Thursday, June 4, 2009

US ‘will not impose solutions’ on Burma

(DVB)–The United States has said it will not impose its own measures to solve Burma’s problems but that the military government should “promote the exchange of information” and empower its own people.

Speaking at a press conference yesterday, the US Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, Phillip Crowley, said that Burma’s problems, with reference to the trial of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, “are fundamental issues of importance”.

“They're really about how nations will govern themselves in the 21st century. It's not for the United States to impose these solutions on countries such as Burma,” he said.

The US has long been the fiercest critic of the Burmese government, and holds the toughest sanctions against the military regime, who are notoriously fearful of foreign interference and see sanctions as an attempt by the West to sap power from its generals.

The trial of Suu Kyi seems to have dashed any signs of a change in tack by the new Obama administration, who had recently suggested the sanctions policy might be softened in favour of greater engagement in light of the lack of its tangible success.

The new US President has promised to “reach out a hand” to countries that were shunned by the previous Bush administration.

“We are going to engage the world, and we're willing to engage…any nation of the world in pursuit of our national interest,” said Crowley, adding that the Burmese junta should “empower [its] people”.

“You can't be fearful of your people. You should find ways to promote the exchange of information, not find ways to hide it or to restrict it,” he said.

Burmese political analyst Aung Thu Nyein said however that the US could go further with engagement.

“They [the US] are just using sanctions and pressure as a tool to make change in Burma [but] I think they should buy some room for engagement - they have to talk more with the generals.

“At this moment the military regime seems really insecure and they don’t want to move and change.

“They propose the 2010 elections as a controlled change. They want to make some changes but they want to control the process,” he said.

Elections have been tentatively scheduled for March next year. Many observers see the trial of Suu Kyi as a pretext to keep her in detention beyond the elections.

Reporting by Francis Wade

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ASEAN-led humanitarian aid effort needed in Burma

by Larry Jagan

Bangkok (Mizzima) - Many international and regional aid officials are now suggesting using an ASEAN-led model for all future humanitarian assistance to Burma.

Last weekend was the anniversary of the establishment of the Tripartite Core Group (TCG) – the international communities’ response to the Burmese government’s reluctance to accept international relief aid and assistance in the first few weeks after Cyclone Nargis devastated most the Irrawady Delta and parts of the former capital Rangoon.

The success of the TCG, which primarily helped coordinate the international community’s response to the devastating affect of Cyclone Nargis in May last year, has led many ASEAN officials, international aid workers and UN representatives to urge the Burmese government to consider extending the process to cover all humanitarian and development projects throughout the country..

Aid workers believe it would be particularly useful as a model to improve international support provided to the west of the country, the home of nearly a million Burmese Muslims – known as Rohinygas – who are causing international concern because of their mass exodus to escape poverty and repression there.

The ASEAN-led mechanism, which brought together the south-east Asian regional body, UN agencies and the Burmese government, was invaluable in ensuring a rapid and effective relief effort in the weeks immediately after the cyclone hit Burma. “The dialogue and good cooperation between its members contributed to facilitate the efficient, transparent and accountable provision of relief and recovery efforts,” the UN’s resident humanitarian coordinator, Bishow Parajuli told Mizzima.

It was critical in getting speedy access to the Delta for relief workers and providing visas for international staff from NGOs and the UN that were needed to support the relief effort in the first few months after the cyclone. The Burmese government was initially reluctant to accept relief materials and allow large numbers of aid workers into the country.

“Without the TCG the humanitarian impasse may have dragged on,” Andrew Kirkwood, head of the UK-based aid agency, Save the Children in Burma told Mizzima. “The TCG helped to build trust, coordinated the aid effort, and overcame obstacles like visa handling for humanitarian workers,” said Matt MacGuire, Cyclone Recovery Co-ordinator in Rangoon for the British government’s Department for International Development (DIFD).

Many aid workers believe it could now be used now to respond to the problems in Northern Arakan state. More than a thousand Rohinygas made international headlines earlier this year when they were allegedly pushed out to sea by the Thai authorities after braving the turbulent waters from Bangladesh to Thailand and Malaysia in search of a better life. Hundreds ended up in Indonesia and India, as well as Thailand.

These refugees and their future became a major regional issue. ASEAN at their summit in Thailand in February decided that the Bali Process, established in 2002 to deal with human trafficking and other crimes in the region should deal with it. At the same time the countries of the region proposed that ASEAN coordinate a census of those Rohingyas languishing in south-east Asian countries.

This raised the prospect of a TCG-type mechanism to deal with the issue, particularly as the south-east Asian nations endorsed the idea that the Rohingya issue had also to be dealt with at source – the causes for the mass exodus – as well as their repatriation.

“The TCG could have an enormous benefit if it could be extended to the rest of the country or to specific areas like Northern Rakhine state (NRS),” Luke Arend, Medecines Sans Frontiere’s Deputy Head of Mission in Burma told Mizzima.

But other senior humanitarian officials in Burma believe it is the co-operation and coordination that the TCG established between the three sides involved that should be replicated.

“The cooperation between the TCG partners -- Government, ASEAN and the UN representing the international humanitarian community -- has worked well, and the UN hopes that the parties can have an open dialogue and joint efforts in facilitating the delivery of humanitarian and development assistance to other parts of the country,” Mr. Parajuli told Mizzima.

That is also the view of the ASEAN Secretary General, Surin Pitsuwan whose single-handed efforts gave birth to the TCG a year ago. “An ASEAN-kind of initiative, whether it’s the same as the humanitarian task force, or the TCG, at this point doesn’t matter,” the ASEAN chief told Mizzima.

“Neither Myanmar nor ASEAN have the resources necessary to help the humanitarian needs of the people in Northern Rakhine State. So an ASEAN-led mechanism of some sort could be helpful. But we have to wait for the evolution of the environment -- political or otherwise -- to see if there is an opening in which we can make an offer.”

So far the Burmese government has not responded to such suggestions. It has not even been discussed, according to the regional head of United Nations Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Bangkok, Raymond Hall, which is the lead agency in that area.

“It would, of course, be technically feasible to use the TCG model for assistance in NRS,” Mr. Hall told Mizzima “The discussions that have taken place between UNHCR and the Myanmar Government have focussed on a strengthening of our own programme in NRS and increasing the UN country team’s involvement.”

“Although the TCG came about in the very particular circumstances of the cyclone, a case could be made for ASEAN, the UN and the Burmese regime to develop a means of working together in other areas like NRS,” said Matt MacGuire. “But we see the rather different coordination structure of the 3 Diseases Fund as the preferred model for the new livelihoods fund that’s being set up at the moment.”

The 3-D Fund was set up primarily by the EU, several key European countries and Australia to replace the Global Fund when it pulled out of the country several years ago. Now the EU is putting the finishing touches to a project to provide financial and technical assistance to poor farmers, not just in the Delta but throughout the country.

The EU’s Livelihood and Food Security Trust Fund or LIFT aims to assist small farmers get access to credit, through the establishment of village revolving funds; provide technical and skills training, including fish rearing and small scale marketing; and help improve rural households’ incomes. The scheme also wants to set up small local factories producing items needed to improve farming yields, including producing axes, hoes, rakes, spades, shovels, picks and sickles. Through these projects, LIFT is expected to put a $ 100 million into the rural economy over the next five years.

The important lesson of Nargis and the TCG, according to many aid officials, was that it provided a forum for discussion and helped build trust and understanding on all sides. “The TCG was extremely important because it helped generate confidence on all sides,” said Andrew Jacobs, who heads the regional development division in the EU’s Bangkok office.

But instead of extending the TCG, the signs are that the model has run its course and is likely to be allowed to grind to a halt. The Burmese government has effectively extended the TCG for another year; a decision that was conveyed to ASEAN at their summit in the Thai sea-side resort of Hua Hin in February. But already there are signs that not all is going to run as smoothly as it did, even in the Delta.

Visas are now taking much longer to approve as the TCG no longer is responsible. “It’s taking around 4 weeks for visas now, more than double the previous fast-tracking process,” said a western diplomat based in Bangkok who monitors humanitarian and development issues in Burma. “Most international NGOs now have a substantial back-log of people waiting for visas,” he said. “And permission to go to projects is also taking substantially longer.”

Most aid workers still prefer to put a brave face on it. “The end of the TCG would not be the end of our ability to deliver humanitarian assistance,” Andrew Kirkwood insisted. “It would only mean that we would have to work in the Delta under the same rules as we do in the rest of the country. These rules are more restrictive on international staff, but not for national staff. We would still be able to deliver assistance on a large-scale and in an independent, accountable manner,” he told Mizzima.

“If the Myanmar Government fazed out of the TCG, it would be the end of a successful mechanism which has brought unprecedented access in Myanmar,” said Luke Arend deputy head of the MSF mission in Burma.

The TCG has also helped improve the confidence of the international donors and encouraged a greater financial commitment to Burma’s humanitarian and development needs. “Many donors remain cautious about large-scale aid assistance to Myanmar, particularly outside of the Nargis affected areas,” said Andrew Kirkwood. “The $70 per head of aid assistance raised for the survivors of Nargis dwarfs the $3 per head in aid assistance allotted to the rest of the citizens of Myanmar. But, this must be balanced by the fact that other countries in the region, namely Laos and Cambodia, receive net aid flows of close to $50 per head, year after year.”

Rather than extending the TCG, greater effort needs to be made in getting the Burmese government at the highest level to discuss the country’s overall humanitarian and development needs, a senior UN official based in Rangoon told Mizzima confidentially. “The government thinks it knows what its doing – by building bridges, dams and road, sustained development will magically follow,” he said. “It won’t!”

But only the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon can have the kind of conversation that is needed, especially with Than Shwe, said the senior UN official. So it must be one of his priorities when he visits Burma later this year.

Some critics suggest that actually what Burma needs for development and the Delta’s recovery in particular, is not more financial aid, but dramatic reform of the country’s agricultural and financial sectors.

“There little hope of the Irrawaddy Delta recovering fully in the absence of the recapitalisation and reinvigoration of Burma's rural credit system,” said Sean Turnell, a Professor of Economics at Australia’s Macquarie University and a Burma expert. “Farmers in Burma have essentially stopped using fertiliser since they lack the credit to buy it. Yields are down. And as a consequence the possibility of widespread food shortages looms this year,” he told Mizzima.

“Little investment or land improvement is taking place, so recovery to pre-Nargis output in affected areas looks remote - and improvements that would lift Burma to the place it should be (and historically was) on the global agricultural scene, is impossible to imagine,” he added.

What Burma needs more than anything else is economic reforms, a liberalised rice market, and a robust financial sector, including extensive micro-credit schemes. This is clearly not on the junta’s agenda. And the Burmese people may be better off in the future, if the international community suspended most aid programmes until the regime seriously considered liberal economic reforms.

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A NEW BEGINNING - President Obama's Speech


Office of the Press Secretary


Cairo University
Cairo, Egypt

1:10 P.M. (Local)

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you very much. Good afternoon. I am honored to be in the timeless city of Cairo, and to be hosted by two remarkable institutions. For over a thousand years, Al-Azhar has stood as a beacon of Islamic learning; and for over a century, Cairo University has been a source of Egypt's advancement. And together, you represent the harmony between tradition and progress. I'm grateful for your hospitality, and the hospitality of the people of Egypt. And I'm also proud to carry with me the goodwill of the American people, and a greeting of peace from Muslim communities in my country: Assalaamu alaykum. (Applause.)

We meet at a time of great tension between the United States and Muslims around the world -- tension rooted in historical forces that go beyond any current policy debate. The relationship between Islam and the West includes centuries of coexistence and cooperation, but also conflict and religious wars. More recently, tension has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations. Moreover, the sweeping change brought by modernity and globalization led many Muslims to view the West as hostile to the traditions of Islam.

Violent extremists have exploited these tensions in a small but potent minority of Muslims. The attacks of September 11, 2001 and the continued efforts of these extremists to engage in violence against civilians has led some in my country to view Islam as inevitably hostile not only to America and Western countries, but also to human rights. All this has bred more fear and more mistrust.

So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace, those who promote conflict rather than the cooperation that can help all of our people achieve justice and prosperity. And this cycle of suspicion and discord must end.

I've come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect, and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles -- principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.

I do so recognizing that change cannot happen overnight. I know there's been a lot of publicity about this speech, but no single speech can eradicate years of mistrust, nor can I answer in the time that I have this afternoon all the complex questions that brought us to this point. But I am convinced that in order to move forward, we must say openly to each other the things we hold in our hearts and that too often are said only behind closed doors. There must be a sustained effort to listen to each other; to learn from each other; to respect one another; and to seek common ground. As the Holy Koran tells us, "Be conscious of God and speak always the truth." (Applause.) That is what I will try to do today -- to speak the truth as best I can, humbled by the task before us, and firm in my belief that the interests we share as human beings are far more powerful than the forces that drive us apart.

Now part of this conviction is rooted in my own experience. I'm a Christian, but my father came from a Kenyan family that includes generations of Muslims. As a boy, I spent several years in Indonesia and heard the call of the azaan at the break of dawn and at the fall of dusk. As a young man, I worked in Chicago communities where many found dignity and peace in their Muslim faith.

As a student of history, I also know civilization's debt to Islam. It was Islam -- at places like Al-Azhar -- that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe's Renaissance and Enlightenment. It was innovation in Muslim communities -- (applause) -- it was innovation in Muslim communities that developed the order of algebra; our magnetic compass and tools of navigation; our mastery of pens and printing; our understanding of how disease spreads and how it can be healed. Islamic culture has given us majestic arches and soaring spires; timeless poetry and cherished music; elegant calligraphy and places of peaceful contemplation. And throughout history, Islam has demonstrated through words and deeds the possibilities of religious tolerance and racial equality. (Applause.)

I also know that Islam has always been a part of America's story. The first nation to recognize my country was Morocco. In signing the Treaty of Tripoli in 1796, our second President, John Adams, wrote, "The United States has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Muslims." And since our founding, American Muslims have enriched the United States. They have fought in our wars, they have served in our government, they have stood for civil rights, they have started businesses, they have taught at our universities, they've excelled in our sports arenas, they've won Nobel Prizes, built our tallest building, and lit the Olympic Torch. And when the first Muslim American was recently elected to Congress, he took the oath to defend our Constitution using the same Holy Koran that one of our Founding Fathers -- Thomas Jefferson -- kept in his personal library. (Applause.)

So I have known Islam on three continents before coming to the region where it was first revealed. That experience guides my conviction that partnership between America and Islam must be based on what Islam is, not what it isn't. And I consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear. (Applause.)

But that same principle must apply to Muslim perceptions of America. (Applause.) Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire. The United States has been one of the greatest sources of progress that the world has ever known. We were born out of revolution against an empire. We were founded upon the ideal that all are created equal, and we have shed blood and struggled for centuries to give meaning to those words -- within our borders, and around the world. We are shaped by every culture, drawn from every end of the Earth, and dedicated to a simple concept: E pluribus unum -- "Out of many, one."

Now, much has been made of the fact that an African American with the name Barack Hussein Obama could be elected President. (Applause.) But my personal story is not so unique. The dream of opportunity for all people has not come true for everyone in America, but its promise exists for all who come to our shores -- and that includes nearly 7 million American Muslims in our country today who, by the way, enjoy incomes and educational levels that are higher than the American average. (Applause.)

Moreover, freedom in America is indivisible from the freedom to practice one's religion. That is why there is a mosque in every state in our union, and over 1,200 mosques within our borders. That's why the United States government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear the hijab and to punish those who would deny it. (Applause.)

So let there be no doubt: Islam is a part of America. And I believe that America holds within her the truth that regardless of race, religion, or station in life, all of us share common aspirations -- to live in peace and security; to get an education and to work with dignity; to love our families, our communities, and our God. These things we share. This is the hope of all humanity.

Of course, recognizing our common humanity is only the beginning of our task. Words alone cannot meet the needs of our people. These needs will be met only if we act boldly in the years ahead; and if we understand that the challenges we face are shared, and our failure to meet them will hurt us all.

For we have learned from recent experience that when a financial system weakens in one country, prosperity is hurt everywhere. When a new flu infects one human being, all are at risk. When one nation pursues a nuclear weapon, the risk of nuclear attack rises for all nations. When violent extremists operate in one stretch of mountains, people are endangered across an ocean. When innocents in Bosnia and Darfur are slaughtered, that is a stain on our collective conscience. (Applause.) That is what it means to share this world in the 21st century. That is the responsibility we have to one another as human beings.

And this is a difficult responsibility to embrace. For human history has often been a record of nations and tribes -- and, yes, religions -- subjugating one another in pursuit of their own interests. Yet in this new age, such attitudes are self-defeating. Given our interdependence, any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail. So whatever we think of the past, we must not be prisoners to it. Our problems must be dealt with through partnership; our progress must be shared. (Applause.)

Now, that does not mean we should ignore sources of tension. Indeed, it suggests the opposite: We must face these tensions squarely. And so in that spirit, let me speak as clearly and as plainly as I can about some specific issues that I believe we must finally confront together.

The first issue that we have to confront is violent extremism in all of its forms.

In Ankara, I made clear that America is not -- and never will be -- at war with Islam. (Applause.) We will, however, relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our security -- because we reject the same thing that people of all faiths reject: the killing of innocent men, women, and children. And it is my first duty as President to protect the American people.

The situation in Afghanistan demonstrates America's goals, and our need to work together. Over seven years ago, the United States pursued al Qaeda and the Taliban with broad international support. We did not go by choice; we went because of necessity. I'm aware that there's still some who would question or even justify the events of 9/11. But let us be clear: Al Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 people on that day. The victims were innocent men, women and children from America and many other nations who had done nothing to harm anybody. And yet al Qaeda chose to ruthlessly murder these people, claimed credit for the attack, and even now states their determination to kill on a massive scale. They have affiliates in many countries and are trying to expand their reach. These are not opinions to be debated; these are facts to be dealt with.

Now, make no mistake: We do not want to keep our troops in Afghanistan. We see no military -- we seek no military bases there. It is agonizing for America to lose our young men and women. It is costly and politically difficult to continue this conflict. We would gladly bring every single one of our troops home if we could be confident that there were not violent extremists in Afghanistan and now Pakistan determined to kill as many Americans as they possibly can. But that is not yet the case.

And that's why we're partnering with a coalition of 46 countries. And despite the costs involved, America's commitment will not weaken. Indeed, none of us should tolerate these extremists. They have killed in many countries. They have killed people of different faiths -- but more than any other, they have killed Muslims. Their actions are irreconcilable with the rights of human beings, the progress of nations, and with Islam. The Holy Koran teaches that whoever kills an innocent is as -- it is as if he has killed all mankind. (Applause.) And the Holy Koran also says whoever saves a person, it is as if he has saved all mankind. (Applause.) The enduring faith of over a billion people is so much bigger than the narrow hatred of a few. Islam is not part of the problem in combating violent extremism -- it is an important part of promoting peace.

Now, we also know that military power alone is not going to solve the problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That's why we plan to invest $1.5 billion each year over the next five years to partner with Pakistanis to build schools and hospitals, roads and businesses, and hundreds of millions to help those who've been displaced. That's why we are providing more than $2.8 billion to help Afghans develop their economy and deliver services that people depend on.

Let me also address the issue of Iraq. Unlike Afghanistan, Iraq was a war of choice that provoked strong differences in my country and around the world. Although I believe that the Iraqi people are ultimately better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, I also believe that events in Iraq have reminded America of the need to use diplomacy and build international consensus to resolve our problems whenever possible. (Applause.) Indeed, we can recall the words of Thomas Jefferson, who said: "I hope that our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us that the less we use our power the greater it will be."

Today, America has a dual responsibility: to help Iraq forge a better future -- and to leave Iraq to Iraqis. And I have made it clear to the Iraqi people -- (applause) -- I have made it clear to the Iraqi people that we pursue no bases, and no claim on their territory or resources. Iraq's sovereignty is its own. And that's why I ordered the removal of our combat brigades by next August. That is why we will honor our agreement with Iraq's democratically elected government to remove combat troops from Iraqi cities by July, and to remove all of our troops from Iraq by 2012. (Applause.) We will help Iraq train its security forces and develop its economy. But we will support a secure and united Iraq as a partner, and never as a patron.

And finally, just as America can never tolerate violence by extremists, we must never alter or forget our principles. Nine-eleven was an enormous trauma to our country. The fear and anger that it provoked was understandable, but in some cases, it led us to act contrary to our traditions and our ideals. We are taking concrete actions to change course. I have unequivocally prohibited the use of torture by the United States, and I have ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed by early next year. (Applause.)

So America will defend itself, respectful of the sovereignty of nations and the rule of law. And we will do so in partnership with Muslim communities which are also threatened. The sooner the extremists are isolated and unwelcome in Muslim communities, the sooner we will all be safer.

The second major source of tension that we need to discuss is the situation between Israelis, Palestinians and the Arab world.

America's strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.

Around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust. Tomorrow, I will visit Buchenwald, which was part of a network of camps where Jews were enslaved, tortured, shot and gassed to death by the Third Reich. Six million Jews were killed -- more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today. Denying that fact is baseless, it is ignorant, and it is hateful. Threatening Israel with destruction -- or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews -- is deeply wrong, and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve.

On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people -- Muslims and Christians -- have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than 60 years they've endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead. They endure the daily humiliations -- large and small -- that come with occupation. So let there be no doubt: The situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. And America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own. (Applause.)

For decades then, there has been a stalemate: two peoples with legitimate aspirations, each with a painful history that makes compromise elusive. It's easy to point fingers -- for Palestinians to point to the displacement brought about by Israel's founding, and for Israelis to point to the constant hostility and attacks throughout its history from within its borders as well as beyond. But if we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth: The only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security. (Applause.)

That is in Israel's interest, Palestine's interest, America's interest, and the world's interest. And that is why I intend to personally pursue this outcome with all the patience and dedication that the task requires. (Applause.) The obligations -- the obligations that the parties have agreed to under the road map are clear. For peace to come, it is time for them -- and all of us -- to live up to our responsibilities.

Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and it does not succeed. For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America's founding. This same story can be told by people from South Africa to South Asia; from Eastern Europe to Indonesia. It's a story with a simple truth: that violence is a dead end. It is a sign neither of courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus. That's not how moral authority is claimed; that's how it is surrendered.

Now is the time for Palestinians to focus on what they can build. The Palestinian Authority must develop its capacity to govern, with institutions that serve the needs of its people. Hamas does have support among some Palestinians, but they also have to recognize they have responsibilities. To play a role in fulfilling Palestinian aspirations, to unify the Palestinian people, Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, recognize Israel's right to exist.

At the same time, Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel's right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine's. The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. (Applause.) This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop. (Applause.)

And Israel must also live up to its obligation to ensure that Palestinians can live and work and develop their society. Just as it devastates Palestinian families, the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel's security; neither does the continuing lack of opportunity in the West Bank. Progress in the daily lives of the Palestinian people must be a critical part of a road to peace, and Israel must take concrete steps to enable such progress.

And finally, the Arab states must recognize that the Arab Peace Initiative was an important beginning, but not the end of their responsibilities. The Arab-Israeli conflict should no longer be used to distract the people of Arab nations from other problems. Instead, it must be a cause for action to help the Palestinian people develop the institutions that will sustain their state, to recognize Israel's legitimacy, and to choose progress over a self-defeating focus on the past.

America will align our policies with those who pursue peace, and we will say in public what we say in private to Israelis and Palestinians and Arabs. (Applause.) We cannot impose peace. But privately, many Muslims recognize that Israel will not go away. Likewise, many Israelis recognize the need for a Palestinian state. It is time for us to act on what everyone knows to be true.

Too many tears have been shed. Too much blood has been shed. All of us have a responsibility to work for the day when the mothers of Israelis and Palestinians can see their children grow up without fear; when the Holy Land of the three great faiths is the place of peace that God intended it to be; when Jerusalem is a secure and lasting home for Jews and Christians and Muslims, and a place for all of the children of Abraham to mingle peacefully together as in the story of Isra -- (applause) -- as in the story of Isra, when Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed, peace be upon them, joined in prayer. (Applause.)

The third source of tension is our shared interest in the rights and responsibilities of nations on nuclear weapons.

This issue has been a source of tension between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran. For many years, Iran has defined itself in part by its opposition to my country, and there is in fact a tumultuous history between us. In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian government. Since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has played a role in acts of hostage-taking and violence against U.S. troops and civilians. This history is well known. Rather than remain trapped in the past, I've made it clear to Iran's leaders and people that my country is prepared to move forward. The question now is not what Iran is against, but rather what future it wants to build.

I recognize it will be hard to overcome decades of mistrust, but we will proceed with courage, rectitude, and resolve. There will be many issues to discuss between our two countries, and we are willing to move forward without preconditions on the basis of mutual respect. But it is clear to all concerned that when it comes to nuclear weapons, we have reached a decisive point. This is not simply about America's interests. It's about preventing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East that could lead this region and the world down a hugely dangerous path.

I understand those who protest that some countries have weapons that others do not. No single nation should pick and choose which nation holds nuclear weapons. And that's why I strongly reaffirmed America's commitment to seek a world in which no nations hold nuclear weapons. (Applause.) And any nation -- including Iran -- should have the right to access peaceful nuclear power if it complies with its responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. That commitment is at the core of the treaty, and it must be kept for all who fully abide by it. And I'm hopeful that all countries in the region can share in this goal.

The fourth issue that I will address is democracy. (Applause.)

I know -- I know there has been controversy about the promotion of democracy in recent years, and much of this controversy is connected to the war in Iraq. So let me be clear: No system of government can or should be imposed by one nation by any other.

That does not lessen my commitment, however, to governments that reflect the will of the people. Each nation gives life to this principle in its own way, grounded in the traditions of its own people. America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election. But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. These are not just American ideas; they are human rights. And that is why we will support them everywhere. (Applause.)

Now, there is no straight line to realize this promise. But this much is clear: Governments that protect these rights are ultimately more stable, successful and secure. Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. America respects the right of all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard around the world, even if we disagree with them. And we will welcome all elected, peaceful governments -- provided they govern with respect for all their people.

This last point is important because there are some who advocate for democracy only when they're out of power; once in power, they are ruthless in suppressing the rights of others. (Applause.) So no matter where it takes hold, government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who would hold power: You must maintain your power through consent, not coercion; you must respect the rights of minorities, and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise; you must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party. Without these ingredients, elections alone do not make true democracy.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Barack Obama, we love you!

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you. (Applause.) The fifth issue that we must address together is religious freedom.

Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance. We see it in the history of Andalusia and Cordoba during the Inquisition. I saw it firsthand as a child in Indonesia, where devout Christians worshiped freely in an overwhelmingly Muslim country. That is the spirit we need today. People in every country should be free to choose and live their faith based upon the persuasion of the mind and the heart and the soul. This tolerance is essential for religion to thrive, but it's being challenged in many different ways.

Among some Muslims, there's a disturbing tendency to measure one's own faith by the rejection of somebody else's faith. The richness of religious diversity must be upheld -- whether it is for Maronites in Lebanon or the Copts in Egypt. (Applause.) And if we are being honest, fault lines must be closed among Muslims, as well, as the divisions between Sunni and Shia have led to tragic violence, particularly in Iraq.

Freedom of religion is central to the ability of peoples to live together. We must always examine the ways in which we protect it. For instance, in the United States, rules on charitable giving have made it harder for Muslims to fulfill their religious obligation. That's why I'm committed to working with American Muslims to ensure that they can fulfill zakat.

Likewise, it is important for Western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practicing religion as they see fit -- for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear. We can't disguise hostility towards any religion behind the pretence of liberalism.

In fact, faith should bring us together. And that's why we're forging service projects in America to bring together Christians, Muslims, and Jews. That's why we welcome efforts like Saudi Arabian King Abdullah's interfaith dialogue and Turkey's leadership in the Alliance of Civilizations. Around the world, we can turn dialogue into interfaith service, so bridges between peoples lead to action -- whether it is combating malaria in Africa, or providing relief after a natural disaster.

The sixth issue -- the sixth issue that I want to address is women's rights. (Applause.) I know –- I know -- and you can tell from this audience, that there is a healthy debate about this issue. I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal, but I do believe that a woman who is denied an education is denied equality. (Applause.) And it is no coincidence that countries where women are well educated are far more likely to be prosperous.

Now, let me be clear: Issues of women's equality are by no means simply an issue for Islam. In Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, we've seen Muslim-majority countries elect a woman to lead. Meanwhile, the struggle for women's equality continues in many aspects of American life, and in countries around the world.

I am convinced that our daughters can contribute just as much to society as our sons. (Applause.) Our common prosperity will be advanced by allowing all humanity -- men and women -- to reach their full potential. I do not believe that women must make the same choices as men in order to be equal, and I respect those women who choose to live their lives in traditional roles. But it should be their choice. And that is why the United States will partner with any Muslim-majority country to support expanded literacy for girls, and to help young women pursue employment through micro-financing that helps people live their dreams. (Applause.)

Finally, I want to discuss economic development and opportunity.

I know that for many, the face of globalization is contradictory. The Internet and television can bring knowledge and information, but also offensive sexuality and mindless violence into the home. Trade can bring new wealth and opportunities, but also huge disruptions and change in communities. In all nations -- including America -- this change can bring fear. Fear that because of modernity we lose control over our economic choices, our politics, and most importantly our identities -- those things we most cherish about our communities, our families, our traditions, and our faith.

But I also know that human progress cannot be denied. There need not be contradictions between development and tradition. Countries like Japan and South Korea grew their economies enormously while maintaining distinct cultures. The same is true for the astonishing progress within Muslim-majority countries from Kuala Lumpur to Dubai. In ancient times and in our times, Muslim communities have been at the forefront of innovation and education.

And this is important because no development strategy can be based only upon what comes out of the ground, nor can it be sustained while young people are out of work. Many Gulf states have enjoyed great wealth as a consequence of oil, and some are beginning to focus it on broader development. But all of us must recognize that education and innovation will be the currency of the 21st century -- (applause) -- and in too many Muslim communities, there remains underinvestment in these areas. I'm emphasizing such investment within my own country. And while America in the past has focused on oil and gas when it comes to this part of the world, we now seek a broader engagement.

On education, we will expand exchange programs, and increase scholarships, like the one that brought my father to America. (Applause.) At the same time, we will encourage more Americans to study in Muslim communities. And we will match promising Muslim students with internships in America; invest in online learning for teachers and children around the world; and create a new online network, so a young person in Kansas can communicate instantly with a young person in Cairo.

On economic development, we will create a new corps of business volunteers to partner with counterparts in Muslim-majority countries. And I will host a Summit on Entrepreneurship this year to identify how we can deepen ties between business leaders, foundations and social entrepreneurs in the United States and Muslim communities around the world.

On science and technology, we will launch a new fund to support technological development in Muslim-majority countries, and to help transfer ideas to the marketplace so they can create more jobs. We'll open centers of scientific excellence in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, and appoint new science envoys to collaborate on programs that develop new sources of energy, create green jobs, digitize records, clean water, grow new crops. Today I'm announcing a new global effort with the Organization of the Islamic Conference to eradicate polio. And we will also expand partnerships with Muslim communities to promote child and maternal health.

All these things must be done in partnership. Americans are ready to join with citizens and governments; community organizations, religious leaders, and businesses in Muslim communities around the world to help our people pursue a better life.

The issues that I have described will not be easy to address. But we have a responsibility to join together on behalf of the world that we seek -- a world where extremists no longer threaten our people, and American troops have come home; a world where Israelis and Palestinians are each secure in a state of their own, and nuclear energy is used for peaceful purposes; a world where governments serve their citizens, and the rights of all God's children are respected. Those are mutual interests. That is the world we seek. But we can only achieve it together.

I know there are many -- Muslim and non-Muslim -- who question whether we can forge this new beginning. Some are eager to stoke the flames of division, and to stand in the way of progress. Some suggest that it isn't worth the effort -- that we are fated to disagree, and civilizations are doomed to clash. Many more are simply skeptical that real change can occur. There's so much fear, so much mistrust that has built up over the years. But if we choose to be bound by the past, we will never move forward. And I want to particularly say this to young people of every faith, in every country -- you, more than anyone, have the ability to reimagine the world, to remake this world.

All of us share this world for but a brief moment in time. The question is whether we spend that time focused on what pushes us apart, or whether we commit ourselves to an effort -- a sustained effort -- to find common ground, to focus on the future we seek for our children, and to respect the dignity of all human beings.

It's easier to start wars than to end them. It's easier to blame others than to look inward. It's easier to see what is different about someone than to find the things we share. But we should choose the right path, not just the easy path. There's one rule that lies at the heart of every religion -- that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. (Applause.) This truth transcends nations and peoples -- a belief that isn't new; that isn't black or white or brown; that isn't Christian or Muslim or Jew. It's a belief that pulsed in the cradle of civilization, and that still beats in the hearts of billions around the world. It's a faith in other people, and it's what brought me here today.

We have the power to make the world we seek, but only if we have the courage to make a new beginning, keeping in mind what has been written.

The Holy Koran tells us: "O mankind! We have created you male and a female; and we have made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another."

The Talmud tells us: "The whole of the Torah is for the purpose of promoting peace."

The Holy Bible tells us: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God." (Applause.)

The people of the world can live together in peace. We know that is God's vision. Now that must be our work here on Earth.

Thank you. And may God's peace be upon you. Thank you very much. Thank you. (Applause.)

2:05 P.M. (Local)

Speech Announced on Whitehouse Blog



Short Stories of Muslims Americans

READ MORE---> A NEW BEGINNING - President Obama's Speech...

A Dangerous Experiment

The Irrawaddy News

A judgment will soon be passed down on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. The timing of the judgment and the sentence will be influenced to some extent by international pressure.

Her arrest and detention have sparked international outrage and even condemnation by Burma’s usually passive neighbors. This show of disgust, anger and disapproval will play a role in what happens next. Indeed, had there been similar sentiments expressed consistently prior to this, Aung San Suu Kyi might not be in such a predicament.

Unfortunately, in recent years the international community has made far too many concessions to the regime and has inexplicably wavered in its commitment to denounce the junta’s illegitimacy.

Burma’s generals took this as a sign that they were getting the international stamp of approval to follow their “seven-step road map to democracy” and that if Suu Kyi stood in their way, then surely the international community would understand that they would have to react.

In my opinion, it is inexplicable that there could be a softening of stance toward the regime. The regime has done nothing whatsoever to advance democracy, freedom, development or human security in our country. The regime's road map has not included anyone outside their clique. The regime even denied humanitarian assistance to reach the hundreds of thousands of people suffering the devastating impact of Cyclone Nargis in May last year.

Yet their voices are in favor of supporting the regime's 2010 election, who suggest that such an election could overcome the political deadlock in the country. And these voices are gaining ground among international diplomats, journalists, academics, UN bodies and international agencies.

In order for the election to go ahead, some have floated the idea of excluding Suu Kyi from the political process, suggesting that she should be “above politics.” These voices have emboldened the regime to take the necessary steps to exclude the NLD leader from the political arena—by arresting her, charging her and sentencing her.

And if these voices alone had not yet persuaded the junta that it was on the right path, the remarks of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her trip to Southeast Asia that the previous US policies on imposing sanctions had not influenced the junta and needed to be reviewed, could only send one message to the regime: that the new US administration would take a softer approach to Burma, and thus the regime could act without fear of repercussions.

I have had personal experience of this "Give the regime a chance!" stance. When the junta announced plans to hold an election, there were those that advised me not to oppose the election and that calling for a boycott of the process would not be a good move, because it was not fashionable.

Then, on 16 May, two days after the junta had made their absurd charges against Suu Kyi and taken her to prison, a participant in the Gwangju International Peace Forum in South Korea criticized the democracy movement in Burma, saying it was dependent on one person.

The moderator at the forum suggested that the Burmese democracy movement accept the election as a step forward in a process of gradual transition.

I was shocked that such views should be aired at a forum that was honoring Min Ko Naing, one of the thousands of people who have dedicated their lives to bringing change to Burma, and shocked that such remarks could be made within two days of the regime bringing trumped up charges against the opposition leader.

I understand of course the frustration that everyone feels; but frustration must not make us act irrationally.

It was frustration that sent John William Yettaw across the lake and it is frustration that says “Let's go along with the regime.” It is frustration that makes us forgets that it is the regime that refuses to engage in dialogue—that it is the regime that has the power to make the transition, but refuses to do anything.

We cannot act out of frustration. We must remain resolute; we must remain logical; we must ensure that the message to the regime is unfaltering—there can be no democracy without the people and therefore the people and their representatives must be part of the process toward democracy.

The verdict that the regime passes down on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is in effect the verdict bestowed on all those who have weakened their stance against the regime.

It is not an experiment—trying out a tough stance one day, then a soft stance the next. The consequences are further abuse of Suu Kyi, and further abuse of and violence against the people of Burma.

Aung Moe Zaw is chairman of the Democratic Party for a New Society, an opposition group based in exile.

READ MORE---> A Dangerous Experiment...

Australia-bound boatpeople detained

ASEAN Internal Affair's of individual countries affecting other Asean's and
who is picking up the tab?...

( -From correspondents in Kupang, Indonesia

INDONESIA has detained 59 Afghan and Pakistani migrants on eastern Sumba island and arrested four alleged people-smugglers trying to send them to Australia.

The migrants were travelling from neighbouring Sumbawa island's coastal town of Bima to Australia yesterday, East Sumba police chief Petra Putra said.

"Strong winds and waves caused their boat's engine to break down," he said.

The police also arrested an Indonesian boat captain and three crew members on suspicion of people-smuggling.

Crew member Adhar said he had been paid two million rupiah ($250) to bring the migrants to Australia.

Indonesia is a frequent staging point for people who pay traffickers to take them to Australia in search of a better life.

Over 1000 migrants from countries including Burma, Afghanistan, Iraq, Sri Lanka and Pakistan ave been caught since November last year, immigration spokesman Maroloan Barimbing said.

READ MORE---> Australia-bound boatpeople detained...

Keep up the Pressure, Urges Win Tin


Win Tin, a prominent member of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), has urged the international community to continue pushing for her release, saying that the pressure on the Burmese junta since her trial began more than two weeks ago has given the democratic opposition more “breathing space.”

Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Thursday, the 79-year-old Win Tin expressed deep appreciation for strongly-worded statements from world leaders condemning the detention of Suu Kyi and asking for the Nobel Peace Prize winner’s unconditional release.

Win Tin at an NLD ceremony shortly after his release last year from 19 years in prison (Photo: AP)

“That was very significant,” he said of the strong messages of support for Suu Kyi from a number of world leaders, including US President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

He also thanked Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and other leading Thai politicians, who have been unusually outspoken in their criticism of Suu Kyi’s detention, even raising the issue at meetings of regional leaders.

Win Tin also welcomed UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s promise to return to Burma “as soon as possible.” He added, however, that the UN chief must be prepared to press for tangible results.

“If he leaves Burma empty-handed, it will be a setback,” he said.

He also warned against any slackening of pressure on the regime, which he said was now stalling Suu Kyi’s trial in the hope that the international outcry would lose momentum.

The veteran politician, who spent 19 years in Rangoon’s notorious Insein Prison, where Suu Kyi is currently being held, said that the court agreed to hear an appeal of an earlier decision barring three of her defense witnesses because the regime was trying to buy time.

The Nobel laureate’s trial on charges she violated her house arrest was to have final arguments on Friday, paving the way for a widely expected guilty verdict and a prison sentence of up to five years.

Suu Kyi, 63, faces three to five years in prison if found guilty of breaking the terms of her house arrest by allowing an American intruder to stay for two days after he swam to her home on May 4.

Although the trial has resulted in tighter restrictions on Suu Kyi, the intense international attention that it has attracted has actually made life slightly easier for beleaguered democratic opposition forces, according to Win Tin.

Before Suu Kyi’s arrest and transfer to Insein prison, activists and dissidents in Burma were powerless to make a move without the regime pouncing on them, “but now we have some breathing space here,” he said.

Win Tin also said he suspected the regime was behind the bizarre incident that landed Suu Kyi in a special court at Insein Prison.

“It was a set up,” he said, questioning why John William Yettaw, the American man who swam to Suu Kyi’s house on May 4, was able to get a visa to return to Burma after police were informed that he had breached the tight security around her home late last year.

Suu Kyi’s personal physician, Tin Myo Win, had reported this first intrusion to the police on December 4, 2008. Yettaw entered her compound on November 30 and was immediately told to leave. It was not clear what prompted him to attempt a repeat of his earlier illegal entry into Suu Kyi’s residential compound.

Win Tin also dismissed the regime’s efforts to use the incident to smear Suu Kyi’s reputation and justify her continued detention after more than six years under house arrest.

“People in Burma do not believe the regime’s propaganda,” said Win Tin, adding that the junta’s actions could provoke unrest.

In a sign that the regime is growing increasingly wary of a backlash, it has beefed up security in Rangoon, where residents said that they saw about 30 police trucks on roads leading to Insein prison yesterday.

Win Tin also said that despite the military leaders’ determination to keep Suu Kyi in prison, the daughter of Burma’s independence leader doesn’t hold any personal grudge against them.

“They know her very well. They know that she has no ill will against them, but they want to lock her up or deport her somewhere,” he said.

But the generals were making a serious mistake by attempting to marginalize Suu Kyi, said Win Tin, who said that they would need her when the time comes to cede power.

“They should realize that she can save them,” he said.

READ MORE---> Keep up the Pressure, Urges Win Tin...

Burmese Media Again Challenge Thailand’s Burma Policy

The Irrawaddy News

Burma’s state-run media has resumed its war of words with the government of neighboring Thailand over Bangkok’s Burma policy.

The Myanma Alin newspaper reported on Wednesday that former Thai Foreign Minister Noppadol Pattama had charged that Thailand’s relationships with neighboring countries had worsened under the administration of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya.

Noppadol served briefly as Thailand’s foreign minister in the short-lived government led by the People’s Power Party, which took office in 2008. Noppadol, a lawyer, was a close associate of fugitive former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whose government had nurtured close ties with Burma.

Wednesday’s Myanma Alin report quoted remarks by Noppadol that appeared in the Thai daily Matichon: “Now Thailand is the chairman of Asean [the Association of Southeast Asian Nations] and the credibility of the Asean chairman is down because Thailand’s relationships with Asean members, Burma and Cambodia, are not good.”

Thailand, as chairman of Asean, issued a statement on May 19 condemning the trial of Aung San Suu Kyi and calling for the release of her and all other political prisoners. Myanma Alin quoted Noppadol as saying the statement was interference in Burma’s internal affairs.

The Burmese newspaper also reported that Noppadol had called on Kasit to resign.

In a report on Burmese-Thai relations on Tuesday, Myanma Alin quoted Gen Sonthi Boonyaratglin, a leader of the 2006 coup that ousted Thaksin, as saying that “if Thailand has a conflict with Burma, it will face defeat.”

Another Burmese language daily, The Mirror, has also carried reports questioning the Thai government’s Burma policy, although the state-run English language daily, The New Light of Myanmar, has been silent on the issue.

READ MORE---> Burmese Media Again Challenge Thailand’s Burma Policy...

Health Problems Increasing for Political Prisoners

The Irrawaddy News

Increasing numbers of Burma’s political prisoners are suffering ill health, according to their families and the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP).

Many of them are serving long sentences in remote prisons, far from their families, who have difficulty maintaining contact.

They include several women, including Nobel Aye, known as Hnin May Aung, who is reportedly ill with jaundice in Shwe Bo Prison, Sagaing Division, where she is serving an 11 year sentence.

Kyi Than, a teacher from Henzada Township, Irrawaddy Division, was transferred from Pyarpon Prison, Irrawaddy Division, to Rangoon’s Insein Prison for treatment of a skin disease. Kyi Than was arrested in August 2007 for his involvement in political activities and was sentenced to nine years imprisonment.

One inmate of Insein Prison is reportedly being refused medical treatment for injuries he received while being arrested. Zaw Nyunt was beaten up by members of the pro-regime Union Solidarity and Development Association and paramilitary Swan Ar Shin when demonstrating at Insein market on May 28.

A source close to Insein Prison authorities said Zaw Nyunt suffered mouth injuries. “He has not been allowed visits by his family and the prison authorities refuse to treat him because he was injured outside the prison,” the source said.

The AAPP reported in May that at least 127 political prisoners are in poor health. Nineteen of them require urgent medical treatment, including Aung San Suu Kyi, comedian Zarganar, female labor activist Su Su Nway and 88 Generation Students leader Min Ko Naing.

AAPP Joint Secretary Bo Kyi said systematic torture, long-term imprisonment, transfers to remote prisons and denial of medical treatment took its toll on the prisoners’ health.

An AAPP report said more than 350 activists have been sentenced since October 2008, and the majority of them have been transferred to remote jails away from their families. However, the prison transfers make it difficult for family members to visit and provide essential medicine.

Since November 2008, at least 228 political prisoners have been transferred to remote prisons across the country away from their families. The long-term consequences for the health of political prisoners recently transferred would be very serious, said the report.

There are 44 prisons in Burma, and at least 50 labor camps. Not all have hospital facilities and at least 12 do not even have a resident doctor.

READ MORE---> Health Problems Increasing for Political Prisoners...

Wa Army Asked to Reconsider Border Guard Role

The Irrawaddy News

Following its rejection of an instruction to serve as border guards under the Burmese military, the United Wa State Army (UWSA) has been told by Burmese Military Affairs Security Chief Lt-Gen Ye Myint to reconsider its decision carefully, according to sources on the China-Burma border.

The move came after the UWSA rejected the junta’s instruction to assign its soldiers to border guard duties under a joint-command of the Burmese army.

Aung Kyaw Zaw, a Burmese analyst on the Sino-Burma border, said Ye Myint was unhappy that the UWSA rejected the instruction.

The UWSA also rejected a Burmese military order to withdraw troops from the Thai-Burma border area.

Sein Kyi, an assistance editor of the Chiang Mai-based Shan Herald Agency for News (SHAN), said that tension between Wa soldiers and Burmese troops has increased in recent days.

One example of heightened nerves, he said, occurred on May 31 when seven UWSA vehicles stopped at a Burmese checkpoint on the Thai-Burma border and Burmese soldiers tried to inspect what the vehicles carried. He said Wa soldiers would not allow the vehicles to be inspected and an argument broke out between the troops.

Wa soldiers in the southern region are stockpiling food and supplies in case armed clashes break out, according to the news agency,

Wa soldiers now on leave reportedly have been called back to duty. Wives and children of Wa soldiers have been sent out of potential conflict zones, the SHAN reported.

The UWSA has an estimated 20,000 soldiers.

READ MORE---> Wa Army Asked to Reconsider Border Guard Role...

Riot Police to be Replaced with New Border Defense Forces in Western Burma

Maungdaw (Narinjara): The Burmese military junta has plans to replace riot police with a new border defense force in the two Arakanese border townships of Buthidaung and Maungdaw, said a police officer who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"It has been heard that two riot battalions will be replaced by border defense forces that are now under formation throughout the border area of Burma. The plan will be implemented before the 2010 election," the officer said.

The Burmese military junta is now trying to form the border guard force with many armed ceasefire groups in the ethnic areas of Burma, primarily in the east and north of Burma.

The border guard forces will be placed under the Kha Kha Kyi and will be directly controlled by senior army officials from Naypyidaw.

The police officer said, "The authority has plans for all border areas in Burma to be guarded by the new border defense force before the 2010 election and the border defense force will be formed as soon as possible by the Burmese military authority."

Because of this plan, the military authority is now forcing the ceasefire ethnic groups to reform their forces with the name of the border defense force to guard the border areas.

"Yes, our government has proposed the ethnic ceasefire armed groups on the eastern borders serve as border guards under its supervision before its upcoming election in 2010," he said.

In the western border area, there are no ceasefire groups, but the army authority will form the border defense force with soldiers from the Burmese army to guard the western border.

"All ceasefire groups including the DKBA will be transformed into border guards under the direct supervision of army officers. There will be no particular name of the groups after the transformation and the force is supposed to be in effect from 2010 in all border areas of the country," said the officer, adding, "I do not know if such ethnic groups will come to the western border area for guarding after they are reformed into a border defense force."

A reliable source said the high military authority has already ordered local army officers to prepare for the formation of border defense forces in Arakan State.

The largest and most friendly ceasefire group with the junta is the United Wa State Army in northeast Burma. The USWA was also pressured by the military junta to reform into a border defense force but the armed group refused the junta's proposal. Relations between the USWA and the junta subsequently deteriorated.

The western border has its own border security force, Nasaka, which is a combined force of several government agencies, including the army, police, customs, and immigration. There is no information available about whether the Nasaka forces will continue to exist once the new border forces are formed.

Nasaka forces were already dissolved once in Burma after former Prime Minister General Khin Nyunt was ousted from power.

READ MORE---> Riot Police to be Replaced with New Border Defense Forces in Western Burma...

Large stretch of embankments for barbed wire fences complete

Maungdaw (Narinajara): A stretch of over 200,973 feet of embankments for erecting barbed wire fences have been completed till 30 May 2009, according to an official report of Maungdaw. The project to fence the western border began in February this year.

The embankment is being constructed by 7,000 workers at the site everyday. So far over 200,973 feet of embankments have been completed along the Naff River in the western border township of Maungdaw. Construction began in February, the report said.

The Burmese Army authorities have built a lengthy embankment along the Naff River to erect barbed wire fences.

Among the 7,000 workers at the site there are 800 soldiers and 600 riot policemen. The rest are local Buddhists and Muslims.

A worker said he receives 2500 Kyats per day but a Muslim worker receives 2000 Kyat per day. However most of the Muslim workers are working at the construction sites with the lesser amount without any angst.

Though some workers are receiving wages, most workers in the northern part of Maungdaw Township do not receive wages regularly.

A worker from Aung Zay Ya village in northern Maungdaw said that the army pays between 2000 Kyat to 2500 Kyat to a worker but it is not usual and permanent. On some days army officials do not pay the money to workers even though they have worked from sunrise to sunset.

The Burmese military junta has been erecting barbed wire fences along the western Burma border with Bangladesh to prevent human trafficking and cross border smuggling from February 2009.

The military authorities are likely to complete fencing soon before strong objections are raised by the international community and the Bangladesh government. So the construction of fences is being done hurriedly by using many workers and a large budget.

READ MORE---> Large stretch of embankments for barbed wire fences complete...

Neeti Gobeshona Kendro Press Release asking for Suu Kyi's release

‘Neeti Gobeshona Kendro’, a research organization working on human rights has demanded
for stopping the show trial based on fake charges and unconditional release of Aung San Suu
Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and the leader of the democratic movement in Burma.

SPDC show trial based on fake charges

READ MORE---> Neeti Gobeshona Kendro Press Release asking for Suu Kyi's release...

Forced labour increases in Maungdaw Township

Maungdaw, Arakan State (KPN): Forced labour is increasing in Maungdaw Township due to the building of the fence on the Burma-Bangladesh border, after Cyclone Aila lashed the area, a local businessman said on condition of anonymity.

The storm and tidal waves have destroyed almost 80 percent of the shrimp enclosures of villagers and barrier or walls, which were recently completed on the Burma-Bangladesh border, to erect the fence, said a shrimp owner of Maungdaw Township.

As a result, the ruling military junta, which had recently carried barbed wires, cement and iron rods from Rangoon to Maungdaw Township by ships, had to take the initiative again to erect the fence in the border area.

The army accompanied by Burma’s border security force (Nasaka) recently ordered every village in Maungdaw Township to provide at least 100 labourers for four days to work at the work site, without any wages and also to take their own food. The concerned authority had already ordered the village tracts of Padaung and Donkhali of Maungdaw Township to provide 100 labourers per village. Having worked at the work site for four days, they had to return to their homes and another group had to go to the work site for another four days, said a school teacher.

On the other hand, the authority concerned invited some other labourers for fence construction from other places, such as Buthidaung and Rathedaung Townships and other villages. But, they were provided Kyat 1,500 to 2,000 per day according to their work capacity, said a local shopkeeper.

Erecting the fence on the Burma-Bangladesh border area causes a lot of hardship for the local people of Maungdaw Township and forced labour also escalated.

Besides, yesterday, the concerned authorities distributed 2 acres of land per family to the new settlers, who were recently brought to Arakan State from Burma proper. The lands were seized from the Rohingya community for Natala villagers. This also upset the Rohingya villagers, said an ex-chairman requesting not to be named.

READ MORE---> Forced labour increases in Maungdaw Township...

Three villagers tortured by police in Maungdaw

Maungdaw, Arakan State (KPN): Three villagers, including one woman from Maungdaw Township, were arrested on May 22 and are being tortured by the police, on suspicions that they were involved in setting fire to a video room owned by Natala villagers, a school teacher from the locality said.

Earlier, last month, some of the video rooms of Natala villagers were reduced to ashes by unknown miscreants. These video rooms were built in the villages of Kadir Bill (Nyaung Chaung), Kiladaung (Du Chee Yar Tan), Gawdu Sara and Mayrulla (Myinn Hlut) of Maungdaw Township. At that time no one was arrested by the authority regarding this matter.

After the event, at about 5:00 am, a group of Nasaka personnel from the camp of Zawmattat of Nasaka area No. 7 of Maungdaw Township went to the spot to investigate the situation.

Later, at about 9:00 am, a group of policemen from Maungdaw town went to the spot and arrested three villagers, including a mother and son because their houses were close to the video room. Police suspected that they were involved in the outbreak of fire, the teacher added.

The victims have been identified as Nur Jahan (47), wife of Md. Hashim, her son Md. Ayub (20) and Noor Mohammed (50), son of Habibur Rahman. All of them belong to Sarcombow Village of Maungdaw Township, a close relative of Nur Jahan said.

The victims are being tortured severely to get confessional statements from them. However, they are still in police custody, but no case was filed against them and they were not even produced in court.

The video room was set on fire on that day at about 3:25 am by unknown miscreants. Its owner is U Wachay, belonging to the Rakhine community, who settled in Maungdaw Township since 1992, invited by the concerned authority from Bangladesh, a villager of the locality said.

Most of the villagers believe that some of the concerned authorities deliberately did this to get ways to harass and extort money from the Rohingya community, a trader from Maungdaw town said.

A village elder said, “We are like the fish under the knife. In such a situation, we don’t dare to do anything against the military junta as they will harass the Rohingya community and they will give us severe punishment.”

However, police believe that some of the Madrassa students of Sarcombow Madrassa and some of the organized youths set fire to the said video room. The Madrassa is close to the video room, an aide from the Maungdaw police station said.

Police demanded Kyat 900,000 for their release on bail. But, the arrestees did not give the money because they were not guilty and after getting bail, the police will call them to their police station frequently to ask for money.

Some of the Natala villagers fled to the plains from their isolated areas and built some shops such as---betel shops, wine shops, brothel rooms and video rooms along the Maungdaw-Aley Than Kyaw road with the help of Burma’s border security force (Nasaka). Many youths of the Rohingya community were destroyed due to brothels. A youth has to pay Kyat 1,000 to 1,200 per night at a brothel, said a village elder who declined to be named.

The concerned authorities are trying to find new methods so that they can destroy the Rohingya community in northern Arakan economically, educationally, socially and culturally and through religious persecution, said a religious leader from Maungdaw town.

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Teenager recruited by Burmese army - Kyaw Myo Paing

(DVB)–A teenager who went missing after being arrested last year in Burma’s central Bago division has been recruited by the army, his family said.

Tin Myo Naing, a resident in Latpan Thonegwa, and his wife San San have been looking for their 16-year-old son Kyaw Myo Paing since he disappeared on 16 December last year after being arrested for selling pork without a license.

The couple received a letter said to be from Kyaw Myo Paing on Tuesday which he had dropped from a train heading south from the capital, Naypyidaw, as it passed their village.

The letter was found by a villager and brought to them.

“The letter has my son’s hand writing; he said he is now in the army and being transferred to Light Infantry Battalion 118 in Thahton, Mon state,” said Tin Myo Naing.

“He now has a new name, Kyaw Ko, and his serial number is 406290. He told me not to come find him [in Thahton] as the area is a harsh place to travel.”

“I don’t care how difficult it is to travel there. I’m still going there to find my son - I’ve been looking for over five months. I will find him and ask him what he wants to do.”

Yesterday the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported on a ceremony held in Rangoon, attended by UNICEF and Save the Children, in which the army returned eight child soldiers to their parents.

Use of child soldiers contravenes even Burmese domestic law, although Human Rights Watch in 2002 named Burma as the world’s leading recruiter of child soldiers.

“If they’re releasing eight children, then great for those eight children, but that’s not all of them and a lot more needs to be done before the problem goes away,” said David Mathieson, Burma analyst at Human Rights Watch.

The issue has been cited by former senior legal adviser to the International Criminal Court (ICC), Morten Bergsmo, as a reason for bringing Burma’s ruling general, Than Shwe, to trial at the ICC.

Similarly, a report released last month by the Harvard Law School said that the situation for Burma’s child soldiers warranted significant attention from the UN Security Council.

The problem however is not confined to the government, with several of the armed opposition groups, including the Karen National Union, believed to also recruit child soldiers.

Reporting by Khin Hnin Htet and Francis Wade

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Badong Officials Attack Reporters Covering Deng’s Rape Case

By Luo Ya
Epoch Times Staff - in Chinese
by truthinchina @ 2009-06-02

Yesanguan Town, Badong County, Hubei Province, the place where the alleged rape case of Deng Yujiao took place. (The Epoch Times)

Deng Yujiao’s alleged rape case and her killing one of the officials who attempted the rape have greatly caught the attention of Chinese media.

According to local media, the Badong County authorities claim that Deng is currently living a comfortable life. At the same time, officials have ordered martial law on the county. Two reporters covering Deng’s case were beaten, and tourists were harassed and expelled from the county. In addition, soldiers have been mobilized to block traffic and communication to the outside.

Beijing’s Official Media Condemns the Beating Incident of Reporters

An interview posted on Beijing’s mouthpiece China National Radio (CNR) became widely adapted and posted by other media. The interview was titled ‘Reporters Covering Deng’s Case Beaten and Forced to Write a Statement.’

On May 29, two reporters covering Deng’s case in Yesanguan Town were beaten by a group of people whose identities were unknown. The reporters were forced to sign an agreement to never conduct interviews without the approval of local authority. Their recordings and pictures were deleted. The two reporters were Kong Pu (female) from The Beijing News and Wei Yi from Nanfang People Weekly. They were interviewing Deng’s grandmother when five people broke into the house to harass them.

A man wearing a T-shirt with words in support of Deng Yujiao. (The Epoch Times)

According to CNR’s report, Wei Yi said that they were forced to write a statement.

“The group of people told us we were not authorized to interview there. We must have approval from the county, town and village. They wanted us to promise never to interview there without permission.”

The report in the end questioned, “Exactly what is the truth (of the beating)? Who committed the violence? The CNR will continue to follow the case.”

This report is currently being shut out. The links to this report on CNR’s website and other news websites have been disabled.

Lawyers Supporting Deng’s Case Release a Statement

Thirty eight lawyers have joined the support group of Deng’s case since May 18. On May 29, the support group released an urgent statement regarding the beating of the two reporters. The lawyers expressed their discontent and condemned the authorities. They were willing to provide the two reporters legal support.

Attorney Lan Zhixue, a member of Deng’s support group, confirmed the situation in Badong County through a friend. Lan said, “A friend of mine in Chongqing City called me. He runs a business in Badong. The authorities would not allow him to return to Badong because of Deng’s case. The Badong officials have violated the citizens’ freedom and safety and disturbed their lives and business.”

Lan said he hopes to hear and read more about Deng’s case in the media, and would not want to see the issue “disappear” from Chinese media.

Read the original article in Chinese

Last Updated
May 30, 2009

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China Fires Two Officials in Sexual-Assault Case


BEIJING -- China's government moved to address an outcry over the arrest of a hotel employee for killing a government official who her lawyers say was trying to rape her, firing two local officials connected with the case, which has become a lightning rod for public anger over abuse of power.

The woman, Deng Yujiao, a 21-year-old waitress in a hotel bathhouse, has been released into a form of home confinement.

A government notice said a police investigation found that two officials, Huang Dezhi and Deng Guida, from a township investment office, accosted Ms. Deng in the lounge of the Fantasy City bathhouse and demanded "special services," a euphemism for sex. When she refused, they pushed her around and insulted her. Ms. Deng picked up a knife, stabbed Mr. Deng to death and injured Mr. Huang, according to the notice, issued on Sunday by the Badong county government in central Hubei province.

Ms. Deng then called a police emergency number using her mobile phone and gave herself up. She initially was arrested on suspicion of murder. However, the notice said police believed it was a case of "excessive self-defense." Her lawyers have said she was defending herself from a rape attack.

Mr. Huang has been fired from his position as vice director of the investment office and expelled from the Communist Party. He is now under detention. A third official, Deng Zhongjia, who was with the other two at the time but is not alleged to have committed any crime, has also been fired, the notice said. The three Dengs are unrelated.

The case has prompted an outpouring of public sympathy for Ms. Deng, expressed in a torrent of messages posted on Internet chat sites. It has hit a raw nerve among many Chinese angered by high-handed behavior among government officials.

According to the notice, police have handed Ms. Deng's case to prosecutors, who will decide whether it should go to trial. She is now with her family, the notice said.

—Sue Feng contributed to this article.

Write to Andrew Browne at
* JUNE 2, 2009

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China Murder Case Sparks Women's Rights Uproar


BEIJING -- A hotel employee whose arrest for the murder of an official sparked a wave of national sympathy in China after her lawyers said she was fighting off a rape attack has been released on bail, the state-controlled Xinhua news agency said.

The case is the latest in a series of scandals in China involving alleged abuse by the rich or powerful.

Deng Yujiao at a hospital in Badong, in central China, on May 18. Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Deng Yujiao, 21, was arrested May 10 after she allegedly stabbed two local government officials with a fruit knife in the Xiongfeng Hotel in central Hubei province, killing one of them.

Ms. Deng got in a quarrel with Huang Dezhi when he "mistook" her for a bathhouse attendant and asked her for "cross gender" services, according to a police report.

Mr. Huang's colleague, Deng Guida, eventually intervened and the argument escalated when he pushed Ms. Deng onto a couch twice, and she "took a fruit knife and stabbed" Mr. Deng four times, including once in the neck, the report said. She also stabbed Mr. Huang in the forearm. Mr. Deng, who worked for an office overseeing investment projects in Badong city and isn't related to Ms. Deng, later died from his injuries.

Badong County officials said the local public-security bureau is investigating the case, and Ms. Deng hasn't been formally charged. A public-security report said she was initially detained for "suspicion of intentionally killing" Mr. Deng.

Ms. Deng's lawyers have said she was acting in self-defense when the men tried to rape her after she refused to have sex with them for money.

The case sparked public anguish over the issue of violence against women, and a flood of sympathy for Ms. Deng in comments flooding in to Chinese Internet forums and blogs.

An essay posted on a Web forum hosted by the People's Daily newspaper called the stabbing a "heroic act" and a milestone for women's liberation. The date of the attack -- May 10 -- "will forever be remembered as the day on which a [girl] bravely defended herself and fought against the corrupt official when her life was threatened," said the author, writing under the name "Shenzhou Shouwang," or "Watching Over China."

In a forum on the same site, a user called Guo Chunfu wrote that Ms. Deng "used her own acts to show that even the underprivileged can have a dignified life."

The outpouring of support prompted the Badong County government to take the extraordinary step of posting a headline on its Web site inviting anyone concerned with the case to call the county's news and information center. The site says a representative has been assigned to the case to ensure that investigations are transparent and timely.

Last weekend, five women demonstrated in support of Ms. Deng near the Beijing West Railway Station. Wu Rongrong, an AIDS activist in the group, said the protest highlighted the need for greater "social respect and legal protection" for women. Another protester, wrapped in white cloth and wearing a face mask, lay on the floor next to sheets of paper that read: "Anyone may become Deng Yujiao."

Spokesmen for the Badong County government declined to comment further on the case, and Ms. Deng couldn't be reached for comment. Her defense lawyers were fired at her mother's request this week after disagreements over strategy.

Earlier this month, there was a public uproar after reports that the wealthy owner of a speeding car that killed a pedestrian in the eastern city of Hangzhou had escaped immediate prosecution. Xinhua reported that the driver, who was later arrested for manslaughter. His family ended up agreeing to pay 1.1 million yuan ($165,000) in compensation to the victim's family.
—Kersten Zhang contributed to this article.

Write to Loretta Chao at
* MAY 28, 2009
Source: WSJ

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Beijing moves into Tiananmen Square massacre lockdown

Michael Sainsbury,
The Australian

CHINA's Communist Party has mobilised every arm of its massive state apparatus to ensure the 20th anniversary of the bloody crackdown on its citizens in Tiananmen Square passes unnoticed.

Authorities censored a host of online services yesterday, launched armed patrols around the centre of Beijing and placed prominent dissidents under arrest.

Thousands of chat rooms and major offshore internet sites such as Hotmail, Twitter and Flickr have been blocked, joining an existing three-month ban on Google's video site, YouTube, which was punished for showing Chinese soldiers beating Tibetan monks.

Foreign journalists have been blocked from interviewing people around the square and had members of their local staff questioned this week, despite promises of freer access for reporters by the Government following last year's Olympic Games.

On the evening of June 3, 1989, China's leadership moved to impose martial law on the centre of Beijing after almost seven weeks of protests begun by students, culminating in the peaceful occupation of Tiananmen Square outside the Forbidden City. Thousands of troops and tanks stormed the city streets and the square, crushing and shooting unarmed citizens.

Since then, the event has been wiped from Chinese history books with most young Chinese having only vague knowledge of the massacre and many happy to dismiss it as history.

"I know it was bad but most people really don't know, and the Government has done plenty of good things since then, " said one 26-year-old Beijinger whose view is typical of the age group.

But the Chinese Government continues its refusal to recognise the event, name and count its victims or conduct any form of inquiry or reconciliation. Its paranoia about the massacre reaches its peak in the weeks ahead of the anniversary each year.

Authorities have been steadily tightening surveillance over China's dissident community ahead of this year's anniversary, with some leading writers under house arrest for months.

The city's stubborn coterie of human rights lawyers have been subject to worse than usual harrassment in the lead-up to the annual June 1 renewal of their licences.

But while the Government and its agencies are obsessing over events of two decades ago, ordinary Chinese people are more concerned over a murder that has become the latest cause celebre.

Deng Yujiao, a waitress from central China's Hubei province, stabbed a senior government official to death after being sexually harassed. The Government has shut down access to the town by reporters and blocked websites discussing the case.

More than 40 lawyers across the country have formed a volunteer group to help Ms Deng, who is being held under house arrest.

Last week, a seminar organised by a law website on self-defence, discussing the Deng case, was aborted after government intervention and the owner of another website with similar intentions was repatriated from Beijing to Shanxi province. More than 26,000 chat groups discussing the murder were shut down by the Government.

China has the world's largest online population, and internet communities have proven increasingly influential in spreading word of everything from student protests to group shopping excursions.

Additional reporting: AP

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