Thursday, June 18, 2009

Thousands of Karen Seek Safety in Thailand

The Irrawaddy News

MAE SOT — Thousands of ethnic Karen villagers have been forced to flee
across the border into Thailand during the past few weeks as the Burmese
army launched a major assault on Karen military units.

Fierce fighting and constant mortar fire close to the Thai border by Burmese forces has forced an estimated 4,000 ethnic Karen to leave their villages since the beginning of June.

“Every day more people are arriving, looking for refuge,” Poe Shan of the Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG) told The Irrawaddy. “We expect many more to cross the border in search of safety in the coming weeks as the rainy season sets in.”

So far, the refugees have mostly come from seven villages in Burma near the Moei River; there are more than 40 villages in the area where the fighting is intense.

“If the fighting continues, at least 8,000 more villagers will have to escape across the border,” said Zipporah Sein, the general secretary of the Karen National Union (KNU).

“The key thing now is to provide them with more adequate shelter,” said Sally Thompson, the deputy head of the Thai Burma Border Consortium (TBBC). “They have food and medical attention, but the flimsy, makeshift homes they are now in provide inadequate protection from the weather.”

Local Thai authorities are drawing up an Action Plan, which would then be discussed with the international aid agencies and local NGOs before implementation.

Many recent refugees are crowded into the grounds of a Thai temple, a couple of kilometers inside the Thai border, where they lack access to basic necessities, aid workers said.

“They are in relatively good condition,” said Kitty McKinsey, the regional spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Mae Sot.

“They are not emaciated, though many have walked for more than seven days to escape from the Myanmar [Burma] army,” she told The Irrawaddy. “They hurriedly left with nothing but the clothes on their back.”

Ma Theingyi, 33, the mother of five children, said: “We desperately need soap, toothbrushes and cooking utensils. More than anything though, we need clothes for our children.”

Most refugees are women and children. Some of the men stayed behind to look after the fields, aid workers said. Others were already in Thailand as illegal immigrants working in foreign-owned textile factories along the border. Others are soldiers in the KNU’s armed wing, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA).

The mass exodus of villagers from inside Burma began after the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) and the Burmese army launched a major offensive against KNU strongholds. This recent assault began about two weeks ago when the army started shelling the border area and terrorizing villagers with the help of the DKBA, a breakaway Karen faction that signed a ceasefire agreement with the military government.

Two weeks ago, the DKBA had called many village headmen to a
meeting where they said they would conscript more than a 1,000 soldiers—around 10 men per village, which prompted the mass exodus. Headmen were also told that each village had to buy two hand-held radios for the DKBA.

“We knew what that meant; all the able-bodied men would be used by the army in one way or another and on top of that we would have to give them money and food rations,” said 41-year-old Pa Naw Naw, who fled with his wife and three children. He left his 11-year-old son behind to keep an eye on their fields and livestock.

The UN says there are some 2,000 new refugees in Thailand. Some aid agencies estimate the figure at 4,000—with many people secretly living with friends or hiding in the jungle on either side of the border.

Refugees are receiving aid at five sites, including Noh Bo temple in Mae Sot. Thai authorities have set up medical centers to provide health care and medical examinations. The TBBC has distributed rice, beans, fish paste and salt, while the Karen Refugee
Council has provided blankets and clothes. The UNHCR has provided plastic sheeting and tarpaulins for the shelter.

The rain, which is already falling heavily on most days, is making life more difficult. Most refugees are reluctant to be moved far from the border.

“They all say they want go back as soon as possible, said McKinsey. “But to what—they all said their crops and livestock had been confiscated by the authorities. They are clearly traumatized. They have lived with this kind of suffering all their lives.”

A 66-year old grandmother, Noh Thay May, told The Irrawaddy. “I have been on the move since I was five-years-old. My days are numbered. All I want is not to have to move again.”

Meanwhile, in Burma many villagers are bracing themselves for more fighting and shelling. The next few days are likely to see the Burmese military substantially step up military operations, a Thai military officer told local journalists a few days ago.

As fighting continues, more Karen refugees are certain to seek safety across the border in Thailand.

“We want an end to all this fighting,” said Pa Kyaw, 30, who found shelter at Noh Bo monastery. “All we want is to be left alone in peace and to be able to return to our homes.”

READ MORE---> Thousands of Karen Seek Safety in Thailand...

DKBA: Burma’s Second Largest Non-state Armed Group?

The Irrawaddy News

Ethnic ceasefire groups were upset this year when the Burmese junta announced plans to transform them into a Border Guard Force (BGF). However, one Karen rebel splinter group, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), quickly joined, seeing it as an opportunity to expand its troops and as a road to riches.

According to a DKBA report on a meeting in May on the transformation of the Border Guard Force that was obtained by The Irrawaddy, the DKBA plans to expand its troops from 6,000 to 9,000.

At the meeting, Tun Hlaing, the DKBA commander, said that the armed group would recruit or conscript 3,000 more soldiers.

If the DKBA reaches an armed force of 9,000 troops, it would be the second largest non-state-armed group in Burma, after the United Wa State Army (UWSA). The UWSA has an estimated 25,000 troops based in northern and southern Shan State.

In 1995, Buddhist Karen rebels separated from the mainly Christian-dominated Karen National Union (KNU) that has sought Karen autonomy for more than six decades. Later, they formed the DKBA.

In 1995, the DKBA allied with the Burmese army, which eventually led to the fall of the then KNU headquarters at Manerplaw.

“The [Burmese] government has had some success using religion to split the insurgent factions,” Larry J Remon, a security analyst wrote in a bulletin of the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, while noting that the success has been coupled with lucrative rewards for corrupt leaders.

Maj-Gen Thet Naing Win, the commander of the Burmese army’s Southeast Regional Command, met with leaders of the DKBA at the headquarter of the 22nd Light Infantry Division in Hpa-an in Karen State on April 18.

At the meeting, the DKBA commander, Thar Htoo Kyaw, said that the DKBA will transform into a Border Guard Force in order to survive.

According to Thar Htoo Kyaw, the Burmese commander told them that the DKBA headquarter will become a Border Guard Commanding Headquarter under the transformation plan.

After transformation, the border guard forces of the DKBA will still be under the DKBA flag.

Under a draft plan on troop transformation, DKBA commanders would be allowed to have 22 battalions under five brigades and one central headquarters.

Thar Htoo Kyaw said at the meeting that the DKBA will recruit between ages 18 and 50. In early fall, the DKBA will report on its armed structure to Burmese commanders.

Since May, along with DKBA troops, Burmese forces have conducted a military offensive against the Karen National Liberated Army, the military wing of the KNU.

Thousands of Karen have escaped the offensive to neighboring Thailand and an unknown number of villagers are now internally displaced persons living in the jungle.

In the past 14 years, the DKBA, allied with the junta, several times crossed into Thailand and burned Karen refugee camps.

Security analysts describe the DKBA as an armed group that brings in income from drug trafficking and car smuggling activities, which are tacitly condoned by the military junta.

Which ever side wins in the current offensive, the territory under its control will provide lucrative income from timber, commercial trading and taxes.

READ MORE---> DKBA: Burma’s Second Largest Non-state Armed Group?...

KNU to Abandon Bases


The Karen National Union (KNU) will abandon its Brigade 7 military bases because they are unwilling to kill their fellow Karen and lose soldiers in the fighting, according to Karen sources.

The Karen sources said that the KNU will let the joint Burmese army and Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) force take over the military bases because it does not want Karen people to kill each other. The DKBA soldiers split from the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), the military wing of the KNU in early 1995.

During the recent fighting, the DKBA soldiers were ordered by the Burmese army to fight on the frontline as minesweepers, while Burmese soldiers fired mortars from the rear for support, said KNU sources.

Sources said the KNU prefer to use guerrilla tactics instead of confronting the combined troops as it will cost fewer lives.

The joint force has already seized three military bases belonging to KNLA Brigade 7, since the combined force started the offensive in early June. The seized bases belonged to KNLA Battalion 21, 22, and 101.

About 20 soldiers from the joint force, who were mostly from the DKBA, have been killed and 50 injured, according to KNU sources. Five KNLA soldiers have reportedly been injured.

The offensive launched by the joint force has forced at least 4,000 Karen villagers to flee their homes in Pa-an District in southern Karen State and escape to Thailand.

The DKBA is recruiting soldiers as the Burmese regime has ordered their troops to become border guard militias. They have also been asked to clean up KNLA military bases along the Thai-Burma border by 2010, when the regime plans to hold the general election, according to Karen sources.

The KNU has been fighting for autonomy for six decades but has never signed a ceasefire agreement with the Burmese regime.

READ MORE---> KNU to Abandon Bases...

Security beefed up in Taungup ahead of Suu Kyi’s birthday

Taungup (Narinjara): Security in Taungup, a town located in southern Arakan State, was beefed up today with the deployment of many additional police personnel at key places in the town, according to an activist.

“It is related to Daw Suu Kyi’s birthday. The security was beefed up after a rumour started circulating that the NLD Taungup Township was preparing to celebrate the 64th birthday of Suu Kyi in the town on June 19,” he said.

The local authorities deployed additional police force at some key places, including township Mayaka office, Phoundaw oo Pagoda and the main market.

In addition, some plainclothes intelligence personnel are closely watching politicians and activists, who were involved in the last anti government protests in the town.

A woman in the town said, “NLD Taungup Township celebrates Daw Suu Kyi’s birthday every year and the authority imagines this year also NLD Taungup Township will commemorate the ceremony. So the authorities have beefed up security in the town from today.”

Taungup is an active town for the Burmese democratic movement and many protests have taken place in the town during the Saffron Revolution in 2007.

Due to their active participation in the Saffron Revolution, the authorities arrested many leaders from the town, including prominent politician, Ko Min Aung, Moe Nay Soe and Ma Ni Ni May Myint and punished them with long prison terms. Many of them are now serving their prison terms, in Buthidaung Prison bordering Bangladesh.

However, the leaders of NLD Taungup Township are still carrying on their activities for the democratic movement without giving up.

READ MORE---> Security beefed up in Taungup ahead of Suu Kyi’s birthday...

Burmese women’s groups pressured to cancel protest

by Nem Davies

New Delhi (Mizzima) - Two Burmese women’s organizations in the Indo-Burmese border town of Moreh were forced to cancel a planned protest rally to be held on Friday after authorities pressured the officer who had issued permission for the rally to cancel the authorization.

The Kuki Women’s Human Rights Organisation (KWHRO) and the Women’s League of Burma (WLB) sought permission from the Additional Deputy Commissioner (ADC) of Tengnoupal Subdivision of Moreh in India’s northeastern state of Manipur, bordering Burma, to hold a protest rally demanding the release of Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on her 64th birthday on June 19.

Though the ADC gave permission, the women’s leaders said they were later persuaded by the ADC to cancel the plan.

“We already received permission on June 16. But this morning we were requested to cancel the plan,” Ngangai Haokip, a presidium board member of WLB told Mizzima.

She said the reasons for the request to cancel the plan were not officially declared, though the ADC had been pressured by his superiors to rescind the permission.

“The ADC was also pressured to ensure that we publish the cancellation of the program in the newspaper,” Ngangai added.

Earlier, the KWHRO, an ethnic Kuki women’s group working to promote the rights of women in Burma, and WLB, an umbrella Burmese women’s organization, planned to march through Moreh in protest against the continued detention of Burmese Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and the current trial against her.

The program was planned as part of the global action for commemoration of the detained Burmese pro-democracy leader’s 64th birthday, on June 19. On Friday, Burmese activists and supporters across the world are set to hold prayer meetings, protest rallies, solidarity concerts and speeches in honor and solidarity with the Burmese democracy icon.

But Ngangai said the program in Moreh had been rescheduled to a simple and small cake-cutting ceremony to mark the occasion

Pressure from the ADC on the women’s groups to cancel their program came after the Imphal-based online Hueiyen News Service published a critical article on June 17 questioning the authority of the ADC to grant permission to protest to foreign organizations.

The article, entitled “How can an ADC permit foreigners to hold protest rally at Moreh?”, points out that allowing Burmese activists to protest in Moreh could provoke Burma’s military junta and eventually jeopardize diplomatic ties between India and Burma.

“With Moreh, being a town bordering Myanmar [Burma], any activity such as an open protest rally held there aimed at criticizing the ruling junta in Myanmar [Burma] is bound to certainly provoke the junta,” the article argued.

While it is still unknown who pressured the ADC to alter the original ruling, Ngangai speculated, “Now the ADC is worrying for his life and position after having originally given permission.”

Meanwhile, observers in Moreh conjectured pressure by Manipuri militants on the behest of the Burmese military could be behind the reversal of fortunes, as several Manipuri armed groups, including the United National Liberation Front (UNLF), reportedly benefit from close relationships with the Burmese military, even maintaining bases on Burmese soil.

READ MORE---> Burmese women’s groups pressured to cancel protest...

Mizoram orders Burmese to leave in 15 days

by Nem Davies

New Delhi (Mizzima News) -In a renewed crackdown on Burmese migrants, Mizoram authorities in India’s northeastern region have arrested over 100 Burmese nationals and ordered them to leave the state within 15 days.

Mizoram police as of Saturday began to crack down on Burmese nationals and arrested more than 100. They were produced in court in Aizawl, capital of the state, where they were made to pay a fine of Rupees 500 each and ordered to leave the state within 15 days.

“They arrested us and held us for a night in the police lock-up. The court told us that it would give 15 days to us to leave the country. It also warned us that if we are seen again we will be arrested and put in jail,” a Burmese weaver, who was also among the arrested, told Mizzima on Thursday.

The weaver said police raided their house and arrested all 12 Burmese weavers.

Explaining the court order he said they had to pay a fine of Rupees 500 each. Those who could not pay the fine were deported to the Burma border forthwith.

On Sunday, Mizoram authorities deported 15 Burmese to the Indo-Burma border for they could not pay the fine imposed by the court. However, the Burmese weaver and others were bailed out by their employers, who paid the fine for them.

“Yes, it is true that we have deported the Burmese. But there were only 15 of them. We deported them on Sunday. I cannot recall how many we have deported in the past,” Rozara, a police officer at the Aizawl police station, told Mizzima.

He said they had acted on the order of the court, which is also going through the legal steps following an order from the state government. He clarified that they had not targeted any particular section of the Burmese community.

According to the Chin Human Rights Organisation (CHRO) office in Aizawl, the police have mainly targeted Burmese nationals trading in alcohol and drugs.

“As far as my understanding goes, the police have arrested mainly those who sell alcohol and drugs. The state government must have pressurized the police to do so,” Tehra, in-charge of the CHRO office in Aizawl, said.

But unlike Tehra’s view of the situation Burmese living in Aizawl believe that the police are making random arrests as several from the Burmese weaving community were also arrested along with others.

A Burmese weaver, Phoeni said “Now the weavers are scared. It is not safe for them anymore,” he added.

According to him, there are an estimated 2,500 Burmese weavers working in various weaving houses in Aizawl town. Mizoram, which is contiguous to Chin state in western Burma, hosts more than 60,000 Burmese nationals.

This is not the first time that Burmese have been deported. In 2003, after a Burmese raped a minor girl, locals forcibly evicted several Burmese nationals from the state.

Sources said the influential Young Mizo Association (YMA), a youth organization in Mizoram, has been compiling a list of Burmese living in the state. However, the purpose of collecting the list of names is still not clear.

Local newspapers have highlighted the increasing number of Burmese nationals year after year and linked the increasing crime rate to the influx.

Most Burmese nationals find jobs in weaving, as gold-smiths, in construction sites, work as housemaids, farm hands and do other manual labour.

READ MORE---> Mizoram orders Burmese to leave in 15 days...

Htoo Company Smuggles Teak to Bangladesh

Maungdaw (Narinjara): Htoo Company, owned by Burmese tycoon U Te Za, has been illegally exporting teak from western Burma to Bangladesh since the company got permission to harvest teak in western Burma, said a source close to the company.

The source said Htoo Company has, since last year, produced a huge amount of teak from the Mayu Range alongside the motor road connecting Buthidaung and Maungdaw Townships in western Burma.

The teak has been stockpiled by the company at Nwa Ron Daung Village in Maungdaw Township, which is located alongside a creek that flows into the Naff River. The Naff River forms the boundary between Burma and Bangladesh.

As the military junta has plans to cultivate rubber plants in the area, particularly in the Mayu Range, the government gave permission to the Htoo Company to clear-cut teak in the area.

A local elder said, "Most of the teak in the area was cultivated over 50 years ago, some before Burma gained independence. It was once the biggest forest in Arakan State."

Even though the company had permission to take teak from the area, there is no market for teak exports except in Bangladesh. The company has been smuggling teak to Bangladesh with the help of two local companies.

A businessman said, "Two business companies from Maungdaw got sub-contracts from the Htoo Company to produce teak from the area. One company is owned by Aung Myint Thein and the other is Myint Brother Ltd."

The two companies have been exporting teak to Bangladesh illegally through the Nwa Ron Daung Jetty, with teak being taken across the Naff River to Bangladesh every night in motor boats.

Maungdaw district authorities and Nasaka officials have remained silent on the issue and have failed to take action, despite the significant amount of teak that is being smuggled to Bangladesh, because the company is owned by Te Za, son-in-law of junta supremo Senior General Than Shwe.

According to a witness, large amounts of teak are being piled up alongside the Maungdaw-Buthidaung motor road after being cut from the area.

A government clerk in Maungdaw told Narinjara over the phone that he estimates that there was nearly 10,000 acres of forest where only the teak trees grew. Now the forest has been clear-cut and most of the teak has been taken by the company.

According to a local source, some timber companies in Bangladesh are working with the Htoo Company to smuggle the teak to Bangladesh through the Bondaw trade zone in Teknaf Township.

READ MORE---> Htoo Company Smuggles Teak to Bangladesh...

Lengthy sentences for opposition prayer arrestees

(DVB)–Two members of the opposition National League for Democracy party arrested after praying for the release of political prisoners in Burma have each been sentenced to one-and-a-half years in prison.

The two, Chit Pe and Aung Soe Wei, were arrested on 21 April after holding a prayer ceremony at a pagoda near to Rangoon division’s Twante township, and charged under Section 295a which addresses "desecration of religious buildings and property".

Aung Soe Wei’s wife Ma Lwin said the two were immediately taken to Rangoon’s Insein prison following the verdict and were barred from speaking to family members waiting outside the court. Lawyer Kyi Toe said that his requests to authorities to let him meet his clients to were denied.

“I made a request to the police station chief Myint Kyaw and also to the court, but was denied both times,” said Kyin Toe. “I was not given the right to freely talk to and discuss with my client from the start until the end of the case.”

Meanwhile, three National League for Democracy (NLD) youth members in Rangoon were arrested by authorities last Friday.

NLD spokesperson Nyan Win said it was a further sign of the ruling State Peace and Development’s Council’s repression of opposition groups in Burma.

“The NLD has been under pressure [from the SPDC] for many years and it is not easing, even when they are promising a new election and the end of all arguments,” said Nyan Win.

“But we are not in depression; we will continue doing our work and will never change our non-violence policy.”

Reporting by Khin Hnin Htet

READ MORE---> Lengthy sentences for opposition prayer arrestees...

Cost what it May, Ban Ki-moon Must Go to Burma

The Irrawaddy News

Should United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon visit Burma? My immediate answer is: yes. But would he achieve anything meaningful? My answer is: no. Then why should he go?

Since the regime first put Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi in court on a trumped-up charge, it has been clear that this is going to be Burma’s new hostage drama calling urgently for a skillful negotiator.

Ban has made clear his wish to visit Burma again, and news reports last week suggested the Burmese regime is ready to welcome him in early July.

The secretary general is concerned, however, that a visit would not achieve much, and UN sources suggest that the regime could manipulate it again for propaganda purposes. Thus, no arrangements have yet been made.

Opinion is divided at UN headquarters on whether or not Ban should go. Skeptics suggest he will come back empty handed.

The prominent Burmese activist Win Tin told me last week that Ban should do his homework before visiting Burma. Those who support a visit argue that a UN secretary general’s job entails visiting countries and zones of crisis, whether or not they achieve anything.

A reluctance on Ban’s behalf to relate to Burma’s uncompromising generals is understandable.

His special envoy Ibrahim Gambari’s past missions to Burma have been complete failures, costing the Nigerian official all credibility.

Gambari hasn’t uttered a single word about the latest regime action against Suu Kyi, further evidence that he doesn’t understand Burma. It’s no wonder that the Burmese government and opposition alike have lost faith in Gambari, regarding him as a laughing stock.

Ban should, therefore, avoid the blunder of following in Gambari’s footsteps.

Last year, when Cyclone Nargis slammed into lower Burma, Ban and his team flew in to visit the devastated region. A previous visit had met with a mixed reception, and even drew anger from the opposition camp when he refused to utter the name Aung San Suu Kyi for fear of upsetting the generals.

This time, if Ban goes to Burma his mission must be to rescue Suu Kyi and secure the release of her and the country’s more than 2,000 political prisoners. It’s doubtful that he will succeed at one stroke, but he must deliver a firm message to Burmese leaders—and he should demand a meeting with Suu Kyi.

First, though, he must do his homework and get to understand fully the situation and its challenges and opportunities.

He must realize that, aside from working to secure the release of Suu Kyi and political prisoners before the 2010 election, he should press the generals to ensure that the poll is an inclusive one. UN demands for the junta’s road map to be made inclusive have so far been ignored.

Ban should also look at the economic and humanitarian crises, as well as the issues of Burma’s ethnic nationalities and the conflict between cease-fire groups and the armed forces, or Tatmadaw. To understand these issues, he should travel to ethnic regions as well as to border areas where many refugees and displaced persons have been seeking safety.

He must then draw up a strategy with a time frame to achieve tangible outcomes, keeping in mind that Burma needs a peaceful political solution and that army leaders alone cannot rescue the country.

To deliver his message, he must be firm, and here he needs the backing of the 14-member “Group of Friends of the Secretary-General on Myanmar [Burma],” with whom he has been holding meetings since 2007. He also needs full support from key governments in the region.

However, there is a potential risk that Ban could encounter if he doesn’t do his homework properly. His visit could be manipulated by the regime, resulting in failure, ridicule and humiliation.

Here he could learn from previous special envoys to Burma. How many times have we seen UN special envoys visit Burma in the past 20 years? If each visit had produced results, we would now be in better shape and wouldn’t need Ban’s help.

Far from witnessing positive results, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of political prisoners over the past decade and in the crimes against ethnic nationalities.
The country’s humanitarian situation has become dire and Burma is now a basket case.

The truth is that if Ban visits Burma he will probably encounter only empty gestures from the cunning generals, who will lecture him at length on their road map and pose with their visitor in photo shoots designed to demonstrate that the regime has the support of the UN. It’s worked for the generals before.

If Ban wants to be an effective negotiator he must step up to the plate and meet Than Shwe’s challenge. If the junta leader refuses to budge, Ban should tell him there will be consequences.

In that frame of mind, there is every reason for Ban to go to Burma and, with the world watching in anticipation, meet the junta’s challenge head on.

READ MORE---> Cost what it May, Ban Ki-moon Must Go to Burma...

Michelle Obama and Burma's Suu Kyi

Time to get another first lady involved with Burma

by Nehginpao Kipgen

(Asian Sentinel) -Former First Lady Laura Bush's unprecedented involvement with Burma, for any US first lady, helped highlight the plight of Burmese people to the international community. Convening a round-table discussion at the 61st UN General Assembly in New York, making a moving statement from the White House's James S. Brady Press Briefing Room, and visiting Burmese refugee camps at the Thai-Burma border were some of Laura Bush's notable legacies on Burma.

When Michelle Obama became the first lady of the United States, millions of Americans and people from around the world were excited to see the dawn of a new era in American history. I was one, among the hundreds of thousands of people who were braving the chilling weather to join the inaugural program of the first African-American president on January 20.

Though it is not an elected position, the voice of any sitting American first lady has a convincing power. Laura's strong personal interest on Burma contributed to President Bush's policy on the country. The Bush administration made the right move by nominating an envoy for Burma,which unfortunately was not confirmed. This is something the Obama administration should not abandon.

Not as lucky as Michelle Obama is Aung San Suu Kyi. Suu Kyi has spent 13 of the past 19 years under house arrest. She is currently facing trial for alleged violation of her house arrest by sheltering an American visitor in her home. The court postponed a closing argument date to June 26.

The court's ultimate verdict is likely to be what the military leaders say.It is not surprising that Aung San Suu Kyi is put on trial. In fact it is long overdue for her to face a fair trial in the court of law. The military sees her as a threat to its power. The international community should not be dismayed if Suu Kyi is convicted and given prison terms or her house confinement being extended.

Like Michelle Obama, Suu Kyi was little known to Burmese politics before 1988. Coming to nurse her ailing mother gave Suu Kyi the opportunity to rise to national political stardom. As the daughter of Aung San, who negotiated Burma's independence from the British, and coupled by her rousing speech during a pro-democracy demonstration in Rangoon won the hearts of Burmese people. "I could not, as my father's daughter remain in different to all that was going on," she said in the speech on 26 August 1988.

In 2007, Aung San Suu Kyi was quoted saying “Please use your liberty to promote ours.” Despite being held incommunicado in her lakeside Rangoon home for many years, she has shown commitment to her political belief. “She would not be doing politics if she were afraid of the consequences," said Nyan Win, one of her lawyers, on June 11.

It has now been over 100 days since the Obama family has occupied the White House. However, we have yet to hear the first lady speaking out for the oppressed people of the world, including the people of Burma. This Southeast Asian nation of an estimated 50 plus million population has been beleaguered by political unrest for over four decades.

There is a continued destruction of villages in the eastern part of the country. The unabated exodus of refugees across the international borders is an evidence of the military's atrocities.

With her background as a lawyer, there is no doubt about Mrs Obama's knowledge and ability to stand up for human rights and injustice in judiciary system. It is rather her will and courage that will do the job.

Regardless of the outcome of Suu Kyi's trial, the Obama administration needs to engage the military junta in one way or another. The model of six-party North Korean nuclear talks should be considered seriously as one feasible solution.

While Washington is reviewing its policy on Burma, the first lady should use her freedom and influence for coalescing international support to restore a democratic society in the Union of Burma. Both carrot and stick are needed to engage the Burmese military generals.

Aung San Suu Kyi is largely seen to be the unifying force among the different ethnic nationalities of the Union of Burma. Her courage and resilience is an inspiration to many around the world. She will spend June 19, her 64th birthday, inside the notorious Insein prison.

The Burmese pro-democracy groups would love to hear the African-American first lady speaking out for human rights and democracy in their country. Such initiative on the part of Mrs Obama would boost the morale of many activists and help keep alive the flame of the democratic movement.

Nehginpao Kipgen is general secretary of the U.S.-based Kuki International Forum ( and a researcher on the rise of political conflicts in modern Burma(1947-2004). He has written numerous analytical articles on the politics of Burma and Asia for many leading international newspapers.

18 June'09

READ MORE---> Michelle Obama and Burma's Suu Kyi...

Ban ‘Wants Suu Kyi Freed before Visiting Burma again’

The Irrawaddy News

The Burmese military junta has invited United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to visit Burma next month, but UN sources say he is unlikely to accept if opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is convicted and sentenced to imprisonment or a further term of house arrest.

The sources say said Ban wants to make sure that any visit to Burma produces tangible results and is not used for propaganda purposes by the military junta.

Ban’s spokesperson, Michele Montas, told reporters that no decision had yet been taken on the junta’s invitation.

The UN sources said Ban would consult members of the Security Council and his Group of Friends on Burma before deciding whether to accept the invitation.

A team of UN officials is discussing with Burmese authorities details of a Ban visit to Burma.

If Ban decides to go, he will be preceded by UN Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari. Sources say that despite the low profile Gambari has been maintaining, he has been in close communication with the Burmese authorities.

Ban last visited Burma after Cyclone Nargis in May 2008, and he has since shown keen interest in returning, this time to discuss political issues with the junta—including moves towards democracy and the release of political prisoners.

Ban and Gambari are reported to have both written letters to the junta expressing their concerns about the trial of Suu Kyi. However, the response has been “opaque,” officials said.

Gambari, on behalf of Ban, has been insisting that any visit by the secretary general should result in tangible results, including progress in restoring democracy and the release of Suu Kyi and other political prisoners.

The junta on the other hand has been seeking firm assurances from the members of the Security Council—specially the US, Britain and France—that economic sanctions against Burma would be lifted. These countries, however, want the junta to take the first step and release Suu Kyi, before they lift at least some of the sanctions.

READ MORE---> Ban ‘Wants Suu Kyi Freed before Visiting Burma again’...

Asia Seen Ready to Take Stronger Leadership Role

The Irrawaddy News

SEOUL — Asia's power is likely to grow in the wake of the global financial crisis and it has the chance to take a position of leadership in the world economy, business and economic leaders said Thursday.

The comments came at the annual World Economic Forum on East Asia, a gathering of business and government leaders taking place this year in Seoul.

"There is no doubt that the crisis has accelerated the shift in economic power from the West towards Asia," Peter Sands, group CEO of Standard Chartered Bank, told a symposium. "And Asia in a sense needs to step up now and play the role that such power brings."

He said that entails taking a much more active role in international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, a development he said is "in progress."

Rajat M. Nag, managing director-general at the Asian Development Bank, said one way Asia can lead is by changing its economic model, which means shifting away from being a producer for the world toward being a producer for itself as well.

"Asia has to start on a very different growth pattern," he said. "This means that Asia will have to rebalance the sources of its growth more towards the domestic and regional demand without turning its back on globalization."

Asia's role in the Group of 20 major industrialized and developing economies was also a theme of discussion.

Heizo Takenaka, director of the Global Security Research Institute at Tokyo's Keio University and a former Japanese internal affairs minister, predicted that the G-20 was destined to supplant the Group of Eight nations as the leading global economic grouping.

Takenaka said he expects this year's G-8 summit in Italy to be "the last one in history."

Kiat Sittheeamorn, trade representative at the office of Thailand's prime minister, said, however, that the G-20 must live up to its words, especially about protectionism.

He said that though the G-20 has called for countries to resist the temptation to implement protectionist measures, the reality has been different.

Kiat said that 17 of the 20 members had imposed 47 protectionist steps, including farm measures and export refunds, since their recent meetings.

"If all countries that participated in that kind of meeting do not walk the talk, do not really do what they preach, then we have a significant problem," he said.

The ADB's Nag said that Asia must address what he called "some of its very serious governance issues," including corruption, if it is to truly become a global leader.

"Without that the G-20 structure ... is not going to fulfill its potential and Asia will not achieve its destiny at the table of nations," he said.

He expressed confidence, however, that the region will succeed in helping ignite the global economy.

"Asia will lead the way out for the rest of the world," he said, citing the ADB's projection that the region, excluding Japan, Australia and New Zealand, will grow about 6 percent in 2010, up from a projected 3.4 percent this year.

READ MORE---> Asia Seen Ready to Take Stronger Leadership Role...

Junta continues to recruit children into army: Rights defender

New Delhi (mizzima news) - Despite the Burmese junta’s claim of eliminating the use of children in the military, a human rights advocate said children in Burma are still recruited into the army and that he is currently advocating for the return of three children from the armed forces.

Aye Myint, a lawyer in Pegu town, who has helped in the return of several children from the army, said he is handling three cases of children being recruited in the army in recent weeks. He is now working for their return at the behest of their parents.

“I have just submitted a letter of complaint to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) for the return of three children from the army,” Aye Myint told Mizzima on Wednesday.

But since publicising the details of the cases could come in the way of the ILO and his efforts to negotiate with the Burmese authorities in helping the children return, he refused to provide details of the cases of the three children.

In a summary of the cases, Aye Myint said, it includes a boy of age 16 from Myingyan town of Mandalay division. The boy was reportedly working at a restaurant in Pegu town and was persuaded by an Army officer from Brigade 77 to join the army and was later taken away by the officer.

“No matter how the child is recruited, whether by persuasion, coercion, or threat, if a child under the age of 18 is recruited into the army, it is a violation. The army has the responsibility to return the kid because the kid is supposed to be in the classroom not carrying out military duties,” Aye Myint said.

Aye Myint, who by profession is a lawyer, has started fighting against the use of children in the military since 2006. And since March 2006, he said, with the help of the ILO, he was able to help 25 children return from the army.

On June 3, the junta claimed that it is taking steps in preventing and eliminating the use of children in the army by sending back eight minors to their parents from the military.

But Aye Myint as well as other human rights activists said the return was just a sham while the army continues recruiting children into the army.

Burma is a signatory to the United Nations Convention of the Rights of Child (CRC). While the convention prohibits children of age 15 and below from recruiting into the army, the Burmese military law specifies that children below 18 cannot be recruited into the army.

But against these laws, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s 2007 report states that children in Burma are still being used as soldiers not only the Burmese Army but also by non-state armed forces, referring to ethnic armed rebel groups.

The report, which was submitted to the UN Security Council, listed nine armed groups from Burma including the Burmese Army among the 54 armed groups around the world that continues to use children in their armies.

READ MORE---> Junta continues to recruit children into army: Rights defender...

Chinese firms to have stakes in two mega dams

By Moe Thu

Rangoon (Mizzima News) - Business stakeholders from Burma, China and Thailand are into discussions for Chinese investors to involve themselves in two huge hydro power dams in Burma, said a Rangoon-based energy expert.

The two multi-billion-dollar projects on the Salween River are being developed by Thailand's MDX Group and Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand, both of which have joint ventures with Burma's Ministry of Electric Power (1).

“A few Chinese firms are holding discussions with officials concerned to participate in the two projects -- Tasang and Hatgyi,” said the expert.

The Tasang hydropower project, worth US$ 7 billion, is the largest Thai investment in Burma. It will generate an estimated 7,100 megawatts (MW) and is being operated by Thailand’s MDX Group, while the US$1 billion Hatgyi project is being developed by the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT).

However, the expert, who wished not to be named for fear of reprisal, refused to comment on how many shares the Chinese side will take.

The Tasang project, located about 75 kilometres from the Thai border, will be 868 metres long and 227 metres high and will be the biggest dam ever and is scheduled to become functional in 2022.

A joint venture agreement to build the dam was signed in Rangoon in April 2006 between Burma and MDX Group. The pre-feasibility study started in 1997.

The expert said the Burmese side was delaying building the Tasang project and that the actual construction only started in early 2007 but was suspended shortly thereafter.

The Tasang project, one of the five mega hydropower projects on the Salween River, is being jointly developed by Burma and Thailand.

Meanwhile, the expert said China is negotiating to participate in the $1 billion Hatgyi project on Salween River in Karen State. China’s Sinohydro Corp will be the investor in the Hatgyi project that is located in the conflict zone between the Karen rebels and the Burmese Army.

Two EGAT technicians were killed while on a survey at the dam site in 2007, forcing the EGAT to halt the survey work.

READ MORE---> Chinese firms to have stakes in two mega dams...

Mekong citizens appeal to Thai PM against construction of dams

by Usa Picha

Chiang Mai (Mizzima news) - Citizens of six countries which share the Mekong River on Thursday submitted a petition with 16,000 signatures to Thailand’s Prime Minister to save the Mekong River.

‘The Save the Mekong coalition’, a civil environmental society concerned about the Mekong River released a press statement on Thursday saying that the group is to hand in a petition, endorsed by more than 16,000 people from the six-countries of the Mekong region and around the world, who have signed a “Save Mekong” petition urging governments to abandon plans for hydropower development along the river’s mainstream.

The six countries that share the Mekong River are China, Lao, Burma, Vietnam, Thailand, and Cambodia.

The statement noted that most postcard signatories wrote personal messages to the region’s leaders such as “Don’t let hydropower dams block our children's future!” said Wang Dezhi from Yunnan, China.

“Don’t build the Mekong dams. The existing dams in Thailand already make brothers and sisters fight against each other!” Mak Vangdokmai, Roi et, from Thailand wrote. “Saving us, saving our resources! Electricity is not everything!” Nguyen Thanh Hang, Hanoi, from Vietnam wrote in the petition.

Over the past few months, citizen groups have organized a number of events to the run-up to this week’s Save the Mekong launch, to rally public support for the river including a photo exhibition, environment workshops and events.

Mekong fisheries provide a critical source of food and income for millions of people along the river. Recent official estimates place the annual value of the river’s wild capture fisheries to be worth up to US$3 billion, the statement said.

It further added that mainstream dams will block the massive fish migration that account for up to 70 per cent of the river’s commercial fish catch which ensure regional food security. Experience around the world demonstrates that there is no way to mitigate the fisheries impact of such large dams.

“China’s dam construction on the Upper Mekong mainstream (Lancang) has already caused serious environmental problems, in the form of declining fish stocks, riverbank erosion, and hazardous water level fluctuations in downstream Burma, northern Thailand and northern Lao PDR,” the group said in the statement.

“The Save the Mekong coalition and those that signed the petition are very concerned that similarly severe cross-border impacts could create cross-border disputes,” the group added.

The petition has been written in seven languages by fishermen and farmers living along the river’s mainstream and tributaries, as well as by monks, students, city-folk and even some of the region’s well-known celebrities, and will be submitted to Thailand’s Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva in Bangkok, and sent to other government leaders in the region.

Civil society groups in the Mekong region and internationally have been sounding the alarm about plans to build 11 hydro dams on the Lower Mekong mainstream for many years, in what is often described as an uphill battle.

The group concluded that the largely donor-backed inter-governmental Mekong River Commission, meanwhile, has failed to disclose its assessment of the Don Sahong dam, prepared in 2007, despite repeated requests from civil society groups, and is now positioning itself as a “facilitator” among the region’s hydro developers. The MRC has skirted some of the most critical issues, including ensuring transparency and public participation, and protecting regional food security.

READ MORE---> Mekong citizens appeal to Thai PM against construction of dams...

North Korea Aids Burma Tunnels

"By the late 1990s the first North Korean armaments began to arrive in Burma."
--Bertil Lintner
North Korea and Burma may have bartered goods for tunnel engineering.

WASHINGTON (RFA)—Burma's military regime has likely completed construction of an underground tunnel system with aid from North Korea in exchange for food and other materials, according to a Swedish journalist based in Bangkok.

Bertil Lintner said North Korean engineers arrived in Burma's remote new capital, Naypyidaw, three years ago to help build tunnels. He points to photographs that purportedly show North Korean advisers at the tunneling sites in Burma between 2003 and 2006.

"We know for certain that in June 2006 a group of North Korean tunneling experts arrived in Naypyidaw to help with some of the tunneling and underground projects that were going on there at that time," Lintner said.

Kim Kwang Jin, a North Korean defector and visiting fellow at Washington's Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, agreed with Lintner's assessment.

"It's true that there are North Korean engineers of military supplies and administrators dispatched in Burma," Kim said, although he was unclear what information advisers were providing to Burmese officials.

"To my knowledge, they were dispatched to Burma in 2002 or 2003. Burmese authorities have managed the [dispatched] North Korean work force in top secret," he said.

Lintner, author of Blood Brothers: The Criminal Underworld of Asia and Great Leader, Dear Leader: Demystifying North Korea under the Kim Clan, claims the Burmese junta, known as the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), began tunnel construction as early as 2005, when the country's capital was moved to Naypyidaw from Rangoon.

Additional tunnels have been built near Taunggyi, the capital of Burma's northeastern Shan state and home to several of the country's ongoing insurgencies, Lintner said.

"Some of those projects were fairly innocent. For instance, to facilitate hydroelectric power generation and so on. But others were more clandestine. They were meant to put some of the administration underground," he said.

Many purposes

Lintner said the tunnel systems likely include underground meeting rooms and other facilities meant to protect Burma's top leadership from outside threats, including airborne attacks or uprisings by angry crowds, such as the large-scale pro-democracy movement of 1988.

But Lintner said the junta required more specialized help from the North Koreans, who he called "experts at tunneling" and "much more advanced" than technicians from other countries.

"North Korea itself has built a number of underground installations for its own defense industry—for virtually everything in North Korea is also moved underground," Lintner said.

"If you fly over North Korea, as I have done, you can suddenly see smoke coming out of a mountain in the middle of nowhere and you can see they are building inside. …So it's no surprise to me that they turned to [them] for this kind of expertise," he said.

Whether the tunnels are linked to Burma's reported efforts to develop nuclear technology is unknown, he said.

Improved relations

Relations between Burma and North Korea have improved continually since North Korean agents were discovered to be behind a bomb explosion in Rangoon that killed 18 visiting South Korean officials in 1983.

Lintner said North Korea held secret talks with Burma in Bangkok during the early 1990s in a bid to extradite the alleged Rangoon bombers for trial in North Korea.

"But while these talks were going on, I think the North Koreans and the Burmese realized that they had a lot in common. For instance, the way they look at the outside world—threats from the outside world…—they have to survive against all odds economically as well as politically," Lintner said.

"So gradually, relations improved, and by the late 1990s the first North Korean armaments began to arrive in Burma," he said.

Goods exchanged

Lintner said military hardware began to flow to Burma, which the junta needed to suppress an increasingly rebellious urban population as well as ethnic rebels in the country's frontier areas.

North Korea was willing to accept food, rubber, and other essentials in exchange from Burma's generals, who had little cash to spend.

"Since then, relations have been steadily improving," Lintner said. Those improved ties culminated in the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between North Korea and Burma in 2007.

'Mysterious' exchanges

In addition to arms deals, there have been "a lot of other exchanges going on which we know very little about," Lintner said.

He pointed to a number of "mysterious" port calls in Burma by North Korean ships as well as frequent reports on the Web site of the official Korean Central News Agency of so-called "friendship delegations" arriving in Burma.

"The 'friendship delegations' do not arrive in Rangoon without reason. It is more than friendship. It is some kind of business. But the exact nature of that business remains very much a mystery," Lintner said.

While he said North Korea is likely trading technology with Burma, Lintner was reluctant to speculate exactly what kind.

But he noted that both countries are short of foreign exchange reserves and therefore may be more willing to conduct those exchanges through barter.

"Both countries are …interested in all sorts of barter deals which, for instance, China and Russia would not accept. For instance, if North Korea were to transfer scientific technology to Burma, Burma would repay with minerals or with rice or something that North Korea needs," Lintner said.

He suggested that Burma's generals may also remunerate North Korea with gold, which is found along the country's northern riverbanks.

"North Korea would be willing to supply Burma with goods that not even Russia or the Chinese would. And one of them would be tunneling technology and the other one could be, possibly, nuclear know-how," he said.

Original reporting by Kyaw Min Htun for RFA's Burmese service. Burmese service director: Nancy Shwe. Written in English by Joshua Lipes. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

READ MORE---> North Korea Aids Burma Tunnels...

Infamous General Ohm Myint meets in Mon State to discuss 2010 elections

By Kon Hadae, IMNA

Brigadier General Ohm Myint held a meeting to encourage Mon villagers to vote in 2010 to legitimize Burma’s military government.

The meeting took place on June 8th in Naing-praing village, Mudon Township, Mon State. In attendance were about 1,000 people, many villagers coerced by the Village Peace and Development Council (VPDC).

A resident who attended the two-hour meeting dictated to an IMNA field reporter the content of Ohm Myint’s speech:

“this election will not be held as usual. It is not easy to hold elections in this country. So you all should think very carefully before you vote in the election. Do not think wrong and vote for their [opposition parties] government when the election comes.” (JEG's: that was a threat...)

This was Ohm Myint’s third visit to Mon State this year. Many residents recall well the General’s SPDC troops burning down the Halockhanee refugee camp in 1994 as well as Baleh-donephai village.

According to the resident, Ohm Myint also said that Mon villages have become much more developed since he was a child. A presenter from the SPDC’s Women’s Affairs Department echoed this sentiment: when compared to the past, she said, Mon state has become developed [because of the government’s administration] and peaceful, as there is no war.

Another resident told IMNA that afterwards, apparently pleased with her presentation, “Brigadier General Ohm Myint gave 100,00 kyat to this woman.”

Officials in Burma’s capital city, Naypyidaw, put Brigadier General Ohm Myint, in charge of the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) in Mon State in 2008. According to an IMNA source within the Mon State USDA, though the move has yet to be announced by the Burmese military government, he (Ohm Myint) will take responsibility for the group’s participation in the upcoming elections.

READ MORE---> Infamous General Ohm Myint meets in Mon State to discuss 2010 elections...

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