Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Villagers afraid to report forced labour to ILO

(DVB)–The International Labour Organisation has stated that complainants of forced labour in Burma are at greater risk of imprisonment if they have affiliations with political opposition groups.

The comment came after reports surfaced that villagers in Irrawaddy division had been forced to work on the reconstruction of a road, and were afraid to make a complaint to the ILO for fear of imprisonment.

"We heard about two men from central Burma who were recently thrown into prison for reporting a case to the ILO,” said one of the villagers.

Labour activist Zaw Htay was sentenced to ten years imprisonment in January after helping farmers in Magwe divison file a report to the ILO on land seizures.

His lawyer Pho Phyu, was subsequently sentenced earlier this month to four years imprisonment after defending him at the trial.

“So we are scared we might end up the same way if we complain about what happened in our villages," the villager added.

Steve Marshall, ILO liaison officer in Rangoon, said that, although the vast majority of complainants received no subsequent action from the government, there were some that had.

“The ILO is of the belief that in those cases it is because they are firstly politically active, but are secondly active within the ILO’s supplementary framework as well,” he said.

The supplementary framework is the mechanism which deals with complaints to the ILO in Burma. It stipulates that the government must not harass or arrest people who report forced labour to the ILO or collect information on such practices.

“If someone who has got affiliations and is active in other political activity takes action then the risk of them having some retaliation taken against them increases,” he added.

The ILO reported last month that there has been no reduction in forced labour over the past year, despite ongoing attempts to tackle the problem.

Reporting by Francis Wade and Naw Say Phaw

READ MORE---> Villagers afraid to report forced labour to ILO...

Burmese democracy a daunting task: Abhisit

by Mungpi

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - Thailand’s Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva says Burma remains a hideous blight on an Asian map of otherwise expanding freedoms and growing economies.

Abhisit, during a speech at the 15th anniversary of the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats (CALD), held in Bangkok from March 27 – 30, said while democracy and freedom are expanding in Asia, the struggle in several countries, including Burma, remains daunting.

Abhisit said even as detained Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s unwavering fight for democracy in Burma continues to provide great inspiration and hope for members of CALD and freedom fighters the world over, the struggle for democracy in Burma remains the largest obstacle in the regional expansion of democracy.

“Some of our struggles are more daunting than others. Burma's repressive regime remains a hideous blight on Asia's map of expanding freedoms and growing economies,” Abhisit countered.

The Thai Premier said several countries in Asia are in a transitional stage of economics and governance, and affirmed the challenge for liberal democratic parties is to ensure that such competition occurs within the parameters of credible and free elections, accountable and transparent governance, and the rule of law.

“As liberals, we must tirelessly continue to promote dialogue and seek common ground in mediating disparate interests and opposing positions,” said Abhisit.

READ MORE---> Burmese democracy a daunting task: Abhisit...

More NLD Members Receive Lengthy Prison Sentences

The Irrawaddy News

A court in Rangoon’s Thingangyun Township sentenced six members of the National League for Democracy (NLD) to five years in prison on Monday and extended the sentence of another party member to 18 years, according to sources close to Insein Prison.

It was unclear what the charges were against Tin Mya, the chairman of the NLD’s Thingangyun office, and five other local party members who received five-year sentences. Observers suggested, however, that the timing of the court’s decision was intended to link the six to recent bombings in the former capital.

There were also no details available concerning the ten-year extension of Thingangyun NLD member Ye Zaw Htike’s prison sentence. He was initially sentenced to eight years last November.

Meanwhile, Burma’s military government transferred two other political detainees from Mandalay Prison to prisons in more remote parts of the country.

Than Lwin, the vice-chairman of the NLD’s Mandalay Division headquarters and an elected member of parliament, was transferred to Loikaw Prison in Karenni State on Saturday, while Win Mya Mya, a female NLD party activist, was sent to Putao Prison in Kachin State.

Than Lwin, who is suffering from a serious injury to his left eye, has been serving an eight-year prison sentence since 2007, when he attempted to file assault charges against members of the junta-backed Union Solidity Development Association.

He accused the pro-junta thugs of attacking him in June 2007 while he was returning from a pagoda in Madaya Township, Mandalay Division, where he prayed for NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s release from house arrest.

READ MORE---> More NLD Members Receive Lengthy Prison Sentences...

Than Shwe’s Election Plans

By Yeni
The Irrawaddy News

Without Snr-Gen Than Shwe’s say-so, Burma can’t make a move. That was the subtext of his message to the nation on March 27, Armed Forces Day. It was a sobering reminder to the world and the Burmese people that this is a general who sees no need for compromise, and who expects the whole country to fall in line with his plans with the same unquestioning obedience as the 13,000 troops who paraded past him in a display of military might.

In his 17-minute speech, delivered at his new “royal” capital of Naypyidaw, Than Shwe rejected calls from the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) for a review of a new constitution approved last year in a referendum widely denounced as a sham. There will be no review, the general said, because the “constitution [was] adopted by the people.(JEG's: the ones who were dead during the cyclone and provided their fingerprints towards approval of the constitution, the favourable votes counted from the ones that were not allowed to vote, the votes obtained under duress and threats... all is fair to the Don's game)

In defiance of diplomatic pressure to engage with the NLD and other pro-democracy forces, Than Shwe has made it abundantly clear that he is in no mood for reconciliation. After nearly twenty years of relentlessly persecuting the winners of the last election in 1990, he now believes that he is close to achieving his ultimate victory: an electoral outcome that guarantees his perpetual grip on power.

So far, the junta has disclosed few details about the election it has promised to hold sometime in 2010. No date has been set, and no candidates have been named. But in his speech, Than Shwe left no doubt about his intention to keep a firm hold over the proceedings. Political parties that carry out “mature party organizing work will receive the blessing of the government,” he said, implying that those who are “immature” enough to question the military’s right to rule as it sees fit can expect to be sidelined, or worse.

The regime has made no secret of the fact that “disciplined democracy” is essentially an extension of the current political arrangement, which elevates the armed forces above all other institutions.

Under its new constitution, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces—currently Than Shwe—is entitled to appoint military officials to 25 percent of the seats in each of the country’s two legislative assemblies, the 440-seat People’s Parliament and the 224-seat National Parliament. And if this is not enough to guarantee that other political forces march to his tune, there is another provision which permits the commander-in-chief to reinstate direct military rule at his discretion.

It was not surprising, then, to hear in Than Shwe’s speech this year a note of growing confidence that was absent from his last Armed Forces Day address, in which he reassured any who cared to listen that he was not power hungry and would, in due course, hand over power to an elected successor.

A lot has changed since then. A year ago, Than Shwe was still under intense international pressure following the brutal crackdown on peaceful demonstrations led by Buddhist monks in late 2007. But by May, he had successfully pulled off a rigged constitutional referendum that delivered more than 90 percent approval. And while this farce was playing out in the background, the world’s attention was transfixed by a humanitarian catastrophe that also, ultimately, played directly into the hands of the generals. Unlike the killing of untold numbers of monks in 2007, the regime’s callous disregard for the suffering caused by Cyclone Nargis was easily redeemed by belated and grudging cooperation with international aid groups.

This year, there was no need to talk about transferring power. Instead, Than Shwe used his speech to issue a series of warnings. Politicians should “refrain from inciting unrest [and] avoid personal attacks and smear campaigns against other parties.” And, most importantly, candidates must not follow the example of another, unnamed opposition group that went astray because it looked to foreign countries for “guidance and inspiration [and] followed the imported ideologies and directives irrationally.”

At the moment, Than Shwe seems quite certain that he will achieve his goal of legitimizing perpetual military rule. But if his plans hit a snag, don’t be surprised if the election is suspended indefinitely. Even as he approaches his moment of triumph, he appears to be wary of raising expectations. That is why he quoted a well-known Burmese proverb—“a recently dug well cannot be expected to produce clear water immediately”—and concluded his speech with these words: “Democracy in [Burma] today is at a fledgling stage and still requires patient care and attention.”

Keeping the hopes of the Burmese people at bay while satisfying the international community’s perfunctory calls for something resembling democracy in Burma are all part of the delicate balancing act that Than Shwe has had to perform over the past two decades. Now, however, he appears to be reaching the end of his tightrope. But one small misstep—or a sudden gust of outrage from a nation that is more at the mercy of economic forces than almost any other—and he could soon find that the heights that he now commands are not as unassailable as he imagines.

READ MORE---> Than Shwe’s Election Plans...

Capitalizing on a flawed electoral process

by Joseph Ball

(Mizzima) As ripples continue to reverberate from the recently concluded and rare visit of an American official to Burma's administrative center of Naypyitaw, and the announcement by the Obama administration that it is conducting a review of the Burma policy it inherited from its predecessor, it becomes even more imperative for Burma's democratic opposition to contemplate a strategy for the 2010 elections, and beyond.

A lasting, durable democracy demands commitment to democratic norms, a vibrant and well-rooted party system and active public debate and pursuit of competing, though not mutually exclusive, agendas. There should be no illusion, such an environment does not exist in Burma and will not, under any scenario, be in place within 12 months' time.

Presently, the 2010 general elections can only serve one purpose, that of a legitimating action for whatever party comes out on top. The elections themselves are ultimately drastically more significant for a select group of elites inside and outside the country than for the tens of millions of citizenry eligible to vote. Far from anchoring a system of majority rule and symbolizing the existence of a complex political scene epitomized not by absolutes but rather by a myriad of overlapping interests and agendas, an election next year – as currently encapsulated – will simply have one outcome: the labeling, among the elite, of unconditional winners and losers.

To this end, it is self-defeating for the mainstream opposition to conceive of American overtures toward the junta as a conduit through which to reiterate demands of the generals ensconced in Naypyitaw. And further, it should be understood that the U.S., for multiple reasons related to both international and domestic interests, is not positioned to unilaterally and effectively make demands of the junta.

For example, insistence on the part of the opposition and related through an American envoy that the election must be free and fair and results honored is tantamount, or is at least perceived to be by the country's elite, as rubberstamping what the outcome must be beforehand. There is no trust being built and precious little outlook as to how the country might pull itself out of its downward spiral in the critical years following 2010 – merely an assurance that Burma will continue to epitomize national bifurcation.

As much as it may not speak to the ideal endgame of some within the democratic opposition, if the crisis paralyzing the country is to be reoriented in a positive direction, Burma's predicament likely mandates that democratization be conducted gradually and characterized by a spirit of political compromise – by all sides. Such a process is not altogether dissimilar to those initiated by several regional countries in recent decades.

Consideration will need to be given to what hybrid civilian-military forms of bureaucratic administration could be made, in the short term, acceptable to all concerned. Without question, the current proposal birthed from last May's troubled constitutional referendum leaves much room for improvement, and changes to its current form are imminent if a successful compromise is to be found.

Yet, it must also not be forgotten that democracy demands institutionalization, and the Army is a rarity in this regard in today's Burma.

Agreeing in principle to a less than ideal hybrid form of government should not be confused with abdicating from democratic goals and ideals or capitulating to the junta's long aired 'roadmap to democracy' or 'disciplined democracy', it is but an alternative, and potentially less volatile, means of reaching the same destination by accounting for the structural and strategic realities of the country today – an approach that could see the advent of renewed economic development, observance of rights and respect for the rule of law, not to mention the return of U.S.-led engagement and financial interests.

At its crudest, the proposed elections of next year could at least reintroduce multi-party politics to the citizenry of Burma. This is true even, as is likely, only state authorized and sanctioned parties are permitted to participate.

For a population, and corresponding infrastructure and institutions, virtually bereft of electoral experience and familiarity with a democratic process, 2010 can at least serve as the point of inception for a multi-party democratic society, the first vestiges of a fragile political seedling in its growth toward durable maturity.

In such a domestic political environment, opposition parties may still opt to stand outside the electoral process, voicing concerns for the shortcomings of the system at hand and continuing to educate and inform the general population as to the merits and means of a democratic process. However, importantly, the rhetoric of such opposition groups would need to drastically change from its current form – and the standing government would need to accommodate the need for divergent voices within society to have freer access to the dissemination of information inside the country.

If parties do in fact choose to manifest their opposition by remaining outside the formal political process, it will fall to their leaderships' best judgment as to when to reenter the formal political system, a move that will then further strengthen and legitimate an evolving democratic political landscape.

This scenario could provide the U.S., other countries and entities whose relationships vis-à-vis Burma's generals are currently epitomized by an unmistakably aura of hostility, to pursue a spirit of engagement with the Burmese government that transcends the current polarization and allows for constructive, if not necessarily warm, relations to take root. The international community could come to play a significantly larger and more visible role in monitoring political progress inside Burma and ensuring that wrong turns – along what is sure to be a much potholed road – are avoided.

If another opportunity to redress the flawed means of exercising political power in Burma is not to be lost – and the system made at least less imperfect and imbued with a new sense of hope for the future – a principle component of political strategy by the opposition camp for 2010 and beyond must be precisely just that…forward looking and long-term in approach.

READ MORE---> Capitalizing on a flawed electoral process...

Numbers of the beast: the politics of superstition

By Joseph Alde

(DVB)–In many parts of the world it is easy to forget that a government - the apparatus that controls our economy and that has the power to send us to war or to jail - is, like any institution, at the mercy of human idiosyncrasies.

In Burma, however the idiosyncrasies of those ceaselessly in power are painfully present in decisive moments in the nation’s as well as individuals’ lives.

Often viewed as the light-hearted past time of housewives, astrology takes on a new meaning in Burma these days. Studying the imprisonment of political dissidents one may notice that an awful lot are sentenced to 65 years for a variety of benign actions. The choice of this number, a painfully long stint at the best of times, is done because the two numbers equal 11.

The prerogative for this number that crops up time and again as a sentence is pronounced is that, in Burmese numerological mythology, 11 is the number that vanquishes enemies. As simply sentencing them to a mere 11 years would not be enough, some have even had their sentencing delayed so it can occur at 11am/pm on 11 November; roll on 2011.

The brunt of such idiosyncrasy is not just borne by those questioning rule in their country. The site for the new capital Napyidaw, the latest ‘place of kings’ hidden deep in the Burmese jungle 350 miles north of the old capital, was chosen by astrologers.

The unfortunate new residents, mainly government workers, were forced to move from the old capital Rangoon at an astrologically opportune moment, one that unsurprisingly was not so auspicious in the construction world. The buildings they were to live and work in were not complete, meaning government officials were forced to shack up in unfinished shells of buildings. To relieve any worries however, the new capital will sport a new astrology museum.

Living or, even more worryingly, ruling on such a basis takes governing to unprecedented levels of incompetence. No example has been more potent than former Prime Minister Ne Win’s infamous dabbling in the Burmese currency soon after he rose to power following the 1962 coup. People watched as overnight he scrapped all banknotes that were not divisible by nine – Ne Win’s lucky number – and the country woke up to find that the majority of banknotes they had were useless.

Superstition and idiosyncrasy is not unfamiliar ground for dictators to tread. Indeed former Ugandan ruler Idi Amin would probably have gladly bathed in dolphin’s blood with Ne Win, as the latter was alleged to have done to reinvigorate his youth. His political leanings likewise can be viewed as somewhat malleable: fighting for fascists, against communism, all under the banner of socialism.

Violent psychosis

The current junta’s method for ensuring longevity is often the adherence to a belief system known as ‘yadaya’. It is expressed, amongst other things, by the forcing farmers to grow sunflowers despite there not being any viable market for them. They apparently ensure perpetuation of the regime and ward off any evil, likely to include opposition movements.

It is sad that Burma’s ‘non-interfering’ trade partners and arms dealers across the world don’t recognise that they are perpetuating a violent psychosis at the heart of the Burmese government.

But perhaps they do; perhaps the ambassadorial reports sent home tell of the Ouija board events at official functions, although it is unlikely that the recipients care. For nations looking to do business, whether it be selling arms or extracting resources, it is usually beneficial, economically, to have a delusional tyrant who can be bought off at the expense of his people.

But if one assumes that the prevalence of superstition amongst the military leaders of Burma is all bad news, think again. They are also said to possess similar weaknesses. The Lanna Action group exposed this when they encouraged women to send their underwear to Burmese foreign ministries abroad under the banner of ‘Panties for Peace’: the ruling junta suffer from an awkward superstitious belief that merely touching women’s garments will sap their powers.

Superstition is not unique to the military junta or Burma. Much of the world’s population possess similar beliefs but there are few whose use it in quite the same way. From Bush’s ‘God-sponsored’, bloodstained meddling in the Middle East, to Hitler’s eugenics, real lives are scarred by the fantasy worlds inhabited by leaders. The truth of the matter is that when the going gets weird, the weird need to get going, from office.

READ MORE---> Numbers of the beast: the politics of superstition...

The sky is not blue in Burma

By David Calleja
Online Opinion

The recent decision by the Burmese military to release 6,313 prisoners indicates that the rulers are well-versed in undertaking public relations exercises ahead of proposed multi-party elections in 2010.

Some parties see this as a positive first step in the seven-stage roadmap to democracy; a sign that the junta may be ready to enter the international community after years of isolation. But Burma has been at war for more than six decades. The military uses armed conflict, rape, torture and displacement of civilians. Of the inmates that have been released, 24 are deemed political prisoners.

According to the Burma Campaign UK, there are more than 2,100 political prisoners still behind bars. As for a people’s power movement, an anonymous Burmese blogger on the BBC website remarked that the junta’s way of dealing with such a concept is to “simply shoot everybody”.

The military authorities are grinning because they have tossed a bone to the outside world with the promise of an election next year, and in doing so, have driven a wedge in the international community who are divided over what to make of this announcement.

The United Nations and the Japanese government adopt a policy of dialogue and diplomacy with the junta, and see this as a breakthrough. However, history has shown us that military authorities in power are unlikely to give up authority so easily. The Burmese army’s condition is the insistence that will play a powerful role in the parliamentary make-up and retain 25 per cent of seats in parliament.

Naturally, the most famous political prisoner in Burma and around the world, leader of the National League for Democracy, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, continues to remain under house arrest. Her party’s deputy leader, 82-year-old Tin Oo, also remains confined to his home in detention. The United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, has repeatedly called for the unconditional and immediate release of Aung San Suu Kyi. Yet the UN’s Special Envoy for Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, has failed to win any concessions. It is little wonder that Aung San Suu Kyi is tired of appearing for the media when it is clear that the Burmese leadership will not change their hardline stance.

The Burmese military are the only party interested in seeing Gambari on a regular basis because they know it serves as a distraction from their failure to assist the victims of Cyclone Nargis and for the endless and well-documented abuses against its own people, especially ethnic minorities.

In a response to the Asian edition of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial criticising the value of Gambari’s visits published on August 28, 2008, the Consulate-General of Burma (Myanmar) to Hong Kong defended Gambari by praising the mutual respect shown between the junta and the Special Envoy for Burma. At the same time, the unnamed official has accused critics of failing to listen to the Burmese government’s side of the story, saying that if “such people wear dark glasses, you cannot see the truth”.

When the 2007 Saffron Revolution commenced, the junta stopped the flow of information to the outside world by blocking 85 per cent of e-mails and blocked foreign news agencies from reporting within Burma's borders, thus restricting live streaming of events.

One courageous individual, Nay Phone Latt, who streamed a rare glimpse into the actions of the armed forces was arrested and tried without legal representation. He was found guilty of breaching both the Electronics Act and the Video Act and sentenced to 20 years in jail. One year later, Burmese publications in exile such as The Irrawaddy and Democratic Voice for Burma were shut down by the junta.

Too many nations have forgotten that the Burmese military brutally crushed unarmed monks and civilians showing their support, resulting in the death of hundreds of protestors and detention of thousands more.

The events of 2007 must now seem distant with international media attention shifting to cover the global financial crisis. Each country is implementing measures to protect their economies. United States President Barack Obama will obviously review policy towards Burma, but his priorities are stopping the war in Afghanistan, and improving diplomatic relations with Iran, North Korea, and Russia. Now is the time for the rest of the world to go beyond the stages of talking tough.

The United Kingdom, the European Union, Canada, the members of ASEAN and Australia need to take a more proactive role. Burma's allies, notably China and India, need to stop insisting that private diplomacy will work in convincing the regime to step down and change their ways. The proposed elections in Burma will allow the military to commit more crimes against its own population and give General Than Shwe a chance to make an honourable exit.

Under the present climate, no polls will be free or fair. The National League for Democracy will be barred from fielding candidates, and restrictions on voting will be implemented to prevent an overwhelming protest vote against the junta’s candidates by the rural population who have suffered the most.

The Burmese government also has the option of cancelling the election if they suspect a perceived or genuine threat to their power is possible by citing security concerns in the country’s best interests. This ploy will be undoubtedly described as “despicable” and “unacceptable”, but for all of the colourful adjectives that world leaders and the United Nations are capable of using, the military junta will not listen nor care.

The Burmese government’s ignorance for the plight of its own people is best demonstrated in the closing line of a letter defending Ibrahim Gambari’s visits: “The sky is always blue in the Union of Myanmar.”

Their version of reality cannot be any further from the truth. For far too long now, the military dictatorship of Burma has held a gun to the heads of their own people and left bloodstains and bullets as calling cards. The innocent people of Burma cannot afford to be left vulnerable in the dark anymore.

About the Author

David Calleja is a freelance writer who is a regular contributor to Foreign Policy Journal and Hack Writers. In 2008, he worked as a teacher and soccer coach in the Internally Displaced Persons camp based in Loi Tailang, Shan State, Burma. His writing focuses on human interest stories in Burma, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. David has also worked as an English teacher in South Korea, China, Thailand and Cambodia. His video depicting the lives of families living on the grounds of Steung Meanchey Waste Dump in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, A Garbage Diet, can be viewed here.

READ MORE---> The sky is not blue in Burma...

Burma PM asks businessmen for unity

JEG's translation:
UNITY in junta's language = $$$donation$ from busine$$men

(Bangkok Post-AFP)-Burma Prime Minister Thein Sein on Tuesday urged businessmen to display unity with the country's military government ahead of elections planned for next year.

The country's ruling junta has announced the polls under its so-called "roadmap to democracy" but critics have denounced the vote as a sham designed to entrench the generals' rule.

Thein Sein told an annual meeting of the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chamber of Commerce and Industry in the capital Naypyidaw that businessmen should help the government.

"As the government is implementing the tasks step by step within the timeframe towards a new democratic nation which people expect, the main step of the country's future elections will be held," Thein Sein said.

"I believe that we can implement this road map to form the Union of Republic of Myanmar by uniting together with national businessmen," he said.

Burma has been ruled by the military since 1962 and is under tough sanctions by the US and European countries because of its human rights records and continued detention of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The military regime plans to hold the elections under a new constitution that was approved in May last year, days after Cyclone Nargis devastated southern regions of the country and left 138,000 people dead or missing.

"We need future plans to... overcome all political disturbances to the nation as well as challenges especially in this global economic crisis," Thein Sein said.

The chairman of the business group, Win Myint, said they would follow the premier's call.

"We businessmen will act unitedly as per the prime minister's instructions," he told AFP.

"We have made no preparations recently for coming 2010 elections but our organization will help (the government) in a private capacity. We welcome the coming elections," he said. (JEG's: bankrolling corruption and the TS-regime --- how nice, that is a western custom by the way,,, perhaps conveniently adapting west to Burma's generals elections? :):):))

Win Myint also said sanctions that are supposed to target the junta harmed businessmen and workers instead, adding that they had quizzed the UN's top envoy to Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, about the topic when he visited in February.

"We asked the visiting UN special envoy Mr Gambari when we met him to ease sanctions as it delays our work and harms our workers," he said. (JEG's: The sanctions were imposed on the generals' pockets not on the workers...)

READ MORE---> Burma PM asks businessmen for unity...

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