Friday, February 27, 2009

Ethnic delegation urges Australia to lend more support

by Solomon

New Delhi (Mizzima) – The apex body of Burma’s ethnic nationalities, the Ethnic Nationalities Council, said it had called on Australia to send a special envoy to Burma, in order to facilitate a process of dialogue.

Delegates of the ENC, an umbrella organization of Burma’s ethnic political and armed groups, said they had urged the Australian government to designate a special envoy to put pressure on Burma’s military rulers for political reforms.

During an eleven-day lobbying trip to Australia, the Thailand-based ENC representatives, urged Australia to take a stronger stand on Burma and boycott its proposed 2010 elections, as it was a process to legitimize military rule in the country.

The representatives also explained the importance of a tripartite dialogue that would include the government, the opposition led by Aung San Suu Kyi and representatives of ethnic nationalities and urged Australia to mount pressure on the junta to kick-start a tripartite dialogue.

Duwa Mahkaw Hkunsa, General Secretary of the ENC, who is among the four-member delegation, told Mizzima that the Australian government had given a positive response to their requests of pressurizing the Burmese junta on ethnic issues, and to provide more support for the Burmese democratic movement both politically and financially.

The ENC delegation, has so far met an Australian parliamentarian, Assistance Secretary of Foreign Affairs Ministry and the Minister of Immigration and Citizenship. The delegation began their trip on February 20 and it will continue until March 3.

“They [government] agreed to our suggestions and they told us that there would be discussions later in the government meetings,” Mahkaw Hkunsa said.

He added that the main goal of the mission was to urge Australia for increased support on Burma’s movement for democracy and to highlight the need for ethnic participation in Burma’s political solution.

Mahkaw Hkunsa said the ENC would continue with its lobbying mission to Canada, Japan and the United States in order to gain more support for Burma’s democratic movement and to boycott the junta’s one-sided roadmap, including the 2010 elections.

In a statement, the ENC made a 13-point recommendation for the Australian Government to implement, in support of Burma’s democratic movement, including pressurizing the Burmese junta to release all political prisoners, to ensure ethnic nationalities’ participation in political processes, to provide financial support for democracy and humanitarian assistance to the people of Burma.

ENC said, Burma’s political problems could only be solved through a tripartite dialogue, which included the military government, ethnic representatives and opposition party led by detained Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

READ MORE---> Ethnic delegation urges Australia to lend more support...

Civil Society Edges Deeper Into Regional Summit

The Irrawaddy News

CHA-AM, Thailand — In a nod towards greater engagement with people's organizations, a summit of Southeast Asian leaders in this resort town will slightly extend its customary face-to-face with civil society representatives.

The 30 minutes that civil society leaders from eight countries in the region will have with the 10 presidents and prime ministers on Saturday is, symbolically at least, an advance from past summits, where only 15 minutes were provided for such engagements.

This widening window is in keeping with the promise of a more "people centred'' Association of South-east Asian Nations, the 10-member bloc founded in 1967 to stall the spread of communism. In December, a new Asean charter came into force, making the regional alliance a rules-based entity and one that could hold governments to be more accountable.

The pledge to make it an inclusive body is part of the charter. And the theme of the summit held in this town south of Bangkok is "Asean Charter for Asean Peoples.''

The 10 members of Asean span the political spectrum, where space for a politically active and critical civil society and grassroots organizations is often not embraced by all. They range from Brunei, an absolute monarchy, Burma (or Myanmar), under the grip of an oppressive military dictatorship, Laos and Vietnam, both one-party states headed by their respective communist parties, and Singapore, a one-party state that crushes dissent and tolerates little opposition.

The only countries in the region where shades of democracy are visible are Indonesia and the Philippines, less so in Malaysia, Thailand and Cambodia, albeit with increasing space for political and civil liberties.

The 10 civil society representatives who will meet the leaders at the 14th Asean summit are from Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam and hosts Thailand.

"Issues running into three or four pages addressing concerns of civil society are up for discussion,'' says Thitinan Pongsuthirak, a political scientist at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University who will chair the dialogue between the leaders and the civil society organizations (CSOs). "The treatment of the Rohingyas by Burma-Myanmar, freeing the political prisoners there, the economic crisis, and the food crisis are some of the issues.''

"CSOs also want to institutionalize this engagement. They want to make it a regular event at Asean summits, not a one-off meeting or one done off-and-on,'' Thitinan said in an IPS interview.

"I have to give a lot of credit to the Thai foreign ministry for organizing this dialogue,'' he added. "They have made an important push to make this a people-centred Asean.''

Saturday's dialogue is the culmination of a range of CSO activities held ahead in Bangkok over the week to drum pressure for the summit in Cha-am. A record 1,000 CSO representatives from across the region have been meeting since the last weekend to shape their agenda.

The key themes that CSOs rallied around during the Asean People's Forum and the Civil Society Conference included the plans by Asean leaders to create a regional human rights body, the free trade agreements the bloc's leaders are to sign with India, Australia and New Zealand, and how the region will be impacted by the global economic slowdown.

In a first for Asean, Surin Pitsuwan, secretary-general of the regional bloc, and Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, representing the host country, participated in an hour-long engagement with activists on Sunday afternoon.

"I don't think we are afraid of anything,'' Surin told IPS. "With the charter, every issue is open for discussion.''

They are words that Asean activists are determined to use as guiding principle. "We want to open the Asean process to everyone,'' says Joy Chavez, a researcher at Focus on the Global South, a regional think tank and a Philippine national. "The participation of CSOs here reflects that. Four years ago the number of participants would have been 20 percent (of the number attending the current Asean summit).''

The spirit of accommodation on show at the summit is coming in for praise by long-time observers of Asean. "For the past four decades, Asean has seldom heeded, let alone listened to, the voices of ordinary people,'' writes Kavi Chongkittavorn, a senior editor and columnist for The Nation, and English-language daily in Thailand.

He credits Malaysia for ushering in the change when Kuala Lumpur hosted the Asean summit in 2004. "(The Malaysian leader) initiated the meeting between Asean leaders and civil society groups and, in the process, provided input to them directly. That first encounter ignited the civil groups' interest in Asean.''

The meetings that followed in the Philippines and Singapore mirrored this shift in relations between government leaders and CSOs. Yet such an opening has not ended the distrust CSOs have of the region's governments and, consequently, are reluctant to cheer the welcome mat being rolled out on Saturday by Asean leaders.

"Civil society groups that have tried to engage their governments on Asean Charter-related issues such as human rights and democracy have been subjected to serious and even brutal retaliation in member states such as Burma, Laos and even the Philippines,'' says Gus Miclat, executive director of Initiatives for International Dialogue, in a statement released on Wednesday.

READ MORE---> Civil Society Edges Deeper Into Regional Summit...

Asean Will Not React to Pressure: Thai FM

The Irrawaddy News

CHA-AM — The chairman of the Association of South Asian Nations (Asean) said on Thursday that issues such as human rights in Burma and the Rohingya crisis would be discussed at the 14th Asean Summit, but not in reaction to pressure.

As the current chair of Asean, Thailand is hosting the three-day summit at Cha-am in Petchaburi Province. The 14th Asean Summit was originally due to be held in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, in December, but was postponed due to political unrest in the kingdom.

Responding to questions at a press conference on the eve of the summit, current Asean chairman, Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, said, “Anything of concern, we can talk about with one another without making demands.”

He said that delegates will also talk about human rights issues in the region at informal meetings.

On the Rohingya boat people issue, he said Thailand will handle the matter through the Bali process. He added that he would talk with his Burmese counterparts about the matter at informal meetings during the summit.

Initiated in 2002 and co-chaired by the governments of Australia and Indonesia, the Bali Process brings together more than 50 countries and numerous international agencies to help combat people smuggling, human trafficking and related transnational crimes in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond.

Asean foreign ministers held an “informal working dinner” on Thursday evening ahead of Friday’s foreign ministers meetings, which will specifically concentrate on an Asean human rights body and the Asean Charter.

Burma is expected to be the main focus of any discussions on human rights. The military-ruled country has some 2,100 political prisoners in its jails, including pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is under house arrest.

In the past, the United States and the European Union have criticized Asean for neglecting to react to human rights violations in Burma.

Aside from the Rohingya boat people issue, Asean leaders are due to talk with Burmese delegates on an extension to the Tripartite Core Group (TCG)—comprising Asean, the United Nations and the Burmese regime—which acts in response to last year’s Cyclone Nargis disaster in southwestern Burma.

An emergency meeting of Asean foreign ministers in Singapore in May 2008 agreed on the forming of the TCG.

However, the TCG agreement expires in July. According to the UN, both the UN and Asean are prepared to continue humanitarian and rebuilding projects in Burma, but the Burmese regime has not officially approved an extension of the TCG.

A Thai official at the summit, who spoke to The Irrawaddy on condition of anonymity, said, “We are waiting for an answer from Myanmar [Burma] about the TCG, but there are some hardline ministers.”

READ MORE---> Asean Will Not React to Pressure: Thai FM...

Burma’s corridor to democracy depends on regional partners

by Moe Thu and Htet Win

Rangoon (Mizzima) - In an increasingly interconnected and interdependent world, every nation has to deal with the international community in one way or another in order to achieve aims including domestic improvements and peaceful coexistence regardless of how strong or weak it stands up among world nations.

For Burma, which is no exception, the United Nations is still the best option, through the mandate of which the Association of South-east Asian Nations (ASEAN) is well positioned to take further steps forward to being a modernized entity democratically demonstrable.

There has already been a recent, concrete example. As well thanks to the ASEAN’s lobby, the UN’s humanitarian intervention took place in Burma, delivering a great supply of relief assistance, when it was hard hit by Nargis Cyclone last May, which left more than 130,000 dead or missing and some 2.4 million in need of continued support.

Also in response to the UN’s political facilitation, the military government released more than 6,300 prisoners soon after UN Human Rights expertTomas Ojea Quintana visited the Southeast Asian country. Unfortunately there were only 24 political prisoners included out of more than six thousand prisoners released.

“This is the time for Burma to seize the opportunity before it, to send positive signals,” said the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, expressing his willingness to visit Burma again. He last travelled to Burma in May after the cyclone devastated the Irrawaddy coastal areas.

At this juncture, it is for the military government to show its more positive and responsive actions and gestures to the international community’s sincerity with Burma’s democratization process.

The military regime already knew how fast the cyclone-devastated areas came to recover because it allowed the delivery of international assistances (after initial resistance and delay) through a newly-formed body called Tripartite Core Group, which comprises the government authority, the UN and the ASEAN.

That could be a sign that the junta is gradually departing from its isolationism stance amid situations, which demand greater cooperation with the international community in this globalised age to be able to address domestic issues, although a few top-ranking military officials falsely claimed that the country could manage to recover from the natural disaster then.

It would be fair to say that the military elites could have adopted much more precaution to offset any political string, which is likely to come along with international aids to the local needy. The military government might have learnt from Indonesia province of Aceh experience. After Tsunami in 2004, it got huge assistances from all over the world, which had negative effects on the Acehnese, contaminating the Acehnese. For example, money politics and under-age-voting occurred in the 2006 elections on Aceh for its governor and mayor.

Frankly speaking, a full recovery with Burma’s suffered areas is a national concern. Needless to say that the planned 2010 elections is an issue that can be crucial for the country and that many world nations and ASEAN are interested in it and watch out for, as a step to transition to democracy.

It is sure that not just Burmese people but their military government would like to be proud of their country’s goal to a prosperous, democratic one, though there are differences in what kinds of democracy one actually wants to see for the country.

Looking back the recent past, ASEAN may be the most important component of any international Burma policy, inviting the country to join it in 1997, partly because it thought that the integration would be more workable than pursuing the isolation to influence the military government. That’s also partly because ASEAN is intent on containing China’s influence on the nation’s natural resources.

At the same time, the 10-member bloc has come to recognize that Burma is not only a stain on its international reputation but also a drain on its diplomatic resources, plus a trauma to peace and stability in the region of more than five hundred million population.

Inside Burma, however, since 1996, four years after Senior General Than Shwe took the chair of the junta, repression grew more brazen, sending thousands of democracy activists and ordinary citizens to prison and displacing over one million people – mostly Karen and Shan minorities, which has resulted in their open-exile in Bangladesh, China, India, Malaysia and Thailand.

The United States limited its diplomatic contact with the junta and eventually imposed mandatory trade and investment restrictions on the regime and its business back bones. Europe became a vocal advocate for Burma’s reforms and human rights. However, many Asian states moved to expand trade, aid, and diplomatic engagement with the military elites. China and Russia have vetoed attempts to impose international sanctions on Burma in the United Nations Security Council.

The answer is simple: Some countries still want Burma as it is. China and India could be the greatest obstacles to efforts to introduce genuine democratic reforms in the country. China has many interests in Burma. Over the past 15 years, it has developed deep political and economic relations with Burma, largely through billions of dollars in trade and investment and more than a billion dollars' worth of weapons sales. It enjoys important military benefits, including access to ports and listening posts, which allow its armed forces to monitor naval and other military activities around the Indian Ocean and the Andaman Sea.

To feed its insatiable appetite for energy, it also seeks preferential deals with the ruling generals for access to Burma's oil and gas reserves.

Beijing's engagement with the SPDC has been essential to the regime's survival. China has provided it with moral and financial support -- including funds and material to pay off Burma military elites -- thus increasing its leverage at home and abroad. By throwing China's weight behind the SPDC, Beijing has complicated the strategic calculations of those of Burma's neighbours that are concerned about the direction the country is moving in, thus enabling the junta to pursue a classic divide-and-conquer approach.

Like China, India is hungry for natural gas and other resources and is eager to build a road network through Burma that would expand its trade with ASEAN implementing its “Look East” policy. As a result, it has attempted to match China step for step as an economic and military partner of the SPDC allowing it to become now Burma's fourth-largest trading partner. Successive governments in India after 1990s including the present Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government have also fallen for the junta's blackmail over cross-border drug and arms trafficking and has preferred to give it any assistance necessary rather than let Burma become a safe haven for insurgents active in India's troubled northeastern region.

Amid such challenges to move Burma forward, ASEAN leaders are highly expected to consider the interests of millions of people in Burma, and avoid an elite-to-elite vanity fair. All in all, multilateral-scale honesty and transparency are much in need, if the regional leaders are really working on a true development and democracy in the region including Burma. What’s more, it is ASEAN leaders, who gather at the 14th Summit in Thailand, to use an opportunity to be forging a new Burma leadership.

READ MORE---> Burma’s corridor to democracy depends on regional partners...

Malaysian PM: Push back Rohingya refugees

CHA-AM, Thailand (IHT): Malaysia's prime minister has called for Myanmar's Muslim boat people to be pushed back if they attempt to land on any Southeast Asian shores in search of asylum, a newspaper said Friday.

Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi also took swipes at Myanmar and Thailand on the issue of the Rohingya refugees, which has escalated into a major problem for the region and one of concern internationally.

Thousands of the stateless Rohingya have fled Myanmar as well as refugee camps in Bangladesh in recent years, but their plight was only highlighted recently when hundreds were believed to have drowned after being pushed out to sea by the Thai military.

"But if we cannot be firm we cannot deal with this problem. We have to be firm at all borders. We have to turn them back," Badawi said in an interview with the English-language Bangkok Post.

Badawi was scheduled to arrive at this beach-side resort Friday for the annual summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a 10-nation bloc with includes Myanmar. The Rohingya issue is expected to be discussed on the sidelines of the three-day conference but is not part of the official agenda.

Thailand has called for a special regional conference on the refugees, who often attempt to land in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.

"We feel that they are being pushed onto us instead of Thailand accommodating them somehow," Badawi said who also criticized Myanmar's military regime.

"Of course, we know they come from Myanmar (Burma). When we ask Myanmar, they ask: 'Are you sure they are our people? What evidence have you got?'" he said. (JEG's: and so the believers turn back in sadness)

It was unclear from the interview how Bawadi reconciled his call for Thailand to accommodate the refugees while at the same time saying that they should be pushed back from Southeast Asian shores.

The Rohingyas, an ethnic minority not recognized by Myanmar's government, number about 800,000 in that country. Hundreds of thousands have fled to Bangladesh, Malaysia and the Middle East.

"From Thailand they come to us, from us they go to Indonesia. We don't want to be unkind. But the problem has been about people who come to us without permits," Badawi said.

The prime minister said he would be pleased to see international organizations helping to solve the problem. (???) (is he saying we should solve government problems? it is a government problem and they are too soft with Myanmar which is to solve the problem once and for all... now they turn to international activism to SOLVE THE GOVERNMENTS PROBLEMS?)

"They (the organizations) are very concerned and at times they are critical of actions taken by governments," he said. (JEG's: that is right we are concerned, the problem should be solved and the victims should be treated humanly, but the problem should be fixed by governments, we just make the noise)

Human rights groups have been highly critical of Thailand for allegedly abusing groups of Rohingya refugees whose rickety boats reached its shores and then towing them out to sea without adequate provisions or fuel for their craft. Thailand has denied the allegations.

"This is not just Thailand's problem. It's a problem for all the region's countries, whether they are countries of origin, countries of destination or countries of transit," Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has said.

READ MORE---> Malaysian PM: Push back Rohingya refugees...

Burma blocked aid supplies - report

Irish Time

THE UNITED Nations Security Council should refer Burma (Myanmar) to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for the manner in which it blocked humanitarian relief efforts during last year’s cyclone in the country, according to an independent inquiry into the episode.

A report, framed around extensive interviews with relief workers and survivors, says the government’s “systematic obstruction” of relief aid, penalisation of minority ethnic groups and use of forced labour in reconstruction could constitute crimes against humanity.

The report, published today by a group of leading international healthcare experts, says the Burmese government had been more concerned about forcing through a referendum on an authoritarian new constitution on May 10th last year rather than dealing with Cyclone Nargis, which struck eight days earlier, killing 140,000 and affecting 3.4 million people.

“The data reveal systematic obstruction of relief aid, wilful acts of theft and sale of relief supplies, forced relocation, and the use of forced labour for reconstruction projects, including forced child labour,” the report states.

“The slow distribution of aid, the push to hold the referendum vote, and the early refusal to accept foreign assistance are evidence of the junta’s primary concern for regime survival and political control over the well-being of the Burmese people.”

The report, After the Storm: Voices from the Delta , is jointly-authored by the US-based Centre for Public Health and Human Rights at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and Emergency Assistance Team (EAT), an umbrella group of health care workers which helped an estimated 180,000 survivors without the approval of the Burmese government. Among the 90 relief workers and survivors interviewed was a physician who said he had to flee the country when the military started asking questions about his connections with external relief agencies. Another relief worker said the government refused to give aid to Christian minorities “because they know they may be helped by Christian organisations”. The report says there is evidence of “multiple human rights violations and the abrogation of international humanitarian relief norms and international legal frameworks for disaster relief”.

These could constitute crimes against humanity, it says.

Burma Action Ireland said European members of the UN Security Council should request an immediate ICC investigation.

READ MORE---> Burma blocked aid supplies - report...

Asean parliamentarians urge action on Burma

By Supalak Ganjanakhundee
The Nation (Thailand)

Parliamentarians from Asean countries yesterday urged leaders attending the Asean Summit from today until Sunday (March 1) to seek solutions to pushing Burma toward democracy and social justice.

The junta run country will hold a general election next year but the poll might not be inclusive enough to have participation from all stakeholders, notably ethnic minorities, said Charles Chang, a parliamentarian from Singapore.

A group of parliamentarians from Southeast Asian countries under the Asean Inter Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC) gathered yesterday at a Bangkok hotel to discuss social justice in Burma.

They met Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, as Thailand holds the chairmanship of Asean, to highlight key issues of the current situation in Burma, including human rights suppression and the 2010 junta sponsored general election.

The issue of Burma has dominated Asean meetings since the country failed to reform politics and release key opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Kasit told the parliamentarians that his government would address the issue of Burma a lot more seriously and with more engagement of civil society, according to an Asean MP who attended the meeting.

The minister was quite open as he allowed former elected MPs from Burma who are now in exile to see him yesterday, said AIPMC president Kraisak Chonhavan.

"It [more open discussion] would be like turning to a new chapter, but how to put it into political practicality in Burma is another question. This is the most open pre-Asean meeting I have ever seen," he said.

Asked whether the foreign minister, as the representative of Asean, had promised any action towards change in Burma, Kraisak declined to be specific, saying that the Asean charter had set out the standard for human rights in the region. :(...:( ...:(

"The point is that countries which are dictatorships, or countries which are democratic in name only, can no longer dictate the Asean theme.
Human rights is now an open horizon and will not stop," he added.

READ MORE---> Asean parliamentarians urge action on Burma...

Malaysia wants Myanmar to be open about refugee problem


HUA HIN (Thailand) The Star: The problem of Rohingya refugees fleeing from Myanmar has become a regional problem and Malaysia wants the military junta to address the matter.

Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim raised the issue at the Asean Foreign Ministers informal dinner on Thursday night where he stressed to Myanmar that the problem was immense.

“We need to float this matter as something that Asean must look at and the best level to discuss this is at the foreign ministers level,” he said.

“The difficulties are immense because no one authority is in charge of this exodus. “The data seems be to different from one authority to the other. There are authorities that say Malaysia has no less than 14,000 but these are (just) the registered ones, so there no could be more,” he told Malaysian journalists.

Lately Indonesia has been facing an incoming exodus of Rohingyas after allegations that the Thai navy turned them away from their shores after fleeing from Myanmar.

Dr Rais said Malaysia and Indonesia should be together in voicing the matter to Myanmar which he said appeared to be avoiding the problem.

“Myanmar must understand this is their problem as much as ours,” he said. “We understand these people are encouraged to leave but we do not know the actual story. So we would like Myanmar to be open about it.”

He said that if Myanmar refused to own up to the issue, it would become a worldwide problem and the United Nations might have to step in.

Dr Rais also said Malaysia was working towards getting a separate statement on Gaza to be issued by Asean leaders at the 14th Asean summit this weekend.

The matter was raised at Asean seniors officials meeting Thursday.

READ MORE---> Malaysia wants Myanmar to be open about refugee problem...

Burmese election will be a sham and change nothing

The Nation

Once again, UN and US pleas for the release of all political prisoners in Burma will be met with deafening silence, as is always the case where the Burmese junta is concerned.

It should be evident to the UN, the US and the EU that the junta is determined to carry on its charade of a 2010 election. Everyone knows that this fiasco is aimed at cementing the regime's rule through some "democratic" trappings and is in no way going to lead to real democratisation and reconciliation.

Just as a reminder, the constitution is drawn by the military and the election rules will be the same. In the end, the junta will be allotted 25 per cent of the seats without election and the rest will be for its self-created USDA-like parties or affiliates. It is all going to be stage-managed. A few individual parties will be allowed to contest, for the sake of window-dressing, and nothing radical will come out of it.

The junta could create a turning point for the better, just in a single day, simply by releasing all political prisoners, calling for a nationwide ceasefire and implementing a process of reconciliation and all-inclusiveness in the political arena.

However, this scenario is just wishful thinking. The world body and influential stakeholders can only make a difference by imposing a new, fair game plan, rather than going along with the junta's self-serving roadmap.

READ MORE---> Burmese election will be a sham and change nothing...

Break the Broken Record

The Irrawaddy News

The Burma issue is like a broken record: the same things are repeated over and over.

No 1: The junta routinely arrests political activists; it says economic sanctions should be repealed and blames the opposition party for it; it tries to sell its upcoming election in 2010, as part of its democracy roadmap.

No 2: The opposition parties, including the National League for Democracy (NLD), call for dialogue without any new, results-oriented strategies. They simply oppose whatever the government does.

No 3: All the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) countries are afraid directly confront the Burmese military leaders.

No 4: Without action, the international community calls for the release of all political prisoners and for dialogue between opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and junta chief Snr-Gen Than Shwe.

No 5: The US remains the strongest vocal critic of the military leaders.

After hearing most of these positions repeated over and over for two decades, it’s not surprising that people are jaded and complacent. But things may be changing.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said during her first trip to Asia: “We want to see a time when citizens of Burma and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi can live freely in their own country.”

The big question is when and how? During her trip, Clinton talked about Burma with Japan, Indonesia and China. She noted that US policy has failed to achieve positive results. “Clearly, the path we have taken in imposing sanctions hasn’t influenced the Burmese junta.”

She noted the path taken by Burma’s neighboring countries, a “constructive engagement policy,” hasn’t influenced the military leaders either.

The new administration of US President Barack Obama can be expected to create a new approach to Burma, based on Obama’s track record of creative thinking and pragmatism.

In his inaugural address, his message was clear: "We will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist." Definitely, his message was heard by Burma’s military leaders.

Two core political bargaining chips stand out: the release all political prisoners and the removal of economic sanctions.

The first is a key principle of the NLD; the second is a key principle of the junta.

These two issues are probably the keys to unlocking the status quo in Burma.

When UN Special envoy Ibrahim Gambari visited Burma recently, premier Gen Thein Sein told the envoy, “The UN should make an effort to lift economic sanctions imposed on Myanmar [Burma], if the organization wants to see a prosperous Myanmar with political stability.”

The prime minister said economic sanctions have hindered Burma’s efforts to alleviate poverty. He said the country is “like a person who is forced to run quickly while his legs are tied together.”

The prime minister sent a clear message to the Western world, especially the US, which has led the world effort to impose sanctions since 1997.

During her meeting with Gambari, Suu Kyi and senior NLD leaders emphasized the release of all political prisoners and a return to real dialogue.

President Obama and his secretary of state should make these two issues the focus of direct, or back channel, talks with the junta, and the sooner the better.

To drive home the message that direct talks are needed, the US administration should immediately name a special envoy to Burma, to carry the administration’s negotiating views directly to Than Shwe.

Last November, former President George W Bush appointed Michael Green as his special Burma policy coordinator with a rank of ambassador. But President Obama has yet to nominate him for the job.

With a special Burma envoy in place, the United States can get down to business, focusing on a basic quid pro quo: the release of all political prisoners for a lifting of economic sanctions.

If progress can be made on these two key issues, then the door is open for more change, and the old broken record will be broken.

READ MORE---> Break the Broken Record...

Thai PM Calls for All Sides to Participate in Burmese Elections

The Irrawaddy News

CHA-AM, Thailand — Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said he has asked Burmese Premier Gen Thein Sein to encourage the opposition to compete in the forthcoming general election in Burma and expressed optimism that the military junta was making progress in its steps toward democracy.

Speaking to reporters at the 14th Summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) on Friday, the Thai premier said he had asked his Burmese counterpart “to encourage all sides to participate in the 2010 Burmese elections” and said that he could see “clear progress” in the military junta’s steps toward holding democratic elections next year.

Abhisit said he had held bilateral talks with the heads of state of Burma, Cambodia and Malaysia that day.

“We hope to see progress [in Burma]. We hope to see involvement, particularly from the UN. I also said that the process should be as inclusive as possible,” he told assembled reporters.

He added that Thailand’s policy toward Burma was “clearly one of engagement.”

However, the Thai prime minster, like most other delegates at the summit, found that his press conference became driven by reporters toward the sticky issue of Rohingya boatpeople.

Calling the Rohingya crisis a “complex and complicated issue;” Abhisit said Thailand will deport the migrants if it could ascertain their point of origin. In response to a question by The Irrawaddy regarding boatpeople whose point of origin could not be identified, the Thai premier was not specific, but reiterated that Thai policy was “to promote cooperation and consultation in the region, so that the problem will not recur.”

Five or six countries are involved in the Rohingya issue, he said, adding that the matter would be dealt with again at a Bali Process meeting iin Indonesia in April.

At an earlier press conference, the secretary-general of Asean, Surin Pitsuwan, said that the Burmese Prime Minister, Thein Sein, had confirmed a one-year extension (until July 2010) of the Tripartite Core Group (TCG) for rebuilding and humanitarian projects in areas affected by Cyclone Nargis.

The TCG proposed a three-year rehabilitation plan for the cyclone victims at a conference in Bangkok on February 9.

READ MORE---> Thai PM Calls for All Sides to Participate in Burmese Elections...

Burma sets condition for accepting Rohingya migrants

by Usa Pichai

Hua Hin (Mizzima) The Thai Foreign Minister has said that the Burmese military regime has agreed to take back only those migrants, who have been verified as “Bengalis” from Burma, at the regional bloc’s summit in Thailand.

Kasit Piromya, the chairperson of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), told the press on Friday after he had a meeting with foreign ministers from the 10 member countries, that the solution to the refugee problem required cooperation from these countries as well as the ASEAN Secretariat.

He said the Bengali ethnicity of the Rohingya in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia would be verified and then it would be confirmed that they were from Burma.

“The Burmese officials said that in the official ethnic groups list of Burma, there is only a Bengali group, but Rohingya has not been approved as an ethnic group in Burma,” Piromya added.

The solution to this issue would be worked out at two levels, firstly enlisting the cooperation of related countries at ASEAN and the second would be at a bigger level during the Bali Process.

Secretary General of ASEAN, Dr Surin Pitsuwan also said at a press conference that the Rohingya issue was a regional problem, and at the moment the solution could not be reached only by the countries in the bloc, so it would be raised during the “Bali Process” that is scheduled for April 14 to 15, 2009.

In addition, the ASEAN Secretariat would play a role in building a census of the Bengali population in Burma. However, the time frame has not been announced yet.

Apart from the Rohingya issue, the meeting also discussed matters regarding the Cyclone Nargis, expressed relief that the ASEAN‘s relief programme had succeeded. It also decided to extend the programme for another year, till the middle of 2010.

The Thai Foreign Minister also added that the common experience in humanitarian work, among member countries both during the Tsunami in 2004 and Cyclone Nargis in 2008 would help to find a solution for the Rohingya issue.

Meanwhile, the rights groups, which are concerned about the issue, said that ethnic verification was not the solution to the problem.

Kodchawan Chaiyabut from Amnesty International, Thailand, said that this reaction showed insincerity of the related government. “However, I hope that they will improve their actions in the future. We (rights group) expect the plan of setting up a new human rights body will be a new ray of hope for the region,” Chaiyabut said.

On Friday, a network of Peace for Burma (Thailand), Webster University and Burma Partnership, organized a forum “ASEAN: Is Burma an Internal Problem or a Regional Crisis?” at Webster University, Hua-Hin, to discuss and promote better understanding on the plight of Burma.

READ MORE---> Burma sets condition for accepting Rohingya migrants...

Public Health School Calls for Investigation into Burma's Handling of Cyclone Recovery

A young survivor of the cyclone Nargis wait for relief supplies in Bogalay,
Burma, 13 May 2008

By Ron Corben

(VOA)- A report led by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Medicine has called for a United Nations investigation into Burma's handling of aid and assistance to cyclone hit regions last year, accusing the military government of crimes against humanity. Relief groups are calling on Asian countries and the international community to press Burma's military government towards greater transparency and accountability in receiving assistance.

The report, a joint project of aid workers from the Thai-Burma border and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, charges Burma's military government with abuse and corruption in its handling of aid and recovery to the devastated Irrawaddy Delta region hit by last year's cyclone Nargis.

The report charges Burma's military of resisting international and regional aid, interference in assistance, confiscation of aid and resale, arrest of aid workers, discrimination in aid along ethnic lines, forced labor and confiscation of land.

Chris Beyer of the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

Chris Beyer, of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, says the key recommendation is for a United Nations investigation into the charges that may represent "crimes against humanity."

"Taken together there is an argument to be made for an assessment and we call for an investigation of crimes against humanity - that is based on the Rome Statute article 7-IK - essentially its based on the argument that there has been intentionally great suffering, mental and physical health," he said.

The project report, After the Storm: Voices from the Delta, was centered on interviews with relief workers and Burmese army defectors over several months after the devastation of the cyclone in May that claimed tens of thousand of lives.

Immediately after the cyclone, over 300 Burma aid workers from the Thai-Burma border worked as teams delivering assistance into the devastated Irrawaddy Delta region, often undercover to avoid military checkpoints and arrest.

Burma's military government has been widely criticized for its slow response to the disaster and restrictions it placed on access of assistance to the region, including direct aid from neighboring Asian countries.

Beyer says, based on the interviews with aid workers, the allegations of misconduct and abuse highlighted in the report appeared to be widespread throughout the Delta Region.

"We can say with some confidence that most of what was being reported was common," he said. "Force relocation, virtually everybody we interviewed reported forced relocation, forced labor was also common, forced child labor less common. The confiscation, thefts and resale of relief aid was ubiquitous - that appeared to be very much standard operating procedure throughout the area."

Dr. Cynthia Maung, who oversees a Burmese health clinic in the Thai border town of Mae Sot, said the Association of South East Asian Nations - ASEAN - and international community had to pressure the military to be held accountable in the delivery of aid.

"As you see in the report and as we found out in the information inside Burma - the relief effort should be more thorough and more accountable," she said. "Our aim is to how to become more effective to deliver assistance as well as for the reconstruction of the country, how to rebuild or broaden the cooperation between the community organization and the international comunity".

The report stands in contrast to a recent positive review by the tripartite U.N, ASEAN and Burma's military, that the leadership "had gained a higher degree of confidence" in working with the international community. The tripartite assistance group called for a further $700 million in funding over three years to assist in longer term recovery to cyclone affected regions.

READ MORE---> Public Health School Calls for Investigation into Burma's Handling of Cyclone Recovery...

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