Saturday, May 23, 2009

Time is Running Out in Burma

The Irrawaddy News

The world is clamoring for the freedom of Aung San Suu Kyi as she faces a mockery of a trial in Rangoon’s infamous Insein Prison. But Snr-Gen Than Shwe, the man at the helm of the Burmese junta, remains unmoved. And so it seems increasingly certain that Suu Kyi will be spending the next three to five years behind bars—world opinion be damned.

The people of Burma welcome strong words from world leaders and other prominent figures, including Suu Kyi’s fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureates. But what they really want to see is action—action that will set the stage for real change, and not merely perpetuate the status quo. Action that can only come from the United Nations.

On Friday, the UN Security Council finally issued a statement expressing “concern” about the political impact of recent developments relating to Suu Kyi. The statement stressed the “importance of the release of all political prisoners” and the “need for the Government of Myanmar to create the necessary conditions for a genuine dialogue” with the democratic opposition.

This statement was issued soon after UN chief Ban Ki-moon said that he would visit Burma “as soon as possible,” at which point he plans to urge Than Shwe—again—to release Suu Kyi.

In this situation, we believe that “as soon as possible” should mean “now.” But before he flies to remote Naypyidaw to meet Than Shwe, Ban must prepare. Otherwise, he will be manipulated and exposed to ridicule.

If he wants to achieve real results and not just empty concessions, Ban must be prepared to use all the tools at his disposal to press Than Shwe. He should seriously consider the option of imposing UN sanctions and an arms embargo on Burma.

For this, he will need to talk to UN Security Council members and seek the backing of China, Russia and India—the junta’s most powerful allies—and win the full support of the US, other Western nations and Japan.

Ban, who is now in Sri Lanka, must get to work on Burma without delay. He must act quickly and decisively. After he has thoroughly worked out his approach to Burma, he should call on the regime leaders to accept his imminent visit, which will have the objective of laying the groundwork for negotiations and compromise. If Ban goes into Burma empty-handed, he will come out likewise.

Most importantly, Ban must acknowledge the fact that the UN’s past efforts to move Burma in the right direction have always failed because they relied too heavily on the junta’s assurances of cooperation. The UN must have some means of enforcing compliance with its demands that includes the possibility of real punitive action.

Over the past two decades, the UN has released countless reports detailing rampant human rights abuses and political repression in Burma. These have been important testaments to the need for change, but have done nothing to alter the junta’s ways. It is time the UN started paying attention to its own words and acted accordingly.

The trial against Suu Kyi is not only an attempt to silence Burma’s pro-democracy icon; it is also an indictment of the UN’s lack of political will in addressing the problems of a country that has nowhere else to turn for support. There should be no mistake about it: if Suu Kyi is locked away for good, there will be no hope left for Burma, and nobody to blame but the UN.

READ MORE---> Time is Running Out in Burma...

UN Security Council Calls for Burma to Release All Political Prisoners

By Tun Kyaw (Narinjara): The 15-member United Nations Security Council on 22 May issued a statement calling on Burma's military generals to release all political prisoners, including opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and expressing concern over her ongoing trial.

The member states of the Security Council repeatedly expressed concern about the political impact of the trial of Aung San Suu Kyi on charges of breaching conditions of her house arrest. The council also repeated its call for the release of all political prisoners in Burma, made in earlier statements released on 11 October, 2007 and 2 May, 2008.

Diplomats said the statement was downgraded to a press statement to get approval from China and Russia, which have close ties to Burma's military regime.

The council also urged the Burmese military regime to bring about the necessary conditions for a genuine dialogue with all concerned political parties and ethnic groups in order to achieve and inclusive national reconciliation.

Critics of the regime say genuine dialogue is a must for national reconciliation in order to reach a political solution in Burma. Aung San Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy, and other democratic forces and ethnic political organizations have repeatedly called on the Burmese military junta to open up a genuine dialogue.

However, the Burmese generals charged Aung San Suu Kyi with violating the conditions of her house arrest for receiving an American intruder in her house earlier this month.

Critics say Aung San Suu Kyi's imprisonment will hurt chances for a peaceful dialogue, creating a more insecure political situation in the country.

Britain's UN Ambassador John Sawer said, "The reiteration of our call for the release of all political prisoners is very pointed when the most prominent of those political prisoners is standing in the dock on, frankly, charges which stand no credibility."

US Deputy Ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo said the council has now added its voice to those of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and other leaders from the region and elsewhere.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in recent days, "I am deeply concerned about what has been happening in Burma in terms of democratization and I am going to urge again the release of political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi."

READ MORE---> UN Security Council Calls for Burma to Release All Political Prisoners...

Deputy Home Minister visits Maungdaw

Maungdaw, Arakan State (KPN): Deputy Home Minister, Phon Shwe, accompanied by 18 Rohingya businessmen visited Maungdaw on May 20, to monitor development of the border area, a close aide of the police from Maungdaw town said.

Earlier, the Deputy Home Minister, accompanied by a Rohingya delegation, comprising of seven members, had visited Northern Arakan from Rangoon, on March 31.

On May 21, Phon Shwe visited a mosque along with several Rohingya leaders and gave permission to renovate the mosque. The mosque is located at the center of Maungdaw Town. Earlier, the military government had not given the Rohingya community permission to renovate or build a new mosque or other religious buildings.

“This is the first time that a senior junta official has visited a Rohingya mosque in Maungdaw. We are very pleased about his visit to our mosque and for his consent for renovating it,” a Maulana from Maungdaw Town said.

Mosques and other religious buildings in Northern Arakan State were not given permission for renovation for a long time, after the junta seized power in1988.

According to a religious leader of Maungdaw, Deputy Home Minister, Phon Shwe, permitted renovation for 10 mosques and two monasteries in Maungdaw Township.

The money for the renovation has been reportedly contributed by Rohingya businessmen from Rangoon.

All Rohingya businessmen, including Abdul Hafez and Aung Zaw Win of Nga Khura village, who accompanied Phon Shwe, will give money for renovating the mosques and monasteries, said a local elder.

Maungdaw is a Rohingya dominated area in Arakan, Burma, where many restrictions have been imposed by the ruling military junta. However, now the authorities are likely to reduce some restrictions on the Rohingya community, because of the forthcoming 2010 elections.

On May 21, in the morning at about 7:00 am, a meeting was held in Sri Magala Hall in Maungdaw Town with the Village Peace and Development Council (VPDC) Chairmen and concerned local authorities.

At the meeting, Deputy Home Minister, Phon Swe asked all the VPDC Chairmen whether the money was enough or not, which they had received earlier for schools, road construction and dam building for drinking water. Regarding this, some VPDC Chairmen said that some money would be needed to complete the project. As a result, the Deputy Home Minister said, “We have no money for supporting those projects continuously,” said one of the VPDC Chairmen, who attended the meeting.

This morning, the Deputy Home Minister accompanied by the Rohingya delegation held a meeting at Buthidaung Town regarding the development programs---, especially building of schools, renovation of religious buildings, communication, health care, and clean drinking water, a trader from Maungdaw Town said.

READ MORE---> Deputy Home Minister visits Maungdaw...

KIA gearing up for defensive war with Burmese junta

Written by KNG

War seems to be in the offing with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), one of largest ethnic ceasefire groups in Burma, preparing to defend itself following pressure on it to transform into a battalion of the "Border Security Force" by the junta, said KIA sources.

At a KIA military meeting in Laiza HQ on the Sino-Burma border in Kachin State on May 18 and 19, KIA's Chief of Staff Maj-Gen Gunhtang Gam Shawng told participants that the KIA will try to maintain peace and not start an offensive war against the Burmese regime. But it is necessary to be ready for a defensive war, said KIA sources.

The upshot is that the inevitable civil war may be resumed between the KIA and the Burman-controlled regime of the country because the KIA will neither disarm nor transform itself to a "Border Security Force" until the political problems are solved, according to KIA officials in Laiza HQ.

At the meeting, both men and women of KIA and its political wing, the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), were also told that it is essential to join the war. The briefing was by KIA Chief of Staff and KIO/A Vice-chairman N'ban La Awng, the coup leader of KIO/A, said KIA officers who attended the meeting.

The KIA meeting participants added, the two KIA chiefs instructed fellow KIA officers to round up all KIA deserters and be ready with guns, weapons and ammunition. They were also instructed to again explain to both people in the organizations and people in their controlled areas regarding the latest pressure by the regime for transforming the KIA.

The meeting was attended by KIO/A officers from all four brigades (three brigades are based in Kachin State and one brigade is based in Northeast Shan State) including Brigade Commander (B.C), Order of Brigade Commander (O.B.C), Army Division Command Commander, Commanders of Army Divisions, Battalion Commanders, Commanders of Military Operation and District Officers (D.O), said KIA officers in Laiza HQ.

The KIO/A leaders were officially informed to transform the KIA into a battalion of the "Border Security Force" which is to also include Burmese soldiers by the regime's Northern Command commander Brig-Gen Soe Win when they were called to a meeting in the Northern Command HQ in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State on April 28.

KIO, the political wing was also advised to form a political party and contest the general elections next year, by Commander Brig-Gen Soe Win.

On May 21, the KIO delegates led by Vice-president I Lt-Gen Gauri Zau Seng and Maj-Gen Ye Myint, the regime's Chief of Office of Military Affairs (Sa Ya Pha) met for the second time in the Northern Command HQ. However they agreed to solve the issue through a "Peace Mediator Group", said KIO leaders.

READ MORE---> KIA gearing up for defensive war with Burmese junta...

Security withdrawn from Suu Kyi’s house at 54 University Ave

by Mizzima News

New Delhi - Burmese military junta authorities in Rangoon have withdrawn the security cordon and barricades from around the residence of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on University Avenue in Rangoon’s Bahan Township.

The heavily guarded street in front of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s house, No. 54, in Shwedaunggya ward of Bahan Township is bereft of any security as of Saturday morning.

Aung San Suu Kyi, who is currently facing trial in the Insein prison precincts, was transferred from her residence on May 14 and kept in the notorious Insein prison.

READ MORE---> Security withdrawn from Suu Kyi’s house at 54 University Ave...

The hypocrisy of 'being concerned'

By: Atiya Achakulwisut

(Bangkok Post) -So much for being concerned! Yes, I am concerned about the "concern" and "grave concern" being expressed by world leaders concerning the plight of The Lady of Burma, who is being tried for an alleged crime that should not concern her.

I am concerned because I don't think the plethora of "concern" that is being echoed around the world will achieve anything meaningful for the lady in concern.

I am also concerned about the usually vocal members of the foreign press corps. Has one standard dropped and another popped up without us noticing? Their silence on the matter has been deafening.

This is a democratically elected leader of a severely oppressed country whose people have long suffered under the heavy boots of the military junta. A leader who was not only robbed of her election victory but of her basic human rights for decades, who is now facing a real threat of being tried unfairly and put away in jail for five more years. Where is the outcry from the foreign media? Where are the articles and high-minded opinion pieces condemning the undemocratic elements? Where are the lectures and derision?

Has the bad press been reserved for struggling democracies like Thailand? Like, if you try real hard to hold your stuff together and be compliant with Western values, you get slapped when you come up short. But if you are a fully-fledged autocracy that shuts the country off from unwanted relations (and keeps the wanted relations plus profit to yourself) who also could not care less about what the world may think, then you can be left alone. No foreign press would nag that the Burmese prime minister was not elected, that its roadmap to democracy is a coup-produced sham, or that Snr Gen Than Shwe has not been seen smiling or anything.

The Economist, for example, has been harsh on Thailand to the point that its own integrity can be called into question. In its April issue, for example, the magazine took aim at Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's mandate to govern. "He rode to office, unelected, thanks to the yellow shirts," the magazine stated.

The statement would have proven the magazine's theory about Thai democracy being usurped by undemocratic elements - had it not been factually wrong. One has one's own doubts why such an esteemed publication would opt for dispensing false information for the sake of being critical of a country.

The same magazine has this to say when it comes to Burma: "According to this view the top generals are wicked, but not everyone inside the system is. And given the state of Myanmar's economy, the choice may be between working with the government and not working with anyone."

It's probably this kind of attitude (and profit that can be made from natural resources that Burma has to offer to those who please them) which allows the Burmese dictators to feel free to oppress. They know that if they don't care about the world, then the world will have no choice but to work with and through them. They also know that if they would just come up with some absurd charges against their political opponents, the world would not put any pressure on them except to wring their hands and sing the same old global chorus of being "so concerned".

The truth is that democratically elected Aung San Suu Kyi should never have been placed under house arrest and no country should be "working" with the military junta that took power by force, save to make them relinquish their grip. It is quite puzzling how the world press is ready to heap scorn and pressure on a half-baked democracy like Thailand's and refrain from applying the same kind of heat to a fully-fledged dictatorship like Burma's. Maybe they think it is an exercise in futility because the Burmese generals won't care. But that would then be an act of hypocrisy.

And the Burmese people can't afford any more hypocrisy from a world that preaches democracy and human rights protection. The country and people have been made to put up with too much for too long. The Lady has been fighting a lonely battle for nearly two decades. She is 63 years old now. She won't be there as the best, brightest and most inspiring symbol of democracy in this wretched country forever. Her unjust and unjustified trial which will probably end in her renewed incarceration is the best chance for the democracy-loving international community to act on what they preach.
China, in particular, can use the occasion to redeem itself from the bloody Tiananmen crackdown.

Stop being so concerned. Save The Lady.

READ MORE---> The hypocrisy of 'being concerned'...

Protection visa system leaves a family torn apart

Refugees ... Mrs Hashimi with children Zahra, Hossein and Qasseme. Inset, Amer Hashimi, who held a temporary protection visa but is now in detention in Jakarta.

A former Sydney resident has been left to languish in jail, writes Tom Allard in Jakarta.

* May 23, 2009 - SMH

LOCKED in a crowded cell at Jakarta's immigration detention centre, his life savings gone and family separated from him, Amer Hashimi has plenty of time to contemplate his misfortune.

Like many Faili Kurds from Iraq, Hashimi has experienced his share of persecution and hardship. Perhaps more heartbreaking still, he has also had a taste of a "dream life" in Australia snatched away.

The genial 43-year-old truck driver is one of many former holders of temporary protection visas who have attempted to return to Australia in the past year, making the perilous journey by boat from Indonesia for a second time.

The visa - a centrepiece of the Howard government's immigration policy - allowed refugees to stay in Australia, but barred them from bringing their immediate families to join them.

Amid a recent wave of boat people attempting to reach Australia, there have been calls for its reintroduction as a deterrent. The Opposition is considering endorsing a new type of visa that contains many of its features.

But Mr Hashimi's decade-long struggle to find a safe place for his family shows how the visa can compound misery.

"In 1999, I first come to Australia in a big boat, maybe 370 people," Mr Hashimi said during a telephone interview from his cell block. "I like this country very much. I live there more than four years, but I can't see my family for this time."

After paying a human trafficking syndicate $US2500 ($3200), Mr Hashimi could not afford to bring his wife, Nahle Abd Uan, and his three children with him. They stayed in Iran, where they had fled from Iraq.

He lived in Sydney's western suburbs, and worked six or seven days a week, sending his wife money so she could pay bribes to allow their children to attend school.

"My wife and children is having a very hard time in Iran. They only have white card, so not allowed for school, for working," he explained.

Mr Hashimi had hoped that if his refugee status was reconfirmed after three years in Australia he would get a permanent visa and be able to bring his wife and children out to live with him.

But while judged to be a genuine refugee by Australian immigration officials he was issued with a second temporary protection visa. It was a devastating blow. His family were being harassed in Iran and threatened with repatriation to Iraq, then in the grips of the US-led war to topple Saddam Hussein.

In April 2004, he was granted a travel document and returned to Iran for a reunion. He believed, incorrectly, he could return to Australia. On his way back he was imprisoned for four months in Iran, then deported to Iraq. He slipped illegally back into Iran to see his family and plead his case with consular officials at the Australian embassy in Tehran.

"They said they couldn't help me," he said.

Increasingly desperate, Mr Hashimi took his family to Indonesia to apply for refugee status with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in late 2005.

Nothing happened for two years. The Australian embassy in Jakarta refused to see him.

"It's very hard to live here and just wait. We do nothing. We just sit at home," Mrs Hashimi said. Frustrated and depressed, Mr Hashimi decided to engage a people-smuggler.

His last $US3000 and wife's gold jewellery paid for the passage. But the boat was small and overcrowded, and after setting out from Lombok in November last year its main engine failed and the passengers landed on a remote beach on the Indonesian island of Sumbawa.

"We walked for five hours to find someone," said Mr Hashimi. When they did, they were arrested by local police. Indonesian authorities considered Mr Hashimi a flight risk and have put him in detention while his family live an hour away in the hills of Puncak.

Last month, Mrs Hashimi and her children had their claim for protection as refugees finally approved.

Even so, it could still be years before they are resettled in another country. And, while the successful claim gives Mr Hashimi hope, it also fills him with anger.

"If they had given it more quicker, I would never tried to catch the boat. Now I am in jail," he said. "Please, I just want to come back to Australia."

READ MORE---> Protection visa system leaves a family torn apart...

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