Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Burma’s fifth column

By Tine Gyaw

(DVB)–In Burma’s current political arena, there are five distinct groups with different approaches to democratisation, the struggle for power, and participation in the 2010 elections.

The first is the military group. The objective of the military is clear – the survival of general Than Shwe and the military dictatorship in power by all available means. They have imposed a seven-step roadmap for the country and written a constitution to suit their own ends and have now stated that they will hold an election – in order to get what they want.

Another is the opposition group inside Burma led by the NLD. This group has declared that it doesn't accept the State Peace and Development Council’s 2008 constitution, but they haven't said clearly and decisively whether they are going to contest the election or not.

The third is the group that opposes and works to bring down the military group's seven-step road map in whatever way they can. This group is strongest outside the country.

The fourth group is made up of the strong armed ethnic ceasefire groups. Out of this group, well-equipped organisations such as the United Wa State Army and the Kachin Independence Organisation neither accept nor reject the SPDC's plans for the 2010 election. This group maintains a policy of neutrality and insists that it will only deal with the government that emerges from the future elections. In essence, this group doesn't seem to accept the SPDC's 2008 constitution and 2010 election.

The last group says it will contest the election in accordance with the 2008 constitution to be organised by the SPDC, and try to achieve democracy reform gradually. This group also opposes the sanctions imposed by western countries against Burma. Although this group was originally made up of opponents of sanctions and those who are rallying for the emergence of civil institutions, they have since been joined by members of the NLD and other opposition groups who have became disillusioned with their leaders. They are also said to have gained support from western countries.

There are three main points to consider with regard to this group. (fifth group)

First, their opposition to the economic sanctions imposed on Burma by western nations.
Second, their struggle to set up civil institutions within the country.
Third, their acceptance of the 2008 constitution and willingness to participate in the 2010 election.

Controversy has raged for years on the first point. Recently, East Timor's president Ramos Horta said that he opposes the sanctions. But this group fails to point out that the military group has been seeking personal benefits from this issue, blocking some national businesses for their own benefit and mismanaging the economy to ensure the perpetuation of its power. It also fails to point out the role of the military government in the deterioration of the economy of the country.

This group even claims that the economy of Burma has suffered because of the economic sanctions, causing the lack of an emerging middle class and the obstruction of democratic change. But there has been no attempt to establish how the military regime would carry out political and economic change, and how political restrictions would be removed, if sanctions were lifted. Instead, the issue has been used to split the opposition.

Another slogan of this group is the need for the emergence of a vibrant civil society. If you take this slogan at face value, it seems to right. But in reality, it is clear that the military government has carried out severe oppression so that civil institutions would not emerge in Burma. The associations which were allowed to exist under the one-party Burma Socialist Party Programme system in schools are now outlawed with the exception of Robert Taylor and Dr Kyaw Yin Hlaing’s groups.

To be frank, Cyclone Nargis presented a positive opportunity to set up civil institutions. The military government made a concerted effort not to allow this to happen, and only allowed the formation of organisations by supporters of the regime and those who share its interests.

What is really needed in Burma is the official right to existence for independent civil organisations that carry out work for the benefit of the people, not just the creation of civil institutions that carry out the wishes of the military.

The final slogan of this group is its willingness to participate in the election and to try to take any opportunities it can for democracy. The idea is to get more democratic rights, step by step. But this seems to be the same strategy the military is taking to preserve the dictatorship, but in another form. There were some bitter lessons to be learned not long ago. The 1962 coup leader general Ne Win's government ruled the country systematically according to the 1974 constitution, Hlutaw and party. General Ne Win became president Ne Win, then party chairman Ne Win with no change in the system of power and no improvement for the country and the people, who were instead led along the road to ruin.

Now, the people of this group could become elected MPs in the coming election as they expect. They could achieve some more rights. But you won't see any road to improvement for the people and the country. It is necessary to see the truth in this group’s words, which are becoming ever louder, and unveil it for what it is.

At this stage, it won't be sufficient for the NLD and opposition groups just to criticise and attack this fifth column. If they are not on the right path, it is necessary to tell people immediately and concisely what this path should be. It is necessary to explain to the international community firmly. It is necessary to persuade and convince army officers and soldiers who do not like the military dictatorship. In the end, it is necessary to be able explain to those who support the military that their actions are not right, until they can understand and accept it.

Only then can there be true change in Burma.

READ MORE---> Burma’s fifth column...

Shwedagon authorities repair cyclone damage

(DVB)–Shwedagon pagoda authorities have been working for the past five months to repair damage caused in May last year by Cyclone Nargis, which dislodged precious gems from the top of the pagoda.

A source close to members of the pagoda administration committee said treasures including a large diamond and several other jewels had come down from the pagoda.

"Some jewels fell off during the storm and they have been kept in the Shwedagon pagoda museum,” he said.

“I heard that some of the treasures have been moved."

The source claimed that State Peace and Development Council leaders planned to move these jewels and other museum exhibits to Naypyidaw where a replica of Shwedagon pagoda, Uppaba Thandi pagoda, is situated.

A member of the pagoda administration committee said he was not aware of any plans to move the valuable items to the new capital but confirmed that some precious gems had fallen off the pagoda.

"We put up the scaffolding on 1 September and formed a subcommittee of three members [to repair the pagoda],” he said.

“Some precious gems had fallen down."

Reporting by Arnt Phone Myat

READ MORE---> Shwedagon authorities repair cyclone damage...

Bangladesh: Rohingya regional issue

DHAKA (Bangkok Post-AFP) -- Bangladesh said on Wednesday a regional initiative is needed to solve the Rohingya migration issue, echoing a similar proposal by Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

"It would have been better if we could settle the issue bilaterally. We have to think regionally definitely, if we cannot solve the issue bilaterally,'' said Bangladesh's junior foreign minister, Hasan Mahmud.

The minister was answering a query more than a week after Thailand's prime minister proposed the formation of a regional forum for dealing with illegal immigration.

The Thai army has been accused of mistreating refugees from the minority Muslim Rohingya group, thousands of whom flee poverty, abuse and repression in western Burma every year.

Mahmud said Rohingya migration had been a decade-long problem for Bangladesh, but denied that boat people from the ethnic minority were using his country as a escape route.

"It's not true that Rohingyas were boarding boats from Bangladeshi side. But it is true that many Rohingyas live in Bangladesh. Rohingyas who live in Bangladesh don't go to Thailand,'' he said.

READ MORE---> Bangladesh: Rohingya regional issue...

The Path of Pen or Sword?

The Irrawaddy News

The path of the pen or the path of the sword? Young Kachin in northern Burma are preparing and learning on both fronts.

The question dates back to antiquity, but recently it has come to life here in Kachin State where the Kachin have struggled for autonomy for generations.

The Kachin Independence Army (KIA) fought an armed insurgency for more than 30 years. Despite being out-numbered and out-armed, the KIA was never fully defeated, but they were not able to win full autonomy for the Kachin people.

Since the 1994 ceasefire, there have been 15 years of precarious peace and during that time, the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) has built a civil society in addition to maintaining an army. Creating a civil society after a generation of war while isolated from the world at-large—and with scarce resources—is a daunting task.

But, the Kachin are making real progress. The liberated Kachin area now has native language schools, a TV station, intensive English colleges, a civil service academy, regular native language publications, a media center, several Web sites and a national library.

These institutions are the building blocks that make it possible, in the next phase of social development, to consider using the power of the pen—communication—as an effective tool to fight for ethnic autonomy.

Choosing to solve conflicts through the path of civil government and through the media instead of through armies and missiles is not an easy task. It’s been all the more challenging since the Kachin first had to create a civil government and mass media.

Mahatma Gandhi would have had little significance without the attention of India’s newspapers, radio and news stations spreading his words and ideas across the country, to the English commonwealth and around the world. But unlike Gandhi, the Kachin have not ruled out the use of military means as a way to ethnic autonomy.

They are, however, coming to understand that the media is as powerful as machine guns.

The question for the Kachin is how to harness the power of the media, and the question for the world is, how it can help them get their message out.

Burma’s pro-democracy leader, Aung San Su Kyi, has been effective at getting the attention of the world media, but the Kachin see their struggle for autonomy as separate from the larger pro-democracy movement.

Kachin leadership has yet to capture the attention of the world’s media. There are now more than 700 fulltime photojournalists active in Iraq. Kachin State has zero.

History has shown the Burmese military junta will not hand over autonomy to ethnic people. But, the more the world is able to see and hear the concerns and dreams of the Kachin, the more international pressure the junta will feel to provide for the aspirations of the Kachin people.

Recently, the Chiang Mai based NGO Documentary Arts Asia (DAA) taught a week-long journalism and photography workshop to Kachin youth. The young men and women—the journalists, photographers and researchers of tomorrow—were eager to learn. As part of their training, they published seven projects in the workshop magazine, Jingpaw.

DAA awarded two outstanding students cameras and it donated several cameras for community use.

Doi La, one of the workshop’s outstanding students, now has plans to put the skills he learned in the workshop to use by documenting Kachin traditional festivals. DAA has plans to keep working with Kachin youth, to publish their photographs and stories, and to offer another media workshop in 2009.

DAA considers the media workshop a success, but admits that much more needs to be done.

On the path of the sword, it’s possible to spend money to buy guns and train soldiers to fight in a matter of weeks or months.

On the path of the pen, it can take years of training to forge a group of people who can communicate effectively with words and photos.

KIO community organizer Mung Aung wants to study for a master’s degree in public administration with emphasis on public relations. He rightly sees such a goal as a way he can help his people communicate effectively with the international media.

Mung Aung admits there’s a “brain drain” going on in Kachin State now. Growing numbers of Kachin youth with his qualifications are leaving for jobs in other parts of Asia and the world. Being largely undeveloped, there are few good jobs in Kachin State, plus the Kachin face discrimination by the Burmese majority.

It is much easier to recruit and train soldiers than media experts. Mung Aung gets no salary, but he stays because he believes in a better future for the Kachin people.

The UN cannot directly aid the Kachin people in their struggle. No superpower has directly taken up their cause or offered direct support.

The media is the Kachin people’s best hope for a peaceful solution to their dream of an antonymous homeland.

The Kachin are trying to compete on the frontlines of communication by calling on the international media for attention. But they can't do it alone, and there’s the real possibility that if no one hears their message and they are ignored by the world's governments and media, they could return to the sword.

Ryan Libre spent three weeks in Kachin State supported by a grant from The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

READ MORE---> The Path of Pen or Sword?...

Myanmar says Suu Kyi refused to meet liaison minister

YANGON: Myanmar's detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has refused to meet with the minister assigned to organise the junta's contacts with her, the government announced in state media on Tuesday.

In a television broadcast hours after United Nations special envoy Ibrahim Gambari left the military-ruled nation, the regime accused the democracy icon and her party of setting impossible conditions for dialogue with the generals.

"After your previous visit, we proposed two times for dialogue between relations minister Aung Kyi and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, but she did not accept it," a broadcaster quoted information minister Kyaw Hsan as telling Gambari.

"Regarding to the dialogue between the government and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, our side is always opening the door for dialogue," the broadcaster said, using the honorific "Daw" to refer to Aung San Suu Kyi.

Aung Kyi's appointment to coordinate junta contacts with Aung San Suu Kyi in October 2007 was seen as a major sop to the West after the violent suppression of massive anti-junta demonstrations in September that year.

But their last meeting was in January 2008, and Aung San Suu Kyi said soon after she was "not satisfied" with the way the dialogue was progressing.

Instead, the junta has forged ahead with its own "Roadmap to Democracy" which its says will lead to multi-party elections in 2010 but which dissidents deride as a sham as it does not include Aung San Suu Kyi.

Gambari met with the Nobel peace laureate on Monday. She refused to meet the Nigerian diplomat on his previous visit to Myanmar in August 2008, apparently after he failed to secure any concrete reform pledges from the regime.

Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party said soon after her meeting with Gambari on Monday that she was frustrated with the lack of progress in Myanmar toward genuine dialogue between the junta and opposition.

The NLD also reiterated that the party - which won 1990 elections subsequently ignored by the junta - would only sit down for dialogue if all political prisoners were released and the 1990 election results were honoured.

Kyaw Hsan accused the NLD of being unrealistic.

"(Dialogue) cannot succeed by asking for the impossible without standing on the reality," he was quoted as saying. (JEG's: reality, what is Burma's reality? the largest poorest jail in SE Asia? maybe the fattening of the generals on account of the poor citizens? Burma's reality is the advanced development of corruption)

"If she abandons these demands, even the head of state himself will meet directly with her ... dialogue cannot be done by only one side."

He also defended the harsh jail sentences handed down to at least 270 democracy activists at the end of 2008, most in connection with the September 2007 protests led by Buddhist monks.

"Regarding those who were imprisoned, it was done in accordance with the law. Those who were sentenced have the right to appeal according to the existing laws," state TV quoted him as saying. (JEG's: but who is going to defend the appeals when the solicitors are also being imprisoned for not supporting the junta)

Human rights groups have decried the jails terms - some as long as 104 years - as an effort by the junta to suppress any dissenting voices ahead of their much-trumpeted 2010 elections.

Gambari left Myanmar on Tuesday after a four-day visit during which he failed to meet any of the senior junta leadership including head of state Senior General Than Shwe, despite his aim to foster dialogue.

Aung San Suu Kyi has been kept under house arrest for most of the last 19 years, enraging Western governments which have imposed sanctions on the regime. - Channel New Asia-AFP/de

READ MORE---> Myanmar says Suu Kyi refused to meet liaison minister...

Burma demands end to sanctions

YANGON (Bangkok Post-AFP) - Burma's prime minister on Tuesday asked visiting UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari to push Western nations to end their sanctions if they wanted to see political reform, state media reported.

The United States and Europe have a raft of economic sanctions against the military-ruled nation to protest against human rights abuses and the long-running detention of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

"The UN should try to remove economic sanctions (on Burma) if it really wants a stable political situation with economic development,'' a television newscaster quoted Prime Minister Thein Sein as telling Gambari.

"The political situation can be stable if the economic situation is stable. We have been trying amid many kinds of difficulties, but you cannot ask us to run by tying the legs with rope. You need to release the rope,'' he added. (JEG's: this sounds like an echo from Mr Obama)

Thein Sein met Gambari on Tuesday on the last day of the Nigerian diplomat's four-day visit to Burma aimed at nudging the junta toward democratic reform.

Their meeting also touched upon a rumoured visit to Burma by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

"The visit of the UN secretary general depends on the time and conditions,'' state media reported the premier as saying.

During a separate meeting with Gambari on Monday, Aung San Suu Kyi told the envoy that any visit by the UN head should be conditional on the release of her and all other political prisoners.

Gambari left Burma on Tuesday after failing to meet any of the senior junta leadership including head of state Senior General Than Shwe.

Thein Sein is thought to exert little control over the country, as all real power lies with Than Shwe and the military junta.

READ MORE---> Burma demands end to sanctions...

NCUB Applauds British Minister Bill Rammell for his criticism of Burma's 2010 sham elections

Bangkok, 04 February, ( The National Council of the Union of Burma (NCUB) applauds Britain’s Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Bill Rammell, for his strong criticism of the Burmese military junta, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). The NCUB implores other members of the international community to heed Bill Rammell's important message and reject the junta's sham and one-sided elections scheduled for 2010.

The NCUB calls on the international community to actively support the Burmese citizens who have suffered under the SPDC's brutal military regime for decades and reject the faux elections the junta is using to entrench military rule in Burma.

The junta continues to refuse to recognize the results of Burma's free and fair 1990 General Elections, in which the National League for Democracy (NLD) won a landslide victory, and it is going to use the 2010 sham elections to solidify its rule and create a civilian façade for it. Whatever the pretences, the SPDC is not moving toward democracy and, on the other hand, it continues to viciously violate basic democratic principles.

The SPDC must end its military attacks against ethnic population in Burma and begin a national reconciliation process with Burma's political stakeholders. As long as the junta continues to refuse a meaningful, time]bound political dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi and the ethnic nationalities the international community must refuse to recognize the 2010 elections.

- Asian Tribune -

READ MORE---> NCUB Applauds British Minister Bill Rammell for his criticism of Burma's 2010 sham elections...

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