Monday, July 6, 2009

Cause for hope in Burma after UN visit

Ban: Still an optimist


(Bangkok Post) -The outcome of the UN chief's two-day visit to Burma may have caused frustration and dismay among those who had high expectations of the trip.

But optimists will not have lost hope of seeing change for the better in Burma.

They believe the United Nations still has some leverage in this task and the world body could set the momentum by, among other things, offering economic and financial help to raise Burma's battered economy and engage its people in the process.

But for the pessimists, diplomacy seems to have failed to sway the repressive military regime.

They believe united and swift sanctions are needed and the best venue to deal with Burma is in the UN Security Council.

Panitan Wattanayagorn, acting government spokesman, refuses to share the view of the group wanting sanctions, arguing the Security Council has never made clear its stance on Burma.

"I'm surprised that the international community sees a meeting between UN chief Ban Ki-moon and detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi as the only thing that matters," Mr Panitan said.

The UN secretary-general's trip to Burma should be seen as a success. His mission was to deliver a message of grave concern from the world about Burma's stalled national reconciliation process and the plight of the Nobel laureate Suu Kyi and other political prisoners, he said.

Mr Ban's objective was fulfilled as the leadership there listened to his message, he said.

Mr Panitan said UN members now have to think about what to do next.

The Asean Regional Forum being held in Phuket later this month could provide a platform for such a discussion, he said.

Meanwhile, Mr Ban expressed deep disappointment that Than Shwe, chairman of the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), had turned down his request to visit Mrs Suu Kyi.

"It would have been an important symbol of the government's willingness to embark on the kind of meaningful engagement that will be essential if the elections in 2010 are to be seen as credible," Mr Ban said.

But he remained optimistic of change, and said other fundamental issues were addressed during his visit that would help move Burma forward.

The UN chief has remained firm in his demands.

He said Mrs Suu Kyi and all political prisoners must be allowed to participate in politics.

He also called for talks between the government and Mrs Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy to resume.

He also demanded that the Burmese government introduce an election law, establish an electoral commission and set a date for the election in 2010.

What was more important during Mr Ban's visit to Burma was his discussion with the SPDC on the need to set up a national economic forum to address the country's development needs, and expansion of humanitarian assistance to areas beyond Cyclone Nargis-affected areas.

The forum will be crucial for democracy, durable peace and prosperity in Burma, he said.

But how much longer can Burma afford to wait for national reconciliation, democratic transition and full respect for human rights? The Burmese junta has yet to give us an answer.

Debbie Stothard, coordinator of the Alternative Asean Network on Burma, said the time for talks on Burma was over.

"There must be political will among the UNSC [UN Security Council] members, not only the permanent five, to start an investigation of potential crimes against humanity or war crimes in Burma," she said.

In May, Harvard University's Law School started researching UN documents, which it says indicate that human rights abuses in Burma are widespread, systematic and part of state policy.

This should justify an investigation to determine whether Burma has committed crimes prosecutable under international law, she said.

READ MORE---> Cause for hope in Burma after UN visit...

Ban Ki-moon's Speech in Bangkok

BanKi-Moon Remarks to the Media From Bangkok 4Jul09

READ MORE---> Ban Ki-moon's Speech in Bangkok...

Ban—Empty-handed But Wiser

The Irrawaddy News

Although he left Burma empty-handed without any visible sign of progress or concession from the Burmese junta, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s visit was by no means pointless.

Through his official visit to the military-ruled country he should have discovered a deeper understanding of how far the international community—under the name of the United Nations—can expect to go in its current mission to facilitate democratization in Burma through national reconciliation.

Ban's talks with the Naypyidaw regime—and primarily junta chief Snr-Gen Than Shwe—focused on three important issues: gaining the release of all political prisoners including democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi; resumption of dialogue between the military government and its opposition; and creating the conditions for credible elections.

The UN secretary-general’s hopes were quickly dashed. He was even refused a visit with detained opposition leader Suu Kyi.

However, in forcing Than Shwe to show his cards, Ban is left in no doubts as to what degree of flexibility the regime might be prepared to go to—none.

The UN chief had no qualms about publicly criticizing Burma’s military rulers before he left from the country. "I believe the government of Myanmar [Burma] has lost a unique opportunity to show its commitment to a new era of political openness," he said in an emotive speech at Rangoon’s Drug Elimination Museum to 500 state officials, diplomats, INGO staff and local pressmen.

Of course, no one expected much from the visit, and observers noted once again that the junta would manipulate it for propaganda purposes. But at least Ban should have earned the respect of the international community for confronting the junta and for speaking the truth.

Now the gloves are off and Ban can concentrate more forcefully on what he has called "a very tough mission."

At a pit stop in the Thai capital, Bangkok, Ban met with Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, and told reporters that to show his commitment to moving the Burma issue forward, his special envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, will shortly convene the so-called Group of Friends on Myanmar, a gathering of countries supporting greater dialogue.

However, Ban must now know that words without teeth will not worry the Burmese generals.

Naypyidaw has proved to the world that no matter how many resolutions the UN passes—even dragging Burma before the 15-nation UN Security Council—the junta will not willingly release the 2,100 political prisoners in the country, least of all Suu Kyi.

We will all be closely watching the UN secretary-general’s next step.

Ban’s visit may not have achieved any visible outcome, but the people of Burma will remember what he promised: "I have come to show the unequivocal shared commitment of the United Nations to the people of Myanmar. I am here today to say: Myanmar – you are not alone."

READ MORE---> Ban—Empty-handed But Wiser...

Despite Humiliation, Ban Irked the Generals

The Irrawaddy News

Local reporters who covered the fruitless two-day visit to Burma by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon say that although he was humiliated by junta leader Snr-Gen Than Shwe, his candid message to the generals would have irked them.

This picture provided by the United Nations shows UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visiting the village of Kyondah in the Delta of Burma to see the progress of reconstruction from last year's devastating cyclone which killed over 130,000 people.
Before leaving Burma empty-handed, Ban told INGO staffers and local reporters that the cost of delaying national reconciliation in Burma would be counted in wasted lives and lost opportunities.

“Nonetheless, the primary responsibility lies with the government to move the country towards its stated goals of national reconciliation and democracy,” Ban said. Failure to do so would prevent the Burmese people from realizing their full potential, such as their right to live in dignity, and to enjoy better standards of life in a broader freedom, he said.

Ban said he had called for the release of political prisoners, including pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, because Burmese stability, national reconciliation and democracy must be rooted in respect for human rights.

“When I met General Than Shwe yesterday [Friday] and today [Saturday], I asked to visit Ms Suu Kyi. I am deeply disappointed that he refused,” Ban said. “I believe the government of Myanmar [Burma] has lost a unique opportunity to show its commitment to a new era of political openness.

“Allowing a visit to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi would have been an important symbol of the government’s willingness to embark on the kind of meaningful engagement that will be essential if the elections in 2010 are to be seen as credible.”

Ban Ki- moon will brief the UN Security Council on his visit.

“I would like ask him to describe the situation exactly,” Win Tin, a prominent leader of the NLD told The Irrawaddy..

“The international community must know the real situation in the country,” he said.

Burma, like North Korea, should be subjected to an arms embargo as a means of pressure on the regime to change course, Win Tin said.

Ban should also talk with Russia and China, who customarily use their vetoes to stall UN Security Council action on Burma, he said—and urged action by the international community to pressure the regime to release political prisoners and agree to a national reconciliation process.

Commenting on Ban Ki-moon’s remarks after his Burma visit, Win Tin said he hoped the secretary-general’s words would be followed by real action. “I hope Mr Ban Ki-moon’s speech will not end just in Rangoon,” he said.

Burma’s state-run-newspapers reported on the meetings between Ban and Than Shwe but did not publish Ban’s remark.

According to The New Light of Myanmar, Than Shwe told Ban that he would like to arrange a meeting with Suu Kyi but could not do so because she was on trial.

Than Shwe told Ban that Burma is focusing on two important tasks: holding elections in 2010 and forming the future government. There was no possibility now to pay attention to any personal cases, he told Ban.

Observers say that Than Shwe’s rejection of Ban’s request to meet Suu Kyi was a humiliation for the UN.

“There was never much chance that Mr Ban would succeed at gaining freedom for Mrs Suu Kyi or the other political prisoners,” Thailand’s Bangkok Post wrote in an editorial on Monday. “Nor was there a chance that the generals would heed the prestige of the UN and switch from brutal dictatorship to democracy.”

Debbie Stothard, coordinator of the Alternative Asean Network (Altsean), said the junta humiliated Ban because the Burmese generals assumed they would not be subject to any real pressure, sanctions and punishment for this behavior.

“I think if we want to stop the violation of human rights in Burma and war in Burma, it is time for the UNSC to take action on the junta,” she said. “At least the UNSC should have the commission inquire into war crimes and crimes against humanity that the State and Peace Development Council is afraid of.”

READ MORE---> Despite Humiliation, Ban Irked the Generals...

DKBA-Tatmadaw Look to Brigade 5

The Irrawaddy News

The combined forces of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) and the Burmese army have turned their attention northward as they look to capitalize on their recent successful campaign of capturing the Karen National Liberation Army’s (KNLA’s) Brigade 7 by launching a military assault on the KNLA’s Brigade 5 in northern Karen State, according to Karen sources.

The DKBA have mobilized battalions 333 and 555, Karen relief groups reported.

Poe Shen, a field director for the Karen Human Rights Group, said, “DKBA troops have now become more active in KNLA Brigade 5 areas. They are also restricting the local villagers’ movements.”

A joint force of Burmese army and DKBA troops seized the headquarters of the KNLA Brigade 7 in Pa-an district on June 21.

Meanwhile, about 20 clashes broke out in KNLA Brigade 5 areas throughout June and an estimated 16 Burmese soldiers were killed, including one commander, while 39 were injured, according to a Karen news organization, Kwe Ka Lu.

Observers and Karen sources along the border said the joint force intends to clean up the KNLA-controlled areas along the border before the Burmese regime holds its planned general election in 2010.

Sources said that since the fall of KNLA Brigade 7, the DKBA-Tatmadaw (Burmese army) joint force will turn its attention to the KNLA’s southernmost outpost, Brigade 6, before turning its attention back to the conflict with the KNLA in Brigade 5, which will most likely resume in September or October.

As per its agreement with the Burmese regime to take over as a border guard force, the DKBA has been assigned the role of cleaning up the KNLA areas and enforcing its troop strength along the Thai-Burmese border.

In order to complete its assignment as a border guard force with each battalion comprising 326 soldiers, the DKBA is aggressively recruiting new members at present, sources said.

“Because of its battalion number responsibilities, the DKBA is now recruiting villagers to serve as soldiers,” said a DKBA source. Military training by Burmese commanders will also follow the recruitment, he added.

He said that the DKBA and the Burmese regime were aiming to operate border trade from KNLA Brigade 6 in the south up to Brigade 5 in the north, after the battle is won.

Both sides confirmed that DKBA soldiers are presently engaged in clearing landmines in the areas seized during its offensive on KNLA brigades 7 and 6.

According to the Karen National Union (KNU), the political wing of the KNLA, on June 18 a clash broke out between KNLA soldiers and the Burmese army in Brigade 6. The KNU said nine Burmese soldiers were killed or injured while one KNLA soldier was killed in the skirmish.

A force of Burmese army soldiers and DKBA troops has been launching military offensives in KNLA Brigade 7 sine June 2, resulting in about 4,000 Karen villagers fleeing to Thailand for safety.

READ MORE---> DKBA-Tatmadaw Look to Brigade 5...

Ban versus the junta – who won?

by Larry Jagan

Bangkok (Mizzima) - UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appears to have left Burma empty-handed on what was seen beforehand as a crucial visit to strengthen the UN’s role in the country and encourage the junta to be inclusive and transparent in its national reconciliation process. The international community is now focused on the regime’s rejection of Ban’s requests to see detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Ban is obviously personally disappointed as he believed he had established a special relationship with Senior General Than Shwe, hinting that Burma's military head-of-state may listen favorably to him. "I'm deeply disappointed,” Ban told journalists at Rangoon airport when he arrived by plane from the capital Naypyitaw, after a second meeting with the junta's top leader.

"I think they have missed a very important opportunity of demonstrating their willingness to commit to continuing reconciliation with all political leaders. It is a setback to the international community's efforts to provide a helping hand to Myanmar [Burma] at this time.”

But is it really that big a deal – though symbolically important for sure. Even Ban Ki-moon on reflection seems to concede this. “My meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi, however, should not be seen as the only benchmark for success or failure of my visit,” he told journalists in Bangkok after he flew out of Rangoon. But of course he may only be putting a brave face on what was a definite personal rebuff.

Access to Aung San Suu Kyi is the only card the regime has to play when dealing with the UN and its Western detractors. But UN involvement in Burma is far greater than that, and involves both political, development and humanitarian issues.

What is really important, as Aung San Suu Kyi has repeatedly said, is the start of genuine dialogue with the military regime. For many of the poor in Burma, the more immediate question is humanitarian aid and development assistance.

Ban Ki-moon came with a detailed agenda that he presented before the regime’s top leaders. Apart from the need for political change, the UN boss reminded the generals that they were missing out on the region’s economic miracle.

While the government has taken steps to develop the country, tackle human trafficking, curtail opium cultivation and control the spread of the HIV AIDS: “the reality is that millions continue to live in poverty,” Ban said. “Standards of living in Myanmar [Burma] remain among the lowest in Asia.”

“The people of Myanmar [Burma] need jobs, they need food security and they need access to health care,” Ban advised the junta. “We must work to ensure that the people of Myanmar [Burma] can benefit from and contribute to the regional and global economy.”

Ban also made these remarks in a public address to a joint gathering of diplomats, civil leaders and representatives of community groups and international aid organizations shortly before leaving the country. This in itself was an important concession that the UN Secretary-General’s special envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, was able to wring out of the generals in advance, a week before his boss was due to arrive. This is something that neither Bangladesh nor Sri Lanka allowed when the UN chief recently visited – for fear that the government would not like what he said, according to senior UN officials. The junta leaders will not like what they heard, though most of the country’s businessmen, middle class and poor would have endorsed his remarks unreservedly.

“It allowed him to leave Burma, telling the world what had actually been achieved by the visit, essentially setting the stage for another public relations disaster and inevitably, increased international pressure,” an Asian diplomat told Mizzima on condition of anonymity.

Before the trip, many Western diplomats feared that Ban Ki-Moon was going unprepared into what one called the “Lion’s Den”. The UN chief was always aware that he was on a “very tough mission” and that there was a danger of going away empty-handed having served the junta’s propaganda purposes. Ban shunned formal briefings on Burma, apart from a long briefing from Goh Chok Tong – the former Singaporean Prime Minister who visited Burma in a personnel capacity last month -- preferring to allow the discussion with Than Shwe to develop naturally, without too many preconceptions.

“He must have forgotten that the General is an expert in psychological warfare – and a diplomat will be no match for his cunning,” Zin Linn, a spokesman for the opposition-in-exile told Mizzima.

However, it remains unclear whether Ban was able to get any concessions on any of the major issues he discussed during two meetings with Than Shwe – national reconciliation, economic development, dealing with the ceasefire groups and humanitarian assistance.

One thing, however, is for sure – Than Shwe was never going to make any public concessions during the visit. “These things happen in the weeks after UN envoys leave – like in the case of the last time Aung San Suu Kyi was freed from house arrest [6 May 2002]. Mr Razali [the envoy at the time] was clearly told it will happen two weeks after you leave the country,” a senior diplomat involved in the process told Mizzima, declining to be identified.

“This is not a make or break trip,” the Secretary-General’s special envoy to Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, told Mizzima on the eve of the visit. “The important thing is to keep the process of UN engagement in the country going, and, if possible strengthen and deepen it.”

The issues raised by Ban were the release of all political prisoners – including Aung San Suu Kyi – as soon as possible, the resumption of talks between the military and pro-democracy parties and assuring the planned elections in 2010 are inclusive and credible. He also discussed ways the UN could support plans for economic development, especially in the agricultural, fisheries and livestock sectors. And on the extremely vexed question of post-Nargis and broader humanitarian assistance, he raised the need especially for the swift issuance of visas.

“I discussed, as well, the expansion of humanitarian assistance beyond the delta area. These are all areas where I expect the Myanmar [Burma] government to demonstrate progress in the very near future,” he told Bangkok-based journalists.

So what other assurances did he receive from the Senior General. “I was assured that the Myanmar [Burma] authorities will make sure that this election will be held in a fair and free and transparent manner,” Ban said after his first meeting with the General. But so far, regarding his other key suggestions – “to publish as soon as possible the electoral law, establish an electoral commission and set a date or month for the election in 2010” – the junta’s response remains pending.

“It is too early to tell whether Than Shwe has completely rebuffed Ban Ki-moon, the regime seldom makes concessions during these kinds of visits. It’s usually before or after,” said Derek Tonkin, a former British ambassador to Thailand and veteran Burma watcher. “I sense that there may be a few concessions later, like the release of non-political prisoners, but little else,” he told Mizzima.

Diplomats and UN officials in Rangoon believe there will be some goodwill gestures from the regime in the weeks to come. “We can expect some release of political prisoners – maybe even hundreds as the UN Secretary-General requested during his talks with the Senior General,” said a Western diplomat in Rangoon on condition of anonymity. But many analysts fear that the UN’s role in brokering national reconciliation between the two sides has hit a dead-end.

Most opposition activists and Western politicians are in no doubt that Ban Ki-moon has been sent away with his tail between his legs. Now the UN Security Council has to be propelled into action and there are already calls for increased sanctions against the junta.

“If the Burmese regime refuses to engage, the international community must be prepared to respond robustly,” British Prime Minister Gordon Brown warned in a newspaper editorial and a press statement over the weekend. “We will not rest until Aung San Suu Kyi -- and all those who share her commitment to a better and brighter future for Burma – are able to play their rightful role in it,” he said.

But two decades of UN resolutions and increased sanctions have not budged the regime an inch.

“Outside influence on the regime’s calculations is minimal,” said Thant Myint-U, a former senior UN official and author of The River of Lost Footsteps: A Personal History of Burma. “The regime is arguably in a much stronger financial position than ever before largely because of its gas sales.” Much of that is exported to China and Thailand.

These countries are not going to opt for sanctions. Both Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva again recently dismissed sanctions as a means of moving the generals. But now that the UN seems to have failed to produce concessions, the pressure will be on the regional bloc, the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Burma is a member, to increase pressure on the junta to make sure their roadmap to multi-party democracy is sincere and plausible.

Already Thailand’s Prime Minister has hit out strongly against the generals. “Thailand wants the Burmese government to release the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners as part of its national reconciliation process,” Vejjajiva told Ban when he met the UN chief as he passed through Bangkok on Saturday, according to government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn.

So the pressure on Burma is likely to build on two fronts: within ASEAN and at the UN. “The junta’s refusal to allow the world’s top diplomat to see Daw Suu is clear evidence of the regime’s intransigence. It is now time to apply real pressure on the generals,” Thaung Htun, the exile government’s representative for UN affairs, told Mizzima.

Beijing in particular will come under more pressure to make sure its ally engages with the international community and is not a continuing embarrassment that they have to reluctantly defend, especially at the UN Security Council.

“The Secretary-General should brief the UN Security Council as soon as possible and the Council should consider passing a binding resolution. Since the credibility of the UN is at stake, China and Russia should no longer defend the regime,” argued Thaung.

Activists and diplomats alike believe its time to find a united front – for a coordinated and consistent position within the international community.

“The UN, the European Union and ASEAN must now come together to collaborate to convince China to cooperate in finding a solution for the crisis in Burma,” Zin Linn told Mizzima. “Regional players must urge the military regime to abandon its recalcitrant policies in the interests of dialogue and reconciliation,” he added.

So Burma’s allies and neighbors are likely to continue to push for engagement with the junta as the only way forward. After ASEAN's success in coaxing the regime to accept international assistance and aid workers to help the country’s relief efforts and recovery plans in the aftermath of last year’s devastating Cyclone Nargis, through the creation of the Tripartite Core Group, further arguments for such an approach are expected.

ASEAN countries are extremely willing to help Burma, according to the ASEAN Secretary-General – who was instrumental is setting up the new approach. “If it is so desired by the Government of the Union of Myanmar [Burma], I am sure some of the ASEAN countries will be willing to share their experiences,” he told Mizzima. Three countries in the regional bloc – Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines – have all made the transition from authoritarian military regimes to democracy.

The ASEAN foreign ministers summit, to be held in Thailand, is only a few weeks away. At that meeting there will also be a day-session with the region’s dialogue partners, which includes Australia, China, Japan, the US and the EU, all with a keen interest in Burma. Burma is bound to dominate the formal discussions and the bilateral meetings in the margins of the summit. But few expect much to merge from those meetings.

“I think it is now too late to move the generals. They are not going to amend the constitution to suit the NLD, or release political prisoners,” said Mr Tonkin. “No doubt the Chinese have been telling them to make some gestures, but they only have so much influence, and the West has none.”

So as always, whether Ban Ki-moon or Burma’s top general won this round – the Burmese people have lost again. But the UN is unlikely to give up trying to assist Burma in whatever ways might be possible. “The UN's help in Myanmar’s [Burma's] national reconciliation process is a long and complicated matter – it’s a process,” Gambari told Mizzima on the eve of Ban Ki-moon’s visit to the country.

“What is important is genuine economic and political reform which the Burmese people as a whole desire and deserve,” he stressed.

READ MORE---> Ban versus the junta – who won?...

Foreign investments soar in Burma despite economic sanctions

by Solomon

New Delhi (mizzima) - Economic sanctions imposed by the West – United States and the European Union – notwithstanding, foreign investments in Burma, since 1988, accounts for a total of US dollar 15 billion.

The energy sector, which includes oil and gas, and hydroelectric power plants, is the single largest domain that attracted foreign investments, said an official of the Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI).

The present military rulers of Burma, in power since 1988, opened its doors to neighbours including China, Thailand, and India and welcomed investments in oil and gas and hydropower-projects.

“The Hat Gyi hydroelectric power project alone attracted over US$ 6 billion in 2006-2007,” said the official. The Hat Gyi hydro-project is to be built in eastern Burma’s Karen state in collaboration with Thailand.

“Thailand is the leading investor in the energy sector,” the official added.

Both Thailand and China have made multi-billion dollar investments in hydroelectricity projects in Eastern and Northern parts of Burma.

Burma’s military regime, riding on the crest of foreign investments, has planned to construct several dams along the Salween River, which will produce an estimated 14,000 megawatts of power at an approximate budget of US$ 20 billion.

A report in a local journal in Rangoon, the Weekly Eleven states that Thailand is the leading investor in Burma with an estimated investment of USD 7.41 billion, followed by the United Kingdom which has invested USD 1.8 billion, despite imposing economic and financial sanctions against the ruling junta.

Singapore is in the third spot with an investment of USD 1.55 billion, followed by China in the fourth position with 1.33 billion U.S. dollars.

The four are followed by Malaysia with USD 660.75 million, Hong Kong SAR with USD 504.22 million, France USD 469 million, the United States USD 243,565 million, Indonesia USD 241.50 million and South Korea USD 239.32 million.

The Weekly said, investments were made by 31 countries and regions in 424 projects, in 12 economic sectors, including electricity, oil and gas, manufacturing, real estate, hotels and tourism, mining, transport and communications, livestock breeding and fisheries, industry, construction, agriculture and the services sector.

Khin Maung Kyi, a Singapore-based Burmese economist said despite sanctions by western nations against the ruling regime, foreign investments in Burma are likely to grow further.

“It is not a surprise because China alone is into a great number of investments especially in oil and gas sectors,” said Khin Maung Kyi.

However, he said, sadly the investments, which he estimates would be over USD 15 billion, has never been spent on social development of the country or used for the uplift of the living standards of the people.

“I really doubt that these foreign investments have benefited the people and have contributed to the development of the country,” he said.

READ MORE---> Foreign investments soar in Burma despite economic sanctions...

New arrivals flee from Northern Arakan

Maungdaw, Arakan State (Kaladan): More people brought from Burma proper, who were recently settled in Northern Arakan, fled from their village, said a village headman from a Model (Natala) village.

Most of the new settlers in the village were provided money, food, houses and other necessities for two months work, he added.

The authorities gave them facilities two months after which they were supposed to work for themselves with the equipment provided. Soon after they ran away from the village, said a Rakhine villager from Taungbro of Maungdaw.

“We know that the new settlers from Burma are being brought here for the ensuing election in 2010 to mobilise the people in Natala villages for votes. They get more facility than us. We don’t know why they run away despite this,” he said.

“Because of the Natala settlers, we have lost our farmlands and cattle. We had to pay for them. They create trouble for our community making the place unsafe, said a Rohingya villager from Alaythan Kyaw.

About 1,000 acres of land were seized in Maungdaw Township for Natala (model) villagers after the Western Command Commander Brig General Thaung Aye visited Northern Arakan on May 4, said a village headman from Maungdaw South.

Around 200 settler families arrived in Maungdaw on April 4. They were settled in Maungdaw Township. Twenty families were settled in Taungbro village, 80 families in Nurula Para, 20 families in Sikdar Para and the rest were settled in south of Maungdaw Town.

The junta authorities plan to annihilate the Rohingya community from Arakan State by setting up Natala villagers in northern Arakan and stepping up human rights violations against the Rohingya community by arbitrary arrests and torture, extortion on false and fabricated cases, restriction of movement, restriction in marriages and insulting the women folk, said a schoolteacher.

Thus the Rohingya community is forced to flee to Bangladesh from their home land, he added.

But the settlers, who were brought from Burma, were given everything for their livelihood and all types of facilities. He wondered why they were running away from their village where they were to settle.

READ MORE---> New arrivals flee from Northern Arakan...

Burma: Digging the Tunnels, Part Two

July 6, 2009 (DVB)–The tunnel project underway in Burma includes plans to build covert ammunitions factories that will produce surface-to-air missiles controlled from underground command bases, leaked intelligence documents reveal.

Last week DVB revealed that some 800 tunnels were under construction throughout Burma, with sections of the project dating as far back as 1996.

The majority of tunneling and construction equipment for the project has been bought from North Korea in a series of deals over the last three years which total at least $US9 billion, according to two purchase orders received by DVB.

Photographs released by DVB also show North Korean advisors in Burma training their Burmese counterparts in tunnel construction.

There are suggestions that the project includes preparations to withstand chemical and nuclear attacks, following reports last week that the tunnels are lined with bomb-proof material. However there is no hard evidence to verify this.

There will also be room to hold anti-missile batteries and tanks in various sections of the tunnels.

The project, the name of which translates as People’s Militia Strategic Operation, involves an extensive network of tunnels across the whole of Burma.

Engineering documents reveal that close to the remote Burmese capital Naypyidaw is a tunnel believed to house either military operational command headquarters or an advanced weapons factory.

The tunnel site is near to the Pyinmana to Pinlaung road, between Kathedoo North stream and Kathedoo South stream, and is designed to hold more than 1000 soldiers for several months.

The interior is divided into rooms that cater for varying amounts of people. Earth refilling and tree planting projects outside the tunnels have been carried out to camouflage their entrances.

Details about whom the transactions between Burma and North Korea are being channeled through are not known.

Five Burmese companies – Htoo Trading, Kambawza, Asia World, Aden and Shwe Thanlwin – are known however to have provided machinery for the digging of the tunnels.

Htoo Group, the parent company of Htoo Trading, owns the Burmese airline company Air Bagan.

The documents also reveal that security in Rangoon division has been carefully reshuffled and reinforced over recent years to prepare for a possible foreign invasion. It was largely for this reason that the capital was moved in 2005 from Rangoon city to Naypyidaw, 350 miles north.

Six military regions have been developed in Rangoon division to counter “foreign aggression”. Tunnels built throughout these regions are camouflaged and capable of hiding troops in an emergency situation.

Inside the tunnels, there are plans to build ration stores and reserve food supplies exist alongside factories, weapons and ammunition stores, and hospitals.

These tunnels would be controlled by a series of underground command centres linked via an elaborate fibre-optic communication network. The network will connect military operational headquarters to other army units stationed in the tunnels.

Based on intelligence documents, automatic shutting down facilities, poison gas devices and smoke sensors will also be installed. There will be regular power supply lines running throughout the tunnels, along with a ventilation system that the purchase order shows comes from North Korea.

For security reasons, the nearest buildings around them are used as guard posts. Residential buildings and governmental offices are built on top of some tunnels, close to the entrances.

A secret visit by General Thura Shwe Mann, the Burmese regime’s third-in-command, along with 18 other high ranking military officials to North Korea in November 2008, is another indicator of how the two countries have been cooperating.

During the visit, Shwe Mann and North Korean Army Chief General Kim Gyok-sik signed an Memorandum of Understanding on further cooperation plans. The Burmese delegation also visited an underground military hardware factory near Pyongyang.

The government in Burma continually publicises infrastructural developments such as road and dam building but has kept the tunnel project highly secretive.

Despite the extent to which Burma is bolstering its security – it is thought to spend some 40 per cent of its annual budget on the military - it remains without external enemies.

Original DVB Burma’s military regime: Digging the tunnels - Part I
or here: Part I
Part III

Reporting by DVB

In DVB TV report...
Lately there has been news all over the world about the Burmese military junta’s tunneling project. How, and with what intention, is Burma, one of the world’s poorest countries, running such a secretive project worth billions of dollars? We interview U Bo Bo Kyaw Nyein, a Burmese analyst who has been monitoring the situation in the country.

DVB Video

READ MORE---> Burma: Digging the Tunnels, Part Two...

NKorean Launches Maybe Included New Scud

The Irrawaddy News

SEOUL — A barrage of ballistic missiles that North Korea test-fired over the weekend may have included a new type of Scud missile with an extended range and improved accuracy that poses a threat to Japan, a South Korean newspaper reported Monday.

Pyongyang launched seven missiles into waters off its east coast Saturday in a show of force that defied UN resolutions and drew international condemnation.

On Monday, South Korea's mass-circulation Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported the launches were believed to have included three Scud-ER missiles with a range of up to 620 miles (1,000 kilometers).

The paper said the Scud-ER has a longer range and better accuracy compared with previous Scud series so is "particularly a threat to Japan."

Tokyo is about 720 miles (1,160 kilometers) from the base on North Korea's east coast from where the missiles were fired. Some other parts of Japan are closer, well within the range of a Scud-ER.

Scuds are single stage, liquid-fueled missiles, originally developed in the former Soviet Union, and generally known for poor accuracy. Ballistic missile programs in Pakistan and Iran were built on Scud technology.

The Chosun Ilbo, citing a government source it did not name, said the other four missiles were two Scud-C missiles with a range of 310 miles (500 kilometers) and two medium-range Rodong missiles that can travel up to 810 miles (1,300 kilometers).

Five of the seven missiles flew about 260 miles (420 kilometers) from an eastern coastal launch site and landed in one area, meaning their accuracy has improved, the paper said.

South Korea's Defense Ministry spokesman Won Tae-jae said Monday that the North demonstrated improved missile accuracy in the latest tests because they all landed in the same area.

He declined to confirm details of the Chosun Ilbo report.

Another ministry official told The Associated Press on Sunday that the missiles appeared to have traveled about 250 miles (400 kilometers), meaning that key government and military facilities in South Korea were within range. The official spoke on condition of anonymity citing department policy.

North Korea has long-range missiles as well. The Taepodong-2 has a potential range of more than 4,100 miles (6,700 kilometers), putting Alaska within striking distance.

The country is believed to be developing a missile with an even longer range that could potentially put the US west coast, Hawaii, Australia and eastern Europe within striking distance.

The launches on July 4—the US Independence Day holiday—also appeared to be a poke at Washington as it moves to enforce UN as well as its own sanctions against the isolated regime for its May 25 nuclear test.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned they were "very destabilizing, potentially."

North Korean state media have not specifically mentioned the launches but boasted Sunday that the country's military could impose "merciless punishment" on those who provoke it.

"Our revolutionary forces have grown up today as the strong army that can impose merciless punishment against those who offend us," the North's main Rodong Sinmun newspaper said in a commentary carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.

The North has engaged in a series of acts this year widely seen as provocative. It fired a long-range rocket it said was a satellite in early April, and in late May it carried out its second underground nuclear test following the first in late 2006.

The UN Security Council punished Pyongyang with tough sanctions centered on clamping down on North Korea's alleged trading of banned arms and weapons-related material.

The US has been monitoring a North Korean freighter because of suspicions it may be carrying illegal weapons, possibly to Burma. The ship, however, turned around a week ago without stopping at any port and headed toward home.

Won, the Defense Ministry spokesman, said the Kang Nam 1 was expected to arrived in the North later Monday.

Separately, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman pledged to work with the US to block North Korea from using the Southeast Asian nation's banks for any weapons deals.

"If America has any information that is available to them, then I think they should give it to us so that we can act upon it," Anifah told reporters. "If they have evidence, we'll be most willing to work together to solve this problem."

The assurance came as US envoy Philip Goldberg, in charge of coordinating the implementation of sanctions against Pyongyang, met with Malaysian officials in Kuala Lumpur.

South Korean media have reported that North Korea sought payment through a bank in Malaysia for a suspected shipment of weapons to Burma.

Associated Press writers Jae-soon Chang in Seoul and Julia Zappei in Kuala Lumpur contributed to this report.

READ MORE---> NKorean Launches Maybe Included New Scud...

Mongla leader eulogizes 20 year peace with junta


It was the ceasefire agreement, and the resulting peace that had made the social and economic developments in his 4,952 sqkm Special Region #4 on the the Sino-Burma border possible, according to a prepared speech in Shan by Sai Leun aka Lin Mingxian on 30 June, marking the 20th anniversary of the historic event in 1989.

Prior to 1989, the people had been able to produce only half of the whole year’s food, but the 2007 statistics showed that the people’s per capita income has reached K 199,000 ($200).

Apart from that, a 380 km road network has been built, 90% paved, for the 80,000 people under his leadership as well as 118 schools with 6,163 teachers and students. He thanked NGOs such as HU and Malteser for their assistance as well as the 21 Chinese firms that had made investments in his domain.

Ever careful with his words, Sai Leun, 63, made abundant use of the official jargon such as “The Three Causes” (Non-disintegration of the Union, Non-disintegration of National Solidarity and Perpetuation of National Sovereignty) and “under the guidance of the national government.”

Read more direct from the original... if it were worthy to edit ..

READ MORE---> Mongla leader eulogizes 20 year peace with junta...

Junta issues tall order to eradicate poppy cultivation

Hseng Khio Fah

(SHANLAND) -Naypyidaw has issued a directive to destroy all poppy fields in the upcoming poppy 2009-2010 season, according to sources close to the official circle.

The order was passed by the Minister of Home Affairs in late June after seeing survey report released by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime that Burma still remains the world’s second largest source of opium poppy cultivation.

According to the UNODC figures, 68,446 acres of poppies were grown in Burma during the 2007-2008 season of which 11,948 were destroyed during the period. In the last poppy season (2008-2009), there were 70,423 acre of poppy fields and again only 9,607 acres were destroyed. (Up to 50% were destroyed by bad weather-Editor)

However, the directive had not taken into consideration the reliance placed by the local army and police units on the local populace, according to an official source in eastern Shan State. “If people are not allowed to grow, they will have nothing and the junta men will also go hungry,” he said.

The Lahu National Development Organization (LNDO) also said that poppy cultivation could increase in the coming season (2009-2010) as most poppy areas are under the control of the junta-backed militia units.“For one thing, the militia forces have to share opium tax with the local military units,” he said. “For another, local authorities are relying on the people to vote for the government party in the upcoming elections.”

President Barack Obama has said that the War on Drugs, launched by President Nixon in 1971, is an “utter failure.”

READ MORE---> Junta issues tall order to eradicate poppy cultivation...

Shan candidates running on junta ticket warned


Shans who are considering invitation by the country’s ruling military council to contest the upcoming elections must see to it that they obtain prior consent of the people in their respective constituencies, a leader of an armed opposition group recently told SHAN.

He was speaking in response to SHAN’s query: “Some prominent Shans who have been approached by junta officials to enter elections in the yet-to-be-formed party’s banner have expressed concern. If they don’t accept the invitation, they will run risk of being included in the junta’s blacklist and if they do, they will run another kind of risk – ostracism by their own Shan community, and worse, termination by the armed movements such as yours. What do you suggest they do?”

“We won’t bother anyone whom the people are willing to vouch for,” he promised. “But no responsibility shall be taken for anyone who fails to seek the people’s approval first. Whatever happens to them, they have only themselves to blame.”

Halfway through 2009, there is no indication of an impending announcement on the election law by the country’s military rulers. However, since official go-ahead was given to the junta-drafted constitution in May 2008, government officials, government-backed Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) officials and those from the National Unity Party (NUP) that was formed by the military in 1988 have already been busy canvassing for popular support.

Shan, the biggest state in the Union, has several armed groups. Those that enjoy ceasefire agreement with Rangoon include United Wa State Army (UWSA), and Shan State Army “North” to name a few. Non-ceasefire groups include Shan State Army (SSA) “South”, PaO National Liberation Organization (PNLO) and Wa National Organization (WNO).

READ MORE---> Shan candidates running on junta ticket warned...

South Korean president donates millions

(SMH) -South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak, who rose from childhood poverty to the top office, has donated 33.1 billion won ($A32.72 million) - most of his personal fortune - to a fund for needy students.

"Today is a wonderful and joyous day," Lee said in a statement on Monday after handing over more than 80 per cent of his total wealth to a foundation in observance of an election campaign pledge.

Lee, who worked part-time at manual jobs to put himself through school and university, said he would never forget the people - mostly poor themselves - "who offered a hand to a poor boy during those trying times."

"And I know that the best way for me to pay back such kindness is to give back to society what I earned," he said.

Presidential officials described the donation as "unprecedented in the history of politics."

Lee, 67, is a former construction executive and the first South Korean president from a business background.

He said the scholarship foundation reflects his long-time hope that his wealth should be used to help "those who really need it."

"I am glad that today I am able to keep the promise," he added, saying his wife and four children supported his decision.

"Without the miraculous achievements made by the people of this great country, a boy from a devastatingly poor family would have never become its president."

Since he took office in February 2008, Lee - an elder with a Presbyterian church - has also donated his monthly presidential salary of 14 million won ($A13,908.91) to low-income households.

He said he hoped Monday's gift would kick-start a donation campaign by others: "I yearn for this country to be a country where we care for one another."

Song Jeong-Ho, a lawyer who will head the foundation, said it would offer about 90 million won ($A18,875) every month based on its income from the donated assets.

"The president's donation embodies his firm belief that no one should be prevented from learning because of money and that poverty should not be handed down generation after generation," Song said.

The announcement follows a survey by Lee's office, which showed that about 70 per cent of respondents think the conservative leader has adopted policies favouring high-income earners and conglomerates.

The presidential office believes Lee's centrist pragmatic policies "had not been explained well," Park Heong-Joon, senior presidential secretary for public affairs, told reporters.

READ MORE---> South Korean president donates millions...

Push-Back of Muslims to Burma Continues

Cox’sbazar (Narinjara): While the Bangladesh government is keen to repatriate Muslim refugees to Burma from Bangladesh, the number of Muslims entering the country illegally from Burma is reportedly continuing by the day.

Because of the continued increase, Bangladesh border forces have had to continually push back many Muslims from Burma repeatedly after arresting them on the border.

According to a local source, over 1,000 Muslims from Burma were pushed back to their homes in Arakan by Bangladesh authorities in the last two months.

Even though there is a high risk that they'll be caught and returned, Rohingya people from Burma continue to enter Bangladesh by crossing the Naff River.

Yesterday, Bangladesh Rifles at Teknaf pushed back 28 Burmese Muslims to Burma after arresting them.

According to a local source, the group included seven men, 11 women, and ten children.

They were held by Bangladesh border security at Shah Parir Dwip in Teknaf Town after they attempted to enter Bangladesh without authorization by crossing the Naff River.

Deputy Commander of 42 Rifles Battalion Major Shahinur Rahman also confirmed the incident.

Maung Tha Aye, who is a social activist on the border, said that the plan for repatriation would be good if it were possible, but it is not currently possible at present because there are many human rights violations being committed in Arakan State by the Burmese military authorities. The Bangladesh government needs to address the root causes of the migration into Bangladesh in order to solve the problem, he added.

READ MORE---> Push-Back of Muslims to Burma Continues...

Wa crashes, militia booms


The growing tensions between the Burma Army and the ceasefire groups since April have practically put a stop to the United Wa State Army’s drug operations along the Thai-Burma border, according to an informed source from eastern Shan State.

“All those previously working with the Wa in Mongton, Monghsat and Tachilek (the three townships facing Maehongson, Chiangmai and Chiangrai) are either closing shop or moving up to the north,” he said.

The resulting vacuum is being filled up by the junta-backed militia forces that are being expanded, trained and armed by the Burma Army to be employed in the event of war with either the UWSA or Shan State Army (SSA) ‘South’, or both. The best known among them are Punako and Kya Tey in Monghsat township and Nampong in Tachilek township.

Each of them is said to have one heroin factory in their respective areas assigned by the Burma Army. “Anyone who wants to grow poppies has to get himself/herself registered with the local militia,” he said. “And if any of them needs a starting capital, they will furnish it on condition that the loan will be repaid in kind. The crop is also not to be sold to outsiders except those authorized by the group concerned.”

The “king of kings” among them appears to be Punako, led by Ai Long, his younger brother Kyaderh and their brother-in-law Kya Ngoi. The group first came to the attention of the Thai media when its drug market cum transit point at Maejok, opposite Hmong Kaolang, Mae Fa Luang district, Chiangrai province, was overrun by the SSA ‘South” on 8 February 2002. (Saraburi Coal Mining, a company from Thailand that had won a local contract in Monghsat has been recently assigned by the Burma Army to build a road across the Maejok-Hmong Kaolang border)

Aside from producing and trading in drugs, the group is also running a protection racket for drugs coming from outside its territory. “Not unlike Naw Kham (who is running another racket in the Golden Triangle, between Burma, Laos and Thailand),” he remarked. “Also like Naw Kham, the group is also paying kickbacks to the junta commanders from the local up to the regional command.”

One of the trio, Kya Ngoi, is often seen playing golf with the Military Operations Command (MOC) #14 commander in Monghsat. “While the Burmese commander has only 4 armed bodyguards, he always comes to the golf course with around 10 bodyguards of his own,” he said, “leading to a joke that he must be senior to the MOC commander.”

The Wa, meanwhile, are not completely out of the game. “Their high quality heroin and yaba (methamphetamine) are coming to Thailand via the Mekong and Laos,” he maintained. “With ready cash, you’ll be able to buy any amount you wish to order.”

According to the official media, the regional command in Kengtung, 160 km north of Tachilek, put to the torch drugs worth K 20,177 million ($ 20 million) on the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking on 26 June. Much to the surprise of observers, no flippant statements against the ceasefire groups, all of whom are reportedly involved in the trade were issued by Naypyitaw.

President Barack Obama has called the War on Drugs, waged since 1971, an “utter failure”, according to Newsweek, 1 June 2009 issue.

READ MORE---> Wa crashes, militia booms...

British PM threatens fresh Burma sanctions

(DVB)–British prime minister Gordon Brown has said that Burma may be subject to new sanctions following a fruitless visit by UN chief Ban Ki-moon in which he was denied a meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi.

The UN Secretary General left Burma on Saturday after a two-day visit aimed principally at securing the release of political prisoners and instigating dialogue between the Burmese junta and opposition groups.

Neither was achieved, however, and Ban Ki-moon yesterday expressed his “deep disappointment” over the denial of a request to meet with opposition leader Suu Kyi, who faces up five years imprisonment on charges of breaching conditions of her house arrest.

Speaking to the BBC on Saturday, Gordon Brown said he hoped there was “still the possibility of a change of approach from Burma”, but acknowledged that the regime there “has put increased isolation - including the possibility of further sanctions - on the international agenda”.

Burma is already subject to far-reaching sanctions from Western countries, including the United States and European Union.

It is their alliance with a handful of other countries, most notably China, however, that observers say are weakening the efficacy of sanctions.

It is also this relationship with China, and to an extent Russia, that has denied the UN Security Council any sway in the country, with China on several occasions vetoing UN resolutions to pressure the regime to end human rights abuses against civilians.

A Security Council diplomat yesterday told Reuters, on condition of anonymity, that “China knows the council will have to look again at Myanmar [Burma]”.

Prior to Ban Ki-moon’s visit, both members of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party and human rights groups had warned that the visit could lend legitimacy to the regime.

On Saturday the UN chief told a pres conference in Rangoon that Burma’s human rights record was of “grave concern”, but added that his failure to meet with Suu Kyi “should not be the benchmark of success or failure” of the trip.

Reporting by Francis Wade

READ MORE---> British PM threatens fresh Burma sanctions...

Ban Ki-moon delivers on low expectations

by Francis Wade

(DVB)–Perhaps all too predictably, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon came away from Burma yesterday with nothing to show for a visit characterised by high ambitions but low expectations.

Perhaps the first mistake was to arrive with the bar set so high, hoping in two days to catalyse change in a country that has steadily worsened over nearly half a century. His three key demands – that all political prisoners be released, that dialogue be resumed between the junta and opposition groups, and that elections next year be free and fair – were ambitious, to say the least. The trial of Aung San Suu Kyi is a clear sign that the regime has no interest in having a viable opposition, while the UN chief would have to overturn a constitution that guarantees continuation of military rule to achieve the latter.

The visit, however, did not even begin well. He entered the country hounded by warnings that his presence there could lend legitimacy to the regime, and within hours these were vindicated. In his opening address to Senior General Than Shwe, the man orchestrating the Suu Kyi trial, Ban dropped a bombshell, the reverberations of which will be felt across the whole of Burma and much of the world with even rudimentary knowledge of Burmese affairs: “I appreciate your commitment to moving your country forward,” he said.

The UN chief would not be there in the first place if this were the case. Burma is in political, economic and social ruin. It has one of the world’s highest counts of political prisoners relative to population, its economy is near collapse, and the social fabric of society has been torn to pieces by half a century of unwavering military rule. “Than Shwe has steadily moved his country backwards,” Brad Adams, Burma specialist at Human Rights Watch, told the Guardian. “It's just what we implored him not to say, to make these diplomatic gaffes.”

It may have been that Ban Ki-moon was looking to soften the generals before his formal request to meet with Suu Kyi. Even that, however, failed, twice. He asked Than Shwe both on the Friday and Saturday for permission, and was both times snubbed. Prior to the visit, senior National League for Democracy member Win Tin warned that, without the meeting, Ban risked “only making friends with the junta” and rendering the trip “meaningless”.

In some respects it is surprising the meeting was denied; it could have been useful for the junta’s own propaganda purposes, and would have impacted little on the trial. Her fate belongs to the government, not Ban, and contrary to the image they project, any sense of credibility for the generals would be welcomed. Furthermore, a brief meeting between the world’s most senior diplomat and the world’s most famous political prisoner may temporarily appease international critics and buy time for the regime while the world speculates over what it means for Suu Kyi.

By his own admittance, Ban left Burma “bitterly disappointed”, and he will have to report back to the UN Security Council on what steps to take next. There is a foreboding sense, however, that the international community is running out of options. Western sanctions have failed to force change from the junta, while the policy of engagement favoured by its Asian neighbours has lacked any substance. Ban Ki-moon’s last gasp effort at rescuing Suu Kyi from another five years imprisonment fell flat on its face, and the UN’s credibility and influence in Burma will have been significantly damaged by it. Few people seem to have an answer as to what to do with the country, but all will be agreed that praise for the junta without achieving substantial concessions is a whole-hearted step in wrong direction.

READ MORE---> Ban Ki-moon delivers on low expectations...

Has the Burmese regime grown immune to UN initiatives?

by Mungpi

New Delhi (mizzima) - Burma’s military rulers have once again proved their indifference towards world opinion by rejecting the request of the United Nations Secretary-General to meet with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The opposition has said it is a major setback for Burma’s reconciliation, while critics say it is a direct insult to the world body and that it is time for the UN to take alternative steps in its approach to dealing with the junta.

On Saturday, Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General, wound up his second visit to the impoverished Southeast Asian nation expressing deep “disappointment”. Ban, at a press briefing before leaving the country, told reporters that he had twice requested a meeting with detained Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, but Burma’s military supremo, Senior General Than Shwe, refused to yield.

Before arriving on a two-day visit to the country, Ban stated he would attempt to persuade the generals to free the more than 2,000 political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, and to immediately engage in a meaningful dialogue with the opposition in order to create conditions conducive for a free and fair election in 2010.

But none of his goals have apparently been achieved, with the generals carefully planning his schedule, arranging meetings with selected political parties and ethnic armed ceasefire groups, who told Ban what the generals wanted him to hear.

“When I met General Than Shwe yesterday and today, I asked to visit Ms. Suu Kyi. I am deeply disappointed that he refused,” Ban told reporters in Rangoon on Saturday before leaving the country.

“I believe the government of Myanmar [Burma] has lost a unique opportunity to show its commitment to a new era of political openness,” he added.

Nyan Win, spokesperson for Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party, said while Than Shwe’s refusal is a major setback, he cannot speculate on whether the trip was a total failure simply because the UN chief failed to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi.

But Win Tin, a veteran journalist and Central Executive Committee member of the NLD, said Than Shwe’s refusal sends a clear message to the UN as well as to the international community that the generals are indifferent towards their opinions and are determined to go ahead with their plans.

“It is a direct insult to the UN and also a clear message that the generals are determined to imprison Aung San Suu Kyi,” Win Tin said.

He said the junta, by systematically arranging Ban’s meetings, is clearly sending a message that they are not willing to take the UN’s suggestions into consideration and will instead continue to pursue their roadmap.

“Allowing a visit to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi would have been an important symbol of the government’s willingness to embark on the kind of meaningful engagement that will be essential if the elections in 2010 are to be seen as credible,” Ban said at the press briefing.

In the wake of Cyclone Nargis, which left over 140,000 people dead or missing while affecting millions more, Ban, in May 2008, visited Burma to persuade the generals to allow greater international humanitarian assistance for cyclone survivors.

In December 2008, he said he was willing to visit Burma again but only on condition that the generals demonstrated tangible progress in their efforts for national reconciliation, starting with the release of political prisoners. On that occasion, the lack of tangible progress on the part of the junta forced Ban to cancel his plans.

Win Tin believes despite the continued lack of progress, Ban made his second visit, July 3-4, largely because the regime is charging Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and putting her on trial.

“So, refusing him [Ban] a meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi is like the junta telling the UN ‘we will do whatever we want with her and sentence her for a prison term,’” Win Tin interpreted.

He added that it also indicates that the junta is rejecting the entire UN agenda. With Aung San Suu Kyi continuing to be detained, argues Win Tin, pressure to release all political prisoners is meaningless, there can be no meaningful dialogue as Aung San Suu Kyi represents the opposition and it is also a clear sign that conditions will not exist for a free and fair election in 2010.

“I would say the UN chief’s visit is a total failure and that the junta has made their position clearer than ever in a single move,” he added.

What can the UN do?

Despite of junta’s stubbornness, the NLD says it would like to see the UN continuing to engage the junta and place diplomatic pressure upon the regime for change.

“We feel that the government’s refusal to allow Ban Ki-moon to meet Aung San Suu Kyi is a big setback for the UN chief’s visit to the country, but we do not want to jump to a conclusion that his mission is a failure,” Nyan Win explained.

But he cautioned that when diplomatic pressure fails to work, Ban should lead the UN Security Council into action.

“We would like to see more diplomatic pressure on the junta, but if diplomatic pressure has failed, the UN Security Council should act,” he suggested.

Win Tin maintains that if the UN is to act anytime at all, now is the time, as the junta has clearly indicated that no amount of diplomatic engagement will change their course.

“This is the time for Ban Ki-moon to get the UN Security Council into action,” he iterated.

In early 2007, a draft UN Security Council resolution critical of the junta was vetoed by Russia and China, on the grounds that Burma’s problems do not pose a threat to international peace and security.

But Win Tin said with the international community expressing wide concern over the trial against Aung San Suu Kyi, Russia and China may have to re-think their position if a new resolution is brought forth.

However, other critics believe that with Russia and China steadfast in maintaining a close relationship with the Burmese regime, any action on the part of the Security Council beyond another Presidential statement remains highly unlikely.

But it is high-time for the UN to understand that the regime does not care for any amount of diplomatic pressure in doing what they want to do, Win Tin said.

What should be done?

There are few options for the international community at large and for the Burmese people to take things forward for genuine democratic reforms in the country, unless the ruling regime is interested in such reforms.

However, the UN Chief can go back to the Security Council with his first hand report of dealing with Than Shwe and focus on how the generals can be dealt with effectively by the Security Council. For any effective UNSC action, Ban Ki-moon needs the support of the two veto wielding powers Russia and China. The world body and the UN Chief should now focus their attention to these two veto powers.

Secondly, the UN Secretary General should coordinate actively with ASEAN and other countries, including India, for concerted efforts towards any changes to take place before the end of this year. Hope is not yet lost for Burma if the Secretary General personally takes the Burma issue on the world stage more prominently. But he has to prove now that his empty-handed return from Burma does not mean failure of the world body on a country that produced one of the world's brightest Secretary General U Thant.

More importantly, as he pointed out in his address to diplomatic missions in Burma and the civil society in the country before he left Rangoon on July 4, “all the people of Myanmar (Burma) must work in the national interest.” The utmost priority for the people of Burma from all sections of the society including the military and politicians is to put national interest before anything else. Everything comes later.

The Burmese people will have to work through a very difficult situation for the country's national interests. All actors in the country will have to give something away to come together so that more human lives will not be lost, and there will be less suffering.

The Secretary General has said, "The question today is this: how much longer can Myanmar [Burma] afford to wait for national reconciliation, democratic transition and full respect for human rights? The cost of delay will be counted in wasted lives, lost opportunities and prolonged isolation from the international community."

It is indeed, Burma cannot afford to lose any more opportunities.

READ MORE---> Has the Burmese regime grown immune to UN initiatives?...

Myanmar’s snub of Ban may prompt UN council push

Khaleej Times Online

BANGKOK (Reuters)- The Myanmar junta’s refusal to allow U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to visit detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi will likely prompt a new push for Security Council action, but all depends on China.

The 15-nation council has been unable to take serious action in the case of the former Burma because China, the nearest Myanmar has to a major ally, has been opposed.

Like the United States, Britain, France and Russia, China is a permanent veto-wielding member of the council and can block any action.

The last time the council said anything about Myanmar was in May 2008, when it issued a non-binding statement urging the junta to ensure an upcoming referendum on the country’s new constitution would be “an inclusive and credible process”.

At the time, critics said the referendum that approved the constitution was a farce. Many U.N. officials and diplomats worry next year’s multi-party election will be the same.

China has shown flexibility on North Korea. It has supported two sanctions resolutions against Pyongyang for its nuclear weapons programme.

But Beijing has been unwilling to allow the council to impose sanctions on Myanmar, whose nearly 2,000 km (1,250 mile) coastline provides neighbour China with easy land and sea access to South Asia markets.

One Security Council diplomat said it may be time to try again to press China to use its influence on the secretive military rulers of Myanmar to reform.

“I think China knows the council will have to look again at Myanmar,” the Western diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity after Ban’s visit. Other Western diplomats have expressed similar views.

Ban rebuffed

Ban embarked on his two-day visit to the Southeast Asian country with low expectations, telling reporters ahead of time it would be a “very tough mission.”

His goal was to inform the generals of the growing international dismay over what rights groups say is the country’s dismal human rights record and to urge Senior General Than Shwe to release the country’s more than 2,000 political prisoners and keep his promise to democratise.

Ban traveled to Myanmar’s remote new capital, Naypyidaw, where he asked Than Shwe to let him meet with Suu Kyi, being held at a guest house at the notorious Insein prison in Yangon on charges of breaching the terms of her house arrest.

After making Ban spend the night in Naypyidaw, Than Shwe told him on Saturday he could not visit Suu Kyi because she was on trial and he did not want it to appear as if the junta was being “interfered with or pressured from outside”.

Critics say Nobel laureate Suu Kyi’s trial is a sham intended to ensure she does not take part in the country’s first election since 1990, which Suu Kyi’s party won. She has spent most of the time since then under house arrest at her Yangon lakeside home.

On Saturday evening, Ban told a packed audience of non-governmental organisations, opposition members, government officials and diplomats in Yangon he was “deeply disappointed that they rejected my request” to see Suu Kyi.

Ban also said Myanmar’s human rights record was of “grave concern” and its people would suffer if the regime continued to be isolated as a result of its failure to initiate meaningful, inclusive democratic reforms.

There was no applause during Ban’s speech but his rebuke of the generals in front of a local audience prompted murmurs throughout the crowd at Yangon’s Drug Elimination Museum.

Ban may face some criticism since he left without any guarantees from the generals that Suu Kyi and the more than 2,000 political prisoners would be freed. Human Rights Watch had urged Ban not to make the trip.

Ban, however, told reporters in Yangon it was too early to call his visit a failure.

“My meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi or not meeting with her should not be the benchmark of success or failure of my visit,” Ban told reporters.

“I believe they will seriously consider my proposals and I believe they got the message.”

Among his proposals to the junta were release of all political prisoners before the 2010 election and steps to ensure the poll is free and fair.

U.N. officials said he asked the generals to allow international monitors into the country to observe the elections.

Ban said later that Than Shwe promised him the election would not be rigged and power would be handed over to civilians afterwards.

U.N. officials said privately it would be unfair to blame Ban for the generals’ unwillingness to budge on Suu Kyi and other issues. They also said that with the Security Council divided on Myanmar, Ban was the world’s only card to play.

“You can’t fault him for trying,” a U.N. official said.

One of the few top world figures the Myanmar supremo is willing to meet, Ban had hoped he would have some sway with the 76-year-old Than Shwe, having convinced him last year to allow humanitarian aid groups to enter Myanmar to help with post-Cyclone Nargis recovery efforts. But that was not the case.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown wrote in his blog that if Ban was unable to persuade the generals to keep their promises of reform the world would have to act.

“The international community will work with Burma if the generals are prepared to embark on a genuine transition to democracy,” he wrote. “But if the Burmese regime refuses to engage, the international community must be prepared to respond robustly.”

READ MORE---> Myanmar’s snub of Ban may prompt UN council push...

Myanmar's snub may result in sanctions

YANGON, Myanmar, July 5 (UPI) -- Britain may impose new sanctions on Myanmar because of a snub of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said.

After the Myanmar government refused the secretary-general's request to visit detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, Brown told the BBC the regime was "obstinate." He suggested further sanctions against the military leaders of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.

Ban was in Myanmar for two days. He said Gen. Than Shwe told him he could not visit Suu Kyi while she is on trial.

Her trial for allegedly violating terms of her house arrest was postponed indefinitely July 3. She has been in prison since May when she was transferred from house arrest after an American man swam to her lakeside house.

Members of the opposition claim the trial is a pretense to keep Suu Kyi away from the public until after next year's elections. She could serve as much as five years if convicted.

READ MORE---> Myanmar's snub may result in sanctions...

Humiliation of UN chief

Bangkok Post - The Burmese military junta stripped away the pride of the United Nations during the weekend, but the UN was a too-willing accomplice. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spent two fruitless days on an impossible mission. He not only failed to secure the release of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, but also refrained from even the most mild criticism of the regime that has locked her away on trumped-up charges. Then, in a final humiliation of the visitor, the ruling Burmese generals guided Mr Ban into a meeting with ''former armed groups'' now intimidated into acting as shills for the regime.

The United Nations, and Mr Ban himself, billed the visit to Burma in somewhat glowing terms. Their theory was that the presence of the secretary-general in Burma would create a moral facade. The importance of his office, Mr Ban apparently believed, would convince or shame the generals into changing 47 years of iron-fisted control. They would release Mrs Suu Kyi and hundreds of other political prisoners and agree to accept a political path to democracy. The reality was that the dictators stayed on the course they have repeatedly announced and enforced with the blood of thousands of Burmese citizens. Mrs Suu Kyi remains jailed, as do all other political prisoners, and Burma remains under the boot of the military regime.

Mr Ban and his aides at the United Nations had plenty of warning that the secretary would become a pawn rather than a peacemaker. His decision to visit Burma and plead for Mrs Suu Kyi was doomed from the start, and it is disturbing that he could not see it. His cheerful optimism last week seemed to be a denial of the task that lay ahead. He did not go to Burma to demand freedom for thousands of battered and unjustly imprisoned citizens; he went to beg for them.

It is not that Mr Ban failed to win freedom for Mrs Suu Kyi and 50 million fellow Burmese. It was the manner of his failure that let down the free world and caused Mr Ban and the UN to lose face. The UN chief said as his ill-fated trip ended that he was ''deeply disappointed'' in failing to win so much as a prison visit with Mrs Suu Kyi. There were no sharp words about her jailers, no criticism of the system they impose at gunpoint.

Mr Ban had a rare opportunity to shed light and show the world how violent and unjust the Burmese generals have made their country. Instead, he was convinced or tricked into attending a fake event to boost the prestige of the junta. Prime Minister Thein Sein ushered the visitor into a meeting of former opponents of the regime. These groups, including political parties and former armed rebel forces, have been crushed and intimidated at gunpoint. The junta has coerced or forced them into supporting the regime's so-called ''road to democracy'' sham, which will climax next year in a carefully controlled referendum to perpetuate military rule in Burma forever.

There was never much chance that Mr Ban would succeed at gaining freedom for Mrs Suu Kyi or the other political prisoners. Nor was there a chance that the generals would heed the prestige of the UN and switch from brutal dictatorship to democracy. But Mr Ban did have a rare chance to stand up to the junta. He did have an opportunity to speak the truth. By confronting the junta, he would have earned huge respect for the United Nations and provide hope to the people of Burma.

Instead he has reduced the plight of that sad country to more routine diplomatic failure.

READ MORE---> Humiliation of UN chief...

Victory over KNU, new order on Thai-Burma border

by Brian McCartan

Mae Sot, Thailand (Mizzima) - The victory of the Burmese Army and its proxy, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), in attacks on bases of the Karen National Union (KNU) last month, puts the regime in firm control of a major portion of its border with Thailand for the first time in 60 years. Success brings with it a whole new order of forces along the border.

Burmese and DKBA forces took the border camps of the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), the armed wing of the KNU, after a month-long battle in June. The fighting was relatively light with many of the 200 Burmese and DKBA casualties the result of landmines. Fighting, the threat of landmines and fear of being taken as porters by the attackers resulted in over 3,500 Karen villagers fleeing their homes to take refuge on the Thai side of the border.

The Burmese regime and the DKBA have big plans for the border now that it is under their control. The State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) has long aimed to establish several economic zones along the stretch of the border from Myawaddy north to the confluence of the Salween and Moei Rivers. One of these special economic zones is slated for construction on the outskirts of Myawaddy and another to the east of the township capital of Hlaing Bwe.

Past Thai governments have given their verbal support for these plans, although little money has of yet been put into them. Now that the area is in firmer control and the threat from the KNLA reduced, the economic zone plans may be dusted off again. Burma hopes to entice Thai investment and develop an otherwise economically poor area, while Thailand sees the economic zones as a way of using cheap Burmese labour without having to deal with a large influx of migrant workers. At one point, the area around Hlaing Bwe was also seen as a potential repatriation point for Karen refugees in the Mae La refugee camp.

A component of the DKBA’s acceptance of the junta’s border guard programme is that the DKBA will be allowed to keep, and possibly even expand, its economic activities. Although details of the concessions are still unclear, notes from internal DKBA meetings in May and June seen by Mizzima, indicate that the DKBA is moving some of its tax gates and setting up new units as a part of a major expansion. Certain officers, including Colonel Maw Tho who is already heavily involved in legal and black market trade with Thailand from his base in Myawaddy, will be reassigned to specifically economic activities.

A greatly expanded DKBA taking control of a large portion of the border is likely to make Thai security officials nervous. Following the fall of the KNU headquarters at Manerplaw in January 1995, DKBA troops carried out a reign of terror along the border, burning refugee camps, kidnapping and sometimes killing Karen and Thai civilians, looting Thai shops along the border and even attacking Thai army and police forces. Although the attacks largely stopped in 1998, occasional incursions have taken place since.

This year DKBA incursions increased as it made itself felt along the border. In January 2009, DKBA troops burned down field huts, stole livestock and looted houses along the border in Umphang district of Tak province. During and immediately following the recent attacks on the KNLA’s 7th Brigade, Karen sources say DKBA troops crossed the border several times to demand rations for their troops and to eat and drink in local shops around Mae Salit.

An ambush on June 26 on the Moei River that killed five DKBA soldiers including Colonel San Pyone and wounded another 20 has many Karen worried about possible retaliatory attacks. San Pyone is widely believed to have been the leader and triggerman in the assassination of KNU General Secretary Mahn Sha La Phan on Valentine’s Day last year. The KNLA military officers claim it was not a revenge attack because they have no troops in the area. This leaves open the possibility of involvement of the KNU/KNLA Peace Council, another splinter Karen group, the SPDC or Thai security forces. Whoever carried out the attack, the incident shows that despite greater DKBA and government control, stability is far from assured.

The transformation of the DKBA into a border guard under the central command of the Burmese Army may bring some stability, even if it costs the regime a scapegoat for cross-border incursions. The SPDC has been careful in the past to blame all cross-border attacks on the DKBA and say that it has very little influence on the group’s actions. Recent fighting against the KNLA’s 7th Brigade was described in the state-run media as Karen-on-Karen fighting. With the DKBA’s transformation into a border guard force within the Burmese Army, this pretext will no longer be possible.

One area Thai security forces will be keen to keep a watch on is the effect greater territorial control and legitimization as a unit of the Burmese military will have on the DKBA’s drug trafficking activities. Karen military sources allege the DKBA operates several amphetamine, or yaba, laboratories in areas near the border. While DKBA production and trafficking activities are not at the same level as groups such as the United Wa State Army (UWSA) in Shan State, Thai narcotics officials and opposition sources say the DKBA moves both yaba and heroin through its border camps near Myawaddy and Three Pagodas Pass. The group’s transformation into a border guard unit would make the military regime directly complicit in any continued drug activities.

Recent media reports describing the KNU as all but finished following the loss of its border camps last month are rather premature. KNLA sources say that they intend to continue to operate as guerrilla units in north central Karen State. The loss of the central border region, however, will make it harder for the KNU to communicate and supply its units as well as arrange supplies for villagers and internally displaced villagers that it cares for. The KNLA still has the bulk of its forces in northern Karen State as wells as in parts of Pegu Division and Mon State as well as maintains forces in areas of southern Karen State and Tenasserim Division.

Within Karen State itself, firmer control by the DKBA and Burmese government means that many Karen who still sympathize with the aims of the KNU will now be forced to work with the new rulers. Human rights monitors in the area for several years have said the greater DKBA presence has made their work much more dangerous. DKBA threats of retribution have made many villagers afraid to speak out about abuses.

A KNU source says that greater DKBA control will have little effect on Karen representation in the 2010 elections. The DKBA is different from other ethnic insurgent groups in that it has no political wing. Minutes of a May 7 meeting of DKBA commanders indicate that the DKBA has been told they may participate in politics, but in order to do so, DKBA members, or any other Karen, must either form a new political party or contest the election as an individual. KNU source, however, say it is irrelevant since the SPDC has already decided who the winning candidates are.

The KNU’s position in central Karen State has certainly been greatly weakened by the loss of its border camps last month. Whether firmer government and DKBA control of the area will translate into greater peace and development for the local population is far from clear. Fighting with the KNU in this area may be almost over, but new border tensions may only be beginning.

READ MORE---> Victory over KNU, new order on Thai-Burma border...

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