Wednesday, March 25, 2009

On Myanmar, a Tale of Three Browns, Gordon at UN, Two in Foggy Bottom

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, March 25 -- While the UN's Ban Ki-moon is said by his advisors to be close to announcing a visit to Myanmar, as early as next month's ASEAN meeting, with U.S. support, the situation in Myanmar, particularly for minorities like the Rohingya and the Karen people, continues to deteriorate.

Meanwhile, at the US State Department on March 25, a visit to Myanmar by one US official named Brown was denied, while another was confirmed but downplayed. A rapprochement appears to be afoot, not based on any human rights improvement by the Than Shwe military regime, but out of lack of imagination or hunger for natural gas.

At the UN's noon briefing on March 24, Inner City Press asked

Inner City Press: On Myanmar, the UN’s working group on arbitrary detention has said that the imprisonment of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi violates not only international law, but also Myanmar domestic law. And there is also a report in The Times of London about villages being laid to waste in the Karen areas of the country. Is this something that either Mr. [Ibrahim] Gambari or Ban Ki-moon as Secretary-General is looking at in advance of a possible visit to the country?

Associate Spokesperson Farhan Haq: Well, the Secretary-General and Mr. Gambari are certainly aware of this report. Obviously the report speaks for itself and you can get it through the website of the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights. As for a visit by the Secretary-General, nothing has changed in terms of what we’ve said. There is no visit planned at this stage.

While this final statement may technically be true, a senior UN official happily told Inner City Press that the visit will happen, and named April 18 at as the likely date.

Following UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's meeting with the UK's Gordon Brown on March 25, Ban said that Myanmar was one of four country conflicts they discussed. The others were Sudan, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. Brown offered some specifics on Sudan and Afghanistan, but nothing on Sri Lanka or Myanmar. Afterwards, Inner City Press asked the UK Mission spokesman for a read out of the meeting as regards Myanmar, which will be reported on this site upon receipt.

UN's Ban and UK's Brown: talked Myanmar, but about what?

In what they call the Foggy Bottom, at the US State Department media briefing on March 25, the following occurred and then was supplemented:

QUESTION: Can you confirm that a U.S. official met with Burmese officials in Burma yesterday, and that is a sign of softening of the U.S. position on Burma?

Acting Deputy Department Spokesman, Gordon Duguid: No, I will not confirm that because it’s not correct. I did see that this was a report on a blog. I’ve been directly in touch with the officials that the blog named, and there was no contact that either official recalls, let alone sought out. So the report is incorrect.

QUESTION: So it’s incorrect to say that the – Mr. Blake [Ambassador Robert O. Blake] met with the Burmese Government?

MR. DUGUID: It is incorrect.

QUESTION: Okay. And – but is it correct to say that he was in Burma, was in Myanmar?

MR. DUGUID: In what time period? I believe he has visited Burma once in the past. He has not, however, had any substantive conversations with Burmese officials, nor has the U.S. position on Burma changed.

QUESTION: If you say it’s not substantive, what does that mean? Does that mean he’s had other, less substantive conversations?

MR. DUGUID: As all diplomats know, if you go to a reception and the host has invited someone else, you may in that setting come across someone from a – in this case, the Burmese Government. The ambassador has no recollection of that happening.


MR. DUGUID: But that is a possibility at some point in the future, of course.

QUESTION: When he last visited Burma? You said he visited there recent past.

MR. DUGUID: I did not say the recent past. I said at some point in the past. I don’t have that – those dates for you. I do believe he has been to Burma at some time in the past. I don’t think it’s relevant to this particular question.

The above was later clarified in the form of a "Question Taken" e-mail update:

Question: Can you confirm that a U.S. official (U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Robert Blake) met with Burmese officials in Burma yesterday and does this represent a softening in policy towards Burma?

Answer: No. As the Acting Deputy Spokesman said at today’s Daily Press Briefing, Ambassador Robert Blake did not meet with Burmese officials yesterday.

However, Stephen Blake, the Director of the Office for Mainland Southeast Asia at the State Department went to Burma as part of a five-country tour of the countries that fall under his office: Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam.

In Burma, Mr. Blake met with a variety of people representing a wide range of views regarding the current situation, including Foreign Minister Nyan Win, other members of the Burmese government, members of ethnic minority groups, and members of the National League for Democracy’s Central Executive Committee (aka “The Uncles”).

His visit does not reflect a change in policy or approach to Burma; Office Director-level officials, including Mr. Blake’s two immediate predecessors, have visited Burma and met with Burmese officials on a number of occasions in recent years.

The Burma policy review announced by Secretary Clinton is still underway. While we have not yet finalized our approach, we remain committed to encouraging a genuine dialogue between the Burmese authorities and opposition that leads to a free and democratic Burma that respects the rights of its diverse citizens and is at peace with its neighbors.

We'll see. Back on March 17, at the UN's noon briefing Inner City Press asked:

Inner City Press: in the last 24 hours, Myanmar has arrested five more democracy activists. Meanwhile, at least it’s said from United Nations officials that Ban Ki-moon is considering visiting in and around the ASEAN summit. First, is there any response to these more recent arrests of democracy activists? And two, what are the standards that Ban Ki-moon is going to use for visiting Myanmar or not, and does he plan to go on 18 April?

Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe: I have nothing to announce in terms of any visits today. In terms of the Secretary-General -- the criteria are spelled and nothing has changed on that as well. As for the immediate comments to today’s arrests, his Adviser, Mr. Gambari, has been very clear on the subject of arrests.

How about clarity about the Karen people or on the questions raised about how the Myanmar Constitution's reservation of 25% of seats for people of "military background" not only would make it still a military government, but also excludes women, based on non-attendance at the two military academies in Myanmar which would give the required "military background"?

READ MORE---> On Myanmar, a Tale of Three Browns, Gordon at UN, Two in Foggy Bottom...

Negotiations Always Possible for Rebels: Junta Secretary 1

CRYSTAL CLEAR... the junta are pushing Thailand into convincing the rebels to assimilate but the junta continue with their soft delicate flowery language 'saying nothing'... just empty words

The Irrawaddy News

The Burmese junta’s Secretary 1 Lt-Gen Tin Aung Myint Oo has signaled that talks with armed groups who have not signed ceasefire agreements are possible at any time, according to Burmese state media.

The state-run New Light of Myanmar reported on Wednesday that Tin Aung Myint Oo said during a meeting on March 21 with Htay Maung, the chairman of a splinter group of the Karen National Union (KNU), that the “peace door is always open to remaining groups” that have not yet signed ceasefire agreements. (JEG's: they are talking about CEASEFIRE and we are talking about reviewing the constitution for a REAL TRUTHFUL DEMOCRATIC GOVERNMENT - we are talking different languages here)

Currently, three non-ceasefire armed groups—the KNU, the Kareni National Progressive Party and the Shan State Army-South—still fight with Burmese troops in eastern Burma. Among them, the KNU is the largest.

Tin Aung Myint Oo said ceasefire agreements can make it easier for rebels to be able to shape the future in the own areas instead of living under hardships without hope.

On March 21, Tin Aung Myint Oo met with Than Htoo Kyaw, the chairman of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), a Karen splinter army. He said the military regime will continue to encourage the development of DKBA-controlled areas.

The KNU/KNLA Peace Council separated from the KNU in February 2007 and Buddhist Karen rebels split from the KNU to form the DKBA in 1995.

Last week, Prime Minister Gen Thein Sein asked Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya to serve as a mediator to convince rebel ethnic minorities, particularly the KNU, to join the junta’s seven-step roadmap to democracy. Since February, Thai authorities have tightened restrictions on KNU leaders who live on Thai soil on the border.

During the past decade, there were unsuccessful peace talks between the junta and the KNU. In early 2004, the late KNU leader Gen Saw Bo Mya flew to Rangoon to meet with ousted Prime Minister Gen Khin Nyunt.

The KNU is a leading organization in exiled pro-democracy umbrella groups such as the Democratic Alliance of Burma and the National Council of the Union of Burma.

Observers say that if the KNU gave up its 60-year rebellion to bring freedom to the Karen people it would be a blow for the pro-democracy movement on the Thailand-Burma border. The junta officially blamed dissident groups on the border for the mass demonstrations led by Buddhist monks in September 2007.

READ MORE---> Negotiations Always Possible for Rebels: Junta Secretary 1...

Thailand supports democratization of Burma: Abhisit

by Usa Pichai

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - The Prime Minister of Thailand has said talks with ethnic rebels, the Karen National Union, depends on the Burmese military junta and the United Nations, reiterating that Thailand supports democratization and national reconciliation in the country.

Abhisit Vejjajiva, Thailand’s Prime Minister on Tuesday was commenting on the Burmese government’s desire that Thailand persuade the KNU to begin a process of reconciliation with the junta and contest the 2010 general elections.

“The issue depends on the Burmese regime and the UN to make the discussion operational. Thailand would help as a neighbouring country. However, the negotiation should be held to solve the problem because some ethnic group members migrated to live in Thailand,” Abhisit said, according to a report in a Thai government website.

The Thai PM also added that he has not yet been informed that the Thai Foreign Minister agreed to hold talks with the ethnic group, which does not see eye to eye, with the junta’s constitution.

“At the moment, the Burmese junta has worked mainly with the UN rather than with the ASEAN,” he said. (JEG: conveniently he switches listeners)

He said the Thai government supported efforts by the Burmese government regarding national reconciliation and the restoration of democracy in the country.

In addition, he added the position of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations was clear. It wanted to see all parties take part in Burmese general elections in the coming year. (JEG: it wants all parties to TAKE PART based on what?)

However, numerous voices from among the international community have expressed doubts whether the 2010 election will allow fair participation by all parties.

Abhisit’s comment came after Thailand’s Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said, during his visit to Burma that he was asked by the military junta to meet representatives of ethnic rebels and to persuade the KNU to join the junta’s road map to democracy.

Kasit made his introductory two-day visit to Burma on Sunday and Monday, discussing bilateral issues and laying the groundwork for an official visit by Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

The Karen Nation Union and the Shan State Army, which rejected the junta-backed seven-step road map to democracy, are two major armed factions continuing to wage war against the regime.

On Tuesday David Takapaw, Vice-President of the KNU, reacted saying that they will not yield to any form of pressure to partake in the 2010 general election unless Burma’s generals implement changes in their roadmap.

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

READ MORE---> Thailand supports democratization of Burma: Abhisit...

Three NLD members framed and jailed for exposing corruption

by Phanida

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – The Twante Township Court in Rangoon Division, sentenced three NLD youth wing members, who had exposed the rampant corruption of local authorities, to seven days imprisonment on Tuesday.

Township Court Judge Aye Ko Ko sentenced Twante Township, Zaythit Ward, Mibametta fish wholesaler, Khin Zaw, his employees and NLD youth members Zaw Myo Latt, Kyaw Thu Lynn and Than Myint to seven days imprisonment, under the 1907 Towns Act.

"Initially they charged Khin Zaw and seven others. Then they acquitted four of them as they were from Twante town. Khin Zaw and the remaining three were sentenced to seven days imprisonment each," Advocate Kyin Toe from Twante said.

According to the 1907 Towns Act, guests coming from other regions need to register at local administrative offices and the guests from the same town do not need to register, if they stay overnight in other wards of the same town.

However, the local 'Peace and Development Council' (PDC) office refused to register these employees, without giving any reason, when they went there and tried to register them late last month.

Then they went to the Township Police Station on February 28, and requested the police personnel to record their guest registration. Duty officer, Sub-Inspector Aung Naing Oo accordingly registered them.

All these documents were then sent to Township PDC and other local authorities.

Meanwhile, on March 3, Ward PDC members, 100-household headman, the police force, immigration department, Fire Brigade personnel and beat policeman arrived at Khin Zaw's residence and arrested them and sent them to the Township Police Station for not registering as guests.

Zaythit Ward PDC Chairman, Than Oo, prosecuted them at the township court with guest registration cases. Advocate U Kyin Toe acted as the legal counsel for all of them in this case.

The Township Court released all of them on bail with Kyat. 2.7 million sureties, deposited by local NLD youth wing Chairman Ye Htut Khaung and 5 elders from the ward on March 5. The court fixed the date for hearing on March 9.

Kyin Toe argued in court on March 9, that the accused had visited the police station and registered as guests there. The court summoned the police officers for re-examination, but it was learnt that the Divisional PDC office sent an instruction to the local officials saying there was no need to give testimony in court.

Following the incident, the court fixed another hearing on March 24, and they were sentenced to seven days imprisonment each, yesterday.

Kyin Toe explained this at the court saying, "They gave no reason when they denied the registration request. They just said they could not accept the registration request at about 7 p.m. on that day. Then both the house owner and all his guests, were taken to the township police station and informed about the Zaythit Ward PDC's refusal to accept their registration request. I told the police officer to report our guest registration."

Khin Zaw is well-known as the whistle blower of corruption by local authorities and he had also signed in the petition letter for 'Free Aung San Suu Kyi and Tin Oo' signature campaign.

"I feel very sorry for them as they are innocent. They just signed on the petition in the signature campaign, launched for freedom of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Tin Oo and all political prisoners. The local PDC Chairman framed them in a false case, without proper reason and sentenced them to prison. I feel extremely sorry for them," Township NLD youth wing in-charge, Ye Htut Khaung, said.

The four persons acquitted are Aung Ko Latt, Than Zaw, Htwe Hla and Ma Tin Tin Hla. Apart from Khin Zaw, the remaining 3 persons, who were convicted, hail from Zwekapin village in Maubin Township.

These people have lived in Twante town, Kungyan Ward for over 10 years and their application for residential registration in this town is still under consideration.

"I think the judiciary must be independent. As Gen. Thura Shwe Man said no one is above the law. However, in practice, the Divisional PDC office and local police officers are above the law and judiciary," Advocate Kyin Toe said.

He said that he would appeal against this verdict.

All four convicted people are still in police custody at Twante Police Station and it has been learnt that they would be sent to Insein prison today.

READ MORE---> Three NLD members framed and jailed for exposing corruption...

Celebs issue a monthlong call to action on Myanmar

Aaron Hughes said the campaign
designed by
Digital Influence Group
was meant to raise the awareness
of conditions in Myanmar.

When Digital Influence Group was enlisted to craft a Web-based social media campaign to spread awareness about the political situation in Myanmar, the Waltham-based marketing firm enlisted the perhaps unlikely help of celebrities Jennifer Aniston, Will Ferrell and Kim Kardashian.

Last year Digital Influence Group crafted a branding and grass-roots educational campaign for client and social media shopping site Fanista titled “Burma: It Can’t Wait: 30 Days for a Million Voices” that featured short celebrity videos as the touchpoint of the effort. The Web site won an award from the Massachusetts Innovation and Technology Exchange for best use of social media.

The May 2008 campaign featured a landing page at Over a stark image of Myanmar people flash the words “liberty, democracy, human rights, hope” before viewers go to a cache of videos. Each day in May, visitors to the site could watch a new short video featuring celebrities discussing the situation in Myanmar (formerly Burma), whose military regime has been universally censured for human rights abuses.

Ferrell’s video kicked off the online effort and featured the comedian describing the purpose of the grass-roots campaign. “A human rights crisis is happening right now in the Southeast Asian country of Burma. It’s been going on for decades,” Ferrell said. “Today we’re launching a 30-day campaign in support of human rights and democracy in Burma. Over the next 30 days you’ll hear from musicians, actors, filmmakers, activists ... about the Burmese fight for freedom.”

While Ferrell’s video was somber, many of the celebrity videos were humorous or tongue-in-cheek while still drawing attention to the cause. Comedian Jim Carrey was featured in a serious clip talking about the need to free Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who has been under house arrest by Myanmar’s military regime for 11 years.

“The goal was to raise awareness of what’s going on in Burma,” said Aaron Hughes, senior vice president and creative director at Digital Influence Group. “The strategy was to sign up celebrities to create video content ... and to take those video assets and use social media marketing to make a larger distribution.”

Digital Influence Group used Facebook to get the word out about the effort and distributed its 33 celebrity videos on YouTube and five other video distribution sites. The company also embedded videos in more than 100 blogs.

Results of the effort included more than 3.5 million views of the celebrity videos, as well as widespread media coverage of the campaign in publications such as The New York Times, E! Online and Newsweek.

Lisa van der Pool can be reached at

READ MORE---> Celebs issue a monthlong call to action on Myanmar...

The war that's still going after 50 years

By Ian Black
The Guardian

A Karen National Army soldier poses during a training exercise in Burma, 1988.
Photograph: Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

It is the world's longest-running war and it may be coming to a bleak and inglorious end. Karen fighters have been seeking independence from Burma for a full six decades. Now the ethnic guerrilla army could be facing disaster as its enemy closes in on its strongholds on the border with Thailand.

The Karen belong to the long list of unlucky peoples let down by big powers that abandoned their promises when the hour of need was past. Many of them fought alongside the British when they were defending their then Burmese colony against the Japanese in the second world war, but never saw the independent state they were pledged. Their armed struggle began in January 1949.

Now the Rangoon military junta - the generals who imprisoned Aung San Suu Kyi and routinely defy international protests and ineffective sanctions - are driving home their advantage. It looks, some analysts say, like the end.

The Karen, living mostly in Burma's hilly eastern region and the Irrawaddy delta, make up 7% of the total population of 47 million. Aid agencies estimate that some 200,000 of them have been "ethnically cleansed" during decades of war. Many thousands more live in refugee camps on the Thai side of the border. Hazards include rampant malaria, malnutrition and one of the world's highest rates of land-mine injuries. The Karen suffer too from the junta's suppression of religious freedom: 40% are Christians.

The bad news now is that after a three-year offensive that followed an informal ceasefire, Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) fighters have been forced into small and isolated pockets of resistance that can do little to stop the Burmese army as it drives relentlessly east to the rice paddies and forests on the border. Making matters worse, the Thai government - dependent on its neighbour for raw materials - has cracked down and ordered Karen military commanders to leave the country. The Karen Human Rights Group has documented routine abuses such as forced labour, destruction of villages and crops, forced relocation, extortion, looting, arbitrary detention, torture, mass rape and summary executions. The majority are committed by Burmese government soldiers and officials. It is a poignant irony that the Karen call their homeland "Kaw Thoo Lei" or "Land Without Evil".

READ MORE---> The war that's still going after 50 years...

US official visits Burma: state media

SMH- A senior US official has paid a rare visit to military-ruled Burma for talks on boosting relations, state media says.

It is the latest sign of a possible change in approach by Washington.

Stephen Blake, director of Mainland South-East Asian Affairs at the US State Department, met with Burmese foreign minister Nyan Win in the administrative capital Naypyidaw on Tuesday, the New Light of Burma newspaper said.

The government-run paper said they held "cordial discussions on issues of mutual interests and promotion of bilateral relations between the Union of Burma and the United States".

The trip comes as US President Barack Obama's administration continues to review the tough stance his predecessor George W Bush took against Burma's ruling junta.

Official sources in Naypyidaw, the remote purpose-built capital opened by the regime in 2005, said it was the first time a senior US official had visited the city to promote bilateral relations between two countries.

They also said that a reception held by the US embassy for officials in Naypyidaw to introduce the visiting director was the first held by any foreign mission in the capital.

US embassy charge d'affaires Larry Dinger accompanied Blake, they said.

"Burma and the US have been friendly countries since the beginning. They were also the first country to recognise our independence from the British in 1948," a senior Burmese official told AFP.

"They misunderstood our country's situation after the 1988 uprising. We will not understand each other without talking. It was the first time a director of the US visited here for talks - the US did what they should do," he said.

There was no immediate comment from US officials.

Burma has been ruled by the army since 1962 and a student-led uprising in 1988 ended in a brutal military crackdown which left an estimated 3,000 people dead.

The junta ignored a landslide election victory by the party of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's in 1990 and critics say general elections planned for 2010 are a sham aimed at entrenching the generals' power.

The regime has handed out heavy jail terms to dozens of pro-democracy activists in recent months, many of them involved in protests led by Buddhist monks that erupted in 2007.

But US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said last month that the Obama administration is reviewing its policy toward Burma to find ways to better influence the regime and help the country's people.

Bush's administration strengthened decade-old sanctions against Burma - imposed under his predecessor Bill Clinton - while his wife Laura was an outspoken critic of the military regime.

READ MORE---> US official visits Burma: state media...

UN ruling will increase pressure on the Burmese government

(DVB)–The Washington-based legal counsel to the imprisoned Burmese opposition leader has said that time is running out for the regime with Aung San Suu Kyi’s release date, as set by the government, due this November.

On Monday the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention ruled that the ongoing detention of Aung San Suu Kyi contravened the Burmese government’s own law, as well as international law. This was the first time they had drawn such a ruling.

Jared Genser, legal counsel to Suu Kyi and Executive Director of Freedom Now, said that while it was unlikely that the ruling State Peace and Development Council will change direction anytime soon, the looming release date coupled with increased international pressure could prove “interesting”.

“The SPDC is running out of time,” he said. “By their own public statements, they have said her detention expires in November 2009.

“It will be very interesting to see how they respond at that time to calls for her release.”

Aung San Suu Kyi’s lawyer in Burma, Kyi Win, said however that past history showed that, despite the UN ruling, any change was unlikely.

“We’ve been saying the same thing since long ago,” he said. “The maximum amount of years they can put her under detention for was only five.

“The extension of that detention was passed by the government and the court was only doing what it was told to do.”

The problem now is that Suu Kyi’s representatives can only make appeals to the court and not to government leaders who passed the decision, he said.

According to Kyi Win, there used to be an article in the law which gave authority to the court to decide on such cases but it was removed by the current government.

“So the decision is up to the SPDC now,” he said.

“Our appeal pointed out that the government’s decision was wrong but an answer from the government is unlikely now as they are refusing to look into it.”

The UNWGAD decision has made headlines across the world and is likely to put added pressure on countries that support the Burmese government.

“Let the words of the decision be spread loud and clear, particularly in China, India and within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)” said Dr Agnes Callamard, Executive Director of human rights campaign group ARTICLE 19.

“It is more than time that they end their protection of the Burmese authorities' illegal practices."

Reporting by Nay Thoo and Francis Wade

READ MORE---> UN ruling will increase pressure on the Burmese government...

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