Saturday, July 4, 2009

N Korea Using Malaysian Bank for Burmese Weapons Deals: Yonhap

The Irrawaddy News

North Korea sought payment through a bank in Malaysia for a suspected shipment of weapons to Burma being carried on a freighter tracked by the US Navy, according to a source quoted by South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.

Yonhap reported on Saturday that the source said a US envoy would visit Malaysia this weekend to focus on ways to cut off the payment to North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

“Kim will have a hard time collecting his money,” said the high-level source.

The revelation comes as the North Korean freighter Kang Nam 1 is apparently returning home after being tracked by a US Navy destroyer that suspected it of carrying cargo banned under UN Security Council Resolution 1874, which toughened sanctions imposed after North Korea conducted its first nuclear test in 2006.

Philip Goldberg, the US coordinator for the implementation of the resolution, which was passed on June 12 to punish North Korea for its May 25 nuclear test, is scheduled to arrive in Malaysia on Sunday. Goldberg is in China ahead of his visit to Malaysia.

The White House said that US President Barack Obama discussed North Korea and financial regulations with Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razakon by phone late last month.

According to another source in Seoul, the Kang Nam 1 is believed to be carrying small Soviet-era arms such as AK-47 rifles and RPG-7 anti-tank launchers manufactured in North Korea.

Adm Gary Roughead, the chief of US Naval operations, told reporters on Saturday that the Kang Nam 1 was being closely watched and is now in the East China Sea.

“I believe we are seeing the effects of the UN Security Council resolution,” he said.

On Friday, South Korean news channel YTN quoted an unidentified diplomatic official as saying that Burma requested that the Kang Nam 1 turn around.

The US State Department announced on Tuesday that it had frozen the US assets of Namchongang Trading Corp and Iran-based Hong Kong Electronics to curtail North Korea’s ability to trade in missiles and nuclear materials. Namchongang Trading Corp is allegedly connected to the Burmese arms industry.

READ MORE---> N Korea Using Malaysian Bank for Burmese Weapons Deals: Yonhap...

Thai PM to meet UN chief after his Burma visit

(The Nation) -Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is ready to meet UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon who will be in transit from Rangoon to New York late Saturday.

Abhisit said the meeting will be about ties between Asean grouping, United Nations, Burma and Thai-Cambodia dispute.

Ban will end his two-day official visit to Burma late Saturday and will make a stop over at Suvarnabhumi Airport at about 10pm.

According to foreign media, Ban reportedly asked Burmese government to free political prisoners including democracy icon; Aung San Suu Kyi.

Abhisit told reportes that he is well-prepared to talk with Ban about the current Thai-Cambodia disputes which have Preah Vihear Temple at the heart of the problem.

Thai PM said he believed a joint inauguration on the construction of a highway in Cambodia with Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen, held early Saturday, would help lower border tensions between the two neighbouring countries.

But troop reductions at the border, especially at the ancient Preah Vihear temple will have to depend on talks between military commanders of the two countries, Mr. Abhisit said.

Meanwhile, Suthep told journalists on arriving from Cambodia that his brief visit was only aimed at promoting bilateral relations and that he had discussed with Mr. Hun Sen neither Preah Vihear temple nor troop reductions.

READ MORE---> Thai PM to meet UN chief after his Burma visit...

Wa nab suspected spies

By S.H.A.N.

Two Burman civilians, one a retired Burma Army man, were taken into custody last week in Mongphen in the Wa territory, according to a source close to the Wa leadership in Panghsang.

The unidentified men were arrested on 24 June after they were found visiting locals without authorized escorts. “They told the villagers they were there to see how they could help to improve their crops,” he said. “On their persons were military maps, marking coordinates of our positions.”

Mongphen is in the disputed Mongpawk area. While the Wa claim it has been under their control for more than 30 years, Naypyitaw insists it is in Mongyang township, 102 km north of Kengtung, the capital of eastern Shan State.

“We have information that the Burma Army has placed big guns in Mongkhark (south of Mongphen),” he added. “Even Chinese authorities have warned them (the Burma Army) that the guns have put the people on the Chinese side of the border at risk.”

The Wa and its allies, Kokang (to its north) and Mongla (to its south) have been on the alert since the Burma Army demanded in April that they become border security forces under the Burmese command. Their other ally National Democratic Army-Kachin (NDA-K) has already accepted the proposal, according to Mizzima and Kachin News Group.

READ MORE---> Wa nab suspected spies...

Shan party meets UN chief, non-party activists might be released

By S.H.A.N.

The Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD), Burma’s second largest winning party in the 1990 elections, that had together with other registered parties met Ban Ki-moon yesterday, said he did not appear to have secured any promise to release the National League for Democracy (NLD) leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the SNLD leader Khun Htun Oo.

SNLD leader Khun Htun Oo

A source close to the SNLD leadership told SHAN this morning the party representatives had asked the UN chief to put “appropriate pressures upon the junta to accept and implement the imperative steps of:

a. all political prisoners be released immediately and unconditionally
b. negotiation between the junta, democratic forces led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and ethnic nationalities led by Khun Htun Oo”

The letter was written by the United Nationalities Alliance (UNA), the umbrella group for ethnic parties that had won seats during the 1990 elections.

“It seems Than Shwe may be releasing only non-party activists like Zagana, Venerable Gambira and such,” he said. “If he’s going to release any Shans at all, that will be (Major General) Hso Ten (leader of the ceasefire group Shan State Army “North” who was sentenced to 106 years at Khamti prison).”

Hso Ten was arrested together with 8 others on 8-9 February 2005. Khun Htun Oo was sentenced to 93 years and the rest 79-85 years.

Khun Htun Oo, 66, a scion of the former princely Hsipaw House, is known as the “voice (representing) not only that of the SNLD party but also the millions of Burmese people,” according to the exile National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma.

Ban Ki-moon met all the parties’ representatives, including the NLD, together at Myat Taw Win Hotel in Naypyitaw at 16:45. “Each of the parties got only 10 minutes with him,” said the source.

“He is expected to meet the Senior General again this morning,” he added.

The UN Secretary General’s mission includes securing the release of all political prisoners, dialogue among Burma’s main stakeholders and credible elections in 2010.

All winning parties in the 1990 elections are said to be in the same dilemma: “If they are going to enter the elections, they can expect all-out attempts to prevent them from winning. And if they refuse to contest, they are in danger of being dissolved,” said a political analyst in Rangoon.

READ MORE---> Shan party meets UN chief, non-party activists might be released...

Two pro-junta Kachin ethnic groups invited to meet Ban

by KNG

Leaders of two pro-Burmese military junta Kachin ceasefire groups were invited to meet the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in the country's capital Naypyitaw yesterday.

Ban met 10 registered political parties, including the country’s pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's the National League for Democracy and seven ethnic ceasefire groups in the country, the junta-sponsored media reported.

Only Zahkung Ting Ying, leader of the New Democratic Army-Kachin (NDA-K) also called the Kachin Special Region I by the ruling junta based in Kachin State and Mahtu Naw, leader of Kachin Defense Army (KDA) also called the Northeast Shan State Special Region 4 were invited to the meeting with the UN Chief, said the state-run media.

The junta only invited leaders of the NDA-K and KDA which agreed to convert their armed-forces to junta-proposed forces last month. The NDA-K is to transform as a battalion of the Border Guard Force whereas the KDA is to change to a local militia group.

Kachins do not view the NDA-K and KDA as political organizations. The two organizations are bent on working for their own prosperity rather than adhering to any commitment for the political liberation of Kachins in military-ruled Burma.

The junta, however, did not invite the main Kachin ceasefire group the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and the main Kachin democratic party, the Kachin State National Congress for Democracy (KNCD) to the meeting with the UN Chief, said sources.

The KNCD is the only Kachin democratic political party which won three seats in the 1990 general elections in Kachin State. The party is also a member of the United Nationalities Alliance (UNA) based in the country and is an ally of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD).

The KIO has refused to convert its armed-wing the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) to the junta-desired battalion of a Border Guard Force (BGF). They, however, are willing to transform to a "State Security Force". Currently, the KIO/A based in Kachin State and Northeast Shan State have over 20,000 men and women in service.

The military activity of both the KIA and the Burmese Army are silently on the rise in Kachin State and Northeast Shan State even as the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is visiting in the country, said local sources.

READ MORE---> Two pro-junta Kachin ethnic groups invited to meet Ban...

Than Shwe Denies Ban's Request to See Suu Kyi

The Irrawaddy News

RANGOON — UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Saturday he was "deeply disappointed" after Burma's military ruler rejected his second and final request to meet jailed opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Ban met with Snr-Gen Than Shwe for another inconclusive round of talks that failed to win any immediate concessions or accomplish one of the main goals of his trip—to see Suu Kyi in jail.

In this image released by the United Nations, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (L) meets with former armed groups at the Myat Taw Win Hotel in Naypyidaw. (Photo: AFP)

"I pressed as hard as I could," Ban told reporters. "I had hoped that he would agree to my request, but it is regrettable that he did not."

Their meeting took place in Naypyidaw, the junta's remote administrative capital, and lasted about 30 minutes. Ban then flew to Rangoon and was scheduled to leave Burma on Saturday evening.

Ban said the junta chief told him repeatedly that "he really wanted to agree to my request" but because Suu Kyi was on trial he did not want to be seen as interfering with the judicial process—or being pressured by the outside world.

"I am deeply disappointed that they have missed a very important opportunity," Ban said.

Suu Kyi has been detained by the ruling generals for nearly 14 of the past 20 years and is now on trial charged with violating her house arrest. She faces five years in prison if convicted in a trial that has sparked global outrage.

Ban embarked on the two-day trip saying he hoped to win freedom for Suu Kyi but predicted it would be "a very tough mission."

The UN chief talked for two hours Friday with Than Shwe, who rarely meets with world leaders. He left that meeting saying his initial request to see Suu Kyi was not granted but he was still awaiting a final reply.

It was Ban's second visit to Burma since Cyclone Nargis devastated much of the country last year. His first visit managed to persuade the military government to ease access for hundreds of foreign aid workers who had been restricted from entering cyclone-affected areas. He also oversaw a conference that raised up to $150 million in emergency relief funds.

However, the UN has been unable to budge the junta on its refusal to free its estimated 2,100 political prisoners, including Suu Kyi.

Ban was scheduled to fly over the cyclone-devastated zone Saturday afternoon and then meet with foreign diplomats in Rangoon before leaving.

Suu Kyi's widely criticized trial was set to resume after a monthlong delay on Friday, the same day the UN chief arrived. But the court met for a brief session to adjourn until July 10.

In May, Suu Kyi was charged with violating the terms of her house arrest when an uninvited American man swam secretly to her lakeside home and stayed for two days.

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

The trial has sparked outrage from world leaders, other Nobel laureates, human rights groups and Hollywood celebrities 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" in talks Friday.

Senior UN officials who participated in Friday's talks described them as far-ranging, with "a lot of back and forth" between the world's top diplomat and the military rulers.

Than Shwe was accompanied by four other generals and the foreign minister, among others in his entourage. Ban kept a few aides by his side, though he prefers one-on-one talks with world leaders in contrast to Than Shwe—who also refuses to take Ban's phone calls.

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.

READ MORE---> Than Shwe Denies Ban's Request to See Suu Kyi...

Burma's Frustrated Generation Looks Abroad

The Irrawaddy News

RANGOON — Armed with a law degree from the University of East Rangoon, 22-year-old Win is clear-eyed about his job prospects: Practically speaking, there are none. For him, the future lies overseas.

Abroad there is "some hope, some opportunity. But in our country, there's no hope left," said Win, who is applying to go to Australia for further studies.

Unlike the students who hit the streets in 1988 in big demonstrations against the military government, the generation now emerging from college is focused on avoiding political activism, learning English and seeking opportunities in a world they have come to know through TV and the Internet.

Two decades ago, it was very difficult to emigrate from the country. Today it's much easier, and every day long lines of people, many of them students, form outside the government office that issues passports.

There are no solid statistics, but historian Thant Myint-U estimates the number of emigrants over the past couple decades is in the millions.

"The main way young people express their unhappiness today is to leave the country. Before there was no possibility of emigration. That is a huge change. ... For more and more young people inside, their first desire is find work abroad," said the historian, who lives in Thailand and is author of "The River of Lost Footsteps: A Personal History of Burma."

"We are frustrated by the lifestyle, the opportunities and the politics here. But we don't care too much about political things because we can't do anything to change the situation. So we avoid it, we try to escape it," said Win, a thin lanky youth who spends his free time playing computer games. Like most people interviewed in Burma, he chose not to give his full name for fear of angering authorities.

The government has labored long and hard to disempower a university system that once produced its strongest opponents. It was students who led the August 1988 uprising that brought tens of thousands into the streets, only to be crushed by military might.

Authorities set out to fragment the student body, moving colleges at least 15 kilometers (10 miles) out of cities and forcing students to find their own housing rather than live together on campus and find strength in numbers.

Elite Rangoon University, which nurtured independence leader Aung San and the late UN Secretary General U Thant, was closed for several years and reopened as Yangon University, the new name the generals had given to the city of Rangoon.

Many of the university's buildings are in disrepair, and only a small number of graduate and doctoral students attend classes; undergraduates are not admitted.

Aung San's daughter, Aung San Suu Kyi, is Burma's modern-day symbol of the democracy struggle. She has spent 13 of the last 19 years in detention, and went on trial last month, accused of violating the terms of her house arrest.

Student activists from the '88 generation managed to make their voices heard again in 2007 in the uprising led by Buddhist monks, and last fall many of them were given prison sentences of 65 years.

Experts insist student political action has not died out, but has largely shifted to "low-risk activism" or gone underground because of the military government's repression.

There is still a "widespread dissident movement" inside the country that includes student groups, bloggers, monks and others, but their activities are much less centrally organized, said David Mathieson, a Burma researcher with New York-based Human Rights Watch.

There's no direct confrontation, but there are "still a lot of activities by people who are either directly trying to challenge the government or just by people who are trying to get on with their lives and do a whole range of things," he said.

Students concerned with the country's politics know better than to voice it publicly.

"I really care about politics and the future of the country but I feel I am not free to participate. Sometimes we talk politics in cafes but we have to be careful. Even walls have ears," said Wai, a 23-year-old graduate who majored in English.

Students today have much more exposure to the outside world through the Internet, television and movies, said Naing, a 40-year-old teacher at a private school in Rangoon.

"They can see more of the world than during my time. They know their country's problems. That's the big problem—everyone wants to leave," he said.

Another teacher, 48-year-old Maung, runs a private English language school and says most of his 85 students come wanting to learn enough English to function abroad. They head for neighboring Singapore and Thailand, and dream of the West, he said.

"They like America because it's so free," he said. "Even my son and daughter, they both want to go abroad if they have the chance. The future is so dark here."

Even with a college degree, most students have little hope of landing a decent-paying job if they stay in the country, said Myat, 22, a Dagon University graduate with spiky brown hair and a diamond ear stud.

The few jobs available are low-paid—$50-100 a month. International non-governmental organizations pay double or triple, but only hire top students.

Overall, the situation remains bleak, said Myat, so he too is applying to study abroad.

"When we see students in other countries, we feel envy," he said. "They can choose whatever they want to do in their life."

READ MORE---> Burma's Frustrated Generation Looks Abroad...

UN chief set for fresh talks with Myanmar leader

By Herve Couturier

(SMH) - UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is to hold an unexpected second meeting with Myanmar's junta leader as he presses the regime to free the pro-democracy leader and allow him to see her.

Ban pushed iron-fisted military ruler Than Shwe to release all political prisoners and hold talks with the opposition when they met in the bunker-like capital Naypyidaw on the first day of his visit on Friday.

But the reclusive Than Shwe stalled on the UN chief's request to meet detained Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who is on trial for breaching the terms of her house arrest and faces up to five years in jail.

"There will be a second meeting at 9:30 am (0300 GMT) on Saturday," UN spokesman Marie Okabe announced late Friday. Only one meeting had been scheduled previously.

Ban's visit had been considered diplomatically risky because of its timing during her trial, and rights groups warned that it would be considered a major failure unless he managed to win Aung San Suu Kyi's freedom.

The 64-year-old opposition leader was transferred from house arrest to Yangon's notorious Insein prison in May to face trial after an American man swam uninvited to her lakeside house.

She has been in detention for most of the past two decades since the junta refused to recognise her party's victory in the country's last elections in 1990.

There was no indication however about whether Than Shwe would grant Ban's request to meet Aung San Suu Kyi in prison, where the physically frail icon is being held in a so-called "guest room".

"I told him that I wanted to meet her in person. He told me that she is on trial but I told him this is my proposal, this is important and I am waiting for their consideration and reply," Ban said on Friday.

"I am leaving (Saturday), so logically speaking I am waiting for a reply before my departure," he added.

Ban said he had also sought the release of more than 2,000 political prisoners that the UN says are held in Myanmar -- including Aung San Suu Kyi -- ahead of elections promised by the ruling generals for 2010.

UN officials travelling with Ban later said there had been a "very lively exchange of views" after Ban proposed a five-point agenda for reforms.

There was "considerable resistance" to the proposals, including the establishment of a UN "good offices" bureau in Yangon to provide a permanent structure for Ban and his special UN envoy to Myanmar, Ibrahim Gambari.

Ban would also give an unprecedented public address in Myanmar before his departure on Saturday evening, although the format had not yet been established, said the UN officials.

Aung San Suu Kyi appeared in court in Yangon on Friday but the trial was adjourned for a week because the judges had not received an earlier judgement barring two defence witnesses, her National League for Democracy said.

Critics have accused the junta of using the trial to keep her locked up for the elections, although Ban said that Than Shwe assured him that the elections would be held in a "fair, free and transparent manner".

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 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 Myanmar's generals.

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

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

READ MORE---> UN chief set for fresh talks with Myanmar leader...

A legacy of mismanagement: the state of Burma's economy

If the money's not going to infrastructure development and rural credit systems, where is it going? How much is being spent on military hardware?

A Legacy of Mismanagement Jul09

READ MORE---> A legacy of mismanagement: the state of Burma's economy...

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