Saturday, June 20, 2009

Parliamentarians seek expulsion of Burma from ASEAN

by Usa Pichai

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Representatives from regional Parliaments have urged ASEAN to reconsider Burma’s membership in the bloc, while activists, academics and civic groups in Thailand organized several activities calling for the release of Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

Kraisak Chunhavan, President of the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC) said in a conference on Friday at Thailand’s Chiang Mai University that it is time for ASEAN to revise the status of Burma in the group because Burma’s military government has failed to respond to repeated calls by the international community to improve the human right situation in the country.

“ASEAN is in a difficult time because it is pursuing a progressive and developed image by trying to set up a charter to protect human rights in the region. However, Burma’s problems have limited dialogue with other regional blocs because the counterparts are unlikely to talk at the same table as the Burmese regime.”

Kraisak also said more than 3,000 ethnic Karen villagers have fled to Thailand in the wake of recent fighting in the east of Burma between government forces and their allies and the Karen National Army.

“We are ashamed of Thai companies operating and investing in Burma, particularly in the energy sector, leading to a worsening of the situation and allowing the Burmese junta to further suppress ethnic people such as with the forced relocation of villagers in Karen State to build dams on the Salween River,” he added.

Additional attendees at the conference calling for ASEAN countries to take a stronger stance regarding the Burmese junta were AIPMC chairs Loretta Ann P. Rosales from the Philippines, Charles Chong from Singapore and Wan Azizah Wan Ismail from Malaysia. The AIPMC representatives were joined by several hundred academics, activists and interested parties.

At a similar gathering at Bangkok’s Thammasat University, Sriprapa Petchmisri from Mahidol University commented that the human rights problem in Burma is not only about political rights and freedom of the people but also concerns other problems such as accessing food, water and other supplies.

She added that the failure of regional countries such as China, Russia and Indonesia to support U.N. Security Council Resolutions on the crisis in Burma is troublesome.

“This is a worrisome comment from Burma’s neighboring countries,” she conjectured.

The events were timed to coincide with the 64th birthday of the detained Burmese opposition leader.

READ MORE---> Parliamentarians seek expulsion of Burma from ASEAN...

Junta deploys more troops along Shweli River

Written by KNG

More troops have been deployed along the Shweli (Ruili in Chinese) River in northern Shan Sate in Burma since early this month by the ruling junta, said local sources.

Over a dozen ferry stations are located along the Shweli River (N'Mau Hka in Kachin) and Burmese troops are stationed at these stations, a local eyewitness told KNG today.

The river divides Shan and Kachin States. Strategically Kachin Independence Army (KIA) soldiers cross the river on their way between the general headquarters in Kachin State and its 4th brigade in northeast Shan State, said local residents.

At the moment
No. (33) Light Infantry Division from Ywataung in Sagaing Division,
No. (58) Infantry Battalion (IB) from Waingmaw town and
No. 437 Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) from Momauk (N'mawk in Kachin)
are operating in the area along the left and right flanks of the river, according to local travellers.

Except No. (33) Light Infantry Division, different Infantry and Light Infantry Battalions are operating there in rotation for short periods, said local sources.

No. 12 and No. 27 KIA battalions are based in the north of the river. The KIA’s 4th brigade and its three battalions are stationed in the south west of the river, said KIO sources.

KIA officers in the area feel deployment of Burmese troops could be aimed to check KIA soldiers from crossing the river from the different ferry stations along the river and isolate the KIA 4th brigade from the headquarters in Kachin State.

The KIO has been pressurized to convert its armed-wing the KIA into a battalion of a "Border Guard Force" since April. The KIO has been given a deadline of October to respond to the junta proposal, said KIO sources.

As a response to the junta, the KIO is now into two missions---

launching a civilian and organizational awareness campaign on transforming the KIA
while KIA troops have been ordered to stand by for defensive action against the Burmese Army as in the pre-ceasefire period.

READ MORE---> Junta deploys more troops along Shweli River...

Insurgent opinions on possible rejection of border guard force

Kon Hadae, IMNA

IMNA has conducted interviews with members of three ethnic armed groups which have continued to fight the Burmese government State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) forces, about their opinions on what the SPDC will do if ceasefire groups refuse to transition to the controversial Border Guard Force (BGF).

“In my opinion, the SPDC is going to find another way to organize the ceasefire groups [as border guard forces] which do not accept the SPDC’s demand, or it will renew fighting to make these groups accept their [SPDC] demand, “ Shan State Army South (SSAS) spokes person Saing Main told IMNA. “Because according to the SPDC’s 2008 constitution, there must be only one army in the country. So the SPDC must put pressure on those groups who do not accept until they follow the SPDC demands.” Forming in 1996, the SSAS has never formed a ceasefire agreement with the SPDC.

He added, “As the SPDC is aiming to place all ceasefire forces under their army, the SPDC must pressure these groups until it is able control them within their [SPDC’s] army.”

In May 2008 the SPDC pushed through a referendum on the constitution, in preparation for the 2010 election. The vote for the referendum occurred days after Cyclone Nargis struck Burma, which killed over 120,000 and displaced over 2,000,000. Despite the disaster, the Burmese government went through with the vote on the constitutional referendum. According to the government there was a 98% voter turnout, and 92% of the population voted yes to the referendum.

IMNA also spoke with Khu Oo Dee, secretary of the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), who said, “The groups, which do not follow the SPDC demand to become a border guard force, the SPDC will organize these group anyhow, until the SPDC can get what they want. Finally, If the SPDC is not successful, the SPDC will put on pressure by fighting again”, The KNPP Formed in 1957, and fought against the SPDC until entered a gentlemen’s agreement in March, 1995 to stop fighting while it negotiated a ceasefire . However after 3 months, the SPDC incursions into KNPP territory undermined elements of the agreement and brought about a renewal in fighting.

But vice chairman of the Karen National Union (KNU), Pado David Takapaw, gave his opinion that even with the ceasefire groups which do not agree with the SPDC asking their groups to change into border guard forces, the SPDC will not fight those groups, because there has already been international pressure on the SPDC, as the SPDC currently fights the KNU. The KNU, which formed in 1947, entered a gentleman’s agreement to stop fighting, while negotiating a ceasefire in 2004. However the informal ceasefire collapsed after the KNU refused to give up their arms to the SPDC.

Approximately 17 groups have signed ceasefire agreements with the SPDC throughout the late 80’s and early 90’s. The Kokang group known as “Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army” and the United State Wa Army (USWA) have rejected the SPDC proposal’s thus far. The Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) and the Karen Peace Force (KPF) have both been working with SPDC forces in advance of their future involvement as BGF’s as stated in a May IMNA article. Many of the remaining groups, recently including the New Mon State Party (NMSP) have been formally offered the option to become a BGF but have yet to make a decision.

READ MORE---> Insurgent opinions on possible rejection of border guard force...

Joint Force Focuses Offensive on KNLA Brigade 7 Headquarters

The Irrawaddy News

A joint force of troops from the Burmese army and the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), a ceasefire militia group, has focused its offensive on the headquarters of Brigade 7 of the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), according to Karen sources.

In response, KNLA Brigade 7 has increased its mortar shelling of the joint force, said the sources.

The clash between the two armed groups has been intensifying around the KNLA Brigade 7 headquarters since early this week, with heavy shelling being carried out by both sides.

The joint force, which earlier vowed that it would take over the KNLA Brigade 7 headquarters by June 16, is still facing stiff resistance.

On June 17, fighting and mortar shelling continued for almost an entire day without interruption, according to Saw Steve, a relief worker who is also a leader of the Committee for Internally Displaced Karen People, whose units operate in the fighting zone.

“KNLA Brigade 7 is not going to lose its headquarters easily,” he added.

The combined force has already taken over three military bases belonging to Battalions 21, 22 and 101 of KNLA Brigade 7.

Sources from the Karen Nation Union (KNU), the political wing of the KNLA, said that they allowed the three military bases to be captured because they did not want to kill fellow Karen soldiers who were fighting alongside Burmese troops.

The KNU claimed about 20 soldiers from the joint force were killed and about 50 were injured, while five KNLA soldiers were hospitalized in Mae Sot, a Thai border town.

Sources said that the fighting is expected to intensify further as KNLA Brigade 7 seeks to defend its headquarters.

The joint force started its offensive against KNLA Brigade 7 in the first week of June. Fierce fighting between the two sides since then has forced about 4,000 Karen refugees to flee to Thailand for safety.

The DKBA split from its mother organization, the KNU, and reached a ceasefire agreement with the Burmese regime in 1995.

The KNU has been fighting for autonomy for six decades and has never signed a ceasefire agreement with the Burmese military government.

READ MORE---> Joint Force Focuses Offensive on KNLA Brigade 7 Headquarters...

In Myanmar, Two Hidden Worlds

Amid privations, its regime prospers by trading with China and India


This grandiose new city has four-lane highways that are largely empty, a gems museum with sapphires and a zoo with air-conditioned Arctic habitats for penguins. Government officials reside in high-security compounds that can’t be visited by foreigners.

A five-hour drive to the south, residents in Yangon get by with hours at a time of no electricity. Their once-grand city is filled with collapsing Victorian mansions and abandoned colonial administrative buildings. Roads are often impassable during monsoon rains, and most cars date to the 1980s or early 1990s. Some taxis are so worn out that they have holes in the floorboards that allow passengers to see the road rushing by underneath.

The divide between Myanmar’s shining new capital, home to much of its military elite, and its commercial capital underscores the failure of a decade of U.S. and European sanctions, efforts to break the country’s military regime by cutting it off from doing business with much of the Western world. Instead, the country’s leaders and top businessmen have survived and even thrived by replacing Western buyers with Asian ones. Trade with China has more than doubled over the past five years, and sales of natural gas and other resources to Thailand, India and other Asian powers are also growing quickly. In the process, the regime has only tightened its grip.

All that is leading dissidents, human rights advocates and congressional leaders to an increasingly widespread conclusion: It’s time for a new approach. Many believe it will require a far greater effort by Western governments to engage directly with the secretive regime. It will also require exerting more pressure on Asian trading partners, including China and Singapore, to pressure the junta to curb human rights abuses and make other changes. Many advocates are calling for more radical approaches, including offering to dismantle some of the sanctions —albeit with threats of more serious actions, such as arms embargoes or criminal tribunals like ones in Rwanda or Sudan, if the regime doesn’t reform.

Others go so far as to propose that the West should accept a diminished role for Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s leading opposition figure. The Nobel laureate is arguably the world’s most revered prisoner of conscience since Nelson Mandela, but she has drawn criticism for her inflexibility in dealing with the regime. It’s unclear when, or if, she’ll be able to lead the opposition again. The 64-year-old is on trial for letting an American well-wisher visit her home this May in violation of a longstanding house arrest, and faces up to five more years in jail.

In February, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged that past strategies including sanctions weren’t working, and promised the U.S. would conduct a thorough review—still incomplete—of its policies towards Myanmar. Top officials in the Obama administration are also hoping to significantly increase humanitarian aid, according to people familiar with the matter, which many Myanmar experts hope will be a step towards rebuilding a civil society that could mature into a new opposition movement to supplement or replace Ms. Suu Kyi.

Once dismissed as a backwater, Myanmar has seen its profile rise dramatically in recent years because of its position between China and India, the world’s two biggest emerging superpowers. Both are jockeying for Myanmar’s natural gas, copper and other resources, and Myanmar offers China a potential alternate overland route for oil and gas, bypassing the crowded Strait of Malacca near Singapore that handles much of East Asia’s supply today.

Trade with China jumped to more than $2.6 billion in 2008 from about $630 million in 2001, according to Chinese government data. Analysts say the official numbers vastly understate the full extent of China’s investments in Myanmar. In downtown Yangon, its commercial capital, trucks laden with massive logs or other goods—sometimes with Chinese characters painted on the side of the vehicles—are a common sight.

Monywa, once a relatively minor village in central Myanmar, has emerged as a major trading center for beans and other legumes, commodities in heavy demand across Asia, especially India. Myanmar is now the world’s second biggest exporter of the crops after Canada, and Monywa has reaped the rewards. It has quadrupled in size to 400,000 people over the past two decades. The number of traders has grown to roughly 1,000 from 200 in the 1990s and multistory homes with Greek columns are commonplace, as are imported SUVs, which can cost $100,000 in Myanmar.

In places like Monywa, “it’s easy to make money,” says one local trader in his 20s.

Some analysts and U.S. congressional leaders fear Myanmar could become a nuclear threat. Russia has acknowledged signing an agreement with Myanmar in 2007 to help build a nuclear reactor and a center for nuclear research there, reportedly for medical research purposes, but Russian officials have said no concrete projects ever materialized. Others point to growing ties between Myanmar and North Korea.

Any new diplomatic initiative from the U.S. would require finding a way to deal with one of the world’s most reclusive regimes. Top officials—including the country’s senior-most general, a psychological warfare expert in his 70s named Than Shwe—are ensconced in Naypyitaw. Members of the inner circle rarely meet with Western ambassadors, who remain in Yangon.

Attempts to reach the regime for this article were unsuccessful. The generals typically make their views known through state-run newspapers. In recent weeks they have blasted foreign countries for interfering in Myanmar’s internal affairs and defended the imprisonment of Ms. Suu Kyi as necessary for public security.

The government usually prohibits foreign journalists from entering. Authorized guests, including aid workers, often must get permission to travel outside Yangon. Residents can be imprisoned if caught aiding international journalists.

In the 1800s, British soldiers conquered what used to be known as Burma. It became the world’s biggest rice exporter and a major source of timber. In the late 1940s, nationalists led by Ms. Suu Kyi’s father, Aung San, secured independence. Aung San was assassinated and in 1962 the military took over for good, implementing a series of disastrous socialist policies that sent the economy into a tailspin.

Anger boiled over in 1988 student protests, in which more than 3,000 were killed, and the government agreed to hold national elections. When Ms. Suu Kyi’s party won, the military ignored the result.

The U.S. banned new American investments in Myanmar in 1997, and in 2003 it outlawed imports of Myanmar goods and restricted American banks from doing business there. The Bush administration added additional targeted sanctions against members of the regime.

The practical effect of the sanctions, though, has been to push the regime deeper into the arms of China and other Asian powers, while leaving much of the rest of society to suffer the consequences. Per capita gross domestic product is about $1,200, only slightly higher than Rwanda, and far below Singapore’s $52,000 and $47,000 in the U.S.

In Yangon, U.S. trade restrictions ripped apart the garment industry earlier this decade, throwing as many as 80,000 young women out of work, according to economists. Trucks filled with soldiers are seen often, as are signs with pro-government messages such as one that exhorts residents to “Crush all internal and external destructive elements as the common enemy.”

In Yangon’s central business district there are offices or billboards for many of Asia’s biggest brand names, including Mitsubishi and Canon, but almost no sign of Western companies. Thai oil and gas producer PTT Exploration & Production PCL has Myanmar investments that provide about one-third of Thailand’s natural gas needs, worth $2 billion or more in recent years. Cnooc Ltd. is exploring for oil and a number of Chinese resources and engineering firms are involved in hydropower and mining ventures.

Much of the money flows directly to the regime and its allies. According to the U.S. government, the military owns a majority stake in virtually all enterprises responsible for extracting natural resources. The government is now sitting on more than $3 billion in foreign exchange reserves, compared to just $30 million in 1988. Wealthier residents, including businessmen linked by U.S. intelligence reports to the military, have access to art galleries, pricey French restaurants and shopping trips to Singapore.

Adding to the frustration is evidence that Ms. Suu Kyi’s opposition is in tatters. Leaders of Ms. Suu Kyi’s political party, the National League for Democracy, are in their 70s and 80s, and the junta has imprisoned most of the younger blood, exiles and human rights groups say, with more than 2,000 political prisoners now under lock and key. The government has also pressured monasteries to purge monks involved in 2007 street protests, and it routinely blocks blogs and Web sites, such as youtube, that it deems to be subversive.

“Almost no one is willing to join the (opposition) party for fear of being arrested,” said one resident. Party leaders meet regularly at their headquarters, a modest house surrounded by shops on a busy street in central Yangon; it’s widely assumed the building and its occupants are monitored by the government.

Another resident said she started attending meetings at NLD headquarters when Ms. Suu Kyi’s trial began, but stopped because she felt they were going nowhere. “They were old, they were like aunties and uncles,” said the young woman, who thought the meetings felt “like a reunion” for old dissidents. Without Ms. Suu Kyi, “there is no one,” she said.

Even some dissidents who support sanctions say additional tactics are needed, including more direct engagement with the regime. Others believe the sanctions would be more effective if fine-tuned to focus only on the junta members themselves, or backed up with more potent punishments, including arms embargoes or criminal tribunals.

More than 50 U.S. congressmen signed a letter in recent weeks calling for a U.N. Security Council inquiry into alleged crimes against humanity in Myanmar, similar to what occurred in Rwanda, Bosnia and Sudan. The United Nations’ former special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, has issued similar calls in the past six weeks, as has a team of leading jurists in conjunction with Harvard Law School.

Those efforts may well be blocked at the U.N. by nations that have defended Myanmar in the past, notably China and Russia. But backers say the U.S. hasn’t been willing to press hard enough to get Asian nations to get tough on Myanmar.

Another option gaining popularity in Washington: significantly boosting humanitarian aid, partly to build stronger groups to counter the military.

One group is Myanmar Egress, a local think tank set up in 2006 by young intellectuals with the goal of trying to end the stalemate between the government and Ms. Suu Kyi’s backers. Egress has produced studies for the government outlining its vision for reform. In one, co-founder and former Yale student Nay Win Maung suggested that Ms. Suu Kyi propose to contest only 50% of the seats in an election planned by the regime in 2010. In return for effectively conceding the vote, the government would end her house arrest and release political prisoners.

Mr. Maung’s approach has angered some Myanmar exiles, who are suspicious of engaging with the state and distrust Mr. Maung, whose parents were in the military and taught at Myanmar’s version of West Point. His approach, though, has made him a useful mediator between foreign aid groups like Oxfam and the generals, local aid workers say. The U.K.’s Department for International Development, for example, is funding an Egress project to train Myanmar citizens in managing aid projects.

The junta could block or limit aid if it suspects it’s being used to undermine the regime, as it did temporarily last year after Cyclone Nargis, which killed 135,000 people or more. Currently, development aid to Myanmar totals less than $3 per person, compared with about $50 in Sudan.

Whatever happens, “if people want to punish the regime, they need to find ways to do it that don’t punish the people,” says Andrew Kirkwood, Myanmar country director for Save the Children, the aid organization.

Mr. Pinheiro, the former U.N. special rapporteur, who is pressing for an inquiry into human rights violations, says, with a new administration in Washington and interest rising in Myanmar, “I think there is a space here to have something new, something more flexible” that ultimately will bring some results.

Jeg's Comment on PHOTOS: What you are to view is what the military does not want the west to see as according to Than Shwe regime the dictatorship has made many improvements to the country... can you pick any improvements in your sights? if you do please share.

Myanmar's Promise Remains Unfulfilled 6/19/2009 - Slide show

Myanmar has suffered decades of economic decay under the rule of a secretive military regime cut off from the Western world. Advocates say the West needs to find new ways to engage the regime to speed up reform.

READ MORE---> In Myanmar, Two Hidden Worlds...

Activists, academics call on grouping to suspend Burma


(Bangkok Post) -A group of senators, activists and academics has called for Burma to be suspended from Asean in protest against the ruling junta's oppression of pro-democracy movements.

The group includes Senator Jon Ungphakorn and academics such as Nidhi Eowseewong from Chiang Mai and Charnvit Kasetsiri.

Their open letter was issued yesterday to mark the 64th birthday of Burma's democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

They called on Asean secretary-general Surin Pitsuwan to suspend Burma as an Asean member country for one year until Mrs Suu Kyi is released from jail.

She is being tried by the junta and held in Rangoon's Insein prison on charges of violating her house arrest after an American man swam to her lakeside home.

They also urged other Asean member countries to expel Rangoon from the grouping if the Burmese regime fails to bring about democracy and political reform in the country within three years.

But Aung Zaw, editor of Irrawaddy magazine, said despite international pressure on the junta over Mrs Suu Kyi, a fine-tuned approach is also needed.

UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon needed to rethink the organisation's policy towards Burma and take a more holistic approach, he said.

''The international community should realise Aung San Suu Kyi has never asked for her own release but the release of all political prisoners and a real political dialogue in her country, no matter how and where she is locked up or for how long,'' said the Chiang Mai-based editor.

The UN, he said, needed a skilful and talented negotiator, and to do more homework and consultation with regional governments and various pressure groups, to improve their strategy.

Aung Naing Oo, a Chiang Mai-based independent analyst, said a long-term realistic and sustainable international strategy towards Burma had yet to be developed beyond dealing with next year's election. If the present approach continued Burma would be reviled and isolated like North Korea which would only benefit the junta and put Asean in an even weaker position to effect change.

Thailand needed to rethink its Burma policy, taking a more balanced approach, said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of Chulalongkorn University's Institute of Security and International Studies.

''Burma needs a smooth transition from military to civilian government and Thailand certainly does not want to see the neighbouring country become a Yugoslavia,'' he said.

READ MORE---> Activists, academics call on grouping to suspend Burma...

UN’s WFP staff does not live up to promise

by KPN

Maungdaw, Arakan State: The staff members of UN’s World Food Program in Maungdaw Township did not live up to its promise to workers who had worked in the road construction site in Maungdaw Township from March 5 to May 5, said one of the workers to Kaladan News.

Villagers of Maung Nama village were working in the road construction site on the Maung Nama-Amina Bazaar-Naribill road under the Maungdaw Township at the initiative of WFP as part of the food for work program.

The road is about 2,227 meters long and the construction work was started on March 5 and was completed on May 5, 2009, said a local trader who wished not to be named.

The WFP officer Daw Nu Nu Khin of Maungdaw north promised to provide 556 rice bags (one bag is 50 kg) to the villagers who worked in the road construction work. The villagers were to receive 116 rice bags from WFP officer.

When the villagers asked the WFP officer for the remaining rice bags, she said it will be provided later. But it is still pending, said a local schoolteacher.

Villagers who worked on the road construction under the WFP project hope that if they get the remaining rice bags they can support their families.

After completing the road, a WFP officer from Australia visited the spot, checked the construction and praised the villagers who participated in the road construction.

A villager who worked on the site said, “the WFP helps poor villagers as it provides us work when we are facing food crisis.”

WFP is well-known for its pro-poor activities, but some of the staff member’s insincere activities affects the good image of UN’s WFP. So, there is need to check the activities of WFP staff members by the higher authorities, said a village elder on condition of anonymity.

READ MORE---> UN’s WFP staff does not live up to promise...

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