Saturday, August 1, 2009

Nasaka orders shooting Rohingy youth in Maungdaw

Maungdaw, Arakan State (KPN): On July 15, the Commander Burma’s border security force Nasaka of area No. 9 in Buthidaung Township ordered his armed forces to shoot a Rohingya youth wherever and whenever they find him as he did not comply with the order of Nasaka, said a close relative of the victim preferring not to be named.

The victim was identified as Md. Yasin (20), son of former village chairman Saber, from Paungdaw Pyin vllage of Buthidaung Township.

The victim Md. Yasin fell in love with Arafat Begum (18), daughter of Noor Mohamed, from the same village. But, this information reached the Nasaka camp through their secret agent. As a result, he was summoned to the camp, but he did not appear. The Nasaka also tried to arrest him, but failed.

The Nasaka called his father Saber to the Nasaka camp and asked him to bring his son to the camp or to pay kyat 500,000. So, the father agreed and was released after he had fulfilled their demand, said a friend of Saber.

However, after getting the money, the Nasaka again demanded extra kyat 2 million from his son. The son fled. The Nasaka Commander was very angry with him and ordered his armed forces to shoot him wherever they seem him.

Recently, the Nasaka authorities have increased their activities against the Rohingya youths whether they are involved in love affairs with girls or not and extort money,, said a local youth who declined to be named.

Nasaka has imposed marriage restrictions on the Rohingya community for a long time and the Rohingya youths and girls are facing many difficulties. Rohingya youths and girls who are able to give a huge bribe to the concerned authorities are able to tie the knot. There are many poor youths and girls who are not able to marry because of money to get marriage permission. The authorities deliberately do not give permission in time, said a local businessman requesting not to be named.

READ MORE---> Nasaka orders shooting Rohingy youth in Maungdaw...

Lay Off the Lady

The Irrawaddy News

Some ideas never seem to die. Recently, the argument that Aung San Suu Kyi, the woman seen by many as the guiding light of Burma’s quest for democracy, is actually the country’s greatest impediment to progress has made its way back into print. This notion, which is propagated by a faction of self-styled Burma experts known as the “third force,” has repeatedly reared its head over the years. The Irrawaddy believes it is time to put this myth to rest.

The latest instance of this malicious meme appeared in the July 23 edition of The Economist, in an item titled “The Lady should be for turning.” The piece begins by noting the 20th anniversary of the day Suu Kyi was first placed under house arrest, and proceeds with a de rigeur acknowledgment of her two decades of courage and personal sacrifice (no doubt to avoid the sort of excoriation provoked by an article published in Britain’s Guardian newspaper in November 2008, originally titled “Not such such a hero after all,” which was later subject to numerous corrections and a public apology).

Once the formalities are out of the way, however, the writer, citing “a growing body of opinion,” poses the question of whether Suu Kyi is an “icon or obstacle.” More specifically, Suu Kyi’s position on sanctions is obliquely attacked as the cause of Burma’s economic misery, and by extension, its failure to achieve any meaningful progress towards democracy.

There are numerous objections that one could make to this assertion, which the writer does not attempt to support in any way, perhaps assuming the logic to be self-evident. However, we can identify a few fundamental flaws in the underlying argument that should suffice to set the record straight.

The first point that needs to be made is that Suu Kyi does not dictate the Burma policy of Western countries. Although the issue of sanctions is often linked to her fate, that does not mean she is the main impetus behind the policy. When US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently said that the US might be ready to invest in Burma if Suu Kyi was released, she did so at her own discretion, not in consultation with the detained democracy leader. Conversely, if Suu Kyi suddenly reversed her position on sanctions, there is no reason to believe that Western governments would automatically follow suit. To imply that she is somehow responsible for decisions made in foreign capitals is, therefore, grossly unfair.

It is also a distortion of the facts to suggest that sanctions are the cause of Burma’s endemic poverty. A total absence of accountable governance—not a lack of international aid or investment—is the real reason this resource-rich nation can barely support its own population. The junta has never had any difficulty in finding foreign partners willing to help it exploit Burma’s natural wealth. But most of the plunder from this wholesale theft of the country’s riches is deposited in overseas bank accounts or in bunkers in Naypyidaw; virtually none of it is plowed back into the local economy for the benefit of the country’s long-term development.

It is true, as The Economist notes, that official aid to Burma falls far short of what the country needs. Again, this is because most international donors don’t trust the regime to use aid appropriately or cooperate fully with the agencies that dispense it, not because they feel obliged to support the country’s pro-democracy leader. Even if Suu Kyi were completely removed from the equation—as some junta apologists and exasperated pseudo-pragmatists have long argued she should be—it would not alter the fact that, even post-Nargis, the regime does more to obstruct aid than facilitate it.

The fact that the regime has tightened the screws on the opposition at the very moment that the world wants to increase its aid to Burma shows that the generals are only interested in using the suffering of ordinary Burmese to their own advantage. In effect, they are telling the international community to make a choice: save Suu Kyi, or save the rest of the country. Suu Kyi herself would not hesitate to recommend the latter, if it were a meaningful choice. But it is not, because eliminating her as a political force would bring no tangible benefit to anyone but the generals.

The Economist is probably not, like some, hell bent on discrediting Suu Kyi. But it does subscribe to certain views that make it susceptible to the arguments of those who are. One of its most cherished ideas is that economic development is a force for political good. And so it asks if “the courageous Lady” will admit that “[d]evelopment ... could be the fastest path to democracy.”

Never mind that the experiences of China and Vietnam, two countries mentioned as possible models for Burma, do not support this claim at all. And forget the fact that the Burmese regime seems to take greater inspiration from Pyongyang than Beijing or Hanoi. If you want proof that the development-to-democracy narrative makes sense, just look at Indonesia.

The Economist states that “development could bring about swift changes to the political landscape, as eventually happened in Indonesia”—a view it attributes to noted Burmese historian Thant Myint-U. But the Indonesian example, even if it could be said to apply to Burma, is hardly an encouraging one. More than 30 years of brutal and corrupt rule under Suharto ended only after the collapse of the Indonesian economy and a period of deadly unrest in the late 1990s. Is this the scenario that Thant Myint-U and other opponents of sanctions envision for Burma? If so, it is hard to see how it is preferable to calls for a 1988-style popular uprising.

If there is anything to be learned from Indonesia, it is that repression breeds violence, and that only a viable alternative to iron-fisted rule can halt the downward spiral that accompanies the inevitable downfall of a despised dictatorship. In Indonesia, Megawati Sukarnoputri, daughter of slain independence leader Sukarno, played a major role in guiding the country back from the brink. Although not particularly effective as president, she succeeded in paving the way for more capable politicians and a more stable political system—as Suu Kyi would do if given the chance.

Sadly, however, Burma’s current rulers lack the foresight to let this happen. Unlike Megawati, who was active in Indonesia’s legislature long before Suharto’s fall from power, Suu Kyi has spent most of the past two decades as a prisoner. Isolated and silenced, she has been given neither an opportunity nor a reason to reconsider her stance on sanctions.

It is unfortunate, too, that some foreign journalists seem to feel a need to dismiss Suu Kyi’s views because of her status as “democracy’s poster girl,” as The Economist describes her. They do her, and Burma, an enormous disservice. If some in the Western media err on the side of uncritical admiration, others go too far in trying to deflate her iconic image. Suu Kyi is not above criticism, but blaming her for Burma’s woes, even indirectly, is completely out of line. This question is: Will The Economist admit as much?

READ MORE---> Lay Off the Lady...

Can Indonesia Break the Asean Deadlock on Burma?

The Irrawaddy News

The military junta ruling Burma is more or less impervious to foreign pressure, or so it seems. It might well respond to some harsh words from Beijing or New Delhi, should these ever materialize. For now, however, neither tough rhetoric nor sanctions have made much of a dent.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) has been particularly acquiescent, holding fast to its cherished principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of member states. It came as something of a surprise, then, when Indonesian Foreign Minister Dr Hassan Wirajuda, speaking in advance of the Asean Regional Forum in Phuket, Thailand, last week, said that the junta must release Aung San Suu Kyi for the 2010 elections to be deemed free and fair.

Despite this unexpected departure from the Asean party line, however, some observers say it is too early to judge whether Indonesia—a country that has undergone a remarkable political transformation over the past decade—is about to take the grouping in a new direction in its approach to Burma.

“It is better to look into the future [to see] if Indonesia’s policy toward Myanmar [Burma] will be similar to the Asean approach or it might be different,” said Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a visiting research fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.

Noting that Indonesia has been too preoccupied in recent years with its own process of democratization to formulate a clear policy on Burma, Pavin said that Jakarta may now be turning to this issue to bolster its own democratic credentials.

“Personally, I think Jakarta would choose to adopt a harsher stance vis-à-vis the junta to prove that it really adheres to democratic principle,” he said. “Indonesia does not have ample economic interests in Myanmar, so it is easier for Jakarta to push harder for political change in this country.”

Part of this may be a response to pressure from Indonesia’s parliament and civil society, which still has vivid memories of the anti-Suharto struggles. But if Dr Wirajuda’s remarks mark a concerted policy change, Jakarta might be on its own, in Asean at least. Now and then Manila chips in with some harsh words, and would-be Asean member Timor-Leste has irked the junta with President Jose Ramos Horta’s sporadic exhortations (most recently telling Australian media that Canberra could do more to pressure the generals). But for the most part, the grouping has gone out of its way to avoid rocking the boat on Burma.

This could change, however, if China’s growing clout in the region provokes Asean to act more assertively to put its own house in order. If Asean members, led by Jakarta and in concert with the US, sought to intervene more forcefully in Burma, it might show Beijing that it cannot expect to have things all its own way with the 600 million-strong bloc to its south, and would remind Beijing that some Asean countries have powerful outside allies to turn to for support.

Pulling Burma more firmly into Asean’s orbit would have major consequences for China. Burma is a vital part of China’s regional strategy, with energy and economic ties intertwined with Beijing’s geo-strategic concerns—the latter exemplified by the new energy corridor linking Burma’s Kyaukpyu port with China’s Yunnan Province. This will transfer 20 million tonnes of crude oil to China from the Middle East and Africa annually, and help Beijing reduce reliance on the Straits of Malacca, which the US Navy, could, if push came to shove, close off at any time.

Whether Indonesia sees itself taking on such a role is, of course, entirely a matter of speculation. However, it may well be that Jakarta would like to carve out a niche for itself that is commensurate with its status as Asean’s largest and most populous member. President Yudhoyono sought to raise Jakarta’s geopolitical profile during his first term in office, but many of his foreign policy initiatives were written off as ineffective and symbolic. Indonesia’s stint on the UN Security Council achieved little of note, including on Burma.

However, Indonesian progress over the last decade has been one of the more surprising success stories in democratization, in an era when scholars such as Larry Diamond and organizations such as Freedom House are noting regression across the globe. In Southeast Asia, only Indonesia is ranked as free by Freedom House. Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam are ranked as not free, while Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Singapore are ranked as partly free.

READ MORE---> Can Indonesia Break the Asean Deadlock on Burma?...

Animal Farm

The Irrawaddy News
AUGUST, 2009 - VOLUME 17 NO.5

I had only been in Rangoon one week when it became clear that most people I met thought I was either crazy or acting a part in a “Mission Impossible” sequel.

I was in Burma’s former capital to meet as many of the country’s 2,100 political prisoners as I could. Many of them were locked up in Rangoon’s Insein Prison, among them the world’s most famous political prisoner—Nobel Peace Prize winner and Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Elephants reach out to their human friends and fellow prisoners in Burma.
(Photo: Pat Brown/The Irrawaddy)

“Are you serious?” was the most common response. Eyes shifted suspiciously and voices lowered to whispers. Perhaps they thought I was another John William Yettaw on a spiritual mission to free Burma’s incarcerated heroine.

I tried to look sincere, but it was difficult not to confirm their suspicions.

The only living things—if you exclude the guards—that have access to Insein Prison, I was told, were lizards, rats, birds and pathogens, such as the tuberculosis virus that was currently doing a round of the inmates.

With typical black humor, many Burmese I spoke with said I should just walk through the roadblock, knock on the door and ask for a tour of the facilities.

One man in a tea shop suggested an easier way was to interview someone who was “just about to” become a prisoner. That, I quickly gathered, could include anyone.

I began to daydream. If indeed only animals had access to the prison, perhaps I would be better off going to the city zoo and interviewing some of the creatures in captivity there. Perhaps they could relate to me what life was like behind bars.

Of course, I am not Dr Doolittle and cannot speak to animals, but I decided to interpret the animals’ eye movements, every nervous flick of the tail and shake of the head for answers.

Below are some excerpts from my interviews with inmates at Rangoon zoo.

A nervous elephant, the only tusker in the zoo willing to talk to me, shivered as he remembered an incident on September 27, 2007:

“At first we thought it was the crackle of lightning, but it was not. It was gunshots. We all panicked. Many of us had been shot at before. It was only some time later that we realized the human beings were shooting at each other, not at us.”

On that day, after a week of street demonstrations calling for democracy, Burmese troops opened fire on unarmed protestors killing at least nine people and injuring dozens.

“What can we say when humans are treated worse than animals. People are being put away in cages all over the country. Than Shwe is surely the world’s cruelest zookeeper,” said the elephant, swaying constantly from side to side, straining against the chains that bound him.

It’s not often you hear animals sympathizing with human beings. But then again, Burma is no ordinary country. It is the world’s largest prison, guarded for decades by a handful of military generals.

“I can’t bear it any more,” said an Asian black bear. “Every night we hear the cries of prisoners from Insein. They are obviously being tortured. I can’t sleep through it!”

And what is the reason for inflicting torture and suffering on the people of Burma? To keep them quiet while the country is looted of its wealth, of course.

In fact, Rangoon zoo itself has been in turmoil this last year over the abduction of several of its prized animals. The missing mammals and reptiles turned up in a new zoo in Naypyidaw, the new capital. It was a very hush-hush operation. The hippos were warned not to open their mouths and the bats were told to turn a blind eye to what was happening. The displaced animals in Naypyidaw report that the zoo there is even worse than Rangoon.

“It’s no laughing matter,” said a lion. “Except for the hyenas, of course.”

“One white tiger and several pelicans died of suffocation inside the trucks. And the giraffes all got whiplash,” said a primate, who often acts as a liaison with the security guards because he speaks their language.

The elephants were in a rage at being given life sentences in the remote zoo, built in an arid climate with little water. The cockatoos and parakeets screeched insults at their captors, but to no avail.

It was dusk and visiting time at the zoo was nearly over. As I made my way out, a gorilla waved me over to her cell.

“Surely if animals and humans join forces we can overthrow these dreaded zookeepers,” she said.

It sounded like a desperate plea for help—a scenario too fantastic to ever happen. But then again, I thought, perhaps these birds, mammals and reptiles could run the country as well as the present government.

Satya Sagar is a writer, journalist and video maker based in New Delhi. He can be contacted at

READ MORE---> Animal Farm...

A Friend in Need

Burma’s Snr-Gen Than Shwe (l), General Maung Aye before a meeting with U.N Secretary-general Ban Ki-moon in Naypyidaw on May 23, 2008.

The Irrawaddy News
AUGUST, 2009 - VOLUME 17 NO.5

Signs of strengthening diplomatic and military ties between Burma and North Korea are creating unease in many world capitals—not least, in Washington, where the Obama administration says it’s watching developments with “growing concern.”

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said after attending a ministerial meeting of the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) in Thailand in late July that military cooperation between Burma and North Korea “would be destabilizing for the region, it would pose a direct threat to Burma’s neighbors.”

An undated picture released by North Korea's official Korean central News agency on June 14, 2009, shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il (c) inspecting the command of 7th Infantry Division of the Korean People's army at an undisclosed location in North Korea.

Significantly, she made the statement while in one of Burma’s most watchful neighbors, Thailand. Talk of regional destabilization is bound to have echoed not only in the corridors of power in Bangkok, but also in Naypyidaw, where the generals need no reminder of the importance the US places on maintaining stability in areas where its interests have to be protected.

Burma and North Korea are both located in such areas—two troublesome countries with histories rooted in warfare and repression.

Burma won its independence from the British in January 1948, and in the same year North Korean Communists founded the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). When civil war broke out in the early 1950s in newly independent Burma, North Koreans were waging war against the southerners and their US allies in the Korean Peninsula.

But Burma was no North Korea. Ne Win, who introduced the “Burmese way to socialism,” had not envisaged forging a close alliance with North Korea. Nevertheless, diplomatic relations were established between the two countries in 1974.

Since then, Burma’s Beijing-based ambassador has also been responsible for Burmese diplomatic representation in North Korea. When a former Burmese ambassador, Chan Tun, made a courtesy call on North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung, he was received in a cave but was amazed by the opulence of this unconventional official setting, which he compared to a palace.

Ne Win visited Pyongyang in 1975, accompanied by his daughter, Khin Sandar Win. It is believed that China was behind the North Korean invitation.

Diplomatic relations between Burma and North Korea were abruptly broken in 1983 when North Korean agents carried out a bomb attack on a visiting South Korean delegation led by then President Chun Doo Hwan.

Chun Doo Hwan narrowly escaped death or injury, but four South Korean cabinet ministers and 13 other officials were killed by the blast. North Korean diplomats in Burma were told to leave the country within 24 hours.

North Korea has never apologized for the incident, although its government has since made several attempts to restore diplomatic ties. Ne Win, however, rejected each olive branch.

Ne Win is now history. Isolated and hamstrung by Western sanctions and arms embargos, and under pressure to upgrade its armed forces, the Burmese regime has every reason now to nurture ties with Asia’s new nuclear power, North Korea. In April 2007, the two countries restored their long-ruptured diplomatic ties.

Since then, North Korea has sold Burma 20 million rounds of 7.62 mm ammunition, and between 12 and 16 130mm M-46 field guns. North Korean experts are now helping the Burmese build tunnel installations that are thought to have military application.

In 2008, Burmese government representatives made at least five visits to North Korea. Foreign Minister Nyan Win visited Pyongyang in October 2008 and among other senior officials welcomed to Pyongyang were Rangoon Mayor Brig-Gen Aung Thein Linn, Lt-Gen Tin Aye, chief of the armed forces office of the defense industries, and Gen Myint Hlaing, chief of the air defense department.

Burma, for its part, welcomed North Korea’s Deputy Foreign Minister Kim Young Il in November 2008, and the two governments signed a free visa agreement for diplomats and official passport holders.

North Korea is regarded by some observers as not only a strategic partner for the Burmese junta but also a role model for the isolated and xenophobic Burmese generals.

According to North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency, Brig-Gen Aung Thein Lin and Maj-Gen Htay Oo have both spoken in warm terms about the importance of the North Korean regime’s “Songun” or “Military First” policy.

The policy assured the Korean People’s Army the position of “supreme repository of power” after Kim Jong Il took over the leadership in 1994.

“One of the feats performed by Kim Jong Il in leading the party and revolution to a shining victory, shouldering upon himself the destiny of the country and nation is that he has strengthened and developed the WPK [Workers Party of Korea] into a guiding force of the Songun revolution,” said an enthusiastic Htay Oo at a Burma function celebrating the 45th anniversary of the Korean leader’s admission to the WPK.

Admiration for the North Korean model was also expressed by Aung Thein Lin, who said in November 2008 that he was deeply impressed by the way North Korean people were “dynamically advancing” under the Communist policy of Songun.

In one comment that summed up the realistic outside view of the “dynamic advances” of these two isolated citadels of oppression, Jeff Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University’s Japan campus, said: “It is sad that in both countries a grasping, clueless leadership is maximizing the misery index and pushing too many of their people into the abyss of poverty.”

READ MORE---> A Friend in Need...

Burma’s Missile Dream

North Korean missiles could become a major part of Burma’s military arsenal.

The Irrawaddy News
AUGUST, 2009 - VOLUME 17 NO.5

Naypyidaw appears to be intent on setting up a missile defense system to deter potential enemies

Is Snr-Gen Than Shwe delusional? Subordinates of Burma’s paramount leader are said to have repeatedly heard him say how much he admires North Korea’s use of missile technology to bully and defy its neighbors and the West. The bad news is that Than Shwe’s hard-line military leaders and ministers may agree with him.

However, Burmese opposition groups in exile suspect that army officers who disagree with Than Shwe’s policy deliberately leaked secret documents to exiled media groups, including The Irrawaddy. These documents throw light on Burma’s military ties with Pyongyang.

One leaked document detailed Gen Shwe Mann’s secret visit to Pyongyang in November 2008. Accompanying Burma’s No 3 general was Air Defense Chief Gen Myint Hlaing.

The 37-page secret report included photos of visits to a missile factory and anti-aircraft units, suggesting what was on the military’s shopping list. The documents gave details of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between the two armed forces. The MoU indicated that North Korea would build some Burmese military facilities, including tunnels for missiles, aircraft and even naval ships. Burma would receive training for its special forces and air defense units, and a language exchange program between the two armed forces would begin.

The secret report mentioned a visit to a missile factory outside Pyongyang, where Shwe Mann studied the production of Scud-D, E and F missiles, but it is difficult to confirm whether Burma would buy long-range missiles. Analysts believe that Burma has purchased medium-range missiles with a range of 500 to 1,000 kilometers. The secret report recommends that Burma begin producing its own ballistic missiles.

Technology Transfer

In February 2006, Eric John, the then US deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, expressed Washington’s concern at what appeared to be the imminent re-establishment of diplomatic relations between Burma and North Korea. Calling the two countries “outposts of tyranny,” the Bush administration accused them of isolating themselves to the point of being driven into each other’s arms.

John said there were grave concerns about the potential transfer of military technology to Burma from North Korea; these concerns appear to have been well-founded.

In June this year, police in Japan arrested the presidents of three Japanese companies on suspicion of violating the Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Law. They were accused of attempting to export a 7 million yen (US $73,000) magnetic measuring device that could be used to develop long-range ballistic missile systems, the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun reported.

According to the report, the Toko Boeki trading firm had tried in September 2008 and in January 2009 to export the device to Burma’s Ministry of Industry 2, which plays a key supporting role in Burma’s nuclear program because it is headed by the chairman of the Myanmar Atomic Energy Committee. Both attempts were halted when the Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry notified the company that they had failed to request an export license.

Police initially believed that the device was bound for North Korea via Malaysia and Burma, until they studied the contents of the order and materials seized when they raided the Toko Boeki company in February. They suspected that the firm had exported other missile development-related equipment to Burma, leading them to believe that North Korea was trying to transfer missile technologies, such as its Taepodong system, to Burma.

The export attempts were based on an order by the Beijing office of the Hong Kong-based New East International Trading Ltd in early 2008. The firm is believed to be under the direct control of the Second Economic Committee of the Pyongyang’s Workers’ Party of Korea. The committee is responsible for the party’s military procurements.

Arms Build-up

Though Burma is poor and its population suffers from almost daily power blackouts, the revenue from selling the country’s gas reserves to its neighbors is allowing the military regime to expand its arms purchases.

Over the past decade, Burma has been buying missiles from North Korea, China and Russia, and both Burmese and foreign defense analysts suggest that Burma has bought short and medium-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs).

Jane’s Defense Weekly reported that since 2001 Burma has obtained low altitude surface-to-air missile systems from Bulgaria, SRBM air defense systems from Russia and countries in eastern Europe, and is thought to have purchased surface-to-surface missiles (SSMs) from Ukraine, as well as multiple rocket launchers from China.

Defense analyst Maung Aung Myoe wrote in his 2009 book, “Building the Tatmadaw,” that Burma had appeared to acquire some 36D6 radar from Ukraine in late 2002. It is designed to detect air targets at low, medium and high altitudes, and to perform friend-or-foe identification.

Maung Aung Myoe also wrote that as early as 2003, Burma was in secret talks with North Korea to buy Hwasong (Scud-type) missiles.

The Burmese leaders became more serious about buying missiles and missile technology after a series of border skirmishes with Thai forces in 2001-2002. At the height of the tension, Thailand reportedly employed Suppression of Enemy Defense Systems (SEADS), before sending its sophisticated F-16 jet fighters into border air-space. Sources in the Tatmadaw admitted that communication lines between front-line troops and command centers were severely disrupted.

The Burmese leaders reportedly do not trust their eastern neighbor, and well-informed sources inside the Tatmadaw said that Burma worries about a proxy war, possibly backed by a marine invasion by a foreign power. Burma has since installed fiber-optic communication systems to counter future use of SEADS.

When US, British and French warships hurried to Burmese waters to deliver relief supplies to victims of Cyclone Nargis in the Irrawaddy delta in 2007, the regime refused them entry. However, it discovered it could barely mobilize naval ships and jet fighters, let alone its air defense system.

During their visit to Pyongyang six months after Cyclone Nargis, Shwe Mann and top leaders were given a briefing on air defense and radar systems to be installed in southern Burma.

According to Maung Aung Myoe, the Tatmadaw has acquired Man-Portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADS) for defense, while jet fighters and missiles would be used for both the middle and outer defense zones. The new air defense systems have been deployed in Naypyidaw and along the Thai-Burmese border.

The author said the Burmese armed forces appeared to focus on two different types of air defense missions in Burma: the air defense of key political and military installations, and battlefield air defense.

Tunnel Vision

Burmese leaders are thought to be seriously considering hiding the new radar systems and missiles. Since the early 2000s, The Irrawaddy has reported rumors and news of tunnel building in central Burma.

Military sources said new tunnels around Naypyidaw and in central Burma would be used as bunkers for the central command, and to hide missiles, jet fighters and radar equipment. The secret report revealed that Burma is interested in building yet more underground facilities.

Late Prime Minister Gen Soe Win, a protégé of Than Shwe, was interested in tunnel warfare, and officers who attended the National Defense College studied tunnel warfare and defense. However, it is thought that the Chinese, who remain a major arms supplier to the junta, have counseled that tunnel warfare is less relevant in modern warfare.

Though photos of tunnels published in exiled and international media drew international attention recently, their purpose has to be verified. Currently there are 12 hydropower projects scheduled for construction. These include the Paunglaung hydropower project near the new capital, and the largest in the country, the Ye Ywa hydropower project 50 km (31 miles) southeast of Mandalay.

It is difficult to distinguish whether the tunnels were for military purposes, or for hydropower, until unsolicited photographs and video of a tunnel construction site were posted on news web sites including the Democratic Voice of Burma, Yale Global online and The Irrawaddy.

It is safe to assume that some of the tunnels are for military purposes and are now operational. The secret report mentioned the building of command posts in the tunnels, and it verifies that the regime plans to build underground military facilities in Shan State and central Burma.

Some Burmese defense analysts think the junta has already prepared emergency escape routes in Naypyidaw in case of war. Burma’s army leaders are not planning to flee, however, but to fight back by using guerilla warfare and launching a “people’s war” in central Burma or from Shan State. Should such a war break out, the regime also plans to mobilize its mass organizations—the fire brigades and civil services—to defend the nation. (See: The Irrawaddy “Than Shwe’s The Art of War” Mar—Apr, 2009 - Volume 17 No.2)

During the 1988 student uprising in Rangoon that ended with a bloody military crackdown, a US fleet was spotted near Burmese waters. Than Shwe and hard-line leaders must feel that having missiles and air defense systems will make foreign powers more wary, giving them cause to hesitate before they send warships close to Burma’s shores again.

READ MORE---> Burma’s Missile Dream...

Reaching for the Sky

The Irrawaddy News
AUGUST, 2009 - VOLUME 17 NO.5

Russia and east european countries supply the tatmadaw’s helicopters.

The Tatmadaw lacks trained pilots and air-to-air combat experience, but its goal is to launch a modern air force

Burma’s military leaders want to have parity, if not air superiority, over neighboring countries, but it is still very much a dream. Regional defense analysts believe Burma has bought more than 100 jet fighters and aircraft from China since 1990. The Air Force currently has around 200 aircraft.

They include F-7 jet fighters, a Chinese copy of the Russian MiG-21, and the A-5 ground-attack aircraft. Burma has also bought smaller numbers of jet fighters, helicopters and military transport planes from Yugoslavia, Poland and Russia.

Russian, Ukrainian and Polish MI-12, MI-17, G-4 and Sokol helicopters now dominate Burma’s air force, replacing the Huskie, a US-made helicopter.

Since independence in 1948, Burma’s air force has heavily relied on planes from the US, UK, Holland, Switzerland and Italy. Faced with sanctions from the West, however, Burma can no longer purchase military planes from the US and UK. Thus, the air force now relies primarily on Chinese and Russian-made aircraft.

However, Chinese jet fighters are notoriously unreliable, have a shorter engine life and require frequent grounding—meaning that the air force’s ambition to have air superiority is still a distant dream. Also, many air force pilots simply do not like to fly the Chinese-made jet fighters and complain to officers.

The Burmese air force has historically lacked experience in air-to-air operations, but defense analysts say it is operational in support of ground forces against insurgents or invading forces. F-7 and A-5 aircraft are suitable for combat operations but are not suitable for counter-air defense.

After Burma faced serious skirmishes with Thailand in 2001-2, Burma purchased 12 MiG-29 jet fighters. The irony is that Burma could afford to buy more jet fighters because of it sells natural gas to Thailand. Burmese leaders did not hide their anger toward Thailand and envy Thailand’s air superiority—the Thai air force has sophisticated US F-16 jet fighters and European made planes.

The Royal Thai Air Force recently announced plans to buy 12 Sweden Gripen jet fighters to replace ageing F-5 jet fighters. To counter Burma’s neighbors, the junta will buy more jet fighters. Gen Maung Aye, the junta’s No 2 man, plans to upgrade and modernize the three armed forces and expressed a desire to buy more MiG-29 jet fighters from Russia when he visited Moscow in 2006.

However, there are operational and maintenance issues with both Russian and Chinese-made aircraft. For instance, the MiG-29 jet fighter is a state-of-the-art aircraft, but Burmese pilots log few flying hours and there are few skilled pilots who can fly the MiG-29s. In addition, ranking air force officers reportedly prefer US or European aircraft.

Although now lagging behind its neighbors, Burma will push ahead to modernize its air force. As proof, it is building—with help from North Korea—tunnel facilities to house jet fighters in Upper Burma and Shan State.

READ MORE---> Reaching for the Sky...

Full Steam Ahead

The Irrawaddy News
AUGUST, 2009 - VOLUME 17 NO.5

Burma plans to expand its “Blue Water” fleet

A larger navy is needed to defend Burma's offshore resources.

Burma’s naval officers are not trusted in the armed forces. They are considered to be liberal and more educated than army officers. During the 1988 uprising, several navy officers joined the student protesters.

Burma’s naval officers are also often outspoken in complaining about the comparatively low share of the military budget allotted to the maritime force and the modest size of the fleet.

However, this may change. Since early 1990, Burma has bought 10 Hainan-class sub-chasers and six Houxian-class missile escorts from China. The missile escorts are armed with four surface-to-surface missiles.

With Chinese help, Burma has also built fast patrol craft and two corvettes. In the past, Burma bought ships and patrol craft from the US, UK, Australia, Denmark, Japan and Singapore.

According to a leading Burmese researcher on defense matters, Maung Aung Myoe, Burma plans to build a frigate, and to this end has begun upgrading its ship-building facilities at the naval dockyard. In the 1990s, the regime planned to purchase Chinese frigates to help curtail incursions in Burmese waters by fishing vessels from neighboring countries, but at the time the regime could not afford to buy them even at “friendship prices.

The junta is also acquiring technical know-how on the construction and repair of the Burmese fleet’s warships, and some unconfirmed reports suggest that North Korea has proposed to sell Burma a small submarine. It is not known, however, whether Burma plans to acquire submarines in the near future.

Nevertheless, it is likely that Burma will buy more naval ships to defend its territory.

In November 2008, Burma deployed naval vessels when it reportedly began to explore areas of the Bay of Bengal for oil and gas. Bangladesh formally protested against the Burmese presence, claiming the explored area lies well within its territorial waters.

Although Burma has been acquiring more naval ships and has a plan to upgrade its “brown water” capability to “blue water” strength in the coming decade, it seems that the Burmese navy remains handicapped.

When ships of the US Pacific fleet approached the Burmese coast after the May 2008 Cyclone Nargis, Burmese vessels were at first nowhere to be seen.

As it ripped through the Irrawaddy delta region, the cyclone also hit Burma’s Panmawaddy Navy Base on Hainggyi Island at the mouth of the Bassein River, destroying military buildings and a reconnaissance station.

The Hainggyi Island naval base played a strategically important role in patrolling the rivers of the Irrawaddy delta and guarding the Coco Islands, the site of a signals intelligence unit that monitors ship movement in the eastern Indian Ocean, especially shipping routes between the Bay of Bengal and the Strait of Malacca.

The cyclone also damaged the main navy dockyard of the Irrawaddy naval base where ship-repair facilities are located.

Burma’s navy chief, Admiral Soe Thein, was seen touring various sites on Hainggyi Island, the state-run The New Light of Myanmar reported.

Curiously, Soe Thein was removed from his post one month after the cyclone. Although no reason was given, exiled groups suggested that Burmese military leaders were unhappy that the navy chief could not mobilize naval ships in a show of force when the US vessels arrived off Burma’s coast.

Previously, the Burmese navy was active in counter-insurgency and surveillance activities, such as monitoring fish poaching, smuggling and pirate attacks.

Maung Aung Myoe predicts that the Burmese navy will realize its dream of blue water capability in the near future. This means the acquisition of more frigates, corvettes, minesweepers, offshore patrol vessels, gunboats and fast attack craft equipped with missiles.

READ MORE---> Full Steam Ahead...

The Enemy Underfoot

The Irrawaddy News
AUGUST, 2009 - VOLUME 17 NO.5

Landmines are a threat to life and limb in Karen State

The victims face a future without an arm or a leg, or with just one eye if they have not been blinded for life. Some try to sleep, groaning when they roll over. Others sit up and talk with relatives, trying to come to terms with the disability that will afflict them for the rest of their lives.

These are the victims of landmines who have been lucky enough to make it to Mae Sot General Hospital, near the Thai-Burmese border in Thailand’s Tak Province.

a 23-year-old KNla soldier, Saw Naing Naing, lost his right eye and both hands in a landmine explosion.

Formerly enemies on the battlefield, soldiers from both the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) and the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) who were injured during three weeks of clashes in the KNLA Brigade 7 area in June now find themselves lying in adjacent beds in this small district hospital.

By the end of June, at least 13 soldiers from both sides—eight from the DKBA and five from the KNLA—were receiving treatment. Almost all of them were victims of landmines. One DKBA soldier died at the hospital in June as a result of his injuries.

Moo Say, a KNLA soldier who had to have his left leg amputated, recounted how he was checking a trail for Karen villagers who were fleeing to Thailand when the mine went off. He was brought across the border to the hospital, where he received six bottles of blood during treatment.

Despite being an amputee, Moo Say swore he would only give up fighting when he dies, or when “peace with justice” comes to Karen State.

In the bed next to Moo Say, a 17-year-old DKBA soldier had also lost a leg. The young Karen said the mine went off when he was returning to camp after cutting bamboo in the jungle.

He was one of an estimated 150 DKBA soldiers who were injured or died in recent fighting, mostly from landmine injuries. It is the Karen soldiers of the DKBA who have been bearing the brunt of the casualties, as the Burmese commanders order them to advance into KNLA areas while Burmese troops stay in the rear and fire mortars in support.

The young DKBA soldier said he would not go back to fight. “I was forced to take part in the recent attack—yes, we were paid by our so-called leaders to fight, but in our hearts we didn’t want to go in,” he said.

“After we had taken the KNLA camp, we moved around as little as possible—and now this. I tried to be careful, but I just didn’t see the mine,” he said.

Nay Moon, another KNLA soldier who lost a leg in the recent fighting, said he would try and rejoin his unit if he became fit enough to fight after leaving hospital.

“I feel sad when I look at fellow Karens in the DKBA. What do they have to go back to?” Nay Moon said.

Whenever there is fighting in Karen State, more mines are placed to catch the unwary, adding to the number of unexploded mines. Relief workers in Mae Sot reported seeing dozens of packs filled with mines being carried into the KNLA Brigade 7 area. They said the KNLA planned to plant them before they abandoned the base to advancing enemy troops.

Maj Hla Ngwe, joint secretary 1 of the Karen National Union (KNU), the political wing of the KNLA, said his soldiers have no option but to use their homemade landmines.

“The mines protect us. They are one of the few weapons that we can use against the Burmese army. They have so many more troops than we do,” he said.

When the Burmese troops withdraw after an offensive, they lay mines in the ethnic villages and the surrounding paddy, along the jungle trails and on the river banks where villagers go to collect water or catch fish.

The Free Burma Rangers, a relief organization that sends teams to work clandestinely in Burmese-controlled areas of Karen State, has estimated that as many as 2,000 landmines were left in and around villages in Karen State during military offensives against the KNLA in early 2006.

One 23-year-old KNLA soldier, Saw Naing Naing, lost his right eye and hand after a mine exploded during the recent fighting with the joint DKBA and Burmese army forces.

“Landmine injuries are different from gunshot wounds,” he said. “If we don’t die, we are disabled. It is as if a part of us has died. Landmines are bad. They have ruined my life.”

The Geneva-based International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) estimated that about 1,500 Burmese are injured or killed by landmines yearly. According to the ICBL, Burma is not one of 156 nations that are signatories to the 1997 Landmine Ban Treaty. The United States, China, Russia, India, Israel, Singapore and South and North Korea have also failed to sign the treaty.

The landmines used by the Burmese army come from Russia and China, Burma’s main arms suppliers. Some, however, are said to come from India as well as from Singapore, according to Burmese military sources.

Suthikiet Sopanik, who is secretary of the Thailand Campaign to Ban Landmines, confirmed that landmine injuries tend to be worse than other battlefield injuries.

“During a war, combatants will use whatever they can to kill and maim each other. But, after the battle is over and the troops have withdrawn, it is the civilians, the cattle and wildlife who suffer from the mines. It is so heartbreaking to see a young child maimed for life.

“How do you explain to three or four-year-olds that they must not go out to play around the village?” Sopanik said.

Suthikiet is urging the Burmese army and ethnic armed groups to try to find better means to solve political conflicts, ways that do not result in the horrific consequences of civilian landmine casualties.

“This is the time when the different sides in Burma should be working together for peace. They should be using Burma’s wealth in natural resources to improve living standards, not squandering it in fighting and making it even more dangerous for people to live on the land for years to come,” Suthikiet said.

The armed opposition groups have also been condemned for their use of landmines. According to a Landmine Monitor report released by ICBL in 2008, the KNLA used more mines than any other ethnic armed group in Burma in 2005-2006.

Maj Hla Ngwe of the KNU acknowledged that the mines could kill and maim friend or foe indiscriminately, estimating that around 20 to 25 KNLA soldiers were injured per year by landmines. He said his soldiers were sometimes injured by their own mines during clean-up operations in areas they had previously abandoned to the enemy. He confirmed that over the decades-long fighting the numbers of Karens injured or killed by landmines was in the thousands.

“Only political means will be able to solve this political problem. Trying to destroy the Karen people by military means is not a solution,” Hla Ngwe said.

“The landmines are our last chance. Our survival will depend on them for as long as the Burmese regime remains stubborn and inflexible.”

Saw Steve, a leader of the Committee for Internally Displaced Karen People (CIDKP), said, “We don’t want to use landmines. We know how dangerous they are. But they are the only way we can protect ourselves and the IDPs [internally displaced persons].

“If Burma were peaceful, nobody would use landmines. But we will have to continue using them for as long as the Burmese army continues attacking Karen people.”

Though fighting between Burmese forces and the KNLA flares up regularly, most of the time uneasy lulls allow the ethnic Karen villagers who have not fled to refugee camps to try and find normalcy by farming their land. Increasingly this is more difficult, especially in border areas, where so many landmines lie hidden, ready to kill or maim any man, woman, child or animal who triggers them.

“You can never clear away all the landmines. They will remain a danger for as long as they are in the ground,” said a relief worker in Mae Sot.

READ MORE---> The Enemy Underfoot...

Island of Peace

The Irrawaddy News
AUGUST, 2009 - VOLUME 17 NO.5

Karen children on their way to Webi’s English Medium Middle School.

A Karen village exists where children grow up in peace and security. They go to school and attend church with their families. They are not afraid of soldiers. Their parents vote and travel as they wish.

The village has electricity, clean water and shops. It is not in the insurgent territory of Kawthoolei, beleaguered Papun or the cyclone-swept Irrawaddy delta, and it is not one of the fragile border hamlets of Thailand.

Middle Andaman (seen here in red) is India’s largest island, covering more than 1,500 square kilometers.

This village is Webi, on an island called Middle Andaman, which belongs to India.

Claimed by the British in the 1850s and used as a penal colony for isolating the rebels and dacoits of their Raj, India’s Andaman Islands are an extension of the Pegu Yoma chain of mountains on mainland Burma, cut off since the rise of sea waters at the end of the last Ice Age.

The indigenous people of the archipelago—Jarawas, onges, Great Andamanese, Sentinelese—have lived there for more than 10,000 years. They now number around 500.

The islands were once home to colonial-era Indian and Burmese convicts and were also populated by waves of immigrants after India’s independence, including Bengalis, Ranchis and other ethnic groups from India.

During the 1920s, as the hardwood forests then covering the Andamans were being commercially exploited, British foresters brought Karen over from Burma to work as loggers and mahouts.

The first group were Christian Karens who arrived in 1925 accompanied by their pastor, Rev Lugyi. Eventually numbering a few hundred, they were given land for settlements, including present-day Webi, near the Middle Andaman town of Mayabundar. Their descendants are officially considered “locals” of the Andaman Islands.

In recent years, logging on the Andamans has been halted for environmental reasons. Around Mayabundar one still sees redundant elephants and their mahouts looking for alternative work.

The Karen of Webi and other villages grow crops for themselves and to sell at market. They also fish in the coastal waters and dive for shellfish. Some work for scuba tour companies.

Younger, educated Karens take jobs in government, environmental NGOs and the private sector in Mayabundar and Port Blair. The Karen have physical and cultural similarities (including Christian beliefs) with the indigenous people of India’s Nicobar Islands, directly to the south of the Andamans. In Port Blair, Karen and Nicobarese are often mistaken for each other.

From left to right: the Zion Baptist church in Webi; interior of the Rev lugyi Memorial church; a well-stocked village shop. (Photo: Edith Mirante)

Middle Andaman is the homeland of the animist Jarawa people, dark-skinned hunter-gatherers. Most of the island is a “tribal reserve” belonging to them, but the paved Andaman Trunk Road (ATR) cuts through their territory.

After numerous violent confrontations between the Jarawas and settlers who moved in along the road during the late 1990s, and the exposure of the Jarawas to diseases and other dangerous influences, the settlements were removed. The road remains open, however, though it is only sparsely traveled by limited motor convoys.

Closure of the ATR where it runs through the Jarawa reserve, as mandated by a 2002 Indian Supreme Court order for the protection of the Jarawas, has yet to occur. Residents of the Mayabundar area, such as the Karen, would be affected by the ATR closing, as they would have to rely on a ferry service for access to Port Blair.

The Karen, living north of the Jarawa reserve, were not involved in the settlement violence, but there were reports of some Karen evangelicals giving Christian crosses to Jarawas. The Jarawa word for anyone who poaches fish or game on their land is “Bema,” (Burma) which probably refers to people coming there in boats from Burma, but might also include some Karen fishermen from Middle Andaman.

Webi is a quiet place, with paved pathways, tall palms and shade trees. A few of the houses are made of woven bamboo and thatch, but most have concrete foundations and metal roofs. Residents live a simple life, but compared to the perilous existence of the Karen in Burma, it is a kind of paradise.

The Karen women of Webi, mothers and shopkeepers, wear sarongs and side-buttoned blouses, as in the Irrawaddy delta. Members of the community still speak Karen (mostly Sgaw, but also some Pwo), and schoolchildren have Karen language textbooks.

The Andaman Karen also speak Hindi, Burmese and often English. When I visited, the last day of term at Webi’s English Medium Middle School was being celebrated by maroon-uniformed children with orange drinks and samosas. A family invited me into their house and one of the daughters, a university student, discussed Shakespeare plays with me.

Some intermarriage has taken place with Muslims and Hindus, but the Karens’ Christian identity stays strong. Webi has two churches: the Zion Baptist, with a red-trimmed crenellated facade, and the Rev Lugyi Memorial, with a blue pagoda-like entry decorated with paper streamers.

The Karen of the Andaman Islands are aware of conditions back in Burma, through family connections and radio news, and they know that life is very different across the sea to the north. As I walked through Webi, I was asked, “How is Aung San Suu Kyi?”

READ MORE---> Island of Peace...

Sticks or Carrots?

The Irrawaddy News
AUGUST, 2009 - VOLUME 17 NO.5

The new US administration has sent a strong signal that it wants to take a more active role in dealing with Burma

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

Upon arriving in Bangkok to attend the Asean Regional Forum (ARF) held in Phuket, Thailand, Clinton wasted no time in commenting on Burma’s troubles. She said that the US was deeply concerned by reports of continuing human rights abuses in Burma, and was particularly appalled by the rape and abuse of young women by members of the Burmese armed forces.

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

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

The latest cause for concern is the growing military partnership that is forming between Burma and North Korea. Before Clinton’s arrival, there were persistent reports of a secret military mission to Pyongyang by high-ranking Burmese officials and Naypyidaw’s keen interest in buying North Korean ballistic missiles.

“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.”

US officials even expressed concerns about a possible nuclear technology transfer from North Korea to Burma.

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—a position made less tenable by the release of a secret internal document detailing Naypyidaw’s dealings with Pyongyang.

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 Japanese intelligence agencies already knew 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 on how to build tunnels and military facilities to fend off a foreign invasion or proxy war. The regime is also actively seeking jet fighters, sophisticated air-defense systems and anti-aircraft weapons in order to bolster its defensive and offensive military capabilities.

Reflecting the sensitivity of Burma’s efforts to substantially strengthen its military might, several Burmese civilians and military officials were arrested recently in connection with the leaking of the secret document.

Since the current regime came into power in the bloody coup of 1988, the US has been a strong supporter 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 Suu Kyi will affect the policy review, which is expected to be a 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.

Some believed, perhaps too optimistically, that the generals might want to seek a more normal relationship with the West once Obama came to power. However, the bizarre trial of Suu Kyi and the North Korean military connection show how little the junta cares about what leaders in the US, the EU or most Asean countries think.

The absence of active US engagement in trying to solve the complicated problems of the region during the Bush administration paved the way for China’s rise in influence. The good news, then, is that Clinton’s broader message is that the US is ready to resume an active leadership role in the region, working in cooperation with Asian nations.

Clinton is already offering some carrots to Burma. “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, adding that if the regime released Suu Kyi, Burma would benefit from better relations with the US, including investment. It is now up to the regime to choose.

If Clinton wants to help Burma, she needs to look at the country’s problems clinically and realize that dealing with the junta is like coping with an infectious disease. If it is not handled carefully, the regime is capable of spreading the contagion of instability to other countries.

The US must therefore use its influence to persuade other countries in the region that it is in their best interests to tackle the problem proactively, instead of merely trying to contain it in the hope that things will somehow get better on their own.

READ MORE---> Sticks or Carrots?...

Left to Rot

The Irrawaddy News
AUGUST, 2009 - VOLUME 17 NO.5

The city of Rangoon is a victim of the junta’s abandonment—streets are crumbling, trash piles up, electricity is an on-off affair, sewage drains overflow and traffic lights don’t work

A shattering sound in front of my home woke me suddenly at 6 a.m.—a car accident so early in the morning?

I stumbled to the window to have a look and saw two damaged cars on the empty road. How could two cars have crashed when there’s no traffic?

I ran to the scene with my camera and my notebook. Fortunately, no one was injured.

Sidewalk vendors in Rangoon use candles
so they can continue selling their wares
well into the night. (Photo: Yuzo/The Irrawaddy)

The cars had collided in the middle of the road. Both drivers seemed embarrassed. If they had stayed in their own lanes, there would have been no accident.

“You asked for it,” said an elderly onlooker. “Why were you crazy guys driving in the middle of the road?”

“I was trying to avoid the potholes on the right side over there,” said one driver.

The other driver sheepishly gave a similar answer. We looked, and each driver was right. There were deep potholes on both sides of the road. So, who was to blame?

“I’m leaving before the traffic police see us,” said one driver.

“Look at this road!” exclaimed my neighbor, waving her arms. “You can’t even tell it’s been paved. How many years has this road been ignored?”

I turned on my camera to take a picture, but the battery failed: no power. I had plugged the camera in to recharge the night before, but the electricity must have been down all night.

Since the military government moved the capital to Naypyidaw in central Burma more than three years ago, Rangoon residents have watched as their city has slowly declined ever deeper into neglect and decay.

The roads are often impossible to negotiate, electricity is inadequate—always an on-off affair—trash piles up, sewer drains are blocked and frequently overflow, and the traffic lights don’t work.

“In the beginning [when the capital was moved to Naypyidaw], it seemed like our lives would get some relief from the government’s tight controls,” said one Rangoon resident, summing up the general mood around the commercial capital. “You know, the fewer soldiers we see here, the better, we thought. But later I realized they had forsaken Rangoon and left us in bad shape.”

Everybody who visits Naypyidaw immediately notices the striking differences between this new city and Rangoon in terms of roads, buildings, drainage and access to electricity.

Roads in Naypyidaw are smooth and wide, well lit at night, electricity is always available, and there is no overflowing sewage. The capital is a model of efficiency, which in earlier times also applied to Rangoon.

Said one Rangoon resident: “The government promised that we would get a 24-hour power supply during the rainy season because the hydropower projects would have more water than in the dry season. But that promise hasn’t been fulfilled yet.”

With a severe electricity shortage, businesses throughout Rangoon rely on private generators for most of their working hours. Everywhere you go, you hear the droning of gasoline-powered generators.

Many homemakers adjust their cooking times based on access to electricity, some rising in the middle of the night to cook for the following day.

While households must contend with electricity blackouts, commuters and bus drivers struggle to negotiate through intersections, where most traffic lights don’t work and potholes pepper the roads.

“Your eyes are the best traffic guide,” said one bus driver. Even when the electricity is on, he said, it is still difficult because sometimes the signals show a red light and green light at the same time.

“We thought the rainy season would correct the severe power shortage, but so far we’re only getting flooding—not a 24-hour electricity service,” said one resident.

In the rainy season from June to October, many Rangoon roads become impassable for hours due to standing rainwater. Commuter trains, which are generally used by the poor, must frequently adjust their schedules during widespread flooding.

According to elderly residents, the former capital never experienced such widespread flooding in the past, and water and sewage pipelines always functioned properly.

Today, however, most city dwellers are resigned to a love-hate relationship with the Yangon [Rangoon] City Development Committee (YCDC), which is in charge of the city’s infrastructure.

The mayor of Rangoon, Brig-Gen Aung Thein Linn, was recently quoted by a local weekly publication as saying that it was unusual for streets in Rangoon to flood during the monsoon season. Residents simply shook their heads in disbelief.

YCDC staffers say that they are doing their best to maintain the water and sewage systems throughout the city, but that many residents do not cooperate, routinely dumping trash into the drains and gutters, clogging the water flow.

Some residents respond by saying the YCDC does its best work only in high-profile areas and neglects poor neighborhoods and suburbs, allowing utility systems to go from bad to worse.

One of the most noticeable signs of neglect are the sidewalks in Rangoon, which have fallen into such disrepair that many cannot be used by pedestrians; they walk along the streets instead, facing the risk of being struck by cars swerving from potholes.

A rise in crime has put additional stress on residents, who say the number of robberies has increased noticeably due to a lapse in security.

“Poverty is the main cause of so much crime,” said one elderly resident. “When people have no food to eat and no money to spend on their health, they’re more likely to commit crimes of theft or robbery. So, the onus is on you to keep your family safe in a poor city.”

Amid the hardships of life in Rangoon, many people are reportedly losing their tolerance of one another and becoming more guarded and fearful.

One senior citizen said it’s clear the junta has left Rangoon in worse shape, but even so it still keeps a close eye on what the people are doing and saying.

“If you don’t believe me, just go to the Shwedagon Pagoda and say this prayer out loud: ‘May Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners be healthy, happy and released soon,’” she said. “You will soon find out how closely the authorities are watching us, even though they are not watching out for our safety.”

READ MORE---> Left to Rot...

Revealed: Burma’s nuclear bombshell

Senior General Than Shwe
Ringing alarm bells ... the junta's leader, General Than Shwe.

By Hamish McDonald Asia-Pacific Editor

(SMH) -BURMA’s isolated military junta is building a secret nuclear reactor and plutonium extraction facilities with North Korean help, with the aim of acquiring its first nuclear bomb in five years, according to evidence from key defectors revealed in an exclusive Herald report today.

The secret complex, much of it in caves tunnelled into a mountain at Naung Laing in northern Burma, runs parallel to a civilian reactor being built at another site by Russia that both the Russians and Burmese say will be put under international safeguards.

Two defectors were extensively interviewed separately over the past two years in Thailand by the Australian National University strategic expert Desmond Ball and a Thai-based Irish-Australian journalist, Phil Thornton, who has followed Burma for years.

One was an officer with a secret nuclear battalion in the Burmese army who was sent to Moscow for two years’ training; the other was a former executive of the leading regime business partner, Htoo Trading, who handled nuclear contracts with Russia and North Korea.

Their detailed testimony brings into sharp focus the hints emerging recently from other defector accounts and sightings of North Korean delegations that the Burmese junta, under growing pressure to democratise, is seeking a deterrent to any foreign ‘‘regime change’’.

Their story will ring alarm bells across Asia. ‘‘The evidence is preliminary and needs to be verified, but this is something that would completely change the regional security status quo,’’ said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, the head of Thailand’s Institute of Security and International Studies, yesterday.

‘‘It would move Myanmar [Burma] from not just being a pariah state, but a rogue state – that is, one that jeopardises the security and wellbeing of its immediate neighbours.’’

Washington is increasingly concerned that Burma is the main nuclear proliferation threat from North Korea, after Israel destroyed in September 2007 a reactor the North Koreans were apparently building in Syria.

Professor Ball said another Moscow-trained Burmese army defector was picked up by US intelligence agencies early last year. Some weeks later, Burma protested to Thailand about overflights by unmanned surveillance drones that were apparently launched across Thai territory by US agencies. These would have yielded low-level photographs and air samples, in addition to satellite imagery.

At a meeting with Asian leaders, including some from Burma and North Korea, in Thailand last week, the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, and other foreign ministers won promises from the Burmese they would adhere to United Nations sanctions on North Korean nuclear and missile exports.

China and other Asian nations had recently helped persuade Rangoon to turn back a North Korean freighter, the Nam Kam 1, that was being shadowed by US warships on its way to Burma with an unknown cargo. A month ago, Japanese police arrested a North Korean and two Japanese for allegedly trying to export illegally to Burma a magnetic measuring device that could be used to develop missiles.

Professor Ball, who has studied the Burmese military for several years, said the evidence from two well-placed sources demanded closer study: ‘‘All we can say is these two guys never met up with each other, never knew of each other’s existence, and yet they both tell the same story basically.

‘‘If it was just the Russian reactor, under full International Atomic Energy Agency supervision, which the Russians keep insisting is their policy and the Burmese may have agreed to with that reactor, then the likelihood of them being able to do something with it in terms of producing fissionable fuel and designing a bomb would be zero.

‘‘I’d be more worried about a meltdown like Chernobyl … It’s the North Korean element which adds the danger to it.’’

North Korea’s interest could be a combination of securing a supply of uranium from Burma’s proven reserves, earning hard currency, and keeping its plutonium extraction skills alive in case it agrees to fully dismantle its own Yongbyon nuclear complex. ‘‘Do they want another source of fissionable plutonium 239 to supplement what they get from their Yongbyon reactor?’’ Professor Ball said.

READ MORE---> Revealed: Burma’s nuclear bombshell...

China summons Australian ambassador

(AAP)- CHINA has summoned Australia's ambassador to the foreign ministry in China to protest the visit of exiled Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer to Australia, state press reported.

Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun said China was strongly dissatisfied and opposed to the visit of Kadeer as she is the head of the "separatist" group the World Uighur Congress (WUC), Xinhua news agency said in a late Friday dispatch.

Zhang told Ambassador Geoff Raby that Australia must not allow Kadeer to engage in any anti-Chinese separatist activities during her visit, the report said.

Australia should "immediately correct its wrongdoings", it said, apparently referring to Canberra's decision to issue a visa to the 62-year-old grandmother and Nobel Peace Prize candidate.

"The WUC led by Kadeer is believed to have masterminded the July 5 Xinjiang riots that left at least 197 people dead and 1600 others injured," Xinhua said.

Australia has rebuffed Chinese objections over Kadeer's visit, saying she is not a "terrorist" and there is no reason to exclude her.

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said Kadeer had been given a visa for next week's visit, during which she will launch a documentary about her life and meet members of Australia's Uighur community.

"This will be, I think, her third private visit," Smith told Sky News on Thursday.

"We have no evidence or information that she's a terrorist and so she has been granted a visa in accordance with our usual immigration procedures."

Kadeer will attend the August 11 launch in Melbourne of the film 10 Conditions of Love, which China tried to have withdrawn from the city's film festival.

All seven Chinese-language films have since pulled out of the festival, most in protest, although one director withdrew his documentary because he feared repercussions.

READ MORE---> China summons Australian ambassador...

Lack of Factories and Mills Cause Youth Migration

Sittwe (Narinjara): Burmese migrant workers in Thailand and Malaysia have been facing many difficulties, including unemployment, due to a global economic crisis, but many Arakanese are still leaving for the two neighboring countries to find jobs.

A monk from Rangoon said, "At least 10 to 20 Arakanese youths from Arakan State arrive at Danyawaddy monastery in Rangoon on a daily basis to look for jobs. Sometime women and children are among them."

The monastery belongs to Arakanese monks and is located at the eastern foot Shwedagon Pagoda in Bahan Township in Rangoon, and it is bustling with migrant workers from Arakan State.

"Some of them live in Rangoon if they find a job. But most of the youth have left for Thailand and Malaysia through two border towns - Kothaung in Thanintharyi Division and Myawaddy in Karen State," the monk added.

A monk from Aung Dhama Yitha Arakanese monastery in Kothaung said, "Some Arakanese migrant workers return to their homes from Malaysia and Thailand after losing their jobs, but at the same time, many Arakanese youth have left the country through Kothaung to look for work."

It is well known in Burma that the situation is difficult for Burmese workers in Thailand and Malaysia, but the Arakanese youths leave for these countries one after the other.

U Tha Kyaw Aung, a former politician from Owe Dan Ward in Sittwe said, "The migration of youth to neighboring countries to look for work is directly related to the central government in Burma, because the government never set up any factories or mills to develop the state economically after Burma's independence in 1948. This is the root cause of Arakanese youth leaving the state for other parts to look for work. However, the Burmese military government is happy for Arakanese youth to leave the state."

In Sittwe and other towns, there were some large rice mills constructed by British during colonial rule in Burma, but all the mills have suffered damage and are not operating.

A large number of Arakanese left their homes for Thailand, Malaysia, and other parts of Burma such as Hpakant in Kachin State, a while ago due to the poor economic situation in Arakan under military rule.

During the time the military government has been in power, over 50 army battalions have been based in Arakan State as part of ethnic cleansing by the junta. Half of the land in Arakan was confiscated and is currently under the control of the army.

"We really worry about our nation and culture because we will lose our national identities in the future because of abuse by the Burmese military government against our people," U Tha Kyaw Aung said.

READ MORE---> Lack of Factories and Mills Cause Youth Migration...

Burma’s nuclear secrets

(SMH) -Is the military junta preparing to build a nuclear arsenal? Two years of interviews with defectors have persuaded two Australian investigators there’s more to the claim than global scepticism suggests. The report by Desmond Ball and Phil Thornton was the basis for this article.

A FEW years back, a paranoid military regime packed up Burma’s capital and shifted it north a few hundred kilometres. Rangoon, it seems, simply wasn’t safe enough any more. The generals’ new home was to be known as the Abode of Kings; more commonly as Naypyidaw. A city rose from the tropical plains with shiny buildings and slick roadways – a strange priority in a country suffering chronic poverty and a health system at the bottom of world rankings.

Now, a fresh question hangs over the goals of Burmese rulers. Could this junta’s priorities be so skewed as to embark upon construction of a nuclear arsenal? And might it have reached out for help to another paranoid regime, North Korea?

Desmond Ball and Phil Thornton are convinced this is a genuine threat. They have spent two years on the Burmese border, interviewing defectors who claim to know the regime’s plans.

The testimony of two Burmese men in particular has caused Ball and Thornton to confront their own deep scepticism about the claims.

Theirs might seem an unlikely collaboration – Ball, a professor of strategic studies at ANU with a deep interest in nuclear technology, and Thornton, a freelance journalist based in Thailand. But their report on the two defectors’ claims adds to mounting – albeit sketchy – evidence that Burma may be chasing the bomb.

There have been hints Burma aspires to a nuclear program. What is uncertain is the extent and intent. Rumours have swirled around refugee circles outside Burma about secret military installations, tunnels dug into the mountains to hide nuclear facilities, the establishment of a ‘‘nuclear battalion’’ in the army and work done by foreign scientists. But one defector – known as Moe Jo to protect his identity – gives the claims added weight. He warned of the regime having a handful of bombs ready by 2020.

Moe Jo escaped Burmese army service and fled to Thailand. Ball and Thornton met with him in dingy rooms and safehouses. ‘‘His hands shook and he worried about what price his family would have to pay for his actions,’’ they write. ‘‘Before rejecting his country’s nuclear plans, Moe Jo was an officer with 10 years’ exemplary army service. A former graduate of Burma’s prestigious Defence Services Academy, he specialised in computer science.’’

Moe Joe said the regime sent him to Moscow in 2003 to study engineering. He was in a second batch of trainees to be sent to Russia as part of effort to eventually train 1000 personnel to run Burma’s nuclear program.

Before leaving, he was told he would be assigned to a special nuclear battalion.

‘‘You don’t need 1000 people in the fuel cycle or to run a nuclear reactor,’’ said Moe Joe. ‘‘It’s obvious there is much more going on.’’

We knew Russia agreed in principle to sell Burma a small nuclear plant – a light water reactor – and to train about 300 Burmese scientists to run the site. The stated reason is for research purposes, specifically to produce medical isotopes.

In dispute is whether the Russian reactor would be large enough to be diverted to produce enriched uranium or plutonium for a nuclear weapon. Usually a heavy water reactor is needed to achieve this, but perhaps not with North Korean help. Ball and Thornton write: ‘‘As North Korea has shown with their [light water] reactor, it may be slow and more complex, but it is capable.’’

Moe Jo alleged a second, secret reactor of about the same size as the Russian plant had been built at complex called Naung Laing. He said that the army planned a plutonium reprocessing system there and that Russian experts were on site to show how it was done. Part of the Burmese army’s nuclear battalion was stationed in a local village to work on a weapon. He said that an operations area was buried in the nearby Setkhaya Mountains, a set-up including engineers, artillery and communications to act as command and control centre for the nuclear weapons program.

‘‘In the event that the testimonies of the defectors are proved, the alleged ‘secret’ reactor could be capable of being operational and producing a bomb a year, every year, after 2014,’’ write Ball and Thornton.

Claims of this type have stirred serious official concerns. The US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, journeyed to Thailand for a regional security meeting last month and directly raised the issue. ‘‘We know that there are also growing concerns about military co-operation between North Korea and Burma, which we take very seriously,’’ she said.

The unease escalated when a North Korean freighter, the Kang Nam I, steamed towards Burma last month carrying undisclosed cargo. A South Korean intelligence expert, quoted anonymously, claimed satellite imagery showed the ship was part of clandestine nuclear transfer and also carried long-range missiles. Shadowed by the US Navy, the vessel eventually turned around and returned home.

Japanese police also recently caught a North Korean and two Japanese nationals allegedly trying to export a magnetic measuring device to Burma that could be used to develop missiles.

But it was what Clinton said during a television interview in Bangkok the next day that raised most eyebrows. For the first time, a senior White House official openly speculated on the prospect of nuclear co-operation between Burma and North Korea.

Clinton: ‘‘We worry about the transfer of nuclear technology and other dangerous weapons.’’

Question: ‘‘From North Korea, you mean?’’

Clinton: ‘‘We do, from North Korea, yes.’’

Q: ‘‘To Burma?’’

Clinton: ‘‘To Burma, yes.’’

Q: ‘‘So you’re concerned about the tie – the closer ties between North Korea and Burma?’’

Clinton: ‘‘Yes, yes.’’

But there are many doubts over how far Burma’s military regime has advanced its nuclear aspiration. Ball and Thornton say a regional security officer told them the Naung Laing operation was a decoy to distract people from the true site of the reactor.

‘‘Before it was a heavily guarded ‘no go-zone’. Now you can drive right up to the buildings. Villagers are allowed to grow crops again.’’ The security officer said the Russian-supplied reactor was located in the Myaing area.

To add to the confusion, there are doubts over the existence of the Russian reactor. ‘‘I’m sure the Russian reactor has not been built already,’’ says Mark Fitzpatrick, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies and a Burma watcher over most of the past decade. He will soon have a book published on nuclear plans across South-East Asia.

He sees ‘‘nothing alarming’’ in the prospective Russian deal – Russia is a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty which governs the export of civilian nuclear technology – and doubts Moscow would hide a reactor. Nor has the International Atomic Energy Agency raised questions about Burma’s nuclear ambitions.

But Fitzpatrick is sceptical about the stated reasons offered by Burma’s rulers to explain their interest in nuclear technology, whether for research or power generation.

‘‘The most logical explanation for this interest in research is a prestige factor,’’ he says. Burma wants to demonstrate a level of technology expertise and perhaps also deliberately raise doubts over its nuclear capability. Having the bomb, after all, is a power military deterrent against foreign attack.’’

Of the defectors’ claims, he says: ‘‘I’ve heard these reports and I pay attention to them, and they shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand.’’ North Korea is willing to sell anything to anyone, he says, and points to recent evidence that Pyongyang secretly sold a nuclear reactor to Syria.

Ball and Thornton add to the mystery by reporting the testimony of another defector they call Tin Min. He claimed to have worked as a bookkeeper for a tycoon closely linked to the Burmese military regime, whose company had supposedly organised nuclear contracts with Russia and North Korea. The deal with North Korea on nuclear co-operation supposedly dates back nine years, covering construction and maintenance of nuclear facilities.

‘‘Tin Min spoke excellent English and presented his reports to us with a touch of self-importance,’’ write Ball and Thornton. ‘‘Tin Min had good reason to know what it was like to feel important; before defecting, he had scaled the heights of his country’s high society and had reaped the benefits of that position.’’

Tin Min dismissed the regime’s rationale for requiring nuclear technology. ‘‘They say it’s to produce medical isotopes for health purposes in hospitals. How many hospitals in Burma have nuclear science? Burma can barely get electricity up and running. It’s a nonsense.’’

He claimed his boss once told him of the regime’s nuclear dreams. ‘‘They’re aware they cannot compete with Thailand with conventional weapons. They want to play power like North Korea. They hope to combine the nuclear and air defence missiles.’’ He said the nuclear program was known as UF6 Project and was run by the senior general Maung Aye. Ball and Thornton conclude the nuclear co-operation is based on a trade of locally refined uranium from Burma to North Korea in return for technological expertise.

Tin Min claimed his boss controlled much of the shipping in and out of Burma and could organise the transport of equipment to nuclear sites from the port at Rangoon. ‘‘He arranges for army trucks to pick up the containers of equipment from the North Korean boats that arrive in Rangoon and transport them at night by highway to the river or direct to the sites.’’

He also claimed to have paid a construction company in about 2004 to build a tunnel in a mountain at Naung Laing wide enough for two large trucks to pass each other.

But his story cannot be further tested. Tin Min died late last year.

There are obvious dangers of relying on the testimony of ‘‘defectors’’. The people giving evidence may have ulterior motives, as Ball and Thornton recognise, and the regime is not shy at disseminating false information.

Andrew Selth from Griffith University, a former senior intelligence analyst and an experienced Burma watcher, remains suspicious. ‘‘Understandably,’’ he recently wrote for the Lowy Institute, ‘‘foreign officials looking at these matters are being very cautious. No one wants a repetition of the mistakes which preceded the last Iraq war, either in underestimating a country’s capabilities, or by giving too much credibility to a few untested intelligence sources.

‘‘There has always been a lot of smoke surrounding Burma’s nuclear ambitions. Over the past year or so, the amount of smoke has increased, but still no one seems to know whether or not it hides a real fire.’’

Concern is not going away, however. The most recent edition of US Foreign Policy magazine compared claims surrounding Burma’s nuclear program to 1950s leaks about Israel having a secret nuclear site in the desert. Similar doubts held for claims about India and Pakistan. All three countries have since tested the bomb.

Ball and Thornton are convinced the world must face up to some uncomfortable possibilities. ‘‘According to all the milestones identified by the defectors, Burma’s nuclear program is on schedule. It is feasible and achievable. Unfortunately, it is not as bizarre or ridiculous as many people would like to think. Burma’s regional neighbours need to watch carefully.’’

Additional reporting by Daniel Flitton

READ MORE---> Burma’s nuclear secrets...

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