Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Su Su Nway Put in Solitary

The Irrawaddy News

A prominent Burmese labor rights activist, Su Su Nway, was placed in solitary confinement for three days after participating in a ceremony to mark the 62nd anniversary of Martyrs’ Day on June 19 in Kalay Prison, in Sagaing Division, according to her sister.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Tuesday, her sister, Htay Htay Kyi, said, “She was put in solitary confinement because she stood up and sang an independence anthem composed by Min Ko Naing to mark Martyrs’ Day.”

This picture taken 19 July 2006 shows Burmese activist Su Su Nway (C) attending a Martyr Day ceremony at the headquarters of the National League for Democracy in Rangoon. (Photo: Getty Images)

Htay Htay Kyi said she visited her sister on July 21 when she delivered medicine to Su Su Nway who said she had been denied medical care by the prison authorities.

Su Su Nway, 37, suffers from hypertension and heart disease.

In 2006, she won the John Humphrey Freedom Award for promoting human rights.

She was arrested together with two colleagues after they pasted anti-government posters on a billboard in downtown Rangoon during the monk-led uprising of 2007. She was sentenced to 12 and a half years in prison.

Su Su Nway is among other 2,100 political prisoners who are currently being detained by the Burmese military authorities.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in July called on the Burmese junta to release all political prisoners before the national elections in 2010.

Burmese permanent representative at the UN, Than Swe reportedly told Ban that Burma will release prisoners before the election; however, he did not specify if political dissidents would be among the prisoners released.

READ MORE---> Su Su Nway Put in Solitary...

KNU Asks Thai Government to Pull out of Salween Dam Project

The Irrawaddy News

Burma’s Karen National Union (KNU) appealed on Tuesday to the Thai government to halt its involvement in the construction of the Hat Gyi Dam on the Salween River, warning that the project would cause “huge” environmental damage and human rights abuses.

The KNU made the appeal in a letter to Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

David Takapaw, KNU vice chairman, said: “The dam will result in huge environmental impacts and human rights abuses. It will force local villagers to flee to Thailand and become refugees. So we asked him: please, don’t continue the dam construction.”

In recent months, Thai engineers have conducted a field survey at the construction site on Salween River. Many villagers in the area are reportedly opposed to the dam project.

According to the Karen River Watch, a memorandum of understanding was signed in June 2006 between Burma’s Department of Electric Power, the Thai energy authority EGAT and China’s Sinohydro Corporation to build the Hat Gyi dam.

The dam is one of a series scheduled to be built on the Salween River in a joint Thai-Burmese government program. They are expected to generate 10,000 megawatts of electricity, much of which would be delivered to Thailand.

Some reports have claimed that theen

Copies of the KNU’s letter to Abhisit were also to be presented by Karen environmental advocates at a meeting in Bangkok on Tuesday attended by Thai environmental rights groups and Burmese environmental advocates.

The meeting was to focus on human rights abuses and environment issue related to the project, according to an ethnic Shan environmental advocate, Sai Sai, who attended the meeting.

Thailand plans an energy program known as the National Power Development Plan which includes the dams on the Salween River. The plan is expected to be completed by the year 2014, according to Sai Sai.

Meanwhile, his environmental group, the Shan Sapawa Environment Organization (SSEO), released on Tuesday a new report titled “Roots and Resilience” and charging that the construction of dams on the Salween River will result in human rights abuses and environmental damage and will benefit only the Burmese regime and Thai authorities.

SSEO Spokesman Sai Sai said: “Human rights abuses will widely happen if the dam is constructed. Villagers will come to Thailand en masse as refugees.”

Local villagers would receive no benefit from the dams, which would serve only the interests of the Burmese regime and neighboring Thailand, he said.

The environmental damage would include flooding, deforestation and the disappearance of traditional and cultural heritages, Sai Sai maintained.

The SSEO report said the biggest Salween River dam, the Tasang dam, would flood more than 100 villages, forcing thousands of villagers to relocate. One community of 15,000 in Keng Kham, Shan State, had been forced to move 10 years ago because of work on the dam, and most had fled to Thailand, the report said.

Most of the electricity generated by the 7,110 MW Tasang dam will be sold to Thailand. Project investors include the Thai MDX Company and China’s Gezhouba Group Company.

READ MORE---> KNU Asks Thai Government to Pull out of Salween Dam Project...

Broken Dreams

The Irrawaddy News

Nang Kham was a 14-year-old girl when she left her native town of Lashio in northern Shan state, eastern Burma.

Dreaming of a better life and a brighter future, she came to Thailand in 1996 and worked for nearly 10 years as a maid for a Thai family at a daily rate of 14 baht [US $0.40].

Nang Kham was promised 1,500 baht [$43] per month by the couple who employed her, but they told her they would not give her the money in hand each month, saying they would save it for her.

Nang Kham agreed to the arrangement, and after nearly a decade of work, the sum she was owed as wages amounted to 48,000 baht [$1,403].

“Her employers refused to let her leave the house, even for a visit to her hometown after she had been working for several years,” said Rujisanwee Pim, a coordinator for the domestic worker campaign run by the Migrant Assistance Program (MAP), a Chiang Mai-based non-governmental organization.

Unable to bear the increasing physical and mental harassment, Nang Kham appealed to friends and relatives for help, but no one dared intervene.

When her boss found out she had made contact outside, they changed phone numbers and destroyed all her phone contacts, Nam Kham told Pim.

Nang Kham finally decided to escape when her employers offered her 10,000 baht ($292) for her decade’s wages.

Through friends, Nang Kham was able to contact MAP, who helped her negotiate with her former employers and Thailand’s Department of Labor Protection and Welfare.

Nam Kham’s employers were made to pay the 48,000 baht they owed, but they were able to deduct household expenses and the cost of her work permit, said Pim.

“She [Nang Kham] was so sad at the way they deceived her,” Pim told The Irrawaddy.

“After a decade of abuse all she wanted to do was get home as quickly as possible. She was lucky she wasn’t raped as well,” she said.

According to Thailand’s Board of Investment, the minimum daily wage ranges from 148 baht to 203 baht [$4.72 to $5.79], depending on province. In Chiang Mai it is currently set at 168 baht [US $4.79], but domestic workers will seldom get this rate.

Ma Moe, a former civil servant working for the Burmese government who has been a domestic worker in Thailand for 4 years, said: “Living standards are better here than in Burma. We come here because we have little choice.

“When I started my first job, my boss agreed to pay me 800 baht [$23.35] per month, but in reality I only got 500 baht [$14.60]. My neighbors told me my employer had relatives who were in the police, and they said other people working there before hadn’t been paid at all.

“I’m lucky I got paid,” she said.

Ma Moe described how one of her sisters, who currently works at the home of a lieutenant-colonel in the Thai police, has to work at any hour demanded, is rarely able to get out of the house, and is restricted in what she can eat.

Ma Moe currently works at the home of a foreigner, who, she says, treats her well, but she said her former boss, another foreigner, was rude.

“He got angry with me when he couldn’t find something and would accuse me of taking whatever it was he had lost. It was humiliating,” she said.

Mai Mai, who works as a rights campaigner with MAP, said: “Many domestic workers in Thailand are illegal, which puts them under psychological pressure. Abuse from their employers makes things worse.”

Jackie Pollock, the director of MAP, said: “Most governments don’t consider domestic workers as labor, and they neglect their rights. Next year, the International Labor Organization will discuss the rights of domestic workers for the first time.”

MAP is marking a regional “International Day of Solidarity with Domestic Workers” on August 28 by supporting a campaign to send postcards to the Thai Ministry of Labor demanding recognition and protection of domestic workers’ labor rights and the right to a guaranteed one day of paid leave per week.

MAP is distributing 10,000 postcards and has already circulated 5,000 [More details on the campaign can be found under on the MAP website].

Ma Par Lay, a maid who has got to know Mai Mai, brightens up at mention of the campaign. With a lively voice that belies her wearisome appearance she asks everyone she meets to join the postcard campaign.

“It can help us achieve a better future,” she said.

Ma Par Lay and hundreds of domestic workers like her are trying to change things so that young girls who come to Thailand to work won’t end up like Nang Kham and go home with broken dreams.”

READ MORE---> Broken Dreams...

Total Chief: Critics Can ‘Go to Hell’

Christophe de Margerie, CEO of Total. (Photo: Bullsoil.com)


The CEO of the French energy giant Total said critics of the company’s operations in Burma “can go to hell,” according to an interview published by Newsweek magazine on August 3.

“I am bringing gas to Thailand. Bangkok was the world’s most polluted city. They switched from oil fuel to gas. Bangkok is clean now. We are proud of being part of this,” Christophe de Margerie, CEO of Total, told the US weekly magazine.

Thailand pipes about one billion cubic feet of gas per day from Burma’s offshore reserves in the southeastern Andaman Sea through the controversial Yadana gas pipeline, which human rights campaigners say has been a site of widespread abuses since its inception.

Total has been involved in the Yadana project since the 1990s, working in partnership with the US-based Unocal (now a wholly owned subsidiary of Chevron), Burma’s state-owned Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise and Thailand’s PTT Exploration and Production Co.

Total and its partners have long been accused of turning a blind eye to serious human rights abuses committed by Burmese security forces guarding the pipeline, including forced labor, land confiscation, forced relocation, rape, torture and murder.

A brutal crackdown on monk-led protests in 2007 and the current trial of Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi have brought renewed pressure on investors in Burma’s gas and oil sector, the single largest source of hard currency for the ruling regime. Burmese pro-democracy activists say energy companies should think twice about their investments in Burma.

“Today, [rights campaigners] are trying to tell us you have no right to speak. They can go to hell. If you want to ask somebody, don’t ask Total. Ask the government of Thailand, which buys Burmese gas,” de Margerie said.

“Or ask the government of India why they have companies investing in Burma, when we froze investment. Why is South Korea, ally of the United States of America, investing in Burma? Why Total?” he added.

However, de Margerie’s claims that Total has been unfairly singled out ignores actions taken against other major investors in Burma’s energy industry.

Recently, US-based NGO EarthRights International (ERI) filed a 43-page complaint to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) calling for an investigation of the South Korean government’s respect for OECD guidelines.

The complaint, made on behalf of the Shwe Gas Movement and nine Korean-based organizations, is related to investments in Burma by Daewoo International and the Korea Gas Corporation.

Complaining that “Total is a punching bag while other companies invest without criticism is simply untrue,” said ERI project coordinator Matthew Smith, speaking to The Irrawaddy on Tuesday.

“He (de Margerie) claims that Total is proud to provide natural gas to Bangkok but at the same time he tries to deflect negative criticism to Thailand. This strategy is consistent with the way Total has handled most of the negative outcry about its presence in Burma: deny and reject any and all negative criticism.

“Total’s project has generated billions of dollars for the military regime from the peoples’ natural resources. It’s dubious at best to claim that is a positive thing for the country,” Smith said.

“Elsewhere Total has touted respect for fiscal transparency but at the same time it has not published the payments it has made to the Burmese regime—that raises serious questions,” he added.

READ MORE---> Total Chief: Critics Can ‘Go to Hell’...

US Voices Concern over Burma, N Korea Nuclear Nexus

The Irrawaddy News

WASHINGTON — The United States expressed concern on Monday over news reports that North Korea may be helping the Burmese military regime to achieve its nuclear ambitions.

“It is an issue of concern and it is an issue that we continue to focus on intensively,” the assistant secretary of state for public affairs, Philip J Crowley, told reporters at the State Department headquarters.

Although he refrained from making any comment on the alleged underground nuclear facility being developed by North Korea inside Burma, Crowley said the US was concerned about “the nature of cooperation between North Korea and Burma.”

“We do have concerns about the nature of cooperation between both Burma and North Korea, and North Korea and any other country. As the Secretary [of State Hillary Clinton] did during her recent trip, she argued quite forcefully that all countries have responsibilities regarding the UN sanctions and we are [working] hard at implementing them,” Crowley said.

“I think over time, we would like to clarify with Burma more precisely the nature of its military cooperation,” he said.

“The Secretary was encouraged that Burma said that it would abide by its responsibilities under the sanctions that were recently passed by the UN, and we will be looking to see them implement those sanctions,” Crowley said.

Meanwhile, Thailand’s National Security Council chief Thawil Pliensri has ordered intelligence officials to verify reports the Burmese military regime is building a nuclear reactor with a plan to make a nuclear bomb within five years, as reported in the English-language daily, The Bangkok Post.

But Thawil was quoted as saying that so far no evidence has been found that points to a Burmese nuclear program.

On Saturday, the Australian newspaper, The Sydney Morning Herald, reported that Burma appears to be establishing nuclear facilities with help from North Korea and Russia, possibly with the intent of producing nuclear weapons.

The newspaper, citing two Burmese defectors who were interviewed in-depth over two years by Australian strategic studies analyst Desmond Ball and Thailand-based journalist Phil Thornton, claimed that Burma has secretly constructed a nuclear reactor that would encompass reprocessing technology designed to extract weapons-grade plutonium.

READ MORE---> US Voices Concern over Burma, N Korea Nuclear Nexus...

US reiterates concern over Burma-N. Korea tie-up

by Mungpi

New Delhi (Mizzima) - The United States on Monday reiterated its concern over military cooperation between Burma and North Korea, but did not elaborate on the kind of cooperation the two countries had.

Philip J. Crowley, Assistant Secretary of the State Department’s Public Affairs during a regular press briefing on Monday told reporters, “We do have concerns about the nature of cooperation between both Burma and North Korea, and North Korea and any other country.”

“I think over time, we would like to clarify with Burma more precisely the nature of its military cooperation,” said Crowley in response to questions related to Burma building an underground nuclear complex with North Korea’s help.

But Crowley refused to comment on questions relating to the underground nuclear facility reported to have been built in Burma by North Korea.

The State Department’s renewed concern came in the wake of a report, published in the ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ on Saturday, pointing to Burma’s nuclear ambitions and its secret efforts to produce a nuclear weapon by 2014 with the help of North Korea and Russia.

The report, which is a result of over two years of investigation into Burma’s nuclear ambitions researched by Desmond Ball, a regional security expert at the Australian National University, and Phil Thornton, an Australian journalist, based on the Thai-Burma border, said the Burmese regime has collaborated in recent years with North Korea and Russia to develop a reactor capable of producing one nuclear bomb a year by 2014.

The report, based primarily on testimonies of two Burmese defectors - an army officer and a book keeper from the junta’s business crony Htoo Trading Company – said Burma is excavating uranium in 10 locations and has two uranium plants in operation to refine uranium into “yellowcake,” the fissile material for nuclear weapons.

The army defector, who is known as Moe Jo, an alias, said Burma is planning to build a plutonium reprocessing plant in Naung Laing in central Burma, and Russian technicians have already begun “teaching plutonium reprocessing,” the report claims.

Moe Jo, according to the report, is an army officer, who graduated from the Defense Services Academy (DSA) in Pyin Oo Lwin in Mandalay division. Reportedly, he had been sent to Russia for a two-year training course as a preparation to be a part of the nuclear battalion.

The other defector, Tin Min, was said to be a book keeper for the powerful businessman Tay Za, who owns Htoo Trading Company and has a very close relationship with Burmese military supremo Senior General Than Shwe.

Tin Min told the investigators that his boss Tay Za had negotiated nuclear contracts with Russia and North Korea and arranged for the collection and transportation, at night by river, of containers of equipment from North Korean boats in Rangoon’s port.

Earlier, similar information on Burma’s secret nuclear programme, citing anonymous sources, had been released by Mr. Roland Watson, of the US-based “Dictator Watch.”

While testimonies of the two defectors cannot be independently verified, the report suggests that the Burmese military junta maintains military cooperation with North Korea and Russia.

Though the US and others of the international community have not been critical of Burma’s relationship with Russia including Moscow’s help in setting-up a 10 Megawatt light water nuclear reactor, Burma’s relationship with North Korea has been widely condemned.

The US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton last month expressed “grave concern” over military cooperation between North Korea and Burma, saying “we take it very seriously.”

But she also said she was encouraged with Burma’s willingness to abide by its responsibilities under the sanctions that were recently passed by the UN.

READ MORE---> US reiterates concern over Burma-N. Korea tie-up...

Body count in battle zone

by Don Talenywun

Mae Sot (Mizzima) - It was just another day for the surgeons at Mae Sot General Hospital, in Thailand's north.

Overnight, on July 18, a dozen Democratic Karen Buddhist Army soldiers had arrived. They are allies of Burma's ruling military junta.

They had all stepped on landmines across the Moei River on Saturday and on Sunday morning they were in Thai hospitals.

By afternoon the amputations had begun, and doctors dressed in ankle-length rubber splash coats carried around power tools that resembled small chainsaws. Even the doctors have lost count of the mangled, discarded legs.

In little more than two weeks, from June 2 to June 19 -- 98 DKBA soldiers were wounded and 38 killed.

During the same period, just eight Karen National Liberation Army soldiers were injured.

Yet DKBA soldiers are still arriving at Mae Sot General Hospital and the private Porvor Hospital.

The DKBA has money to pay the bills and at times armed guards have been posted outside Porvor Hospital, to protect the wounded inside from potential attacks.

There is no accurate overall count of how many DKBA or Burma Army soldiers have been maimed during this year-long offensive.

This is the human consequence of the State Peace and Development Council's (SPDC) push to clear border regions of ethnic fighters before next year’s planned elections.

What is left for them, to become beggars in Thailand, or go home disabled and discarded in one of the world's least-developed countries?

The wounded DKBA soldiers were forward troopers of a 1,700-strong force that attacked the Karen National Union’s Seventh Brigade, to the north of Mae Sot.

The Burma Army brought up the rear and provided artillery support as the DKBA soldiers were forced to wage war against their brethren.

The KNU force, vastly outnumbered, withdrew from its bases and left the DKBA to wade into minefields surrounding the empty camps.

But the offensive, launched from Karen State’s capital Pa-an, has been successful in the eyes of Burma’s ruling generals.

As they made their way towards the border, the DKBA emptied 20 significant villages and sent more than 4,000 refugees fleeing into Thailand.

Video footage from the Free Burma Rangers medical outfit shows DKBA soldiers torching villages along the way.

The KNU believes the entire refugee camps along the border are under threat of attack and strict curfew has been put in place.

Internal KNU documents list as one of the main reasons the DKBA launched such a major offensive against the Seventh Brigade was to “gain a wider springboard for the export of illicit drugs and other illegal activities”.

At Well Driving Service, Mae Sot's only vehicle rental firm, the owner has felt the pinch of the “other illegal activities”.

Two months ago a Thai national and a foreigner with a UK passport rented a four-door, 4WD pickup, never to be seen again.

The passport was fake and Well's owner heard on the grapevine his vehicle, sub-let from a friend, had been floated across the Moei River, the border in these parts, on a bamboo raft and sold to the DKBA.

Now he has a million-baht bill to pay.

Such motor vehicle thefts are commonplace in and around Mae Sot.

The KNU says the border offensive also helped to divert attention, if only momentarily, from Aung San Suu Kyi's drawn-out show trial in Rangoon.

Many international observers are hailing this offensive, which began in earnest on June 2, 2008, and has so far spanned two brigade regions, as the end for the KNU.

KNU Vice President David Thackrabaw dismisses this as alarmist, or merely grist for the propaganda mill fed by Burma’s military intelligence.

“We have been [experiencing] bad times for so long that this bad time is not so very different from all the others. Some [people] have exaggerated, they are SPDC elements, even within our own ranks,” he said.

“Some of them even argue that we should cooperate, that with economic development, human rights and democracy will come naturally, we do not believe this.”

Mr Thackrabaw said Thailand had not done the KNU any great favours of late.

Earlier this year the Thai military ordered all KNU and KNLA leaders off Thai soil.

The KNU was a once favoured buffer force between Thailand and Burma.

But when a major base camp fell in April, the Thai Army ordered villagers – suspected KNLA soldiers living part-time on the Thai side of the border - to dismantle their homes and depart forthwith.

For good measure, the DKBA burned a couple down first.

Mr Thackrabaw puts the changing attitudes of the Thai military down to pressure from business interests on both sides of the border, opportunistic grabs for cash and incumbent cronies installed by former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

He says the Thai Army’s actions along the border do not reflect government policy.

Even Thai politicians admit the military has charted its own course since the government’s troubles began late in 2005, with mass rallies calling for Mr Thaksin to step down.

Mr Thackrabaw says Mr Thaksin’s policy prevails for now.

“That was Thaksin’s policy, to gradually snuff out the insurgency against the SPDC,” he said, to clear the way for cross-border trade.

Asked what he thought the Thai motivations were for Thailand to progressively make things harder for the KNU to operate along the border he said simply “so they can have business relations with Burma”.

He said Thailand was particularly interested in Burma's unknown, but undoubtedly plentiful, resources.

“You know they have never properly prospected, above ground of course we can make reasonable estimates [of what'[s there], but the military regimes and the SPDC have never had enough time, with the communist uprising and the ethnic uprisings to properly prospect.

“There are also some ideas that there will be contract farming on the other side of the border, but close to the border.

“It was a project and policy of the previous government . . . and I feel that that policy is still in force, because when there is a change in government, normally a change in authorities follows - of local authorities, but not immediately.

“So I think that policy still has momentum.

“According to that policy the refugees are to be repatriated to the other side of the border and employed in contract farming and the Thai businesses have agreed to buy everything that is produced -- agricultural produce.

“[This includes] sugar cane, beans, rubber, palm oil, so it is a very large project and the present government is probably not very enthusiastic about it because of the global financial crisis, they don’t want to invest in this prevailing atmosphere.”

“But the SPDC wants to make Burma a market, even some European countries want to see this happen, according to their market ideology.”

Mr Thackbrabbaw said he felt the Thai stance was somewhat cynical, in that towns such as Mae Sot consisted of wealthy micro economies practically built on the cheap labour of Burmese workers.

This cynicism was rooted in the fact that if the SPDC was able to continually strike more deals with Thai authorities while the Thais made survival harder for the ethnic armies, economic migrants would continue to flood across the border.

He estimated cheap Burmese labour contributed about five per cent to Thailand's annual growth.

“But then you must understand that the problems of economic migrants is very difficult [for Thailand] to try and stop.

“You can get a shop assistant for say, 2,000 baht a month in Mae Sot, but that translates to about 100,000 kyat in Burma, which is the equivalent of a general's wage. A mid-ranking military official would get about 60,000 kyat. A university lecturer would only get about 50,000 kyat.

Asked if people would be able to live well on that amount he said “not very well, but anyhow, you can live, perhaps you can even save – in Burma.

“Labourers [in Thailand] send about half of their earnings home to Burma, to their parents, or their brothers and their sisters to help support them.”

He said now the SPDC was looking to get its hands on a slice of that foreign income and would manage that with Thai assistance.

“Now they're trying to make it official, so workers have to pay income tax.

“They will have to get a sort of passport to be able to work in Thailand.”

So did that mean they would be paying tax to both Thailand and Burma?

“Yes, Thailand's will be an indirect tax and Burma's direct, like an income tax.

“But this is not Thailand's fault, any country with a large migrant workforce has the same problems, they have health problems, social problems, say they [a migrant worker] suddenly becomes unemployed, they might resort to petty crime for their survival so they [countries such as Thailand] have to prepare to that.”

But it seems change is brewing within the ranks of the DKBA.

Mr Thackrabaw says the DKBA was promised administration of Karen State when it split from the KNU in 1994, but today finds itself being used as a slave militia.

KNU intelligence agents and defectors report DKBA soldiers are constantly fed amphetamines, as many as 40 pills a day for frontline troops, possibly accounting for their massive casualties.

There are indications the DKBA leaders know they have been duped.

A letter of regret allegedly penned by a DKBA leader and distributed in refugee camps on the Thai side of the border apologised to the Karen people for the “black spot in Karen history” that the DKBA constituted.

It ended urging the KNU on to victory.

Defections in July by 70 DKBA soldiers and members of another splinter group working with the junta, known as the KNU/KNLA Peace Council, further suggests dissatisfaction within the ranks.

On July 9 and 10 the soldiers surrendered to the KNLA's Sixth Brigade, bringing with them 59 assault rifles, an M-79 grenade launcher, seven carbines, four pistols and 15 radios.

Among the defectors were two DKBA Captains, a Lieutenant-Ccolonel and a Colonel.

After debriefing and recuperation they may fight with the KNLA.

Sixth Brigade was hit hard last June at the top of the wet season and again in early January this year, forcing the withdrawal from two major base camps, that of 103 Special Battalion and 201 Battalion's Wah Lay Kee stronghold.

The weapons, probably more welcomed than the men, are helping Sixth Brigade to rebuild, said one of its commanders, Colonel Nerdah Mya.

“They said the SPDC had ordered them to fight us and they no longer want to, so they organised themselves and defected as one group over two days,” he said, taking time out from overseeing construction of a new base camp.

Mr Thackrabaw said defecting soldiers were mostly so strung out on drugs they would be no use in the field until they had weathered a detoxification and rehabilitation programme.

And even then they might not recover, he said.

One of the reasons these men have become so disillusioned is their leaders' agreement to transform from an army to a border security force.

That, argue many DKBA soldiers, means they are nothing more than a private security force for the much-loathed SPDC.

This is the SPDC's ultimatum to ethnic armies still fighting in Burma's interior: Join us before the 2010 elections and re-enter “the legal fold”, or we will obliterate you.

Despite the Thai military's pro-Thaksin hangover, there appears to be a softening in light of the Seventh Brigade offensive.

In the last week of July another 500 people landed at a temple over two days near Mae Salid, in Tha Song Yang district.

More are spilling over irregularly as the DKBA seeks to forcibly increase troop numbers.

The Thai authorities are already pulling their hair out trying to find somewhere secure to place all of the refugees, who have fled their homes since early June.

The total number of people who have desperately sought safe haven in Thailand is now more than 5,000.

International agencies are ready to care for them, but a coordinated approach is needed and having the population in one place makes that far easier.

One location, the deserted Eden Valley Academy School, offered vacant buildings with concrete slabs, roofs and walls.

Agencies felt that with some sanitation work, expansion and construction of a pedestrian bridge a focal point – a new camp – as many as 2,300 people could be cared for indefinitely at the site.

That would take the number of camps along the border to 10.

In principle Thai authorities have agreed with the concept, but finding somewhere safe from DKBA attack is proving a challenge.

Where along the border can security be guaranteed and the site can accommodate such a massive influx of refugees? That is the problem facing Thai authorities.

But the KNU's David Thackrabaw believes that the very fact Thai authorities are considering new sites suggests a softening in the formerly hard-edged attitude to distressed and dislocated Karen villagers from Burma.

“I think they are becoming more sympathetic to these refugees, they understand that it is not just because of fighting these people are leaving, that there are human rights abuses and an ethnic cleansing policy [in place across the border].

“I think Thailand is beginning to understand these people have to take refuge in Thailand for their very survival.

“It's a scorched earth policy, burning down crops, burning down houses, these are not just human rights abuses, they are crimes in anyone's terms and they are perpetrated by the SPDC and they use the DKBA to commit these crimes as well.

“So the Karen population, the civilian population cannot survive [inside Burma].

“These are crimes, crimes against humanity,” he said.

READ MORE---> Body count in battle zone...

NMSP officially rejects future role in Burmese government ‘Border Guard Force’

IMNA - On August 4th, the New Mon State Party (NMSP) announced that it decided to turn down the offer made by the Burmese State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), to reform its armed wing, the Mon National Liberation Army (MNLA) into either a Border Guard Force (BGF) or a government aligned people’s militia. Despite increased pressure from the SPDC to bring the MNLA under nominal state control as a reduced force, the NMSP statement sites the importance of ethnic identity and the will of the people in making its decision.

The statement, already available on the NMSP website, is to be officially announced on August 5th, at the 62nd Mon Revolution Day, which celebrates the beginning of the Mon armed struggle in 1948.

According to the statement, the NMSP signed the 1995 ceasefire with the Burmese regime because, like other ethnic armed groups, it wanted to solve the political turmoil in Burma through tripartite talks including the Burmese government, the ethnic communities, and the national democracy movement. It adds that its status as a political party with an armed wing has brought the NMSP and the Mon people their own rights and freedoms, as well as provided protection for Mon people and culture.

The NMSP will maintain the cease-fire with the government and will continue to call for tripartite talks to solve, not only the political problems with the current Burmese regime, but also with the future government that will form after the 2010 election.

This decision came after an emergency Central Executive Committee (CEC) and Central Committee (CC) meeting was convened on July 25th, where senior NMSP party members vowed to discuss their options until they had reached a decision regarding the future of the MNLA.

On June 7th high-ranking NMSP officials met South East Command (SEC) General That Naing Win who officially requested that the MNLA reform as a BGF. Though the NMSP was originally given until the end of July to return with a decision, it appears the deadline was extended, as the statement will officially be given to Southeast Command on August 5th.

The issue of forming BGFs has been a contentious issue for the ceasefire groups. In an attempt to resolve the long standing armed stalemate with over 15 ethnic armed groups, the SPDC requested that each group reform its armed wing into a ‘Border Guard Force’. The request comes as the SPDC purse’s its 7-step “roadmap” to a “disciplined democracy”. Seen by many as an attempt to legitimize its ruling status though an attempt at a civilian election, the SPDC has placed significant pressure on armed groups to resolve their status before the 2010 election.

The decision to reject the BGF offer came, according to one NMSP officer, after party leaders appealed to the opinions of the Mon community, prompting an influx of feedback from monks, university students, Mon youth groups inside Mon State, and Mon State residents who sent in letters. NMSP party leaders also spoke with residents of the central quarters of Thaton, Moulmein, and Tavoy districts under their control. The majority opinion held that the party should not accept the Burmese government request to form a BGF or a pro government people’s militia.

“The BGF and people’s militia are not important because orders to them would come from them [SPDC] and would have to act according to their orders,” said Nai Oukar Mon from Mon community at Mae Sot. “Such a result would in no way help the Mon people and NMSP. Because of the plans of the Burmese government, it [BGF] would not benefit our people.”

Three youth groups located inside of Mon State in Burma, released a joint statement comprising the opinions of the Mon Youth Organization, Young Monk’s Organization, and the Mon University Students Organization, which declared, “We don’t want to be a BGF or people’s militia, and don’t want to be damaged from the cease-fire. We want the party leaders make a decision themselves from their intelligence.”

“We have to think hard about the cease-fire. Before cease-fire with the SPDC, Mon people could do regular business not mixing with other ethnicities. But now we mix with other ethnicities after the cease-fire,” explained a Mon nationalist from TPP stating why he thought the Mon army should not become a BGF or people’ militia. “Before it was just the Mon and Karen ethnicities who lived at TPP. Mon depended on the Mon and Karen depend on Karen. If the cease-fire breaks apart and fighting begins again, other ethnics will administrate the area.”

A business man, also from TPP, expressed his distaste for the BGF proposition, explaining that in acquiescing to the SPDC’s demands, and submitting a reformed MNLA under nominal government control, the NMSP and Mon people would suffer a loss of dignity.

Additionally he stated that he supports the ceasefire, saying if it were to break, the Mon people would have no chance to fight for their culture. However, even the loss of that would not be significant as in his eyes the NMSP and the Mon people never received much support from the Burmese government, as had been agreed upon in the 1995 ceasefire agreement.

“The Mon army will become the Burmese army and it will be difficult for us to have any political control,” said one resident of Three Pagodas Pass [TPP] who was asked by IMNA his opinion on the political outcome if the NMSP had accepted the BGF offer. “It would be more difficult to conduct business and protect against human rights abuses because the army [including BGF and people’ militia] is led by the Burmese government. Its will be fine if Mon have to guard Mon border areas.”

READ MORE---> NMSP officially rejects future role in Burmese government ‘Border Guard Force’...

Burma Must Make Clear its Nuclear Ambitions

The Irrawaddy News

Reports of Burma’s shady nuclear ambitions have resurfaced to take their place alongside warnings by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of secret military ties and possible technology transfers between Burma and North Korea.

One report which aroused special interest was based on research by Desmond Ball, an Australian security analyst and author of several books on nuclear strategy and security issues in the Asia-Pacific.

However, to understand the present situation and Burma’s nuclear ambitions we need to look at the past. Burma’s interest in nuclear science and technology is, in fact, nothing new.

Three years ago, The Irrawaddy published a special cover story on Burma’s nuclear ambitions. A Burmese scholar, Maung Thuta, wrote: “More than five decades ago, Kyaw Nyein, the pragmatic modernist among the ruling triumvirate, with U Nu and Ba Swe, and the driving force behind Burma’s nascent industrialization, oversaw the setting up in 1953, under the Ministry of Industry, of the Union of Burma Applied Research Institute (UBAEC), in collaboration with the American Armour Research Foundation.”

In 1955, the Atomic Energy Centre and the Atomic Minerals Department were established and dozens of young scholars and technicians were sent abroad, mainly to the US, to study medical physics, nuclear physics, nuclear, metallurgical and mining engineering and technical training in nuclear applications in instrumentation, agriculture and industry. The same year Burma attended the first international conference on peaceful uses of atomic energy, which was held in Geneva. Two years later, Burma joined the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Maung Thuta, in an article entitled “Transparency Needed," wrote "at the dawn of the ‘Atomic Age,’ Burma’s nuclear elites centered around the UBAEC apparently had no doubts about propelling Burma into a modern industrial state through extensive research and development in the fields of power production, agriculture, medicine, industry and

Indeed, Burma was well advanced in those days to develop a nuclear project, compared to neighboring countries. In the early 1960s, a site for a nuclear research reactor was designated near the
Hlaing Campus in Rangoon.

“However, the first phase of nuclear ambitions faltered and stagnated within a few years when the much-vaunted ‘Pyidawthar’ industrial plan failed and UBAEC patron Kyaw Nyein fell from grace amid disputes among the ruling political elite,” Maung Thuta wrote.

Burma’s early nuclear ambitions ended there. Gen Ne Win, who staged a military coup in 1962, had little interest in nuclear projects, nor did he trust scholars. So Burma’s nuclear program fell by the wayside, although in 1984 the general admitted to university professors at a private dinner party that he had made a blunder by ending it.

One of the experts from those times, Thein Oo Po Saw, who earned a master’s degree in nuclear engineering from the University of Illinois in 1950s, remains active in Burma today.

Thein Oo Po Saw played a crucial role in reviving Burma’s Atomic Energy Committee and renewing links with the IAEA. He also urged Burma’s military regime in 1995 to join the Regional Cooperative Agreement for Research, Development and Training in Nuclear Science and Technology in Asia and the Pacific (RCA).

The professor has taught at the Defense Services Academy in Maymyo and is currently an adviser to the Ministry of Science and Technology and adjunct professor at the Yangon [Rangoon] Technological University.

Whatever the motives involved, the regime revitalized the nuclear project. An Arakanese professor, Thein Oo Po Saw, renewed links with the IAEA. Since then, Burma has been demonstrating its intention to develop nuclear energy for “peaceful purposes.”

The regime has outwardly supported the concept of nuclear-free zones and signed the Treaty on the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone, or Bangkok Treaty, in 1995. A year later, Burma signed the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

Burma’s renewed interest in nuclear technology was evident, however. The Ministry of Science and Technology was created in 1997 and headed by an extreme nationalist, U Thaung, a graduate of Defense Services Academy Intake 1.

Two years later, Burma began negotiations with Russia on a nuclear reactor project, and in January 2002 the military regime confirmed plans to build a nuclear research reactor for “peaceful purposes.” The Deputy Foreign Minister at that time, Khin Maung Win, declared that Burma’s “interest in nuclear energy for peaceful purpose is longstanding.”

Thein Oo Po Saw also played a key role in the military-sponsored National Convention. During discussions of a chapter of the draft constitution relating to the defense of the Union of Burma, he and several professional colleagues made an interesting suggestion.

The chapter under discussion on March 3, 2005, covered seven key points on national defense, including chemical and biological weapons.

The professor suggested an addition to the chapter to cover the “prevention of terrorist acts and pressures” in enacting laws regarding “the defense of the Union of Myanmar and of its every part, and to prepare a defense program.”

That program would potentially include “conventional arms, ammunition and explosives, and non-conventional sophisticated strategic arms” as well as “nuclear energy, nuclear fuel and radiation, and mineral resources that produce them, highly classified materials, objects, areas, technologies, researches and information and special security issues, accidents concerning the persons whose work involves highly classified materials, objects, areas, technologies, researches and information, and compensation and insurance coverage for them in case of accidents,” according to a report in state-run The New Light of Myanmar.

Aung Toe, the chairman of the National Convention Convening Work Committee, replied by saying that such a program—particularly a nuclear one—would incur international criticism if it was included in the chapter on defense and security.

Aung Toe’s prediction was not wrong. Now some international press reports suggest that Burma is on the way to possessing a nuclear bomb.

The lack of transparency in Burma’s nuclear program and the regime’s repressive nature only increased the suspicions of international critics and dissident groups.

Aside from Thein Oo Po Saw, Burma’s nuclear project has been developed by Minister U Thaung, who signed the reactor agreement in Moscow with Russian counterpart Sergei Kiriyenko, the head of Russia’s atomic agency. U Thaung is known to be close to junta chief Snr Gen Than Shwe and his deputy, Vice Snr-Gen Maung Aye.

U Thaung has in-depth knowledge of Burma’s mining and uranium sectors and resigned his army post to become director general of the country’s Department of Geological Survey and Mineral Exploration in the 1980s.

U Thaung visited Moscow several times in the past in pursuit of the nuclear deal. He also organized students and army officers to participate in nuclear orientation and training in Moscow. In 2006, nuclear physics departments were established in the universities of Rangoon and Mandalay, with enrolment controlled by the regime.

In 2006, Russia’s ambassador to Burma, Dr Mikhail M Mgeladze, confirmed that about 2,000 Burmese students had been admitted to 11 academic institutions in Russia, under a bilateral agreement, and about 500 had returned to Burma with bachelor, master’s or doctorate degrees.

Russian companies are also actively involved in the search for uranium in upper Burma.

In the early 2000s, the regime confirmed publicly that uranium deposits had been found in several areas: Magwe, Taungdwingyi, Kyaukphygon and Paongpyin in Mogok, and Kyauksin and in southern Tenasserim Division.

The Russian companies Zarubezneft, Itera, Kalmykia and the state-owned enterprise Tyazhpromexport have been involved in oil and gas exploration and the establishment of a plant to produce cast iron in Shan State. Tyazhpromexport’s investment alone is worth about US $150 million.

Aside from Russia, Burma’s renewed diplomatic relations and secret military ties with North Korea no doubt heightened suspicions. Washington has repeatedly warned of technology transfer between the two nations.

In April 2007, a North Korean freighter, the Kang Nam I, docked at Thilawa port, 30km south of Rangoon. Interestingly, Burmese officials said the ship, the first to visit Burma since the restoration of diplomatic relations, sought shelter from a storm. Two local reporters working for a Japanese news agency were briefly detained and turned back when they went to the port to investigate.

The Kang Nam I headed for Burma again recently, but turned back after being shadowed by a US destroyer in the harsh light of international attention.

The April 2007 incident wasn’t the first time a North Korean ship reported running into trouble in Burmese waters—by a strange coincidence, the North Korean cargo vessel M V Bong Hoafan sought shelter from a storm and anchored at a Burmese port in November 2006. The regime reported that an on-board inspection had “found no suspicious material or military equipment.”

Indeed, to skeptics, the go-ahead for the nuclear reactor project, the arrival of North Korean ships and shady military ties (The Irrawaddy exposed one particular trip made to Pyonyang by Gen Shwe Mann in November in 2008 with exclusive photos) are new developments.

It is premature, however, to conclude that Burma intends to undertake the complicated and perilous process of reprocessing uranium to get weapons-grade plutonium, although strong suspicions will continue to grow.

Although there are unofficial reports that Burma has set a goal of becoming a nuclear nation by 2025, it is still unclear whether the regime intends to develop a nuclear weapon. More solid evidence needs to emerge—and, no doubt, Thein Oo Po Saw, U Thaung and Gen Maung Aye could provide it.

It is legitimate, however, to raise the issue and to inquire into the regime’s intentions, in the interests of keeping nuclear technology out of the hands of the irresponsible regime.

August 3rd, 2009

READ MORE---> Burma Must Make Clear its Nuclear Ambitions...

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