Wednesday, September 26

Suu Kyi in Indiana

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (AP) — Myo Myint lost most of his right arm and right leg and several fingers fighting for the Burma army before he began working against Myanmar's military rulers and became a political prisoner.
The 49-year-old political refugee would like to return to his homeland one day, but he doesn't believe it will happen, even after hearing Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi say she would work to make sure people like him could come back.
Myint was among thousands of elated supporters who greeted Suu Kyi with cheers, tears and a standing ovation Tuesday as she took to the stage at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne, Ind., the fourth stop on her 17-day U.S. tour.
Like Suu Kyi, Myint was imprisoned in 1989. But Myint, who spent 15 years as a political prisoner, said he doesn't believe Suu Kyi will be able to help him go back to Myanmar. That's because he says he's too well-known for working against the junta, having been featured in an HBO documentary called "Burma Soldier."
"She cannot do anything. She is not in the power," he said.
Sixty-seven-year-old Suu Kyi, who was recently elected to parliament after spending 15 years under house arrest for opposing Myanmar's military rulers, voiced optimism for democracy in her Southeast Asian home.
"The important thing is to learn how to resolve problems. How to face them and how to find the right answers through discussion and debate," the Nobel Laureate told the more than 5,000 people who gathered to hear her speak. Fort Wayne is home to one of the largest Burmese communities in the United States.
Myint said he lost his arm and leg in a battle with communist insurgents while serving in the Burma army. After he left the army, he switched sides, meeting with resistance groups and working against the military rulers.
"We were looking together to find a way to end the civil war," he said.
Suu Kyi rose to prominence during a failed pro-democracy uprising to protest Burma's military-backed regime in 1988. Thousands of the 1988 protesters were killed and tens of thousands more — including Oxford-educated Suu Kyi — spent years as political prisoners. Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party was subsequently stymied by the junta's iron grip on the country.
But Suu Kyi voiced cautious hope Tuesday.
"The differences and problems we have amongst ourselves, I think we can join hands and reconcile and move forward and solve any problems," she said. Suu Kyi delivered most of her speech — and answered most questions — in Burmese, with an English translation by video.
Since 1991, when a single Burmese refugee resettled in Fort Wayne — about two hours north of Indianapolis and 8,000 miles from Myanmar — thousands more have followed, many of them relocating under a federal program after years in refugee camps in Thailand.
After his imprisonment, Myint spent three years in Thailand before applying to become a political refugee. A brother who had fought against the Burma military rulers in 1988 already lived to Fort Wayne.
Both were excited to attend Suu Kyi's speech Tuesday. Though Myint doesn't believe he will ever be able to return, he was pleased to hear her say she would work to clear the way for the return of those who left.
"I would love to go back but I have no chance," he said.
For some Burmese residents, Suu Kyi's visit was the first tangible connection with the homeland they hope to one day return.
"I would appreciate and be very grateful if you could look back to your home country, which is Burma," she said.
Myanmar's half century of military rule invited crippling international sanctions. But President Thein Sein, who is visiting New York this week, has introduced political and economic reforms in recent years, and the U.S. is considering easing the main plank of its remaining sanctions, a ban on imports.
Suu Kyi, who already has met with President Barack Obama and received Congress' highest honor, said the sanctions were effective in pushing the junta to reform but that "they should now be lifted" so Myanmar can rebuild its economy.
"We cannot only depend on external support and support of our friends from other nations. We should also depend on ourselves to reach this goal," she said.

Friday, March 19

Kerry Gets One Right

“Kyaw Zaw Lwin spent seven months in unjust confinement and we are all relieved that his ordeal is now over.  Sadly, while he is coming home, Burma’s junta continues to hold its grip on 2,200 political prisoners. All are jailed for one reason — their efforts to convince the Burmese junta to respect basic human rights and agree to a genuine democratic process.” – John Kerry, U.S. Senator from Massachusetts

Nyi Nyi Aung Released

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) - A U.S. citizen accused of subversion was released from prison in his native Myanmar and deported Thursday after serving part of a three-year prison sentence.

Kyaw Zaw Lwin, also known as Nyi Nyi Aung, had been arrested when he arrived at Yangon's international airport Sept. 3 on accusations he was plotting to stir political unrest, which he denied.

The 40-year-old was sentenced in October for forging a national identity card, possessing undeclared foreign currency, and failing to renounce his Myanmar citizenship when becoming an American citizen.

He was released Thursday after 6½ months in prison and escorted aboard a flight to Thailand accompanied by a U.S. consular official, said his aunt, Khin Khin Swe.

"He looks well and happy, though much thinner than before," Khin Khin Swe said.

"I am very happy for him but I want families of other prisoners of conscience to be happy and hope that all will be released," she said, adding that five of her relatives are in prison, including her son-in-law.

The U.S. Embassy confirmed the release and said: "We welcome that development."

As a teenager in Myanmar, which is also known as Burma, Kyaw Zaw Lwin helped organize students during the country's 1988 pro-democracy uprising and later fled to the United States. His reason for returning to Myanmar was not clear, though there has been speculation he hoped to see his jailed relatives.

Attorney Beth Schwanke of the Washington-based advocacy group Freedom Now said that Kyaw Zaw Lwin had spoken by phone with his fiance, Wa Wa Kyaw, and would return Friday to their home in Montgomery Village, Maryland.

"She says he's exhausted and has clearly been through a horrible ordeal, and he sounds strong and that he's thrilled to be released and coming home to Maryland," Schwanke said.

Wa Wa Kyaw released a statement thanking the U.S. State Department and members of Congress for helping secure her fiancee's release.

U.S. Congressman Chris Van Hollen called Kyaw Zaw Lwin's case a "miscarriage of justice."

"His imprisonment, trial, and sentencing were a travesty and an affront to the rule of law," Van Hollen said in a statement. "While I am pleased Nyi Nyi Aung has been set free, we must continue to press for the release of all political prisoners held by the Burmese junta."

Myanmar's military government holds more than 2,000 political prisoners, according to the U.N. and independent human rights organizations. The most prominent is opposition party leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The 1991 Nobel peace laureate has been detained for about 14 of the last 20 years, and is currently under house arrest, from which she is due to be released in November.

Kyaw Zaw Lwin's mother is serving a five-year prison term for political activities, and his sister was sentenced to 65 years in prison for involvement in 2007 pro-democracy protests, which government forces brutally suppressed, activist groups and family members say.

Last year, another American was deported by Myanmar. John Yettaw, whose case attracted considerably more attention, was sentenced to seven years in prison in August for sneaking into Suu Kyi's home, but released less than a week later after a visit to the country by U.S. Senator Jim Webb.

Friday, March 5

Bangladesh, US, Train Near Burmese Waters

US naval ships started a three-day training exchange program with Bangladesh on Tuesday on the Bay of Bengal near Burmese territorial waters, said  an official source. “The training program started yesterday on the offshore island of Kutubdia in Cox’s Bazaar District, located near the Burmese border. In the training, 200 US naval personnel are participating,” the source said.

US Navy Commander Adam J. Welter is conducting the training with an estimated 200 naval personnel on board the USS Ingraham.

Commander Welter told journalists that the training is aimed at strengthening the relationship with Bangladesh through mutual cooperation and understanding.

The training is being conducted as part of a goodwill visit to Bangladesh, and will be carried out as the ship travels to Singapore from Bahrain, where it was engaged in anti-terror vigilance until two weeks ago.

The US and Bangladesh naval forces will share their experiences and knowledge as part of the training, not just militarily but also technical knowledge. Such joint military training missions are occasionally carried out by Bangladesh and the US in the Bay of Bengal.

Tuesday, March 2

“Burma VJ” in the running for Academy Award

The documentary “Burma VJ” is in the running for an Oscar for best feature-documentary at the 82nd Annual Academy Awards show which will be broadcast worldwide on Sunday night in the United States.“If “Burma VJ” receives the Oscar, it will be the first time in history that a whole nation’s population will receive the Oscar,” said Jan Krogsgaard, the originator and scriptwriter of the film. “I think even the generals of Burma would like to see this happen, deep inside themselves, and find peace within their own life.”

“Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country” tells the story of how Burmese video journalists took to the streets and filmed the September 2007 mass demonstrations in Rangoon. It is among five documentaries nominated this year.

Other nominees are “The Cove,” about a hidden dolphin slaughter in a Japanese town; “Food, Inc.,” a story of the horrors of factory farms, slaughterhouses and meat plants in the US; “The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers,” the story of a high-level Pentagon official and Vietnam War strategist who in 1971 concluded that the war was based on decades of lies and leaked top secret documents to The New York Times; and “Which Way Home,” a film that follows unaccompanied child migrants on their journey through Mexico as they try to reach the United States.

“Burma VJ” has already won 33 awards—including World Cinema Documentary Film Editing and Golden Gate Persistence of Vision prizes.

Most of the material for the film was shot by Burmese video journalists at great personal risk and smuggled out of the country to the Norway-based Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB). A Danish professional film-maker, Anders Ƙstergaard, directed the film, which was released to wide acclaim this year.

In an interview on the Oscar official Web site, producer Lise Lens-Moller said: “Burma had almost vanished from the global consciousness when we started working on the film in 2004 and the VJ’s main motivation for risking their lives and their freedom everyday was to try and bring attention to their situation. I hope the Oscar nomination will keep the Burmese people’s struggle alive and supported around the world.”

The live announcement of the Oscar winner will attract Burmese communities around the world.

“It must be a historical milestone,” said Khin Maung Win, the deputy executive director of the Democratic Voice of Burma. “Even if Burma VJ does not win the prize, the film will bring attention to our democracy movement.”

Wednesday, February 24

Recent Report on KIA

Laiza, Burma – The sharp sound of loading and unloading weapons and the barked orders of the sergeant-major cut through the mountains of northern Burma as the young cadets are put through their morning drills.Their discipline is good, their uniforms smart and there is little doubting their sense of purpose or patriotism towards the red and green flag with crossed machetes they proudly wear on their right shoulders.

They are the next generation of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), and say they are not afraid to be the generation that fights in a civil war many fear may soon be upon them.

“The Union of Burma was formed on the basis of equality for ethnic people, but there has been inequality throughout history and we are still being suppressed,” said cadet Dashi Zau Krang.

He is 26 and has a degree in business studies, but says inequality has stopped him getting a good job and driven him to join the military.

But he is not afraid.

“The Burmese army may be the strongest in South East Asia, while we are very few, but God will help us to liberate our people to get freedom and equality. This is our responsibility,” he said.

It is a war the Kachin people do not want and one they cannot win.

But their generals believe a 17-year ceasefire could soon end as a Burmese army deadline approaches, demanding the forces merge or disarm.

They have already refused, and although their leaders are still pushing for a political solution, their commanders are preparing for the worst when time runs out at the end of February.

“I can’t say if there will be war for sure, but the government wants us to become a border guard force for them by the end of the month,” said the KIA’s Chief of Staff, Maj Gen Gam Shawng.

“We will not do that, or disarm, until they have given us a place in a federal union and ethnic rights as was agreed in 1947.”

The KIA and its civilian organisation have been allowed to control a large swathe of northern Burma as part of a ceasefire agreement with the country’s ruling generals.

Trade with China

They provide power, roads and schools funded by taxes on the brisk trade from China as well as the jade and gold mines and teak.

But now soldiers are being recruited, veterans are being recalled and retrained, and an ethnic army is preparing to fight perhaps the biggest military force in South East Asia.

On the car radio are freedom songs, and at one of the training camps a course in traditional dance is being run – cultural nationalism and propaganda is strong.

A BBC team travelled to an area in northern Burma controlled by the Kachin army and its civilian arm, the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO).

We were taken to training camps and outposts, but could not walk into Laiza town to talk to people on the street for fear of being seen by an extensive network of Burmese or Chinese government informers and spies.

It made forming a balanced view very difficult, but the determination and planning of the military was clear.

High on a vantage point above their headquarters, trenches are being dug and tree trunks are being hauled and hewn into gun turrets piled high with earth.

They can see the Burmese army positions from here and they know this will be just one of the front lines if fighting breaks out.

A well-oiled and highly polished large-calibre anti-aircraft gun is produced, standing on a tripod in a bunker overlooking the lush jungle valley.

Guerrilla war

The gleaming gun is a statement, a display for the visitors, but the small metal plane stencilled on the sights looks woefully optimistic.

They are organised and say they have heavy weapons, but we did not see them.

There are around two dozen ethnic groups in Burma, mostly scattered around its borders, and the biggest have been in various states of ceasefire or civil war over the past few decades.

The KIA is one of the biggest. Their commanders say it includes 10,000 regular troops and 10,000 reservists, but it is impossible to know for sure.

The Burmese army is huge. It has an air force of sorts and artillery, and the KIA knows the only way to survive will be to withdraw into the jungle and fight a guerrilla war of attrition.

But civil war would create tens of thousands of refugees and create regional instability.

“If we are attacked the other ethnic groups will support us, as they know the same could happen to them,” Gen Gam Shawng explained.

The nearby Wa ethnic group has tens of thousands of troops and resources funded by drug smuggling, and we were told a deal with them had been agreed.

Whether civil war comes here is now up to the Burmese government.

If they use this election year to solve what they see as the “problem” of the ethnic groups they will have a fight on their hands, and the region will have to deal with the consequences.

Thursday, February 18

American Sentenced in Burma

A Myanmar court Wednesday sentenced a naturalized US citizen to three years in jail with hard labor on charges of committing forgery, illegal possession of foreign currency and refusing to revoke his Myanmar passport.

Judge Nyo Tun of the Yangon North District Court found Nyi Nyi Aung guilty on three counts and sentenced him to three years in jail.
'We will appeal his case at the Division Court soon,' said Nyan Win, the defendant's lawyer.

Nyi Nyi Aung, a former Myanmar student activist who fled to Thailand after the 1988 crackdown on the fledgling pro-democracy movement in his homeland, was arrested Sep 3 at Yangon International Airport.

He was initially accused of holding undeclared currency, a crime committed by most visitors entering Myanmar, where foreign currency is strictly controlled and the legal exchange rate is six kyat to the dollar, compared with 1,000 kyat to the dollar on the ubiquitous black market.

Authorities later added charges of holding forged documents and refusing to cancel his Myanmar passport.

Nyi Nyi Aung, who lived in Thailand from 1988 until 1994, was eventually granted refugee status by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and migrated to the US where he became a naturalized citizen in 2005.

In the US, he was a campaigner for democracy in Myanmar, which has been under military rule since 1962.

Nyi Nyi Aung reportedly entered Myanmar four times on his US passport between 2005 and 2009, meeting with various dissident groups.

Prior to his arrest in September, the junta had made it known he was a wanted man in Myanmar for his anti-government activities.

Friends speculated that he had returned to visit his mother, a political prisoner who is suffering from thyroid cancer.

There are an estimated 2,100 political prisoners in Myanmar jails or under house arrest.

Saturday, January 23

Hearing In Senate Foreign Relations Committee

The inconsistent foreign policy of the United States towards Asian countries has gifted an opportunity to China to enhance its influence over regional countries including military-ruled Burma, Senator Jim Webb said on Thursday during a hearing of which he chaired.Webb, in his remarks at the Senate’s Foreign Relations Subcommittee Hearing on Washington’s engagement in Asia, said, “American sanctions and other policy restrictions have not only increased Chinese political and economic influence in Southeast Asia, they ironically serve as a double reward for China because all the while American interaction in East Asia has been declining.”

Webb said in recent years China has become the only country in the world to which the United States is vulnerable, strategically and economically.

“And nowhere is this more obvious than in Burma, where Chinese influence has grown steadily at a time when the United States has cut off virtually all economic and diplomatic relations. Since then, Chinese arms sales and other military aid has exceeded $3 billion,” added the Virginian Senator.

Webb, who in August 2009 travelled to Burma and met with high-ranking junta officials, including Senior General Than Shwe, as well as detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, is a strong advocate of engagement with the Burmese junta, in power since 1988.

Webb said in the absence of United States engagement with the junta, China has taken over and greatly influenced the Burmese regime to the extent of creating “an intrinsic suspicion of U.S. motives in the region.”

“And as only one example of China’s enormous investment reach,” he added, in reference to a future pipeline to run through Burma, “within the next decade or sooner, Beijing is on track to exclusively transfer to its waiting refineries both incoming oil and locally tapped natural gas via a 2,380-kilometer pipeline, a $30 billion deal.”

The Senator said Washington should maintain consistency in its foreign policy towards Asia, as “inconsistencies inherent in our policies toward different governments tend to create confusion, cynicism, and allegations of situational ethics.”

The hearing on Thursday also took the testimony of Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, Dr. Robert Sutter of Georgetown University and Dr. Robert Herman of Freedom House.

Verdict Expected for Kyaw Zaw Lwin

A Myanmar court will hand down its verdict next week on an American charged with forgery and currency infractions after being accused of trying to foment rebellion against the country’s military rulers.Nyan Win, the lawyer for Myanmar-born Kyaw Zaw Lwin, said final arguments in his case were made Friday at the court inside Yangon’s notorious Insein prison, and a verdict is expected Wednesday.

Kyaw Zaw Win was arrested on Sept. 3 and initially accused of trying to stir up unrest which he has denied. Prosecutors later asked the court to charge him with forgery and violating the foreign currency exchange act.

He was put on trial in October and faces up to 12 years in prison.

Kyaw Zaw Lwin’s mother is serving a five-year prison term for political activities and his sister was sentenced to 65 years in prison for her role in 2007 pro-democracy protests, which government forces brutally suppressed, activist groups and family members say.

Kyaw Zaw Lwin staged a 12-day hunger strike in December to protest conditions of political prisoners in Myanmar, according to human rights groups.

Myanmar has one of the most repressive governments in the world and has been controlled by the military since 1962.

Rights groups and dissidents say the junta has jailed thousands of political prisoners, including pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, the 64-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Suu Kyi whose political party won 1990 elections that the military refused to recognize has been detained for 14 of the past 20 years, mostly under house arrest.

Air Force Jet Crashes at Myanmar Airport

Yangon – A Myanmar Air Force fighter plane crashed on Friday morning while attempting to land at Yangon airport, killing its pilot, an airport official said.An official at Yangon International Airport said the Chinese-made F-7 jet crashed while on a training flight. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

The cause of the crash was not immediately known. The Air Force base is adjacent to the civilian airport and uses the same runways.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, a Swedish think tank, Myanmar purchased at least 36 F-7 jets from China in the 1990s.