Sunday, June 7, 2009

SM Goh to visit Myanmar

By Goh Chin Lian -Senior Political Correspondent

SENIOR Minister Goh Chok Tong will make an official visit to Myanmar from Monday

Myanmar Prime Minister General Thein Sein will host him to lunch during his four-day trip.

SM Goh will use the visit to update himself on developments in Myanmar. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

(ST) -He will also call on the country's top leader, Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council Senior General Than Shwe.

His visit is at the invitation of General Thein Sein, the Prime Minister's Office here said in a statement on Sunday.

General Thein Sein had extended the invitation during his introductory visit to Singapore in March this year, the PMO added.

Mr Goh, who last visited Myanmar in 1998, will use the visit to update himself on developments in the country, said the statment.

He will visit the administrative capital of Nay Pyi Taw, as well as the cities of Yangon, Mandalay and Taunggyi, to better understand developments in other parts of Myanmar, it added.

He will also open a hospital in Kayin Chaung village, two hours' away from Yangon. The hospital was recently completed with Singapore's help as part of its post-Cyclone Nargis recovery aid to Myanmar.

The cyclone hit Myanmar in May last year and killed about 140,000 people across the country.

Mr Goh will be accompanied by Manpower Minister Gan Kim Yong, Mr Michael Palmer, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Defence and Foreign Affairs, as well as senior officials.

READ MORE---> SM Goh to visit Myanmar...

Many Burmese See Pagoda Collapse as an Omen for the Junta


BANGKOK (NYT)— It cannot have pleased Myanmar’s ruling family: the collapse of a 2,300-year-old gold-domed pagoda into a pile of timbers just three weeks after the wife of the junta’s top general had helped reconsecrate it with a diamond orb and a sacred golden umbrella.

There is no country in Asia more superstitious than Myanmar, and the collapse of the temple was widely seen as something more portentous than shoddy construction work.

It comes at a moment when the junta has put on trial the country’s pro-democracy leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, after an American intruder swam across a lake and spent a night at the villa where she has been under house arrest for most of the past 19 years.

After two weeks of testimony, the trial is on hold as the junta apparently tries to decide how to manage what seems to have been a major blunder, drawing condemnation from around the world.

The superstitious generals may be consulting astrologers as well as political tacticians as they decide how to proceed. That would not be unusual for many people in Myanmar.

Currency denominations and traffic rules have been changed in the past, the nation’s capital has been moved and the timing of events has been selected — even the dates of popular uprisings — with astrological dictates in mind.

“Astrology has as significant a role in policies, leadership and decision making in the feudal Naypyidaw as rational calculations, geopolitics and resource economics,” said Zarni, a Burmese exile analyst and researcher who goes by one name. He was referring to the country’s new capital, which was opened in 2005.

And so it seemed only natural to read a darker meaning into the temple collapse.

The Danok pagoda, on the outskirts of Myanmar’s main city, Yangon, was blessed May 7 in the presence of Daw Kyaing Kyaing, the wife of the country’s supreme leader, Senior Gen. Than Shwe. The event received major coverage in the government-controlled press.

In a solemn ceremony, the worshipers fixed the diamond orb to the top of the pagoda along with a pennant-shaped vane and sprinkled scented water onto the tiers of a holy umbrella, according to the government mouthpiece, The New Light of Myanmar.

Like the rest of the heavily censored press, the newspaper was silent, a week ago, when it all came crashing down. But word of mouth — and foreign radio broadcasts — spread fast in Myanmar.

“O.K., she thinks she is so great, but even the gods don’t like her, people believe like that,” a senior astrologer said on condition of anonymity because of the danger of speaking to the media.

The ceremony was part of a decades-long campaign by the senior general to legitimize military rule on a foundation of Buddhist fealty, dedicating and re-gilding temples, attending religious ceremonies and making donations to monks.

That campaign was undermined, and perhaps fatally discredited, in September 2007 when soldiers beat and shot protesting monks in the streets, invaded monasteries without removing their boots and imprisoned hundreds of monks.

“No matter how many pagodas they build, no matter how much charity they give to monks, it is still they who murdered the monks,” said Josef Silverstein, a Myanmar specialist and emeritus professor at Rutgers University, at the time of the protests.

So when the Danok pagoda suddenly collapsed last Saturday as workmen were completing its renovation — killing at least 20 people, according to émigré reports — many people saw it as the latest of a series of bad omens for the junta that included a devastating cyclone early last year.

Its sacred umbrella tumbled to the ground and its diamond orb was lost in the rubble, according to those reports.

“The fact that the umbrella did not stay was a sign that more bad things are to come, according to astrologers,” said Ingrid Jordt, an anthropology professor at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee and a specialist on Burma.

“It is also a sign that Than Shwe does not have the spiritual power any longer to be able to undertake or reap the benefit from good acts such as this,” she said in an e-mail message. “In a sense, the pagoda repudiated Than Shwe’s right to remain ruler.”

As laborers began trying to put the pagoda back together, local residents were quoted in émigré publications with vivid accounts of supernatural happenings.

“The temple collapsed about 3:10 p.m. while I was loading bricks on a platform around the pagoda,” a 24-year-old construction worker told The Irrawaddy, a magazine based in Thailand.

“The weather suddenly turned very dark,” he was quoted as saying. “Then we saw a bright red light rising from the northern end of the pagoda. Then, suddenly, the temple collapsed. I also heard a strange haunting voice coming from the direction of the light.”

Indeed, the Danok pagoda may have been a poor choice for the junta’s ruling family to seek religious affirmation.

According to The Irrawaddy: “Several elderly locals from Danok Model Village said that they believed that the pagoda never welcomed cruel or unkind donors, and always shook when such persons made offerings.”

READ MORE---> Many Burmese See Pagoda Collapse as an Omen for the Junta...

178 Burmese Muslim Pushed Back to Burma in 4 Days

By Tun Kyaw

Cox's bazar (Narinjara): Within four days 178 Rohingya Muslims from Burma who entered Bangladesh illegally were arrested and pushed back across the border to Burma by Bangladesh authorities, a source reports.

The individuals were arrested by Bangladesh Rifles Battalion No. 17 in the area of Bangladesh's Ukia Sub-division under Cox's Bazar District on the border of Maungdaw Township in Arakan State as they attempted to enter Bangladesh illegally to seek refuge.

Many Rohingyas were arrested on a bus in an area of Phalaung Khali while another 25 were arrested on a bus in the area of Balukhali in Ukia Sub-division, on the Teknaf - Cox's Bazar highway last Wednesday when authorities set up checkpoints for buses traveling that route.

Rohingyas from Burma have been illegally entered Bangladesh in groups one after another over the last month. "The flow of Burmese Muslims into Bangladesh has been unabated," said a border security officer on the condition of anonymity.

Local newspapers claim that Burmese entering Bangladesh are mixing into populations in the Chittagong Hill Tracts and causing crime and social unrest.

Due to the increasing numbers of Rohingyas fleeing Burma and entering Bangladesh, a committee comprised of 17 government departments was formed to prevent an influx of Rohingyas from Burma, said an official report.

READ MORE---> 178 Burmese Muslim Pushed Back to Burma in 4 Days...

Myanmar democracy movement appears to be weakening

A mishmash of disparate anti-government groups has not been able to persuade foreign powers to push for Aung San Suu Kyi's freedom.

By Charles McDermid

Reporting from Bangkok (Chicago Tribune), Thailand - Even as the trial of activist Aung San Suu Kyi approaches a predictable conclusion in a tumbledown prison courtroom in Yangon, the verdict may already be in for Myanmar's pro-democracy movement.

The opposition, already reeling before Suu Kyi's arrest, increasingly appears powerless, divided and incapable of mustering the international intervention needed to topple the country's long-ruling military government. As one opposition leader put it, the prevailing sentiment within the opposition is "outrage and utter hopelessness."

A mishmash of acronyms, ethnic divisions and agendas, seven alliances of about 100 anti-government groups operate inside and outside Myanmar. Galvanized by recent events, the disparate groups have led a chorus of derision for the arrest and trial of Suu Kyi.

International outrage has followed, with President Obama calling the drama a "show trial." But there have been no changes in the government's stance that Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, violated the terms of her house arrest by allowing an uninvited American to spend two nights at her highly guarded compound. She faces three to five years in jail.

Hard-core activists are not impressed by the international response.

"We are very thankful the international community is on our side. But this is only lip service," Khin Maung Swe, an executive committee member of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, said by phone from Yangon.

Western threats of crippling economic sanctions have yet to materialize, and the government's closest allies, China, Russia and India, have remained silent.

Sources in Myanmar, also known as Burma, have confirmed that officials from China, Myanmar's biggest supplier of consumer goods and the main investor in the resource-rich country's energy and mineral sectors, have visited in recent days to meet with the ruling generals and hold unofficial talks with opposition leaders.

Political scientist and author Aung Naing Oo was once foreign secretary of the All Burma Students' Democratic Front, an armed group involved in the violent 1988 protests that catapulted Suu Kyi to prominence. More recently, Aung Naing Oo, who studied at Harvard and now lives in exile in Thailand, has advocated dialogue between the regime and the opposition.

"Throwing sanctions from 10,000 miles away" won't change the xenophobic mind-set of the regime, he said.

He blames both the opposition and the regime for stubbornness and inaction, what he calls "old general syndrome."

"I'll give you an example: A 16-year-old fights his whole life for what he thinks is right. Now he's a general, he's 70, that's all he knows. These old politicians won't change their minds for the country even if they know this is the right way," Aung Naing Oo said.

With Suu Kyi again detained and many other leaders jailed, the National League for Democracy is facing a crisis of leadership and morale. Moral authority, according to Aung Naing Oo and others, is not enough to carry the day.

"Moral authority has kept the movement alive, given it a lifeline," he said. But "you need to bring pragmatism into the game. As Bill Clinton said, politics is rhetoric and reality. How to combine the two in Burma, I don't know."

Meanwhile, sources in Myanmar say the streets of Yangon, the former capital, are cloaked in a renewed reign of fear, rage and helplessness.

"In every neighborhood of Yangon, there is always one former political prisoner or a family whose son or husband is in jail for political reasons. People are too afraid and too poor to take risks," former prisoner Swe Win said. "Only if someone or some group can successfully initiate a movement so big and so strong for the ordinary people to participate will protests erupt."

As the trial of Suu Kyi resumes, and the reeling opposition scrambles to rally universal support, the people of Myanmar are left with little more than a day-to-day existence and wishful thinking.

"Hope is something that keeps Burmese going," Aung Naing Oo said. "When you are Burmese, you have to have hope; otherwise, you have nothing."

McDermid is a special correspondent.

READ MORE---> Myanmar democracy movement appears to be weakening...

Junta launches fresh offensive against KNU

by May Kyaw

Chiang Mai (Mizzima News) – Burmese Army troops are preparing to launch an offensive against the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) and heavy fighting is likely on Saturday, a Karen officer said.

“It seems like they are preparing to attack. I think fighting is likely tomorrow [Saturday],” said Brigadier General Jonny of the KNLA.

Soldiers of the Burmese Army along with its allies, Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA)'s battalions 999, 333 and 555 have jointly attacked the KNLA battalion 7, the armed wing of the Karen National Union, in Pa-an district.

The KNU is an ethnic armed resistance group fighting for self-determination for more than 60 years.

The Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG) on Friday issued a statement saying the impending conflict has forced about 700 Karen people, who lived in Pa-an area, to flee to the Thai-Burmese border fearing for their lives.

While the Burmese Army has raided and tried to occupy the military camps in the area controlled by KNU, the longest operating revolutionary organization in Burma, a Karen splinter group, the DKBA has been expanding its troop strength.

Friday, 05 June 2009 21:21

READ MORE---> Junta launches fresh offensive against KNU...

Army braced for more fighting at Burma border

(The Nation) -The Thai Army yesterday sent more heavy weapons, including mortars, into border areas near the fighting, on the orders of Third Region Army commander Lt-General Thanongsak Apirakyothin.

The mortars were installed in Tak's Tha Song Yang district to fire warning shots against any stray shells from the Burmese side of the border.

The commander said Thailand would take progressive measures in reaction to any violation of sovereignty.

Thanongsak yesterday visited a military unit in Tha Song Yang district and saw 458 war refugees there.

He was briefed by local officials that 1,714 refugees had arrived and more were expected.

The general instructed officers to work with administrative officials to take good care of the refugees, most of whom are children and elderly people, though it is expected that if the battle becomes intense young adults will follow.

READ MORE---> Army braced for more fighting at Burma border...

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