Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Free Suu Kyi and the US May Invest in Burma: Clinton

what a carrot...!!!

The Irrawaddy News

PHUKET, Thailand—The United States would be willing to expand its relations with Burma if the country's military junta released opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday in Phuket.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (C) waves as she arrives for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Regional Forum on the Thai island of Phuket. (Photo: AFP)

“We are calling for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, which we believe is very important," she told reporters at a press conference.

“And if she were released, that would open up opportunities, at least for my country, to expand our relationship with Burma, including investments in Burma. But it is up to the Burmese leadership," Clinton added.

The US has imposed economic sanctions on Burma since 1997, preventing new US investment in the military-ruled country. The US set tighter economic sanctions that banned importing goods from Burma in 2003, following an attack on Suu Kyi's convoy by regime-backed thugs at Depayin in northern Burma.

At Wednesday's press conference, Clinton repeated US concerns over the military cooperation between Burma and North Korea, and the pursuit of "offensive weapons including nuclear weapons."

“There are a lot of issues that Burma raises for the entire region, not just the United States," she said. "I think it is important to encourage the Burmese leadership to begin to open up, to pursue the model other Asean countries are following."

Clinton told reporters at the press conference in Bangkok on Tuesday that the Obama administration is concerned about the increasing military ties between North Korea and Burma.

“We know that there are also growing concerns about military cooperation between North Korea and Burma, which we take very seriously. It would be destabilizing for the region," Clinton said. "It would pose a direct threat to Burma’s neighbors. And it is something, as a treaty ally of Thailand, that we are taking very seriously."

Clinton, who is now attending the Asean Regional Forum in Phuket, said that Burma is moving in the opposite direction from other Southeast Asian countries, which, like the United States, want the Burmese military government to change their behavior.

Clinton added that the Burmese junta would have a better future by turning away from isolation and treating their own people better.

During an interview on The Nation Thai television network, Clinton said Asean should consider expelling Burma from the regional bloc if the junta fails to release pro-democracy leader Suu Kyi.

Before flying to Phuket, Clinton met several activists in Bangkok, including Dr Cynthia Maung, founder of the Mae Tao Clinic for Burmese migrants and refugees in the Thai-Burmese town of Mae Sot.

After fleeing the 1988 uprising, Cynthia Maung set up a clinic in Mae Sot where she and her medical workers treat refugees and migrant workers. The former US first lady Laura Bush visited her clinic in August 2008.

READ MORE---> Free Suu Kyi and the US May Invest in Burma: Clinton...

Tycoons close to junta to disburse agri loans

Burma's new banking system
"Cronies' Agricultural Investments
we lend you the money,
we own your land
a new development instructed by Junta"
-- Jeg's quote
Rangoon (Mizzima) – The Burmese military junta has instructed 25 companies owned by top business tycoons, close to the regime, to disburse agricultural loans to farmers.

Businessmen, known to be cronies of the junta’s generals, dealing in rice have been asked to provide agricultural loans of Kyat 50,000 [approximately USD 50] to 100,000 per acre to farmers in Irrawaddy and Pegu Division at 2 per cent of interest rates per month.

According to the Myanmar Rice Producers’ Association, top businessmen like Zaw Zaw of Max Company, Chit Khaing of Aden Construction Works, Khin Shwe of Zay Kabar Company are leading the consortium of companies, businessmen and farmers in providing the loan.

A businessman, who is a partner of Gold Delta Company specializing in rice, led by Aden Chin Khaing said that they were assigned to provide production costs, technology and farm implements to rice producers on behalf of the junta.

“Of these 25 companies, some are owned and run by a single person. Some are in partnership with two or three companies,” he added.

“Gold Delta comprises 21 companies. Almost 30 local businessmen and farmers from Dahnuphyu are among them. We will start our business with a total paid up capital of Kyat 10 billion,” he said.

But some companies such as Htoo Trading and ‘Union of Myanmar Federation of Chamber of Commerce and Industry’ (UMFCCI) Chairman Win Myint are into the business as sole traders with their own capital, the businessman said.

Htoo Trading Co. Project Director Ye Min Oo said that their company has invested Kyat 3 billion in the business. Local businessmen from Bogale invested Kyat 2 billion in the business and will provide agricultural loan of Kyat 50,000 per acre.

Gold Delta Co. headed by ‘Aden’ Chit Khaing invested Kyat 10 billion and will provide loans of Kyat 100,000 per acre to the farmers in about 500 villages.

Following the foot-step, several other businessmen have began setting up companies with names such as Kyaiklat Rice Producing Co. owned by Dagon International Co. in Kyaiklat Township, Irrawaddy Agricultural Development Co. owned by ‘Yuzana’ Htay Myint in Pyapon Township, Max Myanmar Co. owned by Zaw Zaw in Yekyi and Ah Thote Townships, Shwe Nagar Min Co. owned by Win Myint in Myaungmya Township, a company owned by Wady in Maubin.

But a few businessmen in Burma views the new initiative as the junta’s effort to soothe the anger of farmers, who have accused the government of failing to provide assistance, and to allow a few businessmen, whom the junta has selected as candidates for the 2010 election, to be able to campaign for the election.

Most of the businessmen involved in the consortium are blacklisted in the US and EU economic sanctions against Burma. US have announced the names of over 100 businessmen, whom they called are providing financial lifeline to the junta, under the list.

In the wake of the brutal crackdown against peaceful demonstrators in the 2007 September saffron revolution led by monks, where scores of protesters were killed and thousands of activists arrested, the US and EU imposed targeted sanctions against State owned enterprises, the top echelon of the junta, protégés of the junta and their business networks.

Following the devastating Cyclone Nargis, which destroyed paddy fields and inundated many more with sea water, farmers find low yields in their work. While some farmers have welcomed the loan programme, many worried that they might be asked to payback with their paddy products at a reduced price.

Farmers said, they have bitter experiences in the past, where they took loans from businessmen, local army units and even local authorities in exchange for their paddy products. But they were forced to give their products at a much lesser rate then in the market.

In some cases, famers who are unable to repay their loans and do not have a good yield of paddy, they are forced to surrender their land for the loan they have taken.

Farmers from Thakan village tract on Bogale-Pyapon highway said that some of the farmers in their areas dare not take loans even at cheap interest rates.

But a project director at ‘Htoo’ Trading Co. told Mizzima, “The businessmen are doing this because they have been directed by the State. We don’t expect any economic benefits from the farmers. Two per cent interest rate is nothing for us.” (JEG's: of course 2% is nothing to cronies as they are taking the land which is worth a lot more)

Sources at the Ministry of Economics and Commerce said the government have instructed the companies dealing in rice, that they could export rice only after deducting the amount allotted for sales in the region.

A former executive committee member of the UMFCCI told Mizzima, “We are doing this mainly because of pressure from seniors [junta’s high officials]. We have no intention of extracting profit from the farmers. Our main concern is free export of rice. In this country, authorities, if we follow their instructions usually give us other business opportunities.”

He said, besides, farmers would be thankful to the businessmen for providing loans and could gain their support, which could serve as a campaign for the upcoming 2010 election. (JEG's: elections campaign aha?...)

Sources at the Myanmar Rice Traders Association said Burma set the target of rice export at maximum 1.5 million tons for the this fiscal year - April 1, 2009 to March 31, 2010. Burma was able to export over 658,000 tons of rice in the 2008-09 fiscal year.

While Burma’s export quality rice contains about 25 per cent of broken rice, it cost about USD 320 per ton in the export market. Over 80 per cent of Burma’s exports in rice goes to African countries.

READ MORE---> Tycoons close to junta to disburse agri loans...

Burma’s nuclear nexus with Russia

by Ko Wild

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - The Burmese military junta’s overt nuclear ambitions are out in the open, in a leaked document from the junta’s military establishment, which reveals that Burma’s number two strongman second Vice-Senior General Maung Aye, during a visit to Russia in 2006, had sought assistance in constructing a 10 million megawatt nuclear reactor.

The document, which is a top-secret memo, details the overseas travels of Maung Aye and Thura Shwe Mann, third in the military hierarchy.

The leaked document, a copy of which is in Mizzima’s possession, says Maung Aye during his trip to Russia sought assistance to build a nuclear reactor. He also sought military cooperation from the Russians.

At the invitation of Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov, Maung Aye led a 60-member delegation on a five-day visit, April 2 to 6 2006, to Russia. He met the Russian Prime Minister as well as the Russian Army’ Chief of Staff Yury Baluyevksy, and Chief of Staff of the Navy and Air Force.

Maung Aye received positive response from Russia during the meetings, regarding his “special request” for assistance in constructing a 10 million megawatt nuclear reactor and to allow Burmese students in Russia to learn nuclear technology and aeronautical engineering.

Besides, he also got a nod for increased purchase of Russian-made MIG 29 and MIG 27 jet fighters, providing technical assistance in producing Guided Missiles and for purchase of ships.

As Russia, a veto wielding country at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), has blocked attempts by western countries to pass a resolution on Burma over its appalling human rights conditions, the delegation promised that Burma will back Russia’s effort to establish stronger ties with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

The secret documents with Mizzima also reveal details of meetings between Russia’s Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Army Lt-General Evnevich Valery G, who visited Burma in February 2008, with Maung Aye.

The meeting was also attended by General Thura Shwe Mann, the junta’s secretary (1), Commander-in-Chief (Navy), Commander-in-Chief (Air), Military Affairs Security Chief, Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Defence and Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Kyaw Thu.

The Russian delegation led by Lt-General Evnevich Valery G, was accompanied by the Ambassador of the Russian Federation Dr Mikhail Mgeladze and Military Attache' Colonel Alexander V Svinitsovskiy.

The document also reveals that the Deputy Minister of the Defence Ministry Maj-Gen Aye Myint led delegation and the Russian delegates formed a group for “cooperation in military technology.”

Similarly, documents with details of General Thura Shwe Mann led delegation’s visit to North Korea, following a visit to China in November 2008 was also leaked.

According to the leaked document, a copy of which is in Mizzima’s possession, North Korean and Burma agreed on military cooperation and military training. Besides, North Korea also agreed to build underground buildings including tunnels to hide warships and fighter planes.

Burma and North Korea severed diplomatic relationship in 1983, after North Korean agents attempted to assassinate the visiting South Korean President Chun Du-hwan. But both countries officially announced resumption of diplomatic relations in 2007.

Russia and Burma have maintained over 60 years of diplomatic relations.

READ MORE---> Burma’s nuclear nexus with Russia...

Report on child soldier released

by Phanida

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – The unabated recruitment of child soldiers into the Burmese Army has been exposed in a report released by the Thai-Burmese border based ‘Yoma 3’ Burmese News Agency today.

The agency said, it took about one and-a-half years to compile the 72-page ‘Child Soldiers: Burma’s Sons of Sorrow’, which was released on Wednesday at a press conference held along the Thai-Burmese border.

The report includes interviews with two child soldier deserters, a sergeant and four parents of child soldiers forcibly recruited by the army.

“The junta always claims to the international community and UN that it never recruits child soldiers into the army. They also always claim that organizations in exile are disseminating concocted stories to western countries. We wish to let people know clearly what the true facts are,” Nyein Lu, editor of the Yoma 3 told Mizzima.

The report also presented news and photographs of the No. 1 Recruit Centre at Danyinkone Township in Rangoon Division, No. 2 in Mandalay, No. 3 in Yemethin and No. 9 Basic Military Training School in Zay Chaung village of Thaton Township in Mon state.

The group said, the survey and the facts and figures in the report were provided by activists inside Burma, military personnel in the Burma Army and former soldiers.

Yoma 3 news agency was founded in 1998 by pro-democracy and human rights activists, who fled to the border after the 1988 uprising. The report is Yoma 3’s second report on child soldiers.

Despite persistent allegations made by the UN, ILO and Human Rights organizations on the use of child soldiers by the Burmese Army, the junta has always blatantly denied.

In the UN Secretary General’s report released in December 2007, Ban Ki-moon says besides the Burmese Army, there are nine more ethnic armed forces, which also use child soldiers in their respective armed units.

Following severe criticism, Burma’s military rulers in February 2007 allowed the International Labour Organization (ILO) to open a liaison in Rangoon to accept complaints of child soldiers and to help in eliminating the use of children in the army.

According to complaints received by Mizzima, the junta often recruits children mainly between the age of 14-16 from poor family backgrounds in Rangoon, Irrawaddy and Magwe Divisions by using pressure tactics including summoning by quota from each village, intimidation and incentives by way of money.

In 2005, the Yoma 3, published its first child soldier report in collaboration with the Thailand-based ‘Human Rights Education Institute of Burma’ (HREIB).

The group said, they will also present the report to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, Asia Human Right Council and Human Right Watch.

READ MORE---> Report on child soldier released...

Intensive recruiting for Army in Shan State

By Hseng Khio Fah

(Shanland) -Local sources have reported that hundreds of youths from rural areas in Lashio Township, northern Shan State, are being recruited by junta-backed local militia forces for the Army since last month.

The recruiting drive was led by Bo Mon, leader of Wanpang militia, in areas between Lashio and Tangyan townships under its control.

“One from every household in each village and village tract must enlist for military service,” said a local resident in Mong Yaw village tract who declines to be named.

To date, over 200 youths from Nam Pawng, Man Pang, Mong Yaw, Mong Tawm and Mong Ha villages have already left for Pyinmana, near the new capital of Naypyitaw, a source said.

To escape from the recruiting, many have fled to towns and others gone to stay in monasteries as monks. However, some were unable to escape as they were followed and forcibly disrobed by the group. Families and relatives are also being threatened, said another source.

People who could afford must pay at least Kyat 300,000 ($ 273) per person in order to evade the draft. “Naturally, there are only a few who can pay,” he said.

The Burma Army has reportedly planned to send the local militia forces to the frontline to fight against the anti-Naypyitaw Shan State Army (SSA) ‘South’ and other groups, said a businessman who is close to an officer from the regional command in Lashio.

“The Tamataw will force the militias to fight against rebels, the same way it is using the DKBA (Democratic Karen Buddhist Army) to fight against KNU (Karen National Union) in the south,” he said.

In June, the joint forces of the Burma Army and the DKBA had overrun the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA)’s 7th Brigade base after a joint military offensive against the KNLA, the armed wing of Karen National Union (KNU).

READ MORE---> Intensive recruiting for Army in Shan State...

Township officer dismissed from post

Maungdaw, Arakan State (KPN): An administrative officer was dismissed from his post in the Maungdaw Township Peace and Development Council (TPDC) office on the allegation that he was informing the foreign media, according to a TPDC source.

U Aung Than Naing, general secretary (temporary) was alleged to have leaked information about collection of money from all village tracts for the Wasou robe offering ceremony to the monks in the name of Maungdaw TPDC, he added.

The dismissal order was issued on July 15 by the District Peace and Development Council (DPDC) chairman U Aung Thein Nyaunt, he added.

The TPDC and DPDC jointly ordered the Village Peace and Development Council (VPDC) chairman to collect Kyat 50,000 per village tract before July 1 for the Wasoe robe offering ceremony, said a village leader, who had collected money from the villagers in keeping with the order of the TPDC and DPDC.

The TPDC and DPDC collected a huge amount of money from the people of Maungdaw Township, which was processed by the general secretary (temporary) U Aung Than Naing and the news was published in the media in exile, sources said.

Some sources believe that he had no connection with the media in exile (Burmese media in exile) but, he was alleged to be an informer by the chairman of TPDC and DPDC.

On July 16 and 17, the authorities searched the house of his co-worker Daw Than Sein from block number one and his friend circle living in block number four of Maungdaw, said a local from Maungdaw.

The Chairman of TPDC and DPDC collected the money with his cooperation to show to the higher authorities that TPDC and DPDC had held a big Wasou robe offering ceremony with public money, not government funds, said an official source.

“TPDC and DPDC also collected money from all Muslim villages and traders from Maungdaw Township for the Buddhist religious ceremony, the official sources added.

READ MORE---> Township officer dismissed from post...

Clinton fears NKorea-Burma nuclear link

(Bangkok Post) -US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed concerns on Wednesday that North Korea could be sharing nuclear technology with Burma, posing a worrying new threat to regional security.

Clinton issued the warning as she arrived in the Thai resort island of Phuket for a major security forum at which the United States was to sign a treaty signalling its renewed commitment to Southeast Asia.

She was due to meet her counterparts from Russia, China, Japan and South Korea for talks later Wednesday on restarting their stalled multilateral dialogue with Pyongyang over its increasingly aggressive nuclear programme.

"We worry about the transfer of nuclear technology" from Stalinist North Korea to military-ruled Burma, Clinton said in an interview with Thailand's Nation TV.

On Tuesday, she said Washington was taking "very seriously" reports of conventional military cooperation between the two pariah states, adding that it would be "destabilising for the region."

Burma and North Korea, both isolated and under international sanctions, are set to dominate Clinton's two days of discussions with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and broader Asean Regional Forum.

Clinton was later set to sign a friendship pact with Southeast Asia in a sign of Washington's renewed interest to the region after nearly a decade in which it has been distracted by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

After arriving in Thailand Tuesday from New Delhi, Clinton said President Barack Obama's administration wants to send a strong message of engagement with the region after it was neglected by his predecessor George W. Bush.

US influence over Asean has been largely supplanted by China, which inked the same treaty with the 10-country bloc six years ago.

US officials said a key thrust of Clinton's debut at the forum would be to crank up pressure on North Korea to return to the nuclear disarmament talks after its recent missile and nuclear weapons tests.

North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Ui-Chun declined to attend the meeting, instead sending a roving ambassador to Phuket, and Southeast Asian officials say the Pyongyang delegation is concerned about coming under pressure.

Asean had asked China to play a key role in bringing North Korea back to the negotiating table, a Thai official said after the bloc's foreign ministers met their counterparts from China, Japan and South Korea on Wednesday.

Washington is currently focused on implementing tough new UN sanctions, but officials said the US and its allies were ready to offer incentives to Pyongyang if it changed course -- something they did not expect any time soon.

Suspicions about military cooperation between Burma and North Korea escalated after a US Navy destroyer last month began tracking a suspect North Korean ship that was reportedly heading for Burma.

The vessel came under scrutiny under new UN sanctions designed to punish Pyongyang over its recent underground nuclear test and a series of rocket launches including a long-range projectile.

Separately, a group of exiled Burma activists last month released pictures of what they said was a secret network of tunnels built by North Korean experts inside Burma.

Clinton, meanwhile, also expressed concerns about the rights record of Burma, which has been slapped with US sanctions for its detention of political prisoners including pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Burma has sparked outrage by putting the Nobel Peace Prize winner on trial over an incident in which an American man swam to her lakeside house.

Clinton said Wednesday in her television interview that expelling Burma from Asean "would be an appropriate policy change to consider" if the ruling junta does not release Aung San Suu Kyi.

Obama has described the court proceedings as a "show trial", while talk of a revised US policy towards Burma has been on hold since the trial began.


READ MORE---> Clinton fears NKorea-Burma nuclear link...

Cemetery seized by TPDC in Maungdaw

Maungdaw, Arakan State (KPN): The Township Peace and Development Council, (TPDC) chairman of Maungdaw Township has seized a Rohingya Muslim cemetery in the Township for use though there are many vacant places for the authorities to set up camps or other buildings, said a local elder on condition of anonymity.

On July 1, the Maungdaw TPDC Chairman along with other officers went to Basara (Thawin Chaung) village in Maungdaw Township and ordered the villagers not to bury their dead in the cemetery. If anyone did not comply with the order, he or she would be fined Kyat 50,000.

The authorities destroyed some Kobors (file of the soil of bodies in the cemetery) and the fence of the cemetery which was established a long time ago near the village. Recently, a Nasaka outpost was set up close to the cemetery on the north.

The villagers were asked to bury new bodies at the bottom of a mountain on the eastern side of the village, a mile away.

Villagers do not know why the authorities seized the ancient cemetery of the villagers, although vacant places are available, said a local trader requesting not to be named.

A village trader said, “There are many vacant lands to build government buildings. Why did they have to seize the cemetery of the Muslims? What are the reasons? Is there any country in the world which seizes cemeteries?”

In 2008, the authorities also had seized the cemeteries in Baggona and Gora Khali villages of Maungdaw Township.

Earlier, in Buthidaung Township, the authorities seized Buthidaung Town cemetery, Taung Bazaar cemetery, the Thiganet cemetery though there were many places to construct government buildings, said a local elder from Buthidaung Township.

READ MORE---> Cemetery seized by TPDC in Maungdaw...

Clinton Declares the US 'Is Back' in Asia

The Irrawaddy News

BANGKOK — on her second trip to Asia as US secretary of state, Hillary Rodham Clinton is carrying a no-nonsense message about American intentions.

"The United States is back," she declared Tuesday upon arrival in the Thai capital.

By that she means the administration of President Barack Obama thinks it's time to show Asian nations that the United States is not distracted by its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and intends to broaden and deepen its partnerships in this region.

Clinton trumpeted that line Wednesday in an appearance with a prominent TV personality before flying to a seaside resort at Phuket for two days of international meetings to discuss North Korea, Burma and a range of other regional issues.

Clinton said she would, as previously announced, sign Asean's seminal Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, a commitment to peacefully resolve regional disputes that has already been signed by more than a dozen countries outside the 10-nation bloc.

The US signing will be by the executive authority of Obama and does not require congressional ratification, said a senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the move publicly.

The administration of President George W Bush had declined to sign the document; Obama sees it as a symbolic underscoring of the US commitment to Asia.

On her arrival here Tuesday, Clinton reiterated Obama administration concerns that North Korea, already a threat to the US and its neighbors with its history of illicit sales of missiles and nuclear technology, is now developing ties to Burma's military dictatorship.

Clinton held out the possibility of offering North Korea a new set of incentives to return to negotiating a dismantling of its nuclear program if it shows a "willingness to take a different path." But she admitted there is little immediate chance of that.
A Clinton aide said the United States and its allies are looking for a commitment by North Korea that would irreversibly end its nuclear weapons program. The aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal US government deliberations, said there is no sign that North Korea intends to make such a move, keeping the US focus on enforcing expanded UN sanctions.

In her remarks about a possible Burma-North Korea connection, Clinton did not refer explicitly to a nuclear link but made clear that the ties are disconcerting.

"We know there are also growing concerns about military cooperation between North Korea and Burma which we take very seriously," she said at a news conference in the Thai capital.

"It would be destabilizing for the region, it would pose a direct threat to Burma's neighbors," she said, adding that as a treaty ally of Thailand, the United States takes the matter seriously.

Later, a senior administration official said that Washington is concerned about the possibility that North Korea could be cooperating with Burma on a nuclear weapons program, but he added that US intelligence information on this is incomplete. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the matter.

The United States, in a joint effort with South Korea, Japan, China and Russia, is attempting to use UN sanctions as leverage to compel North Korea to return to the negotiating table over its nuclear program. A major element of the international concern about North Korea is the prospect of nuclear proliferation, which could lead to a nuclear arms race in Asia and beyond.

Clinton spoke to reporters after meeting with Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva at the outset of a three-day visit to Thailand.

Clinton sharply criticized the military rulers of Burma for human rights abuses, "particularly violent actions that are attributed to the Burmese military concerning the mistreatment and abuse of young girls."

She said an Obama administration policy review on Burma is on hold pending the outcome of the trial of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is accused of violating the terms of her house arrest. The Noble Peace Prize laureate faces up to five years in prison if convicted, as expected.

READ MORE---> Clinton Declares the US 'Is Back' in Asia...

Clinton’s Burma Message

The Irrawaddy News

Hillary Clinton’s message to Burma was loud and clear, but it is still unclear what direction exactly the US will take in trying to engage the troubled country.

Upon arriving in Bangkok, the latest troubles in Burma were waiting for the US secretary of state to comment on.

However, Burma is no stranger to Clinton, since her husband, former President Bill Clinton, was the first world leader to impose economic sanctions on Burma in 1997. Today, Burma is still the region’s recalcitrant, rogue regime, regularly putting its allies and partners in the hot seat of world opinion.

Clinton said that the US is deeply concerned by the reports of continuing human rights abuses in Burma, and particularly by actions that are attributed to the Burmese military concerning the rape and abuse of young women.

It was anticipated that the US would condemn Burma’s poor human rights record, the ongoing Aung San Suu Kyi trial and the slow process of democratization. But the abuse of women’s rights was a new message on Clinton’s part.

Also, she highlighted the growing military ties between Burma and North Korea. Before her arrival, there were persistent reports of Burma’s secret military mission to North Korea and Burma’s keen interest in buying ballistic missiles.

“Now, we know that there are also growing concerns about military cooperation between North Korea and Burma, which we take very seriously,” Clinton said. “It would be destabilizing for the region. It would pose a direct threat to Burma’s neighbors.”

Her remarks won’t go down well with Burma’s main backers, China and Russia, who insist that Burma doesn’t pose a direct threat to regional peace and security.

The leaked 37-page document with photographs of the regime’s No 3 man, Gen Shwe Mann, who made a secret mission to Pyongyang in November via China, evidently show that the clandestine military ties between the two nations are well-advanced.

Informed sources confirmed that US and Japan intelligence agencies had been well-informed about Burma’s secret mission to North Korea long before the story broke in the exiled media.

Last month, Japanese police arrested a North Korean and two Japanese nationals for allegedly trying to export a magnetic measuring device to Burma that could be used in missile development.

In any case, Clinton’s clearly worded message will definitely set off alarm bells in Naypyidaw. It’s also known that the paranoid generals have sought advice from North Korea to build tunnels and military facilities in case of a foreign invasion or proxy war. The military regime is actively seeking jet fighters, sophisticated air defense systems and anti-aircraft, in order to have top-line defensive and offensive military weapons. The leaked document led to the arrest of several Burmese civilians and military officials by the authorities. (JEG's: so there is some truth after all in the rumour otherwise there would be no need for arrests...)

US strong advocate for democracy

Since the current regime came into power in the bloody coup of 1988, the US has been a strong ally of Burma’s democracy movement and political opposition groups.

Under President Barack Obama, US policy on Burma is undergoing a review. State Department officials said that the ongoing trial of Aung San Suu Kyi will affect the policy review. It is predicated that the new policy will be mixture of carrots and sticks. The US would like to exercise more diplomatic leverage to engage the hermit-like regime while maintaining targeted sanctions as sticks. The US is also interested in developing a more concentrated regional approach, involving the key countries in Southeast Asia.

Skeptics say that since the regime has little interest in engagement with the West, it will be difficult to depart from the previous policy adopted by the Bush administration.

Perhaps hopefully, it was once believed that the generals might want to seek a more normal relationship with the West, since Obama came into power. However, the ongoing bizarre trial of Suu Kyi and the North Korean military connection doesn’t go down well with the US, the EU or most Asean countries.

That doesn’t leave the US or other countries much room to try to normalize the relationship.

In the past, the absence of active US engagement in trying to solve the complicated problems of the region has paved the way for China’s rise in influence. China is Burma’s and North Korea’s major ally.

Thus, aside from Burma, the good news is Clinton’s broader message that the US is ready to resume an active leadership role, working in cooperation with Asian nations.

Clinton is already offering little carrots. Unlike former President Bush who called Burmese leaders tyrants, Clinton’s message to the generals was mixed.

“Our position is that we are willing to have a more productive partnership with Burma if they take steps that are self-evident,” she said.

It’s unlikely the generals will follow-up on Clinton’s offer, even though they are listening carefully.

Clinton’s concern about the growing military ties between Burma and North Korea is well noted.

Dealing with the generals is like dealing with an infectious disease that could spread quickly—often it is hard to prescribe the right treatment—and nobody can predict the outcome.

The international community must work together to find the right prescription that will cure Burma’s ills. The danger is that its problems not only affect it, but they could spill over and infect the entire region.

READ MORE---> Clinton’s Burma Message...

Human Rights in Asean: a Struggle Going Nowhere?

The Irrawaddy News

The 42nd Asean Ministerial Meeting (AMM) that has just concluded in Phuket, Thailand, might bring up the question of whether Asean (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) is able to transform itself into an organization capable of effectively addressing the human rights issues in the region.

Asean’s image as a “governments’ club” continues to be questioned amidst claims by its top officials that it wants to be more “people-oriented.”

After long months of continued engagement with the High Level Panel on the establishment of the Asean human rights body (HLP) by an Asean-based civil society network of more than 60 human rights organizations across the region, many civil society actors and Asean observers are faced with the question of whether engagement on the thorny issue of human rights within Asean is actually bearing fruit or is simply destined to be a barren struggle.

When the HLP—a 12-member panel tasked by Asean’s foreign ministers to come up with the terms of reference (TOR) on the Asean human rights body—released its first statement in July 2008 in Singapore, it said it was “important to engage with Asean civil society in [its] work.”

Asean civic groups were consequently hopeful that the regional body would finally accept the principle of participatory democracy and good governance after all these years of pressuring and lobbying.

From July 2008 to July 2009, the civic groups submitted documents from dozens of national and regional conferences demanding that Asean install the mandates for the human rights mechanism in order to facilitate fact-finding investigations, receive complaints from human rights victims and organizations, and conduct reviews on the human rights situation in the member countries.

These demands were also put forward in the meetings with the HLP in the regional interface between the HLP and civil society groups in Manila in September 2008, and then in Kuala Lumpur in March 2009.

The final TOR of the Asean Inter-governmental Commission on Human Rights (AICOHR), adopted by the Asean foreign ministers on 20th July in Phuket, does not, however, honor such recommendations from the key stakeholder.

While the Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who is currently Asean chairman, recently rebutted the criticisms on the AICOHR by saying that the body serves twin purposes of promoting and protecting human rights, it should be noted that the mandate in the final TOR that was made public by the Asean Secretariat was mainly on the promotional side. It advocated raising human rights awareness and providing services concerning human rights to Asean’s sectoral bodies. There was no such article mentioning any form of redress or action by AICOHR if a member state conducted human rights violations.

“We are disappointed to see that the final version of the TOR is less than the minimum credibility of protection mandate,” said Rafendi Djamin, the convener of the SAPA Task Force on Asean, at a press conference. “For any regional human rights commission to function effectively, it at least must have a minimum protection mandate such as conducting country visits to areas of human rights violations,” he added.

While Asean officials may praise themselves for taking such a progressive leap on this initiative, we must also take note that Asean falls far behind Europe, Africa and the Americas with regard to the creation of a similar mechanism.

The other regions have not only set up commissions capable of conducting investigations into human rights violations for decades, they have also implemented human rights courts, namely the European Court of Human Rights (set up in 1959), the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (1979), and the African Court for Human and Peoples’ Rights (2004).

The discussion for creating an Asean Court for Human Rights in the future, something civil society groups long for, is a taboo subject among Asean’s policymakers.

To Watshlah Naidu, a women’s rights advocate with the International Women’s Rights Action Watch, Asean needs a reality check. “Asean is a region that is packed with series of human rights violations ranging from extrajudicial executions and women’s rights being violated through labor exploitation, trafficking and sexual exploitation,” said Naidu.

Most importantly, Asean continues to be unable to resolve the worsening human rights crisis in Burma, an Asean member since 1997 that has created a refugee crisis in Southeast Asia.

With the existing weak TOR, how can Asean seek to improve the plight of the ethnic nationalities that are continually oppressed by the Burmese military regime and the continuing detention of more than 2,000 political prisoners including the never-ending detention of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Asean must act to ensure that human rights can be effectively protected.

READ MORE---> Human Rights in Asean: a Struggle Going Nowhere?...

Crackdown on Passport Brokers Linked to Leaked Photos?

The Irrawaddy News

At least 10 passport brokers in Rangoon have been arrested by the Burmese authorities during a recent crackdown, according to sources in Rangoon.

Sources close to several passport brokers and the passport issuing office in Rangoon said Burmese intelligence officers had detained dozens of people suspected of dealing in Burmese passports.

The authorities also reportedly questioned staff at the passport issuing office in Rangoon.

One inside source, as well as a Rangoon-based journalist, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that the authorities had cracked down on passport brokers because of the “massive corruption” involved in the trade.

Another Rangoon-based source said, “Many people are leaving country at the moment, and they don’t return. So, the authorities want to restrict it.”

Meanwhile, some reports said the crackdown was linked to the army officers who went into hiding over the “Shwe Mann scandal.” It is thought the wanted officers from Naypyidaw would try to leave the country with passports procured through brokers.

Recently, Burmese intelligence officials reportedly launched a crackdown against the army officers suspected of leaking information and photographs about Gen Shwe Mann’s secret trip to North Korea.

Ten high-ranking Burmese army officers were reportedly arrested for leaking confidential information, and will be court-martialed and could face the death penalty if convicted, said a Burmese intelligence official.

Sources said that four suspected Burmese officials had acquired passports through brokers and had already fled the country. Another two were reportedly arrested while in the process of acquiring passports.

The Irrawaddy could not independently confirm the report.

Some officials suspected of complicity had also gone into hiding, sources in Rangoon said.

The Bangkok-based English-language newspaper The Nation reported recently that several senior Burmese officials and some journalists were sacked some weeks ago after publication of photographs and video footage of secret tunnels in Burma surfaced in the international media. Photographs and video footage of a tunnel construction site in Burma were also published by Burmese media organizations.

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 nations.

READ MORE---> Crackdown on Passport Brokers Linked to Leaked Photos?...

Burmese Opposition Leaders Reject FM’s Comments

The Irrawaddy News

Opposition and ethnic leaders in Rangoon on Tuesday rejected suggestions that the Burmese regime might be open to calls for change after Foreign Minister Nyan Win, attending a regional ministerial meeting in Thailand, said that the junta was still considering a number of proposals from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

On Sunday, Nyan Win told his counterparts at the Asean Ministerial Meeting in Phuket that the release of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners demanded by the UN chief during a recent visit to Burma had not been ruled out.

Nyan Win’s comments, apparently intended to deflect international criticism of the regime’s imprisonment of Suu Kyi on charges of violating the terms of her house arrest, were rejected out of hand by leading members of Burma’s political opposition.

Khin Maung Swe, the main spokesperson for the central information committee of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, said the release of Suu Kyi was a matter of urgency. He said that genuine national reconciliation talks would be possible only if the regime released Suu Kyi and dropped the charges against her.

“Since Asean holds a constructive engagement policy among its member countries, it is up to them [Asean members] to engage Burma to solve the political conflict through negotiation,” said Khin Maung Swe.

Aye Thar Aung, the Rangoon-based chairman of the Arakan League for Democracy, also said that the release of all political prisoners in Burma was only the first step of the process of national reconciliation.

He added that the Asean Regional Forum (ARF), a gathering of high-ranking officials from 27 countries that will begin in Phuket tomorrow, was not likely to have much impact on the situation in Burma.

Thawng Kho Thang, a senior member of the Rangoon-based United Nationalities League for Democracy, said he did not expect the Burmese regime to respond constructively to the Ban’s proposals. He urged international and regional leaders attending the ARF to put more pressure on the junta.

“All members of Asean have to press the Burmese representatives to engage with them positively. They have to pressure the representatives politically and economically. Diplomacy alone does not work,” said Thawng Kho Thang.

READ MORE---> Burmese Opposition Leaders Reject FM’s Comments...

UN Debate on Genocide: Protect or Intervene?

The Irrawaddy News

UNITED NATIONS — Out of genocides past and Africa's tumult a controversial but seldom-used diplomatic tool is emerging: The concept that the world has a "responsibility to protect" civilians against their own brutal governments.

At the UN General Assembly, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pushed Tuesday for more intervention for the sake of protection.

"The question before us is not whether, but how," Ban told the assembly, recalling two visits since 2006 to Kigali, Rwanda. The genocide memorial he saw there marks 100 days of horror in which more than half a million members of the Tutsi ethnic minority and moderates from the Hutu majority were slaughtered.

"It is high time to turn the promise of the 'responsibility to protect' into practice," Ban said.

Rwanda's genocide began hours after a plane carrying Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana was shot down as it approached Kigali on the evening of April 6, 1994. The slaughter ended after rebels, led by current President Paul Kagame, ousted the extremist Hutu government that had orchestrated the killings.

"We still find ourselves in a world that has so far been maybe willing, but less likely committed to stop genocide and similar crimes," said Jacqueline Murekatete, a human rights activist who was 9 years old in Rwanda when she lost her entire family to the genocide.

Among those questioning the concept has been General Assembly President Miguel D'Escoto Brockmann, a leftist Nicaraguan priest and former foreign minister who organized a two-day debate starting Thursday. He issued a four-page "concept note" that made clear his reservations.

"Colonialism and interventionism used responsibility to protect arguments," says the paper issued by d'Escoto's office. "National sovereignty in developing countries is a necessary condition for stable access to political, social and economic rights, and it took enormous sacrifices to recover this sovereignty and ensure these rights for their populations."

William Pace, executive director of the World Federalist Movement's Institute for Global Policy, said d'Escoto's views are a "political misuse of the GA presidency" since they contradict the General Assembly's 2005 endorsement of the 'responsibility to protect' doctrine.

"It is not a synonym for military intervention," Pace added.

The idea that the world should take responsibility if nations fail to protect their own population was first promoted by Ban's predecessor, Kofi Annan, in 1999, citing conflicts in Angola, Kosovo, Sierra Leone and East Timor.

It gained huge momentum with the African Union's endorsement in 2000. The General Assembly backed it in 2005, though a budget committee has yet to provide funding for a special adviser's office.

In 2006, the UN's most powerful body, the 15-nation Security Council, threw its weight behind the idea in two legally binding resolutions.

Proponents have recently pushed to implement it in places like Darfur, Congo, Kenya, Burma, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe.

In May 2008, for example, the council discussed a proposal by France to authorize the UN to enter Burma and deliver aid without waiting for approval from the nation's ruling military junta. China and Russia, citing issues of sovereignty, blocked the idea.

And in July 2008, Russia and China vetoed US-proposed sanctions on Zimbabwe's leaders, rejecting an attempt by the global community to take action against an authoritarian regime widely criticized for a violent and one-sided presidential election.

At her first appearance before the Security Council in January, US Ambassador Susan Rice used the occasion to emphasize that the Obama administration takes the concept seriously. Earlier this month, at the Group of Eight summit in Italy, President Barack Obama called it "one of the most difficult questions in international affairs."

There is no "clean formula" for when to act, Obama said, but there are "exceptional circumstances in which I think the need for international intervention becomes a moral imperative, the most obvious example being in a situation like Rwanda where genocide has occurred."

Ban advised limiting UN action under the 'responsibility to protect' concept to safeguarding civilians against genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. He acknowledged the possibility of some nations "misusing these principles" as excuses to intervene unnecessarily, but said the challenge before the UN is to show that "sovereignty and responsibility are mutually reinforcing principles."

"Military action is a major last—not first—resort," he said. "No part of the world has a monopoly on wisdom or morality."

READ MORE---> UN Debate on Genocide: Protect or Intervene?...

Suu Kyi denied final meeting with lawyers

(DVB)–Lawyers of Burma opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi have been denied a request to meet with her one last time before Friday’s final court hearing and will not be able to discuss a final statement.

The lawyers were due to meet with Suu Kyi to finalise her court statement prior to the hearing on Friday but, according to lawyer Nyan Win, authorities phoned and said the court would not allow it.

“Now we are planning to just make a presentation based on our previous discussions with [Suu Kyi] and our legal point of view,” he said. “This decision was not drawn together with Daw Suu but we’ll just have to go with it.”

It is widely expected that Suu Kyi will be found guilty of breaching conditions of her house arrest, which carries a maximum sentence of five years.

Critics have said that the trial is a pretext to keep her in detention beyond the elections next year.

Another lawyer for Suu Kyi said that the rejection could weaken her defense at the hearing as well as drawing more criticism towards the Burmese judicial system.

Nyan Win urged international leaders attending the Association for Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit and ASEAN Regional Forum in Thailand today to keep a close eye on the situation.

“I think the international community’s urging for her release is a reasonable thing as she was not even supposed to be on trial at this moment,” he said.

A joint communiqué released on Monday following the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting called for the release of political prisoners in Burma, including Suu Kyi, as a prerequisite to “free, fair and inclusive” elections.

The statement also addressed the issue of ASEAN’s much-criticised policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of Burma, preferring instead to “constructively engage” with the junta.

Reporting by Htet Aung Kyaw

READ MORE---> Suu Kyi denied final meeting with lawyers...

US concerned on Burma nuclear ambitions

(DVB)–The United States is concerned about possible nuclear ties between Burma and North Korea and reports that North Korea has been supplying material and information on nuclear proliferation to Burma.

The comments were expressed by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Bangkok this morning prior to her visit to the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), which begins today on the Thai island of Phuket.

In a television interview Clinton said that the threat of nuclear weaponry was her biggest concern as Secretary of State, Reuters reported.

"So obviously we are very concerned about North Korea and recent reports about perhaps their dealings with what we call Burma," she said.

Fears of strengthening ties between Burma and North Korea will likely feature highly at the ARF, which will be attended by senior officials from 27 countries, including China.

Concerns stem largely from an incident last month in which a North Korean ship being tracked by the US navy on suspicion that it was carrying weaponry appeared to be heading towards Burma, before turning around.

North Korea is under tight UN sanctions following its nuclear test in May that prohibits the export of weapons materials.

Leaked intelligence documents and photographs obtained by DVB also show North Korean officials in Burma advising engineers on the construction of a network of tunnels that could hold heavy weaponry.

The US House of Representatives yesterday approved the renewal of sanctions on Burma, and will now seek approval from the Senate.

Various meetings have been held already this week in the run-up to the ARF. Following the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting on Monday, a joint communiqué was released calling for the release of political prisoners in Burma as a prerequisite to “free, fair and inclusive” elections.

The statement also addressed the issue of ASEAN’s much-criticised policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of Burma, preferring instead to “constructively engage” with the junta.

Reporting by Francis Wade

READ MORE---> US concerned on Burma nuclear ambitions...

Monks harassed by authorities

(DVB)–Monks living in a Rangoon monastery were harassed by authorities last week after accepting food donations from opposition party members given to mark Martyrs’ Day in Burma.

Around 20 officials from Thingangyun township authority in Rangoon arrived at the monastery in Laydauntkan ward where monks had received meals from National League for Democracy (NLD) members, a traditional way to celebrate Martyrs’ Day each year on 19 June.

According to NLD member Naw Ohn Hla, the officials “said intimidating words” to the monks and told them to report future donations to township authorities.

“They issued warnings and interrogated them,” she said. “They asked the monks how the offerings were made, how they were blessed with water, what kind of clothes were worn.”

Authorities threatened to seal off the monastery as had been famously done to Maggin monastery during the September 2007 monk-led uprising.

Monastery abbot, U Kumara, reportedly replied that his monastery had no “complicated matters” like Maggin, but was told by authorities that he had been “tainted with a black spot”.

Ohn Hla was among the 21 NLD members arrested and briefly detained whilst returning from Martyrs’ Mausoleum on Sunday.

“They told us not to wear clothes with [the pictures of] General Aung San,” she said. “When we headed towards the museum, they arrested us on the way.”

A number of those detained were “beaten up severely” and thrown into a van, she said.

Reporting by Naw Noreen

READ MORE---> Monks harassed by authorities...

Asean takes a step back

EDITORIAL Bangkok Post

The outcome of the Phuket meeting of Asean foreign ministers was disappointing. It must be hoped that when they are joined by other colleagues for bigger gatherings that they can get off ground zero. Allowing the region's harsher regimes to set the terms of a human rights council for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations is likely to come back to haunt the group, and sooner rather than later. To recover from this setback, Thailand will have to press hard at meetings beginning today, or face stronger criticism for its term as Asean chairman.

By far the biggest letdown, verging on outright failure, was the cave-in by Thailand and other countries on the Asean Inter-governmental Commission on Human Rights. It is not fair to call this new body a toothless tiger - not yet, before it even gets a chance to act. But the terms under which the body will operate appear to make actual human rights progress a dream rather than an achievable goal. Come October, it is widely feared, the commission will begin issuing vague statements and wishful press releases, rather than strong rulings backed by action.

Kudos to Indonesia for being the last nation standing when the roll was called for a stronger commission. It was shocking to see Thailand among the first democratic countries to give up attempts to push for the stronger version of the human rights body. When Thailand turned its back on human rights advocates, so did Malaysia, and then the Philippines. Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda considered holding out and actually scuttling the almost meaningless agreement that emerged. Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, chairman of the meeting, said the result was a compromise, leaving observers wondering how anyone can compromise on such an important moral issue.

Now it is the turn of the Asean Regional Forum, a 27-nation group which meets under Asean, but discusses matters extending far beyond our region. The group includes the foreign ministers and equivalent from the United States, China, Russia, Japan and other important countries. The ARF has been focusing strongly on the threat to peace by North Korea. Pyongyang, which was brought into ARF through Thai diplomacy in 2000, has once again gone into insult mode, and will send only a relatively junior diplomat to represent the foreign minister.

Thailand is again the chairman, and it must not shy from responding to this careful North Korean show of attitude.

ARF was formed specifically to encourage openness in foreign affairs, including trade and military matters, because honesty and information-sharing openly promotes and keeps the peace. North Korea, if it has made any change during the past nine years, has become even more closed and secretive. Its nuclear weapons tests and unannounced missile firings are designed to be hostile and intimidating. Since this flies in the face of the ARF goals, and defies the real successes of the ARF in achieving regional peace, North Korea must be called to account; no compromising this time.

Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, the chairman of all Asean meetings this week, has already stated that the group cannot move off dead centre until there are changes in Burma. Now is the time to press ahead with that thought, with 25 other mostly sympathetic nations helping. At the southwest and northeast corners of our region, Burma and North Korea are the main blocks to progress, the worst human rights violators. They are major blocks to peace. Asean can recover some dignity by standing up to these two nations at the important meetings in Phuket.

READ MORE---> Asean takes a step back...

ASEAN Great Compromisers

New Asean that needs no outsider's judgment
is no different from the
non-interfering old Asean of decades ago
Compromising - even on human rights


(Bangkok Post) -Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya's self-indulgent portrayal of a new Asean that needs no outsider's judgement is no different from the old non-interfering Asean of decades ago.

In rebutting Indonesian discontent over the watered down terms of reference (ToR) of the Asean human rights commission, Thailand has also shunned external criticism of the regional grouping, saying that Asean preferred to fine-tune its work with member states rather than punish each other.

FM Kasit said at the end of the Asean Ministerial Meeting (AMM) on Monday that Asean has opted to work towards conciliation and consultation in an amicable manner when there are differences or non-compliance, including on human rights matters.

The regional human rights body to be launched at the Asean Summit in October under the banner of "Asean Inter-Governmental Commission on Human Rights" will carry the two-fold mandate of promotion and protection, but deliberations on some controversial aspects of protection would be done by the leaders in three months.

Apart from the new human rights body, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations has also tried to come up with a set of dispute settlement mechanisms to deal with rising problems regarding implementation of the Asean Charter and in other grey areas.

However, Mr Kasit firmly said there was no intention to seek out "crime and punishment".

"We deal with it through good offices first [when problems crop up] and then arbitration. We do it in a civilised way - working together from inside out and not waiting for outsiders to punish us."

Thailand has been so eager to launch the human rights commission that it has exercised great diplomatic finesse to get the ToR accepted in time for the AMM, with lots of compromising.

The Thai chairmanship has been plagued with a series of domestic political problems, resulting in several postponements of the 14th Summit and the failure of the Pattaya summit during the Songkran festival due to the intrusion of the Red Shirts of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD).

Launching the regional human rights mechanism will certainly help in restoring the damaged image of Thailand in the eyes of Asean and the international community.

But it is not just Thailand that has to be blamed for the soft-faceted commission. The Philippines and Malaysia, beleaguered with their own problems, have also backed off from reflecting the high expectations of their civil society groups for the new body to have protection mechanisms and the Burma issue in general.

Indonesia was the only one to come up against the other nine members when it came to the human rights body's negotiation and debate during the past year as experts met to draft the terms of reference.

Even the nice man, Hassan Wirajuda, the Indonesian foreign minister, was dismayed that he ended up being the loner in the "sea of change".

"Indonesia has been solely embarking on the explicit deliberations of the new body on monitoring, country visits, and the UN-like peer review tasks," said one of the senior delegates.

Mr Wirajuda yesterday toned down his country's frustration, saying that he just wanted to make the protection deliberations clear.

Indonesia's human rights body explictly mentions the protection mandate but the regional body had something less, said Mr Wirajuda.

The Thai host eventually took a face-saving step by ensuring that an elaboration on the protection element of the commission will be done in the Political Declaration by the Asean leaders.

The drafting of the Leaders' Political Declaration will be finalised by the ToR-drafting High Level Panel in Manila next month.

In defending the accusation that the new commission had no teeth, Mr Kasit said that instead of criticism, the regional grouping should be thanked for having come this far.

"We have to move the two fronts [promotion and protection] in unison. The different political systems within Asean will be improved and developed later in due time."

The same tone was adopted by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

"It is better to make headway with the launch first, bearing in mind that the body must be credible, realistic and evolutionary."

Mr Abhisit expects the evolution to be clearly defined in the ToR framework. "We establish a body that begins with the issue of promotion first. The teeth will come along later."

Asean Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan, who probably understands the issue best, conceded that there was a feeling in Asean, particularly in Indonesia, that the grouping was not moving fast enough.

"Indonesia has the right to be euphoric and proud about its own achievement [on democracy], so they put their own frustration into a positive energy to direct Asean in the right direction," said Mr Surin.

Debbie Stothard, coordinator of the Alternative Asean Network on Burma (ALTSEAN-Burma), said the human rights commission was purely a body for the governments and by the governments - not the peoples of the region.

"It is absurd when Asean said they don't want the name-and-shame by outsiders. With this toothless commission, how will the regional grouping prevent itself from being criticised?" Ms Stothard asked.

Only a strong human rights mechanism could prevent external criticism about the human rights regime in our region, she said.

"Now the civil society, which has been eyeing the new body to do something, has to make complaints right away to the UN, not the regional entity," she said.

She also said the rebranding of Asean as a united force was meaningless. "They said they are going for a rules-based body but still there is no common standard and the way they handle regional concerns such as the Burma issue has been depending on the host - it's like this every year."

Asean remains a long way from transforming from a consensus-based body into a problem-solving organisation, Ms Stothard concluded.

Brad Adams, Human Rights Watch's executive director for its Asia Division, also called on Thailand, as the Asean chair, and Burma's major political and economic partner with significant leverage and policy options, to help improve the respect for human rights and promote political reform in Burma.

Although he admitted there should be no wishful thinking that conciliatory talks from Thailand or other countries will cause Burma's generals to soften their stance, Thailand still needed a bolder approach in dealing with Burma, to show that engagement can produce concrete results, not empty promises, Mr Adams said.

READ MORE---> ASEAN Great Compromisers...

US seeks allies' aid on Burma

Clinton's assistant holds talks with Puea Thai Party


(Bangkok Post) -The US is pinning its hopes on close cooperation with Thailand and other Asian partners in pressing for change in Burma, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says.

Washington was also continuing to express its concern about the unfair trial of Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, Mrs Clinton said yesterday.

"We're very much engaged with partners such as Thailand and others in assessing and determining what is going on inside Burma," the secretary of state said after talks with Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva at Government House.

"And we hope we can effectively change the direction and behaviour of the Burmese leadership. We have been closely working with our partners."

Mrs Clinton is on an official visit to Thailand and will join her Southeast Asian counterparts in Phuket today for talks, followed by the Asean Regional Forum tomorrow.

The US was very concerned about the continued human rights abuses in Burma and was closely watching the trial of Mrs Suu Kyi, she said.

Mrs Clinton urged the Burmese regime to treat the National League for Democracy leader fairly, saying the junta's handling of Mrs Suu Kyi's case was "unacceptable".

Mrs Suu Kyi has been charged with violating the terms of her house arrest after an American man swam across the lake in Rangoon to hide himself in her residence. She is currently being held at Insein prison in Rangoon following her arrest in May.

Mrs Clinton said the US wanted to have a productive partnership with Burma but the junta would need to take a step back in its treatment of its ethnic minorities and all political prisoners as well as the issue of Mrs Suu Kyi. She said Burma knew well that it needed to do this.

The US secretary of state also expressed concern about suspicions of military cooperation between North Korea and Burma.

"We take this matter seriously," she said, adding it posed a threat to regional stability.

Deputy Prime Minister Korbsak Sabhavasu yesterday said Thailand was ready to work closely with the US.

Asean ministers on Monday urged the release of Mrs Suu Kyi and called for fair elections in Burma next year. But they stressed there would be no interference in Burma, which is one of the 10 members of the grouping.

Human Rights Watch yesterday urged Prime Minister Abhisit, who currently chairs Asean, to force Burma to end human rights violations, release political prisoners and restore democracy.

"The role of Asean and Thailand to lead principled international engagement on political, security and humanitarian issues in Burma is urgently needed," the group said in a letter to Mr Abhisit.

"As the current chair of Asean, Thailand should take Burma to task for breaching the Asean Charter on human rights and democratic values," said the letter, a copy of which was obtained by the Bangkok Post.

There are 2,100 political prisoners in Burmese prisons, according to the New York-based group.

US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell yesterday held separate talks with Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban and the Puea Thai Party hours before Mrs Clinton arrived in Bangkok.

Mr Suthep said Mr Campbell had asked Thailand to help support political reconciliation and a road map to democracy in Burma and the release of Mrs Suu Kyi.

Mr Campbell and the US delegation, including US Ambassador to Thailand Eric John, met with Puea Thai leader Yongyuth Wichaidit and several core members including Yingluck Shinawatra, a sister of convicted former prime minister Thaksin, and former foreign minister Noppadon Pattama.

Later, Pittaya Pukkaman, who heads Puea Thai's foreign affairs team, said the party explained the current problems with democracy in Thailand as well as human rights to Mr Campbell.

Mr Pittaya said the party also discussed its efforts in pushing for dialogue to solve the problems and the obstacles which hinder such efforts.

"The problem is that we are being treated unfairly which is undermining any negotiation attempts," he said.

When asked if the issue of the ousted prime minister, Puea Thai's de facto leader, was raised, Mr Pittaya said the talks did not focus on any individuals.

He said the US delegation expressed hopes the opposition and the government would work together to solve Thailand's problems through legal and constitutional means.

READ MORE---> US seeks allies' aid on Burma...

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