Thursday, June 11, 2009

Joint Forces Concentrate on Mortar Attacks against KNU

The Irrawaddy News

Burmese and Democratic Karen Buddhist troops (DKBA) have fired more than 200 mortar rounds in clashes with the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) Brigade 7 in Pa-an District in southern Karen State since early June, according to Karen sources.

The Burmese army fired six mortar rounds on Thursday morning, at least 19 rounds on Wednesday and about 30 rounds on Tuesday, sources said.

In this photo released by Free Burma Rangers, a Karen mother and her baby flee in the rain from the clashes between Burma army and Karen guerrillas. (Photo: AP/Free Burma Ranger)

About 100 soldiers from joint Burmese and DKBA forces have been killed or injured in the fighting while two soldiers from the KNLA were injured, according to a Karen relief group. The KNLA is the military wing of the Karen National Union (KNU).

David Takapaw, the vice chairman of the KNU, said that about 20 soldiers from the joint force have been killed and about 40 injured. “The more they [DKBA soldiers] come, the more they die. The Burmese army is just firing mortar rounds,” he said.

Sources said the joint force has not launched ground attacks because of extensive KNL landmines around their positions.

Poe Shen, a field director for Karen Human Rights Group, said dead and injured soldiers from the joint force were mostly DKBA soldiers forced to fight in the frontline positions while the Burmese army stays behind and fires mortars.

About 10 Burmese battalions—numbering about 2,000 soldiers—under Military Operation Command 4 based in Rangoon Division’s Phugyi recently arrived in southern Karen Sate as reinforcements, according to Burmese military sources.

One Karen source close to the DKBA said that more troops from the Burmese army are coming. He said DKBA soldiers have arrested civilians traveling along the Moei River near the combat zone and forced them to serve as porters and soldiers.

The mortar attack is designed to weaken KNLA forces and will likely be followed by a ground attack, said a source close to the DKBA.

The joint force plans to attack KNLA Brigade 7 until it has removed it from the area it controls. One source said the joint force is prepared to lose 500 soldiers in the operation before it seizes the KNLA area.

Due to the clashes, an estimated 4,000 to 6,000 Karen villagers have been displaced, with many arriving in Thailand as refugees. Many villagers are also hiding in the jungle in Karen State, according to Karen relief groups.

Sally Thompson, the deputy executive director for the Thailand-Burma Border Consortium that assists refugees, said, “The people want to able to return to their villages as soon as possible. But, we don’t know if the situation would allow it or not. There is no ground attack at the moment. But, there is still shelling in the areas.”

The most recent attacks were being launched by Burmese battalions under Light Infantry Division 22 and DKBA battalions 999, 555 and 333. The force is reportedly about 9,000 soldiers strong, according to Karen sources.

Meanwhile, Kyaw Ye Min wrote in an article in a state-run newspaper, The New Light of Myanmar, on Thursday that the regime has managed to make peace with other ethnic armed groups for national reconciliation, but KNU troops have showed no sign of wanting peace with the government.

The writer said, “There remains only a handful of KNU remnants, and they are taking shelter at the refugee camps in Thailand. Then, they frequently leave their camps, secretly enter Myanmar, and wage guerrilla attacks.”

“However, the government has still opened the peace door to the remaining groups. This has been said again and again,” the writer said.

The newspaper rebuked the Thai government for its recent criticism of the trial of the Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. It said the Thai government is not a good friend and is interfering in Burma’s internal affairs.

“If you cooperate with us with genuine goodwill and consider yourself as a good friend, there will be no burden or threats at your border due to [the] internal affairs of Myanmar [Burma],” the article said.

READ MORE---> Joint Forces Concentrate on Mortar Attacks against KNU...

Villagers doubt protection by Mon ceasefire party, prepare to pay new insurgent group – or flee

By Asah and Blai Mon

(Mon News) -A new insurgent group has demanded payments from villagers in territory controlled by Mon cease-fire party. Doubting the party’s ability to protect them, residents say they feel compelled to flee or make them payment.

Over the last week, residents of Brigade No. 3 village in territory controlled by the New Mon State Party (NMSP) say they have been forced to weigh their reluctance to make payments demanded by Mon insurgents against questions about whether the NMSP can effectively protect them.

Last week, a new Mon insurgent group calling itself by the name “Rehmonnya” ordered residents of Brigade No. 3 village to pay 100,000 baht. A few days earlier, on June 3rd, 10 armed men from group had entered the village and kidnapped two retired village headmen. According to local sources as well as contacts in the NMSP, the two men were only freed after their families paid a ransom of 50,000 baht.

Many villagers feel compelled to pay, though Brigade No. 3 of the the Mon National Liberation Army (MNLA), the NMSP’s armed wing, sits less than a mile away. MNLA reinforcements recently arrived as well, and the village is now guarded by a rotation of 15 MNLA soldiers.

“Some houses do not want to pay, but they have to pay. Even though the NMSP will guard the village, if any house does not pay Nai Khin Maung [the man from Rehmonnya who issued the taxation order] says, ‘if you don’t pay, I will get the money any way I can get it,’” a villager told IMNA. “I cannot say what he will do because it is not that time yet, but we are afraid.”

On June 8th, the headman of Brigade No. 3 village called a morning meeting to discuss how the payment would be made. About 30 villagers attended. The deadline for payment is tomorrow.

“We didn’t call the whole villages, we only called villagers who we know have enough money,” said a source close to the village headman. “If the villagers can, they have to pay 2,000 baht. Others only have to pay 1,000 baht – we won’t force them.”

Another villager present at the meeting quoted in a recent report by the Human Rights Foundation of Monland, however, said that the headman relayed what appeared to be a thinly veiled threat from Nai Khin Maung: “Villagers who don’t want to give the annual payment, write down their name and give it to us [Rehmonnya]. We will come and we will collect it ourselves.”

As the payment deadline looms, local residents say that over the last few days they have been afraid to travel to their farms or plantations for fear that they be kidnapped and held ransom.

“Now, after this order, how will we pay 2,000 baht? We work the whole day, but we can never make that,” said another villager, who went on to explain the painful irony of his situation: even if he could earn the money to pay the insurgents, the very presence of the insurgents makes him afraid to travel to his worksite where he earns his income. “At this time, we usually collect bamboo shoots from the mountain, but now we are afraid their group will kidnap again.”

Other villagers describe having to borrow money, portending quickly rising interest and the specters of vicious cycles of debt. Still others said their neighbors had left the village entirely, some selling their homes and others simply to wait out Rehmonnya.

“In our house, we have to pay 2,000 baht – at the present 25 houses have to pay,” said another resident. “Some houses which can’t pay the money, they were afraid and left to avoid this. Some people, they put up notices to sell their homes.”

READ MORE---> Villagers doubt protection by Mon ceasefire party, prepare to pay new insurgent group – or flee...

Junta allots large tracts of virgin land to senior KIO leaders

Written by KNG

The Burmese military junta has allotted thousands of acres of vacant-virgin land this year to senior leaders of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), one of largest ethnic ceasefire groups in the country, said local sources.

Land has been given under the project called "Exploring vacant-virgin soil for rain paddy in 2009-2010" in Waingmaw Township in Burma's northern Kachin State, to KIO senior leaders and Chinese businessmen-owned companies in Kachin State, said residents of Waingmaw.

A villager in a Kachin village called Gang Dau Yang situated on the Myitkyina-Bhamo highway said, the junta gave 7,200 acres of virgin land in the village to Dr. Lahkyen La Ja, General Secretary of KIO.

Lt-Gen Gauri Zau Seng, Vice-president No. 1 of KIO was given 14,920 acres of virgin land in the Nam San Yang village on the Myitkyina-Bhamo highway, said local villagers.

According to farmers in Waingmaw Township, the two KIO senior leaders were directly allotted huge stretches of virgin land by Naypyitaw, the capital of the junta ruled country.

A farmer in Nam San Yang told KNG, the military authorities are allotting virgin land under the policy where less than 100 acres of virgin soil is allotted by township administrative offices; around 200 acres is given by district administrative offices; over 300 acres of virgin soil is sanctioned by State administrative offices and above 1,000 acres is granted by Naypyitaw.

A villager in Nam San Yang who tried to apply for 100 acres of virgin land to the local authorities last year said, the local people are only authorized to apply for less than 50 acres. However it is impossible to have it granted in general.

Actually, the allotment of virgin land is the responsibility of the Forestry Department and Land-Survey Offices but the permission is directly granted by the junta's administrative offices, according to people in Waingmaw Township.

Local business sources said the companies have to buy huge vacant land because they have to prove they have Rubber and Castor-oil plantation which is a mandatory country-project of the junta in order to get permission from the military authorities to do business.

Because the junta's ‘exploring vacant virgin soil project’ is widely in vogue throughout Kachin State for several years, natives of Kachin State are losing their land which has been owned by them since their ancestors time, according to local land owners.

For the last two years, the junta has accorded priority to high ranking officers of KIO while granting vacant-virgin land in areas in Myitkyina and Bhamo districts, said local sources close to KIO.

Both KIO junior and senior officers are increasingly being criticized for taking personal benefit and business ventures by Kachin people.

At the moment, the KIO has generally accepted the "policy of armed-wing transition strategy" of the ruling junta and it is waiting for a dialogue with the regime on that issue.

The KIO and its armed-wing the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) signed a ceasefire agreement on February 24, 1994.

READ MORE---> Junta allots large tracts of virgin land to senior KIO leaders...

Suu Kyi witness appeal goes to higher court

(DVB)–Lawyers for Aung San Suu Kyi have submitted an appeal to Burma's central court to allow the remaining two witnesses disqualified last week to testify in her defense.

Suu Kyi and her two caretakers met with the four defense lawyers yesterday to discuss taking the appeal to central court, following the readmittance on Tuesday of only one of the disqualified lawyers.

The three stand trial for allegedly sheltering US citizen John Yettaw who last month swam to the property where Suu Kyi is under house arrest.

The defense had initially produced four witnesses but three were disqualified on unspecified reasons. The prosecution team was allowed to call 14 witnesses.

“I went to the central court around 11am this morning and submitted the appeal for the remaining two disqualified witnesses for Daw Suu,” said lawyer Nyan Win.

“We are to present the statement for the appeal on [June 17] and they will decide whether to accept the appeal or not.”

Suu Kyi had yesterday urged the lawyers to go further with the appeal, arguing that the disqualification was “legally wrong”.

Reporting by Naw Say Phaw

READ MORE---> Suu Kyi witness appeal goes to higher court...

Impunity bars justice for Burmese ethnic groups

By Aung Htoo

(DVB)–While the world has remained rapt by the trial of Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi, the ongoing crisis over rights for ethnic minorities in the country has received little international attention.

Burma’s ethnic minority groups constitute one-third of the population. This population has borne the brunt of the government’s well-documented and widely condemned human rights violations. Ethnic children have been forcibly recruited into the army, some to act as minesweepers for troop patrols, while rape of ethnic women has been labelled by human rights groups an attempt to dilute the ethnic diversity of Burma. Their situation is being compounded by a culture of impunity in Burma It is only when greater international attention is focused on government impunity and on rights for ethnic minorities that Burma will be able to achieve peace.

This was an argument put forward by Professor Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, former UN special rapporteur to Burma from 2000 to 2008, in an article published last month in the New York Times. The article highlighted the grievances and loss of rights of the ethnic minority in the country, with whom he worked with for eight years.

While the plight of Burma’s ethnic groups has been sidelined by the Suu Kyi trial, the Burmese government has focused greater attention, albeit highly cynical, on transforming armed ethnic groups into political tools for the convenience of next year’s elections. One key issue that many observers have ignored is that if they accept such government proposals, they will effectively be complicit in supporting government impunity for crimes committed by the state army against their own people.

According to agency reports, a delegation of government officials lead by the junta’s chief of military affairs security, Lieutenant-General Ye Myint, has met with the Shan State Army-North (SSA-N) ceasefire group as part of a series of discussions with ceasefire groups across the country. It is understood that the government tried to persuade the Shan group to form a political wing to contest the upcoming elections, in return offering them an opportunity to retain their armed status by transforming into a government militia.

Rather than committing themselves to military rule, ethnic ceasefire groups should take this opportunity make demands about their status in the country and to speak out about their loss of rights.

‘License to Rape’, a 2002 report by the Shan Women’s Action Network that gained attention from the international community, highlighted details of rape cases against Shan women by the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) army. But the SSA-N never made significant calls for international action against the SPDC’s crimes either against Shan people or other ethnic minorities. Similarly, the SSA-N stayed silent about the government’s manipulation of Burmese law under which their leader, Colonel Hso Ten, was in 2005 imprisoned for 106 years.

If the SSA-N bows to government persuasion and forms a political party to enter the elections, they would automatically be placed in a position where they accept the 2008 constitution. Buried within the constitution is section 445 of the penal code, which grants the government an amnesty for crimes committed by the army during the State Law and Order Restoration Council era from 1988 to 1997. This would effectively mean the group supports an ongoing culture of impunity in Burma. Pinheiro documented a case where a Burmese soldier last December abducted, raped and killed a 7-year-old Karen girl. Authorities refused to arrest the soldier; instead, officers threatened the parents with punishment if they did not accept a cash bribe to keep quiet.

This culture of impunity is becoming a huge problem for Burma, and is compounded by the country’s failing legal system. But pure political thinking which aims to bring a solution merely to arguments about the constitution or the election will not solve the current situation. We need to build a new approach by restoring law and order under a framework in which whoever commits a crime can be punished.

If Burma continues with the current 2008 constitution, people whose basic human rights were violated by the government will be denied their right to seek justice under legal terms of the abuses suffered. Furthermore, it would encourage such abuses to continue free of punishment. Since 1990, the United Nations’ special rapporteur has made 37 visits to Burma while the international body’s General Assembly and the Human Rights Council have passed over 35 resolutions regarding Burma. The UN Security Council, however, is yet to pass a single resolution.

Pinheiro points out the international community’s “diplomatic efforts [have] failed to bear fruit” and “the country’s domestic legal system will not punish those perpetrating crimes against ethnic minorities”. In this context, he says, “it is time for the United Nations to take the next logical step”.

Were this to happen, a possible indictment by the International Criminal Court could be on the horizon. This, Pinheiro argues, would have the dual effect of bringing greater attention to impunity in Burma, and deterring future crimes against humanity. If the ceasefire groups do not consider these facts and instead join hands with the government, whilst ignoring crimes being committed by them, they will, as the Burmese saying goes, be hiding from a lightning strike under a palm tree.

Aung Htoo is general secretary of the Burma Lawyers' Council

READ MORE---> Impunity bars justice for Burmese ethnic groups...

British MPs vow to support democracy-human rights in Burma

by Solomon

New Delhi (Mizzima) - British Members of Parliament on Tuesday discussed Aung San Suu Kyi’s trial, calling it an ‘injustice’ and vowed to continue to strongly support the restoration of democracy and human rights in Burma.

Initiated by Alistair Carmichael MP and Secretary of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Democracy in Burma (APPB), the debate was held in the main Chamber of the House of Commons. The meeting acknowledged the need to provide more support to Burma.

Carmichael said the charge against the Burmese Nobel Peace Laureate is that of flouting the conditions of her house arrest. “This illegality heaped on illegality is a particular feature of Aung San Suu Kyi’s position, and of the loathsome regime by which she is being oppressed in Burma.”

Nang Seng, Parliamentary Officer of the Burma Campaigns UK said, Ivan Lewis, British Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth has particularly expressed his strong commitment for the restoration of democracy in Burma.

“Ivan Lewis has expressed his commitment to support the development of human rights and democracy in Burma and his willingness to urge neighbouring countries to pressure military-ruled Burma,” said Nang Seng.

The British government, in the ensuing European Council meeting in June, is likely to raise the issue of Aung San Suu Kyi to be discussed as one of the main agendas of the meeting.

“They have even said they are willing to impose financial sanctions on Burma,” said Nang Seng.

The British government is likely to call on the EU to impose a visa ban on all members of the military regime, their families, their business cronies and also lawyers and judges, who are conducting the trial and sentencing of Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, she added.

“We are greatly encouraged with their [MP] commitment. However, we want to see more action,” she added.

The Burmese pro-democracy leader, who has spent more than 13 of the past 19 years under house arrest, is currently facing trial for violating her detention law by allowing an American citizen, John William Yettaw, who sneaked into her lakeside house, to stay.

Organized by British Members of Parliament, a meeting between UK-based Burmese organizations and their supporters held discussions for providing more aid to Burma.

“They have promised to donate more aid to Burma,” Nang Seng said.

UK was one of the biggest donor countries providing £ 45 million for relief efforts, when Burma’s Irrawaddy delta was lashed by Cyclone Nargis on May 2 and 3, 2008, which left at least 140,000 dead or missing and devastated the lives of more than 2.4 million people.

READ MORE---> British MPs vow to support democracy-human rights in Burma...

Rangoon court postpones date for arguments

New Delhi (Mizzima) - The Rangoon High Court on Thursday indefinitely postponed the date for the submission of arguments over the request of defence counsels to reinstate two defence witnesses in the on going trial of Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Earlier in the day, the High Court received a petition by Aung San Suu Kyi’s lawyer to reinstate two witnesses, whom the district court had barred, and fixed June 17 for the hearing of arguments on the request.

But hours later, Nyan Win, a member of Aung San Suu Kyi’s legal team, said an official notice arrived in his office stating that the High Court had cancelled the June 17 court hearing and postponed it for later. The notice did not specify any other dates but simply said that it will be notified later.

“The notice came at about 4 p.m. (local time). A Deputy Director of the High Court came to my office, and informed that the court had cancelled the June 17 court hearing and that a fresh date will be notified later. I was not in my office at the time, but I was informed,” Nyan Win told Mizzima.

On Tuesday, the Rangoon divisional court, at the behest of the defence legal team allowed a second witness – Khin Moh Moh - to testify in the trial against the Nobel Peace Laureate.

The district court in Insein prison, where the Burmese pro-democracy leader is being tried, earlier rejected three out of the four witnesses presented by the defence team while allowing 14 prosecution witnesses to testify.

The defence team then appealed to the divisional court and obtained permission for the second witness to testify. But the divisional court also rejected the other two witnesses – Win Tin, a veteran journalist and central executive committee member of the NLD, and Tin Oo, vice-chairman of the NLD who is currently under house arrest.

Aung San Suu Kyi along with her two live-in party members – Khin Khin Win and Win Ma Ma – and the American man, John William Yettaw, is currently facing trial in the district court in Insein prison under charges of violating her house arrest law and “harbouring” Yettaw, who sneaked into her lakeside home after swimming nearly two kilometres in the Innya lake.

The district court has completed the hearing of all prosecution witnesses and one defence witness out of four presented by Aung San Suu Kyi’s lawyers and has fixed June 12, for the final argument by lawyers from both sides in the case.

READ MORE---> Rangoon court postpones date for arguments...

Where Pariah States Meet

The Irrawaddy News

It is arguable whether democratic countries are currently working together in a spirit of cooperation to protect global human rights; however it is quite clear that two of the world’s pariah states are united in protecting each other’s interests.

A case in point was the announcement on Wednesday in North Korea’s state-run mouthpiece, the Korean Central News Agency, which proclaimed that “a meeting, film show and photo exhibition were held in Myanmar and a news briefing and film show in Russia from June 1 to 3 ...”

The article went on to say that both countries were hosting the events to mark the 45th anniversary of the date when leader Kim Jong Il joined the Central Committee of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK).

Despite the obscurity of the occasion, Htay Oo, the secretary-general of the Burmese junta’s loyal organization, the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), addressed the assembled audience at the Burmese event, effusing: “One of the feats performed by Kim Jong Il in leading the Party and revolution to a shining victory, shouldering upon himself the destiny of the country and nation is that he has strengthened and developed the WPK into a guiding force of the Songun revolution,” according to the North Korean media.

“Songun” is North Korea's "Military First" policy that grants the Korean People's Army a leading role in the affairs of state and allocates national resources to the army before civilians.

Apart from the slavish compliments bestowed on the Korean premier by the USDA leader, the other notable point about the announcement was that it was published one week late by the state press in North Korea, indicating that, perhaps, it had been held back to coincide with the date the United Nations Security Council announced it had agreed on more tightened sanctions against Pyongyang due to the country’s recent nuclear and missile testing.

The draft of the resolution on North Korea also included calls on all UN member states to carry out inspections of North Korean ships that may be carrying equipment related to weapons of mass destruction and toincrease vigilance over financial dealings with Pyongyang.

In the case of Burma’s military authorities, directives from the UN generally fall on deaf ears.

The North Korean press was reminding the world that it still had one friend—even it was only basket-case Burma.

Official diplomatic relations between Burma and North Korea were restored in April 2007 after a political row some 14 years before when Burma cut diplomatic ties with Pyongyang following the assassination on Burmese soil of four members of a South Korean delegation, including the deputy prime minister, under the government of President Chun Doo Hwan.

Although the two countries shook hands in 2007, Burma experts say the junta has enjoyed military relations with the North Korean regime since the early 2000s when the Koreans provided the junta bunker and tunnel technology, as well as truck-mounted, multiple rocket launchers and surface-to-air missiles.

“North Korean technicians have helped them [the Burmese junta] construct underground facilities where they can survive any threats from their own people as well as the outside world,” wrote Bertil Lintner, a Swedish journalist who has written on Burma for many years, adding that an extensive network of underground installation was built near the Burmese junta’s remote capital, Naypyidaw.

“It is not known if the tunnels are linked to Burma’s efforts to develop nuclear technology—in which the North Koreans allegedly are active as well,” he noted.

Kavi Chongkittavorn of Thailand’s The Nation newspaper has also said that the Burmese military regime were developing bunker and tunnel warfare and that the materials were provided by the North Koreans.

According to Burmese military sources, the ruling generals have stated at meetings with senior officials that, in reference to the Pyongyang model, if Burma had nuclear weapons, then powerful countries could not threaten them.

On Sunday, the press in North Korea scrambled to bring home the headlines that Kim Jong Il is likely to elect his youngest son, Kim Jong-un, to succeed him as the next head of the communist state.

Two days later, the Burmese state-run-media published a news report about the Burmese leader Snr-Gen Than Shwe’s favorite grandson opening a school canteen in Rangoon.

The word in the street in both Burma and North Korea is that the leaders want their rule to become a dynasty.

READ MORE---> Where Pariah States Meet...

Delta recovery could be jeopardized by Suu Kyi trial

by Celeste Chenard

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Burma's trial of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi could hurt international efforts to help the country's continuing recovery from devastation caused by Cyclone Nargis, donors and international organizations said on Wednesday during a meeting with representatives from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Bangkok.

Donors warned that the ongoing trial of Aung San Suu Kyi, Burmese opposition leader and Nobel Peace Laureate, will likely make it harder to raise aid money for the victims of last year’s cyclone, including for the benefit of thousands of children who presently are either without educational opportunity or subjected to daunting conditions not conducive to instruction.

"They [various organizations] certainly mentioned the fact that it [the trial] has not helped the enthusiasm of their constituencies to engage more actively, more fully," Surin told reporters.

Donors and aid groups additionally expressed their concern that authorities may reduce access to the country after the military-ruled government eliminated a mechanism for fast-track visa processing for foreign aid workers.

However, John Clancy, Spokesperson for Louis Michel, European Commissioner in-charge for the Humanitarian Aid Department in Brussels, disagreed with the prevailing mood in Bangkok. "Humanitarian aid is not in any way influenced by policy work," he told Mizzima by phone today, adding, "Humanitarian aid depends on the needs of the population."

Clancy also noted that to date Europe has maintained a good working relationship with authorities in Burma, an arrangement which he expects to continue into the future.

Aid groups have been struggling to raise money to help the victims of Cyclone Nargis since the storm struck in early May 2008, killing approximately 140,000 and leaving an additional 2.4 million homeless.

In 2008, the European Community contributed 39 millions euros ($US 59 million) toward Nargis relief efforts, with funds directed through private aid organizations as opposed to via official government channels.

Meanwhile, Bishow Parajuli, the U.N. Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, told a gathering yesterday in Rangoon, “The international community should increase its efforts, in cooperation with the Government of Myanmar [Burma] and local organizations, in order to promote quality education for all children and youth," citing the reconstruction of the lacking educational system as critical for Burma's future.

Educational infrastructure in the cyclone ravished delta region is said to be in a particularly perilous state, despite the best efforts of relief workers. Some 4,000 schools were documented as having been effected by the winds and water, with nearly 1,300 completely destroyed. Additionally, materials and teachers continue to be in short supply, as children can be found studying in classrooms with plastic sheets for walls.

To date, 1,400 schools in the delta have been repaired, with an additional $US 160 million estimated to be needed over the ensuing three years to continue the further rehabilitation of the delta's educational system. The price tag for all funds needed to complete the delta's rehabiliation stands at nearly $US 700 million.

Yet, Burma's education system is in desperate need of assistance not only in the delta region, but throughout the impoverished state.

“More efforts are required to increase education opportunities to children not only in the delta, but also in the rest of the country,” emphasized U.N. Children’s Fund Deputy Representative Juanita Vasquez, speaking from Rangoon yesterday.

Following the paralyzing political turmoil of 1988, universities throughout the country remained closed for nine of the ensuing twelve years.

READ MORE---> Delta recovery could be jeopardized by Suu Kyi trial...

Being a Defense Lawyer in Burma Is a Risky Business

The Irrawaddy News

As the trial of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi unfolds, many people are asking: How difficult is it to be a defense lawyer who represents political activists in Burma?

Defense lawyers who represent political dissidents routinely face government intimidation, in some cases leading to prison terms and the suspension or cancellation of their license to practice by the Burmese Bar Council.

Eleven lawyers who defended pro-democracy activists are currently serving prison terms across the country.

The Thailand-based human rights group, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), said at least 207 Burmese lawyers, including central high court lawyers, have faced suspension, warnings, temporary suspension or dismissal of their license without a proper hearing process.

“If you want to be a defense lawyer for political activists, you can have your lawyer license cancelled at any time,” said Nyi Nyi Hlaing, who has represented political activists.

“Sometimes judges intimidate us by saying if we upset the judicial process, we can be punished,” he said.

Prominent defense lawyer Aung Thein, who recently served a four months prison sentence for contempt of court and had his license cancelled, told The Irrawaddy: “There are two kinds of lawyers who have had their license dismissed. Political activist lawyers who are dismissed for their political activities and lawyers dismissed in the process of defending their activist clients.

Aung Thein’s colleague, Khin Maung Shein, who has represented political activists including Aung San Suu Kyi, was also dismissed from practicing law and sentenced to four months in prison.

“The fact that the Burmese Bar Council cancelled our licenses is not fair, because we served four months detention in payment for what they called contempt of court,” said Aung Thein.

Late last year, attorney Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min was convicted of contempt of court after complaining of unfair treatment by a Rangoon court in a case involving political dissidents.

“I was intimidated by the judge from Kyimyindine Township court when I asked to call a government witness to the court to testify,” said Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min, 29. “She told me you don’t have a right to call the government witness. If you do that, your lawyer license will be cancelled.

In addition, attorneys Nyi Nyi Htway and Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min were both sentenced to six months imprisonment for contempt of court while representing activists. Saw Kyaw Kyaw fled to Thailand rather than serve time in prison.

The convictions were politically motivated to intimidate other lawyers from defending political dissidents, said observers of the legal system.

Like activist lawyers, average citizens who are caught up in politically sensitive issues are frequently intimidated or charged with criminal acts by the military government. Various professions, including comedians, doctors, private teachers, singers, writers, journalists and their family members, have been charged and imprisoned because of their political involvement.

On June 9, Khin Khin Aye, a senior manager in the Central Cooperative Society under the Ministry of Cooperative, was dismissed from her job without warning because her husband, attorney Hla Myo Myint, had represented Aung San Suu Kyi.

READ MORE---> Being a Defense Lawyer in Burma Is a Risky Business...

Myanmar imposes condition to repatriate Rohingyas from Bangladesh Read more:

Dhaka (M&C)- Yangon on Thursday said it would consider the repatriation of Rohingya refugees from Bangladeshi camps if Dhaka provided proof that the migrants were Myanmar nationals.

'We will think of rehabilitating them if Bangladesh provides strong evidence that they are citizens of Myanmar,' Phae Thann Oo, the Myanmar ambassador in Dhaka said concerning the Rohinjyas, a Muslim minority from Myanmar's Rakhaine state.

Bangladeshi Foreign Minister Dipu Moni who also attended the discussion said that repatriation of Rohingya refugees was a 'three- decade-old crisis' and an attempt was made to solve the problem through diplomatic channels in late 1970s.

An agreement between Bangladesh and Myanmar was signed to this effect on July 9, 1978 after the first influx of Myanmar nationals into Bangladesh, she said.

During her visit to Myanmar in May, Dipu Moni requested Yangon to resume repatriation of the Rohingyas from Bangladeshi camps.

The junta government has suggested neighbouring Bangladesh send a list to help resume the process stalled for more than five years.

The minister said after the second influx in 1991-92 of some 300,000 Rohingyas into Bangladesh, the government repatriated 236,600 of them with the help of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.

She added that there has been no progress over the last few years in the repatriation of some 22,000 refugees living in two camps near the city of Teknaf and the city of Cox's Bazar in the country's south-east.

In addition to this, a large number of Myanmar refugees are living outside the camps illegally, she said, stating that estimates of their number range from 200,000 to 400,000.

'In the spirit of good neighbourly relations, Myanmar should take the refugees back after creating a congenial atmosphere so that once the refugees are repatriated, they will be encouraged to stay on in their country,' the minister said.

READ MORE---> Myanmar imposes condition to repatriate Rohingyas from Bangladesh Read more:

Burma: Suu Kyi says trial 'political'

(Bangkok Post-AFP) -Burma pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi believes the junta's charges against her are "politically motivated", her lawyer has said, as he lodged an appeal over a witness ban at her trial.

The opposition leader met with her legal team in prison on Wednesday to discuss her defence against charges that she broke the rules of her house arrest when an American man swam to her lakeside property in May.

"Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said yesterday when we met that the trial is politically motivated," Nyan Win, one of her three lawyers and the spokesman for her National League for Democracy (NLD), told AFP.

The 63-year-old Nobel laureate faces five years in jail if convicted, which would keep her locked up far beyond national polls scheduled to be held next year.

Critics have dismissed the planned elections as a sham designed to entrench the military's hold on power as Aung San Suu Kyi is barred from standing.

Her legal team submitted a high court application on Thursday seeking an appeal to allow two banned defence witnesses to be heard at her trial.

"The high court will hold a hearing for admission on the coming 17th (June)," Nyan Win said, adding that if the court decided to admit the complaint, it would then schedule a further date for a formal appeal hearing.

A lower court on Tuesday overturned a ban on her having a second defence witness to testify -- one legal expert has already given evidence -- but a ban on two other witnesses was upheld.

The two barred witnesses are Win Tin, a dissident journalist who was Burma's longest serving prisoner until his release in September, and Tin Oo, the detained deputy leader of the NLD.

Aung San Suu Kyi is dissatisfied that her lakeside home is still guarded by authorities despite her house arrest's having officially ended in May, Nyan Win said.

The democracy leader is currently held in Rangoon's notorious Insein prison and said friends had been denied access to her residence, despite the fact that police told her in May that her house arrest was over.

"She is not very satisfied," said Nyan Win.

"She said that her house arrest ended on May 26, but her friends are not allowed to go into her house for cleaning. Security staff said they are still waiting for permission from their superiors," he told AFP.

Aung San Suu Kyi has spent 13 of the last 19 years in detention since Burma's military junta refused to recognise the NLD's landslide victory in the country's last elections, in 1990.

She has spent most of that time in virtual isolation at her house, where the regime has allowed her to receive visits from only a handful of people, including her doctors and lawyers.

The trial, which has drawn a storm of international protest, is due to resume for a procedural hearing on Friday.

READ MORE---> Burma: Suu Kyi says trial 'political'...

Suu Kyi ‘will not accept’ lawyer disqualification

(DVB)–The lawyers of Aung San Suu Kyi are deciding whether to take to a higher court an appeal to allow her remaining two defence witnesses to testify in her trial, follow dismay from Suu Kyi at the disqualification.

Last month the Burmese court disqualified three of Suu Kyi’s witnesses for unspecified reasons, leaving her with just one. The prosecution team was allowed to call 14 witnesses.

Following an appeal by her lawyers, the court on Tuesday readmitted one more witness.

The four lawyers for Suu Kyi yesterday met with her and her two caretakers, who are also on trial, inside Rangoon’s Insein prison where she is being held.

“We mainly discussed the case of her two witnesses who remained disqualified by a decision from the divisional court,” said lawyer Nyan Win.

“Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said she wouldn’t accept the decision as it was legally wrong and urged us to go further [with the appeal].”

Suu Kyi also reportedly expressed frustration at the court barring people from carrying out maintenance on her house, where she was kept under house arrest prior to her trial, despite the order that barred visits to the house being lifted last month.

“The security guards at the check point near her house said they still haven’t received order from their supervisors to allow people to go in,” he said.

“Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was very unhappy to hear that; she said it was very unfair and unlawful.”

Reporting by Naw Say Phaw

READ MORE---> Suu Kyi ‘will not accept’ lawyer disqualification...

Kachin ceasefire group waver over transformation

(DVB)–The Kachin Independence Organisation will accept the Burmese junta’s recommendation to transform itself into a border patrol force only if a new government is elected who will guarantee them “insurance”.

The Burmese government has approached a number of ceasefire groups, including the Shan State Army-North and United Wa State Army, to transform themselves into a border patrol army.

The conditions of the agreement would see a reduction in troop numbers for the groups, with administration of duties becoming the responsibility of the government.

In return, the transformation would be seen as cementing rather fragile ceasefire agreements between the armed groups and the government.

A senior official of the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) said that the group would transform but only if both parties agree on certain conditions.

“We agree in principal with their plan and they also agreed in principle with our decision…[but] there needs to be a few changes made to terms,” said KIO deputy foreign coordinator, James Lun Dau.

“We will wait until a new government has been elected by the people…otherwise there will be no insurance for us [after the transformation].

“And if the new government shows promise, then our country will be in peace.”

In March the Kachin State Progressive Party was set up in lieu of contesting the 2010 elections. The group, although led by KIO vice-chairman Dr Tuja, is not affiliated to the KIO.

Representatives of the KIO however were approached by the government late last year enquiring whether they wished to contest the elections.

The government have made clear that group wishing to become a political party would first have to disarm.

Both the KIO, the Shan State Army-North, and the New Mon State Party have turned down the request.

Reporting by Aye Nai

READ MORE---> Kachin ceasefire group waver over transformation...

Burmese shells land on Thai soil

(DVB)–Artillery shells fired by the Burmese army in its ongoing offensive against the Karen National Union have reportedly landed on Thai soil, as fighting steps up near to the border.

The Burmese army, backed up by the junta-allied Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), began their offensive against the Karen National Union’s (KNU) armed wing, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), on 2 June.

Around 6000 Karen villagers have fled across the Thai border since fighting began, with some holed-up in remote caves.

A KNLA lieutenant Seth John told DVB that three artillery shells fired by the Burmese army landed in Mae Thari village in Thailand with no reported injuries.

According to the KNLA, around 40 government troops have been injured so far, while the DKBA claim 10 fighters from the KNLA have been injured.

Pho Alsho, a resident from Mae The village in Burma said that every villager had fled into Thailand since the fight started.

“There were about 100 households in our village; everyone is now in Thailand as we fear the Burmese army was using us as porters for their offence,” said Pho Alsho.

Earlier this week the Karen Human Rights Group reported that villagers were being forcibly recruited to act as government army porters or to walk in front of troop patrols as minesweepers.

The National Democratic Front (NDF), a coalition of exiled Burmese opposition groups, released a statement yesterday strongly denouncing the Burmese junta’s offensive against “innocent Karen civilians”.

Phone Kyaw, secretary of the NDF said that the Burmese government, despite knowing that their attack was having direct and severe effects on Karen villagers, was carrying on regardless.

“This is a crime against humanity – people have to flee their villages while many of them were injured,” said Phone Kyaw.

A number of those who have fled were from the populous Ler Per Har refugee camp in Karen state.

The United Nations said yesterday that it had sent staff to locations inside Thailand where villagers had fled to.

Reporting by Naw Noreen

DKBA troops threaten to shell Thai villagers if they do not supply food in support of attack on refugees

READ MORE---> Burmese shells land on Thai soil...

Why Burma’s Generals Fear the Lady of the Lake

The Irrawaddy News

Burma’s pro-democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, is expected to be sentenced to five years in jail when her secret trial in Insein Prison draws to an end later this month. The country’s military rulers are expected to put her in solitary confinement in a house that is currently being built inside the Ye Mon military camp, located on the outskirts of the former capital, Rangoon.

The country’s political heroine and Nobel Peace Prize laureate has already spent 14 of the last 20 years in detention.

She was first arrested in July 1989 and remained under house arrest for six years. Since then, she has been incarcerated in her home on several occasions for shorter periods. She has just completed another six years under house arrest.

But in this latest episode, she is charged with breaking the conditions of her current house arrest because of the visit of a deranged American Vietnam War veteran, John William Yettaw, who allegedly swam across the lake to her back door.

Many opposition politicians fear that the regime is motivated by only one concern: to ensure that Suu Kyi cannot disrupt their planned elections next year.

“The junta fears Aung San Suu Kyi and wants to keep her locked up forever,” said Zin Linn, a spokesman for the Burmese opposition abroad. “They especially do not want her to be free to campaign during the elections.”

But the fears of Burma’s military rulers, especially the top boss, Snr-Gen Than Shwe, are far greater than that. What they cannot accept is entering a real political dialogue with the opposition leader and her pro-democracy party, the National League for Democracy (NLD). For that would mean making concessions, something the military rulers cannot contemplate.

“We can never make concessions, as that would be tantamount to surrendering,” former spy chief and prime minister, Gen Khin Nyunt, warned Suu Kyi in a letter not long before he was purged by Than Shwe.

The generals know that while they may be the masters on the battlefield, they are inept in the civilian arena, and no match for the Lady. When it comes to political affairs, Suu Kyi is the supreme strategist. She understands completely that what is needed to resolve Burma’s current political deadlock and economic stagnation is genuine dialogue.

Even in the midst of her current crisis, Suu Kyi, in her own way, renewed her call for dialogue when she told three diplomats from Russia, Singapore and Thailand who were allowed to see her in the first week of the trial that maybe something good could still come out of this unfortunate incident.

This was a clear appeal to the junta—sitting in secret seclusion in their bunker-capital north of Rangoon—to start a meaningful political dialogue with the pro-democracy parties and the country’s ethnic groups. They can throw me in jail or keep me locked up for as long as they like, provided they start a genuine dialogue, she has often said—and that was what she told me when I saw her last in March 2003, in Rangoon, a few weeks before her fateful trip upcountry.

She has always, in a self-effacing way, made it clear that her struggle is that of the Burmese people as a whole—not one for personal power. When her husband Michael Aris and their two sons accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on her behalf in 1991, while she was still under house arrest for the first time, her acceptance speech, smuggled out of the country, was typical of her feelings. The honor was not for her alone, she said, but for all Burmese people in their struggle for democracy.

Since Suu Kyi returned to Rangoon to look after her ill mother in 1987, she has always put her personal concerns aside for the sake of the Burmese people.

“I draw inspiration from the courage and sacrifice of the ordinary Burmese people,” she often said to me in telephone interviews during the few years after she was freed for the first time in July 10, 1995, after six years under house arrest.

But Than Shwe cannot even abide hearing her name, according to many ministers and diplomats who have had the rare opportunity to meet him in the last few years. This remains one of the key obstacles to resolving Burma’s political deadlock. Burma’s top generals are not interested in a concrete dialogue with the pro-democracy leader.

“We’ve been trying to get them to the negotiating table for 14 years, but they have never been keen on the idea,” she told me the last time we met in March 2003—the last foreign journalist to interview her before her trip to Upper Burma, which ended in her current stint under house arrest.

Suu Kyi has repeatedly offered to discuss the country’s political future with the generals. Everything is negotiable if they start meaningful talks, she told me weeks before she was detained for the third time six years ago following an attack on her and her entourage by pro-government thugs in what is now called Black Friday.

“We are in opposition to each other at the moment, but we should work together for the sake of the country. We certainly bear no grudges against them. We are not out for vengeance. We want to reach the kind of settlement which will be beneficial to everybody, including the members of the military,” she said to me at the time.

Since 1995, there have been several abortive attempts to establish a process of national reconciliation, especially in the period after 2000, when Khin Nyunt was involved in informal contact with Suu Kyi while she was under house arrest. But this came to naught, as Than Shwe thought he did not need the pro-democracy people to bring about political change in Burma.

But Suu Kyi has persisted in trying to convince the regime that she, at least, was prepared to negotiate, and that meant making concessions. “What we’ve always said is that dialogue is not a competition,” she told me six years ago.

“We don’t want a dialogue in order to find out who is the better person, or which is the smarter organization. We have always said that the only winner, if we settle down to negotiations, the only winner, will be the country,” she said.

Suu Kyi has repeatedly made conciliatory gestures towards the regime. As the daughter of the independence hero and founder of modern Burma, Gen Aung San, she understands the military mentality and is prepared to work with them.

“We have genuine goodwill towards the Burmese military. I personally look upon it with a certain amount of affection because of my father and I want it to have an honorable position in the country,” she told me at the NLD headquarters, weeks before the regime showed its true colors.

But all these overtures by the Lady have fallen on deaf ears. Burma’s top general is completely convinced that by keeping Suu Kyi in detention, he can marginalize her and reduce her influence in the country. It is a vain hope, as the international protests since her arrest last month and the growing anger inside the country prove.

Her demeanor in court also shows that she is far from daunted by the isolation and unresponsiveness of the regime to her repeated offers of talks on national reconciliation. There could be many opportunities for national reconciliation if all parties wanted it, she told the rare meeting with diplomats recently, according to Singaporean diplomatic sources. The intrusion into her home should not be used to get at the Burmese authorities, she said.

But it now seems certain that Suu Kyi will be sentenced in the next few days to another five years in jail. But she is undeterred by the years of detention. When I met her on the day she was released last time—May 6, 2002—she confided that the isolation gave her plenty of time for reading, reflection and meditation.

What keeps her going is inspiration she draws from her father and the sacrifices of the Burmese people.

“I always have been strengthened and inspired by my father. Even now, sometimes when I go over his old speeches, they are as relevant now as they were then—he was indeed a man of vision,” she confided to me as I left the NLD headquarters.

It is this humility, charisma, commitment and strength that make Suu Kyi the inspirational icon she has become for the NLD and the Burmese battle for democracy. No wonder the generals feel it necessary to keep her silent, this time behind bars in Insein Prison.

Six years ago, she told me you cannot wake up a man who is pretending to sleep—alluding to an old Burmese adage which she felt summed up Than Shwe’s attitude. Now it is time to try again to wake the old man up from his slumber.

READ MORE---> Why Burma’s Generals Fear the Lady of the Lake...

Suu Kyi Trial Complicates US Burma Policy Review

The Irrawaddy News

WASHINGTON — The Obama Administration is finding it difficult to move forward in engaging Burma because of the trial of Aung San Suu Kyi, Obama’s choice for top diplomat in East Asia said on Wednesday.

“The recent events with Aung San Suu Kyi are just deeply, deeply concerning, and it makes it very difficult going forward,” said Kurt Campbell, the Obama nominee for assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, told US lawmakers during his confirmation hearing.

“We're in the midst of a very sensitive review,” he said. “We are looking at the situation of the trial and what the junta is considering going forward. It will play into our review.” Campbell appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Referring to a statement made by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her maiden tour to Asia this year, Campbell said, “What she said out in the region stands for itself. I think she was very clear about what—the approach the administration has taken. And as a general practice, we're prepared to reach out, not just in Burma but in other situations as well.”

When asked about the administration’s view on the 2010 Burmese elections, Campbell said: “Well, some of the discussions that we have had to date surround whether recent actions of the junta are designed to create a different domestic context for the upcoming 2010 elections. The truth is that we have an embassy there, we have sources of information.”

“I think at the current juncture, given that I'm unconfirmed and that I am not privy to some of the most sensitive deliberations, I would simply say that we are looking closely at all developments inside Burma, and this is very high on Clinton’s list of issues in Southeast Asia.”

He termed it as “hypothetical” to assume that “Burma would honor the items that are in its proposed constitution, which move, however imperfectly, toward a multi-party system and open elections.”

Observing that the developments inside Burma have implications for Suu Kyi's party, Campbell said: “All I can tell you is that I think in the past there has been a determination that not much could be done; let us live with our sanctions. I think there is a very high-level degree of interest in seeing what is possible going forward and a deep sense of disappointment in the recent steps that the junta's taken towards Aung San Suu Kyi.”

In remarks before the committee, Sen James Webb said for the number of years he has advocated a different approach in Burma.

“I have had some good discussions with Sec Clinton about this over the past couple of years, before she became secretary of State and afterwards. Aung San Suu Kyi's ongoing trial is the latest incident in a cycle that's been virtually unchanged for 60 years, actually, not 20, as some people comment.”

In that time, particularly over the past 10 years, the United States' ability to influence events in Burma has steadily waned. Businesses, NGOs, government groups have been ousted, he argued.

“Meanwhile, other countries, not only China but most notably China, are more engaged than ever, with infrastructure projects, mineral resources. China just signed a large oil deal,” he pointed out.

“On the one hand, I would like to say very clearly, as someone who has advocated a different approach, the situation presently with Aung San Suu Kyi is unacceptable to any of us who have advocated varying approaches with respect to Burma. But on the other, we need to look at a different way of doing things,” Webb said.

Earlier in his prepared statement, Campbell said the people of Burma deserve better than what they now have.

“As secretary Clinton said in Jakarta, neither our sanctions-based approach nor Asean’s engagement approach have worked, so the Administration is reviewing policy options with the goal of finding more effective ways to encourage dialogue among the military, the opposition, and the ethnic nationalities, release of political prisoners and broad-based reform,” he said.

“The recent actions by the Burmese Junta against Aung San Suu Kyi are deeply troubling, and we are factoring these developments into our ongoing policy review,” he said.

“While I cannot prejudge the outcome of the policy review, I can say that my approach— if confirmed—will be to engage widely with Congress, with our partners in the region, and with people who know Burma in order to come up with practical, realistic ideas on how we can best encourage Burma to move in a more positive direction,” Campbell said.

READ MORE---> Suu Kyi Trial Complicates US Burma Policy Review...

Tunnels, Guns and Kimchi: North Korea’s Quest for Dollars – Part I

By Bertil Lintner
Yale Global

Recent suggestions by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that North Korea could be re-listed as a state sponsoring terrorism raises the prospect of further tightening the economic noose around the regime.

North Korea has got nuclear weapons but needs funds to keep the regime afloat. Yet, normal trading partners are loathe to transact with the pariah state subject to international sanctions. Hence Pyongyang’s search for innovative means to earn hard currency. North Korea’s ability to counterfeit high-quality US dollar bills is known, but less known is its skill in digging tunnels.

In the first of this exclusive series on North Korea’s money-making ventures, journalist and author Bertil Lintner reveals how North Korea has been secretly helping Burma – another pariah regime – to build an extensive tunnel network as emergency shelter and for other unknown purposes.

Lintner has obtained the first ever images of this secret tunnel building effort along with photos of foreign advisers, almost certainly from North Korea. Lintner’s research also shows that apart from Burma, the buyers for North Korean tunneling technology possibly include Hezbollah in Lebanon. As the Israelis and the UN found out in Lebanon, such technology appeared to be of high quality: tunnels ran as deep as 40 meters, sometimes located only 100 meters away from adversaries, and offered amenities like electricity, ventilation, and running water.

Payments are made in gold or barter, any store of value North Korea can use. While one can marvel at North Korea’s capitalist ingenuity, its future prospects do not appear to be great as the number of regimes and business partners desperate or adventurous enough to seek North Korea’s help is in decline. – YaleGlobal

Tunnels, Guns and Kimchi: North Korea’s Quest for Dollars – Part I

North Korea digs tunnels for Burma’s brutal, secretive regime

By Bertil Lintner
YaleGlobal, 9 June 2009

Digging advisers: North Korean technicians coming out of an undisclosed Burmese government guesthouse, presumably in the newly built capital, Naypyidaw

BANGKOK: Missiles and missile and nuclear technology, counterfeiting money and cigarette smuggling, front companies and restaurants in foreign countries, labor export to the Middle East – North Korea has been very innovative when it comes to raising badly needed foreign exchange for the regime in Pyongyang. But there is a less known trade in service that the North Koreans have offered to its foreign clients: expertise in tunneling. A fascinating new glimpse of this business has now been offered in secret photos from Burma obtained by this correspondent.

The photos, taken between 2003 and 2006, show that while the rest of the world is speculating about the outcome of long-awaited elections in Burma, the ruling military junta has been busy digging in for the long haul – literally. North Korean technicians have helped them construct underground facilities where they can survive any threats from their own people as well as the outside world. It is not known if the tunnels are linked to Burma’s reported efforts to develop nuclear technology – in which the North Koreans allegedly are active as well. (See Burma’s Nuclear Temptation).

The photographs published here show that an extensive network of underground installations was built near Burma’s new, fortified capital Naypyidaw. In November 2005, the military moved its administration from the old capital Rangoon to an entirely new site that was carved out of the wilderness 460 kms (300 miles) north of Rangoon.

Interactive Photo Slide Show Pyinmana is close to the new capital, Naypyidaw (see below please).

Meaning the “Abode of Kings,” Naypyidaw is meant to symbolize the power of the military and its desire to build a new state based on the tradition of Burma’s pre-colonial warrior kings. But underground facilities were apparently deemed necessary to secure the military’s grip on power. Additional tunnels and underground meeting halls have been built near Taunggyi, the capital of Burma’s northeastern Shan State and the home of several of the country’s decades-long insurgencies. Some of the pictures, taken in June 2006, show a group of technicians in civilian dress walking out of a government guesthouse in the Naypyidaw area. Asian diplomats have identified those technicians, with features distinct from the Burmese workers around them, as North Koreans.

This is quite a turn around as Burma severed relations with Pyongyang in 1983 after North Korean agents planted a bomb at Rangoon’s Martyrs Mausoleum killing 18 visiting South Korean officials, including the then-deputy prime minister and three other government ministers.

North Korean technicians have helped the Burmese
construct underground facilities where they can
survive any threats from their own people
as well as the outside world.
Secret talks between Burmese and North Korean diplomats began in Bangkok in the early 1990s.The two sides had discovered that despite the hostile act in the previous decade they had a lot in common. Both had come under unprecedented international condemnation, especially by the US, because of their blatant disregard for the most basic human rights and Pyongyang for its nuclear weapons program. Burma also needed more military hardware to suppress an increasingly rebellious urban population as well as ethnic rebels in the frontier areas. North Korea needed food, rubber and other essentials – and was willing to accept barter deals, which suited the cash-strapped Burmese generals. "They have both drawn their wagons in a circle ready to defend themselves," a Bangkok-based Western diplomat said. "Burma’s generals admire the North Koreans for standing up to the United States and wish they could do the same."

After an exchange of secret visits, North Korean armaments began to arrive in Burma. The curious relationship between Burma and North Korea was first disclosed in the Hong Kong-based weekly Far Eastern Economic Review on July 10, 2003. A group of 15-20 North Korean technicians were then seen at a government guesthouse near the old capital Rangoon. The report was met with skepticism, especially because of the 1983 Rangoon bombings. But, when North Korean-made field artillery pieces were seen in Burma in the early 2000s, it became clear that North Korea had found a new ally – several years before diplomatic relations between the two countries were restored in April 2007.
Burma and North Korea
"have both drawn their wagons
in a circle ready to defend themselves."
"While based on a 1950s Russian design, these weapons [the field guns] were battle-tested and reliable," Australian Burma scholar Andrew Selth stated in a 2004 working paper for the Australian National University. "They significantly increased Burma’s long-range artillery capabilities, which were then very weak." Since then, Burma has also taken delivery of North Korean truck-mounted, multiple rocket launchers and possibly also surface-to-air missiles for its Chinese-supplied naval vessels.

Then came the tunneling experts. Most of Pyongyang’s own defense industries, including its chemical and biological-weapons programs, and many other military as well as government installations are underground. This includes known factories at Ganggye and Sakchu, where thousands of technicians and workers labor in a maze of tunnels dug under mountains. The export of such know-how to Burma was first documented in June 2006, when intelligence agencies intercepted a message from Naypyidaw confirming the arrival of a group of North Korean tunneling experts at the site. Today, three years later, the dates on the photos published today confirm the accuracy of this report. By now, the tunnels and underground installations should be completed, as would those near Taunggyi. This well-hidden complex ensures there is no danger of irate civilians storming government buildings, as they did during the massive pro-democracy uprising in August-September 1988. Sources say that the internationally isolated military junta may also consider these deep bunkers as their last repair in case of air strikes of the kind that the Taliban in Afghanistan or Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq endured.

It is not clear how much, or what, Burma has paid for the assistance provided by the North Korean experts, but it could be food – or gold, which is found in riverbeds in northern Burma. Or some other mineral. Burma, of course, is not the only foreign tunneling venture by North Korea.
This well-hidden complex ensures
there is no danger of irate civilians
storming government buildings.
In southern Lebanon following the 2006 war, Israel’s Defense Forces and the United Nations found several of the underground complexes, which by then had been abandoned by Hezbollah militants. By coincidence or not, these tunnels and underground rooms – some big enough for meetings to be held there – are strikingly similar to those the South Koreans have unearthed under the Demilitarized Zone that separates South from North Korea. Under small, manhole cover-sized entrances hidden under grass and bushes were steel-lined shafts with ladders leading down to big rooms with electricity, ventilation, bathrooms with showers and drainage systems. Some of the tunnels are 40 meters deep and located only 100 meters from the Israeli border. North Korea’s possible involvement in digging these tunnels is however, difficult to ascertain. According to Israeli investigative journalist Ronen Bergman, a senior officer in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, who had defected to the West, revealed that, "thanks to the presence of hundreds of Iranian engineers and technicians, and experts from North Korea who were brought in by Iranian diplomats…Hezbollah succeeded in building a 25-kilometer subterranean strip in South Lebanon."

Beirut sources suggest that it is more likely that Hezbollah has used North Korean designs and blueprints given to them by their Syrian or Iranian allies – both of whom are close to the North Koreans. (Both Iran and Syria have acquired missile technology from North Korea, and what was believed to be a secret nuclear reactor in Syria built with North Korean help was destroyed by the Israeli air force in September 2007.) Either way, North Korean expertise in tunneling has become a valuable commodity for export. And Pyongyang is flexible about the method of payment as long as it helps the international pariah regime.

Bertil Lintner is a Swedish journalist based in Thailand and the author of several works on Asia, including “Blood Brothers: The Criminal Underworld of Asia” and “Great Leader, Dear Leader: Demystifying North Korea under the Kim Clan.” He can be reached at

Part II Embed - ...and their Economy grows thanks to foreigners

READ MORE---> Tunnels, Guns and Kimchi: North Korea’s Quest for Dollars – Part I...

Myanmar's Suu Kyi hits out over guarded home

YANGON (AFP) – Myanmar pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi is dissatisfied that her lakeside home is still guarded by authorities despite her house arrest officially ending in May, a lawyer has said.

The Nobel laureate, currently held in Yangon's notorious Insein prison, said friends had been denied access to her residence despite the fact that police told her in May that the house arrest had been cancelled.

The 63-year-old is on trial for breaching the terms of her house arrest following a bizarre incident in which a US man swam to the property in May. She faces up to five years in jail if convicted.

"She is not very satisfied," said Nyan Win, one of her three lawyers and the spokesman for her National League for Democracy (NLD), after meeting with the opposition leader inside the prison on Wednesday.

"She said that her house arrest ended on May 26, but her friends are not allowed to go into her house for cleaning. Security staff said they are still waiting for permission from their superiors," Nyan Win told AFP.

Aung San Suu Kyi has spent 13 of the last 19 years in detention since Myanmar's military junta refused to recognise the NLD's landslide victory in the country's last elections, in 1990.

She has spent most of that time in virtual isolation at her house, where the regime has allowed her visits from only a handful of people including her doctors and lawyers.

Nyan Win said her legal team planned to lodge a high court appeal to allow two further defence witnesses at her trial, after Aung San Suu Kyi instructed them to push ahead with the move during the prison visit.

A lower court on Tuesday overturned a ban on her having a second defence witness to testify -- one legal expert has already given evidence -- but a ban on two other witnesses was upheld.

"We are preparing to submit an application to the high court today. If our paperwork is completed today, we can submit it," Nyan Win said.

The two barred defence witnesses are Win Tin, a dissident journalist who was Myanmar's longest serving prisoner until his release in September, and Tin Oo, the detained deputy leader of the NLD.

The trial, which has drawn a storm of international protest, is due to resume for a procedural hearing on Friday.

READ MORE---> Myanmar's Suu Kyi hits out over guarded home...

Suu Kyi trial raises Burma aid fears

By Tim Johnston in Bangkok

(FT) -Aid donors have warned that the ongoing trial of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese opposition leader and Nobel Laureate, will make it harder to raise aid money for the victims of last year’s cyclone.

“They said there might be some delay; some reservation; that the issue is not separate from the deliberation and consideration of further engagement,” Surin Pitsuan, the secretary General of the Association of South East Asian Nations, said after meeting aid donors on Wednesday.

Aid groups have been struggling to raise money to help the victims of Cyclone Nargis, which hit the Irrawaddy delta last May, killing at least 140,000 people and leaving 2.4m other victims.

International aid to Burma, which is also known as Myanmar, is supposed to be separate from political considerations, but the actions of the Burmese government have made it harder for politicians in donor nations to justify the expenditure.

“We should be scaling up our efforts, but political considerations are going to make that difficult,” said one European diplomat who asked to remain anonymous. “It’s not only the trial of Aung San Suu Kyi, it is the whole political situation in Myanmar.”

He contrasted the $315m so far given for the victims of Nargis with the $10bn that was pledged after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

Mrs Suu Kyi has been under house arrest for 13 of the last 19 years, and she could face five years in prison if she is found guilty of breaching the terms of her detention after John Yettaw, an American, stayed the night after he swam the lake behind her house.

On Wednesday, she met her lawyers and instructed them to launch a further appeal against a decision banning two defence witnesses from testifying. The court is expected to reconvene on Friday.

The trial has sparked international outrage, and the fallout is being felt by those in charge of aid budgets.

“They certainly mentioned the fact that it has not helped the inclination of their constituencies to engage more fully,” said Mr Pitsuan of the donors who attended the meeting in Bangkok.

Despite her prolonged incarceration, Mrs Suu Kyi still represents the most serious challenge to the rule of Burma’s generals, and critics of the regime believe the authorities are using Mr Yettaw’s uninvited visit as a reason to keep her in jail until after next year’s elections.

Burma is a member of Asean, and the regional group is coordinating the post-Nargis aid programme. But relations have been strained after Abhisit Vejjajiva, Thailand’s prime minister and the current chairman of Asean, criticised the decision to put Mrs Suu Kyi on trial, provoking the Burmese authorities to accuse Thailand of bringing the group into disrepute.

READ MORE---> Suu Kyi trial raises Burma aid fears...

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