Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Suu Kyi Sentence Stirs World Outrage

The Irrawaddy News

World leaders have expressed outrage over the 18-month sentence in the trial of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and the European Union plans tougher sanctions against the Burmese regime.

Shortly after the sentence was announced on Tuesday, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicola Sarkozy quickly responded.

“I am both saddened and angry at the verdict today…following the sham trial of Aung San Suu Kyi,” Brown said in a statement, adding that the sentence was further proof that the regime is “determined to act with total disregard for accepted standards of the rule of law and in defiance of international opinion.”

“This is a purely political sentence designed to prevent her from taking part in the regime’s planned elections next year,” Brown said. He said that the 2010 elections will not have credibility or legitimacy unless Suu Kyi and other political prisoners are released, and they are allowed to participant in the poll.

Britain will assume the chair of the UN Security Council in August. Brown said, “I also believe that the UN Security Council—whose will has been flouted—must also now respond resolutely and impose a world wide ban on the sale of arms to the regime.”

The leader of another UNSC veto power, French President Sarkozy, also reacted strongly, calling for the European Union to pass tougher sanctions against the Burmese regime.

Sarkozy said that the verdict was “brutal and unjust,” and he will ask the EU to respond quickly by adopting new sanctions.
He said the EU’s new sanctions “must in particular target the resources that they [the junta] directly profit from, in the wood and ruby sector.” He said the gas industry, which supplies Thailand and other countries, should be spared from sanctions, according to the statement.
The EU, now under the presidency of Sweden, also condemned the sentence. The EU presidency statement said that the proceedings against Suu Kyi which stem from “charges which were brought twenty years after she was first wrongfully arrested, have been in breach of national and international law.”

Threatening tougher sanctions on Burma, the EU presidency said that the EU will further reinforce its restrictive measures targeting the Burmese regime, including its economic interests.

“The EU underlines its readiness to revise, amend or reinforce its measure in light of the developments in Burma/Myanmar,” said the statement.

The European Parliamentary Caucus on Burma called the military regime “the real criminal” and said the international community should wake up and take stronger action against the regime.

Among members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nation (Asean), the Philippine Foreign Minister Alberto G. Romulo said that the verdict is “incomprehensible and deplorable.”

Thailand, the current chairmanship of Asean, has not yet issued a statement. Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said that Thailand will consult with other Asean members before deciding Asean’s next move on Burma following the sentencing, according to The Nation, an English-language newspaper.

After the sentence, several leading campaign groups, such as US Campaign for Burma and Burma Campaign UK, called for the UNSC to pass an arms embargo on the Burmese regime.

“The dictatorship is directly defying the United Nations Security Council,” said Zoya Phan, the international coordinator for the London-based Burma Campaign UK, in a press release. “It is time the generals faced consequences for their actions; a global arms embargo should be imposed immediately.”

In a statement released soon after the verdict was announced, British Foreign Office minister Ivan Lewis said that the British government would urge the UN to impose further sanctions.

"Specifically we now want to see an arms embargo against the regime. We want to see Burma's neighbors, the Asean countries, China, Japan, Thailand, apply maximum pressure," he said.

READ MORE---> Suu Kyi Sentence Stirs World Outrage...

Than Shwe’s ‘Mercy’ is Meaningless

The Irrawaddy News

The notorious Insein Prison court sentenced Aung San Suu Kyi to three years imprisonment with hard labor around noon on Tuesday. Hold your anger. Mercy then dropped from above. Her captor, Snr-Gen Than Shwe, interfered with the court’s harsh decision by halving her sentence and allow her to return home. Thank God. Oh no! Thank Than Shwe.

As soon as the court read the verdict, Home Minister Maj-Gen Maung Oo entered the courtroom like the Deus ex Machina of classical Greek drama and announced that Than Shwe, head of the ruling junta, had ordered the sentence cut to 18 months. Than Shwe said in his statement, read to the court by the minister, that he had issued the order for four reasons—Suu Kyi is the daughter of Aung San, Burma’s independence hero, in the interests of the country’s peace and stability, and for the absence of grudges and to avoid obstacles on the way towards democracy.

Apart from halving her sentence, said the minister, Than Shwe had ruled that she would serve the 18 months at home, under house arrest. But the merciful gestures didn’t stop there—Maung Oo said Suu Kyi could expect an amnesty if she complied with the disciplines the government would set up during that time.

Under the terms of this new house arrest order, Suu Kyi can receive visits from her doctor and other guests, watch state-run TV and read approved newspapers.

Two of Suu Kyi’s women companions were also recipients of Than Shwe’s benevolence. The two members of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, who were also convicted of giving shelter to the American intruder John W Yettaw, had their sentences halved. Yettaw wasn’t so lucky—he was sentenced to a total of seven years hard labor.

Than Shwe’s intervention in the trial indicated that he and his regime want to counter international criticism of their treatment of Suu Kyi by cultivating an image of a constructive and merciful leader, even though their kangaroo court had condemned an innocent person.

Despite her innocence, Suu Kyi—who has spent 14 of the past 20 years under house arrest—is seen by the generals as the most dangerous person on earth, capable of destroying their planned election in 2010.

When she went on trial in May, Suu Kyi faced a possible prison sentence of five years. The minimum sentence for her “crime” was three years, and most observers expected this would be her punishment.

Basically, the generals wanted to keep Suu Kyi locked up until after the 2010 election. A sentence of 18 months served their purpose and gave an aura of clemency to the court.

The junta had anyway inserted in the constitution approved by a referendum in 2008 a provision excluding Suu Kyi from the highest public office. The Article 59—Qualifications of the President and Vice-President Article—states: “The President of the Union himself, parents, spouse, children and their spouses shall not owe allegiance to a foreign country, nor be subject of a foreign or citizen of a foreign country.”

That article automatically bars Suu Kyi from any leadership role as she is the widow of a British scholar and mother of two sons who are not Burmese citizens.

However, that is not enough for the generals. Her conviction now on a trumped-up charge actually bars her from participating in the political arena for ever.

The constitution’s Article 121 states that a person serving a prison term or having been convicted for an offence shall not be entitled to be elected to parliament. That clearly means that Suu Kyi can never stand for election.

Than Shwe seems to be saying: “Suu Kyi, see you after our election.” He could add, however, “But we’ll never see each other in the political arena.”

READ MORE---> Than Shwe’s ‘Mercy’ is Meaningless...

Australia condemns Suu Kyi conviction

By Sandra O'Malley

(The Age) -Canberra has condemned the latest conviction against Burma's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and plans to call in the Burmese ambassador to protest against the verdict.

It also flagged a further tightening of sanctions against Burma's military junta.

On Tuesday, the Burmese opposition leader was sentenced to three years' jail but the ruling junta signed an order commuting the term to 18 months' house arrest.

Suu Kyi was charged following an incident in which a US man swam to her lakeside residence in May.

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said Australia condemned the conviction and sentencing, which removed any prospect of Suu Kyi taking part in Burmese elections scheduled next year.

"Australia again repeats its call for the Burmese regime to release Aung San Suu Kyi immediately and unconditionally, and to release the more than 2,000 political prisoners in Burma," he said in a statement.

Mr Smith has asked the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to call in the Burmese ambassador to express Australia's "dismay" at the turn of events.

"Australia's ambassador to Burma is on my instruction also conveying the Australian government's views directly to the Burmese regime," he said.

Burma's ruling junta has kept Suu Kyi in detention for nearly 14 of the past 20 years after it refused to recognise her National League for Democracy party's landslide victory in 1990 elections.

Mr Smith said there was still opportunity for the Burmese government to set aside the conviction and sentence, and lead the country down the path to national reconciliation.

"Australia will now consult closely with the international community including the United Nations and Australia's ASEAN partners on the need to put even more pressure on the Burmese regime to move down the path of democracy," he said.

"Australia maintains financial sanctions against the Burmese regime.

"The government will now move to update these and keep them focused for maximum impact."

The opposition and Australian Greens backed the condemnation of the Burmese regime.

"The military rulers have used trumped-up charges to prevent Suu Kyi from taking an active role during elections to be held next year," opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Julie Bishop said.

"Any election held without the direct involvement of Suu Kyi cannot be accepted as legitimate by the international community."

Greens senator Scott Ludlam, co-chair of Australian Parliamentarians for Democracy in Burma, said the verdict was as illegitimate as the Burmese regime.

READ MORE---> Australia condemns Suu Kyi conviction...

Myanmar's Suu Kyi found guilty

Aung San Suu Kyi has been held in Yangon's Insein jail throughout the trial [File photo/AFP]

(Al Jazeera) -Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar's detained opposition leader, has been found guilty of violating an internal security law by a court in the former capital, Yangon.

Announcing its verdict on Tuesday the court sentenced her to three years in prison but that was immediately reduced to 18 months on the orders of the military government, which said she could serve the time in her Yangon home.

The Nobel laureate was charged with breaching the terms of her house arrest following an incident in which an American man, Jonh Yettaw, swam across a lake to reach her residence in May.

Earlier the opposition leader's lawyers said the 64-year-old had been "preparing for the worst" and diplomats had also predicted that the court at Yangon's Insein prison would hand down a guilty verdict after a two-and-a-half-month trial.

Critics have accused Myanmar's military government of using the intrusion at her lakeside home by American John Yettaw as an excuse to keep her locked up during elections that are due in 2010.

Aung San Suu Kyi's lawyers - who have not contested the facts of the case - had argued that the law used by the authorities is invalid because it applies to a constitution abolished two decades ago.

They also said that government guards stationed outside Aung San Suu Kyi's compound should be held responsible for any intrusion in her property.


Ahead of Tuesday's verdict security was stepped up across Yangon and police trucks patrolled the streets overnight, witnesses said.

The move follows warnings in the country's state media against any protests in case of a guilty verdict.

The case has drawn a storm of international criticism of Myanmar's military government, which is already targeted by US and European Union sanctions for its detention of more than 2,000 political prisoners including Aung San Suu Kyi.

Myanmar's ruling generals have kept Aung San Suu Kyi in detention for nearly 14 of the last 20 years, ever since they refused to recognise her National League for Democracy's (NLD) landslide victory in elections in 1990.

Myanmar has been under military rule since 1962 and the generals have shown no sign of releasing their iron grip.

READ MORE---> Myanmar's Suu Kyi found guilty...

Myanmar Dissidents Contemplate Concessions


With Myanmar's military government expected to sentence dissident Aung San Suu Kyi to further detention as early as Tuesday, some of her exiled supporters are considering new tactics -- such as negotiating with the regime -- to break a decades-old political stalemate in the troubled Southeast Asian nation.

Ms. Suu Kyi faces up to five years in prison for allegedly violating the terms of a government-imposed house arrest in May, when she allowed an uninvited American well-wisher to visit her lakeside home without state approval.

Myanmar officials have said a verdict will come Tuesday, though some analysts say the decision may be delayed due to the poor health of John Yettaw, the American visitor, who is also on trial and has reportedly suffered from epileptic seizures recently. The verdict was delayed once before, after authorities in Myanmar, previously known as Burma, said they needed more time to review the facts in the case.

Analysts and exiles expect the court to eventually find Ms. Suu Kyi guilty, resulting in further detention for the 64-year-old Nobel laureate who has spent nearly 14 of the past 20 years under arrest.

Such an outcome, combined with Myanmar's miserable economic conditions and the likelihood that Ms. Suu Kyi won't be able to participate in elections the government plans for 2010, are prodding exile groups to contemplate new strategies, including seeking negotiations with Myanmar's military regime and possibly dropping some earlier demands that have blocked rapprochement.

Ms. Suu Kyi's supporters have traditionally taken a hard-line approach towards talking with the regime, unless it agrees to free hundreds of political prisoners and recognize the results of a 1990 election won overwhelmingly by Ms. Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy Party.

The military ignored that vote and tightened its grip on the country, locking away opponents and drawing widespread condemnation for its alleged human-rights abuses.

Last week, a group of senior opposition leaders, including Sein Win, head of the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma, which describes itself as Myanmar's government-in-exile, announced plans for a new "proposal for national reconciliation" that involves negotiations with the regime. The proposal reiterates older goals such as the release of political prisoners and a review of the country's constitution, but acknowledges the need for dialogue with the military to make those goals a reality.

Other dissidents are pressing exile leaders to go further and possibly drop calls for the military to honor the 1990 vote if it helps advance the dissidents' other agendas, such as getting Ms. Suu Kyi freed.

Dissident groups plan to discuss further details at a convention in Jakarta, Indonesia on Wednesday and Thursday. At least 10 major dissident groups are expected to attend, including the Women's League of Burma and representatives from the NLD, along with Mr. Sein Win and others. People who intend to participate say it may be the first time in decades so many groups have come together to forge a common position in dealing with the Myanmar junta.

"We're not only thinking about what we want, but what the regime can and cannot accept. It's a move back to the center," says Nyo Ohn Myint, a senior opposition figure who's been in exile in Thailand and the U.S. for 20 years. He says a majority of senior NLD leaders now support some form of compromise with Myanmar's military government, including possibly writing off the 1990 vote.

Mr. Nyo Ohn Myint says he believes Ms. Suu Kyi is also willing to compromise, including accepting some kind of role for the military in government, though it is difficult to confirm Ms. Suu Kyi's views while she is under arrest.

Many dissidents are focusing on the regime's planned 2010 elections. Initially, opposition groups vowed to boycott the election as they believed that no vote overseen by the military could be free and fair. But some dissidents have softened their positions in the belief that participating in a flawed election may be better than sitting it out entirely.

"There is the danger that the main political activists or stakeholders like the NLD and major ethnic groups will be sidelined" if they don't in some way participate in the election, says Thaung Htun, who the government-in-exile calls its representative to the United Nations. "We need to publicly propose an alternative."

Some analysts are skeptical that any new approaches from exiles will yield results. Dialogue requires participation on both sides, and the regime has given little indication in the past that it wants to negotiate, though some dissidents believe that may change if military leaders are given face-saving options that allow them to claim the 2010 election is legitimate. The regime rarely speaks to the foreign media, Western diplomats or high-ranking dissidents, making it difficult to divine its intentions.

Myanmar's myriad exile groups have struggled to reach consensus in the past and the latest discussions could easily break down over the details of how far to go with any national reconciliation plan. Many exiles still view any form of rapprochement as totally unacceptable and worry that any participation in the 2010 election could legitimize a military dictatorship.

"The Burmese are too divided to suddenly put all their history behind them," retired Rutgers University professor and Myanmar expert Josef Silverstein said.

The Jakarta conference was planned in part "to stay relevant to meet the criticism" that older dissident groups are too inflexible, says Sean Turnell, a Myanmar expert at Macquarie University in Sydney.

Dissidents are considering new approaches "probably because things are looking so dire" in the country, with little change in recent years, forcing exiles to look "for a new way," says Monique Skidmore, a Myanmar expert at the University of Canberra in Australia.

READ MORE---> Myanmar Dissidents Contemplate Concessions...

China shows its other, angry face

Illustration Simon Letch.

by Peter Hartcher

(SMH) -China has taken off the mask of friendship. In the past few months, its central government has decided to show Australia another face of China. It's a harsher vision of a possible future with the rising superpower of our region.

If there were any lingering doubt that we had entered a new phase, it was dispelled by the feverish claims published on the website of China's National Administration for the Protection of State Secrets.

In alleging Rio Tinto was involved in a six-year spying operation against China's steelworks, it accused the resources company of "winning over and buying off, prising out intelligence .. and gaining things by deceit''.

Six years, by the way, is the time in which iron ore prices have been rising. The previous two decades, when prices were falling, was just the free market, apparently. Only a conspiracy could cause prices to rise.

The most outlandish part of the story was the assertion that Rio's activities led China to pay $123 billion more for iron ore than it would have otherwise, a sum far larger than the total value of Rio sales to China in those years. "That means China gave the employer of those economic spies more than $123 billion for free, which is about 10 per cent of Australia's GDP," the piece argued.

When this was reported widely in the international media yesterday, the article, a long diatribe in Mandarin, was removed from the website. The reason is obvious. This material has nothing to do with criminal jurisprudence. It is a venomous, nationalistic rant.

It exposes the motivation, or at the very least the prejudices, of the National Administration for the Protection of State Secrets, the authority conducting the prosecution of Stern Hu and his three Rio colleagues who have now been held in China for four weeks without charge. This is now, undeniably, a political case.

We already know what it's like to live in the new China growth zone. That was all the exuberant news about resource prices. Now Beijing is instructing us in what it might feel like to live in the China political zone as well.

Together with the other evidence - Beijing's hamfisted efforts to ban a film about its Uighur minority at the Melbourne Film Festival, its angry campaign to block a visit to Australia by the exiled Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer, its chilliness in rebuffing the Rudd Government over the Stern Hu case - this is a clear sign that the Chinese regime has consciously decided to take a tougher line with Australia.

Why? First, Australia displeased Beijing. The principal reason for Chinese interest in Australia is its resources. When the big state-owned firm Chinalco wanted to increase its share in the world-class minerals assets of Rio in a $25 billion deal, Beijing was unhappy at the political wariness with which it was greeted in Canberra.

It would have been the biggest overseas acquisition that communist China had ever made.

The Australian Government did not block the deal. Indeed, it said repeatedly Chinese investment was welcome. But Canberra did put conditions on smaller takeovers of other resource assets by Chinese state-owned companies. This entrenched a principle, and it boded ill for the Chinalco deal.

The Opposition's Peter Costello was outspoken in expressing reservations about the Chinalco bid. Rio, reading the political climate, abandoned the deal.

China's leaders seem to have decided to make this rebuff an opportunity to teach a lesson to Rio, to Australia, and anyone else watching. This is the second dimension to China's angry new attitude.

It's an old Chinese folk saying - "kill the chicken to scare the monkey." In other words, you punish the weaker enemy to frighten the stronger. With a new president in the White House and a heightened mood of protectionism in the US Congress, is Beijing using Australia as the chicken to scare the American monkey?

A China specialist at Canterbury University in New Zealand, Anne-Marie Brady, says: "I think there is clearly a new approach to dealing with Australia - it could be sending a message to the US or to other countries in general."

The US has noticed. The State Department official responsible for Asia policy, Kurt Campbell, told the Herald recently: "I know China is more complicated now in Australian politics. In many respects, Australia is mimicking the US in that the image of China stirs great hopes and some anxieties. And that's exactly the way it is in the US."

This is new. Until now it had all been about the hopes, with few anxieties. Brady explains that, after 1989, China put the US in a category of one. With most of the rest of the world, Beijing followed the principle of "looking for things in common and letting disputed points lie". This was precisely its formula for Australia and the Howard government reciprocated.

But with America, Beijing took a harder line according to the principle of "looking for commonalities and facing up to differences". What has changed this year is that Beijing has moved Australia into the same category. "I think that's what China is doing to Australia now," Brady says.

This is a powerful wake-up call for Australia. The China we must live with is not the China we thought we were dealing with.

Peter Hartcher is the Herald's international editor.

READ MORE---> China shows its other, angry face...

Mysterious Burmese facility revealed on Google Earth

The "interesting enigma" in central Burma, which some pundits say
may be part of a clandestine nuclear operation. Photo: Google Earth

By Stephen Hutcheon

(SMH) -Amateur spies and armchair sleuths using Google Earth have discovered a suspicious development in the Burmese jungle thought to be linked to the pariah state's clandestine nuclear program.

The main facility, which measures 82 by 84 metres, can been seen on satellite images published on both Google Earth and Google Maps (see embedded map below).

It features a pitched, blue corrugated roof, which, at first glance, makes it look like an over-sized swimming pool.

The large industrial complex is located in a rural area of central Burma, east of Mandalay near the town of Pin Oo Lwin.

That's the same zone in which defectors recently told two Australian researchers that the Burmese army had been building a nuclear research and engineering centre with support from North Korea and Russia.

The defectors' testimony was collected over two years by Professor Desmond Ball, a strategic studies expert at the Australian National University (ANU) and Phil Thornton, a freelance journalist based in Thailand.

Details of their investigation, which concludes that the secret reactor could be operational and producing a bomb a year by 2014, was published in The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age earlier this month.

Sean O'Connor, a blogger specialising in open source military analysis and Google Earth imagery interpretation, said that, while it might not be related to the nuclear program, the facility "does represent an interesting enigma".

"The most likely explanation for the [unidentified] facility, apart from the previously mentioned decoy site, is a support function for the significant amount of tunnelling which must be undertaken in order to construct the [underground facilities] required by the [nuclear] project," he wrote in the Arms Control Wonk blog.

He speculates that the main structure, which appears to be dug into the ground in the foothills of the Setkhaya Mountains, could also be a "security and site support base for the facility".

One prominent NGO, which monitors international nuclear activity, told us that the building and related infrastructure is "a machine shop with no connection to a nuclear program".

The Google Earth images, which are provided by Digital Globe, a leading supplier of satellite imagery to commercial and governmental organisations, are dated from October 2005.

The NGO, which did not want to be named for "tactical reasons", said that it first became aware of the structure in early July and subsequently obtained 2009 imagery, which it is still assessing.

The NGO's conclusion is similar to the one reached by the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), a Washington-based non-profit organisation specialising in international security issues.

In a statement released this month, it described the structure as an "anomalous building buried in the ground" without "obvious nuclear industrial characteristics".

That hasn't been enough to stop the speculation, given the scale of the development, the new infrastructure (roads and powerlines) and the fact that access roads look to be guarded by checkpoints.

One commenter on Arms Control Wonk, who investigated the topology, found the elevation of the structure suspicious.

"The only purpose that comes to mind is building an earth-covered structure inside an artificial mound and disguising it by putting a normal-looking warehouse type building on top," George William Herbert writes.

"The only type of facilities worth doing that [which] I can think of would be nuclear or military command and control."

READ MORE---> Mysterious Burmese facility revealed on Google Earth...

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