Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Authorities restrict permits for internet cafes

By Ahunt Phone Myat

(DVB)–Residents of Shan state's Kalaw township have complained that local authorities have refused to grant permits for new internet cafes, leaving the owner of the sole internet shop with a monopoly on prices.

A Kalaw resident, speaking on condition of anonymity, told DVB the only internet cafe in town was located in the government’s Defence Services Command and General Staff College compounds and was run by a man with close ties to the authorities.

"We don't get permits for internet cafes in Kalaw because that guy who owns the only shop is friends with the head of the university," he said.

"It costs 2000 kyat [to use the internet]. Can you believe it?"

He said five town residents had applied for permits to open internet cafes since late last year and had paid all the necessary fees but the permits had still not been granted.

"They want to keep the business for themselves so they won't give anyone permits," the resident said.
(JEG's: they want to have control on what goes out and what comes in, that is the reason for the restrictions)

The Myanma Post and Telecommunications department was unavailable for comment.

READ MORE---> Authorities restrict permits for internet cafes...

No Concrete Results for Gambari

The Irrawaddy News

United Nations Special Envoy to Burma Ibrahim Gambari on Tuesday concluded his seventh official visit to Burma after a meeting with Prime Minister Gen Thein Sein in Rangoon. However, the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) spokesman Nyan Win said that there had been no developments during the envoy's visit.

"During our meeting with Mr Gambari, the NLD made a stand and he listened carefully to what we said. However, we have not received a response to our demands. So far, we cannot see any developments from this trip."

UN Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari (2nd L) meets senior leaders of the opposition National League for Democracy party at the state guesthouse in Rangoon on February 2. Pictured are (L-R): Personal assistant to Gambari, Gambari, NLD Central Executive Committee member U Than Tun, CEC member U Soe Myint, NLD Chairman U Aung Shwe, CEC member U Hla Pe, CEC member U Nyunt Wai and Aung San Suu Kyi. (Photo: Reuters/ MNA)

Aye Win, an official with the UN Information Centre in Rangoon, said on Tuesday that the Nigerian diplomat left Burma at about 4:30 p.m. local time. He added that Gambari had not flown to the Burmese regime's new capital, Naypyidaw, nor met with other high-ranking generals or junta head Snr-Gen Than Shwe.

“Today Mr Gambari met with Prime Minister Gen Thein Sein at 2 p.m. for about one hour,” he said on Tuesday. “The envoy also sat again with the government’s 'spokes authoritative team' today.”

Aye Win said Gambari was able to meet all the persons who were on his itinerary before the trip.

He said Gambari also held meetings on Tuesday with pro-junta political groups, such as the so-called "88 Generation Students and Youth (Union of Myanmar)" group and the Wintharnu NLD, a splinter group from the NLD.

Aye Win confirmed that the UN envoy had met with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and senior members of her party, the NLD, on Monday.

“In past trips, Mr Gambari met Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD separately. But yesterday's meeting was with the NLD and her together. It was the first time in the envoy’s seven visits,” he said.

Burma analysts questioned whether the Nigerian diplomat would make an eighth trip to Burma as he has only been granted an audience with Than Shwe once in seven visits.

“This could be Gambari’s final trip," said Larry Jagen, a Bangkok-based British journalist who focuses on Burma. "He is unlikely to return to Burma in the near future."

He said that Gambari had only achieved limited objectives: he was able to meet Suu Kyi and he laid the groundwork for another visit by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon; but still he was unable to meet with Than Shwe.

Meanwhile, the Burmese authorities refused to allow recently released political prisoners Win Tin and Khin Maung Swe join the five other members of the NLD who met with Gambari and Suu Kyi, sources within the party said.

Win Tin, 79, an executive member of the NLD and a former journalist, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that before the meeting with Gambari, the Special Branch of Burma's police force told the NLD that he and Khin Maung Swe could not attend the meeting.

Win Tin was Suu Kyi’s close aide in the late 1990s before he was arrested. He has spent some 19 years in prison. Observers say Win Tin was the mastermind behind the NLD’s civil disobedience movement in 1989.

"Preventing us meeting with a UN envoy who is here to discuss political issues in the country demonstrates that political rights in Burma have vanished," said Win Tin.

The other barred NLD central committee member, Khin Maung Swe, was twice arrested and has served lengthy imprisonments.

Win Tin and Khin Maung Swe were both released in September. Soon after their release, they resumed their political activities within the party.

State-run media and private weekly journals were recently coerced by the authorities to publish articles attacking Win Tin and Khin Maung Swe, according to journalists in Rangoon.

NLD sources said that at the meeting with Gambari, Suu Kyi reiterated her call for the release of political prisoners and spoke about her disappointment in Burma’s legal system, reflected in the heavy prison sentences, one of 104 years, handed down to dissidents, as well as the harassment of activists' lawyers by security forces.

Win Tin said Suu Kyi had also endorsed the NLD’s four demands for a political solution in Burma:

* freedom of political prisoners (including herself);
* a genuine dialogue between the ruling junta and the opposition;
* convening the parliament;
* and the forming of a committee to review the constitution.

READ MORE---> No Concrete Results for Gambari...

Suu Kyi healthy but concerned over absence of rule of law in Burma

By Than Htike Oo

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Burmese democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, still under house arrest, is healthy but is concerned over the absence of rule of law in Burma.

The Nobel Peace Laureate expressed her concern to her colleagues – the five members of National League for Democracy (NLD) party Central Executive Committee' (CEC) - during the 15-minute meeting with them at Seinle Kantha government guest house in Rangoon on Monday.

"The first message is about her health situation. She is healthy. The second point is intra-party affairs. Regarding these, Daw Suu said that she supported the party CEC on their current position and on their political attitude, political stand, political history among others," U Win Tin, a party leader, told Mizzima.

"The third message she gave us is on 'the rule of law in Burma'. She pointed out that the most crucial factor in Burma is the rule of law. She also said that this is the prime work we have to do," he added.

After the meeting with CEC members -- Aung Shwe, Than Tun, Thakin Soe Myint, Nyunt Wai and Hla Pe, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi had a meeting with UN special envoy Mr. Gambari separately along with her five CEC members which lasted about one and-a-half hours.

They reiterated their position to the visiting UN envoy regarding putting pressure on the Burmese regime to release all political prisoners, reviewing the new constitution, honouring the 1990 general election results and convening parliament on its basis.

Mr. Gambari arrived in Burma on January 31 on a four- day visit and he first met junta's Foreign Minister U Nyan Win and officials of UN offices and UN agencies in Rangoon.

Subsequently, he met the junta's Relations Minister Aung Kyi, Information Minister Brig. Gen. Kyaw San, Minister of Health Dr. Kyaw Myint, Referendum Commission, junta-backed 'Union Solidarity and Development Association' (USDA) and Rangoon based diplomats.

On the final day of his visit, he met junta's Prime Minister Lt. Gen. Thein Sein and left Rangoon today.

READ MORE---> Suu Kyi healthy but concerned over absence of rule of law in Burma...

Burma's opium poppy growers return to their fields

By Larry Jagan

(Mizzima) -Opium poppy cultivation in Burma has increased alarmingly in the past two years amid fears that region's worsening economic crisis will encourage an even greater spurt in growth, warns the United Nations.

Falling international commodity prices and increase political instability in Burma's border area has fuelled fears that many of Burma's poppy farmers will find it impossible to resist the temptation to return to their old ways. In the past few years there has been a dramatic fall in the area under poppy cultivation and opium production, but these gains have been reversed in the past two years, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime's (UNODC) annual survey just released.

"The problem of poppy production in the region has been contained but not solved," the UNODC chief in Bangkok, Gary Lewis told Mizzima. "There have been significant increases, especially in Myanmar, which are threatening to rise further because of the worsening economic conditions faced by former poppy farmers."

More than ninety percent of the poppy grown in south-east Asia – Burma, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam – is grown in Burma's north-eastern Shan State, though significant strides have been made in Burma over the past decade to dramatically reduce the cultivation of poppy and the production of opium.

Poppy cultivation has fallen from more than 120,000 hectares under poppy cultivation to around 30,000 in 2008 in Burma. Opium production has fallen from more than 1300 metric tonnes to 410 during this period. This is the equivalent of producing 40 tonnes of heroin. This reduction has been largely the result of international pressure on two of the largest opium producers in Burma's Golden Triangle – which borders China, Laos and Thailand -- the Kokang and the Wa. Both are rebel ethnic groups, with large guerrilla forces, but have ceasefire agreements with the Myanmar government.

The Kokang virtually ceased opium production in 2003 and the Wa in 2006. But in the past two years both poppy cultivation and opium production have begun to grow again. "The trend is certainly upwards with a significant increase in the land under cultivation in Myanmar," said Leik Boonwaat, UNODC chief in Laos, who has also been stationed in Myanmar. "For former opium farmers who already live in dire poverty are facing twin levers of increasing opium prices and falling commodity prices that may encourage them to reduce poppy growing."

The prices of most commodities grown or produced in Burma as alternatives to poppy, particularly maize and rubber, have fallen by more than fifty percent, according to the UN's annual drug report. Tens of thousands of former poppy farmers are facing a bleak future, according to an ethnic leader in northern Burma, who declined to be identified. They are almost certain to resume growing poppy, simply to survive, he said.

Most of the Wa and Kokang's alternative crops -- tea, rubber and fruit – are sold to traders across the border in China. But these merchants are no longer interested in buying these products from Burmese producers as demand in China has all but dried up.

Chinese traders are not even buying jade from the Pangsan market. There are even tougher times ahead for the Wa in particular, a source in their capital told Mizzima on condition of anonymity. The leaders are really worried about the future, he added.

"The price of opium has more than doubled in the past few years – from $153 a kilogramme in 2004 to $ 301 currently on the Myanmar market – making it hard for former opium growers to ignore this incentive to return to poppy cultivation," Leik Boonwaat told Mizzima.

With declining prices for their substitute crops and soaring market prices for opium, thousands of former poppy growers are at risk of returning to their traditional crop to produce the extra cash income they need.

Already there are significant signs that Burma's poppy growers are returning to their old trade. In the past two years there has been a distinct upward trend, according to the UN's latest annual report. Although opium production fell a little last year compared to the year before, this is because the yield was worse.

The greatest increase has been in Southern Shan state, where the Wa leadership is in the hands of the Chinese gangster Wei Xiao Gang – who is wanted on trafficking charges in the United States.

While the UN survey suggests that in the main Wa area – Wa Special Region 2 – there has been no resumption yet of poppy cultivation, there has been a steady increase in both eastern and northern Shan state. More worrying is the steady increase in poppy cultivation in both Kachin and Kayah states.

The fragile situation in the northern Wa areas is also of great concern to international anti-drug agencies, according to senior Thai intelligence officers. So far the Wa ban on poppy production, punishable by death, is holding but this may not be the case in the year.

Wa leaders have always know that the situation remained precarious – the ban was never a popular move – and depended on the poor Wa farmers having greater food security and an alternative source of a cash income.

"The Wa leaders may even be forced to renege on their promises to the UN and international community if the economic and security situation deteriorates further," a UN drugs official familiar with the problems in Shan state told Mizzima, but declined to be identified.

The current political problems in Burma – the planned elections in 2010 and the junta's efforts to disarm the ceasefire groups, especially the Wa -- is dramatically increasing instability in the border regions, which have been traditional opium producing areas and this mounting uncertainty is also going to increase the pressure on former opium growers to return to their poppy fields.

Aware of these problems – and the danger of more former growers resuming poppy cultivation, the UN believes there is an even greater need now to step up action against the drug smugglers.

"Already there are important measures in place for the cooperation and exchange of intelligence between drug enforcement agencies in the region – through the border liaison offices that were established several years ago," said Mr. Lewis.

Smuggling routes have changed in the past few years, with tighter border controls especially along the Myanmar border with China. "Certainly traffickers have had to change their transport methods and routes – much is now being moved through Laos from Myanmar, to meet the demand of the drug addicts in southern China, Thailand and Vietnam," said Mr. Boonwaat.

But some of the Golden Triangle opium production is heading out to India, Europe and the United States through the Rangoon port, according to Burmese government officials.

Last week the authorities seized some 118 kilogrammes of heroin stowed away on a ship, the Kota Tegap, headed for Italy via Singapore. It was hidden between planks of timber that was part of an export consignment.

The ship is owned by the ethnic Chinese Burmese businessman, Kyaw Sein and left the Asia World terminal, owned by the son of the notorious former drug baron Lo Hsing Han. Tun Myint Naing is also targetted by US sanctions. So far no arrests have been made, but investigations are continuing, according Burmese officials.

The ship had actually sailed, before it was ordered to return to port. It was Chinese intelligence who alerted their Burmese counterparts.

"This type of intelligence sharing is happening on a regular basis," Pithaya Jinawat, the deputy Secretary general of Thailand's Office of the Narcotics Control Board (ONCB) told Mizzima.

"The Chinese have tipped off the Thai authorities and Lao officials on several occasions in the past couple of years that have resulted in seizures of illicit drugs and the arrest of many traffickers," he said.

"There is no room for complacency," said Mr. Lewis "There is much more that needs to be done." In particular, to combat the money laundering of the proceeds of illegal activities and the illicit drugs trade.

Not all countries in the region have put anti-money laundering legislation in place. But then law enforcement agencies, judges and advocates all need to be trained. In this regard Asia has a long way to go.

But perhaps UNODC's biggest problem in trying to stamp out drug production and trafficking in the region is the lack of funds. The agency needs more financial support from donors to be able to effectively carry out all its work – especially in Myanmar," Mr. Boonwaat confided.

For the donors who provide these funds, there is a much greater concern: the spiralling growth in meta-amphetamines (ATS). As the UN tireless tackles the problem of opium production – the Chinese gangsters in the Golden Triangle have turned increasingly to yaa baa (as ATS is commonly known in this region).

Our fear is the production of yaa ba has become the most effective crop substitution for the Red Wa and the Chinese gangsters who back them," said a Thai military intelligence officer on condition of anonymity.

READ MORE---> Burma's opium poppy growers return to their fields...

Junta builds weapons factory in central Burma

By Zarni

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - Burma's ruling military junta has completed construction of nearly half of a new factory that will produce military weapons and tanks, sources said.

The source, close to the construction company, said the new weapons factory was being built in central Burma's Magwe division in Seatottaryar Township, by the 'Chan Aye' construction company.

"The construction has been going on for about two years, and about half of the factory has been completed so far. As far as I know, the factory will produce weapons as well as tanks," the source, who declined to be named for fear of reprisal, told Mizzima.

The Chan Aye Construction Company is a joint venture between several ex-military servicemen and is engaged in various military constructions.

Reportedly, local residents near the area of the factory construction said several acres of their farm lands, had been seized by the government, without providing any compensation.

"I had about 20 acres of land in the area and cultivated beans and other vegetables on it. But, the authorities destroyed my crops with a bulldozer and cleared my land for construction," a local resident told Mizzima.

READ MORE---> Junta builds weapons factory in central Burma...

More boat people, three media reports

Three articles on Rohingyas set adrift by the generous, kind and loving Thai Navy/authorities, pushed out of their homes by the so generous, Bhuddhist, loving Than Shwe and the loving, caring Indonesia trial them and threat with deporting them back to the root of the drifters' problems. If this is love, we must show them the real meaning of LOVE, KINDNESS and CARING for HUMAN BEINGS.
  • * 200 migrants found adrift
  • * Boat people set adrift by Thailand land in Indonesia
  • * Nearly 200 Myanmar migrants found off Indonesia

200 migrants found adrift

BANDA ACEH (Indonesia) - A WOODEN boat with nearly 200 Myanmar migrants on board was found drifting off Indonesia's Sumatra island, a local navy official said on Tuesday.

The migrants, from Myanmar's minority Muslim Rohingya community, told their rescuers they had been adrift for three weeks after being towed out to sea and abandoned by Thai security forces, navy lieutenant Tedi said.

Read recent related stories from ST's correspondent:

Cows that wander have more rights than Rohingya tribe. Driven out, and barely surviving.

A region squeezed between two worlds He told AFP that the migrants said 20 people had died at sea during their journey to Sumatra.

'Fishermen found a wooden boat without an engine drifting in the sea with 198 Myanmar migrants. They said Thai authorities towed them out to sea and set them adrift,' Mr Tedi said.

'They were drifting for about 21 days. Most of them are in critical condition and are receiving treatment at a local state hospital in East Aceh district.'

The migrants said they had left their homes in Myanmar's western Arakan state because they were being forced to embrace Buddhism.

Myanmar's military rulers effectively deny citizenship rights to the Rohingya, leading to discrimination and abuse and contributing to a regional humanitarian crisis as hundreds try to flee the country by boat every year.

About 1,000 Rohingya were allegedly abused by Thai security forces and dumped at sea in recent weeks, but so far only about 650 have been found in Indonesian and Indian waters, leading to grave fears for the rest.

'Some of them are families. They have been driven out of Thailand.

Communication is still difficult as most of them don't speak English,' Tedi said.

Indonesia found about 170 Rohingya migrants adrift off Sumatra on January 7 and has said they probably will be repatriated to Myanmar despite their fears of persecution if they are forced to return. -- AFP

Boat people set adrift by Thailand land in Indonesia

JAKARTA, Indonesia: An Indonesian navy official says 198 boat people from Myanmar have been picked up off the coast of Aceh in critical condition.

Officer Tedi Sutardi, citing witness accounts, said Tuesday that 22 passengers died on a 21-day voyage from Thailand.

The small wooden boat was found by fisherman Monday drifting off northern Sumatra.

Sutardi says it had no engine and that the passengers had run out of food and water.

It is the second load of Rohingyas, a stateless Muslim group facing decades of persecution in Myanmar, to arrive in Indonesia in a month.

Sutardi says the survivors recounted being beaten and set adrift by Thai authorities.

Nearly 200 Myanmar migrants found off Indonesia

Rohingya migrants outside Ranong police station

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia: A wooden boat with nearly 200 Myanmar migrants on board was found drifting off Indonesia's Sumatra island, a local navy official said Tuesday.

The migrants, from Myanmar's minority Muslim Rohingya community, told their rescuers they had been adrift for three weeks after being towed out to sea and abandoned by Thai security forces, navy lieutenant Tedi said.

He told AFP that the migrants said 20 people had died at sea during their journey to Sumatra.

"Fishermen found a wooden boat without an engine drifting in the sea with 198 Myanmar migrants. They said Thai authorities towed them out to sea and set them adrift," Tedi said.

"They were drifting for about 21 days. Most of them are in critical condition and are receiving treatment at a local state hospital in East Aceh district."

The migrants said they had left their homes in Myanmar's western Arakan state because they were being forced to embrace Buddhism.

Myanmar's government effectively denies citizenship rights to the Rohingya, leading to discrimination and abuse and contributing to a regional humanitarian crisis as hundreds try to flee the country by boat every year.

About 1,000 Rohingya were allegedly abused by Thai security forces and dumped at sea in recent weeks, but so far only about 650 have been found in Indonesian and Indian waters, leading to grave fears for the rest.

"Some of them are families. They have been driven out of Thailand. Communication is still difficult as most of them don't speak English," Tedi said.

Indonesia found about 170 Rohingya migrants adrift off Sumatra on January 7 and has said they probably will be repatriated to Myanmar despite their fears of persecution if they are forced to return.

- AFP/yt

READ MORE---> More boat people, three media reports...

More Burmese 'boat people' rescued after being cast out of Thailand

A Rohingya Muslim from Burma is taken to a hospital
after being rescued off the coast of Indonesia
Photograph: Stringer/indonesia/Reuters

Ian MacKinnon, south-east Asia correspondent
Guardian Co

Survivors say 22 migrants from Burma's Rohingya Muslim minority died at sea
Fishermen have rescued another 198 starving Burmese "boat people" after their vessel, which had no engine, was towed out to sea by Thai security forces and cast adrift, an Indonesian naval officer said today.

Survivors packed on board the fragile wooden boat, which was spotted drifting near Aceh, off the northern coast of Sumatra, said they had been in the open sea for about three weeks, during which 22 of the migrants from Burma's Rohingya Muslim minority had died.

Some of those on board – including a 13-year-old boy – were in a critical condition when they were discovered late yesterday. At least 56 were treated at Idirayeuk hospital for severe dehydration, while the rest were being cared for at the town's district office.

The Rohingya said they were part of a group of 1,000 migrants who had been working illegally in Thailand when they were detained last month, put into eight or nine boats and towed out to sea.

The latest incident isthe second case of a boatloadof Rohingya migrants to be picked up off Aceh in less than a month, allegedly after being cast adrift with little food and water by the Thai military. On 7 January 193 people were discovered near Indonesia's Sanbang island. Indonesia's foreign ministry insists they will be deported to Burma as they are economic migrants, despite their fears of persecution.

Others have washed up on India's Andaman islands , but more than 330 are missing, feared drowned.

Under intense international pressure, the Thai prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, promised to investigate the scandal. But he gave the task to the very unit accused of the abuses, the controversial Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc).

The vessel in which the latest migrants were discovered had been lashed together with rope. They had not eaten for a week and were so tightly packed that they only had room to stand.

"Fishermen found a wooden boat without an engine drifting in the sea with 198 Myanmar [Burmese] migrants," said the Indonesian navy officer Tedi Sutardi. "They said the Thai authorities towed them out to sea and set them adrift.

"Their boat was small. It's only 12m [40ft] long and 3m wide. It had almost come apart and was held together with ropes. They were standing in the boat for 21 days because there was no space to sit. It's a miracle they survived."

According to Sutardi, the survivors recounted beatings by the Thai security forces after their arrest for illegal entry.

The Rohingya – a stateless minority with few rights – say they left Burma to escape brutal treatment at the hands of the military junta.

Thousands cross into neighbouring Bangladesh during the dry season when seas are calmer. From there they board rickety boats in the hope of reaching Thailanden route to Muslim countries such as Malaysia or Indonesia, guided by people smugglers who charge up to £500 each.

READ MORE---> More Burmese 'boat people' rescued after being cast out of Thailand...

Rohingya Face More Hardships at Home, Abroad

The Irrawaddy News

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) will talk to 66 Rohingya boat people on Tuesday, after a Thai court convicted them of illegally entering the country, a UNHCR spokesperson said on Monday.

The UNHCR was granted access to 12 teenagers from a group of 78 Rohingya detained last week.

Kitty McKinsey, the regional spokeswoman for the UNHCR in Asia, told The Irrawaddy on Monday that the UNHCR will meet members of the group to determine if some want to seek political asylum in Thailand.

The Thai-English newspaper Bangkok Post reported on Monday that the Thai Defense Ministry permanent secretary Gen Aphichart Penkitti told that the UNHCR and Thailand should devise ways to work together on the Rohingya issue.

The Thai government and the UNHCR might work together to resolve issues of political asylum requests, McKinsey said.

The latest batch of detained Rohingya arrived in Thailand with claims that they were beaten and tortured by the Burmese army after their boat was intercepted at sea by the Burmese navy. Many had wounds on their backs and were treated at a hospital in southern Thailand. Other Rohingyas are believed to have perished at sea.

The Rohingya are a stateless Muslim ethnic minority who face harsh treatment by Burmese authorities. They are prohibited from travelling outside Arakan State and are further marginalized by other discriminatory laws imposed by the military regime.

The Burmese regime maintains that Rohingya are not part of the 100 ethnic groups in Burma.

Last week, a Burmese state-run newspaper, Myanmar Ahlin, carried a story that said it will be complicated if Thailand repatriates Rohingya who did not come from Burma, said the report.

The Rohingya issue has created a heated debate among Burmese inside and outside the country. Many Arakanese people and politicians have voiced similar opinions about the provenance of the Rohingya.

Aye Tha Aung, an ethnic Arakanese and a senior member of the Committee for Representing People’s Parliament (CRPP), said the Rohingya are not among the ethnic groups in Burma.

“How could they claim that they came from Burma when in fact they come from Bangladesh,” the Arakanese politician told The Irrawaddy. (JEG's: arrogance dictating the birthright of Rohingyas)

Many Burmese proudly claim that Arakan State serves as a wall to prevent an influx of Rohingya and Bangladeshi from migrating deeper inside Burma. Burmese military forces usually push back Rohingya refugees, and there have been reports of indiscriminate killings and human rights violations taking place along the border with Bangladesh. (JEG's: how sad, there is plenty for everybody but the mememe are ruled by greed)

The regime usually wins the hearts and minds of people in Arakan State whenever they crackdown on Rohingya.

According to Thailand’s English-language daily, Bangkok Post, 4,880 Rohingya were arrested last year for illegally entering Thailand and 90 percent are still waiting to be repatriated.

A rising tide of Rohingya refugees has been fleeing Burma to the neighboring countries of Indonesia, Malaysia and India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

Their numbers usually increase after November, when the seas are at their calmest. One hundred Rohingya illegal migrants recently were arrested by Indonesian authorities in Aceh.

Many seek to escape the economic hardship of their restricted lives and turn to brokers to help them find work outside Arakan State.

The World Food Program reported last year that the area faces food shortages. The condition has forced hundreds of Rohingya to depart on the sea in leaky vessels and head for Malaysia, but many end up on Thailand beaches or drown in the stormy waters of the Andaman Sea.

READ MORE---> Rohingya Face More Hardships at Home, Abroad...

Taking a UNITED Stand

The Irrawaddy News

The Irrawaddy spoke recently with Brig-Gen Johnny, the commander of the 7th Brigade of the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), the military wing of the Karen National Union (KNU), about the challenges facing the Karen struggle after 60 years of resistance to Burmese rule.

Brig-Gen Johnny
(Photo: Zarny Win/The Irrawaddy)

A ceremony to mark the 60th anniversary of Karen Revolution Day was held at the base camp of KNLA Brigade 7 in Karen State on January 31.

Question: What is your resolution for 2009?

Answer: We have to work together with Buddhist monks, students and opposition groups inside and outside Burma to boycott the junta’s election in 2010, because if the Burmese regime wins the election, we will remain under the military’s boot for a long time. So all ethnic groups, monks and students should be united and fight to overthrow the Burmese regime.

Q: How do you plan to achieve this goal? By military means?

A: Political conflicts must be solved by political means. So, [the KNU] has always kept the door open for talks with the Burmese regime. But so far, the regime has ignored this approach. So we must continue to bear arms and fight against them.

We are not holding weapons to fight against Burmans, but to fight against the rule of the dictatorship and against Burman chauvinism. That is why we believe we have to work together with Burmese opposition forces.

We will continue to fight back militarily in any way that we can. If the Burmese army attacks us, we will fight back.

Q: What are your views on the divisions within the KNU?

A: Our weakness is that we don’t understand each other. We don’t have unity. And due to the long period of the resistance and manipulation by the Burmese regime, many of our comrades have split and surrendered to the Burmese regime.

Our enemy tries to divide us everyday. We know that, but we still allow ourselves to be divided. For example, Htein Maung [leader of the breakaway KNU/KNLA Peace Council], knew that the enemy wanted to divide us, but still, he played along. It’s not that our enemy is clever; it’s because we are not clever that this is what happens.

But in the end, the KNU will write its own history.

Q: How do you think that unity within the KNU can be restored?

A: First of all, we must always be careful, because our enemy is constantly trying to divide us. We don’t need to listen to them. We have our own policy. If we follow our policy, we will definitely reach our goal.

Our leaders, like [slain former KNU Secretary General] Padoh Mahn Sha, have done a lot for their people. We who are alive have to carry on with our unfinished duty. If we don’t, we will betray our leaders and our comrades who have sacrificed their lives for the Karen people.

Q: In your opinion, what do the Karen people need most to reach their goal?

A: We have to be united. We have to understand and respect each other. And we must not listen to our enemy. If we work together with love, we will definitely reach our goal.

Q: What do you think about diplomatic efforts to achieve change in Burma?

A: The international pressure is right. But we also have to do our duty. We are the key to freedom in Burma. We can’t rely on the international community alone.

It is the duty of all the repressed people of Burma to become involved in the democracy movement. If we all realize that it is our responsibility to take part in the democracy movement, the goal of our struggle will not be far away.

READ MORE---> Taking a UNITED Stand...

Gambari Meets NLD Executive Members, Including Suu Kyi

The Irrawaddy News

Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi met with Ibrahim Gambari, the United Nations special envoy to Burma, and executive members of her National League for Democracy (NLD) at a government guest house today.

It was the first time that Suu Kyi, who habeen under arrest for 13 of the past 19 years, was permitted to meet with members of her party’s Central Executive Committee (CEC) during a visit by the UN envoy.

Aung San Suu Kyi met UN Special Envoy and her party members in Rangoon. Suu Kyi and Gambari discussed the issue of political prisoners as well as demand for the release of all political prisoners. (Photo: AFP)
The meeting took place on Monday morning after Suu Kyi was taken from her lakeside home on University Avenue to meet with Gambari and the NLD members, including party chairman Aung Shwe and senior members Nyunt Wai, Than Htun, Hla Pe and Soe Myint.

Details of the meeting were not available, but NLD spokesman Nyan Win said: “The landscape of his [Gambari’s] current trip has changed. It is the first time that the NLD CEC has held talks together with Gambari and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.”

However, he cautioned that it was still too early to say if the visit would yield any positive results. It is believed that Gambari and the NLD executives discussed the arrest and detention of opposition members and activists, as well as NLD demands for the release of all political prisoners.

The meeting lasted about an hour and a half, said Nyan Win. During the meeting, the opposition leaders told the UN envoy that his efforts to broker reconciliation talks would yield tangible result only if all political prisoners are released.

According to reports, Suu Kyi told Gambari that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon should visit Burma only if she and other political prisoners are released.

Ahead of Gambari’s visit, rumors that the ruling regime would release Suu Kyi later this year intensified. Such a move has long been expected, as the junta has often used prisoner releases as a means of deflecting international criticism and to win support for its political agenda. (JEG's: and to attract voters to junta's purpose)

Gambari, who arrived in Rangoon on Saturday, is scheduled to fly to Naypyidaw on Tuesday, said Nyan Win. It was unclear if he would be able to meet the regime’s paramount leader, Snr-Gen Than Shwe.

Some political analysts said that it was unlikely he would meet the senior leader during his four-day trip, but in a statement, the UN said that Gambari hoped to have “meaningful discussions with all concerned.”

Burma’s top leaders usually shun the UN special envoy. During his last visit to the country in August, Gambari also failed to meet with Suu Kyi. It is not known why she snubbed the UN envoy, but the move was widely interpreted as an expression of frustration with the lack of progress in UN-brokered talks.

On Sunday, Gambari met with Information Minister Brig-Gen Kyaw Hsan and other members of the regime’s “Spokes Authoritative Team” in Rangoon.

The UN envoy also held talks with other senior officials, including Aung Kyi, the junta’s liaison with the NLD, Foreign Minister Nyan Win, Culture Minister Maj-Gen Khin Aung Myint, Health Minister Kyaw Myint and Thaung Nyunt, a member of the commission for holding the nationwide constitutional referendum, as well as foreign diplomats.

Aung Naing Oo, a political analyst living in Thailand, said little political progress could be expected from Monday’s talks, but they would give Suu Kyi’s supporters a chance to hear her opinions, the news agency Agence France-Presse reported.

“It’s good that they have met. At least the UN knows what she’s thinking about, or what the NLD has been thinking about, because it has been a big question mark for the past year,” he added.

This is Gambari’s seventh visit to Burma since he was appointed special envoy in 2006.
Analysts believe that during the trip, he will also sound out the opinions of regime leaders regarding a possible visit by UN chief Ban Ki-moon, who last visited Burma in May 2008 after a deadly cyclone slammed the country’s delta region.

During his visit, he met with Than Shwe. However, the trip was heavily criticized as Ban did not raise the issue of political prisoners or national reconciliation.

Gambari will reportedly also meet with members of the pro-junta National Unity Party and the Committee Representing the People’s Parliament, a group consisting of winners of the last election in 1990, which was won overwhelmingly by the NLD.

Meanwhile, the United Nationalities Alliance (UNA), based in Burma, submitted a letter to Gambari suggesting that he broker talks between the regime, the political opposition led by Suu Kyi and leaders of ethnic minorities.

READ MORE---> Gambari Meets NLD Executive Members, Including Suu Kyi...

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