Friday, April 24, 2009

China sees to it Wa keeps the lid on opium production

by Khun Aung Kham
Shan Herald Agency for News

According to a recent interview, the Wa are finding it increasingly difficult to return to poppy cultivation.

“Some Burma watchers may still think we are returning to poppy cultivation,” said a Wa officer who requested anonymity. “They certainly have no idea that our continued survival depends almost totally on the goodwill of China. Under this circumstance, we have very little opportunity to lift the ban (imposed in 2005).”

Indeed, alongside the motorroads inside the Wa domain, visitors no longer see poppy fields, in contrast to pre-2005 poppy seasons. The Wa supreme boss Bao Youxiang, in all likelihood, appears to be keeping his word given before the ban: “If any poppy plants are still seen after 2005, you can chop my head off,”

At least one story seems to question the sustainability. A monk from the Thai-Burma border, during this visit to Panghsang last year, asked if they still have were any poppy fields. A monk tried replied, “There are still a few and I can escort you there. Even the Wa police rarely go there. But the one closest is a two day walk from here.” The source said he declined the offer. “To this day, I’m not still sure whether he was serious or just making a joke.”

Nevertheless, the blaze that took place on 18 April, a day after the 20th anniversary of the founding of the United Wa State Army (UWSA) which was celebrated with much pomp and fanfare, had reportedly destroyed thousands of tons of teak logs, and also hundreds of barrels of precursor chemicals used in producing heroin such as Ether and Acetyl Anhydride (known as acid to the locals).

The site of the inferno reportedly belong to Wei Xuegang, a drug fugitive from Thailand and currently serving as the commander of the 171st Military region, opposite Thailand’s Mae Hong Son, Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai provinces.

It remains to be seen what future Wei has with the UWSA. But it was him who had reportedly come to the rescue of the UWSA, during its early days, with B 40 million ($40,000) in cash when it was still struggling to survive following its mutiny on 17 April 1989 which toppled until-then-Beijing backed Communist Party of Burma (CPB).

READ MORE---> China sees to it Wa keeps the lid on opium production...

Wa official: No answers to junta’s questions until ours are answered

Shan Herald Agency for News

A senior Wa official who declined to have his name divulged told the United Wa State Army (UWSA) has been under pressure by Naypyidaw for response to its demands to come under its wings but that the group has no reply for them until Naypyidaw have answers for its own demands.

“We asked them first and they never bothered to answer,” he said. “Now they want answers for their questions. That’s not fair.”

The official explained that the UWSA had attended the National Convention (1993-2008) and, together with its allies, had presented a joint set of proposals including one to place areas under their control along the Sino-Burma border under Naypyidaw’s direct supervision.

“We never received a reply for that and when the draft constitution came out, we found none of our demands were met,” he said. “Needless to say, we are against the constitution and we are against the upcoming elections. Only we are not putting out official statements like others.”

In January, the junta’s representative Lt-Gen Ye Myint came to Panghsang “to pick up from where he had left off last year,” he recounted. “He said we need not surrender but change our name to something like a frontier defense force and older leaders to set up parties to contest the elections. ‘We will even issue you new weapons which are of better quality. We will also assign educated officers from the Burma Army to assist your officers’. And when there was no response from us, he said, ‘There are reports a lot of mobilization is going on in here. Does it mean you are saying no to our offers?’ Again, our leaders refused to say anything. He went back empty-handed.”

Do the Wa have a course of action that they have chosen when the time comes? “We do,” he answered. “But until such time, we are saying nothing.”

He assured SHAN that the UWSA is “more united” and there is no discrimination among races.

What about Wei Xuegang, who joined them in 1989? “Wei is relatively a new comer,” he replied. “He thinks in terms of money. And we are aware that the Burma Army is trying to win him over. But I don’t think he will leave us. However, in case he does, the damage will be minimal.”

Wei Xuegang

(Just then, fire broke out on the western outskirts of Panghsang, and the interview came to an abrupt end, preventing SHAN from asking him to elaborate.)

Before that, the official had also talked about the pros and cons of the ceasefire. “On the whole, I think we have more gains than losses. It has been the first time in our modern day history that the people are enjoying the absence of war and conflict. They are also more educated and healthier,” he said. “Our only failure has been that we were so bent on economic matters we didn’t pay adequate attention to political matters.”

As for alliance with groups other than National Democratic Army-Kachin (NDA-K), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and National Democratic Alliance Army-Eastern Shan State (NDAA-ESS), all of which together with the UWSA are members of the Peace and Democracy Front (PDF), he admitted that “a lot needed to be done on that. It was partly because of us. Most of them were demanding federalism and we had not felt ready to clash head on with the junta.

Also, when in 1999 we held a meeting with them, each had only presented its own policies and stand, but no one had proposed aims and objections that all could agree and work together.”

Since then times have changed, he added, also without elaboration.

The UWSA was formed following the mutiny in Panghsang against the Communist Party of Burma (CPB) on 17 April 1989. The Wa are notorious when it comes to drugs, but appealing to most groups fighting against the military regime when it comes to what is known as leverage.

READ MORE---> Wa official: No answers to junta’s questions until ours are answered...

Thai Prime Minister Lifts State of Emergency

The Irrawaddy News

BANGKOK — Thailand’s prime minister lifted a state of emergency on Friday that was imposed in the capital following anti-government riots by supporters of ousted former leader Thaksin Shinawatra, while authorities tried to locate the fugitive tycoon abroad.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva made the announcement at the end of a two-day special parliamentary session aimed at finding a solution to the country’s political crisis.

“Lifting the state of emergency is one of the measures to find a solution for the country,” Abhisit told the parliamentary session. Many opposition lawmakers had urged the prime minister to remove the emergency decree which they said inflamed the still-tense situation in Thailand.

“The government wants reconciliation and to move the country forward,” Abhisit told lawmakers early Friday. The debate ran for two marathon 15-hour sessions dominated by partisan bickering over who was to blame for the violence, but did little to resolve Thailand’s deepening political divide.

The protests were part of Thailand’s long-running political turmoil, which revolves around Thaksin’s ouster in a 2006 military coup for alleged corruption and abuse of power. Thaksin, a telecommunications tycoon, fled the country last year ahead of a corruption conviction.

Thaksin’s supporters, who are known as the “red shirts,” rioted in Bangkok last week, calling for Abhisit’s resignation and new elections. Two people were killed and 123 injured as protesters clashed with troops and residents.

Thaksin, who still enjoys wide support among Thailand's rural poor because of his populist policies while in office, addressed demonstrators from exile via video link during the run-up to the riots, and at one point called for a “revolution.”

He changed his message after the rioting and joined political rivals in calling for reconciliation.

The state of emergency was imposed April 12 amid rioting in Bangkok. The decree had banned gatherings of more than five people and news reports that threatened public order and allowed the government to call up military troops to quell unrest.

Thaksin’s whereabouts continue to dominate headlines in Thailand and taunt the government, who holds him responsible for the recent violence and is trying to extradite him.

Up until last week, Thaksin was in Dubai but now appears to be in Africa.

Thaksin traveled to Liberia earlier this week to inquire about investing in diamonds, officials said, continuing his global wanderings in pursuit of business ventures. Liberia, known as a tax haven, is keen to lure foreign investors as it tries to move beyond its dark history of a civil war that was funded and fueled by so-called “blood diamonds.”

Liberia’s Information Minister Cletus Sieh told The Associated Press that Thaksin had been in Liberia earlier this week and met with the country’s vice president and other officials.

“He's trying to invest in Africa and he came to Liberia to explore the possibility of investing in the gold and diamond sector,” Sieh said, adding that Thaksin had arrived in Liberia on Tuesday and left the next day.

Sieh said he believed that Thaksin went on to Ghana and Ivory Coast. His current location could not be immediately confirmed.

Thaksin’s most recent hub was Dubai. He earlier used London as a base until Britain revoked his visa because of the Thai conviction. While in Britain, Thaksin bought the English Premier League soccer team Manchester City, which he subsequently sold to Abu Dhabi investors.

Thaksin recently has claimed that he’s running out of money, but says that Thailand’s move to freeze his assets may have helped safeguard his vast wealth from the financial crisis.

Thaksin’s fortune was estimated at US $2.2 billion in 2006 by Forbes Asia magazine. By 2008, his net worth was pegged at $400 million after Thailand froze more than $1.8 billion of his family’s assets pending the outcome of corruption cases against him.

It is unclear which passport Thaksin is using to travel. The government has revoked Thaksin’s personal and diplomatic passports, but the former Thai prime minister now has a diplomatic Nicaraguan passport and is alleged to have others.

The red shirts, mostly from the rural poor who benefited from Thaksin’s social welfare programs, claim Abhisit, who was appointed by Parliament in December, came to power illegitimately after court rulings removed two Thaksin-allied governments.

Their protests came after three years of sporadic protests by Thaksin’s opponents, the “yellow shirts,” whose rallies paved the way to the 2006 coup and the later court dismissals of Thaksin’s allies. The yellow shirts come mainly from the urban, middle class and educated elite of Thai society, including royalists.

READ MORE---> Thai Prime Minister Lifts State of Emergency...

Regime Faces Crushing Defeat if Election is Free and Fair

Irrawaddy News

If Burma’s upcoming election in 2010 is free and fair, it can be predicted with certainty that the National League for Democracy (NLD) of Aung San Suu Kyi will win with no less than the 82 percent of the votes it secured in the 1990 poll.

One basic reason for such optimism is that the NLD has committed none of the crimes laid at the door of the current military regime—killing innocent people, including revered monks, and sentencing dissidents to harsh and lengthy terms of imprisonment.

There are several other valid reasons: the NLD is an elected party, while the government is a ruthless regime; the stark contrast between their leaders, Than Shwe and Suu Kyi. There’s absolutely no comparison between the cold-blood monk killer and the sincere and candid NLD leader.

However, critics would say that the popularity of the NLD is declining because of its inability to bring about democratic reforms despite the mandate a large majority of the people bestowed on it two decades ago. That’s true if we don’t take into consideration just how oppressive the regime is.

The same majority won’t see any difference between the regime and the proxy parties which are now being formed ahead of the 2010 election.

It’s logical to assume that the regime, having failed to honor the result of the 1990 election, will not accept an NLD victory in the 2010 poll. The generals in Naypyidaw aren’t keen to see a resurrection of the “ghost” that has haunted them since 1990.

In order not to repeat their mistake, the generals will choose a means to make sure that their proxy parties will largely win in the election, even though they’ve secured 25 percent of the seats in both the upper and lower houses of parliament with handpicked military officials, according to the constitution which was drawn up by the junta’s delegates.

Logic, therefore, says that there is no reason for the generals to hold a free and fair election in 2010.

Regional events such as the anti-government riots in neighboring Thailand would have made the generals more determined to keep walking on their own “roadmap.”

Burmese Prime Minister Gen Thein Sein would have reported to his colleagues in Naypyidaw how he was evacuated by helicopter from the disrupted Association of Southeast Nations summit in Pattaya, and together they would surely have ridiculed Thailand’s democracy, noting its “anarchy”—a word they like to use.

Consequently, they would now be more determined than ever to keep walking toward what they have called “disciplined democracy.”

Nothing—including the criticism and demands of the international community—can seem to affect the determination of the Burmese generals.

Since taking office in January, US President Barack Obama and his administration have been reviewing the policies of the previous George W Bush government against authoritarian countries such as Iran, North Korea and Burma.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced in February that the US administration was reviewing its policy on Burma, saying the sanctions imposed on Burma since 1997 had got nowhere. Constructive engagement applied by neighboring countries of Burma has also failed to bring about change.

The prospect of a change in US approach towards Burma doesn’t appear, however, to have persuaded the regime to review its own policies.

The international community has demanded a review by the junta of its constitution to ensure the inclusion of all opposition and ethnic parties in the 2010 election. But the junta has said that anyone who is against the constitution is an “enemy of the state.”

In other words, the military regime will definitely proceed with its roadmap, including the 2010 election, according to its own norms without considering any suggestions and demands by domestic and international communities.

So it’s clear how the 2010 election will be organized and what the result will be. There’s surely no chance of the regime risking another election defeat along the lines of the 1990 debacle.

READ MORE---> Regime Faces Crushing Defeat if Election is Free and Fair...

Karen Refugee Testifies to Junta Crimes

Karen IDPs flee a Burmese army attack (Photo)

The Irrawaddy News

WASHINGTON—A Karen woman based in the United States on Thursday called on the US Congress and the Obama administration to push the UN Security Council to establish an international inquiry into crimes against humanity committed by Burma’s military junta against its own people.

Giving graphic details of the some of the human rights violations the junta has perpetrated, particularly against ethnic communities and in this case against her and her family, Karen refugee Myra Dahgaypaw told a Congressional committee that the Burmese regime must be held accountable for all the crimes it has committed.

A member of the Karen Women’s Organization and a board member of the Karen American Communities Foundation, Dahgaypaw testified before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, which had convened a Congressional hearing on human rights abuses in Burma.

“I urge members of Congress and the new US administration to support and push for a UN Security Council Commission of Inquiry into the regime’s crimes against humanity and system of impunity,” she said.

Demanding that the military regime be held accountable for the crimes it commits against the people of Burma, Dahgaypaw urged the international community to continue to pressure the junta into ceasing all human rights abuses and violence against civilians.

She said the Burmese army often uproots an entire village in just a few minutes, and sends the villagers running with little more than the clothes on their backs.

Myra Dahgaypaw, a member of the Karen Women’s Organization and a board member of the Karen American Communities Foundation, testifying before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission at a Washington congressional hearing on human rights abuses in Burma.

Then the Burmese troops place landmines around the area to ensure villagers remain on the run and do not return to their homes, she said. Today, Eastern Burma is one of the world’s most heavily mined areas.

“After villagers are forced from their villages, they live minute by minute, like nomads. They eat what they find in the jungle, and often go to bed hungry. They are always on the move, children in tow. They live in constant fear of the military,” she said.

“According to my personal experience, my family and I had nothing. We didn’t have food to eat, places to sleep or enough clothes [to wear], a situation made more difficult when it was cold or raining. We were constantly running from regime troops and we hid in the caves, bushes and jungle. The places we called ‘homes’ were burnt down many times a year. I will never forget sleeping with half of my body in the rain and the other half under a plastic tarp,” an emotionally choked Dahgaypaw said.

As humanitarian organizations could not get past the military regime to reach such people, Dahgaypaw said there was not enough food or medicine.

“I suffered from malaria, flu and other diseases many times a year. Many of my cousins died from malaria and other diseases,” she said.

“There were many times we had no food to eat. Sometimes, we had only one can of rice to feed seven family members. The older people didn’t eat. Instead they gave the rice to my sister and I because we were the youngest. We survived by eating bamboo shoots from the jungle. Sometimes we had to go to bed without any food in our stomachs,” Dahgaypaw said.

She emphasized to the committee that her story was neither unique nor exclusive to her ethnic community alone.

“There are several other ethnic groups besides the Karen. Each one of them also faces oppression and displacement at the hands of the Burmese military regime that will force them to live as IDPs [internally displaced persons] or to flee to the borders and other countries,” she said.

READ MORE---> Karen Refugee Testifies to Junta Crimes...

Burma Expert Urges US to Tighten Sanctions

The Irrawaddy News

Accusing the Burmese regime of looting the country, a prominent world expert on Burma urged the US on Thursday to tighten its economic sanctions policy against the junta.

Further financial sanctions were necessary to protect Burma against the wholesale theft of its financial and natural resources, Dr Sean Turnell, an Associate Professor of Economics at MacQuarie University in Australia, told a US congressional hearing.

Turnell charged that foreign exchange revenue from Burma’s exports of natural gas were being disposed of offshore in ways that brought about the least advantage to the Burmese people.

Testifying before a hearing by the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission on “Human Rights Abuses in Burma,” Turnell said: “Now is decidedly not the time to lift the economic sanctions levied against a regime that, for nearly fifty years, has impoverished as it has abused in other ways, the people of Burma.” If sanctions were lifted, he said, it would only help the regime increase its stranglehold on the country.

Turnell, who also heads “Burma Economy Watch,” reminded the panel that Burma remained a centre of “prime money laundering concern,” according to the OECD and other international agencies.

The administration of President Barack Obama has announced it is reviewing US policy on Burma, and there have also been moves within the EC for a review of European sanctions against Burma.

Western opponents of sanctions argue they hit innocent Burmese people harder than the regime, but Turnell challenged this view.

“Sanctions are not the cause of Burma’s poverty, nor do they obstruct the country’s military regime from engaging in economic reform or from applying policies conducive to economic growth,” he argued.

“The most significant ‘sanctioner’ on Burma is none other than the country’s ruling regime itself, which has created an environment in which genuine transformative economic activity is scarcely possible, let alone similarly efficacious foreign investment or trade.”

Burma’s internal political-economy denied the country access to the international economy, and from the potential gains from the international division of labour so effectively exploited by its neighbours in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and by countries such as China, Turnell said.

Claiming that Burma’s state is almost wholly predatory, and is not so much parasitic of its host as all-consuming, he said: “If in other countries ruling regimes behave occasionally as racketeers in skimming a ‘cut’ from prosperous business, then Burma’s is more like a looter—destroying what it can neither create nor understand.”

Financial sanctions, Turnell said, are extraordinarily well-targeted. The average person in Burma has no access to a bank account, much less a need or desire to engage the international financial system.

This is not true for the members of the SPDC or the elite connected to them, said Turnell. As such, the denial of access to the US financial system to this group sends precisely the right signal, to precisely the right people, he added.

READ MORE---> Burma Expert Urges US to Tighten Sanctions...

Junta’s concern over foreign media grows

(DVB)–Strict media control enhances spiritual and intellectual nourishment, says an article in Burma’s leading state-run newspaper that speaks of the dangers of foreign media being broadcast into the country via satellite.

An article published today in the New Light of Myanmar newspaper called for the banning of satellite dishes to “protect the people against dangers and harms associated with news”.

“Satellite programmers are specially designed by major nations to wield influence over the international community in the sphere of the media,” wrote Ko Gyi Ngwe Zin Yaw.

The ruling State Peace and Development Council is notoriously fearful of foreign media being circulated inside Burma.

A number of journalists and internet bloggers have been given lengthy prison sentences for publishing material critical of the regime, or communicating with foreign media.

“The military government is always shutting the ears and eyes of people living in Burma,” said San Moe Way, secretary of the exiled Burma Media Association.

“That’s why they don’t want to see or hear foreign media, that’s why they fear the foreign media. "They are afraid of people watching the television or reading or hearing news from the radio.”

A wave of sentencing for journalists occurred following the September 2007 monk-led protests and last year’s cyclone Nargis.

Around 15 journalists are currently imprisoned, some, such as blogger Nay Phone Latt, with sentences of twelve years.

Burma has some of the world’s strictest laws regarding media censorship. The country was ranked 170 out of 173 in a press freedom index published by media watchdog Reporters without Borders in 2008.

Following cyclone Nargis, journalists were denied visas to access the country, although some managed to enter on tourist visas.

One month after the cyclone, the New Light of Myanmar led with a story on the “despicable” reporting of the cyclone by foreign media, under the title ‘The enemy who is more destructive than Nargis’.

San Moe Way believes the situation will get worse in the run-up to the scheduled elections next year.

“The 2010 elections will see more restrictions,” he said.

“They are tightening up on print media. The FM radio stations are being given licenses by government cronies to broadcast propaganda for the military and its own political parties during the elections.”

Reporting by Francis Wade

Junta attack foreign media ‘fabrications’

READ MORE---> Junta’s concern over foreign media grows...

Diarrhea Deaths Confirmed in Rangoon

The Irrawaddy News

Sources in Rangoon have confirmed that at least five people have died in an outbreak of diarrhea that hit Burma’s largest city just before the start of the Burmese New Year’s festival in mid-April.

Bae U Ma, a 12-year-old girl from a poor family living in Ward 44 of North Dagon Myothit Township, died on April 20 after contracting the disease earlier in the month, according to a neighbor. Neighbors also confirmed the death of an elderly woman in Ward 7 of the same township. Doctors said three other people had died in Thaketa Township’s Ward 4, where the outbreak was said to be under control.

“I successfully treated more than a dozen diarrhea patients in the past three weeks,” said a physician at a private clinic in Thaketa Township. “But the cases were particularly severe, requiring at least three days of treatment.”

There were also reports that three other patients had died in North Okkalapa Township, although these could not be independently confirmed. Local residents of the township said that there were hundreds of cases of diarrhea in North Okkalapa alone.

Other townships, including South and North Dagon Myothit, Thaketa, Dawbon and Thanlyin, have also reported significant numbers of people suffering from the disease.

No official announcement of the outbreak has been issued, although the Ministry of Health has released repeated warnings in the Burmese-language press instructing people to take precautions against the disease.

Authorities have also ordered the closure of roadside food stalls in areas affected by the outbreak, according to local residents.

Meanwhile, an official from the United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Rangoon told The Irrawaddy on Friday that there has also been a dramatic rise in the number of cases of diarrhea in the Irrawaddy delta over the past week.

“UNICEF and other medical agencies have learned of an estimated 100 diarrhea cases in 20 villages in Bogalay Township this week,” the UNICEF official said, adding that the number of cases has since decreased.

The official also said that UNICEF was aware of the outbreak in Rangoon and was working with government agencies to address the problem.

“We have been cooperating with government health officials in responding to the situation. We are providing drugs and equipment,” said the UNICEF official, who added that she was not authorized to make any further comment.

Despite growing concerns, the authorities have moved to prevent any news related to the outbreak from reaching the public.

“We cannot answer any questions because our senior officers have told us not to speak to the media about this issue,” a government health official from North Okkalapa Township said during a telephone conversation.

A Rangoon-based journalist who has been following news of the outbreak said that if the government did not provide detailed information soon, the situation could get “worse and worse, and then get out of control.”

READ MORE---> Diarrhea Deaths Confirmed in Rangoon...

Senior monk urges Mon political groups to join 2010 election

Mon Son, IMNA

A senior monk has expressed a desire for Mon political parties to participate in the elections to be held in Burma in 2010 so that the Mon community will have some representation in any future parliament.

Abbot Ain Da Ka, from Kamarwet village, made the remarks during a speech on April 11th at the closing ceremony of a Mon summer school in Young Dong village, Mudon Township. The summer school programmed is run by the Mon National Literature and Cultural Committee (MNLCC) of which the abbot is chairman for Mon State.

He said, "if Mon political groups participate in the 2010 election, we will get a chance to lobby in parliament for the MMLCC and for Mon people."

The two largest Mon political parties are the New Mon State Party (NMSP) and the Mon National Democratic Front (MNDF). Both have decided not to participate in the forthcoming election until the ruling military regime addresses the constitution which was ratified last year in what most objective observers agree was an undemocratic referendum of the population.

Representatives of both parties attended the school closing ceremony: Nai Htaw Mon, NMSP chairman and Nai Hong Done, vice-spokesperson of the MNDF and vice-chairman of the MNLCC. In the audience to hear the abbot's remarks there were several monks, members of the MNLCC, summer school students and their parents.

Nai Hong Done responded to Abbot Ain Da Ka's comments during his own speech at the ceremony. He later summarized his response to IMNA.

"The constitution does not include rights for Mon Literature and Culture. Even if we participated we couldn't fight for them in any parliament. I explained this to the monks and the people attending the ceremony."

According to Nai Hong Done, although some Mon parties and individual are preparing to take part in the election, MNDF will not be involved and will not change their stand.

READ MORE---> Senior monk urges Mon political groups to join 2010 election...

Release of Political Prisoners Still Key Issue: UK Ambassador

The Irrawaddy News

BANGKOK — The release of political prisoners is still the key to progress in Burma, Britain’s ambassador to the country, Mark Canning, told an audience during a panel discussion hosted by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand in Bangkok on Wednesday.

Citing the ruling junta’s intensifying crackdown on dissent over the past two years, Canning described Burma as “one of the most repressive places in the world,” with more than 2,100 political prisoners, including Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi.

At the panel discussion to discuss developments in Burma since Cyclone Nargis hit the country almost exactly one year ago, Canning said that the international response to the deadly cyclone has done little to change the regime’s attitude, but there is still hope that it could have some positive effect in the long run.

However, the ambassador said that the signs are not encouraging as the junta prepares for national elections to be held sometime next year. Critics say that polling is unlikely to be free and fair because the junta is intent on eliminating any genuine opposition ahead of the vote, which will be based on a constitution approved last year in a referendum widely dismissed as a sham.

Although he stressed the need for a political solution to ease the country’s deepening social and economic woes, the ambassador also said that it was important for the international community to continue assisting people inside Burma.

Canning, who has served as the UK’s ambassador to Burma since 2006, was joined on the panel by Chris Kaye, the World Food Program’s country director for Burma, and Frank Smithius, the country director and medical coordinator for Médecins Sans Frontières (Holland).

The panel discussion was recorded for broadcast by the BBC program “Question Time” to mark the one-year anniversary of Cyclone Nargis. Organizers said that Burmese aid workers declined an invitation to take part in the discussion after learning that it would air on the BBC.

READ MORE---> Release of Political Prisoners Still Key Issue: UK Ambassador...

Child Soldiers Still Common in Burma: UN Report

A child soldier wearing a Burmese army uniform (Photo: Yuzo/The Irrawaddy)

The Irrawaddy News

WASHINGTON — The Burmese military regime’s army and nine other armed groups are still recruiting child soldiers, according to the latest Annual Report of the UN Secretary-General to the Security Council on Children and Armed Conflict, released on Wednesday.

The report accuses both the Burmese junta and an array of armed ethnic groups, including ceasefire groups and active anti-government forces, of continuing to engage in the practice of recruiting child soldiers.

Apart from the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), the Karenni Army (KA) and the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S), all of the armed ethnic groups singled out in the report have signed ceasefire agreements with the Burmese regime.

The ceasefire groups implicated in the report include the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), the Karen National Union-Karen National Liberation Army Peace Council (KNU/KNLA PC), the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the Karenni National People’s Liberation Front (KNPLF), the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and the United Wa State Army (UWSA).

The non-ceasefire KNLA and KA are the only groups that have sought to conclude an action plan with the UN to end recruitment of child soldiers, according to the report. But the report, authored by Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict, adds that the UN has been prevented from establishing a formal dialogue with these groups by the Burmese military junta.

The 51-page report, which documents recruitment of child soldiers around the globe, further alleges that the Burmese military junta has denied humanitarian access to children during the reporting period.

The report also refers to a meeting between UNICEF officials and Wa authorities in early 2008, during which the UN officials visited two military camps where the UWSA was managing and running four primary schools. “This is worrisome, given the allegations of their recruitment and use of child soldiers,” the report said.

The Wa denied that the students were given military training and explained that the children were dressed in military uniforms because they were orphans, street children or children from poor families who could not afford other clothing. No further assessment was carried out and there has been no further contact with the Wa authorities, the report said.

Reports from camps along the Thai-Burmese border found one case of a child recruited by the KNU and three cases of children associated with the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), the political wing of the KA, the UN report said. A monitoring and reporting mechanism has been established in all nine refugee camps along the border in order to improve the verification of cases and raise awareness of the issue of child soldiers among camp residents, it said.

Referring to official reports shared by the junta, the UN report said the Burmese government continues to screen and release underage children found in its armed forces during the training process. The junta reported that 68 children were detected in various military training schools and were released to their parents and guardians.

The 68 cases included 12 children who were released through the International Labor Organization (ILO) mechanism, one released and reported to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and two released and reported to the ILO and ICRC.

The ILO, through its mechanism to eliminate the use of forced labor, has verified the release of 23 children, mostly from involuntary military enrolment, based on complaints filed by parents and relatives. An additional 14 cases either await government response or remain open while the process continues, it said.

While the Burmese regime claimed that it has discharged nine military recruitment officers from service for violating the national military recruitment law, the UN reported that it has not been able to verify that.

However, on underage recruitment cases received by ILO, no action against perpetrators has been taken under either the Penal Code or military regulations, the report said.

The report also said that even as the regime has informed the UN country task force that it has put procedures in place for the rehabilitation and reintegration of underage recruits, the UNICEF has not been given access to children who were released through the government’s mechanisms for follow-up purposes.

The UN report said the world body has also not been able to establish contact with any of the armed ceasefire groups identified in the 2007 annual report as perpetrators of child recruitment. These include the DKBA, the KNU/KNLA PC, the KIA, the KNPLF and the MNDAA. It also has no contact with the non-ceasefire SSA-S.

READ MORE---> Child Soldiers Still Common in Burma: UN Report...

Junta prohibits reporting on the arrest of murderer

by Nem Davies

New Delhi (Mizzima) - Local Weekly Journals in Rangoon said they have been prohibited from publishing follow-up news on a murder case that took place in Botahtaung Township of Rangoon in early April.

Despite Botahtaung police station and Rangoon division police confirming the arrest of an individual accused of killing a husband and wife, they have warned local journals not to publish additional information concerning the case, an editor of a Rangoon-based weekly told Mizzima.

“They have openly warned us not to report about follow-up news regarding the case. I have tried various means to persuade them otherwise, but they have even threatened to arrest me,” said the editor, referring to the strict censorship board, which maintains tight control over local publications.

In early April, Aye Aye Win, daughter of a retired military officer, and her husband, Khin Maung Lay, a sailor, were both found dead inside their residence in Botahtaung Township.

On Monday, a police officer in Botahtaung police station told Mizzima they had arrested a murder suspect on April 15 and were interrogating him. But the officer declined to provide further details, other than to state he is an important individual.

Editors and reporters of local weeklies in Rangoon believe the murderer could be related to military officials, which is why they have been restricted from reporting further on the case.

News of the murder was reported in early April by at least three journals – Weekly Eleven, 7 Day News and The Voice.

One local journal has, however, indicated they have submitted their paper to the censorship board inclusive of follow-up news on the arrest, though it remains to be seen whether or not authorities permit publication of the edition.

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