Friday, May 8, 2009

Generals Call the Ceasefire Groups’ Hands

The Irrawaddy News

If the ethnic ceasefire groups agree to follow proposals by Burma’s military junta to transform their battalions into border guard forces, they will be left with no room to maneuver politically. Either way, stability across the country is under threat.

The dilemma facing several of Burma’s ethic armies comes after high-ranking officers from Naypyidaw made several visits to the ethnic groups’ bases last week to outline blueprints for the post-election period that would entail the former insurgents submitting to the command of the Burmese army, also known as the Tatmadaw.

Among the groups that sat with the junta officials last week is the largest armed ethnic group, the United Wa State Army (UWSA), a 20,000-strong army based in Shan State which is closely associated with the drugs trade.

Other groups include the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), a Kokang group called the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, and the National Democratic Alliance Army, which is based in Shan State.

According to a copy of the blueprint obtained by The Irrawaddy, none of the ethnic ceasefire groups would retain the right to manage day-to-day affairs independently and its command structure would have to share—and, in certain positions, be submissive to—the Tatmadaw’s regional commanders.

Under the plan outlined in the leaked blueprint, one Burmese officer would share command of each ethnic ceasefire group battalion alongside two ethnic commanders. Burmese military personnel would also assume several other significant posts in each battalion.

According to the junta’s guidelines, the ceasefire groups have to respond to the proposal in the coming months. Military training for the ceasefire groups has been penciled in for October.

“The ceasefire groups should think carefully about their future,” said Aung Kyaw Zaw, a Burmese military analyst based on the Sino-Burmese border. “This is a crucial time for them.

“If the junta’s plan comes to fruition, there will be no more UWSA or KIA—only political wings, such as the UWSP [United Wa State Party] and the KIO [Kachin Independence Organization].”

Observers say that if the ceasefire groups do not accept the Tatmadaw’s border guard force proposal, the fragile ceasefire agreements between many of the ethnic groups and the junta could be broken; and the border trade zone along Burma’s eastern border could suddenly become a battleground again.

Aside from the UWSA, the other ethnic ceasefire groups are not as strong nowadays as they were before they entered into ceasefire agreements. The Tatmadaw now has several outposts positioned in the ethnic group-controlled areas.

However, according to Khuensai Jaiyen, the editor-in-chief of the Shan Herald Agency for News, ceasefire groups such as the Shan State Army (North) would still be a force to be reckoned with if they were called into action, even though they have a much smaller army than the UWSA.

According to intelligence sources, junta chief Snr-Gen Than Shwe has indicated to his officers that handling the ethnic ceasefire groups would be one of their biggest challenges in the coming years.

“Apart from non-violent dissidents such as Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD [National League for Democracy], the generals in Naypyidaw see this as another threat to their administration since there are no concrete political solutions to ceasefire agreements,” said a political observer in Rangoon who spoke on condition of anonymity.

He said that facing down the ceasefire groups would be different from Suu Kyi and other dissidents. “If the junta wants to crack down on the non-violent opposition, they can simply open more prison doors. But the ceasefire groups—like the junta—also know how to use firepower to get their way,” he said.

The issue also encompasses geopolitical concerns for the regime. China, being Burma’s northern neighbor and one of its biggest trade and military partners, enjoys a strong influence on all the ceasefire groups based near the Sino-Burmese border, especially the UWSA and the KIA.

China is scheduled to build a strategic oil and gas pipeline stretching from western Burma to Yunnan Province, passing through much ethnic territory.

China, as former comrades-in-arms, would not ignore the UWSA and the Kokang if they were in crisis, said Aung Kyaw Zaw.

In recent years, the question of Burma’s stability, development and national reconciliation has become a main concern for Beijing.

In April, Chen Bingde, the Chief-of-Staff of the People's Liberation Army, told the visiting Burmese general Tin Aye that Beijing hoped Burma could achieve social stability, economic development and national reconciliation.

However, at last week’s meeting between junta officers and the UWSA, one of the Wa leaders reportedly rebuked the Burmese regime’s offer angrily, calling it a recipe for disunity.

Other ethnic leaders are going to have to make big decisions in the near future—decisions that could tread dangerously close to plunging the region into instability and bloodshed.

READ MORE---> Generals Call the Ceasefire Groups’ Hands...

Story of 'Suu Kyi' Swimmer Widely Questioned

The Irrawaddy News

The news reported on Thursday that a US citizen swam across Inya Lake to the home of detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi in Rangoon, where he stayed for a three-day period, has become the talk of Burma.

The man, identified by the government as John Willian [sic] Yeattaw, was reportedly arrested on Wednesday morning as he was swimming away from Suu Kyi’s home.

The lakeside home of Aung San Suu Kyi on Inya Lake in Rangoon, with four policemen in a boat in the foreground. (Photo:AP)

Because of the unexplained sequence of events, many Rangoon residents discount the truth of the government account, which appeared in state-backed media. No other details or motives were provided.

The alleged intrusion into her private compound comes as Suu Kyi’s house arrest is set to expire this month.

“Security personnel found a suspicious looking foreigner swimming with the help of a 5-litre drinking water bottle in Inya Lake” at 5.30 a.m. On Wednesday, the state-run New Light of Myanmar reported. The report was not accompanied by a photograph of the intruder.

The report said “he secretly entered the house and stayed there” on Sunday night and remained there through Tuesday night.

The US Embassy in Rangoon said it has made repeated requests to see the man, which have been denied.

“We would like to confirm the information ourselves and to speak with the man directly,” said embassy spokesman Richard Mei.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s home (see circle) on the south side of Inya Lake in Rangoon and the location of the arrest of a US citizen (see box) near Prome Road.

According to Rangoon residents and journalists contacted by The Irrawaddy, many citizens in the former capital do not believe the story as it has been reported.

“The news of an American guy swimming to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s house is now the talk of the town here,” said a Rangoon journalist who spoke on condition of anonymity.

He said many people think the story was fabricated by the government as propaganda, intended to discredit Suu Kyi and provide an excuse not to release her from house arrest.

A Burmese social worker in Rangoon told The Irrawaddy that the story is confusing.

“Yes, it is the hottest news in the town,” she said. “But people are saying that nobody knows if it is really true. Only Daw Aung San Suu Kyi can tell the truth. And nobody can ask her directly.”

For some members of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) and other dissidents at home and abroad, the news raised concern about the Nobel laureate’s security.

“We cannot confirm yet that the news is true or not. However, this is a very dangerous situation for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi if the event really happened,” said Han Thar Myint, an NLD spokesman. “As we know, security forces are supposed to be on the bank of the lake at her compound.”

An exiled dissident group, the Democratic Party for New Society, announced on Thursday that the incident showed that Suu Kyi’s life was at risk.

Recently the junta rejected an appeal by Suu Kyi’s lawyer for her release, saying the “grounds for her appeal were not strong enough.”

Suu Kyi has been under house arrest for 13 of past 19 years. In 2008, the junta extended her detention for one more year. Her attorney and the government differ on the date when her detention is scheduled to end. According to NLD spokesman Han Thar Myint, the detention is set to expire in May, but authorities said it will be in November.

Authorities allow only her doctor and two caretakers access inside Suu Kyi’s home. Her family doctor, Tin Myo Win, regularly visits her every first Thursday each month, NLD sources said. Tin Myo Win was scheduled to visit her on Thursday, but he was not available when The Irrawaddy tried to contact him.

If elements of the story are true, the tantalizing questions are what were the man’s motives and did he have any connection with a government, a political group, or was the incident the act of one individual working alone?

In the past, foreigners who entered Burma and who tried to engage in political work or activities have been arrested and threatened with imprisonment. Usually, they are deported.

The US Campaign for Burma, a leading Burma campaign group in the United States, denied any connection with the American who was named in the newspaper report. Other exiled pro-democracy groups have also denied involvement.

Following the incident, US citizens in Burma are reportedly under increased surveillance by Burmese authorities, according to sources in Rangoon.

Two US journalists were reportedly deported from the country on Thursday after authorities learned that they gave a journalism training course in Mandalay.

Suu Kyi’s neighbors said on Friday that authorities had changed security guard personnel at her compound.

Recently, increased personal attacks on Suu Kyi have appeared on Internet blogs and some observers say they are the work of pro-junta elements.

“Last month, I told the chairman of the NLD that we should expect that there could be some unusual news and attacks on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi ahead of the expiration of her detention date,” said Thein Nyunt, a senior NLD member.

READ MORE---> Story of 'Suu Kyi' Swimmer Widely Questioned...

British MPs urge UN to invoke R2P in Burma

by Mungpi

New Delhi (Mizzima)- Over 60 British Members of Parliament have called on the United Nations to form a commission of inquiry into crimes against humanity committed by Burma’s ruling junta and to invoke the principle of Responsibility to Protect (R2P) in relation to the crisis in Burma.

The MPs including the Former Foreign Office Ministers, Ian McCartney and Keith Vaz have signed an Early Day Motion (EDM), which was tabled by MP John Bercow, Co-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Democracy in Burma, expressing concern at the deteriorating human rights situation in Burma.

The MPs, in the EDM, urged the UN to invoke the principle of Responsibility to Protect (R2P) in relation to the Burmese junta’s appalling human rights records particularly a military campaign against its ethnic nationalities.

The EMD “urges Her Majesty's Government, along with other governments, to propose the establishment of a commission of inquiry to investigate allegations of crimes against humanity and war crimes in Burma; and urges the UN to invoke the principle of Responsibility to Protect in relation to the crisis in Burma.”

Rights groups and activists accused Burma’s military government of using policies to terrorize its citizens, more severely in remote areas of the country, where ethnic minorities live, in order to maintain its stranglehold on power.

The Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a campaign group that has been lobbying for democratic change in Burma, in a statement on Thursday said the Burmese junta’s policies include the widespread use of rape as a weapon of war, forced labour, the use of human minesweepers, and child soldiers.

The junta’s army has also destroyed over 3,300 villages in eastern Burma since 1996, and launched attacks on civilians resulting in displacement of about a million people, the group said.

John Bercow, who had visited the Thailand-Burma border and the India-Burma border, where Burmese ethnics live in precarious states, said he had heard horrific stories from victims of human rights violations.

“I have sat face to face with victims of unspeakable torture, including women and children who have seen their loved ones murdered. They have looked me in the eye and pleaded for the world to hear their cry,” Bercow said in the statement.

“It is time their cries were answered and the junta's crimes investigated. The people of Burma urgently need the freedom and justice they have been denied for so long," he added.

The Early Day Motions are formal motions submitted for debate in the House of Commons in the British Parliament. While very few EDMs are actually debated, they highlight the extent of parliamentary support for a particular cause or view point.

Alexa Papadouris, CSW's Advocacy Director said their group calls on “the British Government and other Governments to take this call seriously and to initiate a commission of inquiry into the junta's crimes against humanity.”

The concept of R2P was adopted in 2005 World Summit, where governments and world leaders agreed that they have a responsibility to protect when a government is unable or unwilling to protect its civilians from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing.

In implementing R2P, first peaceful measures can be adopted through the use of economic, political, diplomatic, and legal tools but if this fails the International community can use collective force through the UN Security Council under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, only as a last resort.

READ MORE---> British MPs urge UN to invoke R2P in Burma...

Aung San Suu Kyi says swimming visitor stayed downstairs Read more: "Aung San Suu Kyi says swimming visitor stayed downstairs - Monsters and Critics"

Yangon (M&C)- Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has told authorities that a US citizen who swam to her house on Inya Lake and stayed three nights had entered illegally and was kept downstairs, authorities said Friday.

John William Yeattaw, 53, was arrested at 5:30 am Wednesday at Inya Lake, which rims Suu Kyi's family home, where she has been kept under house arrest for the past six years.

Yeattaw reportedly arrived in Yangon Saturday and managed to enter Suu Kyi's compound by swimming there Sunday night. He secretly stayed at Suu Kyi's house until swimming away early Wednesday, state media reported.

Myanmar authorities questioned Suu Kyi about the incident on Thursday, and were informed that the she deemed her visitor's entry 'illegal' and 'unacceptable,' and had kept him downstairs in her home-cum-jail for the entire time, security sources who asked to remain anonymous said.

Suu Kyi's helper, Khin Win, and Khin Win's daughter, Ma Win Pa Pa, also live in the downstairs portion of the two-storey Aung San family home.

Authorities found in Yeattaw's bag a flashlight, a camera, pliers and 100 dollars in cash plus kyat currency notes.

Suu Kyi's compound is under heavy guard and constant surveillance. She was last arrested on May 27, 2003, and has been kept under house arrest in near-complete isolation.

The Nobel Peace Prize laureate has spent 13 of the past 19 years under detention in her family's Yangon compound.

Suu Kyi is the daughter of Aung San, an independence hero who was assassinated in 1948. She returned to Myanmar in 1988 to tend to her ailing mother and became caught up in the country's nascent pro-democracy movement, of which she swiftly became a leading figure.

READ MORE---> Aung San Suu Kyi says swimming visitor stayed downstairs Read more: "Aung San Suu Kyi says swimming visitor stayed downstairs - Monsters and Critics"...

British MP’s accuse junta of crimes against humanity

(DVB)–Over 60 British Members of Parliament, including two former Foreign Office ministers, have called for a United Nations commission of inquiry into crimes against humanity in Burma.

The Early Day Motion (EDM) tabled by John Bercow MP, Co-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Democracy in Burma, urges the UN to act on the campaign of ethnic cleansing that the ruling State Peace and Development Council is carrying out against ethnic nationalities.

The EDM was supported by human rights campaign group, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), and comes just two weeks before imprisoned opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is due for release from house arrest.

“CSW strongly urges the British government and other governments to take this call seriously and to initiate a commission of inquiry into the junta's crimes against humanity,” said Alexa Papadouris, advocacy director of CSW.

Human rights violations highlighted in the EDM include use of rape as a weapon of war, forced labour, the use of human minesweepers, child soldiers, and the imprisonment of over 2,100 political prisoners.

“I have visited the ethnic peoples on both the Thailand-Burma border and the India-Burma border with CSW, and have been shocked by the horrific stories I have heard from victims of this barbaric regime,“ said John Bercow.

The EDM coincides with a statement released on Wednesday by Thailand-based Burma Lawyers’ Council that said the extent and severity of crimes committed by the junta are enough to warrant accusations of war crimes and genocide.

Similarly, last month, former senior legal adviser to the International Criminal Court, Morten Bergsmo, stated that the Burmese army’s use of child soldiers could constitute a war crime.

Reporting by Rosalie Smith

READ MORE---> British MP’s accuse junta of crimes against humanity...

Than Shwe's Genocide Children

READ MORE---> Than Shwe's Genocide Children...

Ban Ki-moon: Buddha's Teaching Can Help Global Peace

(Narinjara) -By Takaloo, Dhaka UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in his message delivered to the world communities on Wednesday that the Buddha's teaching could help the world become peaceful.

"All of us can learn from the Buddha's spirit of compassion. His timeless teachings can help us to navigate the many global problems we face today," said Ban Ki-moon in his message.

His message came ahead of the Buddha's birthday, traditionally known as Vesak or Visakah, a full-moon which this year fell on 9 May, 2009.

Vesak is the name of the month of the Buddha's birth in the Indian lunar calendar. Buddhist communities around the world celebrate the full-moon day with great reverence and piety as the day synchronized the birth, enlightenment, and passing of the Buddha.

"The need for global solidarity may seem like a modern concept, but it is not. More than 2,500 years ago, the Buddha taught that nothing exists in isolation, and that all phenomena are interdependent. Just as profoundly, he taught that we cannot be happy as long as others suffer, and that when we do reach out, we discover the best in ourselves," he added.

He also urged every individual to resolve to help people who are suffering, in order to secure a better future for all, in his message marking Vesak.

READ MORE---> Ban Ki-moon: Buddha's Teaching Can Help Global Peace...

Rights violations along 180-mile gas pipeline shocking, ongoing, says new report

Mon Son and Blai Mon - IMNA

“Pervasive human rights abuses” are occurring along an extensive overland pipeline in southern Burma, says a report released by a rights group yesterday. Rape, summary execution, forced labor and other abuses are the deliberate, predictable result of the pipeline, says the group, as is the confiscation of almost 15,000 acres of land.

The report, released by the Human Rights Foundation of Monland (HURFOM), deals with the government-owned Kanbauk to Myaing Kalay pipeline, which branches off the Yadana gas project in Tenasserim Division. The Yadana project has received intense international criticism for its role in rights abuses; the consortium of international energy companies who control it have been sued in 3 countries, with one investor pulling out.

According to HURFOM, abuses along the Kanbauk to Myaing Kalay pipeline are comparable in type, though not in scale, to those documented in relation to the Yadana project; at 183-miles, the Kanbauk to Myaing Kalay pipeline is more than four times longer than the 40-mile Yadana project.

HURFOM organizes abuses documented in the report into two broad categories. In the first, the group argues that a threefold increase in Burmese army deployments to the area since is “fundamentally due” to the pipeline.

“The predictable result of deploying large numbers of soldiers and encouraging them to extract what they can from the countryside, without oversight,” says the group, is a “raft of abuses.” According to the group, these include: 12,000 acres of land confiscation for barracks and army agriculture projects, forced labor, 62 incidents of rape and the commandeering of food and property.

In the second category, abuses along the pipeline are also a “deliberate, calculated part of the pipeline security effort” in which “battalions seeking to protect the pipeline from insurgents do so largely by targeting civilians.” According to HURFOM, this has entailed travel restrictions, forced relocation, and 68 incidents of torture and summary execution involving more than 600 victims.

Also related to pipeline security, HURFOM says it has confirmed that residents of more than 40 villages – including children as young as 12 – are required to work as forced laborers maintaining and guarding the pipeline. More than 2,400 acres of land, meanwhile, have been confiscated to ensure the pipeline’s route can be easily patrolled.

Making clear just how “ongoing” the abuses really are, a press release distributed to mark the report’s publication notes that, in just the last week, HURFOM has documented the summary execution of one villager and the burning of 36 homes. “In both cases,” says the release, “the army committed the abuses less than a mile from the pipeline.”

On the other side of Burma, meanwhile, construction of another pipeline is just beginning: in late March, Burma and China agreed to transport gas from the Shwe gas fields 1,200 miles overland to southwestern China.

Win Aung, coordinator of the Shwe Gas Movement, which opposes the project, says abuses like those documented by HURFOM have already begun. “The number of army battalions have already increased in the area,” Win Aung told IMNA today. “Human rights violations happened when the government started this project – and they are still happening.”

“They have not started building the pipeline yet. But they have to make the way clear for the pipeline – so villagers have to work as forced laborers clearing brush and digging.” These abuses are just the beginning, says Win Aung.

“According to what I see in the HURFOM report, these kinds of human rights violations – forced labor, torture, etc. – will happen in the Shwe Gas area. And the Shwe Gas pipeline is much longer than the pipeline to Kanbauk.”

READ MORE---> Rights violations along 180-mile gas pipeline shocking, ongoing, says new report...

Than Shwe's Genocide Children

READ MORE---> Than Shwe's Genocide Children...

The Futility of Western Sanctions against Burma

by Roger Mitton - Asia Sentinel

The righteous western powers and their damage to the long-suffering Burmese people

Last week, the European Union committed an irrational and counter-productive act. It renewed economic sanctions against Burma. The EU foreign ministers, meeting in Luxembourg, also extended an arms embargo and a travel ban on top Burmese officials, as well as a freeze on Burma’s assets in Europe.

It is indisputable that Burma is ruled by an odious military junta that represses the citizens of that country in every facet of their lives. The junta ruthlessly persecutes the National League for Democracy, which won the 1990 elections in a landslide, yet has been prevented from taking power. And it continues to wrongfully detain the league’s leader, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi.

But despite all this, Burma-watchers across the entire spectrum of opinion increasingly now agree that in seeking to change that awful situation, there is little point in continuing a policy of economic containment. That policy, driven by Western governments, has not only failed miserably to alter the political dynamic in any way, but instead – and this is what is criminally despicable – it has greatly exacerbated the impoverishment of the Burmese people.

Even the long-suffering Suu Kyi has begun to ameliorate her original robust support for sanctions. Now, when asked if they should be continued, she says that the question should be put to the countries imposing the sanctions.

As her fellow Nobel laureate, East Timor’s President Jose Ramos-Horta, said recently in Washington: "When you use sanctions to punish a country like Myanmar (Burma) for the perceived sins of the regime, it is the people who suffer the collateral damage."

Precisely. And almost everyone, including now the administration of US President Barack Obama, agrees that the sanctions policy has not worked.

Last month, on April 24, the International Crisis Group, a respected global institution headed by former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans, issued a report entitled "Missing the Boat on Myanmar."

Regarding the imposition of sanctions, it stated boldly, unequivocally and rightly: "The EU should abandon a policy maintained by those with an eye on noble points rather than on new opportunities to promote change."

The noble-minded European politicians seem to forget that poverty levels in Burma are extreme, and that in contrast to their massive verbal expressions of outrage at the actions of the military junta, they provide minimal humanitarian aid to the citizens of that nation.

In neighboring Laos, for example, which is ruled by an authoritarian communist party which brooks no opposition whatsoever, the amount of external assistance per capita is around US$30 a year. In Cambodia, where corruption levels are among the highest in the world, it is $50. In poor destitute Burma, it is a shocking $2.70 a year – a figure roughly comparable to what each European cow is worth per day in subsidies.

The rightly condemnatory ICG report also reflects the changing views in Washington, where, following Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s public admission that sanctions are not working, a serious reassessment of America’s Burma policy is underway.

Already Stephen Blake, director of the State Dept’s Office for Mainland Southeast Asia, has paid an unprecedented visit to Burma’s new capital of Naypidaw, where he met Foreign Minister U Nyan Win and other government officials – the very people who should be drawn into a dialogue, but who continue to be banned from visiting the West.

The New Light of Myanmar, the regime’s appalling mouthpiece of a newspaper, reported that Blake held "cordial discussions on issues of mutual interest and the promotion of bilateral relations." That, at least, is a positive assessment than can serve as a building block.

And thankfully things are now being said in public that were only whispered in private before. As every journalist who has ever visited Rangoon knows, all the Western ambassadors based there always concede – off the record, of course – that sanctions are not working and are counter-productive.

Indeed, President George W. Bush’s first Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, the highly respected James A. Kelly, believed and often privately said that the US had a failed policy on Burma.

He was right. It is still a failed policy, but at least it is starting to change. As well as Blake’s dialogue, there have been talks in Washington, New York and Rangoon involving American diplomats and former Burma ambassadors to the US.

Certainly, it is an open secret that the Burma regime craves better relations with the US in order to balance its increasingly nervy economic and strategic dependence on China, and to a lesser extent on India and Russia.

Said Ramos-Horta: "I know that the military in Myanmar are desperate for change and so this is a unique opportunity for the US to engage them. The situation there is not intractable. It can be resolved."

Of course, it can. All it needs is a bit of bravery from both sides and a willingness to cut free from the shackles of past bankrupt policies – the kind of bravery that President Obama has shown in changing US policy on Cuba and Iran.

Jaw jaw is better than war war, as Winston Churchill said; and dialogue and engagement are always better than containment and shackling. Now, at last, it appears that the Obama administration in Washington is preparing to seize the opportunity. Humanitarian aid has already been stepped up. A few weeks ago, Washington donated 16,000 tons of rice to Burma to help feed victims of last year’s cyclone Nargis, which devastated parts of the Irrawaddy Delta.

And there are reports that the Geneva-based, but largely US-controlled Global Fund, which fights diseases like AIDS and malaria, may resume its activities in Burma.

It is not enough, but it is a good start. And it has been intimated that the Obama administration, with Secretary Clinton’s approval, may restore the status of the head of the huge new US Embassy in Rangoon from mere charge d’affaires to full ambassadorial rank. And the quality of the US head of mission will be upgraded from the recent lackluster series that has included the likes of Priscilla Clapp and Carmen Martinez.

Clapp was perhaps best known for her cats, Batman and Robin, while the doubly blessed Martinez was noted more for her tennis than her diplomacy – and for wearing deliberately provocative attire in conservative Burma. Said one top State Dept official: "When you appear before Than Shwe to be accredited in stiletto heels and a miniskirt you cannot expect to be taken too seriously."

For most of the past decade, no one has taken the US mission in Rangoon seriously. And that is hardly surprising when you factor in that the US, while imposing strict economic sanctions, managed to give some $16 million to help resistance groups.

And in another shortsighted move, Washington also withdrew the highly effective officials from the Drug Enforcement Administration who were based in Rangoon. Unfortunately, the upfront DEA guys always spoke glowingly of their cooperation with their Burma counterparts in drug eradication in Shan state – and that did not sit well with the 'noble aims' of legislators back in Washington.

But make no mistake, the currently mooted changes in American policy towards Burma are profound. That is evident when it is recalled that Clinton’s predecessor as Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, adopted a strategy that deliberately precluded any negotiated settlement in Burma – a country she infamously referred to as one of six ‘outposts of tyranny’ in the world.

Nothing illustrated that previously hard-line stance more graphically than when senior State Dept officials urged Rice, soon after she took over the top post on the 7th floor at Foggy Bottom, to seize the chance for a new initiative on Burma. They counseled her to ask China, which has close ties with the regime, to facilitate a meeting between the generals and Ms Suu Kyi’s NLD to try to broker a deal that might lead to a more acceptable form of government.

Rice brusquely shot down the proposal, saying that a deal of any sort was not what the United States sought. In her view, the US wanted the NLD installed in power and the generals removed and put on trial. Anything less was unacceptable.

It would be hard to downplay the impact that sentiment would have when relayed back to the generals who have always suspected that the West has no intention of dealing with them, despite many promises to the contrary.

Certainly, Rice’s comment would have irked Suu Kyi, who has always stressed that the advent of a democratic government in Burma, at least one in which she has any say, will have no interest in putting the generals on trial.

Asked specifically about this in 1999, Suu Kyi told me personally: "We have always said that we are not interested in vengeance. That’s our official policy."

And that’s as it should be. And we should applaud the US reassessment and the moves of others who are also adopting a new stance, led by the business community which has long realized that sanctions are simply not working in practice.

Said Luc de Waegh, managing partner of Singapore-based West IndoChina Consulting, which promotes business links with Burma: "In Yangon, you can get French cosmetics, British toiletries, Australian wines, Dutch beers, American mobile phones. And no one has ever been prosecuted for breaking sanctions."

Over the past couple of months, there have been several seminars, breakfast workshops and dinner talks held in Bangkok and Singapore about the prospect of doing business in Burma. They have all drawn a better than expected audience, including a senior diplomat from the US Embassy.

And there have been inquiries from Washington, where the American Chamber of Commerce and the US-ASEAN Business Council have always voiced opposition to the policy of sanctions.

As the invitation description to one of the recent dinner talks put it: ‘For decades, European companies have been discouraged from doing business in Burma. Some countries have even imposed sanctions on Burma. And what has been achieved? Nothing.’

Like many others, De Waegh said he believes that everyone has a right to economic development and that prosperity is an important catalyst for social development. That is precisely the point made by the ICG report, which recommends that the West’s restrictions on humanitarian and development aid should stop.

This does not mean, as some short-sighted souls seem to think, that Western governments would be rewarding the regime. Rather, it means they would be attending to the terrible impoverishment of the Burma citizenry which should not have to wait for possible political change before receiving aid.

Clearly, the international financial institutions like the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the IMF should be allowed to set up operations in Burma, not so much to provide macro-credit as to facilitate technical assistance and capacity building, and to support economic reform.

That this seems blindingly obvious is one of the reasons why the EU’s recent reimposition of sanctions is so reprehensible and so shallow and hypocritical.

Indeed, as a final coda confirming the mind-boggling hypocrisy of the Europeans, try to get your head around this: North Korea is run by a mad dictator who has brought mass starvation to his people in order to develop rockets and nuclear weapons.

Yet our noble European friends – who cannot even say the word Myanmar, yet happily refer to the "Democratic" People’s Republic of Korea – have an official website at which provides helpful and detailed advice for European investors in the kingdom of Kim Jong Il.

So, mes amis, go ahead and invest in North Korea, but don’t you dare go near Burma.

READ MORE---> The Futility of Western Sanctions against Burma...

Dagon Taya, Burma's Most Respected Writer Turns 90

The Irrawaddy News

The 90th birthday of Dagon Taya, Burma's greatest living literary figure, will be celebrated on May 10 in the mountain city of Aung Pan in southern Shan State.

Dagon Taya, a creative writer who continues to compose beautiful poems, short stories, novels and commentaries, is the recognized leader of the post-World War II writers who promoted literary realism and art for the people’s sake under the banner of Sar Pe Thit (New Literature).

Dagon Taya (Photo: Moemaka)

Many young Burmese writers who emerged after World War II were deeply affected by their struggle against imperialism and fascism and by the left-wing political ideology of the post-war period.

"I greatly admire him because his ideas and his literature which influenced me in my youth," Win Tin, a celebrated pro-democracy leader and former journalist, told The Irrawaddy. "I like his philosophy, 'Literature can solve social problems and record the people’s struggle for freedom and peace.”

Dagon Taya is not only a leading literary figure. He was also an influential peace activist who made a significant contribution to both domestic and international peace efforts.

He was subjected to political persecution when the military staged a coup in 1962, when he was arrested and imprisoned for four years on suspicion of being a Communist.

Dagon Taya is known for his reserved, calm and flexible personality, and for his firm convictions. He was a close friend of Burma’s independence hero, Gen Aung San, who in 1943 offered him a high-ranking position in the Japanese occupation government—an offer he refused. Before Aung San's assassination in 1947, Dagon Taya wrote an important critical essay about his friend’s personality, titled "Aung San the Untamed."

Many Burmese were shocked by the criticism of the revered father of independence, but Dagon Taya, and Aung San himself, merely smiled in response to the controversy generated when the essay appeared in Taya magazine.

Dagon Taya wrote, “History is unforgettable. Criticism is intended to benefit the country. I believe if there is criticism, there can be progress.”

He refused a State Honorary Award by late dictator Gen Ne Win. After his refusal to accept the award, he went into self-imposed exile from Rangoon, from which he composed one of his best-know poems, "Sending Myself to the Mae Za." Mae Za is a place where critics of the king were sent into exile.

He called himself “the Liberator,” but he never assumed an active role in any political party or regime.

Following the 1988 uprising, many Burmese writers began using a variety of highly abstract styles and techniques to express their political dissatisfaction and hopes for a democratic society. Dagon Taya wrote an important poem titled “The Thaw,” addressing the changes in the international political climate.

In the mid 1990s, Dagon Taya briefly came under critical attack from some groups made up of ex-Communists and former members of Ne Win’s Burma Socialist Program Party. In reply, he reaffirmed his view that writers should not lose touch with the people and their social environment. He wrote, “You cannot separate the arts from the socio-political setting.”

In 2004, he said that the only way to resolve the country’s political deadlock in the best interest of all parties was through peaceful means, adding he was ready to play a role in peace talks between the military government and oppositions groups at any time.

“I have no foes, only friends,” he once said. “I have no hatred for any person. To me, politics means making friends of foes."

READ MORE---> Dagon Taya, Burma's Most Respected Writer Turns 90...

Embassy waits to meet American intruder to Suu Kyi’s home

by Solomon

New Delhi (Mizzima)– Officials of the US embassy in Rangoon said they have not been able to meet the American, who was arrested for illegally entering the residence of detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Richard Mei, the US embassy spokesman in Rangoon told Mizzima that they are still waiting for the Burmese government to respond to their request to allow a meeting with the detained American, whom the Burmese authorities identified as John William Yeattaw.

“We asked for permission [from the Burmese foreign ministry] to meet the individual but we have not got any response yet,” said Mei.

“We have no further information, we’ve been trying to gain access to the individual but so far we have not had any success,” he added.

On Thursday, Burma’s official newspaper, New Light of Myanmar reported that Mr. Yeattaw was arrested for swimming across the Innya Lake and barging into the Nobel Peace Laureate’s lakeside home cum jail, where she has been detained for more than 12 of the past 19 years.

During interrogation, Yeattaw confessed that he had arrived in Rangoon on May 2, and swam across the Innya Lake on May 3, Sunday, and stayed at security cordoned Aung San Suu Kyi’s colonial era home until May 5, the paper said.

He was arrested by security forces on May 6 morning, while swimming back across the Innya Lake, the paper added.

A report by the DPA on Friday says Aung San Suu Kyi, during an interrogation on Thursday, told the police that she deemed her visitor’s entry “illegal” and “unacceptable”.

Citing an unnamed security official, the DPA report said, Aung San Suu Kyi had kept the intruder downstairs in her two-storey villa.

Meanwhile, Richard Mei of the US embassy said, they have been trying to gain access as they are obliged to take responsibility for American citizens and to verify things.

“We are trying to gain access to the individual so we can talk to him but we have not been successful yet,” Richard Mei said.

“I don’t know where he is but in a sense, [I guess] he is being held for questioning,” he added.

While the motive behind the visit remains unclear, Burmese Opposition groups have condemned the act saying it could tarnish the image of the highly revered Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The Democratic Party for New Society (DPNA), a Burmese student-led political party, said the incident is tragic in which the motive of tarnishing the image and personality of Aung San Suu Kyi is involved.

“We are suspicious that the incident is not a mere coincidence but is a plan to disgrace Aung San Suu Kyi both in politics and in her personal life,” Ngwe Linn, joint secretary of DPNS, told Mizzima.

He said, the junta’s behind the scene involvement cannot be ruled out.

“In the meantime, it also proves that Aung San Suu Kyi is not safe and could be in danger. Most of all it proves the junta’s weak security system,” Ngwe Linn said.

Kyi Win, personal lawyer of Aung San Suu Kyi, who was among the few people allowed to meet her, said he did not see many security personnel inside the compound of her house, though there were several of them at the gate.

“When I was meeting her, I saw guards outside the house but I did not see any of them inside the compound,” said Kyi Win.

Ngwe Linn said, the incident could be a well planned move by the junta to find another excuse to continue to detain her.

Aung San Suu Kyi, who was last arrested in 2003 May, will complete six years of continuous detention on May 27. And according to Burmese law she cannot be detained continuously for more than five years. Her lawyer, in New York, has accused the junta of violating its own law by extending her detention period last year.

“We also suspect that this could be a trick to hold Aung San Suu Kyi back and charge her and continue detaining her, because the end of her house arrest term is fast approaching,” Ngwe Linn said.

Meanwhile, Thein Oo, Chairman of the Burma Lawyers’ Council (BLC) in exile said, the incident proves the junta’s negligence and irresponsibility in protecting Opposition leaders.

“She is a political leader of Burma and they [junta] took the responsibility for her security and put her under house arrest, so she should have full security,” said Thein Oo.

READ MORE---> Embassy waits to meet American intruder to Suu Kyi’s home...

Burmese Immigration Department issues id’s in resettlement site

By Jaloon Htaw, IMNA

Burmese government issueing id cards in region held by Mon cease fire group. On Tuesday, May 5th, The Burmese government Immigration department spent the day issuing ID cards for people who are in Halokanee resettlement site and pou la too pite .

Previously in February 2008, the Burmese government issued IDs for Mon State and Tenasserim Division prior to a referendum to approve the new constitution. The Burmese government issued the ID’s to more accurately document the number of people in the region. However the cards were not permanent, and expired after a certain period of time.

The cards issued on May 5th are different in that they are being issued to previous card holders as well as people who have never previously held a card, and do no have an expiration date. While the Burmese immigration department has been advertising the cards as available in June, they instead issued them in May.

Villagers from Pou La Too Pite had to travel to near by Halokanee where they were being issued to get ID’s. According to a Halokanee villager, individuals had to pay 100 bhat to receive a new ID card, even if they had been issued one prior for the 2008 referendum. Many people did not get cards since they were unable to pay the 100 bhat application fee.

During the issuing process, nearly 700 people arrived to get cards. However the Burmese immigration department only allowed one day for applications, and were only issued 300 IDs in that period. Some of the 300 new ID holders are also New Mon State Party (NMSP) members, the primary political group representing Mon people that officially administers areas following the 1995 cease fire.

An NMSP member from the area said, ‘When we had no ID cards we were unable to prove which village we are from. However now with an ID card we can travel anywhere.” He also speculated that the ID’s would not be used in the upcoming 2010 election.

A woman from Halokanee said “The ID’s now make it so we can go to Ye Township or Thanbyuzayat Township and makes travel easier.” The NMSP took responsibility and provided security for the arrival of members of the Burmese Immigration Department during the issuing of ID’s.

READ MORE---> Burmese Immigration Department issues id’s in resettlement site...

Opposition party concerned for Suu Kyi’s safety

(DVB)–The spokesperson of opposition party National League for Democracy has spoken of his concern for imprisoned NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s safety following news of a break-in by an American citizen at her compound.

A man identified as United States citizen John William Yeattaw was caught swimming away from Aung San Suu Kyi’s compound across Inya lake on Sunday evening and arrested.

He had allegedly spent two nights in the compound.

Nyan Win, spokesperson for the NLD, claimed government security forces were defenceless when it came to protecting her compound.

“Regarding Daw Suu’s security, it [the compound] is not safe,” he said.

“What happened clearly shows it and we are worried about her safety.”

Police have tightened security around Ms Suu Kyi’s house. According to neighbours, more than 20 police entered the compound yesterday morning where she has been kept under house arrest for 13 of the past 19 years.

"I can't confirm anything officially,” said Richard Mei, Public Affairs Officer at the US Embassy in Rangoon yesterday.

“We are obliged to contact any American citizen arrested, so we're trying to contact him."

This is the first time that anyone has snuck into Ms Suu Kyi’s compound. Swimming in Inya Lake in the vicinity of her compound is not allowed.

Reporting by Rosalie Smith and Aye Nai

READ MORE---> Opposition party concerned for Suu Kyi’s safety...

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