Friday, August 7, 2009

Suu Kyi is ‘Part of the Problem’: Goh Chok Tong

The Irrawaddy News

Goh Chok Tong, Singapore’s former prime minister and current senior minister, said on Thursday that Burma’s pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi is “part of the problem” facing the military-ruled country.

Goh told reporters at the Asia-Middle East Media Roundtable in Singapore that while the West sees Suu Kyi as the solution to Burma’s problems, she is also “part of problem” because she believes she is the government, according to Singapore’s Channel NewsAsia news network.

He also suggested Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), needed to seek a fresh mandate in the 2010 elections, saying that Suu Kyi should not dwell on the fact that her party’s victory in the 1990 elections was not recognized by the junta.

“That was 19 years ago, that’s history. If she realizes she has to be part of the solution, she has to offer some concessions, such as to publicly say that she would be in favor of the lifting of sanctions,” Goh was quoted as saying in The Malaysian Insider on Friday.

On Burma’s scheduled elections for next year, Goh said the junta should make sure that the elections were “fair, free and legitimate.” He added: “The process must involve parties that oppose you as well. Aung San Suu Kyi must be allowed to participate.”

The senior minister from the most developed country in Southeast Asia also said that military-ruled Burma’s economy has enormous growth potential.

“Myanmar [Burma] has the potential to boom in the next 10 years and it can be like Thailand’s today in 20 years’ time,” Goh said.

Responding to Goh’s comments, Aye Thar Aung, the secretary of the Committee Representing the People’s Parliament (CRPP), an umbrella group consisting of parties elected in 1990, rejected the idea that Suu Kyi is part of Burma’s problem.

“I disagree with Mr Goh Chok Tong because Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has openly said since 1988 that she could negotiate with the generals for the benefit of the country. She has also said that believes the military is needed to resolve the problems in Burma,” said Aye Thar Aung.

“Significantly, she also recognizes the importance of resolving ethnic issues. So she is still a key player in efforts to reach a resolution,” he added.

The argument that Suu Kyi is “part of the problem” is not new.

In early 2003, a number of Burma analysts, citing claims in the country’s state-run media that Suu Kyi was not willing to negotiate with the military, began to suggest that she had become an obstacle to political progress.

At the time, these analysts argued that Prime Minister Gen Khin Nyunt, a relative moderate among the ruling generals, should be regarded as the most important force for political change in Burma, not Suu Kyi. Khin Nyunt’s ouster in October 2004 put an end to that idea.

But the debate over Suu Kyi’s role in Burmese politics has recently been revived, with some Burma experts and international aid agencies saying that greater attention should be paid to the needs of ordinary Burmese citizens, rather than the plight of its most famous political prisoner. With the US and the European Union threatening tougher sanctions in response to Suu Kyi’s trial on charges of violating the terms of her house arrest, the debate has intensified.

In a recent interview with Asia Times online, Burmese historian Thant Myint-U, a former UN diplomat who is currently a visiting fellow with the Institute for Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, called Suu Kyi’s strategy for reform “a gamble” that has not paid off.

He added that Suu Kyi’s approach has come at “the increasing cost of other roads not tested and opportunities lost as well as the enormous effect sanctions and aid cut-offs have had on ordinary people, especially the poorest and most vulnerable in the country.”

Meanwhile, Singaporean leaders, who are vocal advocates of engagement with the regime, have come under fire for being fundamentally ill-informed about Burma’s political realities.

In an interview last Sunday with The online Citizen, Singaporean Foreign Minister George Yeo incorrectly stated that Burma had been ruled by the military since its independence in 1948 and that Suu Kyi’s father, Aung San, had created the law that a Burmese citizen married to a foreign national could not take political office.

“The statements made by Singaporean leaders this week are undermining their own credibility,” said Debbie Stothard, the coordinator of Altsean, the Alternative Asean Network.

The CRPP’s Aye Thar Aung said that while regional leaders were welcome to play a role in resolving Burma’s political standoff, they should try to learn more about the country to get a better understanding of the roots of its problems.

READ MORE---> Suu Kyi is ‘Part of the Problem’: Goh Chok Tong...

Burmese Army Equipped with New Arms

The Irrawaddy News

The 400,000-strong Burmese army is now almost fully armed with locally manufactured MA-series weapons, according to several sources within the armed forces and rebel groups.

The sources told The Irrawaddy that the Burmese army—known as the “Tatmadaw”—had equipped all frontline battalions with MA1, MA2, MA3 or MA4 automatic assault rifles.

According to a weapons Web site,, the MA series was manufactured with the help of arms contractor Israeli Military Industries, and was designed similar to the Israeli Galil rifle.

The weapons are expected to be used in conflicts with ethnic rebel groups, in particular the Karen National Union, as the Tatmadaw seeks to extinguish the country’s 60-year-plus insurgency. The Burmese armed forces have one of the world’s most notorious records for atrocities and human rights abuses, such as killing civilians, raping women and conscripting children.

Since the 1950s, the Tatmadaw has traditionally employed German-made G-3 weapons. However, the G-3 assault rifle was considered too heavy for use in jungle warfare and, as the Burmese generals had endured decades of conflict with ethnic groups in Burma’s mountainous border regions, they began manufacture of the MA series in 2002, presumably after signing a license agreement with Israel Military Industries.

The MA1 and MA2 assault rifles are shorter and lighter than the G3, but not as powerful, said the sources.

The MA3 is an assault carbine, basically an MA1 with a side-folding stock, and the MA4 is a grenadier weapon, essentially an MA1 equipped with a single-shot grenade launcher.

Sources told The Irrawaddy that the weapons were manufactured at several factories in Burma, but the main factory is reportedly called Ka Pa Sa No 1, and is situated near Rangoon’s Inya Lake.

Sai Sheng Murng, the deputy spokesman of the rebel Shan State Army-South (SSA), said, “The MA1 and MA2 assault rifles are not heavy, so they are good for carrying to the frontlines. But they are not powerful like the G-3.”

“The MA1s and MA2s are similar to our M16s. In fact, we can use their ammunition in our M16 rifles, but they cannot use our ammunition in their rifles,” he said.

The Burmese army is one of the most battle-hardened forces in Asia, having fought almost continuously against ethnic insurgents and communist guerillas for more than six decades.

However, following the brutal suppression of student-led demonstrations in 1988, the United States and later the European Union imposed an arms embargo on the Burmese regime.

At the time, Burmese democracy activists and international sympathizers lobbied the West German government to prevent sales of G-3 weapons from the Fritz Werner arms manufacturing company going to the Burmese junta.

The German arms manufacturers registered themselves in Burma in the 1990s as Myanmar Fritz Werner Industries Co Ltd, an electrical and electronics company.

However, the photograph of a Japanese journalist, Kenji Nagai, being shot during protests in 2007 by a Burmese soldier holding what would appear to be a G-3 rifle, raised doubts as to whether local production of the German assault rifle was ongoing.

Despite the Western arms embargo, the Burmese military regime has no shortage of arms suppliers—Israel, Russia, Ukraine and China are reportedly the main players.

Meanwhile, recent reports have indicated that Burma has purchased nuclear material from North Korea and harbors ambitions of creating a nuclear arsenal.

READ MORE---> Burmese Army Equipped with New Arms...

Gang-rape follows Four-Cuts

by Hseng Khio Fah

(Shanland) -Latest reports of the Burma Army’s four-cut campaign said that a Shan woman from Shan State South’s Laikha township was gang raped in front of her husband by the Burma Army that has been waging a four-cut campaign since late July.

The couple was identified as Sai Awta, 23, and her wife Nang Noom, 20 (not their real names), from the 31 household Wan Nawngpoke village, Tarkmawk village tract, Laikha Township, said a source.

The incident occurred only a half of mile south of the village on August 2 at 5 pm, when three privates led by Sergeant Tin Aye from Mongkeung based Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) #514 was on patrol and found the said couple while they were working in their farm. The group detained them after accusing of being members of the SSA-South.

Some soldiers separated Sai Awta from his wife, tied him with a rope to a post of the hut and beaten him while others raped her wife in front of him in turn including the Sergeant until midnight. After that, the couple was warned not to spread news of the rape, said Sai Awta’s friend who declined to be named.

“They [soldiers] threatened them not to tell anybody; otherwise their family and both of them would be killed,” he said.

On that day, a 25 strong patrol from the battalion together with 14 men of pro-junta Mongzeun militia group (formally Brigade 758 of the Shan State Army (SSA) ‘South’ that surrendered in July 2006) arrived at the village.

It was led by Lt Myint Than and the militia group was led by Sai Yoong whose leader Mongzeun was killed in an attack by the SSA on 25 May.

“Villagers were given a deadline to leave their houses, if not all houses would be burnt down,” said a local source who wishes to remain in anonymity.

A clash between LIB#515 and SSA fighters on 15 July in Laikha township has led hundreds of villagers in Laikha, Kehsi and Mongkeung townships suffer from several human rights violations.

“License to Rape,” a report by the Shan Women’s Action Network (SWAN), which was published in 2002, detailing 173 incidents of rape and involving 625 women and girls, had shaken the international community.

READ MORE---> Gang-rape follows Four-Cuts...

Goh says Suu Kyi ‘is part of the problem’

(DVB)–Aung San Suu Kyi “is part of the problem” in Burma’s political crisis because she still believes she is the government, said former Singaporean prime minister Goh Chok Tong yesterday.

The comment, reported yesterday in Channel NewsAsia, was made during the inaugural Asia-Middle East Media Roundtable in Singapore yesterday.

Goh Chok Tong, now a Senior Minister in Singapore, had previously urged the ruling junta in Burma to hold free and fair elections next year following a meeting with Senior General Than Shwe in June.

The comments have stirred unrest among Burma observers, with the foreign affairs coordinator of the National League for Democracy-Liberated Areas, Nyo Ohn Myint , saying he was “very upset” by it.

“She has been under house arrest for 14 years and has never had a chance for dialogue or to show her ability to reconcile with the junta,” he said.

“[Goh] should have a look at the real problem, which is not the democracy icon, but is the military junta.”

Singapore is a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) bloc, and follows the ASEAN policy of non-interference in internal matters of member states.

But, said Nyo Ohn Myint, the relationship runs deeper than straight diplomacy, with Singapore a significant investor in Burma.

“I think Singapore is protecting its business interests,” he said. “Singapore, and ASEAN countries, always try not to side with the opposition but stick with the ruling generals.”

Burmese political analyst Aung Naing Oo said however that the problem is “a conflict between idealism and pragmatic action”.

“[Singapore] wants the country to move forward, and they see Aung San Suu Kyi as the obstacle, mainly because the military is not moving,” he said.

“In a conflict that is not going anywhere, it is normal for anybody to look for alternatives. From a moral idealisitic point of view, then Goh Chok Tong is not right, but from pragmatic thinking he may be right.”

He added that the comment symbolizes the conflict between Eastern and Western countries on what action to take on Burma, with the likes of China and India refraining from condemnation while the United States and European Union hold tough sanctions on the regime.

Reporting by Francis Wade

READ MORE---> Goh says Suu Kyi ‘is part of the problem’...

Border guard pressure could ‘threaten peace’

(DVB)–Armed conflict will reignite in Burma if the ruling junta continues to force ceasefire groups to transform into border guards, a key armed ethnic group warned yesterday.

The New Mon State Party (NMSP) said in a statement that it is keen to maintain its 14-year-old ceasefire agreement with the Burmese government, but will not accept the dissolving of its armed units before self-determination is achieved.

Burma’s ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) has embarked on a campaign to transform ceasefire groups into border guards in an attempt to reduce their numbers and return them to the ‘legal fold’.

Ceasefire groups have said however that agreeing to the proposals would weaken the groups and effectively make them subordinated wings of the Burmese army.

“Our Central Executive Committee has decided not to go along with the plan to transform us into a border militia as it promises no insurance for the people of Mon state and to ourselves,” said the NMSP’s Nai Hong Sa Boung Khine.

He added however that pressure from the junta had eased recently regarding border guard transformation.

The NMSP also said in its statement that existing peace in the country will be seriously threatened should the authorities resort to coercion to achieve their objective.

The public declaration by the NMSP followed a similar announcement by another influential ceasefire group, the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO).

The KIO said it agreed in principle with the border guard proposal but suggested that step should be taken only when the nation is at peace and after a popularly elected democratic government is in place.

”No one likes the idea about the border guard force,” said James Lum Dau from the KIO. “When the majority is opposing it and only one party likes the idea, it is not practical to be pushing for a result.”

Reports surfaced last month of a campaign by the junta to use religious leaders and influential businessmen to convince ceasefire groups in Kachin state to become border guards.

According to a resident of Kachin state’s capital Myitkyina, government officials had been meeting with church pastors and business owners to help put pressure on the KIO.

Reporting by Aye Naing

READ MORE---> Border guard pressure could ‘threaten peace’...

Is the Lady Wrong?

The Irrawaddy News

In a fresh attack on Burma’s pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, The Economist proclaimed that she was an obstacle to the country’s development. “Will the courageous Lady admit as much?” the international political journal challenged.

As a student of international development, I was keen to look into the argument through a comparative review of Suu Kyi’s own concept of development.

Before reading my analysis, readers should not lose sight of two fundamental factors: The system and the power.

Politically and economically, Burma has been in a transitional state to democracy, practicing a military authoritarianism and a market economy since 1988 with the military junta exercising legislative, executive and judiciary powers.

Meanwhile, the National League for Democracy (NLD), led by Suu Kyi, won a landslide victory in the 1990 elections. She, however, has been a prisoner of the junta for nearly 14 of the past 20 years.

The notion that democracy can be achieved through development, as Thant Myint-U said in the article, is in fact not new. It was a popular idea in the 1980s when the world witnessed the “economic miracle” in East Asia when countries such as South Korea and Taiwan took off, accompanied close behind by Southeast Asian neighbors Singapore and Malaysia.

Economists viewed these countries’ spectacular development as a consequence of rapid economic growth. They usually reached the conclusion that East Asia had succeeded on a policy of “development first, democracy second,” on the basis that democracy is fragile without a strong middle class.

Thant Myint-U seems to be a member of this camp. Some development theorists advocated that as the East Asian countries in question—the “Asian Tigers” as they became known—were ruled by one-party-dominated governments, the task of development in an authoritarian state was easier to implement than in a democratic one. They pointed to the failure of several Latin American countries’ economies as an example.

But later, a new finding proved that the growth of an economy that over-emphasized GDP (Gross Domestic Product) didn’t reflect that country’s development.

The late former president of the Philippines, Corazon Aquino, invited Suu Kyi to a meeting of the World Commission on Culture and Development in Manila in 1994. Under house arrest, Suu Kyi was only able to send to the meeting a letter which stated her concept on development.

Referring to Francois Perroux’s “A New Concept of Development,” issued by UNESCO (United Nations Education Science and Culture Organization) in 1983, Suu Kyi was aware of the need to redefine the meanings of “development” and “growth.”

“The unsatisfactory record of development in many parts of the world and the ensuing need for a definition of development which means more than mere economic growth became a matter of vital concern to economists and international agencies more than a decade ago,” she said.

Another finding on the recent economic miracles of East and Southeast Asia is that the success of those economies is due to the efficiency of strong government institutions. Ironically, these authoritarian states embraced the core principles of accountability, transparency, a minimum level of corruption, an independent banking system, an effective check and balance system through decentralization to the private sector, and the state’s social investment in education and health.

So, is it logical that the absence of good governance in Burma is due to the economic sanctions of the American-led Western countries? Does it make sense that the junta’s failed economic policies of the past 20 years were caused by the NLD leader’s advocacy of economic sanctions?

No country wants to invest in a country without a rule-based economic environment; and the necessary rules are drawn and adopted by policymakers from the political arena.

The development of China and Vietnam today could not have been achieved without the ability to conduct a series of reforms.

Therefore, it is impossible and even wrong to consider the “development first, democracy second” principle.

The people of Burma have been living without a constitution for 20 years and badly need a functioning political system. They have showed the desire for this many times, most memorably the 1988 pro-democracy uprising and the 1990 elections.

Suu Kyi wrote a special report in the Human Development Report titled “Deepening Democracy in a Fragmented World,” [published by the UNDP in 2002]. In it she wrote:

“Human development encompasses all aspects of human existence. It is generally accepted that its scope includes political and social rights as well as economic ones, but the different rights are not always given the same weight.

“For example, some people still claim that humanitarian aid and economic assistance cannot wait for political and social progress. This insidious idea creates dissonance between complementary requirements.”

After her release from a second period of house arrest in 2003, The Irrawaddy interviewed Suu Kyi, a month before she was attacked in Depayin. She answered questions covering a range of the issues, including humanitarian aid.

“We have never said ‘no’ to humanitarian aid as such,” she said. “We have always said humanitarian aid must be given to the right people in the right way, which of course calls for accountability and transparency.

“And of course we always say that the minimum necessary requirement is independent monitoring.”

In another interview, this time for an Altsean-Burma report—“A Peace of Pie? Burma’s Humanitarian Aid Debate”—Suu Kyi said: What I would like to say is the most important aspect of humanitarian assistance or any kind of assistance is good governance. Unless there is good governance, you cannot ensure that the assistance will really benefit the country.”

The past two decades are adequate testimony to the efficiency of a government with a total lack of “good governance,” which has caused what can only be called a “gross domestic failure.”

If the readers didn’t lose sight of the two fundamental factors, as I mentioned above, they can conclude the correct answer to the question of this article’s title.

READ MORE---> Is the Lady Wrong?...

Yettaw ‘friend’ being questioned by police


Aug 7, 2009 (DVB)–Burma’s police chief has said a girl who traveled into Burma with John Yettaw in 2008 and tried to stop him from visiting Aung San Suu Kyi’s compound is now being questioned by police.

The incident in May in which Yettaw swam to Suu Kyi’s compound was the second time he had done so, the first being in November 2008.

Following the latest incident, a photograph emerged of Yettaw standing alongside a previously unknown Burmese girl.

The picture was taken in the Thai border town of Mae Sot whilst Yettaw was visiting the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma (AAPP) in 2008, likely shortly before he first traveled into Burma.

Speaking at a press conference today in Rangoon, Burma police chief Khin Yi said that the girl was found in the Burma border town of Myawaddy, across from Mae Sot, and that she was now being questioned but was not under detention.

According to a source who was at the press conference, Khin Yi said she had travelled into Burma with Yettaw in November 2008 and had tried to stop him from entering Suu Kyi’s compound.

It was this incident that triggered the current court case, in which Suu Kyi faces a possible five year sentence for allegedly harbouring a foreigner.

Recently, 23 security officials charged with guarding Suu Kyi’s compound were variously demoted and imprisoned for failing to stop Yettaw from entering, said Khin Yi.

He also said that Yettaw, who is currently in hospital following a fit of seizures earlier this week, fell ill because he refused to eat. He added that authorities have spent 600,000 kyat ($US600) for his hospital bills.

The press conference was attended by foreign diplomats, non-governmental workers and foreign and domestic journalists.

The police chief also touched upon an alleged foiled bomb plot during the visit of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in early July.

According to Khin Yi, authorities arrested a bomb plotter named Htay Aung on 2 July, a day before Ban Ki Moon arrived in Burma. He was allegedly trained outside of Burma by a group called the Vigorous Burmese Student Warriors.

Suu Kyi, along with her two caretakers and Yettaw, is due to hear the verdict in her case on Monday, although Yettaw’s health condition could delay it further.

Reporting by Naw Say Phaw

READ MORE---> Yettaw ‘friend’ being questioned by police...

US Senator to visit Burma

The Irrawaddy News

The US Democratic senator from Virginia, Jim Webb, on Thursday announced that he will visit Burma as part of a five-nation tour in Asia.

Webb, who will arrive on Sunday, will be the first US lawmaker to visit Burma in a decade. No other details about the trip were available.

Webb is chairman of the East Asia and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

In a statement, Webb said besides visiting Burma, he would visit Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. The purpose of the trip is to explore opportunities to advance US interests in Burma and the region, he said.

The statement said Webb has worked and traveled throughout Asia for nearly four decades, as a Marine Corps officer, a defense planner, a journalist, a novelist, a Department of Defense administrator and business consultant.

Meanwhile, the Burmese Prime Minister in Exile, Dr Sein Win of the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma, and officials of the National Council of the Union of Burma, have announced that they will present a plan to the United Nations on Friday proposing a way to unite the country.

The group will ask the UN Security Council and secretary-general to forward the plan to the military regime in Burma.

The plan, called “Proposal for National Reconciliation Towards Democracy & Development in Burma,” (PNRTDDB) is the result of an alliance of pro-democracy parties and ethnic groups, both inside and outside Burma.

The plan sets out detailed steps for a transition to democracy (T2D) in Burma, in association with members of the military regime.

Calling it a turning point in the history of Burma, Sein said: “For the first time, we have all come together to agree on a common platform for transition to democracy in Burma.”

“We are asking the United Nations and the international community to ensure that the regime engages in this dialogue, so that at last democracy and stability can be achieved in Burma,” he said.

READ MORE---> US Senator to visit Burma...

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