Sunday, August 16, 2009

5 Asean countries get their act together


(THE NATION) -Major Asean rice-producers Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Burma plan to form an association to create a sustainable system for trading and production.

The plan was unveiled yesterday following Cambodian leader Hun Sen's initiative at the Asean Summit in Cha-am in late February. It focuses on price stabilisation, food security in the region and rice development. It aims for price stability next year.

It comprises the five countries of the Ayeyawady-Chao Praya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy (Acmecs) and will set up an Acmecs Rice Traders Association.

Thailand, Laos and Cambodia have agreed in principle and plan talks with Cambodia and Burma during the Asean Economic Ministers Meeting, which ends today.

For some years Thailand and Vietnam have cooperated to curb price-cutting in the export market through data exchange.

A Thai source close to the negotiations said they solved Thailand's major problem on circumvention by neighbouring countries, diluted price-cutting in the region and stabilised prices.

"It will create a supply chain in the region which will strengthen bargaining power in the world market," the source said.

Chaiya Yimvilai, adviser to the commerce minister, said yesterday that Laos proposed Thailand and Vietnam draw up the plan.

Thailand and Vietnam are white-rice producers while Laos focuses on sticky rice.

Laos has approached Thailand as a partner in a joint venture with Kuwait to grow rice in Laos.

The Lao government has allocated 200,000 hectares.

Laos has 2 million hectares set aside for rice, but only 900,000 are actually under the crop.

Meanwhile, the Asean-Australia and New Zealand Free Trade Agreement comes into force on January 1.

Australia and New Zealand are important trade partners of Asean, with bilateral trade in 2008 valued at US$67.2 billion (Bt2.3 trillion). They were the seventh largest export market of Asean.

Asean exports to Australia and New Zealand reached nearly $44 billion last year. Major goods were fuel, machinery, automobiles, gold and electrical appliances.

Chaiya added that Thailand and Australia would increase trade in services under the Thailand-Australia Free Trade Agreement. Australia wants to see more business-to-business trade.

Australian Trade Minister Simon Crean said the Asean-Australia and New Zealand Closer Economic Relations (CER) pact would benefit trade and investment growth during the global economic downturn.

"The pact will not only open market access between the two regions but also capacity-building and integration among us," he said, and though technical details remained to be worked out, it should be implemented on schedule early next year.

Crean also strongly supported Asean's bilateral pacts with six trading partners forming the Asean+6 group.

Asean and its partners must create a framework for East Asian integration, he said.

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Canadian gov't halts deportation order of former child soldier from Burma

Nay Myo Hein, a former Burmese child soldier.
Photo Credit: Jason Warick, The StarPhoenix

OTTAWA (CP) — The federal government has stayed the deportation of a Burmese refugee who fled his country because he was he was forced into the military when he was a child.

The Canadian Friends of Burma says Nay Myo Hein was supposed to be deported to his homeland, also known as Myanmar, on Tuesday after his application to the federal Immigration and Refugee Board for refugee status was rejected.

But the group says Immigration Minister Jason Kenney and Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan intervened and have agreed to let the 25-year-old Saskatoon resident stay in Canada on humanitarian grounds.

Friends executive director Tin Maung Htoo called is a "compassionate gesture" by Canada and thanked the ministers for their actions.

The group says it independently verified that Hein escaped at age 13 from forced service in the Burmese military and spent the next eight years in hiding before coming to Canada two years ago.

The group says Hein would be in "grave danger" if he had to return because he has participated in demonstrations against the Burmese military and has become an active member of the exiled Burma democracy movement.

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Yettaw's Family `ecstatic' after word Mo. man will be freed


KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP)— Family members of a Missouri man imprisoned in Myanmar for swimming to the home of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi waited Saturday for his return to the United States, and said they were thrilled that his ordeal appeared to be over.

U.S. Sen. Jim Webb's office said Saturday morning that he had won the relase of John Yettaw, 53, who was convicted and sentenced to seven years of hard labor for the May swim. Suu Kyi, a pro-democracy leader, has been detained at her home for several years, and is not allowed to have unannounced visitors. Yettaw's visit violated that term of her house arrest.

Yettaw's wife, Betty Yettaw, said in a phone interview Saturday from her home outside Camdenton in central Missouri that she had not received any official notice that he would be returning home. But "if it's true, of course I'm extremely happy, and we're ecstatic," she said.

Webb's office said Yettaw is to be deported Sunday, when he will fly with Webb on a military plane to Bangkok. It was unclear when or how Yettaw would be returning to Missouri.

Yettaw, a Mormon who lives on a military pension from serving in the Army for about a year in 1973, was in Myanmar researching a book he wanted to write about forgiveness, according to his wife. But he also testified during his trial that he swam to Suu Kyi's house in early May to deliver a warning that he had had a "vision" that she would be assassinated.

Betty Yettaw has said previously that her husband "became interested in the plight of the Karen people and the Burmese people in general, and then Aung San Suu Kyi," and had merely wanted to interview her. He arrived after the swim before dawn with cramps in both legs, according to court testimony. Suu Kyi said in a statement at trial that he told her he would be arrested if he went out in daylight, and at night, requested that he be allowed to stay overnight for health reasons.

After his capture, Yettaw spent a week before his conviction in a prison hospital for epileptic seizures. He is also said to suffer from asthma and diabetes.

The junta that governs Myanmar may have agreed to release Yettaw to quell the international criticism against Myanmar after the trial and Tuesday's verdict. A statement from Webb's office also said the Virginia Democrat requested that Suu Kyi be released during a meeting with junta leader Senior Gen. Than Shwe on Saturday.

Suu Kyi has been detained for 14 of the past 20 years, and a global groundswell of international pressure to release the 64-year-old opposition leader has kept the impoverished military-ruled country under sanctions in recent years.

A former wife of Yettaw, Yvonne Yettaw, said Saturday she also had not received any official confirmation, but had heard media reports of the announced release. "I was stunned," the 54-year-old from Palm Springs, Calif., said.

Yvonne Yettaw and John Yettaw, who have six children ranging in age from 11 to 20, divorced in 2002. John Yettaw was granted physical custody of the children, but the three youngest have been with Yvonne Yettaw in California this summer. The two older children, Carley, 20, and Brian, 17, are at the family's home in Falcon, in south-central Missouri. Another son, Clint, died in 2007 in a motorcycle accident in Missouri at age 17.

"It's been chaos after chaos after chaos," Yvonne Yettaw said. "But the children look forward to seeing their father."

Another former wife, Sharon Yettaw, who was married to John Yettaw for about seven years in the 1980s, said she had been watching the news closely Saturday from her home in San Bernardino County, Calif.

"I just hope that from this point he gets home safely. And I hope (Suu Kyi) gets freed too," she said.

Another former wife, Linda Yettaw, who lives in the Los Angeles area, said she was delighted his ordeal was ending. "I just want him to know I love him and that I'm really, really happy he's coming home," she said.

Associated Press reporter Chris Clark contributed to this report.

READ MORE---> Yettaw's Family `ecstatic' after word Mo. man will be freed...

US senator to leave Burma with convicted American: statement

(SMH) -US Senator Jim Webb will fly out of Burma on Sunday with an American convicted to seven years imprisonment after securing his release from the military regime, Webb's office said in a statement Saturday.

"I am grateful to the Burmese government for honouring these requests," Webb said in the statement.

"It is my hope that we can take advantage of these gestures as a way to begin laying a foundation of goodwill and confidence-building in the future," he said.

Webb, a Democrat who is close to US President Barack Obama, became the first US official to hold talks with junta leader Than Shwe and also held talks with detained democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

Webb said that the junta agreed to free US national John Yettaw, who was convicted along with Aung San Suu Kyi after the American swam uninvited to the Nobel laureate's lakeside home.

"Yettaw will be officially deported on Sunday morning," Webb's office said in the statement.

"Senator Webb will bring him out of the country on a military aircraft that is returning to Bangkok on Sunday afternoon," it said.

Webb said he also urged the military regime to free Aung San Suu Kyi, who has spent most of the last two decades under house arrest.

Webb described the meeting as "an opportunity for me to convey my deep respect to Aung San Suu Kyi for the sacrifices she has made on behalf of democracy around the world."

Officials in Burma had earlier said that Yettaw would likely be deported soon after Webb's departure.

Yettaw, a diabetic and epileptic former military veteran, is being held at Yangon's notorious Insein Prison. He was hospitalised earlier this month after suffering a series of fits.

Webb, a Vietnam veteran and former journalist who has reported from across Asia, is a longtime advocate of taking a new approach with Burma.

He has clashed with Burmese exile groups by calling for an eventual end of US and European sanctions on the regime, saying that they hurt the people without bringing any results.

Burmese advocacy groups had earlier warned that the junta could use Webb's visit to "endorse" its treatment of Suu Kyi and the more than 2,100 other political prisoners in the country's jails.

But the White House and State Department have both welcomed the trip, even though it is officially being made in a private capacity by Webb, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on East Asia and Pacific affairs.

READ MORE---> US senator to leave Burma with convicted American: statement...

Burma’s political turmoil runs ever deeper

By Pascal Khoo-Thwe

(DVB)–It is hard to imagine what kind of life Aung San Suu Kyi would now be leading had she not taken the decision to plunge headlong into the brutal world of Burmese politics in 1988.

More than twenty years ago, she was leading the quiet and stable life of an academic and loving mother to two young children, and would have been likely to follow that trajectory, with its own achievements and satisfactions, had circumstances not forced her to choose a very different path. Now that path is again barricaded, and beyond the walls her future is equally uncertain.

Whether she has taken the right or wrong decision for herself and her family, most of the time her life story is less to do with her but more about the mentality and desperation of her supporters and her opponents. Many people who support her cling on to her name with desperation in an effort to further their fight for freedom and democracy while ignoring the needs for discipline, tolerance and consistency that she advocates. On the other hand, her critics, mostly people who supported her when the going was good, cite her lack of flexibility on political matters.

It all comes about because both have been unable to persuade or shift the generals whose grip on power has been consolidated by the monetary and military support of opportunistic nations and conglomerates. Moreover, with bickering rife among opposition groups, not many people seem to consider the fact that infighting is part of the process before 'victory' is achieved, and this is made worse by the ‘winner-takes-all’ politics.

One thing for sure, her name is often used and misused by both political activists and the military, in the same way that previous rulers of Burma used her father, Aung San's memory, after his assassination. Choosing her cause is as easy as picking fallen fruits on the ground, but it is not easy to fight for it. At the same time, criticizing her is as easy as shooting a bird in a cage.

She was regarded by almost the whole of Burma as the saviour of the nation when she came into the Burmese political scene in August 1988. Now, however, she is seen as the victim of ruthless generals, and some former supporters even go so far as to blame her for the troubles she is facing, because she has been unable to deliver them the 'democracy' they expected.

Similarly, her role as the daughter of the national hero has been overtaken imperceptibly by her own acquired status as the lone freedom fighter, but neither her supporters nor opponents have been able to accept the subtle differences between the two roles. Many would still like to think that she is the only person who could save the country single-handedly, thus ignoring many opportunities to solve some of the real problems for our country in the process. We just hope and pray too much with too little prepared plans and actions. We just like other people to do it for us but criticize them if they make mistakes.

Even if she is allowed to take part in political activities in the future, there would still be problems for Suu Kyi when it comes to tackling the intricate and deep-rooted problems of the country, either in her capacity as a figurehead of the nation or leader of a political party. Burma has never matured to a stage where a head of state can act solely in the interests of the whole nation without implicating his or her political influence and affiliation. Many old political figures were in politics solely because they were involved in the struggle for the country's independence, not because of their ability to rule the nation or run a government. The situation is not much better at the moment.

The turmoil has been compounded and complicated by support for the junta from allied countries. Currently, the army attempts to possess nuclear weapons with the help of North Korea as a way frightening its neighbours into submission, but it could also attract more aggressive foreign intervention which could fracture the army and the nation further.

Despite the dangers, the junta is likely to use the strategy as the bargaining chip in its dealings with the international community in the same way that North Korea has been doing, having already jeopardised the option of using Suu Kyi's release as political currency.

Now that Aung San Suu Kyi will be imprisoned for the coming future, opposition groups, supporters and detractors have to think hard about the best way to push the junta into negotiations. But without coordinated international or at least regional efforts, it would be a long time before the country could enjoy real freedom. It would not be the end of the problems for the generals either, even if they could get rid of her and her supporters. Burmese politics can mutate into various 'unpleasant' forms as long as the people are regarded as the enemy by the government, be it military or civilian.

Burma’s ruling generals, who believe in many kinds of prophecy, necromancy and numerology, would be wise to heed Suu Kyi’s late husband, Michael Aris' warning, quoting the Burmese proverb, 'Touch my wife, watch my knife'. Domestic and international anger towards them is growing ever more palpable, and various minor concession from the junta are an acknowledgment of this, but anger and infighting often blurs the potential for a clear-cut strategy to tackle them with. Superstition and threats alone will not shift the generals, but pragmatism from their opponents can be a lethal weapon

Aug 14, 2009

READ MORE---> Burma’s political turmoil runs ever deeper...

In Burma, Webb Pursues A Mission for Change

By Christian Davenport
Washington Post Staff Writer

U.S. Sen. James Webb has explored Southeast Asia as a Marine Corps infantryman, a novelist, a journalist and a business consultant, and as a politician who has criticized America's foreign policy and urged for greater involvement.

He has had a particular interest in Burma, whose people, he wrote, "need our assistance and our strong involvement in order to have the kind of future that we claim is our objective in the first place."

Now in the midst of a two-week, five-country tour in which he became the first member of Congress to visit Burma (also known as Myanmar) in a decade, his objective has been to reach out to a country, and a region, that he says the United States left isolated.

But he suddenly found himself in a different role: politician-cum-diplomat. With the conviction of a U.S. citizen there last week, Webb had another issue to deal with as he became the first U.S. leader to meet with the Burmese leader, Gen. Than Shwe.

That meeting led to the release Saturday of John Yettaw, 54, of Falcon, Mo., who was sentenced last week to seven years' hard labor for swimming to the home where Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi was being detained. Webb (D-Va.) was also granted a rare meeting with Suu Kyi, a pro-democracy opposition leader who has spent 14 of the past 20 years under house arrest. Her sentence was extended 18 months for harboring Yettaw.

For Webb, Yettaw's release was the culmination of a career spent largely focused on a region that many Americans know little about, and it accomplished what Webb, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's East Asia and Pacific Affairs subcommittee, has been attempting to do since he took office last year: thrust Burma's struggle, and its relationship with the rest of the world, into the spotlight.

Although he is a political maverick who is often uncomfortable on the campaign stump, the highly decorated Vietnam War veteran was well-suited to sit across the table from a reclusive military junta leader and secure Yettaw's release, officials and colleagues said.

What the Burmese see in Webb "is someone who has been to the region many times and is trying to do it right and do it differently," said former Nebraska senator Bob Kerrey. "He has tremendous credibility. And the thing about the trip is it won't be his last. He's got a sustained interest in the region."

In a statement, Webb said he was "grateful to the Myanmar government for honoring these requests. It is my hope that we can take advantage of these gestures as a way to begin laying the foundation of goodwill and confidence-building in the future."

For years, Webb has blasted U.S. policy for not more fully engaging Burma. In his book "A Time to Fight: Reclaiming a Fair and Just America," which was released last year, he recounted a 2001 trip to the country and lamented how Burma, which after World War II was "thought to be the country with the most promising future in the region, was now ruled by an autocratic, at times ruthless military regime."

U.S. trade sanctions, he argued, only deepened Burma's isolation. As U.S. interests in the country dissipated, China's grew, and Burmese citizens "are now in near-total isolation form the Western world."

He was particularly critical of the U.S. response to the 2007 protests against the military regime, saying the American response was "little more than a hopeless shrug." The reaction of Congress, he wrote, "was to hold a couple of self-important, didactic hearings."

Webb's against-the-grain approach on Burma is nothing new for a man who went from being a Democrat to Republican back to Democrat again. The former infantry officer and Navy secretary has been withering in his criticism of the Iraq war. And he famously snubbed George W. Bush when the president asked about Webb's son, who was deployed to Iraq as a Marine.

Webb's trip to Southeast Asia, which includes stops in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam in addition to Burma, was an independent one, administration officials said last week, and although he was briefed by the State Department, he was "not carrying a message from the administration." The Obama administration has shown signs that it would be more willing to engage with Burma and ease sanctions.

Several dissident groups criticized Webb's meeting with Shwe. The U.S. Campaign for Burma, a Washington-based dissident group, faulted Webb for seeking to improve ties with Burma at a time when its government is stifling political opposition and waging a brutal campaign against ethnic minorities. "It is a setback to the democracy movement in a major way," said Jeremy Woodrum, the group's director.

Webb's relationship with the region solidified during the Vietnam War, when as an infantry officer he was awarded the Navy Cross, a Silver Star, two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts. Shortly after the war, his book "Micronesia and U.S. Pacific Strategy: A Blueprint for the 1980s" was published. It was followed in 1978 by a Vietnam War novel, "Fields of Fire."

Several years ago, Webb gave journalist Tom Brokaw a tour of the region. On Sunday he is scheduled to accompany Yettaw out of Burma on a military aircraft headed to Bangkok.

Staff writer Joby Warrick contributed to this report.

Burma Newscasts - In Burma, Webb Pursues A Mission for Change
Sunday, August 16, 2009

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