Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Daewoo invest $5.6 billion in Burma gas

(DVB)–South Korean company Daewoo International is waiting for the go-ahead from the Burmese government to invest nearly $US5.6 billion in Burma's gas fields, with the produce destined for China.

If approved, the deal will see Daewoo supplying the China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) over the course of 30 years with around seven percent of the country's current gas consumption, although this is expected to grow rapidly.

Burma has huge offshore natural gas reserves in the Bay of Bengal which already cater for much of Thailand's energy needs.

Advocacy groups have complained that the vast majority of Burma's natural energy is being shipped out of the country, despite many of the major cities suffering frequent blackouts.

Daewoo will be leading a consortium of companies, which includes India's Oil and Natural Gas Corp and GAIL company, the Myanmar Oil & Gas Enterprise, and the Korea Gas Corp.

The project includes the construction of 2,800 kilometer oil and gas pipelines, known as the Shwe Gas Project, running from Burma's western Arakan state to China's southwestern Yunnan province.

Until now China has relied on the congested Strait of Malacca, between Singapore and Indonesia’s Sumatra peninsular, to transport oil from the Middle East to its energy-hungry population. According to Reuters, Burma will be able to tap the pipelines once they are in operation.

In June the Korean government rejected a complaint from two environmental advocacy groups, EarthRights International (ERI) and Shwe Gas Movement, that allegedly exposed human rights abuses surrounding the project.

China and Korea are two of only a handful of countries that still invest substantially in Burma, with China being its main trading partner and political ally.

Burma is subject to sanctions from a number of Western countries, including the United States and European Union, although these do not block investment in Burma's natural energy.

The EU recently ratcheted up its sanctions package on Burma, following the detention of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi earlier this month.

The United States is currently reviewing its policy towards Burma, following comments from some senior officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, that sanctions had failed.

Reporting by Francis Wade

READ MORE---> Daewoo invest $5.6 billion in Burma gas...

Burmese IT Contest to Aid Junta?

The Irrawaddy News

Burmese IT technicians and bloggers suspect a Burmese search engine contest was designed by the Burmese military junta in order to increase its internet restriction technology and ability to control websites and blogs.

The Myanmar Computer Professional Association (MCPA) invited individuals and groups to compete for the title of MCPA Challenge Winner 2009 in the Myanmar Engine Contest, sources within the MCPA said last week.

The research-based contest is being held with the aim of “encouraging the development of the country’s information and communication technology (ICT), expanding the use of the Myanmar (Burmese) language in the ICT sector and enhancing the youth’s interest in the creation and ICT research,” according to an MCPA statement.

“Building such a search engine is like creating a small version of Google,” said a Rangoon-based IT expert speaking to The Irrawaddy. “It would take at least six months to create an engine that would be useful to governmental departments searching through data. Such an engine could help Burmese authorities find relevant information very quickly.”

Contestants must register by Aug 30 and will be given six months to develop the engine after they have submitted an initial application. The winner will be announced in June 2010 and will be awarded US $3,000.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Monday, Rangoon-based activist Blogger Kamikaze said: “I am rather doubtful about this search engine contest. We need to carefully consider whether to compete in this contest because the military junta can use it to exploit IT technicians and control IT technology. They already block blogs and Web sites like Yahoo and Youtube, but most IT technicians and bloggers can overcome these obstacles.”

The regime has been constructing a “Silicon Valley” called Yadanabon Cyber City near Maymyo in Mandalay Division, since June 2006. According to state-run newspapers, the facility is intended to serve as the sole nationwide internet service provider (ISP) in Burma.

Currently, Burma has three ISPs: the state-run Myanmar Posts and Telecommunications (MPT), which operates Myanmar Info Tech; the semi-government-owned Myanmar Teleport Company Ltd (formerly Bagan Net); and Hanthawaddy National Gateway.

In 2005 the Burmese military junta became more sophisticated in censoring online material after the introduction of a new firewall supplied by the US-based company Fortinet.

According to the Norway-based Pandia Search Engine News, the new search engine contest could have two purposes.

One could be to identify young Burmese with computer skills and prevent them from developing technology that threatens the regime.

“We know of activists that have managed to get around the walls of the censors,” Pandia said, “The opposition often use proxy servers and special software to get access to information.

“Another [purpose] could be to get the winners of the competition to serve the regime by developing a search engine that can be used to block any kind of unwanted information.

“It seems like the competition is open for non-Burmese as well, which means that they could hope to enlist politically naive computer experts in their fight against democracy. There is only one possible conclusion in our mind: a total boycott of this competition,” Pandia said.

READ MORE---> Burmese IT Contest to Aid Junta?...

Monk Leaders Call for Third Sangha Boycott

The Irrawaddy News

Several exiled Buddhist monk leaders have told The Irrawaddy that Burmese monks across Burma are preparing to launch another boycott of military personnel and their families due to ongoing abuses against Buddhist principles by the ruling military junta.

Known as a “pattanikkujjana” in Pali, a Buddhist monks’ boycott involves refusing morning alms from those said to have violated religious principles.

Burmese monks have declared a pattanikkujjana against the military regime and their cronies twice in recent history: the first time in 1990 following the suppression of Aung San Suu Kyi and her opposition party, the National League for Democracy, after they had won a national election by a landslide; and again in 2007, the so-called “Saffron Revolution,” when monks led demonstrations against price hikes in Rangoon that turned into a national uprising against the government.

Burma’s monasteries, some housing as many as 1,000 practicing monks, have been largely silent since the junta ordered a crackdown on the monk-led protests in August and September 2007. But several sources say that the simmering resentment could come to a head again in the lead-up to the regime’s election planned for 2010.

A monk in Rangoon who asked to remain anonymous told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday: “The local authorities are closely watching the monks and their monasteries. Moreover, there are plainclothes security forces keeping an eye on them.”

The military authorities closed and sealed Maggin monastery in Rangoon's Thingankyun Township in November 2007 after its abbot, Sayadaw U Indaka, was arrested for his involvement in the demonstrations. The monks and novices were evicted along with several HIV/ AIDS patients who were receiving treatment in the monastery at the time.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy, Ashin Issariya, one of the leaders of the exiled All Burma Monks’ Alliance (ABMA), said, “I want to call for all people and organizations to take part in a third monks’ boycott for the sake of peace and the welfare of all Burmese people.

“The Lord Buddha said that the sangha (Buddhist monkhood) had to carry out their religious duties by sacrificing their lives.

“Therefore, all members of the sangha must act to protect the Buddhist religion and the welfare of our people,” he said.

Currently, Burma’s Ministry of Religious Affairs is effectively controlling and curtailing the nations’ Buddhist monks under an order by the Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee (the state- sponsored Buddhist monks’ organization), which restricts monks’ travel and gatherings.

Ashin Issariya said that the junta’s troops and loyalists had committed many religious crimes, such as beheading Buddha images, raiding and destroying monasteries, and killing and arresting monks and nuns.

He added that there is no freedom of religion under the military junta and that all religions are affected.

“Therefore, if the military authorities do not apologize for their abuses and crimes, it is the responsibility of all monks, nuns and laypersons to boycott the junta,” he said.

Some activists in Burma told The Irrawaddy that currently many monks’ organizations and monasteries are trying to organize themselves and set up cooperation and communication with monks’ groups other parts of the country.

Ashin Thavara, a secretary of the India-based All Burma Monks’ Representative Committee (ABMRC), told The Irrawaddy: “Nowadays, the ABMRC is cooperating with the ABMA to not only carry out our religious duties, but to help the people and achieve peace in Burma and throughout the world.

“It is high time that all the people of Burma and around the world take action and boycott Burma’s military dictators,” he said.

Ashin Thavara said that during the September uprising, the junta’s soldiers and loyalist thugs had raided and destroyed more than 60 monasteries, and beat, arrested and killed several hundred monks and nuns. He claimed that there are currently more than 250 monks and more than 20 nuns in prison in Burma for their political activities.

“Some of them were sentenced to hard labor,” he added. “Others were sent with military battalions to work as porters at the front lines of the battlefields.”

During the 2007 Saffron Revolution, monks enacted a boycott of military families and cronies by overturning their alms bowls to refuse alms, an act of defiance that marked the uprising.

According to official data, there are more than 400,000 monks in Burma, and its community, the sangha, is considered one of the strongest and most revered institutions in the country. It has always played an important role in Burma’s social and political affairs, often in opposition to oppressive regimes.

Ashin Candobhasacara, one of the leaders of the US-based International Burmese Monks’ Organization, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday: “Our organization issued an announcement on Monday to mark the second anniversary of the Saffron Movement, and we plan to demonstrate against the Burmese junta by reciting the “Metta Sutta” (the Buddha’s words of loving-kindness) in front of the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh and in Union Square in New York on September 24 to 26.

“Now, all people and all organizations need to cooperate and condemn Burma’s military dictators,” he said. “We will encourage and support all the brave monks and demonstrators because they are sacrificing their lives and property for religion and peace in Burma and throughout the world.”

READ MORE---> Monk Leaders Call for Third Sangha Boycott...

Spurt in tension between Burmese Army and Kokang rebels

by Mungpi

New Delhi (Mizzima) - With the arrival of over 60 army trucks carrying Burmese troops, fresh tension has flared up between ethnic Kokang rebel groups and the Burmese Army in northeastern Shan State with the ruling junta issuing an arrest warrant for the Kokang leader Peng Jiasheng, sources said.

Aung Kyaw Zaw, a Sino-Burma border based military analyst, said the tension between the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) also known as Kokang Army and the Burmese troops had risen to a new level and that there could be a fresh clash between the two anytime.

“The tension is high and there are possibilities of a fresh conflict. But as of now both sides seem to be restrained,” Aung Kyaw Zaw said.

The tension, according to Aung Kyaw Zaw, began since the MNDAA like many other ceasefire armed groups, rejected the junta’s proposal to transform its army into a ‘Border Guard Force’, an army to be maintained and managed by the ruling junta.

However, the Burmese Army wants to avoid a confrontation with the Kokang Army and is using various tactics to win the group to their side by infiltrating into the groups’ leadership and breaking their unity, Aung Kyaw Zaw said.

“The junta wants to break the Kokang like they did with other armed rebel groups. So, they are dealing with a few Kokang officers, who are interested to join them. And the Burmese Army has named these people new leaders of the Kokang group,” he said.

The fresh tension was in evidence on Monday, when the Burmese Army ordered the Kokang Army to move out of the Kokang Special Region saying they are to take up the security in the region. The Kokang Army, apparently, refused and geared up for a confrontation.

Aung Kyaw Zaw said the Burmese Army is creating tension between the Kokang leadership, which seems to be divided between the Kokang Supreme Commander Peng Jiasheng and his Deputy Commander Bai Souqian.

Bai, reportedly has wooed about 100 soldiers to his side but they do not seem to post any kind of threat to Peng, who enjoys the support of the majority of the army, he added.

Peng Jiasheng, also known as Phone Kyar Shin, escaped arrest at least three times including during the August 23 incident, where he was rounded up by about 100 troops at his home in Lao Kai.

“The Burmese Army does not want to negotiate with Peng Jiasheng but they want to use some of the Kokang officers who are willing to oblige it. So, they have issued an arrest warrant for the Kokang leader,” Aung Kyaw Zaw said.

On August 22, police in Northern Shan State’s capital Lashio served summons for Peng, his younger brother Jiafu and his two sons to appear in court. But the four, did not show up.

“How can they go, it is an arrest order. It would be difficult for the Burmese Army to arrest Peng Jiasheng,” Aung Kyaw Zaw said.

Analysts said the Burmese junta is deeply disappointed with the rejection by several ceasefire ethnic armed groups over their proposal to transform their armies into a border guard force.

The junta has been persuading the ceasefire groups to transform their armies into the BGF, which will be under the junta’s administration, as their new constitution, does not allow any other armed forces apart from the main ‘Tatmadaw’.

Several armed groups including the MNDAA, Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and United Wa State Army (UWSA) have rejected the junta’s proposal. But Aung Kyaw Zaw said the junta is currently targeting the MNDAA, as the group is the weakest among the armed groups.

“Approximately the MNDAA has about 1,500 troops and the junta thinks that they can threaten them and forcibly persuade them to transform. And besides, the junta already has several army battalions stationed in the Kokang region,” he added.

After the MNDAA rejected the junta’s proposal, the junta has brought in more troops under the pretext of a drug eradication programme and had so far deployed over seven more battalions.

“I think there are about 3,000 Burmese Army troops based in the Kokang area now,” Aung Kyaw Zaw, who maintains a close relationship with armed rebel groups along the Sino-Burmese border said.

Since the problems are not directly with the Burmese Army but more of an internal disagreement, Kokang’s allies including the United Wa State Army (UWSA) are unable to assist.

In a statement released on August 21, the Myanmar Peace and Democratic Front, an alliance of four ceasefire groups – MNDAA, UWSA, Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) and the National Democratic Alliace Army (NDAA) also known as Mailai – condemned the Burmese Army for their interference in the problems of the Kokang Army.

The group said, the Burmese Army’s activities were being conducted under the pretext of drug eradication and expressed their full support to the Kokang Army.

Meanwhile, the fresh tension between the Burmese Army and the Kokang Army has forced several hundred villagers to flee to neighboring China, causing concern to the Chinese authorities.

Reports said, at least 10, 000 villagers have fled to the Chinese border.

A report by the Thailand-based, Shan Herald Agency for News (SHAN), said over 700 soldiers of China’s People’s Liberation Army had been deployed along the Sino-BurmA border in anticipation of any hostilities that might break out between the Kokang and the Burmese Army.

READ MORE---> Spurt in tension between Burmese Army and Kokang rebels...

Australia neglecting needs of IDPs in Eastern Burma

By Sai Awn Tai

(Shanland) -Australia is neglecting what the Australian people want and what the right thing to do is for the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in eastern Burma, said Dr John Kaye, NSW Greens MP.

During the last week about 10,000 people from Shan State fled from their homes after the military attacked and burned down the villages.

Burma advocacy campaigners Nang Charm Tong and her colleagues from the Thai-Burma border have urged the Australian government to change its foreign aid policy to assist Shan, Karen and other ethnic IDPs.

They met Mr Bob McMullan, the parliamentary secretary for international development assistance on 19 August to press AusAid to change its policy.

“Mr McMullan was sympathized and said that he will talk with his government colleagues but the result is unlikely to come overnight.

“This is our first step on this advocacy campaigning. We will continue to lobby until the Australian government changes its cross-border aid policy,” said Charm Tong.

Australian foreign aid has increased from $A16 million to 29 million for Burma but none of this money will assist the IDPs and last year, only $A1.2 million went to refugees who live in refugee camps at the Thai-Burma border.

The Burmese community in Australia, surprised by the AusAid policy, has asked questions why the Australian government does not assist the cross-border people who urgently need assistance for health care and food.

“There appear to be strong links between the Australian government and the military regime,” said Paul Power, the Chief Executive Officer of Refugee Council of Australia.

“I would like to question the nature of cooperation between the Australian government and the government of Burma” he said.

“The Australian government is quite reluctant to provide aid assistance to the IDPs in eastern Burma saying it has to respect the sovereignty of Thailand and Burma. They are also worried about the risk factor on the ground if they provide cross-border assistance to the IDPs.”

“In addition, they want to focus the humanitarian assistance through Rangoon,” said Dr Myint Cho, the director of Australia Burma Campaign.

However, Dr John Kaye believes that AusAid can also fund cross-border programs to IDPs without affecting their programs already being funded in Burma.

“If we look at countries like Canada, Norway, Denmark and US who do give funds to IDPs, they have also continued to operate their programs through Rangoon without problems from the military regime,” he said.

READ MORE---> Australia neglecting needs of IDPs in Eastern Burma...

Burma: Digging the Tunnels, Part Three

(DVB)–Burma is aggressively bolstering its defence in the event of an invasion, according to a series of leaked reports and testimonies that outline a myriad of projects ranging from tunnel digging to possible nuclear proliferation.

In recent weeks, DVB has revealed that with North Korean help, the Burmese junta is developing a complex network of tunnels that can accommodate heavy weaponry and battalions of troops during military operations.

Since then, speculation has grown that Burma is aiming to obtain a nuclear bomb, following testimonies given by two senior Burmese defectors that accuse the government of developing a nuclear reactor in northern Burma. However, further leaked reports show that the defence project runs deeper, with plans drawn up to incorporate civilians in military operations, should the country be invaded.

A leaked report entitled ‘Rangoon Division Military Command: regional mobilisation project’ (hereafter known as ‘RDMC report’) is one of a number of documents obtained by DVB that outline the various stages of Burma’s defence strategy, ones that range from the strengthening of militia groups to use of human shields.

The RDMC outlines several potential scenarios in which Burma could be attacked by “exiled insurgents and opposition groups” or “invasion by means of a coalition army led by a powerful nation”. Much of the preparation is going into bolstering its air defense, implying that an air attack is most likely. There is also another scenario, strongly hinted at in a report entitled ‘Burma-Thai Naval Capabilities’, that points to recent border problems between the two countries as being possible cause for an air invasion by Thailand.

In the RDMC defence project, Rangoon division is to be divided into six zones. Methods of defence in case of attack include “conventional warfare” and “guerilla warfare”, but there is a third strategy, in which the government will use militia groups alongside the Burmese army – this is one reason why they have been developing and nurturing various militias, such as the notorious Swan Arr Shin.

In a project named 'Militia strategy', the list of forces that could be turned into militia is being drawn up systematically, region by region, and includes groups that vary from fire fighters to civil servants to medical workers. Furthermore, families of army troops have been instructed to rally the public so that soldiers can be ‘disappeared’ among civilians and the public can be used in fighting.

Lists of all bridges in Rangoon division have been made in order to cut off the enemy's communication lines during military operations, and all sea routes that could be entered by the enemy are to be designated as minefields.

Furthermore, road blocks and barriers are to be constructed along the roads so that enemy tanks could not enter them easily. According to the RDMC report, the generals believe they can resist the attacks in tunnel stations built in Hmawbi, Phoogyi, Phaunggyi, Indaing, 9-Mile, and Military Hospital in Rangoon division.

Another project, known as 'The Peoples Air Defence' project, outlines a training programme on defence against an aerial attack. Groups of 30 people, likely to be army troops, are taught how to use surface-to-air and handheld missiles, and anti-aircraft guns.

The report for 'The Peoples Air Defence' project details the building of portable missile bases, which would be positioned at crowded areas of the towns, and on top of high-rise the buildings. In this case one could assume that the military is preparing to use human shield as one of its strategies.

Other missile bases and anti-aircraft cannons are located in Rangoon division military command region, and at 15 strategic points inside and outside of the city. These are connected by fibre optic cable networks and radios and telephones, and are connected to the main command centre in case of an emergency.

The report details that the movement of enemies will be monitored by using Russian-made long range radars at Zin Kyaik, Myeik and Kalama mountains outside of Rangoon division. A radar system at Rangoon division radar reception station in Phaunggyi will also be used.

Another leaked military operation report shows that five radar stations designed for air defence purposes are being built at Tavoy and Ngwesaung, with the help of Russian experts. Engineers have been instructed to move these into the tunnels if necessary.

In a confidential report of the minutes of a 2006 meeting between Burma’s second-in-command, Maung Aye, and Russia’s Deputy Minister of Defense, Yury Nikolayevich Baluyevsky, the two spoke of Russian cooperation in supplying Burma with a guided missile system and training Burmese in operation of the system. Russia already supplies Burma with fighter jets and helicopters.

Information leaked from inside Burma about North Korean and Russia involvement in Burma’s military ambitions has been reinforced by such high-profile visits of Burmese officials to the two countries in recent years.

Included in Shwe Mann’s trip to North Korea was a visit to tunnel complexes dug deep into the side of mountains that can hold heavy armoury, including chemical weapons. The North Koreans are known to be expert tunnel diggers, and thus it is unsurprising that the Burmese junta would look to them in assistance for their project. It was during this trip that the two countries formalised military cooperation, and photographs released since by DVB show North Korean advisors training Burmese engineers in the construction of tunnels.

Elements of Shwe Mann’s trip were mirrored in Maung Aye’s meeting with senior Russian defence officials. While Shwe Mann visited radar and jamming stations in North Korea, Maung Aye similarly requested assistance in radar and communication technology, as well as the training of Burmese in using them. During this meeting, Baluyevsky replied that “[Russia’s] president has already directed us to teach Burmese trainees at a cheap price”.

While military cooperation between countries is normal, as is a country’s wish to bolster its own defence, Burma’s method is cause for alarm. What its strategy effectively entails is the forced transformation of civilian groups into armed militias, and the planting of would-be military targets for the enemy in populous areas. Moreover, the Burmese economy is in tatters, yet the government allocates some 40 percent of its annual budget to reinforcing itself against an enemy that doesn’t exist.

Perhaps the most chilling aspect of the whole project is found in the final stage of the resistance planning in another leaked military report. Before the melting away of Burmese troops, “overground” opposition groups and pro-democracy activists are to be regarded as the enemy, and are to be wiped out completely. This would be orchestrated with the help of Swan Arr Shin, USDA and other pro-junta groups, which are currently being expanded and trained should the situation necessitate their assistance.


Part 1 - Digging Tunnels

Part 2 - Digging Tunnels

Watch Video of latest trip to NKorea

Reporting by DVB

READ MORE---> Burma: Digging the Tunnels, Part Three...

Armed groups to step up resistance

(DVB)–Burma's armed ethnic groups will increase cooperation with ceasefire groups in an effort to strengthen resistance against government army forces, following a meeting of eight opposition groups.

The alliance of ethnic armed groups, the National Democratic Front (NDF), concluded its Central Executive Committee’s three-day meeting on Sunday.

The eight-strong coalition, which includes the Karen National Union (KNU) and New Mon State Party (NMSP), two of Burma's principle armed opposition groups, discussed the ongoing issue of government pressure to transform ceasefire groups into border patrol forces.

A number of the ceasefire groups, including the NMSP, have resisted the pressure to return to what the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) calls the 'legal fold', which would give them legitimacy as groups but significantly weaken their manpower and influence.

“We wholeheartedly support the decision of our brothers, the ceasefire groups, not to agree with the SPDC’s plan to transform them into border militias,” said Mai Phone Kyaw, general secretary of the NDF.

A statement released by the NDF said that ethnic groups "have a right to operate in their own regions to protect their own people".

Mai Phone Kyaw said the junta is attempting to distract from growing international pressure on it by stepping up confrontation against opposition groups.

The government's latest offensive against the KNU, which began in June, has resulted in nearly 5000 Karen fleeing across the border into Thailand.

The conflict between the Burmese government and the KNU, which has stretched over 60 years, is thought to be one of the world's longest running.

“We discussed in our meeting how to step up our resistance and to prepare for a combat,” Mai Phone Kyaw said.

“We will continue our resistance against the SPDC junta by any means possible until we are granted our rights as the ethnic people of Burma.”

Reporting by Aye Nai

READ MORE---> Armed groups to step up resistance...

Thai citizenship to grant stateless near Burma border

by Usa Pichai

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - Citizenship will be granted by Thailand to displaced Thai villagers, who were in Burma, during demarcation by the British a hundred years ago.

Surapong Kongchantuek of the Committee to amend the Thailand Citizenship Act told Mizzima that “the committee will finalize the law that would grant citizenship to Thai villagers near Thailand and the southern Burma border, who became stateless during demarcation.” (JEG's: if they are still alive they got hope... so sad...)

The Act formulated would provide an opportunity for the stateless group near the Thailand–Cambodia border for more than 4,000 people that share the same problem.

The 20,000 or so villagers live in Thailand’s Ranong and Prachoub Kirikhan and Chumporn provinces, bordering southern Burma. They are descendants of ethnic Thais who found themselves marooned in Burma by a British colonial demarcation package in 1868. Burma’s rulers would have nothing to do with them. They also face discrimination by the Burmese government.

According to the group some had to contend with land confiscation by the Burmese military without any compensation and some were forced to work as porters for the army.

Gradually whole communities moved from Tavoy and Taninsari south of Burma to neighbouring Siam, now Thailand. But Siam also shunned them, and subsequent Thai governments refused to recognize them as Thai citizens. The stateless status has caused them to lose their rights to access education, medical and other facilities. In addition they also face arrest because they have no ID cards.

Pakawin Saengkong, the representative of the group, who lives in Ranong Province, said that the process of granting citizenship has progressed. He added that they had fought for their rights for nearly a decade together with rights groups and academics.

“Currently, the registered members of the group are in the process of being verified along with the family. The committee consists of representatives from the group and Thai authorities. About 3,800 have been verified as a first step. The group is expected to seek cabinet approval by the end of this year or early 2010,” he said.

In October 2006, about 500 of the group travelled to Bangkok and submitted a letter addressed to the British Embassy in Bangkok, pleading for support in their efforts to get Thai citizenship, which they said resulted from the 19th century British colonial carve-up of a border region of Burma and Siam making them stateless.

READ MORE---> Thai citizenship to grant stateless near Burma border...

Punishment for a dream – the price of Burmese conscience

by Nay Tin Myint

Mizzima News - William Harvard wrote: "The greatest glory of a free-born people is to transmit that freedom to their children." This is the dream that I had for Burma in 1988, and I still have the same dream today. As a university student in 1988, I never imagined that I would spend the next fifteen years of my life in Burma’s notorious prisons for daring to hope for a better future.

It all began on a beautiful spring day, March 13, 1988, when I was a 21-year-old Rangoon University Zoology student in my senior year. Some Burma Socialist Program Party (BSPP) soldiers shot and killed an engineering student at the campus. Adding insult to injury, afterward the army denied any wrongdoing and ignored the students’ request for an investigation, eventually leading the students to strike.

During the ensuing crackdown, armed government soldiers savagely attacked unarmed student demonstrators, stole their possessions and gang-raped hooded female students in custody. According to eyewitnesses, armed soldiers also threw students into Inya Lake and ponds, watching many students drown. Since that day the "White Bridge" of Rangoon Arts and Science University, where soldiers attacked the unarmed innocent university students, was famously renamed the "Red Bridge" for the blood spilt during those tragic times.

By August 8, 1988, the momentum of the students' strike in the spring mushroomed into a nationwide uprising, with Burmese fed up with the government's negligence rising up against the abusive military junta. During these demonstrations, as one of the founders of the Tri-color Youth Organization, I gave a speech condemning the BSPP ruling party's mismanagement of the country. I demanded justice for the army's brutality and for the government to tell us what happened to the Rangoon University students who disappeared in March. The ruling junta immediately arrested me.

Right after the arrest, government agents began to torture me with the aim of breaking my silence. They forced me to kneel down and crawl over sharp stones with hands cuffed behind my back. Then they hung me from my handcuffs with my legs barely touching the ground while I continued to bleed all night. The tormentors placed a tin bucket on my head and beat it until blood ran down my ears. They offered me no food until the third day, when they brought foul and inedible food accompanied by a scant amount of water. They continued to beat me and torture me with electric shock to force me to disclose the names of my associates. I refused to give up their names, either to stop the torture or to gain my release. I was prepared to die alone under torture rather than to subject other innocent political activists to the same brutal punishments.

The courts in Burma were as lawless and fraudulent as other institutions under military rule. An army colonel, the head of a martial court, asked, "Do you think what you are doing is right?" I answered, "Yes, what I am doing is right and I have a lot of support from the people." I continued to point out the failures of the ruling party and promised that one day they would be defeated. He apparently already had orders to sentence me to three years of hard labor in prison, but after my reply, furious, he increased it to four years. He then asked whether I would like to comment on anything else. I replied, "Yes," but they refused to let me speak and dragged me away.

Similar to other leading political prisoners, they kept me alone in an eight by twelve foot cell in notorious Insein Prison near Rangoon. Although according to the official prison handbook prisoners have the right to take a walk twice a day and to have fifteen bowls of water for bathing, prison authorities locked me in my cell in clear violation of those rights. No prison in Burma followed the guidelines written in the prison manual. When, at the close of 1989, I demanded my rights according to the prison manual, they transferred me to another notorious prison, Tharawaddy, in Pegu.

In Tharawaddy, prison officials made me work in the plantation area. When they assigned me to collect toilet bowls, a job for criminal inmates, I refused, since I was not a criminal. Although I knew that my prison term would be reduced if I obeyed their rules I refused to be humiliated or degraded. Instead, I firmly held on to my convictions and did not surrender my political conscience for personal comfort or freedom.

Next, in an attempt to break my spirit further, they shackled my ankles and placed a metal bar between my legs. They continued to beat and kick me, even while I was shackled. During an episode of solitary confinement my toilet bowl was not collected for a month, and insects began crawling out of it and climbing onto me while I slept with no mattress or blanket on a concrete floor. I was not allowed to own clothing other than what I wore. After one month, my skin became infected and I suffered from stomach pain, but the prison warden refused treatment or for my family to bring any medication. When I tried to report this violation they transferred me to yet another prison, Myingyan, in central Burma in early 1991.

While at Myingyan prison they again immediately placed me in solitary confinement. They supplied only a small amount of food and allowed a bath once every three weeks. I could not wash clothes because there was not enough water. Therefore, I stood on my clothes while bathing and squeezed the water out to wash again. As a punishment for cleverly bathing and washing clothes at the same time, they added a second metal bar to my shackle. They also forced me to crawl over sharp stones with the shackle on, while two prison guards savagely struck me. The shackle stayed on for more than one year, and when it finally came off I was suffering from partial paralysis. I was not able to walk because my shackled legs had been held in an awkward position for so long and from the weakness caused by a general lack of nutrition.

Eventually I saw a prison doctor, but I still received no treatment for my paralysis. Finally, after a long interval, my family was allowed to visit and was permitted to supply medication. Although I was paralyzed I kept exercising my legs and I continued to discipline my mind. I needed to live, not to die in prison. I was determined not to let the military junta triumph over me. To keep my mind focused and sharp, I continued to meditate according to Burmese Buddhism.

In 1992, at the end of my four-year prison term, I was released only because of my physical disability. I spent the next six months in a hospital for medical treatment and physical rehabilitation. During this time I was invited to a meeting between National League for Democracy leaders Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and U Win Tin and the United Nations special representative to Burma. I agreed to have my name submitted to the United Nations for the purpose of this meeting. Soon after, the SLORC (State Law and Order Restoration Council) regime announced that a National Convention would be held to draw up a new constitution for Burma.

Since the ploy to draw up a new constitution came only after the army lost the 1990 general election, it was clear the generals were just buying time instead of genuinely preparing for a transfer of power. A constitutional convention dominated by handpicked delegates from the military and close associates of the army clearly was not intended to be free or fair. Not surprisingly, the junta intensified the crackdown on political dissidents and elected politicians, even while pushing for the National Convention on the pretext of writing a new constitution.

As democracy activists including myself began organizing with university students for a nationwide movement against the unlawful National Convention, SLORC henchmen came and raided my home, confiscated my personal possessions and arrested me for the second time on charges of distributing protest pamphlets and meeting with United Nations representatives. At my trial in October 1993, the judge told me, "You have been a leader during the 1988 unrest, and now you are protesting against the National Convention with the intention of demeaning the dignity of the country." Along with a false accusation of my conspiring with armed rebels, he sentenced me to twenty years in prison with hard labor.

After holding me in Insein Prison for a few months they again transferred me to Myingyan. Gradually it became clear to me that by sending political prisoners like me to Myingyan again and again, the ruling junta intended not only to torture and break our political will but also planned to systematically kill and eliminate all political opposition without leaving any trace of evidence behind. This plan was instituted with the same efficiency as the plan for ethnic cleansing in remote jungle villages hidden from the view of the international community.

With this understanding, I approached the Myingyan Prison entrance with great apprehension. Upon arrival, I was blindfolded and severely beaten with my hands cuffed behind my back. The beating continued even after I fell to the ground. They shackled my legs and ordered me put in solitary confinement for another seven years.

It all began again with no bath for three months, a small amount of stale food and insufficient drinking water. To make life even more miserable the guards inside continually harassed political prisoners. To prevent contact between political prisoners when one of us was in the aisle, all other political prisoners were forced to sit in an extremely awkward position called "ponzan" at the back of their cells. On one occasion a prison guard savagely knocked me down in the shower after accusing me of making eye contact with other political prisoners, forcing me to crawl back to my cell.

Routine and cold-blooded assaults on political prisoners were meant as part of the punishment. For instance, frequently after I had finished cleaning the floor of my cell with my only sarong, a prison guard would blow the dust back in, subsequently striking me for not properly cleaning my cell. Subsisting all the while on a meager diet of foul rations contaminated with stones and un-hulled paddy grains added misery to our anguished years inside the prison and, consequently, political prisoners in Burma often succumbed to deteriorating health behind bars. When family members brought even a small amount of salt to alleviate the misery, prison authorities often punished the prisoners with more beatings.

According to the official prison manual, family visitations were allowed for up to 15 minutes. However, political prisoners were allowed only three minutes with family members who had often traveled long distances. The ruling junta also created an atmosphere in which family members and friends were forced to put pressure on prisoners to give up politics altogether. The junta frequently imposed penalties on innocent family members in an attempt to break down the political prisoners’ final defenses – forcing them to watch family members suffer by being forced to travel to remote prisons for visitations that tested strength beyond the endurance of even the most dedicated democrats.

I was not allowed to read any book from 1994 to 2000. When the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) came to visit in 2000, restrictions were slightly eased, with authorities allowing us more food and longer showers. After the ICRC chief representative came to meet me in prison and recorded my prison experiences, I was further allowed a few books for reading. I was also able to see a prison doctor and was allowed to do some physical exercise.

In 2001, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the SPDC's General Khin Nyunt reached an agreement to work together. During that time, military intelligence (MI) frequently paid me visits and asked myself and other political prisoners to sign a pledge to never again engage in any political activity, in exchange for our release. Those of us who refused remained locked up in prison.

In early 2005, I was sent to Mandalay prison in upper Burma, where they immediately put me in solitary confinement for another six months. When authorities transferred me back to Myingyan for another stint in violation of my rights, I decided to go on hunger strike. On the sixth day of my hunger strike I was offered some water but the guards subsequently broke the water pot. After four more days without water I became unconscious. The Director General of the Penitentiary Department from Rangoon heard about me, immediately paying me a visit. I was brought to the hospital where I vomited blood and passed out. I was sustained only by the belief that my tormenters "can control me physically, but they cannot control my mind. My mind does not belong to them. My mind belongs to me."

I was eventually released on July 6, 2005, after over 15 years of imprisonment and nearly seven years in solitary confinement. "RELEASED" was just a statement on paper. Inside Burma I was never really free, since government agents continued to follow and watch my every move. Nevertheless, my mind was still occupied with 1988 and democratic aspirations for our people.

The generals in Burma wanted the Burmese people and the world to see that the army had the power to take away our lives, our liberty and our happiness at any time they chose. They wanted everyone to see the scars, the pain and the deaths of those who dared resist their brutal domination.

But even after 15 years in their infernal prisons, the SPDC was not able to make me obey their authority. My vow to continue struggling for democracy remained unbroken and I never wavered from my commitment toward freedom for Burma.

Countless people in Burma have sacrificed their lives and all that they held dear in the name of freedom for their children. The generals in Naypyitaw must see that our leaders, Aung San Suu Kyi and others who are still in prison will never give up their dream for democracy or exchange their political conscience for a life of luxury under the military regime.

Our real leaders know that there would not be an India without Gandhi, a South Africa without Nelson Mandela and an Obama without Martin Luther King, Jr. They also believe that Burma will overcome its troubles one day. Only for now, they need our help to make their dreams come true.

Nay Tin Myint escaped from Burma to Thailand in 2007. He was granted political asylum in the United States in 2008 and is the Secretary of the National League for Democracy – Liberated Area, USA branch.

READ MORE---> Punishment for a dream – the price of Burmese conscience...

No need to be concerned about hurting China's feelings

by Gerard Henderson

(SMH) -There is only one significant problem in the present Australia-China relationship: the incarceration in China of the Rio Tinto executive and Australian citizen Stern Hu. All the other apparent difficulties have been around, to a greater or lesser extent, since Australia recognised China in 1972.

The relationship was never more friendly than in 1974, the mid-point of Gough Whitlam's Labor government, which opened up relations between Australia and China.

Yet in 1974 Beijing kicked up a diplomatic row at the ABC's decision to screen Michelangelo Antonioni's documentary Chung Kuo, Cina. The Italian film director was then a rare member of the Western intelligentsia who objected to the brutalities of Mao's Cultural Revolution. China did its barking, but the film was shown and the diplomatic caravan moved on.

During his visit to China last month the West Australian Premier, Colin Barnett, said: "China is more important to Australia than Australia is to China.'' It is understandable why a premier would focus on the perceived needs of his or her state, especially during a downturn. But prevailing evidence suggests the two economies are inter-dependent. China needs Australia and Australia needs China. This should be the message of the Gorgon agreement to export liquefied gas exported from Western Australia to China.

The governments led by Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser tended to fawn before China. Judging from his John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library Lecture last month, Paul Keating approves of such an approach. But, during their time as prime minister, both Bob Hawke and John Howard experienced difficulties with the relationship.

Hawke vocally condemned the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, and Howard met the Dalai Lama. Even so, the diplomatic relationship during this time was seldom less than cordial, while two-way trade accelerated.

Howard and Rudd have handled China differently but with similar effect. Howard in effect junked Australia's public concern about human rights abuses in China. Never a sympathiser with the Communist regime, he made his stance by referring to the importance of Australia's relationship with what he termed the two great democracies of the Asia-Pacific - the US and Japan. However, Howard met with the Dalai Lama in 2007 against the express wishes of the Chinese leadership.

Rudd took a different tack by publicly expressing concern about human rights in Tibet during his address at Peking University last year where he spoke in Mandarin. He also met the Dalai Lama two years ago but said that he only discussed spiritual matters.

The Federal Government has granted visas to the Uyghur activist Rebiya Kadeer. Judged by its actions in government, it is most likely a re-elected Howard government would have granted her one this year.

Yet last week the opposition spokeswoman on foreign affairs, Julie Bishop, accused the Government of bungling the handling of Kadeer's visa, and Philip Ruddock described the granting of the visa as a mistake.

On Sky News on Sunday Bishop described this year's white paper, Defending Australia, as a "needless provocation to China". It is no such thing, and broadly consistent with the Howard government's defence policy.

It is unclear why Bishop would want to be seen as making excuses to Beijing for Australia's essentially bipartisan defence and foreign policies. In fact, her position to the defence white paper is similar to the critique Keating expressed last month.

Bishop is but one of a number of prominent Australians who seem to be unduly concerned about the feelings of China's leaders. Chris Uhlmann is one of the ABC's best interviewers, and his appointment as The 7.30 Report's political editor adds much-needed clout to this increasingly dull program. Yet during his recent interview with the visiting Chinese assistant foreign minister Liu Jieyi, Uhlmann asked surprisingly soft questions about a number of issues - including Hu's fate. In private correspondence, Uhlmann has acknowledged the validity of this criticism and said that he is happy to have his regrets for avoiding some hard questions recorded publicly.

Don Rothwell is the professor of international law at the Australian National University and appears frequently in the media as an advocate of human rights. Soon after the Uhlmann/Liu interview, Rothwell appeared on The World Today. He in effect supported Lu's allegation that Hu engaged in bribery while working for Rio Tinto in China. Having made this assertion without the benefit of any established evidence, Rothwell went on to say that the Australian Federal Police "may well be conducting independent inquiries into the matter whether there is the potential for a charge to be laid under Australian law against Stern Hu".

The federal police may, or may not, have undertaken such an inquiry. Rothwell was in no position to know this. But his interview, which should never have gone to air without an alternative view being heard, was damaging to Hu. Especially since Rothwell's comment was picked up by other media outlets.

As the Foreign Minister, Stephen Smith, has acknowledged, the Australia-China relationship is going through some difficulties. No doubt they will be resolved. In the meantime, Australia should treat China the same way we treat nations with whom we have good relations. This means not forgetting Stern Hu.

Gerard Henderson is executive director of The Sydney Institute.

READ MORE---> No need to be concerned about hurting China's feelings...

Foreign Weapons Kill the Blockade on Burma

by Richard S. Ehrlich

BANGKOK, Thailand (Scoop)-- Demands for an international blockade against weapons sales to Burma, in response to the military regime's detention of Aung San Suu Kyi, will face difficult challenges from defiant Chinese, Russian, East European and North Korean arms dealers.

"Nothing less than a worldwide ban on the sale of arms to the regime will do, as a first step," said British Prime Minister Gordon Brown after Burmese authorities sentenced Mrs. Suu Kyi on August 11 to an additional 18 months house arrest.

A court also sentenced an American, John Yettaw, to seven years hard labor for illegal activity when he secretly swam to Mrs. Suu Kyi's villa and stayed for two nights.

Mrs. Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, admitted to sheltering Mr. Yettaw so he could dodge arrest for his crimes.

"I acted without malice, simply with intent to ensure that the one concerned should not suffer any adverse consequences," Mrs. Suu Kyi, 64, told the court in her closing statement.

Calls to punish Burma's military regime by widening an American and European Union ban on weapon sales, however, would mean targeting the Southeast Asian nation's wealthy, giant northern neighbor, China, which provides most of Burma's deadliest equipment.

"Burmese soldiers have used not only Chinese-made military equipment such as helmets, uniforms, boots and bayonets, but also munitions, tanks, small arms, artillery, surface-to-surface missiles, surface-to-air missiles, jet fighters, naval vessels," and other items, said a report published by the respected Norway-based Burmese dissident group, Democratic Voice of Burma.

Burma, a country also known as Myanmar, is considered to be suffering one of the world's most brutal regimes.

"China has been the principal source of arms supplies to the Myanmar forces, followed by India, Serbia, Russia, Ukraine and other countries," said London-based Amnesty International.

During the past 20 years, China supplied Burma with "tanks, armored personnel carriers, military aircraft and artillery pieces such as howitzers, anti-tank guns and anti-aircraft guns," Amnesty said.

Serbia and Montenegro sold dozens of howitzers during 2004-2006, while Ukraine signed a contract in 2004 to supply 1,000 armored personnel carriers, after a 2002 deal to the export 14 T-72C tanks, Amnesty said.

Burma's weapons purchases remain mostly shrouded, and many agreements are difficult to confirm.

Some details appear in a 2009 book by Burmese defence analyst Maung Aung Myoe, titled, "Building the Tatmadaw," which is the Burmese junta's name for its military.

Other descriptions filter through pro-democracy Burmese media, including Irrawaddy magazine which is based in Thailand.

"Burma has bought more than 100 jet fighters and aircraft from China since 1990," Irrawaddy reported in its August issue.

"Burma has also bought smaller numbers of jet fighters, helicopters and military transport planes from Yugoslavia, Poland and Russia.

"Russian, Ukrainian and Polish MI-12, MI-17, G-4 and Sokol helicopters now dominate Burma's air force," Irrawaddy said.

Burma, however, reportedly lacks enough skilled pilots.

During the past several years, Burma bought a dozen MiG-29 jet fighters, apparently to square off against its eastern neighbor, Thailand which boasts U.S.-built F-16s and other aircraft.

The two Buddhist nations were historic enemies, and have continued to squabble along their border, though Thailand purchases much of its natural gas from Burma and is widely seen as economically dependent on smooth relations.

America's California-based Chevron, France's Total, and Thailand's PTT own much of the Yadana natural gas pipeline from Burma to Thailand, providing the regime with its largest source of income.

On Burma's side of the frontier, however, rival groups of minority ethnic guerrillas have fought for the past six decades for independence or autonomy.

Much to the dismay of Burma's military, the guerrillas have repeatedly tried to enjoy sanctuary in Thailand where they have resupplied, tended to their wounded, and campaigned for foreign support.

Thailand is bolstered by strong U.S. and other Western backing, and is a non-NATO military ally of Washington, which has sparked fears in Burma that the smoldering guerrilla skirmishes could evolve into a proxy war to destabilize the resource-rich hermit nation.

Norway's Finance Ministry meanwhile has lashed out against China's military aid to Burma.

"The Ministry of Finance has excluded the Chinese company Dongfeng Motor Group Co. Ltd from the Government Pension Fund -- Global -- based on advice from the Council on Ethics," Norway's Finance Ministry said earlier this year.

"A large number of military trucks manufactured by Dongfeng have been observed at the border crossing between China and Burma. Norges Bank has written to the company about this. The response from Dongfeng revealed that a subsidiary company sold 900 trucks to Burma during the first half of 2008," a ministry statement said.

"The trucks have been adapted for military purposes and moreover have significant military applications," Norway's Finance Ministry said.

Burma's military seized power in a 1962 coup.

Extensive U.S. and European economic embargoes against Burma, along with the regime's widespread corruption and disastrous financial polices, have impoverished the nation and forced it to rely on sanction-busting allies.

Mrs. Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party won a landslide victory in a 1990 nationwide election, but the military cancelled the results, refused to allow her to rule, and has kept her under house arrest for about 14 of the past 20 years.


Richard S Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based journalist who has reported news from Asia since 1978. He is co-author of "Hello My Big Big Honey!", a non-fiction book of investigative journalism, and his web page is http://www.asia-correspondent.110mb.com

READ MORE---> Foreign Weapons Kill the Blockade on Burma...

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