Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Hunting the Junta

The Irrawaddy News
JULY, 2009 - VOLUME 17 NO.4

Lawyers launch a difficult mission to bring the generals to justice

CALLS for the members of Burma’s military junta to be arraigned before the International Criminal Court (ICC) are becoming louder with each new breach of human rights. The task of bringing the generals to face justice at The Hague, however, will not be easy—and some legal experts say it will prove impossible as long as the junta can rely on such powerful allies as China and Russia to block international action.

Despite the pessimism, a team of international lawyers is pressing the UN Security Council to establish a commission of inquiry into allegations of crimes against humanity in Burma—a first step towards bringing the generals to justice.

If efforts by a team of international lawyers prove successful, Burmese junt a leader Than Shwe could one day find himself in the dock in The Hague once occupied by the accused Serbian war criminal Slobodan Milosevic. (Illustration: Harn Lay/Th Irrawaddy)

The initiative was undertaken by five of the world’s leading jurists, who instructed the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School in the US to draw up a report for the UN on the case for prosecuting members of the Burmese regime.

The Irrawaddy interviewed one of the report’s authors, Tyler Giannini, the Harvard Law School Clinic’s director, and began by asking him to explain why it will be difficult to bring the generals before the ICC in The Hague.

Answer: Since the Burmese military has not signed the treaty that created the ICC, any international process involving international justice and accountability would need to begin with the United Nations Security Council. The Security Council would need to refer the “situation” in Burma to the ICC. The ICC Prosecutor would then conduct investigations of its own before any further proceedings considering possible charges. Additionally, the transfer of any indicted individuals would have to occur before any trial could take place.

By referring the “situation,” the prosecutor is also obliged to look at all actors, not just the government, when considering possible charges.

Two other considerations are critical when considering ICC prosecution of international criminal law violations. First, the international community can only act if the nation in question is either not carrying out investigations and prosecutions of its own or if such actions are held to be not genuine processes. Second, the ICC only has jurisdiction over events since July 1, 2002, when the treaty creating it came into force.

Q: It is often pointed out that legal action was successfully taken in the cases of Darfur, Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. Can a similar route be taken in Burma’s case?

A: In all three cases, the United Nations Security Council followed a similar pattern to pursue the question of international justice and accountability. First, the Security Council took note that there were possible violations of international laws, including crimes against humanity and thus determined there was a threat to international peace and security. Second, the Security Council set up a Commission to investigate the scope and scale of violations, to assess whether potential international crimes were taking place, and to identify the perpetrators. Finally, the Security Council took steps to institute international justice. In the cases of the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, the Security Council established specific international tribunals to hold perpetrators to account. With Darfur, the Security Council referred the situation to the ICC.

Q: This route leads, of course, through the UN Security Council, but the Harvard Law School report suggests the Security Council is failing to take action in Burma’s case. What specific action would the authors of the report like to see taken?

A: The study set out to look solely at UN documents such as General Assembly resolutions and reports of Special Rapporteurs to assess what the UN knows about possible international criminal law violations in Burma. After examining documents since the early 1990s, with a focus on the post 2002 period, the study found that multiple UN actors have consistently reported on “widespread” and “systematic” violations.

The use of such terms raises the specter that crimes against humanity may be taking place. For example, between 1996 and 2006, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burma stated that 3,077 villages had been displaced, destroyed or were forced to be abandoned based on “independent” and “reliable” sources. Such displacement is comparable to displacement that has occurred in Darfur.

The report concludes that in light of such documentation and previous precedents in the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and Darfur, the UN Security Council should create a Commission of Inquiry (COI) to investigate international crimes in Burma. Security Council members should take up the issue of creating a COI, and the Security Council should be prepared to follow any recommendations that the COI delivers.

Q: Do you believe that the threat alone of legal action before an international court or tribunal could bring sufficient pressure on the Burmese regime to end its human rights abuses? Could the threat perhaps be sufficiently intimidating to cause second-echelon military commanders to press for political change?

A: Ending human rights violations in Burma will not be easy or immediate. The call for a COI investigation is not only important, however, because it highlights the need for the regime to uphold the rule of law and end the culture of impunity in the country to hold violators to account. In addition to accountability, a UN Security Council-endorsed investigation can help prevent further abuses by increasing scrutiny on the military and making it clear that violations such as forced displacement, sexual violence and extrajudicial killings are not acceptable.

The international community has rallied to condemn the trial of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and the outcry has caused the military to at least pause and consider how to handle the trial of the opposition leader more carefully. In a similar way, a COI focused on assessing crimes against humanity may help prevent some abuses.

READ MORE---> Hunting the Junta...

Diplomat and Reporter

The Irrawaddy News
JULY, 2009 - VOLUME 17 NO.4

Rangoon says farewell to an outspoken, observant ambassador

THE diplomatic community in Burma said farewell at the end of June to its most outspoken and committed ambassador, Britain’s Mark Canning, who left to take up his new post as ambassador to Zimbabwe.

During his three years in Rangoon, Canning was more than an ambassador, often dropping diplomatic protocol to describe with a reporter’s objective eye the events he witnessed firsthand.

Mark Canning
When demonstrations erupted in August and September 2007 he provided the international media—including The Irrawaddy—with accurate eyewitness accounts of the bloody events. When he and other diplomats were allowed to attend a session of Aung San Suu Kyi’s trial, he vividly described the courtroom scene for reporters who were denied access to the proceedings.

Canning even wrote a regular blog for the British daily newspaper The Guardian, reporting and commenting on Burmese events in the crisp, readable style of a true foreign correspondent.

In a farewell interview with The Irrawaddy, Canning looked back on his time in Burma with the same perceptive eye.

Question: What have been the highs and lows of your three years in Burma?

Answer: It’s been a difficult time for anyone who cares about this country. We’ve seen a depressing litany of developments—the brutal suppression of the 2007 uprising, Cyclone Nargis and its aftermath, a doubling in the number of political prisoners and now the trial of Aung San Suu Kyi. As soon as you think you’ve seen the worst, something else comes along.

Despite this, I take away a number of positives about what we have been able to achieve. The UK’s role as the largest contributor to the cyclone relief operation. And the significant scaling up of our humanitarian effort in other areas—education, livelihoods and health. We’ll deliver US $80 million of assistance—directly to those who need it—over the next two years.

Also, the interaction we have had with thousands of individuals and organizations working to improve the country and the effort many well-meaning people within government have made to help.

Q: Do you see any short-term or mid-term hope for an end to military rule and the introduction of a democratic system of government? Are there any grounds for optimism about 2010?

A: There’s no disguising the fact that prospects look bleak, but that can be said of many countries which have then gone on to achieve positive change. Change will ultimately come from within the system. That’s not to say there’s not an important role for the international community in promoting it and creating the conditions to support it when it arrives—there is, and the UN’s role is crucial. But a successful transition will ultimately only occur when individuals within the government emerge who are willing to compromise, to work for genuine reconciliation and to give greater priority to the well-being of the people.

My expectations for 2010 are low. The trial of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is the latest in a string of indicators to suggest what we can expect. You clearly can’t have a process that is credible without the release of political prisoners and the start of meaningful dialogue.

That’s not to say that some unintended positives can’t flow from it. It’s significant when the cast of characters in any authoritarian regime is shuffled, because it offers a chance, however fleeting, to make a break from the patterns of the past and to move the country in a fresh direction. I’m confident that within this regime are many who recognize how disastrous the course is on which Myanmar [Burma] is embarked.

Q: You have observed Aung San Suu Kyi under duress. What is your assessment of her? Does she have the qualities to lead the country, if she were ever put in that position?

A: She is a remarkable person who needs to be allowed to play a role in the future of this country. She has made clear repeatedly her willingness to work with the government as well as other key players and is an individual of the highest character and ability.

It’s ironic that a trial which is intended to marginalize her from playing a political role is having precisely the opposite effect—illustrating what a towering figure she is. If she wasn’t relevant, none of this would be happening. She would be the first to recognize that many others, not least the ethnic minorities, need a voice, but there is no doubt she remains central to a meaningful process of reconciliation and that’s why the international community has been united in calling for her release.

Q: Final thoughts?

A: It’s been a privilege to do this job. One day, things will take a turn for the better, and there’s no people in the world who deserve that more than the Burmese.

Mark Canning is succeeded as British Ambassador to Burma by Andrew Heyn, former deputy head of the British Embassy in Ireland.

READ MORE---> Diplomat and Reporter...

Hostages and Slaves

The Irrawaddy News
JULY, 2009 - VOLUME 17 NO.4

The underground world of human trafficking on the Malaysian-Thai border is one of corruption and broken dreams

ALOR SETAR, Malaysia — “Malaysian migration officers sold me to a human trafficking gang located near the Thai-Malaysian border,” said Lwin Ko, one of thousands of victims of human trafficking in Malaysia.

Like many other Burmese migrant workers and refugees in Malaysia, he was arrested for illegal entry into the country. After processing in an immigration detention center, he said, immigration officers transferred him directly to a gang of human traffickers, who treated him as a “hostage,” or slave, to be held for a lucrative ransom.

Migrant workers are apprehended and led to an open area by civilian security volunteers to have their documents inspected during an immigration raid in Kuala Lumpur in 2005. (Photo: AFP)

If no ransom was forthcoming after a few weeks, Lwin Ko would be passed on like many others to work as a crewman on a fishing boat or, for women, to work as household servants or as prostitutes in brothels.

When police arrested him, Lwin Ko, 17 years old at the time, was on his way to work in a Malaysian factory. “I did not have any money,” he said. “If I had about RM 100 [US $28], I could have paid the Malay police to release me.”

After serving six months in prison, he was transferred to a Malaysian immigration detention camp in Juru in Pulau Pinang Province, one of the most notorious detention centers in the country.

After one week, Malaysian immigration officers placed him in a truck with more than a dozen other Burmese migrants.

“We drove for three hours to the border town of Alor Setar,” Lwin Ko recalled. “The truck stopped at a roadside shop near a rubber plantation, where officers had a meeting with traffickers. Then we were moved to a traffickers’ truck where we were put with about 70 Burmese from the Juru detention camp.”

Lwin Ko received money from friends and paid RM 2,300 [$653] to return to his job in Kuala Lampur.

Recently, six victims of human trafficking in Malaysia told their stories to The Irrawaddy. Each told a similar tale, confirming that corrupt Malaysian immigration officers, organized trafficking gangs, and corrupt Thai officials, work in tandem to transfer hapless illegal migrants to human traffickers.

After leaving detention centers, luckless migrants eventually end up in buildings or homes along the Thai-Malaysia border owned by the gangs.

None knew the amount of money the traffickers paid the corrupt officers, but it’s estimated to be somewhere between RM 700 to 1,000 [$198- $286] for each person sold.

One of the victims, Win Tun, 26, who is from central Burma and who worked in Kuala Lumpur, said: “We were arrested by police and immigration officers, and they placed us in the hands of traffickers.”

The gangs told the trafficking victims they had to pay RM 1,900 to 2,300 [$539-$653] if they wanted to return to Kuala Lumpur or Burma. Most gang members, they said, were ethnic Mon from Burma. Gang leaders, however, were usually Thai or Malaysian, who appeared to be well connected to local Thai or Malaysian authorities. Some leaders were reportedly officers in either immigration or police services.

Sithu Aung, 30, who is from Rangoon and worked in Kuala Lumpur, recalled what happened when he arrived at the traffickers’ building.

“They let me call my friends in Kuala Lumpur to ask for money,” he said. “They asked me for RM 2,300 to take me from that border town back to Kuala Lumpur.”

Unlucky migrants who cannot afford to pay for their freedom are usually sold to owners of Thai fishing boats, where they work in slave-like conditions.

According to a Burmese man, a former member of a trafficking gang who is now in hiding in Kuala Lumpur, after Malaysian immigration officers sell victims to a trafficking gang, the gangs usually wait one or two weeks for money to arrive from a victim’s family or friends.

If no money comes by the third week, said the man, who goes by the name Wanna, the hostages are usually passed on to be sold into the fishing industry or into household service or prostitution.

“Taking an illegal migrant is like taking a hostage,” said Wanna. “If they have money, they cannot be freed until we are paid. If they don’t have money, they will be sold somewhere else.”

Traffickers have no fear of authorities, he said, because immigration officials see illegal migrants as “second-class humans.”

Latheeffa Koya, a well-known Malaysian human rights lawyer, said the human trafficking business along the border is nothing more than a form of slave trade in the contemporary world. The problem is transnational, she said, and to be remedied, all nations in the region must cooperate with each other.

“The reasons behind the problems are corrupt law enforcement and xenophobia,” she said. “The Malaysian people and the media have to know about this ugly issue.”

Why are Burmese the main victims in the slave trade on the Malaysian-Thai border?

Aegile Fernandez, the coordinator of Tenaganita, a Malaysian human rights group, explained: “Burmese are highly valuable goods [for traffickers] because as refugees they are not accepted by their own country.”

Some victims who are sold to traffickers had even registered with the UNHCR, the UN refugee agency. But Malaysia has not signed the UN refugee convention, she said, so it goes unrecognized and is of no help.

“We are sad to see that Malaysia has high corruption,” Aegile Fernanadez said. “Officials are so greedy for money. They look at illegal migrants as a valuable resource.”

The situation facing Burmese migrants in Malaysia, who total an estimated 500,000 people, is quite different from migrants from other countries in the region who work in the country. Malaysian human rights groups say that if Malaysian authorities arrest undocumented migrants from Indonesia, the Philippines or Bangladesh, they are returned back to their country through government-to-government cooperation.

However, the Burmese military regime is unwilling to cooperate with any country which has detained illegal Burmese migrants. When faced with immigration problems, even legal migrant workers who are in Malaysia via agents cannot get routine help from the Burmese embassy in Kuala Lumpur.

Sometimes Burmese embassies in Thailand and Malaysia even publish notices in Burmese that read: “Come in person, but don’t come with a problem.”

Of course, human traffickers operate on a two-way street, and also smuggle people out of Burma through Thailand and into Malaysia. All undocumented Burmese migrants interviewed by The Irrawaddy said that they paid up to 100,000 kyat [about US $100] to trafficking agents in Rangoon or Kawthoung, in southern Burma, to be smuggled into Malaysia.

Traffickers in Kawthoung transport migrants to the Thai town of Ranong by boat, where they then depart by bus or vehicle to cross the Malaysian border.

“I was put in a box that they placed in the baggage area of a bus,” said Myint Lwin, who recalled his journey into Malaysia.

Traffickers clearly have the help of local police and immigration officials, said one migrant.

“I saw people in uniform help traffickers in smuggling people from Thailand to Malaysia,” he said. “How else can we come to Malaysia through so many checkpoints?”

How to combat the human trafficking issue in Malaysia and all of Southeast Asia is a major issue for Malaysian authorities as well as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean). Human rights advocates and analysts say all Asean nations have a clear obligation under the new Asean charter.

Migrant issues in the region are recognized as an urgent problem that must be resolved, said Usana Berananda of the department of Asean Affairs in Thailand’s foreign ministry.

But recognizing a problem and taking concrete actions to solve it are not the same. Migrants and analysts are skeptical, pointing out that officials in many Asean countries still view migrants as an enemy, even though many significant industries and businesses in the region survive by employing a migrant workforce, often illegal.

“I do not see any good prospect for Burmese migrants and refugees unless governments in the region give up their bad policies on migrants,” Aegile Fernandez said. “We need the governments to take real action against corrupt immigration officers. However, it will be difficult because the immigration department is also the government itself.”

While activists and honest government officials struggle with the human trafficking problem in the region, average Burmese migrant workers in Malaysia simply hope they can avoid the corrupt officials and traffickers.

“I need to be aware of everything,” said Myint Lwin, who was sold to traffickers in late 2008. “Everything depends on karma. I am just praying to secure myself from arrest and human traffickers in the future.”

Stories such as Myint Lwin’s were outlined in a US State Department report this year, citing credible evidence of Malaysian immigration officials’ involvement in human trafficking. The report estimated that only 20 percent of the victims sold to traffickers by Malaysian officers are able to pay for their return. The unlucky people who cannot pay are passed on into a pitiless world of exploitation.

In June, the Malaysian government denied the US allegations in the report, issuing a statement calling the allegations “baseless.”

“The government has already initiated a few internal investigations, but [the accusations are] baseless,” said Malaysian Home Ministry Secretary Gen Mahmood Adam.

Such words ring hollow to the Burmese victims now toiling on Thai fishing boats or in houses of prostitution.

This story was written during a 2009 Southeast Asian Press Alliance Fellowship program.

READ MORE---> Hostages and Slaves...

Desolation Road

The Irrawaddy News
JULY, 2009 - VOLUME 17 NO.4

Some poor country girls survive by turning tricks with truck drivers doing the lonely overnight run between Mandalay and Taunggyi

MANDALAY — The highway from Taunggyi to Mandalay is long, smooth and straight, but there are many distractions along the way. Cafés, karaoke clubs and gas stations all compete for the attention of truck drivers who make the overnight haul, carrying fruit, vegetables, furniture and other products from Shan State to Burma’s second largest city.

Occasionally, the truck drivers encounter a flash of torchlight ahead in the darkness. They know this means one of two things: either the police have set up a roadblock to hustle them out of a few kyat, or a sex worker is waiting for a truck driver to pick her up.

Though I am neither a trucker nor a patron of bordellos, I asked my friend from Mandalay if I could join him on his overnight route: the journey from Mandalay to Taunggyi, the capital of Shan State, and back the following day. He said he would be glad to have some company.

Because of the heat, the traffic and the frequency of roadblocks, most truck drivers travel by night. Trucks form convoys and the drivers quickly make friends with each other as they shuttle from town to town. As a truck approaches in the distance, a driver may slow down, flash his lights, wave, and sometimes pull up alongside his buddy for a chat.

We hit the road at sunset and headed out of Mandalay. Within no time it was dark, and the city was far behind us. The landscape was flat and dotted with trees, bushes and small hamlets.

Suddenly, like a firefly twinkling in the night, I saw a torchlight flashing at us from the roadside about 100 meters ahead.

“That’s the signal of a sex worker,” said my friend. “If you want to pick her up, you just reply by signaling with your headlights and then pull over.”

We could see her face in the lights as we passed. She looked young. Her face was thick with make-up.

Roadside sex workers usually ask for between 2,000 and 4,000 kyat ($2-4), my friend explained.

“So if you take them with you, how do you get them back?” I asked.

He looked at me as if I had just asked a stupid question, then smiled. “There are so many trucks heading in both directions, she just hitches back with another client,” he said.

He told me that drivers who take sex workers signal to other drivers with their headlights if they have a girl going in the opposite direction. They pass the girls on from truck to truck this way all through the night.

He told me that most of the sex workers are girls from poor villages along the highway who cannot find any other job.

These days, more and more university students are working the highway to make enough to pay for their studies. The driver said the number of roadside sex workers has increased considerably over the past few years.

“Do authorities know about it?” I asked.

“The police either ignore it or take advantage of the girls themselves,” he said. “Sometimes they refuse to pay or ask for a discount. The girls are afraid that if they refuse they will be arrested.”

Our first rest stop was at Shwe Taung, about 100 km (60 miles) north of Mandalay. It was late, but one restaurant was open. We went in and ordered something to eat.

When the waiter came to our table with our food, my friend whispered one word to him: “Shilar?” (“Do you have it?”)

“Shide,” the waiter replied without blinking: “Sure, we have it.” He told us that it would cost 4,000 kyat for a “short time.”

The waiter led us from the shop to a walled compound next door. There was no roof except the stars in the sky.

He called to a girl sleeping on a wooden bed, using her longyi as a blanket. She woke up and looked at us. Although she was obviously dead tired, she immediately got up and combed her hair.

She put a wide smear of lipstick on her mouth. Her bright red lips contrasted sharply with her ragged appearance and the dull, pungent room.

“Is she the only one?” my friend asked.

“For the time being, yes,” said the waiter impatiently. “The other girls didn’t show up tonight.”

“Where do they sleep?” I asked.

“Just here,” the girl said, pointing at the wooden bed.

“Do you have condoms?” I asked her.

“No. That’s up to you,” she said with a shrug.

My friend and I looked at the girl, not knowing what to say.

“You are my first customer tonight,” she said unconvincingly.

We apologized and sheepishly retreated out the door. As we walked away, I looked back at the house. Through the gaping holes in the brick wall I saw the girl lie down on the bed and pull her longyi up to her chin. Then she curled up and went back to sleep.

READ MORE---> Desolation Road...

One-way Street

The Irrawaddy News
JULY, 2009 - VOLUME 17 NO.4

Pro-democracy activists are not the only ones who have been a part of the tortuous history of Insein Prison and Burma’s most notorious court

BURMESE lawyers call it “the one-way street,” but it is officially known as the “special court” at Insein Prison.

The accused who end up here know that their fate is sealed before they even enter a plea. The verdict is preordained, and the sentence is invariably a long stretch in Insein—Burma’s most dreaded prison—or worse.

Whatever the charge, there is never any doubt about the true nature of the offense. The allegations against the accused may be real or imagined, deadly serious or utterly ridiculous, but the “crime” is always the same: threatening the country’s despotic rulers’ hold on power.

This has been the end of the road for many of Burma’s most prominent political prisoners, as well as countless others who have fallen afoul of the powers that be. Since the Buddhist monk-led uprising of September 2007 alone, hundreds of dissidents have been legally processed here and dispatched with ruthless efficiency to the Burmese gulag.

But pro-democracy activists are not the only ones who have been robbed of long years of their lives by this kangaroo court. Often, those who come here to face summary justice are former colleagues or close associates of Burma’s military masters. When the mighty fall from grace, this is usually where they land.

Here we present a few of the better known cases of doomed defendants who have passed through the special court after losing the confidence of their supreme leader.

Ohn Kyaw Myint, the Would-be Assassin

In 1976, Capt Ohn Kyaw Myint, a personal staff officer of the then-commander in chief of the armed forces, Gen Kyaw Htin, was arrested along with a group of army officers for plotting to assassinate Gen Ne Win and other state leaders.

Accused of seeking to overthrow the Ne Win regime because they believed that the dictator’s “Burmese Way to Socialism” was leading the country to ruin, the defendants were taken before the special court at Insein Prison.

In a rare departure from its normally secretive approach to dispensing justice, the court permitted crowds of spectators to witness the proceedings. The state-run media also provided extensive coverage to a nation captivated by the courtroom drama.

The trial went on for nearly a year before it reached its inevitable conclusion: Ohn Kyaw Myint was sentenced to death by hanging.

Another prominent figure who was tried in connection with the case was Gen Tin Oo, a former commander in chief of the armed forces. He was found guilty of treason for withholding information about the coup plan and sentenced to seven years hard labor.

Two decades later, Tin Oo went on to become the vice chairman of the National League for Democracy. He is currently under house arrest for allegedly threatening state stability.

Lawyers at Capt Ohn Kyaw Myint’s trial in Insein court.

Despite the harsh sentences handed down to those deemed disloyal to Ne Win, efforts to unseat him continued. In 1978, three cadres of his Burma Socialist Program Party (BSPP)—Than Sein, Tun Linn and Kyaw Zaw—secretly conspired to vote Ne Win out of power at the Third Party Congress.

The rebel cadres were purged and were subsequently accused of misappropriating party funds. They were tried by the special court and given long prison sentences.

‘MI’ Tin Oo, the Aggressive Heir Apparent

In 1983, Brig-Gen Tin Oo, the powerful director of the National Intelligence Bureau (NIB) and a member of the BSPP central executive committee, was tried by the special court on charges of misappropriating NIB funds.

The CIA-trained military intelligence chief—better known as “MI” Tin Oo—was generally regarded as Ne Win’s right-hand man. He had uncovered several assassination attempts against the Burmese dictator and used extensive dossiers on leading members of the BSPP government to expose rivals plotting palace coups.

Also known as “No 1 and a Half” because of his status as the likely successor to the aging Ne Win, Tin Oo was often at loggerheads with senior army generals, creating an atmosphere of tension and suspicion among the top ranks of the military—the real power brokers in the BSPP scheme of things.

But it was Ne Win’s fears for his own position that eventually prompted him to take action to neutralize Tin Oo, who had been aggressively consolidating his personal power base.

The trial at the Insein special court was not open. Tin Oo reportedly sent a long letter of appeal to Ne Win, but it was ignored. He received five concurrent life sentences for his alleged crimes, but was released from Insein Prison in 1988 after Ne Win was forced from power by nationwide pro-democracy protests.

Aung Gyi, the Letter-writing Critic

Brig-Gen Aung Gyi was No 2 in the Revolutionary Council, the military junta that ruled Burma for the first 12 years of Ne Win’s reign. However, Aung Gyi’s tenure was short-lived: within a year of the 1962 coup that installed Ne Win in power, his lieutenant was forced to resign for openly criticizing the new regime’s economic policies.

But the retired general remained loyal to the army and maintained his connection with “the Old Man.” This did not change until the late 1980s, when Aung Gyi wrote a series of highly publicized open letters to Ne Win urging him to reform the economy, which after more than two decades of mismanagement was on the verge of collapse.

These letters became virtual manifestos for the emerging pro-democracy movement, which came to a head in August 1988. After the bloody coup that crushed massive demonstrations around the country the following month, Aung Gyi became one of the founders of the National League for Democracy. However, he soon fell out with other leaders and set up his own party.

After doing poorly in the 1990 election, Aung Gyi ended his brief foray into party politics and returned to his business of running a popular chain of bakeries. In 1993, however, his political past caught up with him, and he was brought before the special court, ostensibly for failing to pay a bill for eggs.

He was sentenced to six months in Insein Prison, while his wife received a stiffer sentence for allegedly smuggling goods into the country from Thailand—a victim of the new regime’s “open economy.”

Aung Gyi was one of the few people to attend Ne Win’s funeral in 2002. Although he praised the late dictator for his role in liberating the country from British rule, he added: “Ne Win betrayed the country. He raped democracy in Burma by staging a coup. He died an inglorious death. It was a sad and tragic ending.”

Sandar Win and Family, the Clan of Conspirators

Just nine months before Ne Win’s death in December 2002, the former dictator and his closest family members received sentences in the special court ranging from house arrest to the death penalty for allegedly plotting to split the armed forces and overthrow the ruling regime.

In early 2002, Ne Win’s son-in-law Aye Zaw Win and his three sons were arrested for conspiring to return the dying man to power to pave the way for a succession that would have made the family of his favorite daughter, Sandar Win, the most powerful in Burma.

In the end, however, Aye Zaw Win and his sons were sentenced to death for their leading role in the sensational plot, while Ne Win and his daughter were placed under house arrest. Sandar Win was released earlier this year after serving her full six-year sentence.

Several high-ranking officers were also implicated in the case and purged. In all, more than 100 people, including four senior officials and an astrologer employed by the grandsons, were detained and interrogated in connection with the case.

The four chief defendants were accused of planning to kidnap the regime’s leaders and seize state power. During the carefully staged trial, the prosecution claimed that the conspirators had used “black magic” in their bid for power.

Analysts and diplomats expressed doubts about the charges, saying the case probably reflected a desire by the regime to discredit the once powerful Ne Win clan.

Aye Zaw Win and his sons remain on death row at Insein Prison, where they reportedly enjoy special treatment and are said to be involved in running a gambling ring. The current regime is not expected to carry out the execution order against them because it has not administered capital punishment since seizing power in 1988.

Khin Nyunt, the Spying Prime Minister

Gen Khin Nyunt was serving as Burma’s prime minister when he was arrested in 2004 for insubordination and corruption. But for most of his career, he was better known as the regime’s spy chief and the mastermind behind efforts to fabricate charges against pro-democracy activists, including student leader Min Ko Naing, Shan leader Hkun Tun Oo and Burma’s longest-serving political prisoner, Win Tin.

The spy master received a suspended prison sentence and was placed under house arrest. (Photo: Reuters)

The 89-year-old Win Tin, who was released last year after serving 19 years in Insein Prison, was originally sentenced by the special court in July 1989 to three years for harboring an “offender for whom a warrant had been issued”—a charge concocted by Khin Nyunt. His sentence was repeatedly extended during his incarceration for a variety of offences linked to his opposition activities.

Khin Nyunt’s downfall was due to his status as the head of one of the two major factions in the ruling junta. Despite its key role in keeping the junta in power for the first decade and a half of its existence, by 2004 the intelligence faction of the regime, headed by Khin Nyunt, had become a threat to the infantry faction led by Than Shwe. After years of tensions, the Than Shwe clique moved to take Khin Nyunt out of play once and for all.

Khin Nyunt appeared only briefly before the court to hear the verdict against him: a 44-year suspended prison sentence. He is currently confined to his home, where he lives with his wife and three children. Some of his lieutenants did not get off as lightly, with one receiving a prison sentence of 114 years.

READ MORE---> One-way Street...

Calling the Shots

The Irrawaddy News

MAE SOT —Intense fighting along Burma’s border with Thailand forced more than 3,000 Karen villagers to flee their homes and livelihood for the safety of refugee camps in Thailand in May and June.

The decision to flee rests with the village leader—and it wasn’t an easy one.

Karen refugees walk along a road on the Thai-Burmese border in Per Nwe Pu village in June. (Photo: Getty Images)

“We are so sad to have left our village” said the leader of Ponyacho village, resting from his journey in a Thai monastery in Mae Salit. “But we had to leave. Now the fighting is more dangerous than ever.”

He recalled that as he was struggling with the decision to abandon their village, the sound of mortar and machine gun fire echoed through the mountains, which have acted as a last line of defense for the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) for more than 60 years.

Hearing the nearby gunfire, he quickly made up his mind.

The village leader ordered people to pack up what they could carry and to leave immediately. Many of the village men had been conscripted as porters in earlier armed clashes, and they were unwilling to risk capture again.

“If we stayed, we would have been forced to be porters,” said a villager who had previously been forced to carry the bed of a Burmese commander through the jungle. “The Burmese commanders want to live like kings, and they want us to live like animals.”

Villagers also feared the Burmese forces would need extra soldiers on the front line and they would eventually be forced to participate in the fighting.

“How can the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) expect me to fight for the Burmese army and kill my Karen brothers?” asked one angry villager.

KNLA soldier s on patrol along the Thai-Burmese border. (Photo: Dai Kurokawa)

In the past, villagers conscripted by the Burmese army have been used as human mine sweepers—forced to walk in front of Burmese soldiers to set off any potential land mines.

“One Burmese soldier used me as a human shield,” said one villager. “As we advanced towards Karen soldiers, he hid behind me and held his gun over my shoulder. If anyone had fired at him, I would have surely died.”

Many of the fleeing villagers had been working hard on their farms and were waiting to enjoy their harvests. “We had been waiting for the mangoes to be ripe for eating” said the leader. “We’ve had to leave it all behind.”

Many of the Karen population retain their animist beliefs despite decades of Christian missionary work. As animists, every mountain, tree and river around a village has a name and spiritual presence.

“They have worshiped the spirits all their lives for protection” explained a Karen Youth Organization worker. “Outside of their village area, they wouldn’t know the spirits as well and for people who believe that spirits can kill, this can be terrifying.”

Some villagers hiked through the jungle for three days, traveling slowly to avoid detonating land mines planted by both sides of the conflict.

“Even if we don’t detonate a mine we are still faced with the risk of catching malaria or being bitten by a snake,” said the village leader. “When you travel with women and young babies, the decision to leave is not an easy one.”

When they finally arrived at the river, the refugees crossed over on boats belonging to the KNLA’s 7th Brigade into the Thai village of Mae Salit. On arrival, they spread out, locating and staying with Karen families who had settled in the area in previous years.

They arrived in torn and ragged clothing. The Karen Women’s Organization (KWO) told the recent arrivals to congregate at a local monastery, where they were given new clothes supplied by a foreign donor, and interviewed by members of various Karen organizations.

“There are so many mothers with young babies here,” said Blooming Night, joint secretary of the KWO. “It’s not right that they should suffer in this way.”

For the children, this latest offensive will have long lasting affects on their lives. The school year had just started and all teaching material was left behind in the schools.

School children actually came under attack in Pa-an District, forcing 89 students and seven teachers to flee through the jungle. In the rush, they had no time to contact their parents. They travelled through the jungle, eventually arriving at Safe Haven Orphanage where nine children were diagnosed with malaria which they contracted on the journey. None of the children have received information about their parents’ whereabouts, or whether they are even alive.

“It’s very tragic. Most of the children’s parents have probably been taken as porters,” said Tasanee, the director of Safe Haven Orphanage, who goes by one name.

Tasanee’s mother established the orphanage in 1994 to look after children in the area who had been orphaned. Located near the Moei River, the orphanage is still close to the fighting and the sound of mortar fire often interrupts the children’s English lessons.

“When the mortars begin, the children stop singing,” said a volunteer English teacher. “They just sit there glazed over and silently terrified. They know what the noises are, and they know what they mean. Sometimes they come and hug us but mostly they just retreat within themselves. It’s like they’re shell shocked.”

The mortar fire worsened on June 10 when four rounds landed in Mae Salit, only meters from the monastery where the villagers had received aid. One round landed near Mae Salit Luang School.

Many villagers were concerned the fighting would spill over onto Thai soil. The Karen Human Rights Group reported that a DKBA officer had sent a villager from the Ler Per Her area as a messenger to contact the recently arrived refugees. The messenger said the DKBA demanded 3,000 baht (US $100) per village to reimburse it for the cost of hiring porters to carry supplies during their offensive.

In response to the security concerns, Thai authorities have strengthened several checkpoints entering Mae Salit and army jeeps with armed soldiers patrol the main road.

Observers say the recent clashes are designed to allow the DKBA to secure its new role as a border guard force under the Burmese army, and the KHRG reported that DKBA officials are already referring to themselves as the Border Guard Force.

If the DKBA and Burmese army succeed in their mission to eliminate the KNLA from the border area, many Karen villagers will be displaced and the survivors will be forced into refugee camps for a long period of time, where they will be restricted.

Fully aware of the present dangers, the Karen villagers still managed to laugh and smile as they sat around the grounds of the Thai monastery.

“Our villagers feel lost and confused, but we are just happy to be away from the Burmese army—nothing can be as bad as living in a village under their control,” said the village leader.

“If I didn’t make the right decision, all our brothers and sisters would have perished in the village,” he said.

READ MORE---> Calling the Shots...

As Burma Draws Fire, Asean Gets Burned

Burmese Minister of Foreign Affairs MajGen Nyan Win, center (in front of blonde lady), is seen standing among other heads of delegations at the 9th Asia-Europe Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Hanoi in May. (Photo: AFP)

The Irrawaddy News
JULY, 2009 - VOLUME 17 NO.4

Asean leaders forge a tougher policy aimed at speaking the truth to Burma’s military government, but the generals fire back in words and armed clashes against ethnic Karen along the border

A mistake should not be repeated but in the case of Burma, mistakes are endless.

When leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) admitted Burma into its regional grouping, newspapers and magazines, including this one, expressed strong reservations. Why?

The simple fact is that Burma was not yet ready to join the regional club unless Asean was willing to serve as a shield, in effect giving political cover to one of the world’s most repressive regimes.

It’s sad to say that to this day Burma membership has been a disaster, creating a constant headache for Asean members who have increasingly been concerned with the question of their own credibility.

Ironically, the original goal of taming Burma by admitting the pariah state to the regional club has only further damaged the grouping’s reputation. Burma is not even up to the “Asean standard” of supporting authoritarian rulers by maintaining stability and promoting economic prosperity.

Needless to say, Burma has remained a major source of concern as regime leaders recently detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi inside the notorious Insein Prison, ignoring the outcry of regional leaders and the international community.

If Burmese leaders are finding it difficult to find excuses to confine the Lady of the Lake, Asean leaders also are facing a dilemma: how to nurture the rogue regime into democratic reconciliation.

Asean has no one to blame but itself for making a hasty decision to admit Burma in 1997 before the junta had made any genuine political progress at home.

Why such haste? one excuse Asean leaders cited was that if they delayed admission, Burma would fall into China’s sphere of influence.

Even the Chinese leaders—who quietly criticized Burmese officials at the Asia-Europe Meeting (Asem) held in Hanoi in May—are expressing deep frustration with the generals. The Chinese typically exercised cautious and quiet diplomacy when they conveyed the message to Burma’s leaders—but whenever Burma commits major diplomatic blunders, it always shuts the door, unwilling to listen even to its biggest neighbor.

It is true that Asean has paid a high price by admitting Burma. The once respected Asean has lost influence and become a subject of derision for its continuous support of the junta.

Asean leaders have failed to perform due diligence. Only now, with the latest incarceration of Suu Kyi, do they seem to have learned the importance of delivering a more realistic, tougher message to Burma in unison. Most embarrassed Asean leaders no longer shy away from speaking out on Burma.

Recently, Thailand’s prime minister and foreign minister were joined by Singapore and other original founders of Asean to pour scorn on Burma for staging the bizarre Suu Kyi trial, demanding her release and that of all political prisoners.

In Hanoi, Asean and its European partners issued a statement also calling for the lifting of restrictions placed on Burmese political parties.

Speaking to the Far Eastern Economic Review, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejajjiva said that if the junta fails to release Suu Kyi, Asean’s credibility will be “affected inevitably,” adding that Burma’s political process must be inclusive to gain the respect of the international community.

“Thailand, as the Asean chair, expresses grave concern about recent developments relating to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, given her fragile health. In this connection, the Government of the Union of Myanmar is reminded that the Asean leaders had called for the immediate release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi,” Abhisit said.

But Asean alone should not be blamed for Burma’s failure, said the prime minister, who himself was facing credibility problems at home after Thailand cancelled a regional Asean summit due to political unrest. Even so, he said, “I think it would be unfair to single out Asean. I think the whole international community puts in an effort and if it’s not succeeding, why single out Asean?”

When pressed about Thailand’s business dealings and energy dependency on Burma, he replied, “We’re neighbors, and there is clearly an energy link, but having said that, there is a lot of Western business presence in Myanmar [Burma]. Again, we share a long common border and there’s a lot of border trade too, and the energy that we buy from Myanmar is the same as we buy from our neighbors. And we have to make sure that we ensure our people have enough energy and security. So I don’t think it’s particularly surprising or special, and it wouldn’t in any way detract us from the goal that we would like to see Myanmar succeeding in her political transition.”

Thailand and two other Asean partners, Singapore and Malaysia, are major trading partners of Burma. Thailand heavily depends on Burma’s gas, cheap migrant labor and natural resources. Singapore is a haven for the regime leaders and family members to visit and receive medical care.

Thailand’s more pragmatic, tougher support for Burma’s Nobel Peace Prize laureate is a direct result of the Democrat-led government now in power in Thailand.

Imagine if former prime ministers Thaksin Shinawatra or Samak Sundaravej were in power. The Suu Kyi trial would have received little attention from Thailand. Instead, the generals would probably have received a tacit blessing from Thai politicians and army leaders, many of whom have a history of cozy business ties with the Than Shwe regime.

With Abhisit, Burma was forced to revert to its neighborhood bully role, engaging in a war of words, telling Thailand in state-run newspapers to mind its own business and not to interfere in Burma’s internal affairs.

“Actually, it is Thailand that needs to forge national reconciliation,” Burma’s Deputy Foreign Minister Maung Myint mused. “Thailand saw year-long demonstrations in which different groups in red, yellow and blue made an attempt to oust the government and jeopardize the Asean Summit.”

But for the generals words alone were not enough, and actions followed.

Troops of the military regime and its ceasefire group, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, launched an unusual rainy season offensive with about 9,000 soldiers against the Karen rebel army and civilians in early June.

Armed clashes forced at least 4,000 Karen refugees to flee their villages and many are still arriving in refugee camps on the Thai-Burmese border. The message was clear: don’t mess with Burma.

Then Goh Chok Tong, Singapore’s senior minister, flew to Burma with a message.

In meetings with the top brass, Goh acknowledged that the Suu Kyi trial is a domestic affair, but he pointed out that there is an international dimension to it that should not be ignored.

Goh stressed that the 2010 elections must be inclusive and that the opposition NLD party led by Suu Kyi must be part of the process of national reconciliation.

Goh is the first foreign leader to meet Than Shwe since the trial started, and he used the occasion to deliver a political message to the top leaders in Naypyidaw, saying, “I don’t believe any Singapore investors would come in a big way before the picture is clear, before this move to democracy is seen to produce results.”

Singapore is one of the biggest foreign investors in Burma, with annual bilateral trade of more than US $1 billion.

Burma did not blast Singapore. Instead Goh was given the red carpet treatment during his four-day trip. Is there any meaning behind that? Maybe not, but many Burmese analysts believe Goh’s message carried more weight than those from other Asean nations.

Goh, Abhisit Vejajjiva and Asean leaders performed well on the Suu Kyi trial—making a major departure from the old hands-off, “non-interference” policy.

But it’s still doubtful Than Shwe will listen, knowing full well that Asean has its own weaknesses.

The regime leaders remain defiant and shameless. After killing monks and peaceful demonstrators in September 2007, the Burmese regime signed the new Asean Charter. In 2008, the regime launched a massive crackdown on prominent activists and opposition leaders—the number of political prisoners jailed increased by the hundreds—and Asean was silent.

Thai professor Thitinan Pongsudhirak warned in the Bangkok Post: “Burma is currently in flagrant and fundamental violation of the Asean Charter’s Section 7 of Article 1 on democracy, good governance and the rule of law and the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Failure to redress this violation will render the Charter a travesty of regional community objectives and dilute Asean’s relevance on the broader international stage.”

The Suu Kyi trial and the imprisonment of the political opposition are just the tip of the iceberg.

Than Shwe has his own grandiose dream of setting Burma on a new course. The closer relations between Burma and North Korea are one example and a major cause of concern.

Burma recently hosted an event marking the 45th anniversary of the date when North Korean leader Kim Jong Il joined the central committee of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK).

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

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

Burma’s shady military ties with North Korea and the persistent rumors of Burma’s nuclear ambition, plus the building of tunnels in central Burma and Shan State, could become Asean’s next headache.

READ MORE---> As Burma Draws Fire, Asean Gets Burned...

Putting Karen against Karen in a Bloody War

A DKBA soldier and a KNLA soldier lie side by side with leg injuries at Mae Sot Hospital. (Photo: Alex Ellgee/ The Irrawaddy)

The Irrawaddy News

MAE SOT — The tragedy of the Burmese army forces and Karen clashes over the past month can be seen here in Mae Sot Hospital where many Karen soldiers lie injured, many the victims of land mines or artillery fire.

Having fought against each other on their own land, they now rest next to each other in hospital beds on foreign soil

Blood soaked bandages and faces grimacing in pain can be seen in the hospital’s orthopedic ward.

The injured are soldiers in the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), the Karen breakaway cease-fire group, and the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA).

Muzzo, a 26-year-old KNLA soldier, lost both hands when a land mine accidentally went off during a rainstorm. (Photo: Alex Ellgee/ The Irrawaddy)

“I had to fight for peace and to look after my people” said Muzzo, a 26-year-old KNLA soldier. “We cannot live under the SPDC killing and hurting our people; we never want to get to that situation, so we must fight to stop them.”

As DKBA and Burmese regular army troops advanced on the KNLA 7th Brigade recently, Muzzo said he was laying down a landmine in a last line of defense. The rain was so heavy that an accident occurred and the mine ignited, causing him to lose both of his hands and the sight in his left eye.

Despite his wounds, he said that he wasn’t sad and that any blood a KNLA soldier gives “is with his heart for the peace and love of Karen people.” His hatred of the Burmese army runs deep. He said his brother and sister were starved to death by the Burmese army and despite his wounds he owes it to them to continue to do whatever he can for the KNLA.

Lying in the bed next to Muzzo was a 23-year-old boy, his face clearly in agony. Part of his foot had been destroyed by a landmine, and he had just gone through his second round of surgery to repair the limb. As his left foot was bound tightly in bandages, his right foot was exposed and his father gentle caressed the foot.

When asked how he felt to see his son in such a condition, he said he was proud that his son was a loving man.

“He gave his foot for the people of Karen State so they could live in peace,” he said.

Nearby were wounded DKBA soldiers, also casualties of line mines. Like the KNLA soldiers, they had first gone to Mae Tao Clinic where they were referred to Mae Sot Hospital for surgery on their limbs.

One DKBA soldier clutched his right knee to ease the pain from the recent amputation of his leg. His wife helplessly looked on, her face in total exhaustion.

Having fought with the KNLA for 25 years, the soldier said he was forced to switch sides to the DKBA when his family’s village was overrun by DKBA soldiers. He said he had no choice.

“If I didn’t go to the DKBA, my family would have starved,” he said quietly.

In another area of the ward, a DKBA soldier lay in a bed beside a KNLA soldier. They chatted like old friends. The DKBA soldier, 43 years old, had serious injuries to his thigh, having stepped on a landmine while collecting bamboo to make a shelter.

“I didn’t want to join the DKBA” he said. “I was forced into the army. I don’t want to shoot Karen people, but I am ordered to do it so there is nothing I can do. All I really want to do is to farm and grow rice in peace”

Many of the wounded KNLA soldiers empathized with the DKBA soldiers. The KNLA soldier lying next to the DKBA soldier said he didn’t hate DKBA soldiers.

“DKBA soldiers only change from KNLA because they are hungry and need food,” he said. “I am not angry at them. They are KNLA in their hearts, but their leaders tell them what to do. Their leaders just want money, power and hero status. The soldiers just want food and peace, but because the leaders give them food they have to listen to them.”

The tragedy of Karen fighting against Karen mirrors the futility of war everywhere, and underscores the utterly desperate condition of many of the Karen people who oftentimes will switch armed allegiances because of the access to food.

It's uncertain what lies ahead for the DKBA and the KNLA troops. Many analysts are predicting that the KNLA will lose the area it has controlled. Some observers are also talking about dark plots against the DKBA leadership by the Burmese army itself. Many people speculate that the Saturday ambush of a senior DKBA commander, Saw Beyot, was carried out by Burmese forces.

“It’s not above what the Burmese are capable of, and they may have done it to create more misunderstanding between the KNLA and DKBA,” said David Thacrabaw, vice president of the KNU. "There were no KNLA troops in the area. But there were many Burmese."

A Karen soldier who was nearby when the ambush occurred said he only remembers hearing bullets flying everywhere. He now lies on a hospital bed with bullet wounds on his arms.

He is surrounded by fellow Karen, soldiers caught up in a complex conflict that exploits their love for their people while pitting them one against the other.

READ MORE---> Putting Karen against Karen in a Bloody War...

Confusion in the Court

The Irrawaddy News
JULY, 2009 - VOLUME 17 NO.4

While the case against Aung San Suu Kyi remains shrouded in deliberate obfuscation, the likely outcome seems clear

John William Yettaw had it easy.

Swimming across Inya Lake with a backpack containing a camera, two sets of Muslim women’s clothing and a veritable toolbox of other items was no doubt hard going for the 54-year-old diabetic. But it was probably a cakewalk compared to the task of trying to get to the bottom of the case against him and his famous co-defendant, Aung San Suu Kyi.

There are many hurdles to making sense of the trial against Suu Kyi, her two personal assistants and her American intruder, not the least of which is the often impenetrable prose of The New Light of Myanmar, the ruling junta’s main English-language newspaper.

Among other challenges: the Burmese regime’s tight control over access to the facts surrounding the case; constitutional issues in a country that has been ruled by diktat for more than two decades; political posturing; and a host of conspiracy theories.

Wading through the pages of The New Light of Myanmar for reliable information is never a very rewarding experience, but in this case, the crudely written propaganda broadsheet is an important point of reference for news about the proceedings at the special court in Insein Prison, where Suu Kyi, et al, are being tried, and so cannot be ignored.

Occasionally, amid the tangle of often incomprehensible sentences, something of genuine interest appears. For instance: in an account of Yettaw’s testimony on the eight day of the trial, he is reported as telling the court that when he first visited Suu Kyi’s home on November 30, 2008, “he walked along the bund [embankment] of Inya Lake through the drain.”

This intriguing, if somewhat obscure, detail adds to uncertainty about the circumstances of his intrusion, since it suggests that, at least on the occasion of his first attempt to make contact with Suu Kyi, he did not actually swim to her house, as claimed by the authorities.

But even more interesting is the fact that the newspaper did not report an encounter between Yettaw and a policeman after he left Suu Kyi’s house last November. According to a lawyer who was present when Yettaw was giving his testimony, the American said he was stopped at gunpoint as he was leaving her home, but was later released.

Nyan Win, one of the lawyers working for the defense, also told The Irrawaddy that Yettaw said several policemen threw stones at him as he was entering Suu Kyi’s residential compound for the second time on May 3—another fact that the state-run press neglected to mention.

The incompleteness of The New Light of Myanmar’s account will only serve to fuel suspicions that the regime knew more about Yettaw’s activities than it is admitting, and was complicit in allowing him access to her compound, just in time to extend her detention.

Besides the confusion surrounding the actual events that led to the trial, another baffling aspect of the whole affair is the legal basis on which the case against Suu Kyi has been allowed to proceed.

At one point, the sole defense witness, lawyer Kyi Win (not to be confused with Suu Kyi’s defense counsel of the same name), suggested that the Law Safeguarding the State from the Danger of Subversive Elements, which Suu Kyi has been charged with violating, was invalid because it was part of Burma’s 1974 constitution, which was nullified by the 1988 coup that installed the current regime in power.

This complication is not likely to deter the prosecution, however, since the State Law and Order Restoration Council that seized power in 1988 reinstated the draconian decree as Law No 11/91 on August 9, 1991, and even extended the maximum sentence from three years to five (Suu Kyi has already served six years under the law).

To deflect some of the intense international criticism it has been facing for the many irregularities of the case, the junta has launched a counteroffensive designed to further muddy the waters.

Amid persistent speculation that the regime somehow engineered Yettaw’s misadventure as a pretext to keep Suu Kyi locked up, the junta’s foreign minister came up with his own conspiracy theory. The whole episode was “timely trumped up” by dissidents “to intensify international pressure on Myanmar,” he told his Japanese counterpart, without offering any evidence.

The regime also tried to take the moral high ground by castigating Thailand for interfering in Burma’s internal affairs by issuing an expression of concern on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and cited a mildly worded press statement on the case by the United Nations Security Council as “proof” that its conduct of the trial was fundamentally sound.

But China and Russia, the junta’s friends in the UN Security Council, could not shield the generals from the scathing judgment of legal experts in the world body. Leandro Despouy, the UN special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, one of five UN experts who spoke out on the case, said pointedly: “The trial of Aung San Suu Kyi and her aides has been marred by flagrant violations of substantive and procedural rights.”

Although the trial was adjourned pending a decision on whether to allow more defense witnesses to appear in the court, the regime’s handling of the case leaves little doubt about how it will ultimately play out.

As Mark Canning, the outgoing British ambassador to Burma—one of the few who were briefly allowed to witness the proceedings—told The Irrawaddy: “The outcome in these sorts of trials—and don’t forget we’ve seen over 1,000 political prisoners locked away over the past 16 months—tends to be pretty predictable.”

READ MORE---> Confusion in the Court...

50,000th Burmese refugee from Thai border to be resettled in West, says UN

Geneva (The Nation)- The 50,000th refugee from Burma to leave the camps along the country's border with Thailand for resettlement abroad will arrive in the US on Tuesday, the United Nations Refugee Agency said.

Some 112,000 refugees remain along the Thai-Burmese border, in a problem that has now being going on for 20 years.

The man who will be the 50,000th refugee to be flown to the West, will resettle in New Jersey with his wife and daughter, after living and teaching primary school in a camp since 1996.

The resettlement of Burmese refugees is the largest project of its kind in the world, as the UN generally pushes for refugees to return to their home nation once problems have been settled.

The UNHCR said it does not expect the 112,000 remaining refugees in camps there to be able to return home "any time soon."

The Burmese refugee resettlement programme has been running since 2004. //DPA

READ MORE---> 50,000th Burmese refugee from Thai border to be resettled in West, says UN...

June'09, the Cruelest Month

Capt Maung Kyit Aye of KNLA Brigade 7
stands behind a machine gun at
Battalion 21 headquarters. (Photo: Dai Kurokawa)

The Irrawaddy News
JULY, 2009 - VOLUME 17 NO.4

A major push to further marginalize the Karen National Liberation Army has resulted in the fall of its last major base

ON June 21, after three weeks of fighting, a joint force of Burmese army and Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) troops seized the headquarters of Brigade 7 of the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), ending an offensive launched on June 2.

The fall of the KNLA’s last major base inside Karen State was the latest blow for the ethnic insurgent army, which has been at war with Burma’s rulers for more than 60 years. Fierce clashes also forced some 4,000 people in Pa-an District, including Karen villagers and internally displaced persons from a camp in Ler Per Her, to flee to Tha Song Yang in Thailand’s Tak Province for safety.

(Map:The Irrawaddy)

The Karen National Union, the KNLA’s political wing, said that about 20 Burmese and DKBA troops were killed in the offensive, while the KNLA lost just five of its soldiers. However, the pro-junta force succeeded in taking not only the KNLA Brigade 7 headquarters, but also smaller bases where the brigade’s Battalions 21, 22, 101 and 202 were stationed.

Maj Hla Ngwe, the secretary of the KNU’s information department, said that KNLA Brigade 7 would now use guerrilla tactics similar to those employed by other brigades operating in northern Karen State.

The offensive was seen as part of a push to further marginalize the KNU ahead of next year’s planned election. Some analysts also suggested that it was an attempt to put pressure on Thailand for its criticism of the Burmese regime’s trial of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The junta is also unhappy with Thailand for allowing family members of KNLA soldiers to take shelter on Thai soil. However, human rights groups have criticized Thailand for pushing refugees back into Burma.

Burma’s ruling generals were also said to be inspired by Sri Lanka’s military defeat of the Tamil Tigers in May, after more than a quarter century of civil war. Sri Lankan President Mahindra Rajapakse made a two-day state visit to Burma on June 14-15, during which the two countries pledged closer cooperation on a host of issues, including anti-terrorism measures.

In May, at the 8th Shangri-La Dialogue Meeting in Singapore, Burma’s Deputy Defense Minister Maj-Gen Aye Myint said the world had witnessed the successful end of the conflict in Sri Lanka, but had forgotten about the insurgency in Burma.

READ MORE---> June'09, the Cruelest Month...

Oil and Politics Don’t Mix

The Irrawaddy News
JULY, 2009 - VOLUME 17 NO.4

The growing revenues from Burma’s oil and gas resources provide financial support to the Burmese military to the detriment of Burma and her peoples

AS the Burmese regime increases its isolation of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy, the United Nations and Western governments, especially the US and the European Union, remain steadfast in applying diplomatic pressure on the junta.

Burma’s stubborn military leaders can shrug off Western pressure, however, knowing they can rely on support from such friendly and powerful neighbors as China, India and some Southeast Asian countries, most of which have significant trade and investment links with Burma and which are inclined to follow an engagement-oriented policy towards the regime.

(Map: The Irrawaddy)

However, both camps—supporters of sanctions and proponents of engagement—acknowledge failure in their efforts to influence Burma’s military leaders. That is why US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in February that both sanctions applied by the US and the European Union and the policy of constructive engagement by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and Burma’s neighbors were not working.

So the question remains: who can influence the Burmese generals to listen to world opinion?

Many observers said that a start could be made on ending ongoing human rights abuses if oil and gas companies operating in Burma used their influence with Burma’s ruling junta, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). They said the global and regional energy companies involved in Burma’s oil and natural gas sector are funding the Burmese dictatorship.

It is clear that the military receives the largest share of the official budget—with the help of natural-gas revenue, Burma’s foreign-exchange reserves have reached US $3.6 billion and are expected to increase—which ends up in the pockets of the ruling generals and their cronies, or is allocated to their pet projects. The latter include the new administrative capital at Naypyidaw, the Yadanabon cyber city project between Mandalay and Maymyo, and a nuclear research reactor (as announced by Russia’s Federal Atomic Energy Agency in 2007).

After the latest action against Suu Kyi, the regime’s criminal mismanagement of Cyclone Nargis relief and its brutal crackdown on the September 2007 demonstrations, Burma activists are calling for energy enterprises to carefully consider their priorities before entering deals with the regime.

Matthew Smith, the project coordinator of EarthRights International, an environmental and human rights group with offices in Thailand and Washington, believes there are solid business reasons for energy companies to think twice about accepting Burmese contracts. “Financing the Burmese regime in this way can only reflect poorly on a company’s reputation, and that will ultimately affect their bottom line and ability to capitalize on deals in the future,” he says. “It’s simply bad business.”

However, US-based Chevron and France’s Total—both leading investors in Burma’s oil and gas sector—have declared that they will not pull out of the country, arguing that even if they did withdraw they would be replaced by other competitors. Observers agree that power-hungry neighboring countries, especially China and India, are eager to do business with Burma, hoping to secure some of the fuel supplies that their surging economies need.

Speaking as EU countries mulled action against the junta over its treatment of Suu Kyi, France’s foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, told members of the French parliament in May that any decision to pull out their national energy giant Total would have serious consequences for the region. Total—France’s largest and most profitable company—has been a major investor in Burma’s Yadana gas field since 1992, and production from Yadana represents 60 percent of Burma’s gas exports to Thailand.

“If we take a firm stand—this would have to be decided at the highest level of state, and we’re going to review the situation in the coming days—that would mean cutting off gas supplies to a good part of the Burmese population, not to mention the city of Bangkok, since the gas also goes to Thailand,” Kouchner said in May, also warning that if Total was forbidden from working in Burma’s natural gas fields, Chinese firms would be quick to pick up the slack.

A pull-out by Chevron and Total could also backfire in other ways, according to Derek Tonkin, the former British ambassador to Thailand, who is now the chairman of the NGO Network Myanmar. He suggested that lower wage costs incurred by Asian operators could result in more money accruing to the Burmese regime, as well as there being fewer safeguards for both local people, who currently benefit from Chevron/Total’s welfare and security measures where none would exist under a Burmese army security team, and for the environment.

Meanwhile, a booming China, with its voracious appetite for oil and urgent need for security of oil supplies, has signed a deal with the Burmese military junta to build cross-border oil and gas pipelines more than 1,930 kilometers (1,200 miles) in length from Kyaukpyu Port on the Bay of Bengal through Burma to southwest China.

China will use the planned pipelines for importing natural gas and oil from the Middle East and Africa, which currently supply 85 percent of China’s demand for oil, helping China to reduce oil shipping through the Malacca Strait. As part of the current strategic and economic move, China has now secured a 30-year deal from the junta for natural gas tapped off the Burmese coast.

However, some Burma experts argue that Burma’s ultranationalist generals are not merely puppets of China and that Chinese influence on Burma has been exaggerated. While the Burmese military has used its relationship with China to strengthen its hold on the country, it is becoming increasingly concerned about China’s growing economic domination and will be worried that tougher Western sanctions could push the country’s biggest gas field into Chinese hands, argued economics professor Sean Turnell of Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia.

“If China was to grab this [Total operation] ahead of the big Shwe gas project already bottled up by them, Burma’s economic vassal state destiny would be almost complete,” Turnell told The Irrawaddy. “You don’t want to hand over pricing power of your most important export commodity to your principal customer. Yet this is what would happen if Total divested and China took its place. It would be a monopoly buyer able at will eventually to push down the prices Burma gets for its gas,” Turnell said.

However, Burma’s gas reserve—the Shwe field alone might be up to 14 trillion cubic feet—is also attracting other energy-hungry neighbors and investors. India is keen on exploiting Burma’s huge oil and gas resources. In 2007, India signed a production deal for three deep-water exploration blocks off the Arakan coast as part of the Shwe Gas Project, a project of the regime-owned Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE) in partnership with Daewoo of South Korea (60 percent), the state-owned Korean Gas Corporation (10 percent), India’s state-owned Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) (20 percent) and the Gas Authority of India Ltd. (GAIL) (10 percent).

The Burmese generals know very well that they have no shortage of friends. Current investors in Burma’s oil and gas industry include companies from Australia, the British Virgin Islands, China, France, India, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, Russia and the US.

“When Premier Oil withdrew, partners Petronas (the Malaysian oil firm) took over Premier Oil’s stake and then subdivided this among Nippon Oil and Thai PTTEP,” Tonkin noted. He said it is normal contractual practice for existing partners to have the right of first refusal, so that in the event of a Total or Chevron withdrawal, MOGE and Thai PTTEP would be offered the stake first. “In short, China could be the last in the queue of applicants, after Thailand (first), then Malaysia, India, Japan, South Korea, Russia and Indonesia.”

Advocates of sanctions have pointed to the success of the sanction model against apartheid-era South Africa. In the case of South Africa, sanctions were imposed by a broad coalition of its major trading partners including neighboring countries. Burma’s energy-hungry neighbors and the global and regional oil companies dealing with the regime have been the major lifeline keeping the military in power.

Gas revenues have been supporting the country’s military junta, who are misusing it, turning the gas into a “resources curse” for Burma, Turnell has suggested. The Australian economist noted in a recent report for Macquarie University’s Burma Economic Watch that large natural gas reserves offered an opportunity for the country to lift itself off the economic floor, where it was already languishing before Cyclone Nargis hit. Instead of allocating its budget to Burma’s needy public sectors such as health and education, which he noted are almost invisible in the country’s public accounts, he said “they seem to be earmarked for the type of wasteful and grandiose spending projects that have been a characteristic of Burma’s military regimes for nearly five decades.”

READ MORE---> Oil and Politics Don’t Mix...

NKorea Ship "Turned Around"

The Irrawaddy News

WASHINGTON — US officials said Tuesday that a North Korean ship has turned around and is headed back toward the north where it came from, after being tracked for more than a week by American Navy vessels on suspicion of carrying illegal weapons.

The move keeps the US and the rest of the international community guessing: Where is the Kang Nam going? Does its cargo include materials banned by a new UN anti-proliferation resolution?

The ship left a North Korean port of Nampo on June 17 and is the first vessel monitored under UN sanctions that ban the regime from selling arms and nuclear-related material.

The Navy has been watching it—at times following it from a distance. It traveled south and southwest for more than a week; then, on Sunday, it turned around and headed back north, two US officials said on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence.

Nearly two weeks after the ship left North Korea, officials said Tuesday they still do not know where it is going. But it was some 250 miles (400 kilometers) south of Hong Kong on Tuesday, one official said.

Though acknowledging all along that the Kang Nam's destination was unclear, some officials said last week that it could be going to Burma and that it was unclear whether it could reach there without stopping in another port to refuel.

The UN resolution allows the international community to ask for permission to board and search any suspect ship on the seas. If permission for inspection is refused, authorities can ask for an inspection in whichever nation where the ship pulls into port.

North Korea has said it would consider any interception of its ships a declaration of war.

Two officials had said earlier in the day Tuesday that the Kang Nam had been moving very slowly in recent days, something that could signal it was trying to conserve fuel.

They said they did not know what the turnaround of the ship means, nor what prompted it.

The US ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, said Sunday that Washington was "following the progress of that ship very closely," but she would not say whether the US would confront the Kang Nam.

The sailing of the vessel—and efforts to track it—set up the first test of a new UN Security Council resolution that authorizes member states to inspect North Korean vessels. The sanctions are punishment for an underground nuclear test the North carried out in May in defiance of past resolutions.

Meanwhile on Tuesday, the Obama administration imposed financial sanctions on a company in Iran that is accused of involvement in North Korea's missile proliferation network.

In the latest move to keep pressure on Pyongyang and its nuclear ambitions, the Treasury Department moved against Hong Kong Electronics, a company located in Kish Island, Iran. The action means that any bank accounts or other financial assets found in the United States belonging to the company must be frozen. Americans also are prohibited from doing business with the firm.

READ MORE---> NKorea Ship "Turned Around"...

Burmese women react to brutality with inspiring courage and dignity

By Laura Bush

(SMH) -For two weeks, the world has been transfixed by images of Iranians taking to the streets to demand the most basic human freedoms and rights. Watching these courageous men and women, I am reminded of a similar scene nearly two years ago in Burma, when tens of thousands of Buddhist monks peacefully marched through their nation's streets. They, too, sought to reclaim basic human dignity for all Burmese citizens, but they were beaten back by that nation's harsh regime.

Since those brutal days Burma's suffering has intensified. In the past 21 months, the number of political prisoners incarcerated by the junta has doubled. Within the past 10 days, two Burmese citizens were sentenced to 18 months in prison. Their offence: praying in a Buddhist pagoda for the release of the jailed opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.

That is only the tip of the regime's brutality. Inside Burma, more than 3000 villages have been "forcibly displaced" - a number exceeding the mass relocations in Darfur. The military junta has forced tens of thousands of child soldiers into its army and routinely uses civilians as minesweepers and slave labourers. It has closed churches and mosques; it has imprisoned comedians for joking about the Government and bloggers for writing about it. Human trafficking, where women and children are snatched and sold, is pervasive. Summary executions pass for justice, while lawyers are arrested for the "crime" of defending the persecuted.

Rape is routinely used as a "weapon of war". In 2006 I convened a roundtable at the United Nations to address the situation in Burma and listened as the Burmese activist Hseng Noung described the rape victims she had aided. The youngest victim was eight; the oldest was 80. Her words silenced the room.

Yet time and again, the women of Burma, often the regime's chief targets, have responded to this brutality with inspiring courage. I will never forget visiting the remote and crowded refugee camps on the mountainous border between Burma and Thailand. There I watched the tireless efforts of Dr Cynthia Maung to provide life-saving medical aid for hundreds of Burmese. I sat with victims of landmines who had lost legs or feet and were waiting quietly, often for hours, for basic care.

Last year it was my great privilege to present a Vital Voices award to 17-year-old Charm Tong, who testified before UN officials and eloquently described the systematic military campaign of rape and abuse waged against women in Burma's Shan state. She spoke unflinchingly, even though her audience included representatives of the very regime she condemned.

More of us in America should make such courage our courage. At this moment, Suu Kyi, 64 and in fragile health, faces sentencing on trumped-up charges. The junta leaders wish to undermine the Nobel Peace laureate's influence before next year's elections. Leaders from around the world have called forcefully for the junta to release Suu Kyi and the 2100 other political prisoners it is holding. But the world must do more than express concern.

A new report from Harvard Law School asks the UN Security Council to establish a commission of inquiry into crimes against humanity and war crimes in Burma. Harvard's panel of international law experts has catalogued the junta's "widespread and systemic" human rights violations. The Security Council has already referred the crisis in Darfur to the International Criminal Court. It should do the same for Burma.

With the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, planning to visit Burma, it is crucial he press the regime to take immediate steps to end human rights abuses, particularly in ethnic minority areas. There have been 38 UN resolutions condemning these abuses, yet the horrors continue unabated.

But Aung San Suu Kyi's continued example of civil courage - like those brave protesters in Iran - reminds all of us that no matter how callous the regime, it cannot lock up what she stands for: the fundamental desire of all people to live in freedom and with dignity. During the brief moments that foreign diplomats were allowed to observe her show trial, Suu Kyi calmly apologised for having to greet them in a prison, saying, "I hope to meet you in better times." We should all share her hope - and add our voices to those who risk so much to protest tyranny and injustice in Burma and beyond.

The Washington Post
Laura Bush is the former first lady of the United States.

READ MORE---> Burmese women react to brutality with inspiring courage and dignity...

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