Sunday, May 17, 2009

Burma silence shows ASEAN is 'impotent'

By Danny Kemp in Bangkok

( -BURMA'S Southeast Asian neighbours have stayed largely silent over the trial of opposition icon Aung San Suu Kyi, in a fresh display of the bloc's impotence as a diplomatic force, observers say.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has long pursued a softly-softly approach towards promoting democracy in its most troublesome member, in contrast to the tough sanctions preferred by Western nations. But it has little to show for its efforts since admitting Burma to the club in 1997, as the ruling generals have kept Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest for years and brutally cracked down on protesters in 2007.

"We really hope that they come out and ratchet up the pressure. Since Burma was admitted 12 years ago, ASEAN has squandered any opportunity to speak more openly about Burma," David Mathieson of Human Rights Watch (HRW) told AFP, referring to the country by its former name.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi faces trial on Monday on charges of violating the terms of her house arrest, after an eccentric American swam to her lakeside prison-home earlier this month. The charges prompted howls of protest from the West, but of Burma's fellow ASEAN members only Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore and the Philippines have issued condemnations of the junta's actions.

Philippines Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo said today that he was "outraged" by the "trumped-up" charges.

Despite talks among ASEAN envoys in Rangoon, the 10-member group has still not issued any official pronouncement on the matter since the charges were announced on Thursday.

Mr Mathieson said the fact that such key members of the bloc had spoken out strongly "impels the group to come up with something," but added that it would still likely be a fairly toothless statement.

"It adds another layer of embarrassment," Mr Mathieson said, adding that the Burma issue had been a "central factor in spoiling relations within ASEAN for the last five years".

Human rights have been a perennial challenge for ASEAN in the 42 years since it was founded as a bulwark against the spread of communism, largely because of its oft-stated policy of non-interference in other nations' internal affairs. The latest debacle is especially embarrassing as it comes just months after the bloc adopted a new charter setting out benchmarks for democracy and human rights.

Burma analyst Aung Naing Oo said ASEAN had been effective in persuading the junta to accept foreign aid following last year's devastating Cyclone Nargis, which killed 138,000 people.

"They did help, they did play a key role after Nargis. But it is the only good thing they have done," said Aung Naing Oo, who is based in northern Thailand.

"Burma has been a thorn in ASEAN's side. They do want to do something, but quite obviously ASEAN has failed in many respects," he said.

Top officials from ASEAN and its six partners - China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand - are set to talk about Burma on the sidelines of a regular meeting in the Thai tourist island of Phuket on Tuesday. But the latest issue is symptomatic of a wider Asian reluctance to act on Burma, with the major exception of Japan, which has strongly condemned the charges against Aung San Suu Kyi.

London-based Amnesty International urged the United Nations as well as China, Japan and ASEAN states to use their influence to secure her release.

"Now more than ever, the (UN) Security Council and ASEAN member states must send an unequivocal signal to the generals that they can no longer act with impunity," said the group's Burma expert, Benjamin Zawacki.

China, one of Burma's closest allies and a major consumer of its vast natural resources, has remained silent on the charges against Aung San Suu Kyi, as has India.

HRW's David Mathieson said however that China had taken "a lot of flak" at the United Nations and elsewhere over Burma and would probably use some behind-the-scenes pressure.

"China has a lot of leverage over Burma, although they are not willing to use it overtly. Privately they will say to Burma, 'just resolve this and move on'," he said.

READ MORE---> Burma silence shows ASEAN is 'impotent'...

Myanmar's Suu Kyi defiant ahead of trial - lawyer

YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar's pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi is in good health and ready to defend herself against new charges that have triggered international condemnation of the military regime, her lawyer said.

Kyi Win, Suu Kyi's main defence lawyer at her trial due to start on Monday, was allowed to meet the Nobel Peace laureate for one hour at a guest house in Yangon's Insein Prison on Saturday.

"She asked me to tell her friends and everyone that she is quite well," Kyi Win told Reuters. "She is ready to tell the truth that she never broke the law."

The 63-year-old Suu Kyi is charged with breaking the conditions of her nearly six-year house arrest after an American intruder sneaked inside her lakeside villa in Yangon this month.

If convicted, she faces up to five years in jail.

Suu Kyi's two female companions have also been charged in a case denounced by critics as a pretext for keeping the charismatic opposition leader in detention ahead of elections in 2010. Her current detention expires on May 27.

Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) won a landslide election victory in 1990 only to be denied power by the military, which has ruled the former Burma since 1962.

The generals have detained Suu Kyi for more than 13 of the past 19 years, mostly at her home on a leafy Yangon avenue guarded by police, her phone line cut and visitors restricted.

Suu Kyi's doctor, Tin Myo Win, was freed late on Saturday after he was detained on May 7 for questioning, relatives said. Suu Kyi was recently treated for low blood pressure and dehydration, and activists fear for her health in prison.

Rights groups also slammed the junta on Saturday for revoking the law licence of Aung Thein, a prominent activist lawyer who was to be on Suu Kyi's defence team.

The Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) called it "a blatant attempt by the regime to damage the defence for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her two live-in party members".


Kyi Win said Suu Kyi was innocent because she did not invite John Yettaw, who according to state media swam across Yangon's Inya Lake to her home using homemade flippers earlier this month.

"She told me that they found him at the back of her house at about 5 a.m. She told him to leave, but he refused saying he was exhausted," Kyi Win said.

Suu Kyi did not report him to authorities because "she did not want anybody to get into trouble because of her", he said.

Yettaw, described by state media as a 53-year-old psychology student from Missouri, has been charged with "illegal swimming", immigration violations and encouraging others to break the law.

Kyi Win said Yettaw had tried a similar stunt to meet Suu Kyi in November 2008, but she refused to speak to him and the incident was reported to authorities.

Yettaw's motives remain unclear, but speculation about his role in the junta's latest crackdown on Suu Kyi has swirled for days in the streets of Yangon.

"I think the regime must be behind this incident one way or another. They do not want to free Daw Suu," a retired politician, using the Burmese honorific for older women, said.

The junta has so far ignored the international outcry over what critics say are "trumped up" and "baseless" charges against Suu Kyi.

U.S. President Barack Obama renewed sanctions against the regime on Friday, saying its actions and policies, including the jailing of more than 2,000 political prisoners, continued to pose a serious threat to U.S. interests.

Washington has led the West in tightening sanctions, but Asian neighbours with an eye on the country's rich timber, gas and mineral reserves have favoured a policy of engagement.

Neither has succeeded in coaxing meaningful reforms from junta leader Senior General Than Shwe, who is widely believed to loathe Suu Kyi.

He has vowed to press ahead with a seven-step "roadmap to democracy" expected to culminate in 2010 elections which the West derides as a sham to entrench the military's grip on the country.

READ MORE---> Myanmar's Suu Kyi defiant ahead of trial - lawyer...

Aung San Suu Kyi's doctor released before trial

Yangon (M&C)- Myanmar's junta has released the personal doctor of Aung San Suu Kyi, who goes to trial Monday on charges of breaking her rules of detention by allowing a US national to swim to her house on Inya Lake.

Doctor Tin Myo Win, one of the few people allowed to visit Suu Kyi during the past six years of house arrest at her Yangon family compound, was released after being held for questioning for 10 days, relatives of the doctor told the German Press Agency dpa Sunday.

Tin Myo Win was detained on May 7, apparently for interrogation about the visit of John William Yettaw, a 53-year-old Vietnam War veteran who swam to Suu Kyi's compound on May 3. He stayed there until May 6, when he swam away and was arrested.

Suu Kyi was taken to Insein Prison on Thursday and charged with abetting the unlawful visit by Yettaw, a member of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Mormon Christian sect, who reportedly wanted to pray with the leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD) opposition party.

His visit was a prayer answered for Myanmar's ruling military regime, which has been under pressure to release Suu Kyi, 63, on May 27, when her six-year jail term will reach its statutory limit.

It is widely expected that the court on Monday will find Suu Kyi guilty of breaking the terms of her house arrest. If found guilty, she faces a minimum of three years in jail to a maximum of five, which would keep her out of politics while the junta stages a general election planned next year.

Suu Kyi's NLD won the 1990 general election by a landslide, but have been blocked from taking power by the military for the past 19 years. Suu Kyi, who won the 1991 Nobel peace prize, has spent 13 of the past 19 years under house arrest.

If found guilty of the latest charges, she is likely to be kept at a special guest house in Insein Prison.

Suu Kyi will plead innocent to the charge, her lawyer said.

'Daw (Mrs) Aung San Suu Kyi did not invite Mr Yettaw to come and she told him to go back,' Suu Kyi's lawyer Kyi Win said after meeting with her on Saturday. 'That is why I did not break Section 22 (of the national security act) and there was no need to inform government about Yettaw's coming.'

According to police charges against Suu Kyi and her two servants, who will also face charges on Monday, Yettaw had previously swum to Suu Kyi compound on November 30, 2008, when he left behind the 'Book of Mormon.'

Suu Kyi informed authorities of the 2008 intrusion but her complaint was never acknowledged, opposition sources said.

Pro-democracy activists accuse the junta of using Yettaw as a 'scapegoat,' since they seemingly allowed him to reenter the country on a tourist visa this month and let him swim once again to Suu Kyi's house.

Suu Kyi's trial and pending sentence have ignited widespread protests from the world community, including US President Barack Obama, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the European Union and even Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

More leaders from the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Myanmar is a member, are expected to condemn Suu Kyi's continued detention if she is found guilty on Monday, Kraisak Choonhavan, deputy leader of the ruling Democrat Party in neighbouring Thailand, said.

'We call for further action by ASEAN,' Kraisak said.

ASEAN has long been criticized for first accepting Myanmar, also called Burma, in to its fold in 1997, and for thereafter being reluctant to publicly criticize or take action against the regime.

'ASEAN has the despicable, even odious, rule that we cannot punish any of our members no matter what wrongs they do,' said Kraisak, who leads the ASEAN Myanmar Causus.

He warned that the association would become increasing irrelevant if it does nothing to assist Suu Kyi.

'ASEAN will increasingly become not only criticized but almost irrelevant to the world,' Kraisak told a press conference in Bangkok.

READ MORE---> Aung San Suu Kyi's doctor released before trial...

Did someone turn a blind eye?

Jeg's Comments:

SPDC dirty fingers in DASSK's unwelcomed guest pie

DASSK's Jettaw another junta's puppet

READ MORE---> Did someone turn a blind eye?...

One million flee fighting

From correspondents in Islamabad
Agence France-Presse

May 17, 2009 12:15am

( -MORE than 1.1 million people have fled fighting between Pakistani government forces and the Taliban in the northwest of the country during the last two weeks, the UN refugee chief said.
"We have registered since May 2, 1,171,000 displaced persons,'' UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said.

The figure was a leap of more than 183,860 people registered since Friday evening, as desperate families pile onto trucks and tractors, or stream on foot out of the three worst-affected districts to hastily set up camps.

They join another 500,000 people who fled bouts of fighting in the northwest last year, where extremist Taliban militants have been fighting to gain control and impose a harsh brand of Islamic law.

READ MORE---> One million flee fighting...

Myanmar: Ethnic Minorities & Aung San Suu Kyi

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi

By Lee Jay Walker

The Seoul Times

The current regime in Myanmar is clearly unconcerned about international opinion because daily persecution continues. This applies to the continuing persecution of many minorities, notably the Chin, Karen, Rohingya, Shan, and others. At the same time, the leading political figure in Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi, faces further confinement. However, the regime fears little because of power politics and geopolitical factors.

Another major concern in Myanmar is the systematic persecution of religious minorities and this especially applies to Christians and Muslims. Therefore, the Christian dominated Karen National Union (KNU) faces a joint military and Buddhist onslaught because the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) is a staunch ally of the regime.

Other Christian and Muslim minorities also face daily persecution. Therefore, like I reported in my last article called

"Karen Christians face joint army and Buddhist onslaught," I will quote Benedict Rogers who is a human rights advocate and journalist.

Because Benedict Rogers (12 Dec, 2004) notified the British House of Commons about systematic persecution. He stated that "Christians among the Chin, Kachin, Karen and Karenni ethnic nationalities report serious religious discrimination and persecution, including the destruction of churches and Christian symbols. In Chin State, all crosses on mountain-tops have been destroyed and Christians have been forced to build Buddhist pagodas in their place. Church services have been disrupted, and Chin children from Christian families have been taken and placed in Buddhist monasteries, where they have been forced to become novice monks. The printing of the Bible is banned, and Christians in government service are denied promotion."

Muslims are also in dire straights because they have been persecuted for decades. Amnesty International, for example stated that "The Rohingyas’ freedom of movement is severely restricted and the vast majority of them have effectively been denied Burma (Myanmar) citizenship. They are also subjected to various forms of extortion and arbitrary taxation; land confiscation; forced eviction and house destruction ... "

The report continues that "In 1978 over 200,000 Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh, following the ‘Nagamin’ (‘Dragon King’) operation of the Burma (Myanmar) army. Officially this campaign aimed at "scrutinising each individual living in the state, designating citizens and foreigners in accordance with the law and taking actions against foreigners who have filtered into the country illegally." This military campaign directly targeted civilians, and resulted in widespread killings, rape and destruction of mosques and further religious persecution."

"During 1991-92 a new wave of over a quarter of a million Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh. They reported widespread forced labour, as well as summary executions, torture, and rape. Rohingyas were forced to work without pay by the Burma (Myanmar) army on infrastructure and economic projects, often under harsh conditions. Many other human rights violations occurred in the context of forced labour of Rohingya civilians by the security forces."

Therefore, many ethnic and religious minorities have been persecuted for decades and this is the real tragedy of Myanmar. After all, it would appear that regional nations are more concerned about economic trade and maintaining a regional consensus.

Yes, from time to time you hear disenting voices throughout the region but these are few and far. Also, for regional powers like China and India, they both understand the geopolitical importance of Myanmar and of course economic interests are also important. So it would appear that ethnic and religious minorities have little hope under the current political system in Myanmar.

Meanwhile, the most famous political figure in Myanmar faces fresh political charges in order to keep her under house arrest. However, Aung San Suu Kyi remains defiant despite her endless persecution and the “ray of hope remains.”

Aung San Suu Kyi once stated that “It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.”

Yet for the people who wield power in Myanmar, it is apparent that China and India, and others, are willing to play the geopolitical game. Therefore, despite the European Union and America taking a strong stance, it is clear that Myanmar can survive because of trading links with China, India, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, and other nations.

Also, Aung San Suu Kyi understands that only an internal collapse or uprising will change the current status quo. Despite this, she remains loyal to non-violent action and “her weapon” is her firm democratic conviction.

However, just like the ethnic Christian and Muslim minorities, and others, it is clear that decades of struggle is zapping the energy out of many; so words of strength by Aung San Suu Kyi are badly needed. Yet the chains appear to be getting tighter so the future remains bleak.

READ MORE---> Myanmar: Ethnic Minorities & Aung San Suu Kyi...

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi

NYT - As a young woman in England, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi carefully avoided becoming involved in the politics of refugee Burmese who inveighed against their military government.

But she forewarned her British fiance that it was inevitable she would return to her homeland some day and the fate that might await her as the daughter of the man who led Burma to independence.

"I only ask one thing, that should my people need me, you would help me to do my duty by them," she wrote.

She did return to Myanmar, formerly Burma, in 1988, although it was to help care for her mother. But as she predicted, she soon became caught up in the country's movement for democracy, emerging within months as the leader and most potent symbol in a revolt against the military rulers.

And just as she had warned, within a year she was put under house arrest, cut off from contact with her husband and two teen-age sons, after she had led her political movement to victory in elections.

In 1991 she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but her confinement has continued, with brief breaks, ever since. She remains the symbol of the hopes of those opposed to the junta, and apparently of the junta's fears as well. When the country's revered Buddhist monks joined protests over rising prices in the fall of 2007, the military allowed them to proceed -- until one of the processions led to her home and she came to her gate to greet them. A brutal crackdown swiftly followed.

After the international outcry over the crackdown, Myanmar's governing officials said they would increase dialogue and consultations with her. On Nov. 8, 2007, she said in a statement released by the United Nations that she was willing to “cooperate” with the military government in the “interest of the nation.”

But the overtures soon stopped and reconciliation between pro-democracy forces and the government stalled.

In May 2009 she was charged with violating the terms of her house arrest after a bizarre event in which an American man was reported to have swum across a lake and spent at least one night on the grounds of her home, where she has been confined for 13 of the past 19 years.

The motives of the man, identified as John Yettaw, 53, were unclear. But her lawyer said the man told her he was a Mormon and prayed extensively while he was in her house. Her arrest came two weeks before the statutory expiration of her most recent six-year detention and many analysts saw it as a legal ploy to allow the junta to extend her confinement.

The junta is preparing for an election in 2010 that would be its first multiparty poll since 1990, when her party won an overwhelming victory but was denied power by the military, which has ruled since 1962.

READ MORE---> Daw Aung San Suu Kyi...

Burma's descent into hell must end

By Bo Hla Tint

The kangaroo court trial of the democracy campaigner can be the base on which to build democracy.

IN BURMA, things just go from bad to worse. Two weeks ago, the country's revered democracy leader and Nobel peace prize laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi, was taken ill. Her doctor reported she was short of breath, had low blood pressure and was needing an IV drip.

Then there was news of an American who had swum to Suu Kyi's house and stayed for two nights in her basement.

Now Suu Kyi has been taken to the notorious Insein prison to be tried on trumped-up charges.

To anyone with even a passing notion of Burma's Orwellian political context, this latest development is oddly predictable, even given the surreal circumstances. To reach an understanding of this awful turn of events, one has only to reach back a few months.

In April, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found that Suu Kyi's incarceration was not only in violation of international law, it is in contravention of Burmese law. Since then, it has been incumbent on the Burmese military regime to find a means to justify the country's leading democracy figure's continued imprisonment.

This compulsion became particularly pressing as Suu Kyi's current period of detention was scheduled to end on May 27.

Desperately reaching for an excuse to bounce the country's legitimate democratic leader into prison, the regime has cooked up a bizarre scheme to use the visit by John Yettaw and to then apply Article 22 of the State Protection Law, which prohibits any Burmese to accept a foreign visitor, even an uninvited one, for an overnight stay without state permission. No mention of the fact that it is the regime who should be on trial for failing to protect a prisoner under its watch.

The trial looks set to drag on for days. It will take place behind closed doors and will likely be removed from any connection to basic legal due process.

Suu Kyi's fate mirrors that of Burma's many other political prisoners. There are now some 2100 in Burmese prisons, and each and every one has landed there on the back of unfounded charges and hollow legal processes.

Suu Kyi's widely reported health problems have clearly driven the regime to find ways to take her even further away from public scrutiny. This is a dangerous course, but it does at least suggest that the regime is increasingly reactionary and that international pressure to release Suu Kyi is gaining traction.

While we all fear the health consequences should Suu Kyi be imprisoned, we can at least find some motivation in this fact.

This situation is as clear an indication there ever was that the proposed 2010 national elections are an absolute sham. Finding scant reason to lock up the country's bona fide democracy leader is this regime's obsession — not democracy. This election has zero credibility and zero democratic accountability.

As the regime has seen fit to look to imprison its greatest threat, we can all be emboldened by her spirit and fortitude.

That she has remained in Burma to face such threats to her safety and wellbeing, despite being allowed to leave Burma at any time (as long as she does not return), she has chosen a harsh course. For her, it is the only course, for she must be where her people are.

Over the past few months, there has been debate over policy on Burma among the international community.

The case of Suu Kyi underlines that any policy must have at its core a push for the release of all political prisoners, and should be driven by the need for a democratic transition to be initiated in Burma immediately. Moreover, her arrest offers a basis for the continuation of economic sanctions and international pressure as the regime fears the opprobrium of global governments and institutions. It is time for the international community to end Burma's descent into hell and to use Suu Kyi's kangaroo court trial as a base upon which to build democracy in our country.

Bo Hla Tint is foreign affairs minister for the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma.

The Age

READ MORE---> Burma's descent into hell must end...

Why generals fear a people's champion

Aung San Suu Kyi speaks to supporters from the top of her gate at her Rangoon house in 1996. Photo: Reuters

By Seth Mydans

Already under house arrest, Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi now faces jail, writes Seth Mydans in Bangkok.

"WHY are you so afraid of us?" Aung San Suu Kyi called out, taunting Burma's military government as thousands of supporters listened in the rain, whistling and cheering from under a sea of black umbrellas.

Activists slam UN on Suu Kyi

Myanmar activists in Bangkok urge the United Nations to take immediate action following the junta's latest charges against detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

That was 13 years ago, during a temporary period of freedom from house arrest, and Ms Suu Kyi was putting into words the dynamic that has kept her under detention for most of the past two decades.

The seemingly all-powerful junta, which jails its opponents and crushes popular uprisings, is afraid of Ms Suu Kyi, 63, the pro-democracy opposition leader, and of the continuing support she commands among the people.

"Her achievement has been to concentrate the values that are associated with democracy and freedom into one person," said David Steinberg, an expert on Burma at Washington's Georgetown University.

Last Thursday, the generals who rule the country demonstrated their continuing fear of Ms Suu Kyi by charging her with violating the terms of her most recent, six-year house arrest, and locking her inside what it calls a prison "guesthouse".

She faces a trial hearing tomorrow on charges that could result in a prison term of up to five years, a harsher form of the isolation she has endured for 13 of the past 19 years.

"They are trying their best to put her out of the minds of the population," said her lawyer, U Kyi Win. "But the more they do that, the more they are highlighting her. That is the reverse effect that it is having."

The junta's motives, and the effect of its actions, are familiar, but the circumstances of the latest charges have a touch of the absurd.

They stem from the capture of an American adventurer, John Yettaw, 53, who twice swam across a lake to her house where he delivered her a Bible, although she is a Buddhist.

Ms Suu Kyi is on trial for violating the terms of her house arrest, though her lawyer describes the American as an intruder. She is being charged, along with her two housekeepers and her doctor, who treated her for low blood pressure and dehydration soon after Mr Yettaw swam away on May 5.

The housekeepers and the doctor have been among the only people she has been allowed to talk to over the past six years.

And yet, like a silent ghost, she shadows the country's military leaders, who have sought without success to exorcise her with propaganda and repression.

In the grip she seems to hold over her jailers, Ms Suu Kyi demonstrates what Vaclav Havel, the former Czech president, called "the power of the powerless".

The generals pitted their popularity against hers in an election in 1991 and lost overwhelmingly, but they refused to release their grip on power. Then they experimented with lifting her house arrest in 2002, but locked her up again a year later after ecstatic crowds gathered wherever she went.

The generals are on the verge of achieving a goal that in their eyes would justify their harsh rule and crown them as saviours of the country: an election scheduled for next year that would legitimise the continued military dominance. And they appear to be afraid this woman could ruin it all if she were allowed a voice that could rally opposition.

Thirteen years ago, when Ms Suu Kyi was addressing supporters in the rain, a Western diplomat predicted her confrontation with the generals could not last much longer.

"Some of her leaders are old," he said. "Some are in prison. Some have died. She knows she will lose a waiting game."

But the waiting game continues, and she has not yet lost.


READ MORE---> Why generals fear a people's champion...

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