Friday, July 3, 2009

UN chief meets Burma leaders to discuss Suu Kyi

By: Bangkok Post-AFP

UN chief Ban Ki-moon met the reclusive head of Burma's military junta on Friday for what he said would be "tough talks" aimed at securing the release of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Ban flew into Naypyidaw, the remote stronghold of Senior General Than Shwe and his regime, shortly after a prison court adjourned the widely condemned trial of the detained Nobel Peace laureate for another week.

"This is my second time in your country and I am very pleased to continue our discussions. I appreciate your commitment to move your country forward," Ban said in his opening statement to Than Shwe.

"I would like to contribute, to work together, for peace and prosperity," he added.

The UN secretary general earlier said he would urge Than Shwe for permission to visit the 64-year-old Aung San Suu Kyi, who was transferred from house arrest to Rangoon's notorious Insein prison in May.

She has spent most of the past two decades in detention and now faces five years imprisonment if convicted on charges of violating her house arrest, after an American man swam uninvited to her lakeside house.

"It is a very tough mission," Ban told reporters shortly after arriving in Rangoon earlier Friday.

"One of my objectives is to obtain the release of all political prisoners including Aung San Suu Kyi," he said, adding that he would also "convey the concern of the international community" and press for reconciliation and democracy.

Rights groups warn that the trip will be a "huge failure" if he does not secure the release of Aung San Suu Kyi. Critics have accused the junta of using the trial to keep her locked up for elections promised in 2010.

She appeared in court Friday but the trial was adjourned for a week because the judges had not received an earlier judgement barring two defence witnesses, said Nyan Win, spokesman for her National League for Democracy (NLD).

"Daw Aung San Suu Kyi attended the trial this morning but the court said that as they haven't got the case from the Supreme Court the trial is suspended to July 10," Nyan Win said.

The case has sparked international outrage, with US President Barack Obama calling it a "show trial" and a host of world leaders and celebrities calling for her release.

Ban earlier made an apparent reference to concerns over the timing of his visit while her trial is under way, saying he was aware that he was coming to Burma "under certain uncertainties."

"I will try to meet with representatives of all registered political parties including Aung San Suu Kyi, that's my hope. But I have to raise this issue with the senior general directly, in person," he said in Singapore on Thursday.

Ban will also meet with Prime Minister Thein Sein and representatives of all registered political parties and former armed groups while in Naypyidaw.

Ban has faced recent criticism for his softly-softly approach to the job of secretary general, but diplomats say he hopes his quiet brand of diplomacy will pay dividends with Burma's generals.

The visit is Ban's first to Burma since he persuaded the junta to accept international aid following Cyclone Nargis in May 2008, which killed around 138,000 people.

Aung San Suu Kyi has been in detention or under house arrest for 13 of the past 19 years since the junta refused to recognise the NLD's victory in Burma's last elections, in 1990.

Human Rights Watch said on Thursday that Ban should not accept the apparent concession from the junta of returning her to house arrest, instead of imprisoning her, as a sign of a successful visit.

"Time and again, the UN has politely requested Aung San Suu Kyi's release, but her 'release' back to house arrest would be a huge failure," said Kenneth Roth, New York-based HRW's executive director.

Burma, formerly known as Burma, has been ruled by the military since 1962.

READ MORE---> UN chief meets Burma leaders to discuss Suu Kyi...

Two arrested, tortured without evidence after Three Pagodas bomb blast

HURFOM (Rehmonnya): Because two bombs exploded in Three Pagodas Town, the Burmese army ordered the residents to increase the security.

Some locals and ceasefire leaders told HURFOM that they expect that the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) will attempt to use this event to ensnare cease-fire groups to act as Border Guard Forces (BGF).

The two bombs exploded on June 28th—the first at 8:20 p.m. near SPDC’s Infantry Battalion (IB) 32 and the second in the compound of the Military Intelligence Bureau about 3 minutes later. No injuries were reported.

Prior to the explosion, the SPDC arrested two people and later claimed they were responsible for the bombing. They tortured and detained them for a total of 5 hours.

One resident said, “The SPDC arrested two people, U Myo (55) and his son Pho La Pyae (20), who live in quarter No. 3, before the explosion happen at 8 p.m.…they were asked about the Karen National Union (KNU) Major Kyaw Htoo who came to their house.”

The resident added that the two men explained how they’d spoken to the KNU officer about trading wood and nothing more, though the SPDC nonetheless tortured and detained them until 1 a.m.”

A witness from the area told HURFOM, “the KNU Major Kyaw Htoo just came and talked about wood trading in U Myo’s house—everybody in Three Pagodas, who works with furniture shops and wood trading had been communicating with the KNU, because they get the wood from the KNU territory areas. If they didn’t have communication with the KNU, they couldn’t run their business easily in the area.”

A source in the area said, “the SPDC forced 5 residents and 5 soldiers to provide security in each quarter (1, 2, 3).”

He added that LIB 32 intimidated residents by saying that if they wouldn’t act as security, they would have to leave the area; he suspected that the explosion must be connected with the SPDC’s own activities.

The 58-year-old resident, who lives in quarter No. 3 said, “Because the security is very tight around those areas, it’s impossible for the others groups to explode [a bomb] in front the Military Intelligence Bureau compound and the in front of the IB 32. There is 24 hours security perimeter set up….most people think these may be the military’s [methods] of making the border seem insecure.”

According to the KNU brigade No.6, “The exploded bombs’ serial numbers were 99. We never use with our troops. We always use N81.”

The local people consider the explosion a scare tactic by the SPDC to force the cease-fire groups to become a Border Guard Force (BGF).

A source told HURFOM, “The Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) spiritual leader abbot U Thuzan didn’t agree with becoming involved in the [SPDC-organized] BGF. Therefore, they have a problem making the decision to become a BGF. It seemed that this explosion would force them to take action [by becoming] a BGF.”

According to a former captain from the cease-fire group Karen Peace Force (KPF), “Even though [KPF] No. 3 battalion lieutenant colonel Lay War agreed to be a Border Guard Force, some still don’t agree with him. If our troops make a BGF troop, our troops become the SPDC. On the other hand, we don’t have [enough] Karen troops to defend our people. In my perspective, the SPDC [tries to] make the people scared and show reasonable cause for the ceasefire groups to participate in the BGF.”

The former KPF captain added that lieutenant colonel Lay War left the morning of June 30th to travel to the Burmese capital of Naypyidaw.

READ MORE---> Two arrested, tortured without evidence after Three Pagodas bomb blast...

Victims of the Great Dividing Game

By Joseph Allchin

(DVB)–When the pro-Burmese junta Democratic Karen Buddhist Army commander San Pyone fell to an ambush on the Moei river last week, many assumed that he was the victim of a revenge attack.

The Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) opposition group was perhaps seeking retribution for his alleged involvement in last year’s assassination of Pado Mahn Shah, the then secretary of the Karen Nation Union (KNU), the political wing of the KNLA. Mahn Shah was said to have been a peaceable, diplomatic leader whose passing was strongly felt amongst the KNU members and followers.

Rumours are now circulating, however, that the KNLA may not have been involved in the ambush. Vice president of the KNU, David Thackrabaw, stops short of outright denial of KNLA involvement but has claimed in conversation with the author that they did not have forces in the area at the time, adding that “we don’t want to point fingers”.

Tellingly victims of the ambush have washed up in Mae Sot general hospital on the Thai side of the border, but they are not just from the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA). Amongst the injured is a Karen Peace Council (KPC) member whose wounds bare witness to an attack from both sides of the Moei river which separates Burma from Thailand. The KPC is a small group who splintered from the KNU with the aim of negotiating with the junta. Despite this, DVB has received an anonymous tip-off in the form of a letter that it was the splinter group who was responsible for the attack. The letter details Karen Peace Council anger at being excluded from lucrative smuggling concessions.

If the KNLA don’t have forces in the region and the ‘third front’, the KPC, have members amongst the attacked, this leaves a further two possible culprits. The Thai government was said to have had a warrant for the arrest of San Pyone for connection with the murder of Mahn Shah on Thai territory, but the likelihood of them taking to extra-judicial killings on both sides of the river seems slim despite recent skirmishes between the DKBA and Thai border forces.

Another possibility remaining is the Burmese government which, according to sources close to the KNU, has moved into the newly annexed camps of the KNLA and has forces near the would-be destination of the boat convoy.

After weeks of painful jungle advances, with troops falling to land mines, could the DKBA have had their crown pulled from their head?

This week a letter purportedly from a senior DKBA commander in Myaing Gyi Ngu was handed out in Mae La refugee camp in Thailand. The letter, whilst detailing a brief history of the politics of the region, took the form of an apology. It berated Burma’s ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) for their callous killing of Buddhist monks in the Saffron Revolution in 2007. It goes as far as apologising to the Karen people for collaborating with the SPDC.

It also noted some of the reasoning behind the DKBA;s existence; that the KNU was a Christian-dominated organisation, a divide no doubt sewn and encouraged by the SPDC. Whether this letter was mere propaganda, as many in Mae La suspected, its wider implications are hard to guess. But it certainly draws the eye to a potential antagonism or lack of harmony between the two allies.

Meanwhile, in the wards and corridors of Mae Sot hospital the soldiers of the DKBA lie outstretched, young boys feeling for where their limbs used to be. Next to them lie their countrymen of the KNLA, now united in the ignominy of being crippled fighting one another.

Why the DKBA do not seek treatment with their Burmese allies in Myawaddy explains a lot about the tragedy of this conflict. While the Burmese military receive proper treatment for their battle wounds, the Karen of the DKBA do not.

Therein lies a motive for the SPDC to annul their allies on the threshold of victory. San Pyone was viewed as an ambitious leader, perhaps too much so, and thus a risk for the SPDC. No faction or leader should be allowed to maintain power with which to compete for control, certainly not a leader who could command nationalistic sentiments.

Or could the ambush be a deliberate attempt by the KNLA not only to avenge but to sew divisions between two potent allies?

Whoever killed San Pyone, the history of Burma it seems is a continuous struggle between the centre and the various ethnic groups, with the former forever attempting to dominate the latter.

The ethos of divide and rule has been a spectacular success in Karen state for the SPDC. The province is a difficult area for demoralised troops to fight in, and the past 15 years have seen the Karen consume themselves and put an end to the most potent armed opposition the country has known.

Many of the DKBA claim their struggle is simply now to put an end to the war and live under an SPDC government. The divisive tactics of the SPDC are plain to see in almost every ethnic region where it is seeking to turn former independence armies into ‘border security forces’ under direct control of Naypyidaw. The fact of the matter seems to be that the SPDC will never allow autonomy to flourish here. Their aim of domination by whatever means necessary will always entail the full extent of coercive power.

READ MORE---> Victims of the Great Dividing Game...

INGOs Kept Waiting for Visas

The Irrawaddy News

RANGOON—International aid workers are being kept waiting several weeks to get visas to enter Burma, according to international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs) that are working for the recovery of cyclone-affected areas.

"This is a big headache for us,” an official from one of the INGOs told The Irrawaddy on condition of anonymity. “I don't know why the TCG (Tripartite Core Group) stopped facilitating the process of visas for international aid workers.”

Until March this year, INGOS reported that the process for obtaining visas for their staff had become easier and did not take much time. They attributed this efficiency to the efforts of the TCG, which was established in May 2008 as a working mechanism for coordinating, facilitating and monitoring the flow of international assistance into cyclone-hit areas.

The TCG comprises a joint assessment team of representatives from the Burmese military government, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and the United Nations.

The military government drew international criticism and condemnation for not allowing many international aid workers into the country in the wake of the Cyclone Nargis disaster on May 2-3 last year, which killed some 138,000 people in Burma and affected more than two million.

However, in the months following the cyclone, the TCG was relatively successful in persuading the military junta to allow international aid workers to obtain visas and get access to the cyclone-affected areas.

However, since March this year, the group has not been in a position to help the INGOs, forcing the aid workers to apply for visas by themselves in the traditionally slow and bureaucratic old system whereby aid workers have to apply for visas through the Burmese line ministries, which in turn submit their applications to the Foreign Affairs Policy Committee (FAPC).

The FAPC handles all kinds of visa applications, and reportedly meets only once a week to consider the INGO visa issues.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)/ Rangoon, there are over 200 visa applications pending with the FAPC.

“This bureaucracy mechanism certainly holds back our work, and slows down recovery efforts,” said an international aid worker working with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

According to UN sources, the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) is currently frustrated by being unable to operate a helicopter for recovery efforts because one of its pilots has been waiting for a visa in Bangkok for more than three weeks.

“We UN personnel, and some NGO personnel, use this helicopter to go to places like Bogalay and Laputta. It will have a huge impact on our traveling to the cyclone-affected area, which in another way will also have impact on the recovery work,” an official from the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) said.

"My impression is that the government no longer wants to cooperate with us, and doesn't want us to be involved in the recovery efforts," said an official from an NGO that is helping cyclone survivors in Laputta Township.

He said that some of their international staff have been waiting outside the country for Burmese visas for over four weeks, but none of them has been informed why the FAPC has taken so long to process or review their visa applications.

"We're used to this sort of bureaucracy in Burma,” an NGO official said. “But the government should know this is a very important time for the cyclone survivors. We are helping those cyclone survivors whom they [the junta] don't want to help.

”The recovery phase has just begun,” the official added. “We need more assistance and more international aid workers.”

READ MORE---> INGOs Kept Waiting for Visas...

Aung San Suu Kyi supports Ban’s agenda: Lawyer

by Salai Pi Pi

New Delhi (Mizzima) - Detained Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi is in complete agreement with United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s three main points to resolve Burma’s political imbroglio during his two-day visit to Burma on Friday.

Speaking to Mizzima on Thursday, Nyan Win, lawyer of Aung San Suu Kyi said the detained Burmese democracy leader supports Ban’s major agendas to address the political deadlock in military ruled Burma.

“She said the three issues are worthy of discussion,” Nyan Win said.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s comment came because the UN Secretary General, during his stay in Burma, plans to resolve the issues of political prisoners, bring up the issue of resumption of dialogue between the government and the opposition, persuade the junta to initiate national reconciliation, and set the stage for credible elections slated for 2010.

Ban is due to meet Senior General Than Shwe and leaders of the National League for Democracy (NLD). However, it is uncertain whether he will get to meet Aung San Suu Kyi.

Aung San Suu Kyi met her lawyers Nyan Win, Kyi Win, Khin Htay Kywe and Hla Myo Myint in a guest house in Burma’s notorious Insein Prison at 1 pm on Tuesday.

“We discussed her case and how to deal with it during the trial to resume tomorrow,” Kyan Win said.

During the meeting with her lawyers, Aung Sang Suu Kyi said that she disagreed with some statements made by Khin Ye in a press conference held in Nayphidaw, the new jungle capital of Burma in the last week of June, regarding the cleaning of flotsam plant growing on the edge of Innya lake alongside her house and the her alleged non-cooperation with authorities over an American man John William Yettaw’s intrusion into her home in early May.

“The police chief said there is regular cleaning of flotsam on Innya Lake near her house. Suu Kyi said, the authorities had cleaned the plants once in six month after she complained to them several times,” Nyan Win said.

“She said that she reported about the first visit of Yettaw in 2008 to her house. But no investigation team came. In this situation, she said, how could she cooperate with them?” Nyan Win quoted her as saying.

Aung San Suu Kyi is being charged for allegedly violating the terms of her house arrest and allegedly sheltering Yettaw, who swan to her lakeside home and stayed there for two nights.

If convicted, she is likely to face up to five years in detention. The testimony of the second defence witness, Khin Moh Moh will be heard on Friday.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s trial has sparked global and domestic outrage, followed by repeated calls for her immediate release.

READ MORE---> Aung San Suu Kyi supports Ban’s agenda: Lawyer...

Malaysia urged to stop caning immigrants

( Kuala Lumpur - Agence France-Presse

HUMAN rights watchdog Amnesty has urged Malaysia to abolish caning, saying that tens of thousands of migrants have received the "inhuman and degrading" punishment in recent years.

Amnesty cited a statement in Malaysian parliament last week that said local authorities had caned at least 34,923 migrants between 2002 and 2008, 60 per cent of them from neighbouring Indonesia.

"Amnesty International urges the Malaysian government to rid the country of this cruel punishment," the London-based group said.

"Whipping someone with a cane is cruel, inhuman and degrading, and international standards make clear that such treatment constitutes torture."

Apart from Indonesians, those caned were also from Bangladesh, India, Burma, Nepal, the Philippines and Thailand.

Malaysia, Southeast Asia's third largest economy, has 2.2 million migrant workers in Malaysia, who are the mainstay of the plantation and manufacturing sectors.

The caning sentence was added to Malaysian immigration laws since 2002, amid concern over the ramifications of having a large migrant workforce. Under the laws, those staying in Malaysia illegally are subject to a mandatory whipping of up to six strokes of the cane, fines and up to five years in jail.

Caning is also carried out for serious offences including rape and drug trafficking.

"The practice is humiliating, and causes such pain that people have reportedly fainted. Those caned often carry scars, psychological as well as physical, for years," Amnesty said.

READ MORE---> Malaysia urged to stop caning immigrants...

North Korea fires four short-range missiles

By Lim Chang-Won - Agence France-Presse

* North Korea reportedly fires missiles
* US says they're not worried about attack
* Efforts to reign in rogue state continue

NORTH Korea has reportedly test-fired four short-range missiles, further fuelling tension sparked by its nuclear standoff with the international community, in a move the White House has called the latest in a string of "provocative" acts.

South Korean military officials said the missiles - apparently surface-to-ship ones - were fired into the East Sea (Sea of Japan) between 5.20pm (6.20pm AEST) and 9.20pm (8.20pm AEST) local time. All were launched on Thursday from a base at Sinsang-ri, near the eastern coastal city of Wonsan, a spokesman told the Yonhap news agency.

Other officials told the agency on condition of anonymity they landed about 100km off the coast, where the North has imposed a maritime ban until July 11 for what it calls a military drill.

Spokesmen from the defence ministry confirmed the first three firings but could not be reached for comment on the fourth.

It was the first military action the hardline communist state had taken since the United Nations on June 12 imposed tougher sanctions for its May 25 nuclear test.

South Korea's Joong Ang Ilbo newspaper, quoting an intelligence source, said the North was likely to fire a series of short-range missiles - including Scud-B missiles with a range of 340km - in the coming days. The North may also fire Rodongs, whose 1300km range would likely be shortened to about 400km for the current round of testing.

In the days after its atomic test - the second since 2006 - Pyongyang fired six short-range missiles and renounced the truce brokered on the Korean peninsula after a civil war in 1950 to 1953. In response to the UN resolution tightening curbs on its missile and atomic activities, it vowed to build more nuclear bombs.

World condemnation

US and South Korean officials believe ailing leader Kim Jong-Il, 67, is staging a show of strength to bolster his authority as he tries to put in place a succession plan involving his youngest son.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said that broadly-backed international sanctions imposed on North Korea were starting to take effect and raised hopes that Pyongyang will yield to the pressure.

"The North Koreans said they were going to launch these missiles. I don't think that's surprising that they've launched these missiles. I take the North Koreans at their word that they're going to continue their provocative actions."

Washington has said it is not ruling out the possibility of a long-range missile launch toward Hawaii on or around July 4, the US Independence Day, although the Pentagon has expressed doubts about such a scenario.

A spokesman for Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said the Government is "very concerned" about the missile launches and called on North Korea to immediately desist.

Japan's Prime Minister Taro Aso also condemned yesterday's launches, saying: "We have repeatedly warned that such a provocative act is not beneficial for North Korea's national interest."

The commander of US Northern Command, General Victor Renuart, told The Washington Times he did not think Pyongyang's missiles posed any real threat to the US.

"The nation has a very, very credible ballistic-missile defence capability. Our ground-based interceptors in Alaska and California ... give me a capability that if we really are threatened by a long-range ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile) that I've got high confidence that I could interdict that flight before it caused huge damage to any US territory," he said.

In Beijing, a US delegation met officials yesterday for talks on giving the UN sanctions more teeth.

The support of China, the North's sole major ally and largest trade partner, is seen as crucial in making the sanctions stick.

Warships tracking suspected weapons

US warships have since mid-June been tracking a North Korean ship suspected of carrying weapons. The Kang Nam 1 was reportedly headed for Burma but US officials said on Tuesday it has now turned back.

China said its top envoy on the North Korean nuclear issue, Wu Dawei, had begun a visit to Russia, the United States, Japan and South Korea.

They are members of a forum which has tried since 2003 to persuade the North to scrap its nuclear programmes in return for energy aid and diplomatic and security benefits.

The North announced it was quitting the talks after the UN censured its long-range rocket launch on April 5.

North and South Korea meanwhile held more talks about the fate of their last major joint business project, the Seoul-funded Kaesong industrial estate just north of the border.

But they failed to narrow differences or set the date for their next meeting, Seoul officials said.

READ MORE---> North Korea fires four short-range missiles...

Suu Kyi trial postponed as UN chief arrives in Burma

(DVB)–Judges at the trial of Aung San Suu Kyi have adjourned the next hearing until 10 July on the day UN Secretary General arrives in Burma for high-profile talks with government leaders.

The trial was due to resume today, and would have coincided with the first day of a two-day visit to the country by Ban Ki-moon, during which he will meet with Senior General Than Shwe and members of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party.

Pressure on Ban Ki-moon to achieve results is huge, although he told the BBC recently that he “[does] not believe my trip should be seen as a make or break event”, although said yesterday that the trip would be “very difficult”.

In the face of near certainty that Suu Kyi’s trial will end in a guilty verdict, Ban has said he will strongly urge the ruling junta to release all political prisoners and create conditions necessary for free and fair elections next year.

Earlier this week an appeal to allow two of Suu Kyi’s witnesses to testify in her defence, following their disqualification in May, was rejected, leaving her with just two witnesses.

The Insein prison courtroom where Suu Kyi is on trial announced this morning that the next hearing had been adjourned until 10 July.

“We arrived to the courtroom around 10am [today], as scheduled for the hearing, and a judge told us we are reappointed to July 10,” said one of the remaining witness, Khin Moe Moe.

The reason, she said, was that Suu Kyi case file “has not yet arrived back from the central court”.

“There is no huge distance between the central court and this court [in Insein prison] but I don’t understand why it has to take them so long transferring a case file,” she said, adding that they had been allowed to meet with Suu Kyi.

All four defendants – Suu Kyi, her two caretakers Khin Khin Win and Win Ma Ma, and John Yettaw – were present this morning, Khin Moe Moe said.

Reporting by Naw Say Paw

READ MORE---> Suu Kyi trial postponed as UN chief arrives in Burma...

Burmese elite enjoy times of plenty

By Amy Kazmin

(FT) -It’s nearly midnight on Saturday and the dance floor of DJ’s Bar in Rangoon is packed with Burmese youth, grooving to throbbing house music as red, green and yellow light beams flash and slice across the room.

The revellers – young men with hair gelled into modish styles and young women wearing mini-skirts and clutching mobile phones – have each paid a $10 cover charge to enter, a steep price in a land where university lecturers earn just $80 (£50, €57) a month.

Yet the hefty charges are no barrier for these affluent, well connected members of an emergent Burmese elite with money to burn.

“People are spending money – and it’s not just a half a dozen of the regime cronies,” says one foreign diplomat in Rangoon.

Burma’s resource-rich economy, a treasure trove of natural gas, precious gems and valuable hardwood, has long been squeezed by the twin pressures of western sanctions and a military junta with a weak grasp of economics and little faith in civilian technocrats.

That no-win combination has left most of Burma’s 52m people struggling to get by, with their frustration boiling over into mass protests in 2007.

Yet amid the widespread hardship, Rangoon, the dilapidated former colonial capital, is acquiring a veneer of wealth, as a privileged elite enjoys unprecedented times of plenty, two decades after the military abandoned its autarkic “Burmese way to socialism”.

Today, Burmese with the right military connections are profiting from access to natural resources, government construction contracts and privileges including the right to engage in international trade, still tightly controlled by the regime.

In the commodity boom, Burma’s agricultural exports soared to $2bn, up from $300m a few years earlier, doing little for farmers, but enriching urban traders. “There is economic activity going on,” the foreign diplomat said. “The vast majority of trade is with Burma’s immediate neighbours, and there is a lot of investment and a lot of exports.”

Growth in tourism and other forms of commerce has created a small cadre of professionals. “More people are getting management roles and seeing salaries rise,” said the diplomat.

Meanwhile, signs of affluence are everywhere. Stylish-looking new condominiums are sprouting near the city’s lakes, and prime real estate prices have tripled over the past five years. Colonial-era wooden bungalows are being replaced by ostentatious mansions with Greco-Roman columns.

Young men drive souped-up Jeeps painted lemon yellow or ultra-violet while their elders display their wealth in expensive imported Land Cruisers and Pajeros. Swanky boutiques proliferate, with names such as the Sky Princess beauty salon, We and We interior design, and She Shines jewellery.

Yet some savvy Burmese business people say Rangoon’s spurt of highly conspicuous consumption reflects the economy’s deep malaise – including its dysfunctional banking system and rampant inflation – rather than its fundamental health.

Although Burma has about a dozen private banks, they are hampered by regime rules that cap their deposit-taking at just 10 per cent of their paid-in capital, preventing them from channelling surplus household cash into productive investment. According to the IMF, the ratio of bank deposits, and credit to the private sector, to gross domestic product has fallen sharply over the past eight years.

With inflation running at about 30 per cent, many Burmese are pouring their surplus cash into hard assets that they feel will at least hold their value – if not appreciate. “You can’t put it in the bank so you put your money in cars or a nice new house to keep the value of the money,” said one business person.

But Burma’s asset bubble may be about to burst. Many of the Rangoon condos have been developed by companies that received prime urban land as part of their payment for helping to build the junta’s new capital city far to the north and its $3.5bn new airport. Many of the units are unsold, leaving the companies struggling to recover costs.

Senior General Than Shwe, the junta’s head, has apparently ordered the government to balance its budget, which has been in deficit for years, ahead of the regime’s planned elections next year, which could create a squeeze on liquidity and bring the spending spree to a halt.

“No one is getting any more money,” said one economist. “Businessmen are also quite fed up. They want change.”

READ MORE---> Burmese elite enjoy times of plenty...

UN Chief Denied Suu Kyi Visit

The Irrawaddy News

NAYPYIDAW—UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Friday that Burma’s junta chief Snr-Gen Than Shwe rejected his initial request to meet jailed opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a rocky start to what he has called "a very tough mission" to win her freedom.

Ban emerged from a two-hour meeting with Than Shwe, saying he still hoped to meet the 64-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate before he leaves the country on Saturday.

"I told him that I wanted to meet her, but he told me that she is [on] trial," Ban told reporters afterward. "But I told him that this is my proposal, and this is important, and I'm waiting for their reply."

The two met in an ornate reception hall with a colonnaded walkway and an indoor waterfall in Naypyidaw, the junta's remote administrative capital.

If Ban is allowed to meet with Suu Kyi, he will be the first UN secretary-general to do so since her first period of detention started in 1989.

Suu Kyi has been in detention for nearly 14 of the past 20 years, mostly under house arrest.

In May, she was charged with violating the terms of her house arrest when an uninvited American man allegedly swam to her lakeside home in May and stayed for two days. She has pleaded not guilty and faces up to five years in prison if convicted.

The trial has sparked outrage from world leaders, Hollywood celebrities, other Nobel laureates and human rights groups who say the military-controlled government is using the bizarre incident as an excuse to keep Suu Kyi behind bars through elections scheduled for 2010.

The elections are part of the junta's "roadmap to democracy," which critics say is a sham designed to cement the military's four-decade grip on power.

Ban said he also urged Than Shwe to "accelerate the process of democratization" and reiterated calls for the junta to free its estimated 2,100 political prisoners ahead of the elections.

"I was assured that the Myanmar authorities will make sure that this election will be held in a fair and free and transparent manner," he said, without elaborating.

Shortly after the UN chief arrived on Friday, the court presiding over Suu Kyi's widely criticized trial announced an adjournment until July 10. The trial had been set to resume after a month-long delay during which lawyers appealed the court's decision to ban three key defense witnesses, one of whom was reinstated by an appeals court.

Defense witness Khin Moe Moe — a lawyer and member of the NLD— was due to testify on Friday, but the presiding judge told lawyers that the case file had not yet been returned by the appeals court that had ruled to reinstate the witness, said attorney Nyan Win.

Suu Kyi is being detained at Burma’s notorious Insein Prison, as is 53-year-old John William Yettaw of Falcon, Missouri, the intruder who is charged with trespassing.

Suu Kyi's opposition party won national elections in 1990, but Burma’s generals refused to relinquish power. Her latest six-year round of house arrest was to expire last month.

Her supporters fear that Suu Kyi will be found guilty because the courts are under the influence of the ruling junta and usually mete out harsh punishment for political dissidents.

Ban was also scheduled to meet ethnic minority groups and leaders of political parties, including senior members of the NLD, who were driven to Naypyidaw, government officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the itinerary.

Ban had previously said his talks would focus on "three of the most important issues for the future of Myanmar." They are gaining the release of all political prisoners including Suu Kyi; resumption of dialogue between the military government and its opposition; and creating conditions for credible elections.

Human Rights Watch urged Ban to make the trip "meaningful" after years of failed UN attempts to win Suu Kyi's freedom and promote democratic reforms.

"Time and again, the UN has politely requested Aung San Suu Kyi's release, but her 'release' back to house arrest would be a huge failure," Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch said in a statement. "He should make it clear that the time for stalling and playing games is over and that real change is needed now."

READ MORE---> UN Chief Denied Suu Kyi Visit...

Junta Itself is Main ‘Sanction’ on Burma: Expert

The Irrawaddy News

The economic policies of Burma’s ruling junta have done far more damage to the country’s prospects for development than international sanctions, according to Sean Turnell, a specialist on the Burmese economy from Australia’s McQuarie University.

“Burma is not poor because of sanctions,” said Turnell, who produces Burma Economic Watch, a periodical that monitors economic developments in one of the world’s poorest countries. “The biggest sanction on Burma is the Burmese regime itself.”

Turnell told The Irrawaddy on Friday that the junta’s “willful mismanagement” of the economy, including its refusal to respect property rights, is the main obstacle to Burma’s economic development.

In a wide-ranging discussion on the current state of the Burmese economy, Turnell said that the regime has “deliberately suppressed the history of Burma’s economic success” during the parliamentary period (1948-62), when the newly independent nation made a remarkable recovery from the devastation wrought by the Second World War.

“Burma doesn’t need a foreign model of development,” he said. “It just needs to look at its own history.”

After more than four-and-a-half decades of military rule, however, Burma’s rulers have completely lost touch with economic reality, he said, making the country a “very, very high-risk environment” for potential foreign investors.

Burma has been subject to Western economic sanctions since the current regime seized power in a bloody coup in 1988. Since then, however, the junta has strengthened its economic ties with its neighbors, particularly China and Thailand.

Singapore has also played a key role in supporting the regime, providing the generals with an offshore shelter for revenues from Burma’s exports of gas and other natural resources, according to Turnell.

The generals are believed to have pocketed at least US $2.5 billion from the sale of natural gas to more developed countries in the region. None of this money has been used to alleviate poverty or build a stronger economy, said Turnell.

Burma has been designated one of the world’s least developed countries by the United Nations for more than 20 years. On a UN Web site, Burma is described as “a resource-rich country that suffers from government controls and abject rural poverty.”

“[T]he military regime took steps in the early 1990s to liberalize the economy after decades of failure under the ‘Burmese Way to Socialism,’ but those efforts have since stalled,” according to the UN Web site.

In the Human Development Index 2008 Update, Burma’s per capita GDP (US $881 in 2006) ranked 163th out of 178 countries in the world.

Although the junta’s official statistics claim that the Burmese economy is growing at around 10 percent annually, Turnell said that various indicators, including weak domestic energy consumption, suggest that the economy is actually contracting.

According to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s latest report on Burma, the country’s real GDP growth for 2009 is projected to be only one percent, “owing to a combination of domestic factors and the impact of the global downturn.”

READ MORE---> Junta Itself is Main ‘Sanction’ on Burma: Expert...

Weekly Eleven lambasts RFA and Mizzima

by Ko Wild

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) -- A weekly Journal in Rangoon has lambasted the Radio Free Asia (RFA) and Mizzima News over the report of a journalist who tried to photograph an A/H1N1 patient in the military ruled Southeast Asian country.

Weekly Eleven on its website ( criticized the two media outfits saying it was an “act of violating the journalistic code”, for allegedly using a second source based story related to its reporter Win Myint Kyaw, saying neither sought confirmation from the journal.

The reporter, on June 28, sneaked into the room, where the A/H1N1 virus infected school girl had been confined, in Rangoon General Hospital in a bid to collect information and to take her picture.

The authorities arrested Win Myint Kyaw and took him to ‘Waibarge’ Epidemic Hospital in Rangoon.

Regarding the incident, Washington based RFA’s Burmese programme on Wednesday quoted a reporter in Burma, who said that authorities detained Win Myint Kyaw when he was trying to take a picture of the patient in the hospital.

However, Weekly Eleven in its website said that the reporter was not arrested but on the request of the authorities, was taken to hospital in Rangoon for tests to find out whether he was also infected by A/H1N1.

Similarly, Mizzima News report on June 29, which quoted one of the medical specialists in Rangoon General Hospital, said the authorities detained a reporter (without mentioning the journal’s name), who secretly entered the quarantine room and tried to take photographs after bribing the duty guard. The reporter was taken in so as to be quarantined as he was not well protected with preventive equipment.

Though, Weekly Eleven contended that Win Myint Kyaw used a surgical mask when he went in for collecting information, the journal failed to mention the suspension of the hospital guard which Mizzima News mentioned.

Moreover, RFA also reported that the authorities will take action against Weekly Eleven’s reporter who entered into a quarantined area of the hospital without permission.

However, Weekly Eleven said there is no A/H1N1 virus found in Win Myint. He will be released after 10 days of being kept under surveillance.

READ MORE---> Weekly Eleven lambasts RFA and Mizzima...

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