Thursday, February 19, 2009

Soldiers loot trucks at gun point

(KNG) - In a daring armed robbery unidentified soldiers stopped over 30 goods trucks at gunpoint between Kutkai and Nam Hpak Ka towns in northeastern Shan state on the Mandalay-Muse border trade route, Burma's largest China border trade route on February 10 and looted an estimated 20 million Kyat (US $19,802), said local sources.

According to a resident of Kutkai, the soldiers turned robbers pulled off the daring act between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. Burma Standard Time. They set off bombs and exploded three trucks injuring five people who were hospitalized in a public hospital in Muse.

The troops stopped all vehicles at gunpoint on the road. They demanded money only from container trucks with 18-wheels and 12-wheels one after another, said sources close to truck drivers who were robbed.

During the looting, some soldiers quickly demanded money from the trucks while some soldiers took up position to fight back soldiers of Burma's ruling junta should they appear on the scene, the sources close to trucks' drivers added.

A truck driver who witnessed the armed robbery said, over 70 soldiers were involved and they wore camouflage BDU (Battle Dress Uniform) and camouflage caps but it had no label. The robbers used China-made M-22 and Russian-made AK-47 automatic weapons, added eye witnesses.

Until now, no armed group has owned up responsibility and the Burmese Army is also yet to identify who organised and took part in such a daring robbery, Muse residents said.

On the Mandalay-Muse route, Burmese military authorities also frequently stop trucks calling it "supply check" and demand money from container trucks, according to truck drivers.

In the areas between Nam Hpak Ka and Kutkai, the two local ethnic ceasefire groups--- the Shan State Army-North (SSA-N) and Kachin Independence Army (KIA) operate, said residents of Kutkai and Muse.

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Junta Declares War on Lawyers

The Irrawaddy News

MAE SOT — To be a lawyer in military-ruled Burma is to court danger, invite arrest and risk being jailed in the country’s notorious prisons.

It is the price to be paid for what, in most countries, would be standard practice for the legal profession: defending a person facing a trial for an alleged crime that he or she has been charged with.

But the ongoing targeting of lawyers reveals that life marches to a different tune in the South-east Asian country that has been under the oppressive grip of a military dictatorship for the past 47 years.

More so if the legal battles involve the countries pro-democracy activists who dare to stand up, speak out and be counted among the eternally harassed opposition. More so if the ones facing charges in what are largely political trials have links to the National League for Democracy (NLD), the largest opposition party.

Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min is among the fortunate, though. The soft-spoken, slightly-built lawyer gave the authorities the slip in Rangoon, the former capital, and fled to Mae Sot in December to relate disturbing accounts of the new pressure on his profession.

"It is difficult for pro-democracy activists to get a fair trial in Burma," said the 29-year-old during a late-night interview in the Thai town near the Burmese border that has become home to many political activists who have fled oppression back home. "I did not have rights to talk with the political prisoners in private to prepare for their cases."

"There were times when a request to meet my clients was denied," added Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min, whose legal practice has largely been dedicated to helping political activist from the NLD arrested for protesting against the junta. "There were always men from military intelligence and the special branch monitoring the discussions I was having with my clients."

What prompted his flight to Thailand was when a judge hearing a case where Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min was appearing charged him and his colleague for coming to the defence of three clients during a trial in October last year. "Our clients protested in court by turning their backs and saying that they didn’t trust the trial process," he revealed.

Not so lucky was his colleague, Nyi Nyi Htwe. The latter was arrested at a teashop on Oct. 29 and is currently serving a six months jail term. The same sentence was handed down to Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min in absentia.

Since then, three other lawyers appearing for pro-democracy activists have been jailed. In early February, the authorities issued arrest warrants for six lawyers who have been defending political activists.

And if not that, the junta has pursued an alternative route to bar opposition figures from securing legal aid during their political trials. The outcome of a case that ended in mid-February is typical: the lawyers chosen to assist two elected parliamentarians were barred from attending court proceedings until their clients were sentenced to 15 years in jail.

"There is no rule of law in Burma," says Bo Kyi, a former political prisoner who heads the Assistant Association for Political Prisoners in Burma, a human rights group based in this town. "There is no separation of powers, no independence of the judiciary."

"It is getting more difficult for lawyers to defend political activists," he revealed. "The lawyers who appear for the activists are very brave. They don’t get much money and they know that their practice will suffer."

And the need for such lawyers with courage could not have been greater, he explained, in the wake of the on-going crackdown of all dissenting voices and the harsh jail terms handed down to leading, respected political activists.

In November last year, the courts handed down verdicts for 215 political activists who were linked to the pro-democracy street protests, led by thousands of Buddhists monks, held in September 2007.

A 21-year-old student was given a 104-year-sentence, a Buddhist monk who led the protests was given a 68-year-jail term, and leading female dissident was imprisoned for 65 years.

The junta’s aggressive use of the courts to target all political dissidents became clear in late 2003, following a 106-year-sentence handed down to a leading member of the Shan ethnic community, says Aung Htoo, general secretary of the Burma Lawyers’ Council. "Since that time the regime started using the judiciary as a tool of oppression."

"This is the worst period for the non-independence of the judiciary," he added. "We are seeing outrageous rulings. The situation was bad before, but not this bad."

And the judgments delivered after the political trials do not emerge from the court proceedings either. "The Home Ministry instructs the judges and the prosecutors about the verdict they want," says U Myo, a former state prosecutor who fled Burma for Thailand. "They have to follow the orders."

Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min witnessed such travesty since he graduated in 2005 with a law degree from Burma’s Dagon University and began his practice.

"Once the trial starts, the judge, the prosecuting lawyers, the prosecuting officers, and the prosecution’s witnesses follow the (junta’s) instructions," the lawyer noted in a statement released soon after he arrived in Mae Sot.

Abuse is rampant during the trial, too, he added. "Questions asked in court by the defence lawyers are deemed inadmissible by the judge, and so are not officially recorded in the court transcript."

READ MORE---> Junta Declares War on Lawyers...

Stephen Smith welcomes Bali talks on Rohingya migrants in Thailand

( FOREIGN Minister Stephen Smith says the issue of Rohingya migrants, cast adrift by Thai authorities, will be discussed at a regional people smuggling forum later this year.

Mr Smith and his Indonesian counterpart Hassan Wirajuda held a formal bilateral meeting in Sydney today, where they discussed the fate of Burma's minority Muslim Rohingya, many of whom have had to be rescued in Indonesian waters.

Human rights groups claim nearly 1000 Rohingya landed on Thai shores late last year before being beaten and towed out to sea with few supplies.

Dr Wirajuda said 400 subsequently landed on the Indonesian province of Aceh.

Earlier this month, Thailand agreed to Dr Wirajuda's suggestion their fate be decided through the "Bali process", a regional network set up in 2002 to tackle people smuggling and people trafficking.

Mr Smith said the issue would be discussed at the ministerial conference, likely to be held in Bali at the end of March or April.

"We discussed and welcomed the fact that the question of the Rohingyas will form part of the discussion of forthcoming ministerial meeting of the Bali process," he said.

Mr Smith said he and Dr Wirajuda also discussed the recent visit to Indonesia by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, April's G20 meeting in London, the global financial crisis, and Burma.

Dr Wirajuda is in Sydney for an Australia-Indonesia conference, which will be officially opened by Kevin Rudd tonight.

READ MORE---> Stephen Smith welcomes Bali talks on Rohingya migrants in Thailand...

Burma's 2010 election: New election, old promises

By Naing Ko Ko

(DVB)–An election in Burma is supposedly going to be held in 2010 by the elite generals. Within the half century from 1960 to 2010, it will be the second election held by the military.

Elections in Burma are precisely identical to scarce goods, with neither availability nor choice for the public. Since Burma became an independent state, it has had only three “democratic general elections" that were held in 1952, 1956 and 1960 respectively, all under the administration of the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League which ruled Burma for 10 years.

Within the 28 years from 1960 to 1988, unsurprisingly, there were no democratic general elections held by the Revolutionary Council or the Burma Socialist Programme Party that was formed after the first military coup. However, the BSPP ran a "synthetic election" as a totalitarian and bureaucratic mechanism in 1974. As the BSPP was a military-based-party, the election was absolutely managed by the party bosses and generals. The voters did not have any choice and were ordered to vote for both the single party system and "pioneer dictators".

Although millions of people demanded democracy during the four-eights uprising, the military seized state power again on 18 September 1988 and branded itself the State Law and Order Restoration Council. The junta held its first ever multiparty democratic general election on 27 May 1990 and reappointed an election commission and promulgated a multiparty democracy election law that were both formulated by the BSPP regime during the “summer of democracy” in September 1988.

There were more than two thousand candidates from 93 political parties who stood in the 1990 election full of dreams and promise. Although the election campaigns of the 93 political parties were heavily controlled by the junta, the National League for Democracy won 392 out of 485 seats. The Shan Nationalities League for Democracy won 23 seats and the BSPP’s new incarnation, the National Unity Party, won just 10 seats. Here, most Burma watchers claimed that it was a free and fair election although there was no freedom of expression and no free international monitoring system.

According to Huntington's third wave democratisation thesis of 1993 and many other political theorists, elections are a major tool for the democratisation process. In 1990, the 38-million-strong population of Burma overwhelmingly honoured the legitimacy and authority of the election to bring about the rule of law and to manage the state mechanism. But the military generals have neither transferred state political power to the election winning parties nor convened a people's parliament.

Consequently, the elected MPs of all election winning parties have not convened a parliament themselves, though they have the moral and political responsibility to carry out the people's legitimate decision as reflected in the election result. While the winners of the 1990 election claim that they have political legitimacy, the military junta argues that it has de jure legitimacy. Consequently, the military has not honored the election result, while the 1990 MPs-elect have not formed a democratic government themselves in the sovereign mainland of Burma. Thus, Burma has become a paradox of bulletocracy and representative democracy.

In addition, the MPs of 1990 election have been applying elite-driven transition models, including policies of national reconciliation and UN-brokered dialogue with the generals, while the generals have repeatedly and officially rejected their demands. Yet again, the situation since the 1990 election has remained absolutely stagnant and the opportunity for a civilian-initiated transitional process has not yet been consolidated.

There is no comprehensive winning strategy or policy platform on how to apply a regime change model for Burma after the election, either from within the military junta or from the leaders of political parties or MPs who are regularly asking international agencies such as the United Nations, the European Union and ASEAN to intervene in the power games in Burma.

During the last 20 years, all stakeholders, the military junta and all political parties have released occasional statements calling for dialogue with the elite military generals or for parliament to be convened. But there has not been a paradigm shift regarding regime transition or a power reconfiguration resulting from the 1990 election. It has not brought about either a break-even point or a balance of power between the competing claims about democracy in Burma.

On the other hand, the generals have also applied their own non-democratic transition plans such as the National Convention, national reconciliation and the Seven-Point Road Map towards "disciplined democracy". The junta has given many promises that these plans are leading towards a democratic Burma, but there have been no tangible results yet. The people of Burma have suffered from the broken promises from the both the junta and the election winners of 1990.

Now, once more, the junta has repeatedly promised another election will be held in 2010. As the time draws nearer, there will be many political parties that aim to participate in the junta’s planned election. On the exile front, the political legitimacy of the 1990 MPs will shrink and there will be a dilemma of how to claim political legitimacy after the new 2010 election. Some demographic figures have estimated that there is a population of 56 million in Burma at the moment; there are millions of young voters who have never voted in any elections.

Will this 2010 election override the results of the 1990 election?
Will the 2010 election be postponed, or will the junta transfer political power to the 1900 election winners or share power with them?
Will the MPs elected in 1990 withdraw from being MPs or will they go back to Burma to join the armed resistance?
Will they maintain the status quo and ask the UN to fight for them to get political power?

Essentially, the people of Burma have been waiting for the fulfillment of the promises from the 1990 election winners and still millions of members of the new generations are driven to neighboring counties to meet their basic needs.

Naing Ko Ko is a postgraduate scholarship student in the Department of Political Studies at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. He is a former political prisoner.

READ MORE---> Burma's 2010 election: New election, old promises...

Junta’s Spies Active among Ethnic, Exiled Groups

"exiled organizations don’t place a high priority on security,”
The Irrawaddy News

Burmese spies actively gather information on Burmese ethnic groups and the exiled community along the Thai border, opposition leaders have long contended.

Such claims appear to be substantiated by a confidential Burmese military intelligence report obtained by The Irrawaddy on Wednesday.

The 42-page report was compiled by the Burmese Southeast Regional Military Command based in Moulmein, the capital of Mon State, and sent to three key army departments: the Bureau of Special Operation (BSO 4); the operation department of the Burmese army; and the military security affairs department, also known as the War Office, in Naypyidaw.

The report outlines details of the KNU’s 14th Congress in October 2008, includes information on its new leaders and speculates about anticipated KNLA military activities, in addition to outlining information about exiled dissident groups in Mae Sot and along the Thai-Burmese border.

The report sketched activities of numerous groups, including the All Burma Students Democratic Front, the Womens’ League of Burma, the Democratic Party for a New Society, the Democratic Alliance for Burma, the Karen Youth Organization, the Mon National League for Democracy (Liberated Area) and other groups.

Several nongovernmental organizations are mentioned including the Burma Media Organization in Thailand, the Human Rights Education Institute of Burma, whose headquarters is in Chiang Mai and the Thailand Burma Border Consortium in Thailand

In addition, the report mentioned information about specific Thai military intelligence officers and also included accounts of the protests by the Peoples’ Alliance for Democracy in Bangkok in October 2008.

The report, while not containing any information of immediate strategic value, was judged to be a valuable overview of the reformed KNU and activities among exiled groups along the border.

Exiled dissident and ethnic groups have always maintained that the Burmese government uses spies, informers and police agents to keep track of what goes on inside exiled dissident groups and uses military intelligence communication units to intercept military radio transmissions and other communication of ethnic groups and exiled groups inside and outside the country.

“They [intelligence agents and spies] also get information from migrant workers and the DKBA,” said Maj Hla Ngwe, joint secretary (1) of the Karen National Union, referring to The Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, which operates in alliance with the Burmese military.

It’s believed that much of the information is of a low priority, he said, and has no real intelligence value. Much of the information is believed to be similar to published news reports.

“Mostly, they pass on made-up information to their bosses,” said Hla Ngwe.

One activist in Mae Sot said, “The information is often fabricated, but based true events.”

Of more significance, perhaps, are the disinformation and psychological warfare campaigns waged against ethnic groups inside the country and the exiled community, designed to create distrust and disunity.

Hla Ngwe said Burmese Military Security Affairs distributes disinformation among dissident alliance leaders. “Exiled dissidents need to be more aware of security issues,” he said.

Htay Aung, a member of the Thailand-based Network for Democracy and Development (NDD), said opposition groups are generally lax on security matters and not fully aware of the effects of disinformation campaigns.

“The government spies can get the exiled groups’ information because the
exiled organizations don’t place a high priority on security,”
he said. “They can easily penetrate the exiled groups, because spies have no horns.”

The powerful Office of the Chief of Military Intelligence was abolished in October 2004, several months after a new military government took power. Military intelligence was weaken by the removal of hundreds of officers and renamed Military Security Affairs.

“After military intelligence was abolished, the new military security department was weak,” said Htay Aung. “But now it may have become more powerful and have more funding.”

There are those in the exiled community who believe that Mahn Sha, the late Karen National Union general-secretary, was assassinated on February 14 by junta-backed agents. The murder remains unsolved, and no arrests have been reported.

READ MORE---> Junta’s Spies Active among Ethnic, Exiled Groups...

US Sanctions Taking Toll on Burmese Gems Industry

The Irrawaddy News

Mogok, the historic center of Burma’s gems industry, is struggling to cope with the effects of US sanctions targeting the country’s military rulers and their cronies, according to industry insiders.

A gem trader in Mogok told The Irrawaddy that at least 50 mine sites in the area have decreased production and several have closed completely since the US Congress approved a law restricting gem imports from Burma last July.

“Work at many gem sites has slowed down because it is becoming more difficult to export the gems now that they are on the sanctions list,” the trader said.

He added that many investors are reluctant to spend money to fuel earthmovers and other heavy equipment because they are no longer sure they will be able to sell the gems they find.

Although the sanctions are intended to block imports into the United States, other markets are also becoming less receptive to Burmese gems. According to traders, Thailand’s cross-border imports of precious stones from Burma have declined in recent months, and many Thai traders are now offering lower prices for the gems they buy.

Chinese traders have also become relatively scarce in Mogok.

“Even Chinese gem traders are not coming to Burma like they used to,” said one Burmese journalist who closely follows developments in the gems industry. “I think if the Chinese don’t come, there won’t be any gem auctions.”

Although the Burmese junta has continued to hold gem auctions in Rangoon, buying by international jewelers has dropped by at least 50 percent, according to jewelers in the city, who say that market prices across the country have also fallen by half.

Official statistics show that Burma exported US $647.53 million worth of gems in the fiscal year 2007-08. However, Burma’s gems production decreased from 7.178 million carats in the 2nd quarter of 2007 to 6.491 million carats in the 2nd quarter of 2008, according to The Economist Intelligence Unit.

In Burma, the gems industry is owned by the state, but since the 1990s, the government has allowed private investment through join-venture enterprises. But licenses are only granted to cronies of the ruling generals, including Tay Za, who runs Htoo Trading Co, and Ne Win Tun, of Ruby Dragon Jade & Gems Co Ltd.

In May 2008, former US President George W Bush issued an executive order putting three Burmese state enterprises—the Myanmar Gem Enterprise, Myanmar Timber Enterprise and Myanmar Pearl Enterprise—on a sanctions list.

Two months later, the US Congress approved the Tom Lantos Block Burmese JADE (Junta’s Anti-Democratic Efforts) Act, which renewed a 2007 act restricting the import of gems from Burma and tightening sanctions on mining projects.

The law said that over 90 percent of the world’s ruby supply originates in Burma, but only 3 percent of the rubies entering the US are designated as being of Burmese origin.

According to Human Rights Watch, gems mined in Burma are first exported to countries such as Thailand or India to be cut and polished, and then exported to other countries around the world.

Prime markets for jewelry made with Burmese rubies are in the US, Europe and Japan. The highest quality and most expensive stones are exported to Switzerland for onward sale to other markets, the group said.

READ MORE---> US Sanctions Taking Toll on Burmese Gems Industry...

The Islamic Development Bank group to support rebuilding of Nargis-destroyed schools in Ayeyarwady Delta

This must be a joke, Than Shwe and his junta do not want the Muslim Rohingya but
here they are accepting the Muslim's money???

Yangon, Myanmar, ReliefWeb - A group of officers from the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) Group visited cyclone-affected communities yesterday as part of the IDB's plan to help build schools in the Ayeyarwady Delta that were destroyed after Cyclone Nargis last year.

Headed by Country Projects Officer Samih Ahmad Faruqi, the IDB Group, assisted by its implementing agency, Asian Resource Foundation, visited seven schools in the townships of Kombu, Kunyangon, Dedaye, Oyapon, and Bogale. The IDB Group plans to donate approximately US$300,000 to build five schools in the Delta to accommodate about 100 students in each school.

In Bogale Township, accompanied by ASEAN Hub Officer and ASEAN volunteers, the Group visited local communities to discuss the reconstruction of two schools in Khun Tee Chaung village of Kyunnyo Village Tract and Tha Htay Gone village of Hayman Village Tract where ASEAN volunteers are currently supporting a Tripartite Core Group pilot project (1). The schools in the two villages were almost destroyed but are still being used to accommodate about 400 students.

Sharing his view after visiting the Bogale Township, Mr Faruqi said, "Schools reconstruction project is the first IDB supported emergency assistance project in Myanmar. After the successful completion of this pilot project, the Special Assistance Office of IDB will consider funding support for projects in education and health sectors at the community level."

The IDB Group's project will complement the current ASEAN Volunteer projects in order to effectively address the needs of the community as recommended in the Periodic Review, which emphasizes cross-sectoral assistance.

Dr Surin Pitsuwan, Secretary-General of ASEAN, said "We appreciate IDB Group's cooperation and support, which further strengthens ASEAN's leading role in humanitarian assistance and recovery efforts for the cyclone-affected people of Myanmar."

A Memorandum of Understanding between ASEAN Secretariat and the IDB Group was signed in September 2008 with a view to promoting economic and social development in their common constituencies. The areas of cooperation include capacity building in the areas of health, education, halal food supply and agriculture, investment promotion, and economic cooperation.

Notes: (1) The Disaster Risk Management Project in Hayman Village Tract, Bogale Township seeks to raise community awareness of disaster risk (DR) and DR management through meetings and workshops with stakeholders in the targeted villages; gather data and develop initial DRM action plan to build the community's capacity; to improve community infrastructure and plant mangrove with community participation. This project is being implemented by Mingalar Myanmar, a local NGO, in cooperation with six ASEAN volunteers from ASEAN Member States, namely Cambodia, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Thailand.

Contact details:

ASEAN Humanitarian Task Force
Coordinating Office in Yangon
Mai Phuong Tang
Communication Officer
Tel: +951 544500 Ext. 430

Source: Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)

READ MORE---> The Islamic Development Bank group to support rebuilding of Nargis-destroyed schools in Ayeyarwady Delta...

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