Thursday, February 26, 2009

Funeral charities ordered to keep vehicles at cemetery

(DVB)–Funeral charities in Rangoon division, including the Free Funeral Service Society, have been told to park their vehicles at Yeway cemetery during the night, according to an order issued by the authorities.

The order, issued on 8 February, states that all funerary vehicles used by funeral services of all religions must be kept overnight at Yeway cemetery as of 28 February. (oooooh ooooooh ooooh)

FFSS patron and former actor Kyaw Thu said funeral charities could face legal action if they did not comply with the order.

"Rangoon municipal office summoned all religious groups in Rangoon and told us to keep the cars in respective cemeteries,” Kyaw Thu said.

“If we don't, we will be prosecuted."

The order was issued on the basis of a 1920 colonial law. Kyaw Thu has asked Rangoon municipal authorities to help him solve the problems caused by the order but has received no response from them.

Apart from FFSS, there are at least six funeral services including Muslim, Hindu and Christian services that have been giving free help to bereaved people.

Kyaw Thu said that FFSS had 16 funerary vehicles, some of which were worth millions of kyat.

Keeping the cars in the cemetery overnight as ordered would put a stop to the activities of the FFSS, Kyaw Thu insisted.

"We can't just park our cars in the alleys at Yeway as some of them are quite expensive,” Kyaw Thu said.

“We bought them with money from donors. The cars need to have covers and security,” he said.

“We have decided to carry on as before."

Christian and Muslim funerary vehicles which have been parking at churches and mosques in local townships are also worried about keeping them in Yeway cemetery.

"If the cars are kept in Yeway cemetery, the drivers will face problems,” a Muslim funeral official said.

“There is no [proper building to park the cars] yet. We are still discussing it."

A local Hindu funeral organisation which already keeps its five funerary vehicles at the cemetery said it had no problems with the new regulation. (bad apple)

Reporting by Aye Nai

READ MORE---> Funeral charities ordered to keep vehicles at cemetery...

NLD discusses 2010 election participation

(DVB)–National League for Democracy elected representatives and organising committee members from 10 townships in Rangoon division met at party headquarters on 24 February to discuss whether to contest the 2010 election.

The meeting was held in the morning and attended by Rangoon division organising committee secretary Dr Win Naing, chairman Thakhin Soe Myint and vice-chairman Dr Than Nyein.

"We discussed matters such as whether to contest the election or not and the party's position if it does not contest," Dr Win Naing said.

"What we had already said clearly is we do not accept this constitution and as the 2010 election is to be held on the basis of this constitution, we haven't considered contesting it yet," he said.

"But if we can carry out a bilateral and smooth review of the proposed constitution we would have a reason to contest the election."

The meeting was attended by township representatives and elected MPs from Kyauktada, Panbedan, Latha, Lanmadaw, Thanlyin, Kyauktan, Thonegwa, Kayan, Thaketa and Dawpon. More meetings between the ten townships are scheduled for 27 February, 3 March and 6 March, Win Naing said.

The NLD won the majority of seats and votes in the 1990 election but the ruling State Peace and Development Council failed to transfer power and is preparing to hold new elections in 2010.

The party has issued statements criticising the holding of a new election without recognising the result of the 1990 vote.

Reporting by Aye Nai

READ MORE---> NLD discusses 2010 election participation...

Films documenting poverty to be banned

(DVB)–Film directors in Rangoon allege that state-run Myanmar Film Production has told private producers not to make films about poverty, claiming they damage the nation’s global image.

A film director under condition of anonymity told DVB that the letter sent by MFP claims most of the Burmese films shown nowadays on cinemas were damaging to the country’s credibility.

Well-known and respected actor and charity worker Kyaw Thu said he was shocked by the news.

“I would just rather not make any films at a time like this with a lot of regulations and limitations,” he said.

“Films are supposed to reflect the closest of what is happening in the real life of the people.”

Myint Thein Pe, chair of Myanmar Motion Picture Association, said the claims were wrong.

“There is only a regulation to make the plots relevant and close to reality when portraying the poor, but the MFP has never stopped anyone from making these films,” he said.

Some film directors in Rangoon were speculating whether the new regulation will profit the owners of posh mansions in Rangoon, often used as scene locations in films about the rich.

Reporting by Naw Say Phaw

READ MORE---> Films documenting poverty to be banned...

NLD member released in amnesty

(DVB)–National League for Democracy member Nyo Gyi, who was sentenced to eight years in prison for intimidation of Union Solidarity and Development Association officials, has been released after serving one year and four months of his term.

Nyo Gyi, deputy-chair of Mandalay’s Maddaya National League for Democracy, who was imprisoned in Sagaing’s Khandee prison, was among 6313 prisoners across Burma who were granted amnesty by the government over the weekend.

In May 2007, Than Lwin – a relative of Nyo Gyi - was punched in the face with a knuckle-duster by an unknown assailant who fled into a USDA office after the attack.

Than Lwin’s attacker was never apprehended, but nine of his colleagues and family members, including Nyo Gyi, were sentenced to up to eight years in prison for intimidation of USDA officials.

“I was kept in a cell without receiving communication from the outside world,” he said.

“The food wasn’t too bad but it was still bad, and water, too – it contained a lot of dirt and we often got sick after drinking that.”

“I had an operation on my eyes while I was in prison and now my left eye cannot see anymore,” he added.

Nyo Gyi was also arrested, tortured and sentenced to nine years in prison during 2003’s Depayin massacre but he was released after serving 11 months.

Reporting by Khin Hnin Htet

READ MORE---> NLD member released in amnesty...

Engaging with Democracy or Authoritarianism?

The Irrawaddy News

The voices supporting engagement with the Burmese regime have been louder in some of the recent media coverage of the political crisis in Burma.

This new attempt to untangle a 20-year-old political knot seems to have coincided with the seventh visit of UN’s Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari to Burma on January 31 to February 3.

If we could point to any positive progress from this visit, it would be that it was the first time opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was able to meet the UN envoy together with her colleagues.

It is clear that the NLD are again urging the UN’s Good Offices to broker meaningful dialogue between the party and the regime. It is also clear that Gambari was aware that the NLD did not refer to the junta’s statement that “confrontation, utter devastation, economic sanctions and total isolation do not benefit the country or the people” in a manner that suggested the party concurred with the regime’s stance.

The NLD’s position was clarified in a Special Statement 2 issued on February 17, saying, “Daw Aung San Suu Kyi informed authorities through U Aung Kyi, Minister for Relations, that she was ready to cooperate and issue a joint communiqué to prevent these problems [misunderstandings] from happening.”

The NLD emphasized its position in an interview with The Irrawaddy. Spokesman Nyan Win said reiterated the party’s stand on “unconditional dialogue,” as well as emphasizing the NLD’s desire for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to visit the country.

The NLD, for its part, is ready to discuss and issue a joint statement on the country’s political problems, including the issue of economic and other sanctions. It is evident which party is avoiding meaningful dialogue.

During Gambari’s visit, Burmese Prime Minister Gen Thein Sein demanded that economic sanctions and visa bans be lifted if the UN wants to see stability in Burma.

The regime is playing a game of diplomatic ping-pong with the NLD and the UN in order to create a situation too complicated to be solved.

The generals have used—and will use—this same strategy time and again because they are confident they can manage the country without giving an inch to the opposition in any future political arena in Burma.

Meanwhile, a new US administration is reviewing its overall policy on Burma. The US, of course, is the main backer of economic and visa sanctions on the Burmese generals and their cohorts.

But before declaring a new policy on Burma, the Obama administration should consider this: will the Burmese regime really share space with the NLD in the future affairs of Burma?

Soldiers who are trained only to defeat their enemy will never sit down and talk with them as long as there is a possibility of winning the battle. Today, the regime sits confident that it is going to win the battle in 2010.

In recent days, a handful of foreign scholars and diplomats have issued pessimistic and critical statements regarding Suu Kyi’s political party. The opinions that popped up in the media showed an overall support for promoting engagement with the regime, and even went so far as criticizing the NLD as some breed of black sheep that is somehow blocking the country’s development.

The comments would not be surprising if Burmese politics were just another business, beholden to its shareholders and with a natural appetite for profits. But it is more than that. Activists, students, monks, journalists, writers, poets and even housewives—the entire spectrum of the pro-democracy movement—have been sacrificing their lives since 1988 in the belief that only democracy can bring about peace, freedom and prosperity, and most importantly, a life with dignity that each human being deserves from his or her community.

I believe that only an open democratic society can bring about economic development in Burma. We Burmese are struggling not to usurp power for the party we support, but to establish a functioning political system in the country.

If the international community wants to see Burma as a country governed by the rule of law, then it must get behind the democracy movement. If they want to see Burma as a stable nation in a prosperous region, the paramount task is to pressure the repressive military regime to come to its senses—to realize that a democratic system will ultimately alleviate the socio-economic crisis in Burma and lead to social stability within the society.

The author is a Bangkok-based independent researcher, graduating MA in International Development Studies at Chulalongkorn University.

READ MORE---> Engaging with Democracy or Authoritarianism?...

NLD Must Own Up to its Policy Mistakes

The Irrawaddy News

Burma’s National League for Democracy (NLD) has been sending conflicting messages about western sanctions.

Much is admirable about the NLD’s endurance in the uphill struggle to force the Burmese military to enter into dialogue with it as a political equal. However, the NLD leadership needs to come clean on the impact of sanctions on the country, and own up to the policy mess it has helped create over the past two decades.

In a February 24 article, Mizzima quoted NLD spokesman Nyan Win as saying: “We have nothing to withdraw, as the economic sanctions were not imposed by us but are only concerned with the country that imposed the sanctions. And we have not done anything that the junta accused us of doing.”

As a lead organizer who helped build the US sanctions and boycott campaign, I personally know for a fact that the top NLD leadership, most specifically Aung San Suu Kyi herself, was closely involved in the sanctions campaign after her release from her first period of house arrest in July 1995.

Our campaign “pigeons” based outside Burma slipped into Rangoon to deliver her our campaign slogans and policy advice. The NLD leader then personally modified and/or blessed these quotes and messages, which we subsequently disseminated in support of the sanctions, boycotts and media campaigns. She had moral authority and international appeal. We had campaigners’ zeal and strategic capacities.

In fact, as far back as June 4, 1989, the Bangkok Post reported on her public call for an international trade and economic boycott. Since then, she has not publicly shifted her position, despite the fact that domestic, regional and international realities are no longer conducive to the use of sanctions.

Originally our “targeted sanctions” campaign was aimed at hurting the generals through their pockets. Strategically, we had hoped to compel the regime to enter into dialogue with her, marrying her non-violent campaign inside Burma with international clamor for change in Burma through western sanctions, diplomatic isolation, media campaigns and other punitive measures at the United Nations.

These efforts were to be supplemented by the armed resistance along the Burmese-Thai borders. To any dispassionate analyst, this “inside-outside” strategy has clearly failed.

The Free Burma Coalition, which spearheaded the western consumer and tourism boycotts, sanctions lobby and media campaigns, was in part responsible for the blocking of the junta’s initial (limited) economic openings in the 1990s, and in consequence any political dividends which may have come from such openings.

Worse still, our well-meaning activism in the West drove, however indirectly, thousands of female workers from the country’s textile industry into economically vulnerable positions, including prostitution and cross-border migrant work.

In the 20 years since we hatched this campaign in the US—12,000 miles away from our country and her realities—the generals have only grown richer, further entrenched and more confident, thanks largely to the country’s strategic natural resources such as gas and oil, the global extractive industry, and the support and cooperation they received from the rising Asian powers, such as China and India.

The NLD, the flagship opposition party, no longer inspires the same degree of confidence among dissidents, neither does it continue to capture the hearts and minds of the bulk of the Burmese citizens. Western governments, the NLD’s greatest supporters, appear to be losing faith in the party’s strategic leadership.

During her Asian tour last week, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the US was reviewing its Burma sanctions policy and hinted at a possible policy shift.

In Washington, a cross-party consensus on sanctions is emerging, to the effect that they are not serving US interests. Republican Senator Richard Lugar, who chaired the
Senate Foreign Affairs Sub-Committee, has acknowledged the futility of 47 years of economic isolation against Cuba.

We know the ruling military government must be held responsible for the negative consequences of its policy and leadership failures since 1962, by virtue of the fact that it makes policy and political decisions unilaterally and undemocratically.

Principles of accountability and transparency should apply to tyrants and democrats alike. I call on the NLD leadership to reflect honestly on the failures of their policies and their impact on society at large, in order for the whole of the opposition movement, which takes cues from Suu Kyi, to move on spiritually and strategically.

The critics of the “constructive engagement” approach have pointed out that engagement with the regime has not worked either. They are right—“constructive engagement” only concerns the generals, rather than civil society.

It is the NGOs, professional associations, chambers of commerce, educational institutions, global citizens and civil society groups that are best positioned to help open up Burma—in all aspects.

Citizen participation in political and economic processes is the foundation for an open and tolerant society, without which no democracy can function. The development of an indigenous business and commercial sector must be seen as part of the change process.

We need to work to develop an open, tolerant society out of the existing conservative and militaristic society. An open society cannot be built at the policy gunpoint of sanctions, any more than instant national reconciliation and dialogue can be imposed by UN resolutions.

I am far less optimistic about high level engagement with the regime than engagement at the level of organizations, institutions and associations in technical fields, culture and art, higher and basic education, public health, agriculture, sports, travel, research, commerce, etc.

If the ultimate goal of democratization is the emergence of an open society which can sustain democratic processes, new policies need to be created to help open up Burmese society and institutions—including the military, exposing them all to the ways of the democratic world.

The NLD leadership can inject life into its politics by choosing to publicly acknowledge the need to adjust its own tried and failed policies and strategies.

Parties, governments and leaders all over the world make mistakes. There is no shame in acknowledging them. Even Burma’s national hero Aung San recognized his mistake in collaborating with Japanese Fascists to fight the British imperialists and he reversed his stance.

The NLD would do well to draw inspiration from his legacy, to save themselves from going down in history as principled but failed leaders whose policies have further impoverished and isolated the society that has been reeling from decades of isolation.

People’s well-being should be placed above the party’s principles or leaders’ “face” by practicing the policy accountability and transparency that they preach.

Even if one disagrees with the “middle class first, democracy second” view of many Asian leaders, one must not overlook the fact that democracy is not just a political process, but also an economic and cultural one, requiring change in all spheres.

We need to have dialogue, debate and formulate solutions for Burma in the genuine spirit of democracy, instead of stigmatizing anti-sanction views and analyses. It is not enough to call for dialogue between the two supreme leaders, Aung San Suu Kyi and Snr-Gen Than Shwe.

After all, democracy is not about the leaders, however brave, noble and admirable. It is about the people, their daily lives, needs and concerns.

Zarni is founder of the Free Burma Coalition and Visiting Research Fellow at Oxford University (2006-09).

READ MORE---> NLD Must Own Up to its Policy Mistakes...

ASEAN human rights body lacks power to punish

(Associated Press WorldStream Via Acquire Media NewsEdge - TMCNet) CHA-AM, Thailand_Southeast Asian officials on Friday hailed the creation of a regional human rights body as a historic first step toward confronting abuses in the region, but the body will lack the power to investigate or punish violators of human rights like military-ruled Myanmar.

A confidential document obtained by The Associated Press says the rights body, which the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations hopes to form later this year, would "promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms" in the region but will abide by the bloc's bedrock policy of not interfering in members internal affairs.

The document, which outlines the proposed powers of the future rights body, falls short of key demands voiced by international human rights groups, which say the body will have limited effectiveness unless it can impose sanctions or expel countries that violate the rights of their own citizens.

The document was being presented behind closed-doors to ASEAN foreign ministers gathered at a coastal resort in Thailand ahead of an annual leaders summit this weekend. It is a first draft for the body's proposed powers, with a final draft scheduled for completion in July.

The delegates are expected to devote most of their time to grappling with how the region can best cope with the global economic crisis. Although reform in Myanmar may be discussed on the sidelines of the conference, ASEAN traditionally shies away from criticism of its members.

Thailand, which currently holds ASEAN's rotating chairmanship and is hosting the summit, bills the meeting as a turning point for the bloc.

It is the first time leaders will meet since the group signed a landmark charter in December. The document made ASEAN a legal entity and moves it a step closer toward the goal of establishing a single market by 2015 and becoming a European Union-like community.

One of the charter's key pledges is to set up the regional human rights body. It is a landmark step and a highly controversial one for the Cold War-era bloc made up of fledgling democracies, authoritarian states, a military dictatorship and a monarchy.

"It is a historic first for Southeast Asia," said Rosario Manalo, a senior diplomat representing the Philippines on the high-level panel that drafted the human rights body's outline. "It marks the efforts of the region to move toward democracy." Officials describe the human rights body as a work in progress, saying its powers will evolve over time.

"Investigative powers should not be ruled out. We'll take it step by step," said Sihasak Phuangketkeow, Thailand's chairman of the drafting committee. "We have to go as far as we can but at the same time we have to be realistic." (JEG's: we should send the corpses to them, maybe this way they will get up and dance to reality)

ASEAN's 10 members _ Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam _ range from very poor to moderately rich.

The bloc that has long been criticized as a talk shop that forges agreements by consensus and steers away from confrontation _ a factor that rights groups note will impede progress for the eventual human rights body.

According to the confidential document, the human rights body would follow the principles of "noninterference in the internal affairs of ASEAN member states" and would "respect the right of every member state to (be) free from external interference, subversion and coercion." Any decisions taken by the group "shall be based on consultation and consensus," the document says, effectively giving Myanmar and other violators veto power to block decisions.

International human rights groups have urged ASEAN leaders to press military-ruled Myanmar to end its rights abuses.

London-based Amnesty International said in a statement earlier this week that ASEAN "must be empowered to effectively address human rights in Myanmar." New York-based Human Rights Watch, in a letter to ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan, urged the summit to address "the dire human rights situation in Burma" and also improve treatment of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants in the region.

The United States also blasted Myanmar's junta for having "brutally suppressed dissent" through a campaign of extrajudicial killings, disappearances and torture.

In its annual report on the state of human rights around the world, the U.S. State Department on Wednesday criticized Myanmar's junta for a range of abuses including the holding of more than 2,100 political prisoners, the continued detention of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and a brutal military campaign against ethnic minority groups.

READ MORE---> ASEAN human rights body lacks power to punish...

Burma cyclone response was 'crime against humanity'

By Thomas Bell, Telegraph UK - South East Asia Correspondent

Burma's regime deliberately blocked international aid getting to victims of last year's cyclone, a report has claimed.

Survivors of Cyclone Nargis in Burma did not receive donor money they were promised to rebuild their lives Photo: AFP/Getty

The first independent inquiry into the aftermath of the disaster has said the authorities should be referred to the International Criminal Court for stopping help getting through and persecuting survivors.

It found the Burmese leadership failed to provide adequate food, shelter and medical care in the wake of Cyclone Nargis which struck the Irrawaddy Delta on May 2 last year, killing at least 140 000 people.

Around 3.4 million people were effected by the disaster, which swept away homes, farms, granaries, livestock and wells.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins University in America and an organisation of Burmese volunteers called the Emergency Assistance Team – Burma (EAT) have documented what happened in the following weeks.

Military checkpoints were set up across the delta as the regime treated the disaster not as a humanitarian emergency but as a security crisis.

The report claims some people who attempted to distribute private aid were arrested. It details allegations of aid being stolen and resold by the military authorities.

The researchers also claim the army used forced labour, including of children, in the aftermath of the disaster.

According to one survivor: "[The army] did not help us, they threatened us. Everyone in the village was required to work for five days, morning and evening, without compensation. Children were required to work too.

"A boy got injured in his leg and he got fever. After two or three days he was taken to Rangoon, but in a few [days] he died."

There were also anecdotal accounts of people dying in the aftermath of the cyclone due to the actions of the army.

But restrictions in the country mean no one has been able to estimate how many died in a supposed "second wave" of deaths in the period after the cyclone.

Under international law, creating conditions where the basic survival needs of civilians cannot be adequately met, "intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health," is considered a crime against humanity.

The report concludes that the United Nations Security Council should refer the junta for investigation by the International Criminal Court.

READ MORE---> Burma cyclone response was 'crime against humanity'...

Ramos-Horta urges Obama to embrace Burma

(SMH) - US President Barack Obama should seize on his global popularity and reach out to Burma and Cuba, which are ready to change if sanctions are lifted, East Timor's leader Jose Ramos-Horta said Wednesday.

Ramos-Horta, who shared the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize for his peaceful leadership that eventually ended Indonesian rule over the tiny territory, said that Obama had unprecedented opportunities.

The United States "today is in a unique situation to really mobilise international goodwill", Ramos-Horta said on a visit to Washington.

"I do not recall when in history there has been such an inspiring president - maybe only comparable to John F Kennedy, whose name will still linger in some of the remotest villages in my home country."

Ramos-Horta said Obama should seize on the goodwill by ending the sweeping US sanctions on Burma and Cuba - both of which he said are eager to talk to the new US leader.

Ramos-Horta voiced optimism over Burma, saying that among the world's hot spots "it is one of the easiest" to resolve. (JEG's: that is why it has been ONLY 46 years so easy-far)

"I know that the junta in Burma is desperate for changes and this is a unique opportunity for the US to engage them," he said.

Burma's military regime has kept opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest for most of the last 19 years. The US State Department in a report on Wednesday said the junta was "brutally" suppressing its people.

"When you look at the situation in Myanmar (Burma) or Cuba, when you punish a country for the perceived sin of the regime, the consequence is that you also have collateral damage among the people," Ramos-Horta said. (JEG's: what does Mr Ramos suggest we do then?... he points to a problem but the solution is? that is what we want to hear)

Ramos-Horta, a frequent visitor to Cuba, also said that the United States could heavily influence the communist island if it ended its nearly half-century trade embargo. (JEG's: No way Jose - only IF Cuba do not invite Russia and Chavez to the party)

"Cuba will change. It's inevitable. And better that it is a carefully managed change with US support," he said.

Obama has said he would talk with foreign leaders without conditions but has given few signals on what he will do with Cuba.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said the new administration is reviewing policy toward Burma to find ways to better influence the regime and help the people.

READ MORE---> Ramos-Horta urges Obama to embrace Burma...

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