Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Asia’s ‘Axis of Evil’ Flexes Its Muscles

The Irrawaddy News

Burma’s burning ambition to acquire modern missile technology and to upgrade its conventional weapons is no longer a secret, and if left unchecked, could pose a destabilizing threat to regional stability.

Thailand, its most prominent historical enemy, should be concerned—its military leaders would not like to see a Burma in possession of missiles that could easily lead to a tit-for-tat arms race. Also, of course, there’s the generals’ chronic fear of the West, heightened last year when foreign navy vessels showed up off the Burmese shore in an effort to deliver relief items and water to cyclone victims in the Irrawaddy delta region.

Since then, Burmese leaders have increasingly been looking for a source of medium range missiles, sophisticated anti-aircraft and radar systems to deter imagined external threats.

Gen Thura Shwe Mann, the regime’s No 3 man, made a secret visit to North Korea in November 2008, no doubt with a shopping list for the above items.

Shwe Mann, chief of staff of the army, navy and air force, and the coordinator of Special Operations, made a secret, seven day visit to Pyongyang on November 22, travelling there via Kunming, China.

The 17-member, high-level delegation was given an important sightseeing visit to Pyongyang and Myohyang, where secret tunnels have been built into the mountains to store and shield jet aircraft, missiles, tanks and nuclear and chemical weapons.

Accompanied by air defense chief Lt-Gen Myint Hlaing, Maj-Gen Hla Htay Win, Maj-Gen Khin Aung Myint, Maj-Gen Thein Htay, Maj-Gen Mya Win and senior officials from heavy industries, the delegation was clearly on a mission to cement stronger military ties with the reclusive, hermit state.

On November 27, Shwe Mann and Gen Kim Kyok-sik, chief of general staff, signed a MoU, officially formalizing the military cooperation between Burma and North Korea.

North Korea will reportedly build or supervise the construction of some Burmese military facilities, including tunnels and caves in which missiles, aircraft and even naval ships could be hidden. Burma will also receive expert training for its special forces, air defense training, plus a language exchange program between personnel in the two armed forces.

Burmese army sources in Naypyidaw confirmed to The Irrawaddy that the secret arms-procurement mission covered most of the generals’ wish list.

During his seven-day visit, Shwe Mann, who is presumed to be the heir apparent to take over Burma’s armed forces, visited radar and jamming units in Myohyang, a highly sophisticated anti-aircraft unit, air force units and a computerized command control system in Pyongyang.

The delegation also visited a surface-to-surface (SCUD) missile factory, partially housed in tunnels, on the outskirts of Pyongyang to observe missile production. Since the late 1980s, North Korea has sold hundreds of SCUD-type missiles and SCUD production technology to Iran, Syria and Egypt.

The SCUD-D missile, with a range of 700 kilometers, and SCUD-E missile, with a range of 1,500 kilometers, could easily intimidate Burma’s neighbors, including Thailand. It is believed that Burma already has deployed six radar air defense systems along the Thai-Burmese border.

During the visit, the Burmese were also particularly interested in short-range 107 mm and 240 mm multi-rocket launchers—a multipurpose missile defense system in case of a foreign invasion, analysts said.

Also of great interest was the latest in anti-tank, laser-guided missile technology that can be deployed within an infantry division. Defense analysts say Burma has already purchased short and medium- range missiles from North Korea under a barter deal.

It is not known if regime leaders have already put in an order for SCUD-D or the more powerful SCUD-F missiles, with a range of 3,000 kilometers. To suppress ethic insurgents, the regime doesn’t need such sophisticated weapons, but Burma’s strong interest in missile, radar, AWAC air defense systems, GPS communication jammers and search radar indicates that Naypyidaw’s leaders envision both defensive and offensive capabilities.

Historically, Burma has procured small arms, jet fighters and naval ships from the West, namely the US, Britain and some European countries, including Holland and Switzerland. But after brutally crushing the 1988 democracy uprising, it faced Western sanctions and Burmese leaders desperately looked for new sources of weapons and ammunition to modernize and upgrade its armed forces. Burma has bought jet fighters and naval ships from China but increasingly it’s looked for alternatives because of low quality and poor after-sale service

In the past, Burma purchased a “Pechora” air defense system—a Russian-made, surface-to-air, anti-aircraft system. Analysts say that Russians have provided technical training and language courses to Burmese technicians.

The junta continues to strengthen its military capacity and spends the country’s precious foreign reserves on more and more sophisticated weapons.

When Gen Maung Aye visited Moscow in April 2006, he told Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov that Burma wished to order more Russian-made MiG-29 jet fighters (in addition to the 12 it had already secured), as well as 12 secondhand MI-17 helicopters.

During the Moscow visit, the deputy chief of armed forces also expressed a desire to build a short-range guided missile system in central Burma with assistance from Russia.

Curiously, say analysts, Shwe Mann and his delegation also studied the subway system in the North Korean capital—in theory an underground subway is an effective way to deploy and mobilize troops during a conflict in an urban area.

As early as 2002-3, Burma begun to build underground tunnels and caves to hide and protect aircraft and weapons, as well as to house a central command and control facility.

Foreign analysts note that Burma was humiliated when it lost serious military skirmishes with Thailand in 2001-2002. Thailand employed F-16 jet fighters along its border and successfully disrupted Burma’s communication system between its troops in the front line and its central command.

The generals seem determined to go into the next field of battle with equal if not superior forces.

READ MORE---> Asia’s ‘Axis of Evil’ Flexes Its Muscles...

MWJA office in-charge commits suicide

Myint Lwin, office in-charge of the Myanmar Writers and Journalists Association (MWJA),committed suicide on Tuesday morning by jumping out of the window of the three-storey office building in downtown Rangoon.

by Phanida

Chiang Mai (mizzima) - The office in-charge of the Myanmar Writers and Journalists Association (MWJA), Myint Lwin, committed suicide on Tuesday by jumping off the three-storey office building, colleagues said.

Myint Lwin, (65) a resident of North Okklapa Township jumped out of the window of the MWJA office in downtown Rangoon’s Merchant Street in Kyauktada Township on Tuesday morning. He died instantly.

“He arrived in the office at about 10 a.m. (local time) and was arranging seats and tables for a regular meeting. After finishing what he was doing he got up and jumped out of the window,” a colleague, who attended the meeting, told Mizzima.

Another colleague, who also requested anonymity said, “He [Myint Lwin] left a note on the table, which read -- ‘I am responsible for failing to maintain and for the loss of public property.” (JEG's: hmmm what is left to know? what was he supposed to "maintain" and he did not? and because of his failure the junta incurred into a loss? what did the junta loose? - people do not jump out of building out of the blue, not in his position...)

“He left a wrist watch, a ball point-pen, two currency notes of Kyat 500 and took off his sandals,” added the colleague.

An official at the MWJA office, when contacted by Mizzima, refused to make an official statement saying, “Please do not ask me. We are now in a meeting. I have no right to answer your questions. Please do not ask me about it, I request you not to ask.”

The Myanmar Writers and Journalists Association is a group formed under the aegis of the Burmese military junta’s Ministry of information.

Myint Lwin’s body was taken to Rangoon General Hospital for autopsy.

He leaves behind a son, a daughter and his wife.

READ MORE---> MWJA office in-charge commits suicide...

Burma sends mortars to Shan State

The Irrawaddy News

The Burmese government has reinforced Burmese forces in Mong Tong Township, Shan State, due to growing tension with the United Wa State Army (UWSA), according to sources close to an armed group in Shan State.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Tuesday, Sai Sheng Murng, the deputy spokesman of the rival Shan State Army-South (SSA) said seven M120 120 mm mortars were sent to reinforce Burmese Infantry Battalion No 65 on June 20.

The battalion is based in Nakawngmu village, Pong Pa Khem Sub-Township, Mong Tong Township, in eastern Shan State, which is about 29 kilometers from the Thai-Burma border.

The source said the reinforcement may have been made in preparation for a possible military offensive against the UWSA if tension with the group continues growing. (JEG's: on the other hand, it might be for some other purpose :-) )

According to a source on the Sino-Burmese border, the mortar reinforcements have been made close to UWSA military region 171, where Burmese army leaders have put pressure on the UWSA to withdraw from strategic positions in southern Shan State along the Thai-Burmese border. However, UWSA leaders have refused to withdraw its troops from the area.

The UWSA has rejected a request by the Burmese junta to turn their forces into border guards. The group, which is the most powerful ethnic armed ceasefire group in Burma, has 23,000 troops.

Mai Aik Phone, who is an observer of the UWSA, said the group was watching closely the current attempts by the Burmese military to transform ethnic armed forces into border guards. The UWSA, meanwhile, has warned its people to prepare for the worst. However, they said that they would try to negotiate with the Burmese government before fighting.

Due to heavy pressure on the Burmese government by the international community over the ongoing trial of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese government would be unlikely take any direct action against the UWSA for the moment, according to the sources.

Meanwhile, the Burmese Army launched a military offensive against the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) early in June. The joint troops of the Burmese Army and Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) seized the headquarters of KNLA Brigade 7, which was a main base near the Thai-Burma border. The attack has forced an estimated 4,000 Karen people to flee to Thailand.

The Burmese junta is trying to transform all ethnic armed ceasefire groups in the country into border guards ahead of elections they plan to hold in 2010.

However, many ethnic armed ceasefire groups do not want to live under the control of the Burmese Army, and they have refused to disarm and become border guards.

Under the junta’s scheme, the Burmese military will have more control over the armed ceasefire groups. Each border guard battalion would consist of 326 troops, including 30 from the Burmese army. Three of these would be Burmese officers with administrative positions.

The Burmese military junta No. 2 Gen Maung Aye visited China to talk about the ethnic armed ceasefire groups in Shan State last week.

The Sino-Burmese border sources said that Gen Maung Aye failed to persuade China to put pressure on the groups. (JEG's: of course, the Chinese know their "faithful" partners)

China refused to use its influence in the area because it wants a stable border in Shan Sate in order to run oil and gas pipelines through the area, according to the sources.

Beijing is scheduled to begin constructing the pipelines, which have to pass through areas of Shan State controlled by the ethnic armed groups, in September 2009.

Seventeen insurgent groups have signed ceasefire agreements with the ruling generals since 1989, according to official Burmese reports.

READ MORE---> Burma sends mortars to Shan State...

Burmese Official Sacked for Nargis-related Corruption

The Irrawaddy News

Burma’s military junta has sacked the head of one of the key government departments involved in the Cyclone Nargis relief and recovery effort following allegations that he stole money donated for survivors of the disaster, according to reliable sources in Rangoon.

Than Oo, a former colonel who was serving as the director general of the Ministry of Social Welfare’s Department of Relief and Resettlement, was accused of stealing millions of kyat (several hundreds of thousands of dollars) from international donations intended for Nargis-related projects, the sources said.

State-run newspapers did not publish any information about the dismissal of the senior official, who was recently arrested and interrogated by the regime’s Bureau of Special Investigation, according to sources in Naypyidaw.

The Department of Relief and Resettlement cooperates closely with international donors providing aid for humanitarian relief and recovery work in the cyclone-stricken Irrawaddy delta.

“The Department of Relief and Resettlement is responsible for accepting funds and donations from international NGOs,” said a Rangoon businessman who runs a local relief organization for Nargis victims.

“The department is supposed distribute the aid to assist people hit by the cyclone. He was probably taken into custody because materials donated by international NGOs went missing,” he added.

Meanwhile, the Burmese junta is holding a secret meeting in its capital, Naypyidaw, where a number of other officials have also reportedly been reshuffled.

Burma’s top military leader, Snr-Gen Than Shwe, has retired or reassigned around a dozen senior officials, according to military sources. However, The Irrawaddy has not been able to confirm the reports with other independent sources.

READ MORE---> Burmese Official Sacked for Nargis-related Corruption...

Banks skim money from Burmese farmers

(DVB)–The Burmese government’s agricultural bank is skimming money from agricultural loans for farmers and using it in their own loan sharking ventures, say the opposition National League for Democracy party.

The government’s central bank offers farmers monthly loans of 10,000 kyat ($US10) per acre of farmland through local town-level agricultural banks.

A member of the Farmer’s Committee of the National League for Democracy (NLD) said that an agricultural bank in Rangoon division’s Htantabin town is pocketing a portion of each loan.

“The bank is cutting 250 kyat out of every 10,000 kyat loan we get for our farms,” said Maung Maung Kyi.

Htantabin townhsip has about 1200 acres of farmland, while nearby Phyuu township has about 1600 acres.

“In total, they gain about 30 million Kyat profit from all the farmlands in the township,” he said, adding that other townships were being subject to the scheme.

According to Maung Maung Kyi, the bank had also been limiting farmers from receiving loans for more than 10 acres of farmland per person.

A source close to the agricultural bank in Bago division’s Nyaung Lay Pin said that bank officials are keeping the rest of the money for their own use.

Normally, agricultural loans are provided by the government’s central bank in accordance with the amount of farmland owned by the farmer.

According to the source, local agricultural banks are setting arbitrary limitations on loans to farmers, and pocketing money from loans to those with more than 10 acres.

“For example; if there are ten farmers in a village and they own 15 acres each, then the bank officials can skim 500,000 from the extra acres exceeding the 10 acre limit,” said the source.

Loans provided by the government come with very small interest and so officials “can play loan sharking [with more interest] with the money they skim”, said the source, before they have to return it to the government at the end of harvesting season.

He also said that officials from Bago’s agricultural bank, working together with local village authorities, are forcing farmers to buy fertilizer from them with a elevated price if they want to receive the loan.

The agricultural banks in Rangoon and Bago divisions were unavailable for comments.

Reporting by Ahunt Phone Myat

READ MORE---> Banks skim money from Burmese farmers...

'North Korean Ship Carries Weapons'

The Irrawaddy News

SEOUL — A North Korean-flagged ship under close watch in Asian waters is believed to be heading toward Burma carrying small arms cargo banned under a new UN resolution, a South Korean intelligence official said Monday.

Still, analysts say a high seas interception—something North Korea has said it would consider an act of war—is unlikely.

In this image released by the US Navy, the guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain sails in the Pacific Ocean. The destroyer has been sent by the US military to monitor the North Korean ship Kang Nam I. (Photo: Getty Images)

The Kang Nam, accused of engaging in illicit trade in the past, is the first vessel monitored under the new sanctions designed to punish the North for its defiant nuclear test last month. The US military began tracking the ship after it left a North Korean port on Wednesday on suspicion it was carrying illicit weapons.

A South Korean intelligence official said Monday that his agency believes the North Korean ship is carrying small weapons and is sailing toward the Burmese city of Rangoon.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity citing the sensitive nature of the information, said he could provide no further details.

Burma's military government, which faces an arms embargo from the US and the European Union, reportedly has bought weapons from North Korea in the past.

The Irrawaddy, an online magazine operated by independent exiled journalists, reported Monday that the North Korean ship would dock at the Thilawa port, some 20 miles (30 kilometers) south of Rangoon, in the next few days.

The magazine cited an unidentified port official as saying that North Korean ships have docked there in the past. The magazine's in-depth coverage of Burma has been generally reliable in the past.

South Korean television network YTN reported Sunday that the ship was streaming toward Burma but said the vessel appeared to be carrying missiles and related parts. The report cited an unidentified intelligence source in South Korea.

Kim Jin-moo, an analyst at Seoul's state-run Korea Institute for Defense Analyses, said the North is believed to have sold guns, artillery and other small weapons to Burma but not missiles, which it has been accused of exporting to Iran and Syria.

The UN sanctions, which toughen an earlier arms embargo against North Korea, ban the country from exporting all weapons and weapons-related material, meaning any weapons shipment to Burma would violate the resolution.

The Security Council resolution calls on all 192 UN member states to inspect North Korean vessels on the high seas "if they have information that provides reasonable grounds to believe that the cargo" contains banned weapons or material to make them. But that requires approval from the North.

If the North refuses to give approval, it must direct the vessel "to an appropriate and convenient port for the required inspection by the local authorities."

North Korea, however, is unlikely to allow any inspection of its cargo, making an interception unlikely, said Hong Hyun-ik, an analyst at the Sejong Institute think tank outside Seoul.

A senior US military official told The Associated Press on Friday that a Navy ship, the USS John S. McCain, is relatively close to the North Korean vessel but had no orders to intercept it. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Any chance for an armed skirmish between the two ships is low, analysts say, though the North Korean crew is possibly armed with rifles.

"It's still a cargo ship. A cargo ship can't confront a warship," said Baek Seung-joo of the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses.

Tension on the Korean peninsula has been running high since the North's May 25 nuclear test, with Pyongyang and Washington exchanging near-daily accusations against each other.

President Barack Obama assured Americans in an interview broadcast Monday that the US is prepared for any move North Korea might make amid media reports that Pyongyang is planning a long-range missile test in early July.

"This administration—and our military—is fully prepared for any contingencies," Obama said during an interview with CBS News' "The Early Show."

Still, ever defiant, North Korea declared itself a "proud nuclear power" and warned Monday that it would strike if provoked.

"As long as our country has become a proud nuclear power, the US should take a correct look at whom it is dealing with," the country's main Rodong Sinmun said in commentary. "It would be a grave mistake for the US to think it can remain unhurt if it ignites the fuse of war on the Korean peninsula."

READ MORE---> 'North Korean Ship Carries Weapons'...

21 Arakanese Protesters Released from Bangladesh Custody

Dhaka (Narinjara): 21 Arakanese protesters were released from Bangladesh police custody yesterday after ten hours in the police lockup, said Ko Aung Naing, one of the detained protesters.

"Police released us at 8:30 pm and we arrived at home safely around midnight yesterday," he said.

The group was arrested by Bangladesh police in front of the Indian embassy in Dhaka while they were staging a protest against the Indian government for the illegal detention of 34 Arakanese and Karen freedom fighters.

"We were staging a demonstration in front of the Indian embassy in Dhaka at 11 am, shouting slogans against the Indian government. At that time, the Bangladesh police came to the spot and arrested us. Afterward the police detained us at Gulsan police station," Aung Naing said.

The protesters arrested were primarily UNHCR recognized refugees, including children and monks, so it is believe the police released them without charges to avoid any potential international criticism.

According to a police source, they were arrested after the Indian embassy lodged a complaint with police and requested their arrest. (JEG's: can they do that? police follows "requests" for arrest? Is it legal to protest in B'desh? obviously diplomatic cooperation was enforced here)

June 22 was a global day of action for the 34 Arakanese and Karen freedom fighters, and many Burmese in exile staged protests to demand their release in at least 20 countries, including Thailand, India, Bangladesh, and Britain.

In February 1998, members of the Arakan Army and Karen liberation army led by Major Khaing Raza went to an Indian island in the Andaman Archipelago to set up a new naval base in accordance with an agreement with the Indian army to watch Chinese military activities in the Andaman Sea.

When they arrived at the island, Indian soldiers killed Bo Raza and five other senior leaders in the group in cold blood. The 34 freedom fighters were arrested and have been in custody since then. They are currently being detained in a prison in Kolkata.

READ MORE---> 21 Arakanese Protesters Released from Bangladesh Custody...

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