma to strengthen bilateral relations...

Activists Welcome New Thai Government's Policy Stance on Burma

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva at Foreign Press Club in Bangkok, 14 Jan 2009

By Ron Corben

Bangkok (VOA)- Burmese pro-democracy activists have welcomed the stated policy approach by the new Thai government and its call for political change in Burma ahead of Burma's general elections, scheduled for 2010. The Thai Government is also looking to other South East Asian nations to be more active in calling for reform in the military ruled country.

The new Thai Government's policy stance on Burma was set out in a key address by the prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, this week and his warnings about the political situation in Burma have wider ramifications for the whole region.

Mr Abhisit, in an address to foreign correspondents this week, said the government would look to encourage reform in Burma, also known as Myanmar, through a process of "flexible engagement".

The flexible engagement policy, adopted by the then-foreign minister Surin Pitsuwan, now secretary-general of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), called for more open dialogue on issues such as human rights.

"ASEAN to be strong it has to have the credibility and respect from the international community," he said. "So what's happening in Myanmar clearly affects the rest of the region - and I would just point out that it's time for change. As far as we are concerned we need to get ASEAN to become more proactive - it's not easy but I've seen changes and I've seen progress. "

Under the former Thai governments led by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, from 2001 until 2006, priority was given to Thailand's economic and business ties with Burma. Under a policy of "constructive engagement" Thailand and ASEAN had adopted a more low key diplomatic approach in its dealing with Burma.

Naing Aung, a former Burmese student leader and a civic group, the Network for Democracy and Development, welcomed the current Thai government's new move to place greater emphasis on human rights issues and political reform.

"Thailand's new government will be standing on the human rights and then more on the democratic principal," he said. "But in terms of making pressure if they are going through ASEAN it will still be difficult because ASEAN as a whole, they still have a policy of non-interference."

Debbie Stothardt, spokeswoman for the Alternative ASEAN network on Burma, said the Thai government policy also needed to be backed by calls for the release of political prisoners. Stothardt said Thailand, as the current chair of ASEAN, had a role to play to promote political reform. An ASEAN leaders summit is due to take place in late February in Thailand.

"What we need to see really from the other ASEAN governments - including the new Thai government - is sufficient political will to deal with this problem once and for all," she said. "ASEAN needs to realize that this regime has no respect for polite diplomacy - this regime will only respect ASEAN when ASEAN shows that it is determined."

Burma's military government has said its road map to democracy and general elections in 2010 needs the political steps the government is taking. But many analysts expect the military to still retain considerable influence in the new parliament, backed by a constitution seen as favoring the military.

Burma's military has been in power since 1962, with the current government ruling the country since 1988. It ignored the last election result in 1990, won in a landslide by the party spearheaded by pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who remains under house arrest.

READ MORE---> Activists Welcome New Thai Government's Policy Stance on Burma...

Pro-government groups preparing for election in Mon State; opposition left in the dark

By Hong Gakao, Mi Kyae Goe, and Blai Mon

(Monnews) -Pro-regime groups in Mon State are being ordered to prepare for the upcoming 2010 election, though groups that do not support the government continue to be left in the dark about election details.

Burma’s military government has yet to announce its rules governing the formation of political parties or the election itself, and a formal date has yet to be officially announced. January 4th, Burma’s Independence Day, came and went without an announcement, though experienced Burma watchers had expected the day to figure a declaration of the rules.

The deferred announcement is likely part of a strategy to ensure victory for the regime and its supporters, said a veteran Mon politician involved in the 1990 election, which was later annulled. The regime is preparing itself for the election, he said, and will announce the election rules only at the last moment. Opposition parties will be left scrambling with only a few months to organize themselves.

The National League for Democracy (NLD), Burma’s largest opposition party, has yet to officially decide whether it will participate. According to Nyan Win, quoted by Mizzima in December, the NLD is holding its decision until after the election law is announced.

Though the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) may be deferring announcement of the election law, it is not deferring its election preparations in Mon State. In Mudon Township, near to Mon State’s capital city of Moulmein, authorities have ordered regime-back civilian groups like the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), Myanmar Women’s Affairs Association and the fire brigade to step up their recruitment efforts.

The recruitment order in Mudon was issued on January 2nd in a meeting between Township Peace and Development Council (TPDC) authorities and the heads of all Village Peace and Development Councils (VPDC) in the township. According to a source that attended the meeting, each village was ordered to increase the size of government-backed civilian groups by the hundreds and report the increase to local army battalions. Mudon Township’s larger villages, Kamawet, Hneepadaw and Kwan Hlar, were each ordered to add at least 1,000 new members, said the source. Mudon is home to 44 villages, and one of Mon State’s most populous townships.

A source in Rangoon confirmed a similar recruitment effort, and said that government-backed groups in her township had been instructed to find 200 new members each month. The source, who is a member of one of the groups in question, also said that in nearby South Okkalapa Township the USDA had set up a free clinic and tutoring sessions for students in the 10th standard. The services are overt recruitment efforts, as only USDA members can oblige themselves of the services.

The source did not comment on the motivation for the projects, but similar projects have been reported around Burma as both a recruitment effort and pre-election drives for positive publicity.

USDA officials appear cognizant of the infamous reputation enjoyed by their organization, which played a highly visible role in the brutal crackdown on monks and civilians during peaceful demonstrations in September 2007; on January 13th, Southeast Command Commander Major General Thet Naing Win explained as much in a meeting with top USDA officials.

The meeting, convened at the USDA office in Moulmein, featured top USDA representatives from Mon State’s 10 townships as well as representatives to the National Convention that drafted Burma’s new constitution and referendum committee members who oversaw the constitution’s approval.

According to a source present at the meeting, the general explained that the USDA would participate in the election in three ways, depending on local sentiments towards the organization. Contrary to reports by Mizzima and the Irrawaddy, the general said that the USDA might field a candidate as a political party. Consistent with reports by Mizzima and the Irrawaddy, he said that in places where the USDA is unpopular it would form new political parties or, depending on organizational strength, support another party as directed by higher USDA officials.

According to the IMNA source, the general said that a report by the Special Police had recently explained that the USDA should not involve its name in the election because of its negative reputation.

READ MORE---> Pro-government groups preparing for election in Mon State; opposition left in the dark...

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