Monday, October 5, 2009

Article in private journal attacks Burma Campaigners

by Salai Pi Pi

New Delhi (Mizzima) – An article published in the Rangoon-based “The Voice” journal on Monday made an unveiled attack on campaign groups such as the Burma Campaign UK, for misusing the name of Burma in lobbying western nations to impose sanctions on the Southeast Asian nation.

The article authored by “Aung Htut” a pen name on Monday said, the writer is extremely happy to see the US’s new policy of engagement with the Burmese regime, but fears that the US might revert to its old policy as these so-called activists are continuing to lobby to isolate Burma.

“It is not western governments but those individual foreigners who tried to formulate their own strategy in systematically isolating Burma,” the article said, “Most of misunderstandings (over Burma) came from them.”

The article also said these campaigners including members of the Burma Campaign UK and Institute of Democracy for Asia in the past had lobbied western countries for sanctions against Burma. As result Burma was isolated for several years.

Groups like the Burma Campaign UK have a limited number of Burmese people in the organisation, yet they have been effectively lobbying as representatives of the Burmese, the article said.

“The writer wonders how groups like the Burma Campaign UK have the right to represent the Burmese people. But what is certain is that they have misused the name of Burma and its people,” added the article.

But Mark Farmaner, Director of the Burma Campaign UK denied campaigning for the isolation of Burma but stressed that the BCUK is supporting sanctions against members of the Burmese junta and their business cronies, who are benefiting from the sufferings endured by the Burmese people.

He, however, viewed the attack as a natural reaction because of the nature of work that the BCUK has been committed to doing and the influence it has on government’s policies in telling the truth about human rights violations committed by the military junta.

“They attack us because we have been effective in raising awareness about what they are doing and getting the international community to increase pressure,” Farmaner said.

He said, the BCUK is not only committed to push for sanctions against the military regime, but is also pushing for a United Nations Security Council referral of Than Shwe and members of the military junta in the International Criminal Court for their crimes against humanity.

“Probably they attacked us as we are telling the truth about what is happening in Burma. We exposed human rights abuse, what is going on in jails with political prisoners in Burma and what is happening in ethnic areas where the Burmese Army is raping women and children,” Farmaner added.

The article in the Weekly also said, since the campaigners are mostly foreigners, the writer does not expect them to understand the Burmese peoples’ feelings and sufferings and will not sympathize with the life and condition of the country.

The writer said “as a strong advocate of engagement, it is encouraging to see key stakeholders are now showing signs of their willingness for engagement. If this could have been understood earlier, we could have seen good results. But it is only regrettable that much time had been wasted.”

But Farmaner said sanctions have been useful as a tool in reminding the Burmese generals that they are accountable for their actions and a reminder of the need to implement meaningful political reforms.

“We always support a combination of sanctions and engagement. So, the US policy is exactly what we have been campaigning for,” said Farmaner adding that the BCUK will continue campaigning for effective sanctions against the Burmese military regime.

Burma, under military rule since 1962, is contending with financial and economic sanctions by the United States, European Union and Australia for their human rights abuses and failure to implement democratic reforms.

But the US, after concluding its policy review on Burma last week, announced that it is changing track and will use a combination of sanctions as well as engagement.

The new policy comes at a time the Burmese regime, is particularly seen as keen to develop a new relation with the US, in the run up to their planned elections in 2010, which is a part of the junta’s seven-step roadmap to democracy.

While articles in privately owned journals are mostly written by authors unrelated to the Burmese regime, the journal, as per the junta’s law, has to go through the censorship board, which conducts a thorough check of the contents.

Occasionally, Burma’s military junta forces private journals to publish articles and commentaries written in favour of the junta, which the editors of the journals cannot refuse to publish as the consequences could cost their license to run the publication.

Burma Newscasts - Article in private journal attacks Burma Campaigners
Monday, 05 October 2009 22:33

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Ostensible verdict against Aung San Suu Kyi

by Tint Swe

Mizzima News - If a ruling of a court is called a verdict, it has to be called a legal judgment and the judgment has to be made by a judge. So far it seems ostensibly fine with the verdict announced on October 2 in Rangoon. However a judge is not a judge and the law is not law at all in military ruled Burma. A judge has to read out the pre-written decision from higher authorities. The law is what comes out of the mouth of military officers.

When Aung San Suu Kyi’s appeal was rejected, no one was surprised. But the legal team of Daw Suu was disappointed because the legal argument read out by the divisional judge was contrary to the true sense of law. The court accepted the argument of non-existence of the 1974 constitution but referred to the 1975 provision which is based on that nullified 1974 constitution. The township level court’s decision of last month was said to be partly wrong according to the divisional court. But the divisional judge said it was partially right. So the legal system in Burma is partial and prejudiced.

The entire month before the news regarding Burma showed of different tones by allowing Americans to visit and meet two top leaders – one none-other-then the Senior General himself and one the icon of pro-democracy struggle Aung San Suu Kyi. The professional staff of the Congressmen met NLD representatives. The foreign minister was also allowed to visit from New York to Washington, DC and a minister met senior US officials from the State department. All followed by the release of an American intruder who was obviously guilty.

The guilt-ridden foreigner was freed and innocent citizen of the country were unjustly punished. The punishment for an innocent person is an additional example of the regime showing tolerance to foreigners while it is total fanaticism for the people of its own country. It was not in accordance with the law but purely a political decision.

Since General Ne Win who governed Burma for 26 years and gave birth of dictatorial rule by the Burmese Army was portrayed as a xenophobic. Now this regime becomes obsessive to foreigners and clinically it is termed as a bipolar disorder.

The substance or lesson from this episode is that underestimation of the true nature of the regime should not be repeated by the international community.

The rejection of appeal came about a couple of days after Aung San Suu Kyi wrote an important letter to the Senior General, the sole decision maker Than Shwe. Her letter was a request cum proposal on how to deal with western sanctions. The sanctions are what the junta desperately wanted to be lifted. In 2007, the General hinted that he could engage in dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi if she dropped calling for sanctions and abandoning confrontation. As a matter of fact Aung San Suu Kyi has been calling for national reconciliation. Now she officially and publically said she was serious about lifting the sanctions.

But the Rangoon divisional court was ordered to turn down the appeal. So it is evident that the regime wants neither sanctions nor Aung San Suu Kyi. Meanwhile the regime will float the sanction issue. But they will not make any serious change to be able to lift sanctions. As the section of the west is too theoretical rather than practical, the junta may collect some aid. However small, it is just fine for them. For the military rulers the assistance from World Bank, IMF and ADB are not real wants like the successful roadmap.

The United Nations, the Secretary General, the General Assembly, the Security Council continued annual routine calls for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi. Habitually Russia and China continued blocking the strong statements at the UN. The ASEAN bloc stepped back from letter writing campaign for her release.

The UN diplomats politely commented that the junta missed the opportunity to prove its commitment in holding inclusive elections next year. In fact, for generals, it was not regarded as opportunity but the hurdle to overcome as in a military training. They are also prepared to pass through all hurdles before 2010 election. As long as all veto powers at UNSC do not change their minds, as long as neighbours maintain controversial non-interference and if the oppressed people of Burma can’t flex its muscles though feeble, dictatorial control will remain as it is.

(The author Dr. Tint Swe is the elected Member of Parliament and the Information Minister of the exiled government National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma or NCGUB)

Burma Newscasts - Ostensible verdict against Aung San Suu Kyi
Monday, 05 October 2009 13:00

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Thaw in US-Burma ties

By Chua Chin Hon
The Straits Times

The unexpected thaw in US-Burma ties in recent months has raised a host of intriguing questions.

The most obvious are perhaps the trickiest: Why do Burma's military rulers want to engage the Obama administration in dialogue, and why now? What do they hope to gain?

Diplomats familiar with the issue say it is futile to try to second-guess the thinking of the secretive military junta. Yet, the answers to these questions will shape the negotiation strategies of the United States.

At first sight, there does not seem to be any urgent or compelling reason for Burma's generals to engage their biggest critic, Washington. After all, they have successfully weathered all the criticisms and economic sanctions that the US and other Western countries have imposed since the 1990s.

And Burma's growing importance in providing resources and energy for regional powers like China and India will ensure that foreign investments continue to roll in. So why bother?

Experts who track Burma, however, say that it is wrong to assume that the junta is satisfied, or completely assured, by the status quo. They add that a combination of domestic and external factors probably prompted the generals to seek talks with Washington.

For starters, next year, Burma will hold its first election in two decades, a move widely seen as an attempt by the military to legitimise its rule. Much remains unclear about the participation of the opposition in the elections, and whether international election monitors would be admitted.

Even the date for the election has not been officially announced. But what would be abundantly clear to the junta is that any attempt to garner international recognition would be futile without some level of acceptance from the US, experts say.

"I do think that the (Burmese government) is very anxious to have international recognition and some sort of legitimacy," says Dr Bridget Welsh, a Southeast Asia scholar with the Singapore Management University (SMU).

"And when people talk about the issue of acceptance, they are really referring to this recognition from the US."

The question of whether bilateral talks - and election assistance should Burma request it - could lend legitimacy to the junta-run elections could become a political hot potato for the Obama administration, given the nature of US politics. Hence, US diplomats have hedged their recent contacts with Burmese officials with numerous caveats.

"We will continue to stress to the (Burmese) authorities the baseline conditions that we consider necessary for any credible electoral process," US Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell told a Senate hearing last Wednesday.

"They include the
release of political prisoners,
the ability of all stakeholders to stand for election,
eliminating restrictions on media, and
ensuring a free and open campaign."
Campbell met U Thaung, Burma's minister of science, technology and labour, in New York last week in what was termed the highest level contact between the two sides in nine years. The negotiators did not set a date for a second set of talks, but Campbell said he sensed from the Burmese officials "a very clear determination that dialogue was possible".

Beyond the search for international acceptance, experts say Burma's willingness to engage the US could also be prompted by the rapidly changing international environment, particularly since President Barack Obama came into office.

Obama's approach to foreign policy has been markedly different from that of his predecessor, George W. Bush, who refused direct contact with countries deemed to be rogue regimes.

It would not have escaped the attention of Burma's military rulers that other countries on Washington's blacklist - Iran and North Korea - have all had increased contact with the new US administration lately. There is little strategic value in being the odd man out in what is already the small and unpopular club of rogue nations.

But the bigger strategic issue on Burma's radar is likely to be the growing ties between the US and China, experts say. Whereas it could play one against the other before, that is no longer a given, as the two global powers see a growing convergence in their interests.

And despite Burma's close economic ties with China, the relationship is not necessarily problem-free.

"On China, we have to remember that the present army leadership grew up fighting the Communist Party of Burma, a well-armed Chinese-supported insurgent force that once threatened huge parts of the eastern uplands," historian Thant Myint-U told Wednesday's Senate hearing.

"Many see their present dependence on China as an anomaly, a tactical move that needs correction."

With all these shifting plates in motion, Burma likely has to recalibrate its position.

Said Dr Welsh of SMU: "They have to find a new configuration...and dialogue is the first step in that process."

For the US, the impetus for the talks goes beyond its traditional concerns about human rights, civil society and the imprisonment of democracy-icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

Burma's growing ties with North Korea and the uranium deposits in the central and northern parts of the country have raised fears that the junta will try to play a similar game of nuclear brinkmanship as Pyongyang has done since 2003.

So far, there has been no smoking gun evidence of Burma contemplating such a move. But that is not likely to assure Washington, which already has its hands full dealing with Iran and North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

Said Campbell: "Let me be clear: we have decided to engage with (Burma) because we believe it is in our interest to do so."

Burma Newscasts - Thaw in US-Burma ties
5 October 2009

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Regional implications of US policy on Burma

Kavi Chongkittavorn
The Nation (Thailand)

The carefully crafted 490-word US policy on Burma is aimed at all players in the region and afar, directly and indirectly, involved in the Burmese quagmire. Coming as it did at this juncture, the policy will be used as a new benchmark to gauge Rangoon's genuine desire for dialogue and openness. It also seeks to rejuvenate international engagement with regional dynamics. This represents another much-needed effort to break the current impasse that the regime can take after Australia made the first attempt—with a long list of demands-at the 1994 Asean ministerial meeting in Bangkok.

Washington realises now that the new approach is likely to be "slow and incremental." In other words, it will be a step by step process. This time a more concerted international effort is required to ease the Burmese crisis after decades of sanctions. The Obama Administration should be lauded for seizing this unique opportunity to formulate a new policy that some regional players can identify with.

The US softer approach has short and long-term objectives. In the next 15 months, pressure on Burma would be a step up building on existing progress accomplished since August including increased US-Burmese high-level meetings and dialogues, as well as ongoing communications between General Than Shwe and the opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi on ways to loosen up sanctions. After the US completed its policy reviews, Suu Kyi reiterated her readiness again to help end sanctions against the regime, which she first outlined two and half years ago.

Washington also wants to lay groundwork for inclusive, free and fair elections next year in Burma. Judging from the tone of US senior officials, any positive response from the junta on Suu Kyi's unconditional release or electoral process in coming weeks or months would immediately help to build up mutual confidence and widen the communication channels between the two capitals. Cooperation on counter-narcotics, health, environmental protection, and the recovery of World War II-era missing-in-action (MIAs) could be new incentives.

Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Kurt Campbell made clear that lifting or easing sanctions at the outset of a dialogue without meaningful progress on the US concerns would be a mistake. "We will maintain our existing sanctions until we see concrete progress, and continue to work with the international community to ensure that those sanctions are effectively coordinated," he told a Senate Subcommittee on East Asia and Pacific Affairs last week.

In the medium and long term, the US policy seeks to break up the twin influence of China and India over Burma. In the policy statement, the US says it will continue to cooperate and coordinate closely with the UN, Asean, the EU, China, Japan, India, Australia, the Burmese opposition and others. In reality, the US targets China and India—the two key players which have propped up and strengthened the military junta. The US new positions are more or less closer to those held by key players which prefer more contact,with sanctions still intact, or backing easing of sanctions with more humanitarian assistance.

Since Cyclone Nargis, the EU has picked humanitarian options for the Burmese people albeit growing criticism that it would benefit the regime. For decades, Japan has limited its assistance aid to humanitarian and human resource development, especially in economic planning. Australia also tried without much success to increase awareness on human rights and democracy inside Burma.

With the US new policy, Asean will find it easier to work with the US on Burma—a new element under the Obama administration and Asean. Asean opposes sanctions against Burma, since it was admitted into the grouping in 1997. Apart from sharing common objectives of seeing a united, prosperous and democratic country, now the two sides are moving closer on sanctions. Asean argues sanctions must stop as it hurts the Burmese people.

Ironically, the Asean-US closer cooperation on Burma effectively put an end to the Aseanisation process of Burmese conundrums that began in earnest in Luxembourg in 1991, fuelling the longstanding feud between EU and Asean over Burma. Even before the country joined the grouping, Asean leaders believed they could handle the Burmese issue better than the outsiders through peer pressure and the Asean way. The polarisation reached its peak in 1997 when Burma was admitted to Asean with strong support from former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohammad and Indonesian ex-President Suharto.

The US-led "internationalisation" process could overtake the Asean-initiated or even the UN framework, if Burma responds positively to Washington's overtures in a timely manner. In that case, Rangoon has lots of explaining to do for its Asean colleagues and international community. Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya's decision to give up the joint Asean appeal on Suu Kyi's freedom, citing the existing international efforts, confirmed this inevitable trend. Like it or not, Asean future positions on Burma would have to take in broad-based international sentiments.

The first US-Asean summit in Singapore, scheduled on November 15, will include Burmese Prime Minister Thien Sein. It was no longer a taboo for the leaders of US and Burma to meet. The summit—whether it is institutionalised-would further deepen the US role played in regional issues. With its Asean ambassador in residence in Jakarta (the first in Asean) to be announced soon, Washington will also have a senior official follow up on this issue with the Asean Secretariat. Later this month, at the Asean summit in Cha-am, Asean expects to see more positive signs from Burma related to the electoral process and relations with the opposition partners.

Closer to home, the US policy will impact on the porous Thai-Burma border. Issues related to attacks on minorities, drugs and human smuggling would be placed high on the US watch lists. More than before, both Thailand and Malaysia—not to mention China over the Kokang conflict- have all suffered from the influx of Burmese refugees.

Recent attacks on minorities along the Thai border by the Burmese troops again displaced thousands of minorities inside the Thai territory.

In years ahead, the US policy serves to enhance Thailand's position vis-a-vis Burma over its nuclear ambition. US senior officials have reiterated the UN Security Council's resolution 1874 (as well as 1718 during testimonies) which deals with nuclear proliferation as part of the Burmese policy gist. Washington has been very concerned about the nature and extent of Burma's nuclear ties with North Korea. During recent testimony, Senator Richard Lugar from Indiana continued to question Burma's motives in dispatching hundreds of its officials to Russia for nuclear technology training. He pointed out the number of persons travelling to Russia for specialised training seemed to be far beyond the number needed for the eventual operation of a nuclear reactor for medical research purposes, intended to be built by the junta with Russian government assistance Thailand has yet to treat with seriousness this explosive issue.

Except for selective army intelligence officials working closely with Australian and American counterparts, the rest of Thai society has been kept in the dark on Burma's nuclearisation program and its implications on the country's future security. The Thai policy makers, in particular the National Security Council, tend to view Burma's quagmire and security concerns through myopic bilateral prisms, which immediately mitigate any serious strategic evaluation of potential nuclear threats to Thailand.

Burma Newscasts - Regional implications of US policy on Burma
5 Oct 2009

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