Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Burma rebels vow to stop using child soldiers

By Mark Tran

Shan insurgents get foreign aid in return for halting use of children in country with highest number of underage conscripts

The Guardian UK -One of Burma's main rebel groups has pledged to stop using child soldiers in return for outside aid in an effort to enhance its international credibility.

Leaders of the Shan State army (SSA), one of several ethnic insurgent groups battling the country's military junta, have signed a memorandum of understanding with Abolish Slavery and International Operations Centre for Children (IOCC), two western non-governmental organisations, to prevent minors serving in its forces.

Burma has the highest number of child soldiers in the world – about 70,000. A Human Rights Watch report in 2002 found widespread forced recruitment of boys as young as 11. Subsequent reports say the number of child soldiers in Burma is largely unchanged despite international condemnation.

International law prohibits the recruitment of children under 15 and the use of child soldiers has been recognised as a war crime under the statute for the international criminal court.

In Burma, the national army is the biggest culprit. Flouting the country's own laws that prohibit any recruitment of under 18s, the army apprehends boys at public places such as markets and bus stations, using threats and violence to force them to join. Once trained, children as young as 12 have been sent to fight against ethnic insurgent groups.

Rebel groups also forcibly conscript children. The United Wa State army, the biggest rebel force, has the largest number. The Kachin Independence army is the only armed group to recruit girls. The SSA and the Karen National Liberation army have policies against recruiting children under 18, but do not turn away children who actively seek to join.

Christian Elliott, of the IOCC, who signed the agreement with Lieutenant Colonel Kon Jern, a SSA commander, said the reason behind the insurgents' anti-child soldiers pledge was international credibility.

"They are looking for brownie points any way they can and in return we will provide them with educational material for teachers and children, including books writing materials, computers and distant education opportunities," Elliott said.

The Shan area once used to be a major producer of heroin but the rebel groups have made an effort to stamp out production as part of the drive for international respectability.

Elliott, who made the arduous trek into Burma to sign the agreement, said the SSA has between 2,000 and 3,000 soldiers aged 16-18.

The rebel group has also agreed to provide evidence of human rights abuses by the Burmese army in the form of video and photographs. The material is to be displayed on the Abolish Slavery website in support of the SSA's to help the people of the Shan state, in the east of the country.

Home to several ethnic armed groups, Shan remains largely outside central government control.

READ MORE---> Burma rebels vow to stop using child soldiers...

Die Hard’ spirit of 7-July; Burmese activists vow to march ahead

by Mungpi

New Delhi (mizzima) - Burmese activists and Indian supporters on Tuesday reiterated their call to the Indian government to stop supporting Burma’s military regime and instead support the movement for democracy in the country.

Marching along Parliament Street in New Delhi, India’s capital, scores of Burmese and Indian activists held protest rallies on Tuesday marking the 47th anniversary of 7-July, on which day in 1962 Burma’s military rulers’ cracked down on student protesters in Rangoon University.

Protesters said, with the world witnessing the latest injustice by the Burmese regime - the trumped-up charge and trial of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi - India and China should stop adhering to their soft stand on the regime but join the global outcry and pressurize the junta.

While with the spirit of ‘7-July’, Burmese students will continue the fight for human rights and democracy in Burma, it is crucial for the international community, particularly neighbouring countries, to keep up their support in order to usher in changes in Burma, the protestors said.

The protesters, many of them former students in Burma, who fled the junta’s brutal crackdown, urged India to be a responsible neighbour and called on Russia and China to refrain from exercising their veto power to block a Security Council resolution against the regime.

Students have played a vital role in the history of Burma, from the time the people fought for independence from British rule, to the most recent protests in September 2007.

On July 7, 1962, scores of university students staged a protest in the Students’ Union building in Rangoon University. They were mainly protesting against the strict rules imposed by the General Newin led new military regime, which grabbed power in a military coup on March 2, 1962.

The protests, however, were met with brute force by the Burmese Army, which opened fire, killing scores of students. The new regime, threatened by the protests, on July 8, secretly ordered the Student Union building to be blown up.

The blowing up of the Union building marked a new era of suppression and repression of Burmese students, who have been in the forefront of all Burmese movements in the past. Since then, Burma’s students have had no other Union building till date.

The military regime under Newin had particularly targeted students as they were viewed as a threat to their rule. Despite the regime’s repressions, Burmese students have led several protests including the popular uprising of August 8, 1988, which put an end to the Newin regime.

Maintaining the legacy of Newin, the present military dictators continue to suppress students by arresting and sentencing student activists to long prison terms and also by dividing university campuses, which effectively divides the student mass to hold convenient meetings.

But protesters in New Delhi said, despite all the suppression, students will continue fighting against military dictators and urged India and China to stand by them, and not seek short-term temporary national interests by cooperating with the regime.

READ MORE---> Die Hard’ spirit of 7-July; Burmese activists vow to march ahead...

Air Mandalay to resume Int’l flight in August

by Phanida

Chiang Mai (mizzima) - Air Mandalay, one of Burma’s private (??? junta private?) airlines, is set to resume international flights between Burma’s former capital Rangoon and Thailand’s northern city Chiang Mai in August, it was learnt on Tuesday.

An Air Mandalay official told Mizzima that the airline was forced to suspend international flights in September 2008 due to technical reasons. But having purchased ATR aircrafts, Air Mandalay will operate flights twice a week - Mondays and Fridays – between Rangoon and Chiang Mai.

“We will resume flights in August twice a week. The fares have been fixed at USD 113 for a one-way flight and the flight timings will be mostly in the evenings from Rangoon. We will use two types of aircraft. The bigger aircraft will be 68-seaters and the smaller ones will be 46-seaters,” the official said.

Air Mandalay is a joint venture of Air Mandalay Holdings Singapore and Myanma Airways. It was established on October 6, 1994 and began operations on October 18, 1994.

In September 2008, the airline suspended international flights citing technical reasons. Though it was announced that the airline will resume Rangoon-Chiang Mai flights in October 2008, it could not.

“We heard that they will resume the flights in August. But we don’t know how far it will come true,” an official in a tour agency in Rangoon said.

An Air Mandalay official in the Bangkok office, however, said though they were informed that flights will resume in August, they are not sure.

Air Mandalay has domestic flights to Rangoon, Mandalay, Hehoe, Tavoy, Myeik, Kawthawng, Sittwe, Thandwe, and Tharchileik. The airline also had an international flight between Thailand’s northern city of Chiang Mai and Rangoon.

READ MORE---> Air Mandalay to resume Int’l flight in August...

Renew import ban on Burma, AAFA tells US

by Mungpi

New Delhi (mizzima) - The US Congress has been urged by the American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA) on Monday to renew the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act of 2003, which imposes a ban on import of goods from Burma.

Citing further human rights abuses in Burma by its military rulers, the AAFA called on the US Congress to renew the Act, slated to expire on July 26.

AAFA, the national trade association representing the apparel and footwear industry, and its suppliers, in its letter applauded US lawmakers Joe Crowley and Peter King for sponsoring the resolution which calls for the renewal of the Act.

The resolution was cosponsored by 19 other Congressmen and was introduced on July 4. It has been sent to the House Committee on Ways and Means for necessary action.

A similar resolution was also introduced by Senators Diane Feinstein and Mitch McConnell and cosponsored by 15 influential Senators including John McCain, Hillary Clinton and Joseph Biden at the Senate.

“AAFA strongly supports this renewal because it will send a clear and unmistakable message that the United States is not interested in doing business with regimes like the one that brutally enslaves the people of Burma,” Kevin Burke, president and CEO of AAFA said in a joint letter to Crowley and King.

“A unilateral approach, however, will only bring about a limited effect,” said Burke. “I hope the world community will join the United States in implementing economic sanctions to demonstrate that there is no room for oppression in the global marketplace,” Burke said.

Despite tightening of sanctions by the US and the European Union, Burma’s military rulers continue to enjoy business relations with neighbouring countries including members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), China and India.

Critics said western sanctions have had little impact on the junta and has not forced them to change their behaviour because they continue to enjoy business relationship with neighbouring countries.

According to a local Weekly journal in Rangoon, foreign investments in Burma have touched USD 15 billion since the country opened up to foreign investment in 1988.

The report reveals that several neighbouring countries as well as the European Union member country like the United Kingdom are among the top investors in Burma.

While UK is the second largest investor in Burma over the past two decades with an estimated investment of USD 1.8 billion, the US ranked eighth with an estimated investment of USD 243.56 million.

The sanctions notwithstanding, Burma’s military regime has not shown any willingness to address the problems that made the sanctions necessary in the first pace but continue to violate the rights of the Burmese people, the AAFA said.

The junta has lately drawn international condemnation for charging and putting on trial detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The international community is outraged by the junta’s charges against the General Secretary of the National League for Democracy Aung San Suu Kyi that she violated her house arrest terms and putting her on trial.

Under the charges, if found guilty, the Nobel Peace Laureate, whose party won a landslide victory in Burma’s last election in 1990 but was denied power, could face up to five years imprisonment.

Opposition groups as well as the international community believe that the charges and trial is a move by the junta to isolate Aung San Suu Kyi from the Burmese people and keep her out of the way during the general elections in 2010.

READ MORE---> Renew import ban on Burma, AAFA tells US...

India urged to stop helping Burmese junta

by Salai Pi Pi

New Delhi (Mizzima) – The Indian government has been exhorted to stop helping the Burmese military regime by student leaders and journalists from Northeast Indian states, who in a show of solidarity, demanded the unconditional release of Burmese Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

Dr Samujjal Kumar Bhattacharya, advisor of the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) on Tuesday said he supports restoration of democracy in Burma and urges India to initiate a move for the immediate release of Aung San Suu Kyi, currently being tried in Rangoon’s Insein prison court.

“We want democracy to be restored there and at the same time, the leader [Aung San Suu Kyi] should be released,” Samujjal Bhattacharya told Mizzima.

Journalists and student leaders from Northeast India voiced their demand as India continues to be silent about the trial of Augn San Suu Kyi and has steadfastly refused to join the global outcry against the junta.

Nava Thakuria, a Guwahati-based Assamese journalist said, India as the largest democracy in the world should review its ‘Look East’ policy, which claims to be based on its national interest.

Thakuria said the focus of India’s foreign policy on Burma is to counter China’s influence in Burma and flush out all Northeast militants based in Burma’s northern Kachin state and North-Western Sagaing division with the help of the military regime.

“But we can say this policy has failed, as there are still many Northeast militants sheltered on Burmese soil,” he added.

In a show of solidarity, Indian journalists, social activists and student leaders of Northeast India on July 4, held a round-table meeting highlighting ‘India’s policy on Burma: A northeast Perspective’, in Guwahati, capital of Assam state.

Indian students, journalists and activists called on India to stop supporting the Burmese regime especially with the sale of military hardware.

“India has sold military hardware including helicopters and tanks to the Burmese military regime earlier. We urge them not to sell more armaments in the future because they are used for repressing the people,” said Thakuria, who also acted as the contact person for the Roundtable discussion in Guwahati.

He said, while New Delhi has boosted bilateral trade with Burma, it should also accommodate Burmese pro-democracy activists in exile to help their political cause.

India and Burma, in recent years, have stepped up bilateral trade relationship. The Indo-Burmese bilateral trade for the fiscal year 2007-08 stood at US $ 901.3 million with Burma's export to India standing at US $ 727.85 million.

READ MORE---> India urged to stop helping Burmese junta...

Burmese Army orders civilians to pay cash gifts at wedding

By Takaloo, Rathidaung (Narinjara): The Burmese Army based in Rathidaung in Arakan State has recommended that people carry cash gifts to an army official’s wedding, according to local businessmen.

“The Acting Commander from LIB 536, told us to take cash gifts to the army official’s wedding, if we attended the ceremony. We had to give in to the demand in fear of retaliation and since it was an army official’s wedding,” he said.

The wedding ceremony was held on February 3, 2009, for Corporal Thaung Tun Oo and his warrant officer Tun Myint’s daughter Nwe Nwe Soe at Ray Thon Ray Hall for the Rathidaung-based Light Infantry Battalion 536.

The amount of cash was mentioned along with the invitation for a particular businessman and VPDC Chairman, as ordered by the acting commander of Light Infantry Battalion (536) Major Thein Nine to be given during the marriage,” the businessman said.

The Burmese Army had demanded Kyat 30,000 from a shrimp trading center, Kyat 15, 000 from one general store, Kyat 10,000 from a rice-mill and Kyat 15,000 to Kyat 30, 000 from a motor-boat owner inRathidaung Township, as gifts at the army personnel’s wedding.

Despite being unwilling to spend such a lot of money due to a crisis in their businesses, all the invited businessmen had to pay the recommended amount to avoid future problems with the army, another businessman said.

“The army had recommended a compulsory gift amount to be offered to the couple at the ceremony, while they were inviting us. Our businesses are not doing well currently and we were not willing to give such a lot of money. However, we had to pay because we are afraid of their interference in our business,” said the businessman.

The VPDC Chairmen of the township were also ordered to give not less than Kyat 5,000 by the army, a Chairman said.

According to local villagers, most of the chairmen had collected the cash from the villagers, citing the orders of the army.

According to a local source, Burmese Army battalions stationed in Arakan State used to collect illegal toll tax from local businessmen and rich men, whenever the army held any army official’s wedding ceremony or religious festivals.

READ MORE---> Burmese Army orders civilians to pay cash gifts at wedding...

Extensive farm lands confiscated in Maungdaw

Maungdaw, Arakan State (Kaladan): The concerned authorities, namely Nasaka or Burma’s border security force, confiscated more than 1,000 acres of farmland in Maungdaw Township on June 15, a local from Kyikanpyin village said.

The confiscated lands belong to Kyikanpyin village tract, he added.

The authorities did not mention the reason for the confiscation. During the monsoon season, the authorities offered to take lease of the farm lands from the Nasaka, in a bid to cultivate the lands during the season, a farmer from the village said.

However, none of the farmers agreed to lease their lands and the area was existing as a grass field.

On the other hand, the concerned authorities with the Land Survey Committee members measured the lands and erected posts with red flags and marked the boundary area in Shweza village tract, claiming it was for the new settlers, who would come from Burma proper. But, still the owners of the lands would be able to cultivate on those field, a village authority member said.

In Buthidaung Township, the authorities ordered the evacuation of 12 Rohingya villages of Wariyoung (Say Ohkya) village tract, last month for relocation of Natala villagers in that area, a school teacher from Buthidaung said.

Most of the villagers are farmers, after confiscation of their lands, the Rohingya become landless and jobless. Arakan State will turn into a place, where the Rohingya community will starve, because without their land, the Rohingya farmers will be compelled to cross the Burma-Bangladesh border. It is a very dangerous policy, which is followed by the junta authorities to wipe out the Rohingya community from Arakan soil, according to a politician from Arakan.

READ MORE---> Extensive farm lands confiscated in Maungdaw...

Rohingya youth murdered near Burma-Bangladesh border

Teknaf, Bangladesh (Kaladan): A Rohingya youth, who recently returned from Saudi Arabia, was murdered and his body found near a brick field of Lada yesterday, according to a source of the Teknaf Police.

Shahzan (33) son of Abdul Majed , returned from Holy Makkah of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on June 20 and was residing in the border area since he could not enter Burma for fear of arrest by the authorities, according to a refugee from Nayapara.

Shahzan met Kamal Shah, a registered refugee from Nayapara, who has a laundry shop in Lada Market near the unregistered Lada Camp and Bangladesh Riffles (BDR) camp. They became friends as Kamal was helping Shahzan to stay in the area, Kala Meah from Lada Market said.

Shahzan visited the Nayapara refugee camp frequently with Kamal Shah and stayed in his shed numbered 1020 and room number 6. With an introduction from Kamal Shah, Shahzan met Ali Ahmed, a local near the Nayapara camp and Kamal from Lada refugee camp. Shahzan kept his money with Ali Ahmed, according to a refugee, who did not want to disclose his identity.

On June 27, Shahzan drank alcohol and was wandering in the camp, when the security personnel arrested him and sent him to the Camp in Charge, where he was asked why and how he entered the camp. The Camp in Change handed him over to the Teknaf police station, but he was released on June 28 with the help of Ali Ahmed and Kamal Shah and stayed in Lada market in a teashop, said Anwar, who works in the Lada Market.

Ali Ahmed returned the money to Shahzan after he was released from the police station, Anwar added.

Yesterday, Shahzan’s body was found near a brick field and sent to Cox’s Bazaar for autopsy. Teknaf police have arrested Kamal Shah, Ali Ahmed and Kamal. However, the three persons are still in Teknaf police station and nobody knows who murdered Shahzan. The police are investigating the case, an aide of the police said.

Rohingya people, who work in Saudi Arabia, are mostly the victims of robbery, fraud and loot, when they return. They either lose their money or their lives as they cannot enter Burma, for fear of being arrested, a Rohingya elder, who stays in the refugee camp, said.

“Some go to Burma secretly to see their family, some come safely and some lose their money and their property while others are arrested,” he added.

READ MORE---> Rohingya youth murdered near Burma-Bangladesh border...

Ethnic Burmese among world’s ‘most threatened’

(DVB)–Nine ethnic groups in Burma have been ranked fifth on a table measuring groups of people throughout the world deemed to be most under threat of genocide, mass killing and other systematic violent repression.

Burma’s myriad ethnic groups, thought to number 137 in total, have long been marginalized by the ruling State Peace and Development Council, which is made up predominantly of the Burman group, which accounts for nearly 70 percent of Burma’s population.

The conflict between government forces and the ethnic opposition Karen National Union (KNU), which appears to be nearing an end, is thought to be the world’s longest running, and has forced 140,000 Karen into refugee camps along the Thai-Burma border.

Burma stands out in the Peoples Under Threat 2009 table, compiled by Minority Rights Group International (MRGI), as being one of only three countries in the top ten where Islam is not the dominant religion.

It is the threat of conflict in Muslim countries, in the context of Western countries tackling Islamic extremism, that dominates the top of the table.

Burma also takes a surprisingly high place given that, unlike Iraq, Afghanistan and, to an extent Pakistan, who rank second, fourth and sixth respectively, Burma faces no external interference.

Several prominent authorities on Burma, including British MPs, senior judges and a former advisor to the International Criminal Court, have said that state-sanctioned human rights abuses in Burma could now warrant charges of war crimes.

An Early Day Motion put forward by over 60 British MPs in May urged the UN to act on the campaign of ethnic cleansing that the ruling State Peace and Development Council is carrying out against ethnic nationalities.

The plight of Burma’s ethnic population was thrown into the spotlight earlier this year when around 1000 Rohingya refugees washed up in boats on Thailand’s shores, only to be towed back out to sea and set adrift by Thai authorities.

The Rohingya, who are a minority Muslim population, are not recognized by the Burmese government and suffer frequent discrimination due to their lack of legal status.

Reporting by Francis Wade

READ MORE---> Ethnic Burmese among world’s ‘most threatened’...

Suspected North Korean Ship Returns Home

Must keep an eye on shippings coming from other countries
by land, air, sea and strict control around the borders as well

The Irrawaddy News

A South Korean official reported on Tuesday that the North Korean vessel, Kang Nam I, which the U.S. Navy had been tracking because it was suspected of carrying illicit cargo, had probably arrived back home, according to a report by the Associated Press on Tuesday.

The U.S. Navy reported on June 19 that it was tracking the cargo vessel after it left port. The ship, which was believed destined for Burma, suddenly turned back on June 28 without delivering its cargo.

The Kang Nam I is believed to have entered the port of Nampo on North Korea's western coast late Monday, said a South Korean Defense Ministry official, who spoke of condition of anonymity, citing department policy. He said South Korea was trying to obtain confirmation of the vessel's return.

The chief of U.S. Naval operations, Adm. Gary Roughead, told reporters in Seoul on Monday that the ship's pending return showed that efforts are working to enforce UN sanctions.

"I think that's an indication of the way the international community came together," Roughead said of the ship's reversal.

He called the monitoring of the Kang Nam I "a very effective way" of stopping proliferation, and said the Navy will continue to conduct operations that support the effort to sanction North Korea.

Meanwhile, the U.N. Security Council issued a condemnation of North Korea's recent missile tests after a closed meeting in New York on Monday.

Accordingly to an Agence France Presse report on Tuesday, Japan's cabinet is expected to send a bill to parliament that allows the coast guard to inspect North Korean ships for nuclear and missile-related materials, in line with a UN resolution.

Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso’s cabinet hopes parliament will pass the bill by the end of this month, officials said, but the bill’s passage is not certain due to opposition to the unpopular prime minister.

The bill would authorize the coast guard to inspect ships both on the high seas and in Japanese waters. Inspectors would first be required to get approval from the captain of any ship targeted and from its country of origin, however.

Japan's Maritime Self-Defence Force, which is banned from offensive military action, could be called on to back up the coast guard if a ship targeted for inspection appears heavily armed, government officials said.

A UN Security Council resolution over North Korea's recent nuclear and missile tests passed last month calls on member states to stop and search vessels suspected of carrying banned weapons for the communist state.

Neither the UN resolution nor the Japanese bill authorizes the use of force.

Along with the United States, Japan pushed hard for tough sanctions after North Korea launched a long-range rocket on April 5, and conducted its second underground atomic test on May 25, followed by a series of missile launches.

READ MORE---> Suspected North Korean Ship Returns Home...

UN Security Council Condemns NKorea Missiles

The Irrawaddy News

UNITED NATIONS — The UN Security Council on Monday condemned North Korea's recent firing of seven ballistic missiles on US Independence Day, the reclusive country's biggest display of firepower in three years.

Uganda UN Ambassador Ruhakana Rugunda, who holds the 15-member council's rotating presidency, said the council members "condemned and expressed grave concern" at the missile launches, which violated UN resolutions and "pose a threat to regional and international security." The council will continue to closely monitor the situation and is committed to a "peaceful, diplomatic and political solution," he said.

On Saturday, North Korea fired missiles into the ocean off its east coast in violation of three UN resolutions.

Security Council members agreed that Pyongyang "must comply fully with its obligations" under the resolutions, Rugunda said.

The North's missile tests aggravated tensions that were already high after its May 25 underground nuclear test blast.

The council punished the North after its May nuclear test with a resolution and tough sanctions clamping down on alleged trading of banned arms and weapons-related material, including authorizing searches of suspect ships.

Japan requested Monday's Security Council meeting. Japanese UN Ambassador Yukio Takasu said the council should act "calmly and responsibly" and focus on enforcing existing resolutions.

"Those are very effective measures if everyone implements them," Takasu said.

He said Japan has asked all Southeast Asian nations, except junta-ruled Burma, to enforce the UN's North Korea resolutions. Takasu credited the new resolutions with forcing a North Korean ship suspected of possibly carrying illicit cargo to turn back, saying Pyongyang is "changing its behavior" and is "getting the message."

However, exactly why the ship, Kang Nam 1, turned back or what kind of cargo it carried remains unclear. Some observers have speculated that it was carrying weapons, possibly to Burma, where it has been suspected of transporting banned goods before.

The ship, that has likely returned home, according to South Korean officials, was the first to be monitored under UN Security Council Resolution 1874, passed last month. North Korea has said it would consider interception of its ships an act of war.

Takasu said that while the North's missile explosions were a provocation, the UN must not overreact.

"The Security Council should not be dictated by the pace and timing of the actions of the D.P.R.K (North Korea), we should be in control of the situation," he said. "In other words, we should try to contain the situation and try to diffuse emotional tensions as much as possible."

READ MORE---> UN Security Council Condemns NKorea Missiles...

Time to rethink multilateralism?

by Joseph Ball

Mizzima News - Much has been made in recent weeks of Burma's burgeoning relationship with North Korea – illicit arms trafficking, assistance in obtaining "the bomb" and expert direction on the construction of tunnel facilities. Admittedly, these are interesting stories to follow. But by far the greatest, and most contradictory, gift the reclusive regime in Pyongyang has provided the generals in Naypyitaw with is the gift of how to survive in the midst of a hostile international community.

Acquiring nuclear weapons is very much a long-term prospect, and incorporates a process fraught with significant obstacles. The recently exposed tunnel complexes are ultimately of less practical military use and purpose than what is at times inferred. But how to plot a course through an international diplomatic minefield…well, that is a gift that gives and just keeps on giving.

In his talks with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon over the past weekend, Burma's military leader, Senior General Than Shwe, is reported to have explicitly related to the Secretary-General – regarding the refusal of permission for Ban to meet with detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi – that the junta will not be seen to kowtow to international pressure.

And so, they didn't.

In short, the crux of Pyongyang's curriculum in conducting international relations encapsulates a need to appreciate that the international community must alternately be placated and put in its place, while staunchly adhering to the belief that it is bilateral relations that definitively carry the day. Any welcomed access to international institutions is viewed as a result of a progression in bilateral relations, as opposed to the corollary – which would see bilateral acceptance coming on the heels of adherence to international prerogatives.

The most prominent example of Pyongyang both placating and confronting the international community is the on-again off-again six-party talks. While often held out as a possibility through which to address the crisis in Burma, the six-party talks, covering 2003 to 2007, have arguably resulted in no tangible progress of which to speak, with North Korea at present – sparked by international outrage over an April satellite launch – claiming it "will never again take part in such talks and will not be bound by any agreement reached at the talks." Pyongyang, too, will not be seen to kneel before any international community.

Meanwhile, the North has long held to a foreign policy prioritizing bilateral talks with the United States in order to address the fifty-six year impasse on the peninsula, as the United States is perceived as critical in assisting the country out of its economic malaise and in relieving pressure on the security sector.

However, the United States has not warmed to the idea of bilateral talks – opting instead to try and work through an international framework – leaving a North Korean regime increasingly feeling threatened and fixated on security concerns and, thus, ignoring the development of the state and people, though able in turn to blame sanctions for the state of the economy.

It should not be forgotten that it was a bilateral initiative launched by the United States toward North Korea at the close of the eighties that realized the most success, before souring over the course of the nineties. During the course of the thaw, regular exchanges between the two countries took place in such diverse theaters as academia, sports, journalism and cultural studies.

The Tatmadaw, Burmese military, is a highly nationalistic institution. As such, it attests to represent the state of Burma. And the state of Burma exists within a system of states. States have armies and defined national interests. The international community, practically speaking for the purposes of the junta, has neither.

In the aftermath of Ban's largely perceived failed visit, several voices are calling for ever greater international action to ratchet up the pressure on the junta. This is a pipedream. Burma's generals are acutely aware that the United Nations is not the equivalent of a World Government. For that matter, regional organizations are also of limited importance to the junta in its attempts to balance security and economic interests.

A practical limitation on regional, or international for that matter, organizations clearly played itself out this past week in Honduras. While much was made of the Organization of American States (OAS) determining to expel the Central American country this past Saturday, the fact is Honduras had already unilaterally rejected any authority of the OAS. Significantly, this means – barring some kind of agreement between the competing factions – that it will be up to individual states to decide how to punish the country. Of course, it will also be up to individual states to decide if it is in their greater national interest to pursue a positive relationship with the new government.

The argument that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) needs Burma more than Burma needs ASEAN is not new. It is not difficult to envision a non-ASEAN Burma quickly reaching bilateral trade and economic packages with a number of remaining member states.

Bilateral relations, as with North Korea's leadership, do matter to Burma's generals – and North Korea is but one example of this. Junta representatives were not sent to ASEAN or U.N. headquarters in recent months to seek consultation and exchange information on recent events inside the country and other matters. No, liaisons were instead sent directly to national capitals maintaining a working bilateral relationship with the regime.

Further, the visit earlier this year of former Singaporean Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong to Naypyitaw is likely one of the more significant visits by a foreign leader or delegation in some time. Serving as an ambassador for the interests of the Lion City – as opposed to any wider grouping – in the future of Burma, reported exchanges between Than Shwe and Goh took a decidedly different turn to, say, what the United Nations top diplomat experienced.

As with North Korea, Burma is interested in bilateral relations with North American and European powers in order to gain access to greater financial rewards and, by default, access to and acceptance within the international community. But, with little interest on the part of prospective partners, the regime instead consistently resorts to a disproportionate emphasis on security doctrine – ensuring its own survival to the detriment of the greater good.

It may be that there is no diplomatic, bilateral or otherwise, breakthrough presently waiting to be had concerning Burma's heretofore recalcitrant generals, but pretending that increased pressure from an international consortium is automatically the most effective means of assuaging change is to refuse to question and challenge an historically failed strategy.

If the United States and other national governments currently viewed as hostile to the Burmese junta are to try and wrest change from the generals, it may be time to contemplate more actively joining in the game already in progress – expanded bilateral relations – instead of waiting for the start of a game Burma's generals have no intention of ever seriously playing. Results certainly won't be easy or swift to come by, but the last decades prove this of all strategies thus far employed.

For those obsessed with the primacy of multilateralism and international action…think of it as a strategy of enhanced multilateral bilateralism on the part of the international community.

And, it unfortunately has to be noted, the adoption of additional sanctions by sovereign governments does not count as pursuing a bilateral policy – as it has been remarked upon seemingly ad infinitum of the need for international acceptance of a sanctions policy vis-à-vis Burma if sanctions stand a chance of critically affecting the existing socio-political power matrix.

In the meantime, headlines will continue to be dominated by evolving "diabolical" bilateral workings between Pyongyang and Naypyitaw in concert with a litany of calls for increased international pressure to counter the growing threat. As well as, it should be noted, calls for China to increase bilateral pressure on the junta. But where's the bilateral carrot and stick game from governments of a different political ilk to that of Beijing?

In the absence of an altered strategic approach, Burma's generals will continue to ape, intentionally or not, the North Korean perfected and contradictory response of over emphasis on military security at the expense of socio-economic and political development and a truly national agenda. But, despite its considerable shortcomings, it is a strategy thus far proven to at least do one thing – maintain the political status quo in the face of stiff international consternation.

READ MORE---> Time to rethink multilateralism?...

Two DKBA soldiers desert

HURFOM (Rehmonnya): Many young people have to flee their homes in Karen State, due to recruitment for Border Guard Forces (BGF) and other government-run militias, and increased militarization.

According to two soldiers who deserted from the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), “Some of the DKBA higher-ranking Generals agreed with the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) to be a BGF; therefore, the DKBA tries to recruit for the BGF…many young people have been fleeing from their home to avoid the recruitment.”

The two former-DKBA soldiers, three-year veterans who arrived at the Thai-Burma border, told HURFOM of the concomitant increase in troops: “the DKBA has been increasing their troops in the area…now, the DKBA has 6,000 troops. They [DKBA] will try to get another more than 3000 troops to develop their army. They target the young people between 20 and 30 (years-of-age) and recruit them in the army.

“In early May 2009, the [DKBA] Chief of staff Oo Kyaw Than and Junior Chief of staff Htun Hlaing have been commanding their troops to join the [Burmese] army and recruiting new soldiers…a hundred young people have been recruited by the DKBA army in our area.”

Because the DKBA Battalions force young people to join, many have fled, including Kha Lae Dta Gone Daing village, Kyainnseikyi Township (where the DKBA’s Battalion no. 906 is located) and Thee Khu Thaw village (where the DKBA’s Battalion no. 901 is located).

The two ex-DKBA members, 25- and 28-years-old, said that, “many Karen young people flee to the Thai – Burma border. Some young people who come from wealthy families, they just escape to Rangoon (Yangon) and find jobs there.”

HURFOM confirmed the report that the DKBA’s Colonel Saw Chit Thu commanded his army to recruit about 3,000 to implement their new brigade and insisted on recruiting as many young people as possible in Meh Naw Hta and Meh K’Taw, Karen State.

Said one of the deserters, 25, “Because of the fighting between two Karen groups [KNU and DKBA], Karen young people don’t want to join the army. They worried killing each other. As a result, they avoid joining the army with the DKBA.

“Because of the desire to be private troops for the SPDC, they followed whatever the SPDC commanded of them. We are like their slaves; we cannot do for our people anymore. Now, the SPDC forces us to fight and kill each other. This situation is awful in our Karen history. We don’t want to accept [this]; therefore, we left the DKBA army.”

HURFOM received minutes from a May 12th DKBA meeting. In the meeting, it was announced that the DKBA had only 6,000 soldiers and needed more than 3,000 to extend their troops, focusing on young men to be mercenaries. For those extant DKBA soldiers over 50-years-old, the meeting addressed pensions they would receive from the SPDC.

READ MORE---> Two DKBA soldiers desert...

IDPs, land confiscation and forced recruitment in Papun District

Karen Human Reports

Download File here

In the northernmost township of Papun District, 13 of 46 Burma Army battalions deployed as part of an ongoing offensive in northern Karen State were withdrawn between the end of 2008 and the start of 2009. Although this has opened some space for villagers, they report continued patrols, restricted access to farmland and severe food shortages. Elsewhere in the district where SPDC control is more comprehensive, villagers report forced labour and land confiscation for road construction as well as conscription as 'human minesweepers' and into the local government militia. This report presents information on ongoing abuses committed by SPDC forces in Papun District from February to May 2009.

IDPs, land confiscation and forced recruitment in Papun District

READ MORE---> IDPs, land confiscation and forced recruitment in Papun District...

Life is cheap in the East, even cheaper in Burma

By Pascal Khoo-Thwe

(DVB)–The nineteenth-century Jewish-German writer and critic, Henrich Heine, once said, "Where they burn books, they will ultimately also burn people."

When the Nazis organized the nationwide burning of books deemed 'un-German' in May 1933, not many people could have imagined that they would go on to kill many unarmed, non-combatant and innocent people, mostly Jews, on the basis of racial ideology.

In Burma, the first military junta, led by the late General Ne Win, caused a similar shock when it seized power in March 1962. Then on this day in 1962, soldiers under the command of the 'Butcher of Rangoon', Sein Lwin, dynamited and blew up Rangoon University's student union building with around one hundred protesting students still inside it. Scores were killed. The bloodied site was bulldozed and then paved over.

Some years later, Ne Win blamed one of his officers for the infamous incident, and the latter pointed finger back at him. But tellingly, none volunteered to re-construct the building or apologized for the action as they have no desire to see the resurrection of Burmese student activism that precipitated the demand for independence of Burma from the British. True to the form of the oligarchic rulers of old Burma, they also felt that admitting the mistake would be tantamount to accepting failure. Unlike the Nazis of the Third Reich, whose overarching ambition was to create a pure race, Burma’s rulers use a policy of ‘Burmanisation’ primarily to achieve their final goal of absolute power.

It was a symbolic destruction of the future of the country, as well as a spiteful act against the students and intellectuals of the country regarded by Ne Win and his cohorts with a mixture of suspicion and jealousy. Following the incident, the junta gradually and imperceptibly downgraded the standard of education, once regarded as the best in Asia, by filling the pages of textbooks with propaganda and slogans. Passages of rational and humourous arguments were also phased out, making it harder for teachers to teach anything meaningful or useful.

Many Burmese students of that generation regard the event as the beginning of the ongoing struggle for predominance between the army and the civilians in Burma. In fact, it is also a struggle for the claimant of a definite 'Burmese' identity. The generals want to mould Burma into a uniformed, aloof and 'pure' nation while civilian leaders want it to be a nation of vibrant and prosperous people. But both sides lack well thought-out plans, the patience and diligence needed to realize their dream of a strong nation. They both put an emphasis on the importance of discipline and self-sacrifice but many are reluctant to commit themselves to their ideals. Over the years, the gap between the army and civilian life has become wider to the point where the army started to think of itself as of a special class and breed, while the people started to see the army as an alien force or a force working for alien powers occupying their country.

Tyranny prospers

To better understand the problem and impacts caused by the 7 July incident, one needs to look at the situation at the time and the mentality of the dictator and his followers, who had further sown 'the seed of the poison flower'. Having gained its independence in 1948, Burma was a country struggling with rebellions and political intrigues when Ne Win seized power from the civilian government of U Nu, regarded by the former as a group of weak and corrupt politicians. To make matters worse, the country was caught between the two main sides of the Cold War, and powerful nations were not interested in who ruled Burma, as long as the country was on their side of the great divide. Thus, tyranny was allowed to prosper and take deep root in the name of stability.

On the other hand, Ne Win was known to have harboured deep jealousy and hatred towards his more educated and charismatic peers, such as national hero Aung San, the father of Aung San Suu Kyi, and the civilian leader U Nu. A true gambler in character, Ne Win waited for his chance with patience and ruthlessness, and surrounded himself with yes-men and mindless thugs. He had enough intelligence to outwit his enemies and friends alike with the brutality and efficiency, but lacked the will to rebuild the nation as promised, once he was in power.

The combination of instability and the rule of a ruthless leader was to turn a relatively prosperous Burma into a country of recycled fear, poverty and suffering that continues to this day. Ne Win's legacy is acutely felt among new generations born after his coup, who are forced to be obedient and placid before they have the chance to be a decent and responsible human beings. Many are caught in a state of mind with which they can neither comfortably hold on to these traditions nor go forward with confidence, partly due to the widespread confusion and clash of ideas among older generations. The 'good' old traditions of Burma are only kept in words, and older generations can only watch in despair the gradual erosion of traditions by economic pressures and political hypocrisy.

Ne Win also left behind the legacy of acute mistrust and disrespect among the people caused by his 'Big Brother Is Watching You' policy. People might maintain a public show of respect and politeness outwardly, but once out of sight they bless each other with derogative terms of various forms. Thanks to years of draconian censorship, the majority of the people also lost the skill to offer critical comments and hold rational arguments, as those who do are often accused of being 'un-Burmese' or un-revolutionary, and thus sidelined or persecuted. In general, Burmese communities regard criticism of any kind with suspicion as many people can't help but use criticism as the means to attack the people they do not like.

The worst legacy left behind by the blasting of the student union building would be the callousness with which people in power, especially those with guns and money, often treat the lives of ordinary people. The derogatory remark, "Life is cheap in the East," was once added to by a Burmese student with the quip, "It's even cheaper in Burma". The impacts of the continuing occurrence of state-sponsored atrocities in Burma since 1962 also numb the minds of both the victims and perpetrators alike until they break down with disastrous results for their families and communities. Many soldiers, policemen and men with combat experiences in general find it hard to settle down in a relatively peaceful community and many of them commit violent acts on other people or themselves.

It would be far from easy to repair the physical and mental damage done to the country by successive military rulers, as the generals who succeeded Ne Win are even less subtle and scrupulous in their approach to controlling the nation. Whereas Ne Win jealously guarded the natural resources of Burma against foreign hands, his successors could not wait to sell them off to anyone who has money – in both cases, for their own benefits.

At the same time, they do not hesitate to torture or kill anyone, including monks, who are held in high esteem by the majority of Burmese, as witnessed by the crackdowns on the monk-led September 2007 Saffron Revolution. Similarly, when cyclone Nargis struck the Irrawaddy delta in May 2008, the army didn't allow aid agencies to help the survivors of the storm and the accompanying sea surge until it was too late.

Nevertheless, after nearly half a century on, student activism, along with the struggle for freedom, is still alive and kicking in various forms inside and outside Burma despite drawbacks. Students do not have to depend on a union building for their survival, partly thanks to now being able to communicate with each other on the internet or phone. But they still lack a sense of clear direction and organization which is needed to spearhead a new 'revolution' to transform Burma into a truly confident nation at peace with itself.

The best one can hope and work towards now, it seems, is the emergence of a new generation of youth and leaders who concentrate their energies on pragmatic issues rather than ideology, and who are capable of performing their varied talents in unison, rather than in unity, and coordinating their actions for a common aim. The word 'unity' has often been used and abused by both the opposition and military leaders when they have nothing else to offer to the people.

Meanwhile, the ruling junta is doing its best to perpetuate its hold on power and destroy any form that resembles unity on the part of the opposition, carrying out actions from crashing websites to arresting anyone wearing t-shirts displaying political slogans. The generals are digging tunnels, buying weapons and installing advanced technology to maintain their version of Burmese identity, while the opposition groups are fighting vigorously - sometimes, among themselves - to come up with the 'best' solution for the country. The struggle continues.

The question of who in the end will win depends on how much each side could provide a better future for the people and establishes the foundation for a solid and stable administrative system capable of governing a nation with diverse identities and interests. The successful side should not be selected on the grounds of how many guns or slogans they have. For more than anything, Burma has been a geographic entity divided and plighted by the delusion of who are the real 'Burmese', and who own it.

READ MORE---> Life is cheap in the East, even cheaper in Burma...

DKBA meeting with UN chief ‘scripted’ by junta

(DVB)–An official from a Burmese pro-junta militia who met with UN chief Ban Ki-moon last week said the meeting was orchestrated by the government, who scripted all questions put to the Secretary General.

Representatives from seven pro-government ceasefire groups, including the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), met with Ban Ki-moon in the capital Naypyidaw during his trip to Burma last weekend.

The DKBA have been supporting the government in their offensive against the opposition Karen National Union, which has forced thousands of refugees into Thailand over the past month.

A DKBA official told DVB under condition of anonymity that their group’s representatives were not allowed to speak to Ban independently, but only could say what government had told them to say to him.

“Our representatives told us when they came back from [Naypyidaw] that there was no outcome [from the meeting] as they were not allowed to say what they had in mind to say,” the official said.

DKBA representatives had planned to discuss strategies to restore peace along the border areas in Karen state to prevent more fighting, said the official.

“But when they arrived [in Naypyidaw], government officials there gave them a piece of paper and told them to only say what was written on it.”

Representatives were unable to freely answer Ban’s question about the ongoing fights along the border, said the official, who added that state-run newspaper would then frame the meeting as a successful attempt at dialogue.

Ban Ki-moon said on Saturday that he was “deeply disappointed” with his two-day visit to Burma, having had his request to meet with imprisoned opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi denied twice.

Observers have said that not enough emphasis was placed on tackling the issue of the relationship between Burma’s myriad ethnic groups and the predominantly Burman ruling State Peace and Development Council.

Reporting by Naw Noreen

READ MORE---> DKBA meeting with UN chief ‘scripted’ by junta...

Thai investment grows in the face of ‘useless’ Burma sanctions

(DVB)–Thai PM Abhisit Vejjajiva has said that the international boycott of Burma would not impact on the country’s ruling generals as Thailand looks to explore further investment opportunities in Burma.

The comments came during talks with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who made a brief stopover in Thailand after leaving Burma on Saturday.

Observers have said that Ban Ki-moon’s visit to Burma achieved little, with his request to meet imprisoned opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi rejected twice, and the regime showing no signs of opening up dialogue with opposition groups.

Thailand currently holds the chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and has repeatedly expressed its desire to see Suu Kyi freed, much to the chagrin of the Burmese generals.

Yet like China, it remains unmoved in its refusal to join with Western countries, including the United States and European Union, in implementing sanctions on the regime.

While Thailand defends this policy in the face of sanctions that are “not useful”, as Vejjajiva told the meeting on Saturday, some observers say Thailand is acting to satisfy self interests.

“I think it’s a combination of both,” said Krasaik Choonhaven, head of the ASEAN Inter-parliamentary Myanmar Caucus.

“In Thailand there is an attempt to balance the policy that good governance should not only be applied to our own country, but our neighbouring countries.

“[Without doing so] this leads to insecurity, such as the allowance of drug producing warlords… [We should] punish those who produce or collaborate in an activity that leaves thousands of refugees in Thailand,” he said.

Thailand’s Board of Investment is set to send around 25 businessmen to Burma to explore new investment opportunities in four major cities, the Thai News Service reported.

Thai business investments in Burma currently amount to $US7.4 million. According to Burma’s Weekly Eleven journal, total foreign investment in Burma now stands at $US15 billion, the majority of which is chanelled into Burma’s oil and gas sector.

Reporting by Francis Wade

READ MORE---> Thai investment grows in the face of ‘useless’ Burma sanctions...

Ban Warns Junta of Costly Isolation

The Irrawaddy News

Washington – Expressing deep disappointment at the failure to make any headway with the leaders of the military junta, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has warned Burma of “costly isolation” if it sticks with its current policy and ignores the concerns of the international community.

Briefing reporters on Ban’s trip to Burma last week, his spokeswoman, Michele Montas, said on Monday that the Secretary General was deeply disappointed that Senior General Than Shwe had refused his request to see Aung San Suu Kyi.

“Allowing a visit, he said, 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,” Montas said.

Even as Ban observed that the junta had failed to take a unique opportunity to show its commitment to a new era of political openness, Montas said the Secretary General feels that his visit enabled him to convey the concerns of the international community very frankly and directly to the military government, and he outlined his proposals for progress while he was there.

“Among those proposals are the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners without delay, so that they can be allowed to participate freely in the political process,” Montas said.

Meanwhile the US Campaign for Burma announced that Ban’s Burma policy is “fundamentally flawed” and demanded immediate action by the Security Council in a press release on Monday.

“Ban not only failed to obtain the release of the world's only imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi, or even a single political prisoner (out of the country’s 2,100) in Burma, but he also failed to even secure a meeting with her,” the statement said.

"For over a decade, the UN Secretary-General has sent envoys to Burma seeking changes in the country, a policy used by China and Russia as an excuse to avoid action on Burma at the UN Security Council. Finally, the world can see how this process is fundamentally flawed—without strong action by the UN Security Council, even the UN Secretary-General himself has failed," said Aung Din, executive director of US Campaign for Burma.

During his Burma trip last week, Ban met Senior General Than Shwe. "The United Nations must not allow its credibility to be destroyed by a two-bit dictator like Than Shwe," Aung Din said.

"It is time for Ban Ki-moon to ask the UN Security Council to pass a global arms embargo against Burma's military regime, while at the same time initiating an inquiry into crimes against humanity and war crimes committed by Than Shwe's regime,” he said.

Noting that the United Nations has used arms embargoes in numerous cases to press for change in particular countries, notably against apartheid-era South Africa in the 1970s and 1980s, the US Campaign for Burma said a recent report commissioned by five of the world's leading judges and jurists found widespread evidence suggesting that Burma's military regime has been carrying out crimes against humanity and war crimes against its own civilians.

Two weeks ago, nearly 60 members of the U.S. House of Representatives wrote to President Obama urging him to take action on crimes against humanity in Burma at the UN Security Council.

READ MORE---> Ban Warns Junta of Costly Isolation...

Resolution in Congress to Renew Import Restrictions on Junta

The Irrawaddy News

WASHINGTON—Two identical resolutions have been introduced in the US House of Representatives and Senate calling for the renewal of sanctions on the Burmese military junta under the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act of 2003, which its sponsors believe would send clear message that the US is not interested in doing business with such regimes.

Sponsored by influential US lawmakers Joe Crowley and Peter King, the resolution calls for the renewal of the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act 2003, which expires on July 26. Cosponsored by 19 other Congressmen, it was introduced on July 4 and has been sent to the House Committee on Ways and Means for necessary action.

In the Senate the resolution has been sponsored by Senators Diane Feinstein and Mitch McConnell and consponsored by 15 influential senators including John McCain, Hillary Clinton and Joseph Biden.

In a letter to Congress on Monday, The American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA)—the national trade association representing the apparel and footwear industry, and its suppliers—applauded the stand by Crowley and King against the repressive military junta ruling Burma by sponsoring such a resolution. Another identical letter was sent to Senators Feinstein and McCain.

“We strongly support this renewal because it will send a clear and unmistakable message that the United States is not interested in doing business with regimes such as the one that brutally enslaves the people of Burma,” Kevin Burke, president and CEO of AAFA said in a joint letter to Crowley and King.

“Despite our efforts, the ruling military junta in Burma has shown no willingness to address the many problems that made these sanctions necessary,” Burke said.

Indeed, as the most recent US State Department Human Rights Report states, “The government detained civic activists indefinitely and without charges.” Moreover, “The government routinely infringed on citizens' privacy and restricted freedom of speech, press, assembly, association, religion, and movement,” it said.

Most recently, the international community has been outraged by the junta’s arrest and persecution of the General Secretary of the National League for Democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi. Facing trumped-up charges that she violated her most recent house arrest, the long-time advocate of freedom and democracy faces up to five years in prison.

In light of the planned, upcoming elections, the first multiparty election since 1990, when the NLD was declared victorious, many believe the arrest is an attempt to keep Aung San Suu Kyi isolated from the Burmese people, Burke alleged.

“Therefore, we believe that now is the time to reinforce our sanctions tools against Burma’s government. We hope that we can also work together to capitalize on heightened international awareness of the plight of the Burmese people and press our allies in the region and around the world to impose similar sanctions against this brutal regime,” Burke said.

READ MORE---> Resolution in Congress to Renew Import Restrictions on Junta...

China riots: 156 dead in ethnic unrest

Peaceful China sitting in the Angels House of the UN,
is killing peaceful protesters back at home where no-one can see...
Why is Satan allowed to sit in the House of Peace?

By John Garnaut

(SMH) - Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang region in western China, was locked locked down under curfew last night after being rocked by the deadliest officially-acknowledged violence since the Tiananmen massacres of 1989.

The state news agency Xinhua said the death toll has risen to 156 with more than 800 injured, but it still remains impossible to verify who has been killing who.

The streets of Urumqi were deserted last night. Police road blocks throughout the city ensured the trickle of authorised traffic was confined to main arterial roads.

This correspondent was corralled into a minivan whose driver worked in the local Tourism Bureau, and who took advantage of his privileged road access to charge us more than twelve times the usual fare to get to us downtown.

Foreign journalists have been ushered to the Hai De Hotel, where they can file stories and receive online information at a specially designated press centre.

In contrast to Tibet, when foreign journalists were locked out of the region, The State Council's Information Office has decided to allow foreign journalists into Urumqi under controlled conditions.

But internet connections are unavailable elsewhere across the city while mobile phone and international dialling coverage appears to remain off-limits for most Urumqi locals.

Men in camouflage uniforms loiter on an armoured personal carrier outside the Hai De Hotel. Next to them are troop-carrying trucks including one which is decorated with a huge red banner: "The People's Armed Police Love the People, Stopping Riots for the People". (JEG's: does that mean "killing innocent people to stop the riots?" but who created the riot, it was a peaceful protest, not a riot.)

Elsewhere in Urumqi, it seems, internet connections and many mobile phone services have been cut.

Chinese official media have released only sparse details of the events of the violence and their causes, including television footage of burning vehicles and bloodied and dazed civilians, who appeared to be of the dominant Han Chinese ethnic group.

There are anecdotal reports of gunfire on Sunday night which appears to be corroborated by the background sounds in amateur footage posted on video sharing sites.

Uighur people now make up slightly less than half of the Xinjiang population, but in Urumqi they are a small minority, after waves of Han and Hui (Islamic) Chinese migration from the east.

The city is deeply divided on racial grounds, with Uighurs and Han Chinese often refusing to interact with each other even in commercial transactions.

In September last year, a Han Chinese driver in Urumqi refused to let this correspondent into his taxi before apologising to my Chinese-looking assistant: "I'm sorry, I thought he was Uighur".

Uighurs routinely boycott Han Chinese stores and individuals from both groups frequently categorise the other in offensive racial terms.

Uighurs have largely missed out on the region's recent resource-driven economic boom.

Since 1997 and particularly since March last year China's security apparatus has further inflamed tensions by singling out Uighurs for special restrictions and surveillance.

Uighurs on a plane from Beijing said their Beijing homes had been under constant surveillance yesterday by plain-clothed police, though they have no knowledge of or connection to the Xinjiang violence.

Today Chinese officials have said they will release more information and conduct a guided tour of the riot scene.

As of this morning, however, there remained only fragments of information and a trickle of unverified reports about what may be the deadliest violence to have rocked China in 20 years.

READ MORE---> China riots: 156 dead in ethnic unrest...

Russia, US to agree nuclear arms cuts

(News.com.au) -RUSSIAN and US leaders Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama have announced agreements on Afghanistan and cutting their nuclear arsenals as they seek a new era in battered relations.

The ex-Cold War foes have issued a declaration on replacing a key disarmament treaty - including figures for major cuts in nuclear warheads - and have clinched a breakthrough deal for US military transit for Afghanistan across Russia.

But as Mr Obama made his first visit to Moscow as president, they still remain divided over US plans to install a missile defence shield in eastern Europe and Moscow's policy towards the pro-Western, ex-Soviet state of Georgia.

"The president and I agreed that the relationship between Russia and the United States (has suffered) from a sense of drift," Mr Obama said in the Kremlin with Mr Medvedev today.

"We resolved to reset US-Russian relations. Today, after less than six months of collaboration (since coming to office), we have done exactly that," he said.

The declaration signed by the presidents pledges to reach a new nuclear arms reduction pact to replace the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START).

Mr Obama said it provides for cuts of "up to a third" from current limitations.

It "commits both parties to a legally binding treaty that will reduce nuclear weapons," the White House said.

START is due to expire on December 5 but the declaration gave no target date for a renewal, instructing negotiators to complete the work as quickly as possible.

The declaration called for a reduction in the number of nuclear warheads in Russian and US strategic arsenals to between 1500 and 1675 within seven years and the number of ballistic missile carriers to between 500 and 1100.

The cuts go beyond those levels set in the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), which calls for both countries to reduce the number of deployed warheads to between 1700 and 2200 on either side by 2012.

Mr Obama also proposed that the United States host a global nuclear security summit next year and suggested to Mr Medvedev that Russia host a subsequent one in order to draft a new, "reinvigorated" non-proliferation treaty.

The Afghanistan agreement means Russia has authorised the use of its airspace for the transit of US troops and arms, a major boost for Mr Obama's bid to step up the fight against the Taliban.

Previously Russia had allowed the US to ship only non-lethal military supplies across its territory by train.

The two sides also signed an agreement to resume bilateral military cooperation suspended in August last year over Moscow's war in Georgia, an event which sent ties plummeting to a post-Cold War low.

But amid the smiles and expressions of goodwill, the US plan to install missile defence facilities in the Czech Republic and Poland - which Russia says threatens its security - remained a major sticking point.

Mr Obama expressed hope, however, that "over time we will have seen that the US and Russian positions can be reconciled" and announced that both sides would step up their joint analysis of missile threats.

He also bluntly repeated the US dissatisfaction with Russia's recognition of two breakaway Russian regions as independent, Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity "must be respected".

"There are areas where we still disagree... we had a frank discussion on Georgia."

From correspondents in Moscow
Agence France-Presse

READ MORE---> Russia, US to agree nuclear arms cuts...

Yet another snub to the UN

Perhaps the world community needs to think outside the box.
Perhaps we should explore certain ideas such as
an exit strategy for the generals and
power sharing, controversial as they may be.

Thailand should be doing more to increase pressure on the junta in Burma

(The Nation) -United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon headed home empty-handed from a trip to Burma this past weekend. Ban wanted to visit pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, who is confined in the notorious Insein Prison, where she is defending herself against charges of breaching the terms of her house arrest, after an uninvited American man swam to her lakeside house in May.

As expected, the generals snubbed Ban. Even before he began his trip, Ban was warned against making the visit for fear that it would play into the hands of the ruling junta.

The UN chief was kept waiting overnight on Friday in the Burmese capital Naypydaw before hearing about the refusal of his visit. He told reporters during his later stopover in Bangkok that he was "deeply disappointed".

He said his visit could have been an "important symbol of the government's willingness to embark on the kind of meaningful engagement that will be essential if the election in 2010 is to be seen as credible".

Ban's meeting with Senior General Than Shwe did allow him to convey "very frankly" the international community's concerns about Burma's progress towards democracy.

"If you use the word reject, it's only my request to meet Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. For all my proposals, I believe they will seriously consider [them]. They have not rejected any of what I proposed," Ban said.

Among Ban's requests was that some 2,000 political prisoners be released and that the junta ensures the upcoming general election be free and fair.

In a rare public speech to hundreds of diplomats and aid workers in Rangoon, Ban outlined his vision for a democratic Burma.

"I am here today to say: Myanmar [Burma], you are not alone. We want to work with you for a united, peaceful, prosperous, democratic and modern Myanmar," Ban said.

While Ban may have given the Burmese generals an earful about the frustrations and concerns of the world community, there is nothing to suggest that the military top brass will heed his requests, much less anybody else's, regardless of the threat of more sanctions.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has already raised the possibility of further sanctions, while US President Barack Obama has slammed the legal proceedings against Suu Kyi as a "show trial".

Suu Kyi has been either jailed or under house arrest for 13 of the last 19 years, since the junta refused to recognise her National League for Democracy's victory in the 1990 election.

The Burmese authorities have no qualms about handing out lengthy jail terms to anybody who gets in their way. Neither are they afraid to gun down protesters in cold blood, including men of religion and unarmed civilians, as seen in 2007 when democracy activists were killed during demonstrations led by Buddhist monks. And so when the junta snubbed the UN chief, it was not a surprise.

Ban was correct to say that access to Suu Kyi should not be a benchmark for success. But despite the number of visits by UN special envoys, there hasn't been much progress towards reform. Indeed, it is clear the Burmese regime is not going to release its hold on power.

Perhaps the entire approach has been wrong. Perhaps the world community needs to think outside the box. Perhaps we should explore certain ideas such as an exit strategy for the generals and power sharing, controversial as they may be.

Instead, Western countries continue to raise sanctions against the junta as neighbouring India and China take advantage of the regime's isolation.

Asean, of which Burma is a member - with its long-standing policy of non-interference - cannot muster anything more than a statement here and there.

Thai civil society activists urge the world community to step up the pressure but tend to overlook the fact that many of our own people, especially gem traders, benefit handsomely from doing business with Burma. Let's not fool ourselves into thinking that the Burmese gem industry actually benefits the people of Burma.

But then again, we shouldn't be surprised. The Thai public doesn't seem to be bothered by the Burmese junta's use of rape as a weapon against innocent civilians, much less its strategy of purposely displacing hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians as it tries to wipe out rebel armies.

To make matter worse, Thai soldiers guarding the northern border appear to pay little consideration to the plight of these displaced people and instead look for the first opportunity to force refugees back over the Burmese side of the border in spite of the ongoing violence.

It has taken the courage of a few aid workers and others, who make public these incidents, before the brass in Bangkok ordered the forced repatriations to stop.

Sad to say, if our refugee policy appears to be driven by what other people think, then we are not much different from the junta that brutalises its own citizens. At least the Burmese junta has the ability not to pretend to be something it is not.

READ MORE---> Yet another snub to the UN...

Burmese Refugee Numbers Swell in Thailand

The Irrawaddy News

MAE SOT, Thailand — As the 50,000th Burmese refugee to be resettled abroad recently left Thailand for the United States, thousands of others fled their military-ruled homeland to seek shelter under tarps and in temples along the Thai-Burmese border.

"We would be happier if we were back home as this is not our land, but we will stay here because that side is not safe," said a 30-year-old medic treating a child for malaria, pointing across an open field to Burma.

Escalated violence in rural Burma means despite the world's largest resettlement program, Thailand's refugee population—numbering more than 100,000—is not likely to diminish any time soon. More than 4,000 ethnic minority Karen have crossed the border in the past month.

The exodus was sparked by fighting between the Karen National Union and the Burmese regime, a brutal conflict that has been going on for 60 years as the Karen seek greater autonomy.

In addition to the refugees in Thailand, the aid group Thai Burma Border Consortium estimates fighting has spawned nearly 500,000 internally displaced people in eastern Burma and countless atrocities against civilians.

Critics say Burma's army seeks to eliminate opposition from the Karen and other ethnic minorities to seize control of the area's natural resources, a valuable source of income for the impoverished country.

And with elections scheduled for July 2010, securing Karen State would help the ruling generals claim the entire country was behind the vote and their so-called "road map to democracy." Critics have said the moves are a sham designed to perpetuate military rule.

"The main thing is the election—the government wants the Karen out of the picture," said Ba Win, a teacher who worked as a government veterinarian in Karen State for five years.

The latest round of fighting erupted in early June as government troops and the allied Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, or DKBA, moved against Karen military positions and a large civilian camp, sending villagers across the border north of Mae Sot, a Thai border town 240 miles (380 kilometers) northwest of the Thai capital, Bangkok.

The Karen Human Rights Group says the government is also forcing Karen villagers to join the DKBA and turn the group into a border guard force to better control natural resources in Karen State.

Meanwhile, the thin tarps provided the refugees are not keeping the heavy monsoon rains at bay, but they fear if the rain stops, fighting will break out again.

No mosquito nets are available to stop the spread of malaria, and the refugees depend on Mae Sot-based relief organizations and a nearby Thai Karen village for food and supplies.

They won't return home unless land mines in areas surrounding their villages are cleared. "Fighting we can see and run away from, but land mines can be anywhere," said the Karen medic, who like others declined to give a name because of the refugees' precarious status.

A number of the displaced, living in tent clusters according to the village of their origin, say they lost family members to mines during the flight to Thailand.

Other newly arrived Karen refugees have taken shelter in temples and schools along the border, but were wearing out their welcome as Buddhist Lent celebrations began this week, said Kathryn Halley of the aid group Partners, Relief and Development.

The new Karen refugees are to be moved into a single temporary camp, but aid groups and the Thai military have yet to agree on an exact secure location. Permanent camps in the area are too full to accommodate them.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees says it will resettle 6,000 of the 112,000 registered Myanmar refugees in Thailand this year. The United States, Canada, Australia and several Nordic countries participate in the resettlement program that began in 2004 and is now the world's largest, according to the agency.

Mae Sot-based aid groups say repatriation has slowed because of the global financial crisis.

The newly arrived are unlikely to become candidates for resettlement abroad and were not even aware of plans to move them to a new location inside Thailand, a trip that will require climbing a muddy mountain pass and crossing a river.

One 50-year-old Karen woman said she had traveled back and forth across the Thai-Burma border three times in her life. "I just want to stay still now," she said. "I am tired."

READ MORE---> Burmese Refugee Numbers Swell in Thailand...

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