Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Myanmar asks for Thai help with ethnic rebels

(AFP-DVB)–Myanmar's military government has asked Thailand to help negotiate with ethnic minority groups still battling junta rule ahead of elections promised for next year, a Thai minister said Monday.

Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, who has been visiting Myanmar since Sunday, said that his counterpart Nyan Win and Myanmar Prime Minister Thein Sein asked for Thai assistance.

"Myanmar has confirmed that the election will be held next year and Myanmar has asked Thailand to help talk with minority groups to join in the reconciliation process," Kasit told reporters by telephone from Myanmar.

"Thailand is willing to help," he said.

Myanmar has been ruled by the military since 1962 and ignored the results of the last election in 1990, instead keeping the victorious opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest for most of the last two decades.

The generals have promised multi-party elections in 2010, but democracy activists say the polls are simply a ruse to entrench military rule because Aung San Suu Kyi is barred from participating.

Kasit said that Myanmar government officials told him "they are listening for Aung San Suu Kyi's position", but gave no further details.

Myanmar's junta partly justifies its firm grip on power by claiming the need to fend off ethnic rebellions which have plagued remote border areas for decades.

The impoverished nation formerly known as Burma is home to at least 135 different ethnic groups, but over the years most rebel groups fighting central rule have reached ceasefire agreements with the junta.

Kasit singled out the Karen National Union for possible talks, a group which has been fighting for independence since 1949.

Tens of thousands of Karen civilians have fled fighting in the past two decades and crossed the border to refugee camps in Thailand.

"If Thailand helps talking with minority groups, maybe the problems on the border will be resolved too," said Kasit, who returns to Thailand later Monday.

READ MORE---> Myanmar asks for Thai help with ethnic rebels...

UNITY and co-ordinated action towards a better engagement

G20 leaders must work together to end global economic crisis

By Barack Obama
Herald Sun

WE are living through a time of global economic challenges that cannot be met by half-measures or the isolated efforts of any nation.

The leaders of the G20 have a responsibility to take bold, comprehensive and co-ordinated action that not only jump-starts recovery, but also launches a new era of economic engagement to prevent a crisis like this ever happening again.

No one can deny the urgent need for action. A crisis in credit and confidence has swept across borders, with consequences for every corner of the world.

For the first time in a generation, the global economy is contracting and trade is shrinking. Trillions of dollars have been lost, banks have stopped lending, and tens of millions will lose their jobs across the globe.

If people in other countries cannot spend, markets dry up - already we've seen the biggest drop in American exports in nearly four decades, which has led directly to American job losses.

And if we continue to let financial institutions around the world act recklessly and irresponsibly, we will remain trapped in a cycle of bubble and bust. That is why the coming G20 summit in London is directly relevant to our recovery at home.

My message is clear: The US is ready to lead, and we call on our partners to join us with a sense of urgency and common purpose.

Our efforts must begin with swift action to stimulate growth. Already, the US has passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act - the most dramatic effort to jump-start job creation and lay a foundation for growth in a generation.

Other members of the G20 have pursued fiscal stimulus as well, and these efforts should be robust and sustained.

As we go forward, we should embrace a collective commitment to encourage open trade and investment, while resisting the protectionism that would deepen this crisis.

Second, we must restore the credit that businesses and consumers depend on. At home, we are working aggressively to stabilise our financial system.

Third, we have an economic, security and moral obligation to extend a hand to countries and people who face the greatest risk. If we turn our backs on them, the suffering caused by this crisis will be enlarged, and our own recovery will be delayed because markets for our goods will shrink further and more jobs will be lost.

We cannot settle for a return to the status quo. We must put an end to the reckless speculation and spending beyond our means; to the bad credit, over-leveraged banks and absence of oversight that condemns us to bubbles that inevitably burst.

I know that America bears our share of responsibility for the mess that we all face. But I also know that we need not choose between a chaotic and unforgiving capitalism and an oppressive government-run economy.

The nations of the world have a stake in one another. Together, we can learn the lessons of this crisis, and forge a prosperity that is enduring for the 21st century.

Barack Obama is President of the United States.

READ MORE---> UNITY and co-ordinated action towards a better engagement...

Colonel accuses villagers of supporting KNU

HURFOM (Rehmonnya): Villagers in Tenasserim Division have been accused of supporting the armed Karen National Union (KNU) and been denied access to their land by a Burmese military Colonel who also refused to let Christian villagers hold meetings about improving their churches.

Colonel Zaw Than Nine, who leads Tactical Command No. 2, was approached on March 9th by the Christian residents of Nyaung Tone and Myae Khan Baw villages in Tavoy District, Mitta Sub-township who asked permission to hold the meetings with a local district church leader. He refused on the grounds of security, citing the KNU.

The church leader said, “I wanted to discuss with the Christian villagers how to maintain our religion in the villages and also I wanted to improve the churches and maybe build a new one. But the Colonel would not let us meet. I felt so up sad about it”.

Villagers say the Colonel frequently uses the same security excuse to deny permission for many other activities, accusing them of providing support and information to the KNU. Recently villagers were denied permission to leave their villages to work on their plantations and hillside cultivation which left them facing hardship as they need to build firebreaks in the forest to protect their plantations and clear land for planting new crops.

A female villager from Myae Khan Baw village said, “we were not allowed to work in our plantations for nearly a month. It was the time for clearing the forest for growing crops. If I cannot clear the land now, I face having no food to eat next year.”

However, Colonel Zaw Than Nine insisted that if villagers went to work outside the villages they could pass information to the KNU regarding his soldiers’ positions and they could be ambushed as has happened in the past.

A villager quoted the Colonel as saying, “all of you support the KUN rebel group and all of you give information to them about my soldiers who have been ambushed at least fifteen times in a month.”

While villagers deny helping the KNU, it is known that the group has been active in the local area and soldiers stationed in the two villages have been ambushed many times. Landmines have also been planted by both sides in the area and have killed livestock belonging to the villagers although fortunately no villagers have yet been hurt.

A villager said “I’m afraid of the landmines around here. I don’t dare to look for produce in the forest or even go into there in case I step on a mine.”

READ MORE---> Colonel accuses villagers of supporting KNU...

Karen National Union distrust talk of reconciliation

(DVB)–The Karen National Union has criticised plans for Thai-brokered reconciliation talks with the Burmese government, claiming that the process is only a means to move closer towards the controversial 2010 elections.

Thailand’s Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya on Monday pledged that he would help in negotiations for Burma’s largest ethnic rebel group, the Karen National Union, to join the government’s reconciliation process.

“We will talk to the Karen group and ask them back to the negotiation table but we won’t interfere in the conditions or how to achieve the reconciliation,” said an official from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Thailand.

“That’s up to the Myanmar government and the other groups.”

But KNU spokeperson Saw Hla Ngwe said that, while he did not believe the Thais would treat the KNU unfairly, the KNU and the ruling State Peace and Development Council define reconciliation differently.

“When we say national reconciliation, we look at a tripartite dialogue where we can have talks to bring a solution to the country’s problems,” he said.

“The Burmese junta only sees the national reconciliation as just a step that is needed to be taken to successfully reach their aim to hold elections in 2010.”

An official from Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs would not divulge the details of the negotiations, nor how Thailand would approach the KNU.

“We haven’t finalised this approach yet but we just have the policy to facilitate the process.”

The KNU are the largest ethnic political party in Burma, and are the only one not to have agreed to a ceasefire with the SPDC.

Their conflict with the government is thought to be the world’s longest running.

Unless there is a change in direction by the SPDC then the conflict will continue, said Saw Hla Ngwe.

“If the SPDC believes the elections will make them legitimate and force it through without releasing political prisoners and without letting every party in the country participate, then the problems will go on.

“If it happens that way, then we will have no choice from but to carry on with our political and armed struggle to defend ourselves,” he said.

Reporting by Than Win Htut

READ MORE---> Karen National Union distrust talk of reconciliation...

Aung San Suu Kyi’s detention violates Burmese law: UN

by Salai Pi Pi

New Delhi (Mizzima) – For the first time, the United Nations has said the detention of Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi violates both international and domestic law.

A UN working group on arbitrary detention, in its opinion No. 46/2008, for the first time stated that the continued detention of Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi violates domestic law.

“The Working Group. . . declare[s] Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s placement under house arrest arbitrary, being in contravention of Articles 9, 10, and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights . . . and even domestic law,” states the opinion, which has been released by Aung San Suu Kyi’s personal lawyer.

The legal opinion by the UN working group, which only now made the decision public after reaching its verdict last November, said the latest renewal (in 2008) of Aung San Suu Kyi’s house arrest term violates Burmese domestic law.

According to the working group, Aung San Suu Kyi was being held under Burma's 1975 State Protection Law, which only allows renewable arrest orders for a maximum of five years. The five-year period concluded at the end of May 2008.

For the fifth time since 1992, the working group, an arm of the Human Rights Council, determined Aung San Suu Kyi's detention arbitrary and illegal under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but the decision this time is the first in which her detention is noted as also being illegal under Burma's own laws.

Speaking to Mizzima, Jared Genser, Aung San Suu Kyi’s personal lawyer, who submitted the case to the UN body, said that with the UN condemning the Burmese pro-democracy leader’s detention, it is the right time for the international community to exert stronger pressure for the release of all political prisoners in Burma.

“The UN has acknowledged that the ongoing detention of her [Aung San Suu Kyi] is illegal. What is needed now is the international community to take concrete action against the Burmese regime to free her,” said Genser.

Aung San Suu Kyi has spent over 13 of the past 19 years in detention.

Similarly, the UN working group also condemned Burma’s military rulers for detaining four activists - Min Ko Naing, Ko Jimmy, Min Zayar and Pyone Cho.

In November, jurists of an international tribunal founded under the auspices of the UN charter declared the detention of the four Burmese activists to be arbitrary.

The judgment came in response to a case brought forward by two British barristers, Sappho Dias and Adam Zellick, on behalf of the four prisoners in Burmese jails.

The four Burmese activists were arrested in August of 2007 for leading a peaceful march in Burma’s former capital city of Rangoon in solidarity with the poor, who were hardest hit by a sudden hike in fuel prices.

Despite the Burmese government’s protestations, the tribunal held the regime to be operating entirely outside of the law and described its violations of minimum standards of international law as "grotesque".

"We support the call for the release of these four men. We also call for the release of all those unlawfully detained by this regime,” Sappho Dias, who is also Chairman of the Burma Justice Committee (BJC), said in a press statement on Tuesday.

“We must act now to end the injustice that is being perpetrated against the Burmese people," Dias said.

The decisions of the UN working group came as activists from around the world begun a global campaign for the release of the over 2,000 political prisoners in Burma.

According to the Thailand-based Assistance Association of Political Prisoners-Burma, following the September 2007 monk-led protests, authorities have enhanced efforts to crackdown on dissidents, rampantly arresting and sentencing dozens of activists to long prison terms.

Edited by Mungpi

READ MORE---> Aung San Suu Kyi’s detention violates Burmese law: UN...

KNU refuses to yield to pressure

by Salai Pi Pi

New Delhi (Mizzima) – The ethnic Karen rebel group – Karen National Union (KNU) – on Tuesday said they will not yield to any form of pressure to partake in the 2010 general election unless Burma’s generals implement changes to their roadmap.

David Takapaw, Vice-President of the KNU, on Tuesday said that while the KNU is open to peace talks, they will remain firm in their demand for a revision of the junta’s constitution.

To date, the KNU has demanded an all inclusive dialogue based on a national reconciliation process and has boycotted the junta’s seven-step roadmap.

“When it comes to the junta’s road map, we will not change our stand on the roadmap, which is unacceptable,” Takapaw told Mizzima via telephone.

However, Takapaw said the KNU is ready to hold talks with the Burmese regime if it is aimed to address the ongoing conflict in Burma.

“If the regime is willing to solve problems in peaceful ways, we are ready to talk with them,” said Takapaw, adding that the KNU will insist the regime first convene a tripartite dialogue and amend the constitution.

On Monday, Thailand’s Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, who had visited Burma for a two-day trip, said he was asked by the Burmese junta to persuade the KNU in joining the 2010 election.

Takapaw said so far the KNU has not received any official communication from Thailand for talks.

Starting last month, the Thai government placed renewed pressure on the KNU and ordered them to move out of Thai territory, a move which Burmese observers believe could have been made at the behest of the Burmese junta.

“We have moved all of our offices into KNU controlled areas inside Burma,” Takapaw said.

He stressed that the Burmese army has continued attacking them in different areas such as Taungoo, Nyuanglebin and Tathon districts in eastern Burma.

“On a daily basis, they [Burmese army] are still attacking us,” Takapaw added.

The KNU and its armed wing, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), represents Burma’s oldest rebel group – fighting for self-determination since 1948.

A previous peace dialogue with the Burmese junta bore initial fruit, but efforts proved to be in vain following the sudden purge of the junta’s then Prime Minister, Khin Nyunt, in 2004. Since then, peace talks between the two groups have come to a standstill.

Edited by Mungpi

READ MORE---> KNU refuses to yield to pressure...

Army Capitalists: The Junta’s Wealth

The Irrawaddy News

The Burmese military has monopolized the country’s economy, especially heavy industries, mining and the import-export sector, since the military seized state power in September, 1988.

According to Burmese defense scholar Maung Aung Myoe, the collapse of the socialist regime in 1988 opened the way for the Tatmadaw [armed forces] to resume its socio-economic role, independent of the country and its private, commercial interests, as it decided to play the leading role in national politics.

The scholar notes in his book, “Building the Tatmadaw,” that there were two reasons to establish commercial enterprises: to be self-reliant and to finance defense modernization as an off-budget measure.

The Burmese military founded two military-managed economic organizations, the Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) and the Union of Myanmar Economic Holding Limited (UMEHL), in 1989 and 1990 respectively.

Interestingly, UMEHL, also known as U Pai, funding is based on contributions from military personnel, military units, retired military personnel, army veteran organizations and the ministry of defense to support in-service and retired military personnel.

UMEHL was previously led by Lt-Gen Myo Nyunt, a former Rangoon regional commander. It is currently led by Lt-Gen Tin Aye of the Office of Defense Industries.

UMEHL was the first business venture established by the Burmese military for small and medium-sized commercial enterprises and industries. Its subsidiary and affiliated firms engage in macroeconomic trading with Singapore, Japan, Malaysia, China, South Korea, and India. Edible oil, fuel oil and automobiles from these countries are imported to Burma and exports include cigarettes, beans and pulses, gems and garment products.

Maung Aung Myoe’s book, published by Institute of Southeast Asia Studies in Singapore, said that between 1990 and early 2007, UMEHL formed 77 fully owned firms.

UMEHL’s commercial interests include gem production and marketing, garment factories, wood and wood-based industries, food and beverage, supermarkets, banking, hotels and tourism, transportation, telecommunications and electronic equipment, computer, construction and real estate, the steel industry, cement production, automobiles, cosmetics and stationery.

In the 2006-2007 fiscal year, UMEHL started 35 firms; it has liquidated six firms since 1999.

One of the liquidated firms, the Myanmar Ruby Enterprise, operated Mogoke mine, Mongshu mine, Nanyar mine, Mawchi mine and a gold mine in the Tahbeikkyin area.

Maung Aung Myoe noted that one of the main reasons for firms being liquidated was the investment sanctions imposed by Western governments. Another possible reason could be structural problems relating to poor macroeconomic policies and business environment in Burma.

Among the corporations heavily involved with UMEHL are Segye Corporation of Korea, Daewoo Corporation of Korea, Korea-based Pohon Iron and Steel Co. Ltd, Rothmans Myanmar Holding Pte Ltd. Of Singapore, Fraser & Neave of Singapore, Mitsugi Corporation of Japan and Nikko Shoji Co. Ltd of Japan.

The MEC is by nature secretive. It is under the ministry of defense and is designed to help the Tatmadaw to build its own industrial and technological base. MEC operates at least 21 heavy factories across the country, according to Maung Aung Myoe.

Among them, MEC operates with Thai companies on the construction of Tarsan Hydroelectric Power Plant on the Salween River.

Since 1989 when Burma introduced an open-market economy, the country has remained poor, but the generals who monopolize the natural resources and the economy have increased their personal fortunes while maintaining their military machine.

READ MORE---> Army Capitalists: The Junta’s Wealth...

KNU Willing to Talk, but not on Burmese Territory

File photo shows Karen National Union soldiers near the Thailand-Burmese border.
(Photo: Yuzo / The Irrawaddy)
[if you look at the face of the soldier, he is a boy]

The Irrawaddy News

The Karen National Union’s deputy chairman, David Takapaw, has welcomed Thailand’s offer to mediate talks between the KNU and the Burmese regime, but said they would have to be held outside Burma.

“We are always ready for peace talks,” he told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday. “But we will not attend any talks in Burma at this time. Talks must be held in another country.”

Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, who met Burmese government leaders in Naypyidaw at the weekend, said he would approach the KNU in the hope of getting talks started. It was in Thailand’s interest for peace to reign in Burma, he said.

Thai army officials recently asked Karen rebel leaders living in the Thai border town of Mae Sot to return to KNU-controlled areas of Karen State. The rebels belong to the KNU’s armed wing, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA).

Burmese researcher Aung Thu Nyein said the Thai government’s efforts to help bring about peace talks between the Burmese regime and the KNU would increase pressure on KNU leaders who live in Thailand.

“Thailand needs border stability for trade with the Burmese regime,” he said. “From an economic point of view, this might put more pressure on the KNU leaders to talk to the regime.”

The KNU has engaged in peace talks with the Burmese regime four times since the present regime took power in 1988.

The late chairman of the KNU, Gen Saw Bo Mya, held peace talks with regime leaders in Rangoon in 2005, two years before his death. Contacts have been at a standstill since then.

Takapaw said whenever the KNU talked to the regime “they always insist that we give up our arms and return to the ‘legal fold.’ But how we can agree to live under a regime that isn’t the official government?

Takapaw said that if the KNU agreed to talks on Burmese territory the Burmese negotiators would have the upper hand. “Such a meeting wouldn’t be on equal terms,” he said.

The KNU has been in conflict with the Burmese army for more than 50 years. It turned to guerrilla tactics after regime forces overran its headquarters in 1995.

Burmese army offensives have been accompanied by the destruction of Karen villages, displacement of local populations, the killing of civilians and other serious human rights abuses. More than 100,000 Karen villagers have sought refuge in camps along the Thai-Burmese border.

READ MORE---> KNU Willing to Talk, but not on Burmese Territory...

Insein Court Sentences 13 More Political Activists

The Irrawaddy News

In an apparent warning to Burmese citizens and a snub to the international community, the Burmese military government has sentenced 13 more dissidents—a signal that it was playing hardball on the issue of political prisoners.

According to sources in Rangoon, a special tribunal in Insein Prison on Monday sentenced 13 pro-democracy activists on a variety of “security” charges—some for participating in relief efforts to help victims of Cyclone Nargis, others for protesting the detention of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Four of the convicted were former student activists: Yin Yin Wine, Tin Tin Cho, Myat Thu and Ni Mo Hlaing. In response to the Cyclone Nargis disaster in May they volunteered as relief workers in the Irrawaddy delta and collected donations from friends and relatives. The tribunal sentenced them to three years in prison.

Three others—Htet Htet Oo Wai, Win Myint Maung and Tun Tun Win—were members of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD). It was alleged that they had taken part in a march to the People’s Assembly building in Rangoon in December calling for the release of Suu Kyi. They were each sentenced to five years imprisonment under State Emergency Act 5/J.

The other six activists were arrested on August 7, 2008, in relation to their activities on behalf of the dissident 88 Generation Students group. One of the six was a schoolteacher, Aung Aung Zaw, who had been arrested allegedly in possession of anti-government leaflets. The six were convicted at a separate hearing in Insein Prison on Monday, although their sentences are as yet not known.

The sentences came after just a week after United Nations Human Rights Rapporteur Tomas Ojea Quintana reported to the UN Human Rights Council on Burma, in which he called for the release of all political prisoners before the 2010 election.

Although the Burmese regime released more than 9,000 prisoners in September and 6,313 prisoners in February, Quintana said that only 29 political prisoners had been included in the move.

“These releases, although encouraging, lack any proportionality with the total number of prisoners of conscience,” Quintana said at the time. “Therefore, these measures cannot be seen as progressive.”

The issue of health care in Burmese prisons has recently been called into question among other human rights concerns.

Jailed labor activist, Su Su Nway was recently hospitalized with heart disease in Kalay General Hospital outside Kalay Prison in Sagaing Division.

Another jailed activist, well-known comedian Zaganar, reportedly told his family that he was concerned about the quality of drinking water and the food in prison.

Bo Kyi, the joint secretary of a Burmese human rights group, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma (AAPP), said, “For prisoners, medical care and food and water quality in Burma’s prisons are the main challenges. Many political prisoners, including some prominent activists, are in poor health.”

According to the AAPP, 138 political prisoners have died in Burmese prisons since 1988 and at least 115 are currently in poor health.

READ MORE---> Insein Court Sentences 13 More Political Activists...

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