Thursday, July 16, 2009

Junta under siege on two fronts

by Mizzima News

The SPDC – Burma's ruling junta – in preparing to switch to a puppet parliamentary democracy manipulated and controlled by the Army, faces two daunting political hurdles. The first obstacle is the global outcry to release political prisoners including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who the junta wants to marginalize from forthcoming political developments. The other issue concerns attempts to transform ethnic armed groups presently under ceasefire agreements into Border Guard Forces or militias under the command of the Burmese military. Clearly, this is a challenging time for the junta.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon himself recently visited Burma in an attempt resolve the long-time political stalemate, but the Burmese generals responded to this pressure through a delaying tactic in announcing the forthcoming release of some political prisoners – without providing any specifics.

The three main objectives of Ban's visit to Burma, made on the 3rd and 4th of this month, were (1) to secure the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners (2) initiate a dialogue between the military and opposition forces aimed at national reconciliation, and (3) to create an atmosphere conducive for a free and fair general election in 2010.

Yet, he didn’t even get a chance to meet with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who is being held in Insein prison, instead only receiving an assurance from the junta that there will be a free and fair general election. Who can imagine the junta will cheat and engage in vote rigging during the upcoming election?

However, concerning the generals, to think international pressure will ease following the release of some select political prisoners, out of a total of 2,100 currently being detained and certain not to include Daw Aung San Suu Kyi – who would easily win over people’s hearts and adoration immediately upon receiving her freedom, is a pipedream.

But the question of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is not the only seemingly insurmountable hurdle facing the junta, as they have also thus far failed to overcome the problem of integrating armed ceasefire groups into the national fold.

According to the new constitution, which was drafted by the generals' handpicked representatives and approved via massive vote rigging and cheating in a constitutional referendum, there must be one and only one armed force, operating under the central command of the state.

But, resorting to their typical delaying tactics, the junta, following the signing of ceasefire agreements with armed ethnic groups, abstained from working toward a viable political solution, arguing such matters are best left to be discussed later on with an elected civilian government. (JEG's: not later, before elections...)

As a result, at least seven ceasefire groups are resisting the junta’s plan of transforming their forces into people’s militias. Among them are included formidable fighting outfits such as the United Wa State Army (UWSA), Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), New Mon State Party (NMSP) and Shan State Army-North (SSA-N).

The inability, then, to force their Border Guard Force plan onto ceasefire groups, in combination with the lack of any viable approach to address the issue of political prisoners – and most prominently the case of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, risks exposing the Army and its leadership to a good deal of humiliation.

Until these two issues are adequately addressed, any plans the generals wish to impose on Burma's populace with the holding of next year's general election remain is serious jeopardy.

READ MORE---> Junta under siege on two fronts...

Bangladeshi police attack Rohingya camp

(DVB)–Hundreds of makeshift homes belonging to Rohingya refugees in a camp near to the Bangladesh-Burma border were destroyed by “aggressive and abusive” Bangladeshi police, according to a medical aid group.

The incident was witnessed by staff working for Medicins Sans Frontiers (MSF), which provides medical aid to the estimated 300,000 Rohingya of Burmese descent who have sought refuge on the Bangladesh side of the border.

According to MSF, around 30 Bangladeshi police and officials arrived at the Kutupalong camp near to Cox’s Bazaar on 14 July and destroyed 259 homes.

“Other residents of the makeshift camp were told that they have 48 hours to clear their homes or they will be burnt down,” the statement said.

The Kutupalong camp is adjacent to a camp run by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Officials taking part in the incident reportedly claimed it was being done to create a buffer zone between the two camps.

“The systematic use of intimidation, violence and forcible displacement against residents of the makeshift camp is absolutely unacceptable,” said MSF’s head of mission in Bangladesh, Paul Critchley.

“This vulnerable population has fled persecution and discrimination in Myanmar [Burma], only to be left unrecognized and unassisted in Bangladesh.”

In June, Thailand and Bangladesh pledged to help aid the repatriation of Rohingya back to Burma, where they have long suffered persecution at the hands of a government who don’t officially recognize them.

Their plight hit the headlines in January this year when around 1000 Rohingya refugees landed ashore in Thailand, only to towed back out to sea by Thai authorities. Around 550 were thought to have died.

The Burmese government has been reluctant to grant repatriation to Rohingya who had fled the country’s western Arakan state, claiming they would have to prove they came from Burma in the first place.

This would be almost impossible, however, given that Rohingya in Burma are denied legal status.

Reporting by Francis Wade

READ MORE---> Bangladeshi police attack Rohingya camp...

Kachin Reject Border Guard Force Second Time

The Irrawaddy News

One of biggest ethnic ceasefire groups, the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) again rejected the military junta’s border guard force plan and called for autonomy in Kachin State, according to a KIO report.

The meeting between the KIO and Burmese military officials led by Maj-Gen Soe Win, the commander of the Northern Regional Command and head of the transformation committee of the border guard force for the Northern Regional Command, took place in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State and the headquarters of the regional command, on July 8.

Representatives of the KIO told the Burmese that the KIO wanted to keep its military wing, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), under its current status and rejected having Burmese military commanders in its ethnic armed forces.

It is estimated that the KIA now has 4,000 to 5,000 men forming five brigades and one infantry division. KIA troops are stationed in both Kachin State and northern Shan State.

The KIO said that it wanted KIA troops to form a Kachin Regional Guard Force but not a border guard force in the future.

Apart from the border guard force issue, the KIO also called for autonomous power for the KIO in Kachin State by demanding “direct involvement” in the state’s executive, legislative and judicial powers after the 2010 election.

The KIO also rejected a junta proposal for the organization to become a political party for the 2010 elections.

The KIO said it is has been the sole Kachin people’s organization representing the Kachin for five decades, and it would difficult and confusing for Kachin people if the KIO were suddenly transformed into a political party for the election.

The KIO signed a ceasefire agreement with the Burmese military in 1994.

The July 8 meeting was the second attempt by the Burmese military to persuade the KIO to accept the border guard force plan.

At the end of April, Burmese army officials met with leaders of ethnic ceasefire groups, including the KIO, and explained the junta’s blueprint for transforming the armed forces of ethnic ceasefire groups into border guard forces ahead of the 2010 elections.

The KIO and other ceasefire groups voiced their disagreement with the plan at that time.

In June, Lt-Gen Ye Myint, who is secretary of the junta’s Border Guard Force Transformation Committee, visited controlled areas of the United Wa State Army (UWSA), the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) or the Kokang Army, and the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA) to convince them of the border guard force plan.

The northern Shan Sate based UWSA, which is the biggest ceasefire group in Burma, the MNDAA and the NDAA rejected the plan a second time.

Analysts say the plan is to incorporate armed ethnic ceasefire troops into the Tatmadaw (Burma’s armed forces) with the aim of weakening ethnic armed groups in the future.

Under the plan, one border guard battalion would have 326 troops including 18 officers. There would be three commanders with the rank of major. Each battalion would have two majors drawn from ceasefire groups and one major drawn from the Tatmadaw in charge of administration.

Each battalion would have a general staff officer and quartermaster with the rank of captain drawn from the Tatmadaw. Company commanders in each battalion would be drawn from ceasefire groups.

Twenty-seven soldiers in other ranks, such as company sergeant majors, sergeant clerks, nurses, etc., would be drawn from Tatmadaw forces.

The deadline for the ceasefire groups to accept the plan was on June 30.

Related article: The Path of Pen or Sword?

Multimedia show from The Irrawaddy published on 4 February 2009.

READ MORE---> Kachin Reject Border Guard Force Second Time...

Will Shwe Mann Become Mr President?


Snr-Gen Than Shwe has reportedly endorsed Burma's No 3 ranking general, joint chief-of-staff Gen Thura Shwe Mann, to become Burma's new president.

The move came during a recent cabinet meeting in Naypyidaw, according to sources.

"You are going to be president," Than Shwe reportedly told his subordinate.

Burma's No 3 ranking general, joint chief-of-staff Gen Thura Shwe Mann. (Photo: Getty Images)

According to sources close to the military elite, Shwe Mann, 61, will be nominated by the representatives of the military in the future Senate and House, to be formed after the planned 2010 elections.

The military will receive 25 percent of the seats at the village, township, state, regional and district levels in the new governing body, according to the 2008 Constitution.

There will be three nominees for the presidency—

one from the military contingent, (JEG's: but this is the winner :-) .. )
one from the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (Union Assembly or Senate) and
one from the members of the Pyithu Hluttaw (People's Assembly or House).

The Senate and the House will then vote to choose the president.

Shwe Mann, a protégé of Than Shwe, has a reputation of being down to earth and a good listener, but he has yet to show his teeth with regard to a broad range of social, economic and political issues. His vision of Burma’s future is unknown.

Perhaps wisely, Shwe Mann has not shown any clear political or social views since he is still under the influence of two senior generals: Snr-Gen Than Shwe and Vice Snr-Gen Maung Aye. In fact, Shwe Mann and his wife are close to Than Shwe’s family on a personal basis, such as flying together to Singapore for shopping trips, sources said.

"To deal with issues of national politics and the macro-economy, Shwe Mann would not dare make any final decisions without Than Shwe and Maung Aye," a source said. "Recently, he was officially invited to visit China. But in order to signify it was a very important visit, Napyidaw assigned No 2, Maung Aye, instead of him to go there."

Recently, Shwe Mann was the subject of extensive news coverage which focused on his secret mission to North Korea in November, which was leaked to The Irrawaddy. Since then he has had a low profile in Burma’s official press except for photo-opts of meeting with state guests such as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Singapore senior minister Goh Chok Tong.

Meanwhile, Shwe Mann oversees regular meetings on political and security affairs with high-ranking military officials in Rangoon and Naypyidaw.

According to the Constitution, one of the duties of the new president will be to head the National Defense and Security Council, which has the power to declare a state of emergency and nullify the Constitution.

Sources said that Shwe Mann will issue a state order that Than Shwe, Maung Aye and the remaining members of the ruling junta all be named patrons or advisers to the National Defense and Security Council after the 2010 election.

Speculation is rife that the junta leaders and their close associates are deeply involved in preparations for the 2010 election and beyond.

READ MORE---> Will Shwe Mann Become Mr President?...

Army Officers Held Over Publication of Sensitive Material

The Irrawaddy News

Ten high-ranking Burmese army officers have reportedly been arrested on suspicion of divulging to Western and exiled media news of a secret visit to North Korea by the junta’s No 3, Gen Shwe Mann, and photographs and video footage of tunnel construction in and around Naypyidaw.

The suspects, all holding the rank of lieutenant-colonel, will be court-martialed and face the death penalty if convicted, according to one of several sources, a former intelligence officer with close contacts to the seat of power in Naypyidaw.

Some suspected of complicity had gone into hiding, the source said.

In recent weeks, several photographs of Shwe Mann visiting the North Korean capital Pyongyang in November 2008 were carried by several media outlets, including the BBC, CNN, Al Jazeera, the Democratic Voice of Burma, and The Irrawaddy.

Photographs and video footages of a tunnel construction site in Burma were also carried by the media organizations.

Official sources said members of the suspects’ families also feared the consequences of the crackdown.

The Bangkok-based English language daily newspaper The Nation reported at the weekend that several senior Burmese officials had been sacked in recent weeks after publication of photographs of secret tunnels in Burma built by North Korean experts from 2003 to 2006.

In their investigations into the leaks, Burmese intelligence officials reportedly interviewed associates of former intelligence chief, Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt, who was toppled in 2004.

The Nation reported that the authorities had also arrested several journalists thought to have had access to the sensitive material.

During his seven-day visit to Pyongyang, Shwe Mann signed a memorandum of understanding at the defense ministry with North Korea’s Chief of General Staff, Gen Kim Kyok-sik, to formalize military cooperation between the two countries.

Shwe Mann and his followers was also taken on a tour of construction sites where secret tunnels were being built into the mountains to house jet aircraft, missiles, tanks and nuclear and chemical weapons in Pyongyang and Myohyang.

READ MORE---> Army Officers Held Over Publication of Sensitive Material...

China's secrecy laws are a secret

(SMH) -The options for Australian miner Rio Tinto, or indeed anyone, to help four employees detained in a Chinese state secrets investigation are limited, lawyers say, as laws leave great latitude to investigators and prosecutors.

Under China's sweeping laws, the health and even the birthdays of the current leadership are considered state secrets.

Almost anything else can be classed as secret, especially economic data, as China moves from a system where everything once belonged to the state to the current free-for-all where everyone scrambles for any advantage they can get.

Stern Hu, an Australian citizen, and three Chinese colleagues were detained this month for stealing state secrets to aid Rio in price negotiations for iron ore, which is used in steelmaking. At least one Chinese steel executive is also detained and the probe has reached many of the largest mills.

The murkiness of state secret laws puts foreign investors potentially at risk when dealing with state-owned entities and potentially sensitive economic information.

Australia's Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said yesterday the world was watching the case and warned significant economic interests are at stake.

The case has also raised concerns about rights under China's legal system that are more commonly heard from human rights activists than from businessmen.

"This case makes as clear as any does that business people also have human rights," said Jerome Cohen, a professor at New York University School of Law. "They ignore at their peril what are perceived as purely human rights cases, since, as this case illustrates, they can be next."

Consular visits

Chinese diplomatic protocol prevents Australian consular official from asking Hu about anything other than his physical welfare. After their first visit last Friday, Beijing is not required to allow another visit for one month.

During investigations, neither the defendant nor the lawyer have access to documents on which a case in based, and lawyers cannot challenge the "secret" designation, Cohen said.

Lawyers are often not allowed to see their clients until the state security apparatus has concluded the investigation and formally handed the suspect over for prosecution. That can take months, or even more than a year.

Defence lawyers in such cases themselves have a legal "obligation to guard secrets", said lawyer Guan Anping, who took on state secrets cases in the past.

Trials involving state secrets are held behind closed doors, and family members of defendants are barred.

The diplomatic fuss could benefit Hu in areas where Chinese authorities exercise discretion, for instance in allowing earlier access for his lawyer or increased privacy in consultations.

His three Chinese subordinates, and any Chinese executives caught up in the investigation, have far less protection. Rio could hire a lawyer for its Chinese employees, but not much else.

Article 111 of the Chinese code, which refers to illegally providing state secrets or intelligence to organisations or people outside the country, leaves a lot of room for interpretation. Sentences can vary from six months to death, and some foreigners have been expelled after conviction in the past.

"Intelligence" could include information that may be public in China, but considered embarrassing if aired abroad.

Exiled Uighur businesswoman Rebiya Kadeer, who China says was the mastermind behind ethnic riots in Xinjiang, was jailed for mailing newspaper clippings to her husband.

Chinese employees

Chinese-born foreign nationals are particularly vulnerable. Their language and cultural skills mean they navigate the Chinese system well but their loyalty is supposed to be to China first.

That poses a problem for the many multinationals who rely on Chinese employees to advise and carry out operations in China, recognising their ability to bridge foreign and Chinese cultures.

The Chinese business culture is additionally confusing because of the hybrid form of many state-owned companies, which are listed entities but also integral to a state-directed economic model that China adopted from the Soviet Union.

One legacy of the system is that a "state secret" can be in the hands of a commercial enterprise, and the cost of a raw material - such as iron ore - can become of national interest.


READ MORE---> China's secrecy laws are a secret...

Crime Rates, Begging, Mental Illness Increase in Sittwe

Dhaka (Narinjara): People in Arakan State have been facing an economic crisis that has contributed to increased rates of crime, begging, and mental illness across the state, particularly in the capital Sittwe, said a woman from the city.

She said, "The rate of beggars, crimes, and lunatics are increasing day after day in Sittwe, which is the outcome of the economic crisis in our state. I have never seen many beggars on the streets of Sittwe before, but now there are many beggars in Sittwe who are roaming the town to ask for food and other assistance."

According to a source, most poor people in Sittwe are working as rickshaw pullers but the daily earnings of rickshaw pullers is inadequate for their families' daily survival. The rental price of a rickshaw is also 700 kyats per day in Sittwe.

"In Sittwe, the number of rickshaws is higher than the number of travelers. The rickshaw pullers have difficulty getting money from the job. Sometimes, the rickshaw pullers can not pay the rental charge to rickshaw owners as they do not have enough money from working. So the family members come out into the streets to beg for food and money," the woman said.

The economy in Sittwe is not doing well right now and everybody is facing financial difficulty. Because of this, the rate of begging and crime have also increased in the capital.

"Most women in Sittwe now avoid walking on the street with jewelry because many robberies have taken place in Sittwe recently. In the last month alone, there were three day time robberies in Sittwe," she added.

Even though robberies are increasing in Sittwe, those who are committing the crimes have not been arrested by police and remain on the streets.

While crime and begging increase, mental illness is also increasing in Sittwe, with the majority of those afflicted being men.

U Tha Kyaw, a store owner, said, "Most of the people have lost their businesses in the Sittwe in the last two or three years. Many of them have turned to drinking alcohol after their livelihoods collapsed. They then lose their minds."

Another source said that some youths in Sittwe are engaging in drug abuse and some are also suffering from mental illness as a result of that abuse.

In Arakan State, the economy is getting worse by the day and no one has been left unaffected. Despite this severe situation, the military government has no apparent plan to help the situation or boost the economy in the state.

READ MORE---> Crime Rates, Begging, Mental Illness Increase in Sittwe...

Asean test: New ‘boat people’ from Burma

By Leila Salaverria, Philippine Daily Inquirer

(Kaladan) - ON THE THAI-BURMESE BORDER—When the dogs start baying at night, fear begins to grip those living in a village in the west of Burma (Myanmar) where the Rohingya people live. More often than not, the howling of the dogs means soldiers are coming and one of the villagers will be taken away.

For the Rohingya, a Muslim minority in Burma’s Rakhine State and a people without a country, a peaceful night’s slumber is a distant dream.

“Even if you are not doing anything, anyone might report you. Every time you hear a dog barking, you don’t know whether the Army is coming to arrest you,” said Chris Lewa, head of the humanitarian group Arakan Project, which is fighting for the rights of thousands of Rohingya refugees who have fled Burma and found new home in neighboring countries.

The fate of the Rohingya has become a test for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean). Will the 10-member bloc, which includes the Philippines, be true to its pledge to be “a caring and sharing community?”

Escape from Burma

That’s one question Enayet Ullah, a 55-year-old refugee now living in the Thai town of Mae Sot, is asking.

Enayet escaped from Burma with his wife and their child in 1995 after an incident during the wedding of a friend which showed them that normal life was nearly impossible for the Rohingya in the military-ruled country.

Soldiers had barged into the wedding and grabbed the groom for his supposed political activities. Enayet tried to intervene, but ended up being a target of arrest himself. He hid and the soldiers beat his wife.

“In our place, if any government officers take action against the Rohingya, it’s no big thing,” Enayet said in a recent interview.

It isn’t hard to understand why thousands of Rohingya have been risking their lives to flee Burma aboard frail, overloaded wooden boats, Enayet said.

New ‘boat people’

What is difficult for him to understand is why the world seems to ignore their plight.

Their escape from political persecution brings to mind the migration of more than two million Vietnamese in the 1970s after South Vietnam fell to communist hands.

In January, Thailand’s military was accused of forcing boatloads of Rohingya back to the sea with little food and water on their engine-less boats. Some drifted to nearby countries.

The matter is now before the Asean.

Human rights body

In December last year, the Asean charter came into force embodying principles that call for the establishment of a human rights body.

Nongovernment groups have urged Asean to use its new mandate to act decisively to help persecuted peoples. Whether Asean, with its policy of noninterference in a member state’s affairs, will act at the risk of antagonizing member Burma, remains to be seen.

The Rohingya Muslims are a minority in the largely Buddhist country. Their dusky skin and other physical features make them look different from the rest of the population. They speak a Bengali dialect.

A 1982 law stripped them of citizenship, making them stateless. They are shunned by most Burmese, who view them as outsiders. Burma’s envoy in Hong Kong was quoted in news reports as describing them as “ugly as ogres.”

No travel, no jobs

They need hard-to-get permission to travel outside their village, depriving them of the chance to study or seek treatment in better-equipped schools and hospitals, Lewa said.

They also need permission to marry and are restricted to no more than two children. They are shut out from government jobs. Their lands are taken from them and they are subjected to forced labor, Lewa added.

She said the abuses had fueled the Rohingya exodus. Initially, they crossed the border to go to Bangladesh or went to the Middle East.

But recent travel restrictions have given them no other choice but to escape by sea on hazardous trips arranged by human smugglers. They usually flee to Malaysia but they have also turned up in Indonesia and Thailand.

No room for them

Indonesia said it would deport them, but later allowed the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to verify their status as refugees.

Thailand has convicted 66 Rohingya of illegal entry, saying they were economic migrants only looking for jobs.

Deporting them poses problems. Burma denies they are its citizens and refuses to accept them. Later, it said it would take them back but only if they said they were Bengalis. Bangladesh says they are not its nationals.

“This a test case for Asean … whether or not they will uphold the purpose and principles they set forth in the Charter,” said Sriprapha Petcharamesree, director of the Human Rights Studies at Mahidol University in Thailand.

Thailand cited domestic concerns for denying them entry. A deputy prime minister was quoted as saying that accepting 200,000 to 300,000 Rohingya would be a huge burden for Thailand.

Back to the sea, again

Petcharamesree said no state should abandon humanitarian obligations based on its own internal affairs. She said the Asean human rights body should tackle the Rohingya case, or “it would definitely be discredited.”

Debbie Stothard of the Alternative Asean network on Burma (Altsean) said the Asean policy of noninterference was a “red herring” invoked to escape state obligations.

However Asean moves, it will be October again soon, the waters will be calmer again, and Enayet’s people will again be braving the seas.

The sad thing is they’d rather face the dangers from the waves than spend more sleepless nights hearing the dogs howling at the moon again, Enayet said.

“They will be thinking, ‘If I stay, I die. If I jump into the sea, it’s the same thing. But if I can swim to this place at any cost, tomorrow I can help my family who are suffering.’”

(Editor’s note: This article was under the 2009 Southeast Asian Press Alliance Fellowship.)

Source: Asean-test-New-boat-people-from-Burma , dated July 15, 2009.

READ MORE---> Asean test: New ‘boat people’ from Burma...

Landmine casualties in Burma double

(DVB)–The number of people killed by landmines in Burma has increased in the last year while survivors face difficulties receiving adequate healthcare, said an anti-landmine campaign group yesterday.

According to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), the number of victims with no access to healthcare is “substantial”.

Burma is one of only 17 countries that abstained from voting on a United Nations resolution in 2005 to ban the use of landmine. Similarly, the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) has not acceded to the Mine Ban Treaty.

The latest figures on landmine victims in Burma were collected by Landmine Monitor in 2007, and show a 90 percent increase from 2006.

International monitoring bodies have also said that the use of civilians as minesweepers, to walk in front of army patrols to prevent the unit taking the blast from a landmine, is prevalent.

“It’s been reported for years that they’ve been using prison labourers to walk ahead of the military,” said David Mathieson, Burma analyst at Human Rights Watch.

“Civilians in conflict areas are used depending on the army unit. [Minesweeping] is not a clear policy, it’s a practice, and so that depends on the unit or the commander.”

Landmine victims, particularly from Karen state, which is littered with mines laid both by the Burmese army and the opposition Karen National Union, often cross the border into Thailand to receive treatment.

“Around 60 to 70 percent of the landmine victims we receive are civilians,” said Dr Cynthia Maung from the Mae Tao clinic in Thailand’s border town of Mae Sot, adding that the figure “includes women and children”.

According to Landmine Monitor, 47 people in Burma died in 2007 from landmines, up from 20 the year before, although it warns that this figure is not conclusive. More than half the states and divisions in Burma are contaminated with landmines.

The only armed groups in Burma to have ratified the Mine Ban Treaty are “very small groups who probably could not afford landmines”, said Mathieson.

Non-governmental organizations such as Medicins Sans Frontier have withdrawn from Burma partially as a result of restrictions imposed by the government on access to landmine victims.

“I don’t really see that there have been any moves by the SPDC or the main non-state armed groups to eradicate the use of landmines,” said Mathieson.

“Most of them are heavily dependent on the use of landmines and IEDs [improvised explosive device].”

Reporting by Francis Wade

READ MORE---> Landmine casualties in Burma double...

Prisoner amnesties only offer false hope

By Alex Ellgee

(DVB)–As Burma’s UN ambassador finished his brief interjection to the Security Council earlier this week, news headlines leapt on the pledge that Burma was due to release political prisoners in lieu of the 2010 elections.

The news sent a glimmer of hope across the world that Burma’s ruling generals had finally given in to international pressure. World leaders have said that an amnesty for the country’s 2,100 political activists currently behind bars is the only way to gain legitimacy before next year. Had Ban Ki-moon’s quiet diplomacy really stirred the hard-line generals into rethinking their old ways?

It is evident that the Burmese government fears the UN – Senior General Than Shwe is notoriously fearful of being brought to the International Criminal Court - yet it is unlikely that the junta leader would derail even slightly from his ‘roadmap to democracy’.

Releasing political prisoners is too much of a threat to the government’s planned election, which observers say is set to cement the continuation of military rule in Burma. The dissidents that remain behind bars are democracy fighters and leaders who could once again inspire the nation to reject the government’s sham elections and take to the streets in revolt.

The government’s indifference to the suffering of its opposition is palpable. Over 130 political prisoners in Burma urgently require medical treatment. Denied access to doctors, many are in life threatening conditions and forced to languish in prisons far from their families. It was only last month that the 140th political prisoner died in prison as a result of denied access to proper medical treatment. Salai Hla Moe was a prominent National League for Democracy (NLD) member and sometime security officer for Aung San Suu Kyi. His family was not informed about his death until their end of month visit when they learnt that he had been denied a traditional Christian burial.

Since November last year, 230 political prisoners have been transferred to remote prisons, unable to receive necessary medical treatment from their families. The objective is to silence them through both isolation, and more worryingly, death. If the government is serious about allowing prisoners to participate in the elections then these potential political leaders need to receive proper medical treatment immediately.

Perhaps most tellingly, the ambassador did not use the phrase ‘political prisoners’ during his speech. Burma has always denied that it holds political prisoners, instead that its only detainees are common criminals. Opposition groups and critics of the government are therefore dubious about whether any political prisoners will be released. The NLD spokesperson Nyan Win suggested that “the amnesty is not in response to Ban Ki-moon’s suggestions” and is “irrelevant to what was recommended”.

If it does turn out that political prisoners are released it is equally unclear as to what level they will be able to participate in the elections, especially so given that the election laws are yet to be announced. Free and fair elections require freedom to form political parties, but “participation”, in the words of the ambassador, could merely imply power to vote.

Over the last five years, four prisoner amnesties have released around 37,900 prisoners - only 120 of them have been political prisoners. The latest, in February this year following a visit by UN human rights envoy to Burma Tomas Ojea Quintana, saw the release of 6,313 prisoners, again supposedly on “humanitarian grounds” so that prisoners could participate in the 2010 elections. However, only 31 political prisoners were released, most of whom were already coming to the end of their sentences.

Prisoner amnesties have always coincided with increasing international pressure on the regime, and this time is no different. Ban Ki-moon expressed “deep disappointment” with his trip to Burma earlier this month, and suggestions have been made that China’s confidence in its neighbour is waning. Fear of Security Council action, which would see Burma enduring the same UN resolutions that North Korea has accumulated over the years, may have caused it to attempt mild appeasement. Indeed, following his statement, Than Swe told the meeting that “no Security Council action is needed”.

If the current political stalemate in Burma endures, there is no chance that Aung San Suu Kyi will be released in time for the 2010 elections. She is the junta’s most feared political leader and they know that her freedom could be the end of the constitution. Bo Kyi, joint secretary of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma, stated that “The release of Aung San Suu Kyi would be the first step to show the world that [the SPDC] is serious about releasing all political prisoners.”

History shows, however, that amnesties are nothing more than a currency used by the generals to buy time and deflect international pressure. Yet one lesson can be learned from this – it is in the Security Council that Burma’s stubbornness starts to waver. The world should stop buying into false promises, and instead hit them when they are vulnerable. But for the time being, the longer the UN lets the generals play their mind games, the more political leaders will be allowed to die in Burma’s prisons.

READ MORE---> Prisoner amnesties only offer false hope...

Rio Tinto evacuate China staff after Stern Hu arrest

By by James Regan

( -RIO Tinto has evacuated staff in China involved in research of the iron ore and steel industry in response to the detention of some of its iron ore traders by state authorities, The Australian Financial Review has reported.

The unsourced report from Shanghai also said other foreign groups were moving employees out of China until conditions there become more certain.

Rio Tinto spokesman Ian Head said he could not immediately comment on the report, which said the unidentified number of staff were moved out yesterday.

Stern Hu, Rio Tinto's head of iron ore marketing in China, and three other members of the Shanghai-based iron ore team were detained in early July on suspicion of stealing state secrets.

Mr Hu, a Chinese-born Australian citizen, was accused of obtaining and passing on the Chinese industry's negotiating position, sources with knowledge of the circumstances have said.

Rio Tinto's China team carry out some negotiations and manage operational details of term contracts for iron ore, a key ingredient in steel making, as well as tracking market information. (JEG's: isn't this common practice on any new business? - but then China spies on anybody but we cannot investigate where we are to put our money in, China's one way internal affairs is meddling in others business)


READ MORE---> Rio Tinto evacuate China staff after Stern Hu arrest...

Constitutional Crisis over the Border Guard Force

The Irrawaddy News

After the Burmese regime ordered the ethnic ceasefire groups to serve as border guard forces in recent months, the tension between the junta and its ceasefire militia groups has been growing.

Many interpreted the ethnic ceasefire groups’ refusal to accept the proposal as a rejection of the debatable constitution that was approved in the so-called referendum held a few days after Cyclone Nargis struck Burma in May 2008.

Kachin officers listen to a lecture on military and cultural affairs. (Photo: Ryan Libre)

Clause 338 in chapter VII, “Defence Services,” of the new constitution states that all the armed forces in the union shall be under the command of the defense services. It also states that the defense services, known as "Tatmadaw" in Burmese, is the main armed force for the defense of the union.

The junta’s recent move to transform the troops of ceasefire groups into border guard forces before the upcoming 2010 election is believed to be in accordance with the constitutional provision that armed forces must be under the command of the Tatmadaw.

Most ceasefire groups have disagreed with the order, preferring to maintain their current military status.

The border guard force plan calls for each battalion of the border guard force to consist of 326 soldiers including 18 officers. Thirty Burmese staff officers with significant roles in the command structure will be posted to each battalion.

Each battalion will have three major-ranked commanders. Of the three majors per battalion, the major in charge of administration will be drawn from the Burmese armed forces.

Each battalion would also have one general staff officer and one quartermaster, both drawn from the Burmese army with the rank of captain. Twenty-seven soldiers in the ranks, such as company sergeant majors, sergeant clerks and nurses, would be drawn from Tatmadaw forces.

Burmese observers said that this would allow the Burmese regime to monopolize the military wings of the ethnic ceasefire groups, giving them greater control in managing border security after the general election in 2010.

So far only the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army has accepted and signed the agreement with the Burmese regime to serve as a border guard force.

Seventeen insurgent groups have signed ceasefire agreements with the ruling generals since 1989, according to official Burmese reports.

The most powerful ceasefire group, the United Wa State Army (UWSA), totally rejected the order, while other ceasefire groups such as the Kachin Independence Army, and the Mon New State Party, also disagreed.

They fear that they will fall under control of the Burmese army if they transfer their troops into units of the border guard force.

In May, the leaders of the UWSA—which has some 20,000 troops—replied personally to Burmese Military Affairs Security Chief Lt-Gen Ye Myint, saying that they could not accept the order and that the UWSA would maintain its current ceasefire status.

The Kachin Independence Organization (KIO)—which controls about 4,000 troops—also disagreed with the order to form a border guard force under joint-command with the Burmese army.

Speaking with The Irrawaddy in June, Lahkyen La Ja, the general-secretary of the KIO said its armed wing, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), would only take up a border guard role when there was political change in Burma.

The KIO told the Burmese government that the KIA would prefer to form a state security force in Kachin State, northern Burma, instead.

Due to the disagreement, the Burmese regime is likely looking for alternative options in their attempts to persuade the ceasefire groups to accept the new constitution and subsequent 2010 elections.

After rejecting the order, the New Mon State Party leaders were asked by Maj-Gen Thet Naing Win, the Southeast Regional Commander in Moulmein, on June 7 to consider serving as a paramilitary group instead of being border guards.

The Burmese regime has been asserting more pressure on the ceasefire groups to transfer their troops to border guard force battalions, sending Burmese officials to ceasefire groups to persuade them to join the campaign. They have been unsuccessful so far.

Some analysts say the regime may have no option but to launch military action against ceasefire groups that refuse to reassign their troops to border guard force battalions. Others, however, are doubtful.

Htay Aung, a Burmese military analyst in exile, said, "The patience of Burmese military commanders is wearing thin because of the stand taken by ceasefire groups."

Meanwhile Rangoon-based ethnic leaders and Burmese politicians said the draft constitution is biased, as it was written by delegations hand-picked by the junta, and it lacked the participation of the ethnic leaders and the parliamentary representatives elected in 1990.

Thawng Kho Thang, a senior member of the Rangoon-based United Nationalities League for Democracy, said that the Burmese regime needed more time for the Burmese citizens to learn about the 194-page constitution. Numerous citizens are still unclear whether to support the constitution or oppose it.

Aung Kyaw Zaw, a Burmese analyst on the Sino-Burmese border, said the Burmese military regime is unwilling to amend its constitution. However, it is also not prepared to launch military activities against the ceasefire groups that have disagreed with the order, he said

“This crisis regarding the constitution is not a minor one, especially as without NLD involvement in the process, it will become more serious,” said Aung Kyaw Zaw.

He also said that the Burmese junta might compromise with the ethnic ceasefire groups over the border guard force order, as the ceasefire groups also want to maintain their current ceasefire status.

If the Burmese regime compromises with the ceasefire groups over the border guard force order, would this lead to a review of the constitution?

READ MORE---> Constitutional Crisis over the Border Guard Force...

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