Tuesday, December 30

Activists calling for release of Suu Kyi arrested

December 30, 2008

Nine activists were arrested in Myanmar's commercial capital Tuesday during a march calling for the release of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, witnesses said.

The eight men and one woman from Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party were grabbed and shoved into waiting trucks by plainclothes police officers outside the old parliament building in Yangon, witnesses said on condition of anonymity because of fear of government retribution.

The protesters started their march at the party's headquarters and walked silently along Yangon's main road for about 30 minutes before they were detained, witnesses said. Some carried a banner calling for Suu Kyi's release.

It was not immediately clear where the NLD members were taken.

NLD spokesman Nyan Win said he heard that female party member Htet Htet Oo Wei was among those who marched but he could not confirm her arrest.

Htet Htet Oo Wei has been arrested several times in the past and was detained for about a month in May after she and nearly 20 party members marched from party headquarters to Suu Kyi's house.

Suu Kyi _ the face of Myanmar's beleaguered opposition _ has been detained continuously since May 2003 despite a worldwide campaign calling on the country's military rulers to release her. Her house arrest was extended for another year in May.

Myanmar has been under military rule since 1962. The current junta came to power in 1988 after crushing a nationwide pro-democracy uprising.

It held elections in 1990 but refused to honor the results after Suu Kyi's party won a landslide victory. Since then, it has drafted a constitution that voters approved in May. It paves the way for elections in 2010.

Critics have dismissed the junta's democratic road map, saying it is little more than a veiled effort by the generals to remain the dominant force in politics.

From Associated Press release.

Wednesday, December 24

Mizzima Specializes in Burma-related News

New Delhi (Mizzima) – An unidentified gunman on Saturday shot dead an Indian from Manipur at his rented house in Kalemyo town of North-western Burma, police said.


The Manipuri, who had reportedly rented a house near St. Mary's Catholic Church in Pinlong ward of Kalemyo Town, was shot dead on December 19, at about 6:45 p.m., according to the police.
"It is true that a Manipuri [Indian] was shot dead on Saturday," a police officer at the Kalemyo police station in Sagaing division told Mizzima.


But the officer declined to give further details of the killing.
"We heard that a gunman shot him through the open window and fled on a motorcycle. The bullet hit him on the chest and he died," a local resident of the ward said.


Neighbours of the Manipuri (Indian) man said, he had reportedly moved into his rented house about three months ago, but with little contact with him, they failed to give details about his occupation, name and his stay and its legal status.


A source living in the same ward told Mizzima that the Manipuri man was a member of an insurgent group fighting against Indian authorities but was based in Burma.


The source, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal, said the Manipuri man was set up in Kalemyo by an armed outfit in Manipur as a liaison person to deal with Burmese military officers and as a representative to purchase arms and ammunitions.


The source claimed that the Manipuri man was able to rent a house and stay in Kalemyo because of his connection with the Burmese Army, which has provided several Indian insurgent groups a safe haven in Burma.


Another source involved in arms smuggling across the international boundary said, most of the North-eastern Indian insurgents rely on Burma for supply of arms and ammunition. Earlier, the insurgents would wait for smugglers, who used Burma as a route to bring arms and ammunition up to the Indo-Burma border and purchase it.


But since early 2002, the source said, Manipuri insurgents are seen frequenting Mandalay, Burma's second largest city that connects China's border town of Ruili, and smugglers no longer need to supply arms.


"There are a lot of Manipuri insurgents residing in Burma's border towns like Tamu and Kalemyo. They are liaison persons who deal with Burmese Army officials and the key person to strike deals for arms," the source added.


A former arms smuggler, speaking to Mizzima on condition of anonymity said, "Some insurgent officers even marry local Burmese women and establish business in smuggling of arms and ammunitions."


He said, with a Chinese made AK-47 costing only about 1.5 million Kyat (Approximately USD 1100) in Kalemyo, it is a lucrative business as it can be sold off at an estimated Rs. 200,000 to insurgents on the Indo-Burma border. Currently, an Indian rupee is worth 25 Kyat.
Earlier, in 2005 and 2006, Mizzima's sources said that Manipuri insurgents were able to live in nearby forests in Tamu Township. But sources added many Indian insurgents are now seen in places as far as Kalemyo.


While Tamu Township is in the immediate border of India's Moreh town of Manipur state, Kalemyo is about 100 miles east of Tamu town and has a military brigade based in the town. It is also well connected with the rest of Burma including Mandalay and Rangoon through roadways as well as by flights.

Tuesday, December 23

19 North Korean Defectors Arrested in Myanmar

According to the International Herald Tribune Myanmar authorities arrested 19 North Korean defectors in a town near the border with Thailand, a government official said Saturday.

The arrests were made two weeks ago in Tachilek, a border town about 340 miles (550 kilometers) northeast of Yangon, the country's largest city, the official said on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media.

The detainees, including children and elderly women, will likely be tried for illegally entering the country, the official said.

"North Korean defectors usually travel though China to countries such as Myanmar, Laos, and Thailand" before making their way to South Korea, said a diplomat from the South Korean embassy, who spoke on condition of anonymity citing protocol.

The detainees could face two to three years in prison if they are charged with illegal entry, he said, adding that a request by the embassy to visit them has not been granted.

Thousands of people have fled North Korea in recent years, citing hunger and harsh political oppression. Many escape taking a risky land journey through China to Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries before seeking asylum in South Korea, which is home to nearly 14,000 North Korean defectors.

Myanmar severed relations with North Korea in 1983 following a bombing in Yangon by North Korean secret agents targeting former South Korean President Chun Doo-hwan. He was unhurt, but 21 people were killed.

The two countries have been quietly working to normalize relations for the past few years, and agreed to resume diplomatic ties in April 2007.

Friday, December 19

Myanmar Government Cancels 84 Tourism Shops

Chiang Mai, Thailand  - Eighty four tour and travel companies have been stripped off of their license by Burma’s directorate of Hotels and Tourism for failing to renew their license, officials said.

An official from the office the directorate of Hotels and Tourism told Mizzima that the license of the tour companies, which have been operating for two years, were cancelled as they failed to renew their license.

“Those that have been stripped off their license do not include popular tour companies. These companies are the ones that failed to report for more than two years, and defaulted in paying taxes,” the official at the directorate office of Hotels and tourism in Naypyitaw, Burma’s new capital, said.

The 84 tour companies are smaller operators among the over 500 tour companies operating in Burma.

“We issue a license for two years, and tour companies are required to renew them after two years. We can still accept it with a late fine for about six months. But these companies have disappeared for years. For some we don’t even know the addresses anymore,” the official added.

Sources in the tour industry said, the companies include a firm with foreign investments, and 20 companies that collaborate with foreign investors, while the rest are owned by local Burmese tour operators.

Tour companies in Burma have experienced a boom since mid-1990s, with the country receiving large numbers of foreign tourists. The lucrative business attracted private tour operators who rushed to apply for licenses and have effectively conducted tour operations.

However, the tourism industry suffered a jolt following the September 2007 monk-led protests, and smaller companies faced difficult times. Besides, more and more tourists avoided visiting Burma, when in May the ruling junta responded poorly to a natural disaster - Cyclone Nargis - that swept through Burma’s coastal divisions of Rangoon and Irrawaddy.

Following the devastation by the cyclone, the junta’s referendum on a draft constitution in May 2008, and the September 2007 mass protests, several private tour companies and smaller agencies folded up as the tourism business slid into doldrums.

An official of a Rangoon based Tour Company said, “Most of the tour companies that were stripped of their license are smaller companies that had rushed in when tourism boomed. It does not include those that are still actively doing business.”

“For those continuing in business, even if tourism is not doing as well as earlier, they are still able to survive and have not come to a point where they have to shut down operations,” the official added.

Monday, December 15

Chin Will Not Accept 2010 Election

The ethnic rebel group Chin National Front announced today they will not accept the junta’s planned general election scheduled for 2010.

The CNF passed the resolution during their Fourth Congress held on the Indo-Burma border from the 8th to the 13th of this month, according to the organization.

“We are facing real challenges in politics now. There may be changes too. So it is very important to us regarding how to respond to the 2010 election. We would like state our position on the election to the people in advance,” CNF General Secretary Paul Sitha told Mizzima.

The Congress also urged the Chin people to fulfill their wills and desires if they wish to compete in the election either through the establishment of a political party or as individuals.

The CNF said they do not accept the junta’s political roadmap and want only to pursue progress via the tripartite dialogue, which comprises various ethnic representatives and democratic forces in addition to the junta.

“We shall continue our protest against the SPDC’s [Burmese military government’s] roadmap. Especially I’d like to urge other opposition forces to join with us in this protest,” Paul Sitha said.

Before the backdrop of an exodus of many Chin nationals due to unjust restrictions, repressions and violations of fundamental rights by the junta, the CNF believes the Chin are faced with a national security crisis which must be resolved collectively by all ethnic Chin people at home and abroad, says the resolution.

The CNF, which is struggling for the establishment of a genuine federal union based on self-determination and equality for all ethnic people, was founded in May 1988 and maintains an armed wing called the Chin National Army which is based in the jungle on the Indo-Burma border.

The Congress also elected 13 members to the Central Committee, including Chairman Zing Cung, Vice-Chairman (1) Thomas Thangnou, Vice-Chairman (2) Thang Yen and General Secretary Paul Sitha.

The CNF convenes a Congress once every five years.

Saturday, July 19

So Far Just Literature

Members of Burma’s battered and disparate opposition are growing disillusioned with the old methods of the pro-democracy movement and are seeking ways to escalate their armed struggle.

“There is a very real debate among us about how to begin a more sustained armed struggle,” an organizer of last September’s failed uprising told the Guardian. “We are ready for that kind of action, if we can get the supplies and training that we need.”

Speaking from exile in Thailand, Soe Aung, the chief spokesman for the National Council of the Union of Burma (NCUB), an umbrella group representing nearly all facets of Burma’s disparate opposition, said he was witnessing a significant shift in the public attitude across Burma.

“After the September uprising and then the terrible cyclone response, the anger is surging. Some are considering violent means … the Burmese people are not that kind of people, there has been a real change.”

Soe Aung spoke openly of how covert Western support, primarily from the US state department-funded National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and its subsidiary the International Republican Institute (IRI), had been fundamental to the success of the uprising.

“The US is certainly doing the most for the opposition. There has been real success in training and forming an underground movement through religious organizations and monastic organizations. These provide the best cover inside Burma. The monks can spread their training very effectively.”

The NED describes itself as a private organization but was created by, and remains accountable to, the US Congress. Set up under the Reagan administration in 1983, it has since played a leading role in influencing civil society and electoral processes in countries around the world unfriendly to US interests.

According to Brian Joseph, the man in charge of the group’s Burma project, the NED gave $3million to Burma in 2007. “We would send more, but there is a limit to what you can do in Burma,” said Joseph.

Opposition activists both inside and outside Burma largely describe the improvements in political awareness and spread of information as a result of NED-funded projects, but also attribute them to the introduction of the internet to Burma in 2003.

“We could see in September how the advances were utilized. It wasn’t just the monks but a massive increase of awareness among Burmese of all types. This was thanks largely due to media organs, the Democratic Voice of Burma, satellite TV, and, of course, the internet,” said Soe Aung.

REB

Wednesday, July 16

Press Release: National Council of the Union of Burma

The democratic movement of Burma will be challenging the credentials of the Burmese military junta at the 2008 United Nations General Assembly session and object to its right to represent Burma at the United Nations. Since the endeavor is aimed at prompting reforms in the country as well as protecting the people of Burma from the ruthless suppression of the junta, we call upon the nations of the world to cooperate with us and to extend their active support for the effort.

For decades, the people of Burma have been peacefully endeavoring for political reforms in the country but the successive military regimes been resorting to murder, intimidation, and oppression to overcome these endeavors and maintain their power through brute force. The State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), formerly known as the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), is commonly recognized to be one of the most repressive and secretive governments in the world. The SPDC refused to honor the results of the last legitimate elections in 1990, when Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy won 80% of Parliamentary seats. Despite years of work by activists from both inside and outside Burma, efforts to foster a peaceful negotiated transition to a democratic civilian government have made little headway. To date, the junta's leadership has failed to honor any promises made with respect to democratic change and has instead increased measures to silence pro-democracy groups.

Over the last year, the international community has witnessed numerous demonstrations of the brutal and callous tactics the SPDC uses to maintain power, including the ruthless crackdown on peaceful monks and citizens calling for democratic reform in the Saffron Revolution; the disregard for human suffering in refusing international assistance following Cyclone Nargis; the illegal extension of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's confinement; and the fraudulent constitutional referendum conducted just days after Cyclone Nargis, even before the government assessed the damage from the storm. The injustice of these latest crimes is compounded when viewed in light of the junta's past atrocities, such as its violent repression of 1988 protests, its refusal to honor the 1990 elections, and its murder of NLD members in the 2003 Depayin massacre.

The most fundamental principle of democracy is that sovereignty rests with the people. Although the military junta has brutally oppressed the Burmese people and scoffed at the requests and demands of the international community, United Nations Member States have continued to extend the junta the privilege of illegally representing the people of Burma at the United Nations. Because the SPDC does not and cannot legitimately represent the state or people of Burma, it is now time to revoke its privilege of representing Burma to the United Nations.

The pro-democracy movement for Burma, united in coalition throughout the world, calls upon the Member States of the United Nations to stand up for the principles of democracy and human rights and reject the credentials of the SPDC's delegation to the United Nations during the upcoming session of the General Assembly.

Tuesday, July 1

Explosion July 1st

[Gleaned From Wire Services]

An explosion at dawn Tuesday rocked the office of a government-backed social welfare group whose members have been accused in attacks against Myanmar’s pro-democracy opposition, witnesses said. The witnesses, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of official reprisal, said the blast occurred at the office of Union Solidarity and Development Association office in the northern Yangon suburb of Shwepyithar. I have done a good bit of teaching in this industrial suburb. No casualties were reported.

Residents in Shwepyithar said riot police and security officials swarmed into the area after the explosion.

No further details were immediately available, and there were no immediate claims of responsibility. The government has not blamed any group for the bombing.

The USDA, a social welfare organization which was formed 15 years ago , claims to have more than 23 million members out of a national population of 57 million. Its members often have been accused of involvement in attacks against supporters of the pro-democracy opposition.

The organization, headed by junta chairman Senior Gen. Than Shwe, is to be transformed into a political party when general elections are held in 2010. Currently, the USDA is engaged in a wide range of social activities, from organizing health treatment in rural areas to planting trees.

The last explosion in Yangon, the country’s largest city, occurred in April when two bombs damaged some parked cars but caused no casualties.

The government often blames such attacks on anti-government dissident groups and separate ethnic rebels seeking autonomy.

Terrorism is rare but not unknown in Myanmar, which has been under military rule since 1962.

In 1990, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s party won a general election but was not allowed to take power by the military, which continues to tightly control the country.

Suu Kyi, who is currently under house arrest, has been in detention without trial for more than 12 of the past 18 years.

REB

Saturday, June 28

From Irrawaddy

There have been persistent but unconfirmed reports that Gen Thura Shwe Mann, 60, will take over the powerful position of commander in chief in the near future.

Expectations were renewed after a major reshuffle in the armed forces last week. Several heads rolled within the bureaus of special operations and new regional commanders were appointed.

Speculation is rife that the junta leaders and their closest allies are already preparing for the 2010 election and beyond.

As for Than Shwe, he will not be stepping down just yet. However, he will be considering which of his two most trusted generals will ultimately succeed him as head of the armed forces—either Thura Shwe Mann or Lt-Gen Myint Swe.

Shwe Mann has been with Burma’s defense ministry since 2001 and many of his peers believe he is being groomed to fill the top spot as commander in chief, a position currently held by Than Shwe.

At present, Shwe Mann is the No 3 man in the military hierarchy and holds the title of joint chief of staff. But reports suggest that senior army leaders who were former heads of the Bureau of Special Operations have resisted his command.

However, those around him tread carefully; Shwe Mann is considered to be one of Than Shwe’s protégés.

Graduating from the Defense Services Academy’s Intake 11 in 1969, Shwe Mann rose steadily through the ranks of the officers’ corps, becoming a major in 1988. What involvement he had in the bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protestors that year remains unknown.

Shwe Mann earned the title “Thura,” meaning “bravery,” during offensive operations against the Karen National Liberation Army in 1989.

In 1991, he served as a tactical operations commander for Light Infantry Division (LID) 66, based in Prome, northern Bago Division.

By 1996, he had been promoted to brigadier-general and was appointed to oversee security in Rangoon as commander of the elite LID 11 based in Htauk Kyant, about 20 miles (32 km) west of the former capital.

One year later Shwe Mann got his big break. He was posted to Irrawaddy Division as commander of the Southwest Military Region as well as joining the fraternity as a de facto member of the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). Traditionally, most senior leaders, including Than Shwe, are posted in the delta before becoming head of the armed forces.

After serving three years in the delta, Shwe Mann was promoted to major-general and became a permanent member of the SPDC. He was transferred to the defense ministry where he assumed the prestigious position of joint chief of staff, permitting him an oversight of all commanders from the army, navy and air force.

The following year, he was awarded the newly minted position of Tatmadaw Nyi Hnying Kutkae Yay Hmu or Coordiantor of Special Operations, Army, Navy and Airforce, a lofty title, from where he could also keep an eye on  the country’s bureaus of special operations.

In 2003, Shwe Mann was awarded his fourth star, reaching the rank of general.

Interestingly, very little has been heard from or about him in Burma’s official press since his attachment to the defense ministry.

Shwe Mann appears to shun the spotlight and rarely speaks in public. The one notable time he did make a public speech was when former premier Gen Khin Nyunt and his intelligence apparatus were purged from power in 2004.

“In the military everybody is liable for their failure to abide by the law. Nobody is above the law,” he told a gathering of businesspeople.

Burma’s aging military leadership is constantly searching for a young and trustworthy young gun to lead the country once they relinquish power. And the choice will not be Vice Snr-Gen Maung Aye, the current No 2, who is reportedly out of favor with Than Shwe.

Maung Aye, currently army chief and simultaneously deputy commander in chief of the armed forces is senior to Shwe Mann and a power struggle seems inevitable.

Observers speculate about how much real authority Shwe Mann really has. He runs day-to-day military affairs in the Ministry of Defense, but is allegedly bypassing Maung Aye and reporting directly to Than Shwe. In any case, if Maung Aye opposes promotion, it is unlikely Shwe Mann will reach the top post anytime soon.

Shwe Mann has a reputation of being down to earth and seems to have earned considerable respect among Burma’s foot soldiers, particularly those who served directly under his command.

He and his wife are also close to Than Shwe’s family on a personal basis, flying together on occasion to Singapore for shopping trips.

Like most of Burma’s top military leaders, Shwe Mann generally avoids talking about pro-democracy icon and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. Some observers believe that he has specific reasons for avoiding the topic. He is certainly cautious not to attack her publicly.

In fact, Shwe Mann has not yet shown his hand with regard to a broad range of social, economic and political issues. His vision for Burma’s future is quietly unclear.

He has been quoted as saying, however, that the country’s future leaders must have in-depth knowledge in two specific areas—gems and rice.

This belief would appear to bear the hallmarks of self-interest though, as his family is involved in rice exporting, or at least they were before the cyclone struck.

Rumored to be taking steps to modernize Burma’s antiquated rice mills to improve export production, Shwe Mann and his son, Aung Thet Mann, enjoy a close working relationship with junta business crony Tay Za.

Aung Thet Mann is a director at Ayer Shwe Wah, which in 2005 became the first private company to be allowed to export rice to Bangladesh and Singapore. The company is part of Tay Za’s Htoo Trading Company and both companies and their directors are on the US sanctions list.

In 2000, the government presented Ayer Shwe Wah with more than 30,000 acres of wetlands and rice paddy in the Irrawaddy delta region. The company also received lucrative government contracts to supply fertilizers to farmers throughout the delta and is involved in construction projects in the new administrative capital, Naypyidaw.

During the early days of the cyclone crisis, the Shwe Mann camp leaked news that he supported more international cooperation, more aid and more UN assistance. However, he was apparently stonewalled by hardliners Than Shwe and Maung Aye.

As a leader, Shwe Mann would listen and look toward economic reform, some businessmen in Rangoon have said.

There’s no doubt that if Shwe Mann rises to become commander in chief of the armed forces, many of his associates and Burmese businessmen would welcome the move. In fact, they are banking on him.

REB

Thursday, May 29

Finally - UN Visas Approved

Myanmar's military rulers have approved visas for dozens of international relief workers and were allowing more foreigners into areas devastated by a cyclone that left millions in need of aid, the United Nations said Thursday.

It was an apparent sign that the isolationist regime planned to keep its promise to allow in humanitarian workers from all countries and give them access to the Irrawaddy delta, which took the brunt of the cyclone that landed May 2.

The last 45 pending visas were granted to U.N. staffers, while Save the Children, Doctors Without Borders and the U.N. Children's Fund have sent more than 14 workers in recent days into the delta region, a U.N. statement said.

Japan, which has so far donated $13 million in aid, sent a 23-member medical team to the country Thursday, the Foreign Ministry said in Tokyo.

"I went to some areas where no international relief personnel had been to, and the priorities for these people are food and shelter. We're going to be working very hard to deliver these items to them," Tony Banbury, regional head of the U.N. World Food Program, told AP Television News Thursday.

The storm left an estimated 2.4 million people in desperate need of food, shelter and medical care, according to the U.N. Myanmar's government says the cyclone killed 78,000 people and left 56,000 missing.

Myanmar's leaders are leery of foreign aid workers and international agencies, worrying they could weaken the junta's grip on power. The generals also don't want their people to see aid coming directly from countries like the U.S. that the junta has long treated as a hostile power.

They only allowed foreign aid workers in after U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met with junta leader Senior Gen. Than Shwe last weekend.

But state-run media took a swipe at the foreign aid on Thursday, saying that people in the delta could survive on "fresh vegetables that grow wild in the fields and on protein-rich fish from the rivers" if they could not get "bars of chocolate donated by the international community."

Commentary in the Myanma Ahlin newspaper said that while the country welcomed international aid, "Myanmar people are self-reliant and can stand on their own without foreign assistance."

While not naming the agency, the article slammed a monetary institution, saying its refusal to extend loans or financial aid to cyclone victims was "an act of inhumanity."

While garnering some praise for opening up to the international aid community, global powers have voiced outrage at a decision by the government to extend the detention of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi just days after donors pledged large sums of money to help the cyclone victims.

Several countries, including the United States, Britain and France, issued biting statements about the regime's order to keep the Nobel peace laureate under house arrest for a sixth year.

"This measure testifies to the junta's absence of will to cooperate with the international community," French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said in a statement.

He called on Myanmar's government to "free without delay" Suu Kyi and other political prisoners and opposition members being held. Suu Kyi has been held for more than 12 of the past 18 years, becoming a symbol of the junta's intolerance of dissent.

Many nations critical of Myanmar's abuses had put politics aside to help survivors of Cyclone Nargis. Representatives from 50 nations pledged up to $150 million Sunday, while remaining quiet about Suu Kyi's plight.

The regime considers its biggest threat to be Suu Kyi, daughter of the country's martyred independence leader, Gen. Aung San. She was awarded her Nobel prize in 1991 for her nonviolent attempts at promoting democracy and is widely popular.

Under Myanmar law, people deemed security threats can be detained for a maximum of five years without trial. The regime has not officially announced its decision to extend Suu Kyi's detention or explain why it is violating its own law. An official confirmed the extension, but insisted on not being quoted by name because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Wednesday, May 21

Chris Beyrer in the Boston Globe Calls For Intervention

THE UNITED NATIONS estimates that more than 100,000 people may have been killed in the devastating cyclone in Burma and that some 220,000 are reported missing. But approaching three weeks after the storm, some 75 percent of the 3 million or more severely affected have yet to receive any food, water, shelter, medication for the sick, or means of escape from flooded regions. The Burmese junta has denied access for the delivery of humanitarian aid to all but a handful of outsiders.

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    The next wave of dying is already underway, from thirst, starvation, untreated injuries, and infectious diseases. Major health threats for survivors include water-borne diseases such as typhoid, dysentery, cholera, and e. coli; food-borne diseases from eating poor or rotten food, compounded by the lack of cooking fuel and equipment; and the mosquito-borne diseases malaria and dengue fever, now compounded by the huge numbers of people sleeping outside and surrounded by water.

    The international community is at a crucial moment of choice: Should the sovereignty of a regime bent on self-preservation trump the lives of those hundreds of thousands of civilians who are in serious peril because of its life-threatening actions?

    Under the new doctrine of the "responsibility to protect," unanimously adopted by the General Assembly and Security Council, inherent in each state's sovereignty is a corresponding duty to protect one's own citizens from the most serious of human-rights abuses, including crimes against humanity. If a state is either unwilling or unable to protect its own citizens, the international community has an obligation to step in.

    By its policy choices, the Burmese junta is magnifying the extent of the tragedy in a manner that is designed to sacrifice its own people on the altar of its very survival. Such conduct presents a prima facie case of crimes against humanity, under the category of so-called "other inhumane acts" intentionally causing great suffering or death. So far, Burma's allies on the Security Council, including China, Russia, and South Africa, have protected the junta from a robust international response.

    UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon travels to Burma tomorrow to press the regime for greater access. Nevertheless, he has yet to receive any response from General Than Shwe to his calls and letters. ASEAN foreign ministers met Monday and issued a statement claiming that Burma agreed to allow swift access. But the international community should not be fooled by symbolic gestures from the junta such as approving nine helicopters from the World Food Program to fly in relief or granting visas to dozens of aid workers from surrounding countries. Progress is being made at a snail's pace in comparison to the massive need. What is required now is both a massive inflow of supplies and the expert aid workers needed to deliver relief on the scale this storm demands.

    While these political discussions drag on and millions suffer, the junta is using the tragedy to its every advantage. ASEAN is now hosting what the Burmese have described as a "reconstruction" conference in Rangoon on Sunday. Yet how can one talk about reconstruction before the most basic needs of the people have yet to be met? And holding this conference on the same day that the house arrest of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi must be extended will no doubt be spun in junta propaganda as expressions of international approval for their policies.

    If Ban and ASEAN cannot persuade the junta to yield in swift and meaningful ways then the United States, United Kingdom, and France need to press for a multilateral intervention supporting countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore in delivering massive quantities of aid, which Burma has purportedly agreed to allow. Such an Asian intervention should be less threatening than a Western one. But an intervention with or without the support of the junta is desperately needed.

    While the Burmese junta has no qualms about sacrificing its own people, to stand idly by as thousands suffer and die would leave all of us with blood on our hands.

    __________________

    Chris Beyrer, a medical epidemiologist, directs the Center for Public Health and Human Rights at Johns Hopkins University. Jared Genser is president of Freedom Now and attorney for Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who remains under house arrest in Burma.

    Monday, May 19

    France Calls UN "Cowards" Says Junta Guilty of Crimes Against Humanity

    French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said on Monday countries on the U.N. Security Council that did not agree to pressure Myanmar into opening its doors to foreign aid were guilty of “cowardice”.

    France has tried unsuccessfully to convince the Council that Myanmar’s military rulers should let aid reach the victims of Cyclone Nargis under a “responsibility to protect” principle recognised in a 2005 U.N. resolution on armed conflicts.

    China, Russia, Vietnam and South Africa have opposed Council involvement in what they say is a humanitarian, not a political issue.

    “We denounce the impending death of thousands more civilians, and we are accused of meddling in the internal affairs of a sovereign state,” Kouchner, who founded medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres, said in an opinion piece in newspaper Le Monde.

    Kouchner recognised that a U.N. resolution enshrining the “responsibility to protect” was only passed with armed conflicts in mind, and therefore did not apply to Myanmar, where the cyclone hit two weeks ago, leaving 134,000 dead and missing.

    Instead he cited a 1988 resolution which states that leaving the victims of natural disasters without humanitarian assistance “constitutes a threat to human life and an offence to human dignity” and invites states in need of help to facilitate the work of aid groups.

    “This is indeed a fundamental human right,” Kouchner said.

    “International policy, the morality of extreme emergency demand that it be respected. The member states of the Security Council could only shy away from it at the cost of cowardice,” he added.

    Kouchner’s comments were written before the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) said on Monday Myanmar would accept medical workers from southeast Asian countries and was ready to accept international aid agencies.

    Humanitarian agencies say the death toll of Nargis, one of the most devastating cyclones to hit Asia, could soar without a massive increase of emergency food, water shelter and medicine to the worst-hit region, the Irrawaddy Delta.

    France has sent a warship with around 1,000 tonnes of humanitarian equipment to the waters off the delta, but it has not received permission from the junta to deliver the aid.

    Myanmar’s U.N. envoy accused France on Friday of sending a “warship,” a charge the French ambassador denied. France has said the junta is on the verge of a “crime against humanity”.

    Tuesday, May 13

    What Is Happening To The Aid?

    According to many sources inside Burma, what little aid is being allowed into the country is being confiscated by the generals and then some portion of it is either being sold to the people at outlandishly inflated prices or an inferior substitute is being put in its place while the original aid is kept for the generals and their families or those loyal to them.

    A Rangoon resident said military trucks had come to Nyaungpinlay market in the city to sell instant noodle packets, but no one had bought them. In Bogalay, you can buy raincoats donated by the UN, as many as you like for 8000 [kyat]. Rolls of tarpaulin can be bought in Bogalay’s Chinatown for 100,000 a roll. Merchants bought all 100 rolls straight away,” he said.

    “A shopkeeper who sold food to refugees in Bogalay on 4 May asked soldiers from Battalion 66 to help her keep order, but the soldiers took away all her merchandise and did not return it,” he went on. “Soldiers also took away all the goods from a boat that docked in Bogalay harbour after the storm and then sold them in the market four or five days later.”

    National League for Democracy spokesperson U Nyan Win said party members had seen foreign relief supplies on sale in a Rangoon market. “Our storm relief committee went to buy quite a lot of towels from Mingalar market to donate them to refugees,” he said.

    “When we looked at them back in the office, they were labeled ‘WFP’ and had a Japanese flag in the middle with ‘Donated by the people of Japan’ written underneath.” Nyan Win stressed the government’s duty to ensure relief supplies get to the people who need them most.

    It is a hard thing to say that we should not make donations in such an emergency. But we certainly should not make donations through the usual channels. Why? Because it only further empowers the thugs who currently hold the lives of millions in their greedy fists.

    If we make contributions it should be through established NGOs that are already on the ground in Myanmar with a proven track record of getting aid to people in distress.

    REB

    Friday, May 9

    Finally, Some Good News

    While the UN, Red Cross, and others are having a terrible time getting into the nation of Burma because of the recalcitrance of the military junta, World Vision has already begun distributing things necessary for survival.

    If you would like to make a difference, there is an organization that is already in Myanmar on the ground. They can give genuine help rather than simply further lining the pockets of the Tatmadaw.

    Click Here. In just the last few days, they've distributed over 38 tons of rice and 4,500 gallons of fresh water, making a life-or-death difference for over 100,000 people.

    P.S. In addition to a one-time gift, the most powerful way you can help is by sponsoring a child in need in Myanmar. There are children waiting for a sponsor like you — especially now. Please prayerfully consider becoming a Myanmar child sponsor today.

    World Vision is a Christian humanitarian organization dedicated to working with children, families and their communities worldwide to reach their full potential by tackling the root causes of poverty and injustice.

    REB

    When Beggars Can Be Choosers

    The UN finally reached the end of its rope with the Burmese generals who are holding their nation hostage in the midst of a humanitarian crisis that is getting worse with each passing hour. On Friday the UN's World Food Programme (WFP) suspended aid to cyclone-devastated Myanmar (Burma) after the generals stole the food and disaster relief materials sent there by the UN. The WFP referred to the action of the military in Myanmar as "unprecedented."

    WFP officials said they have “no choice” but to suspend their aid efforts following the unprecedented seizure by the secretive military government.

    According to Irrawaddy, "Meanwhile, the regime’s TV is spending large amounts of time broadcasting 'vote yes' propaganda on the constitutional referendum on Saturday. Well-known singers and actors were shown in one spot dancing and singing while urging people to vote yes.”

    Where is the outrage?

    Meanwhile the same thugs who supported the generals back in October by clubbing and mugging the monks are now doing the same with relief workers who have not been hand-picked by Than Shwe.

    Again, according to the Irrawaddy newspaper, "A convoy of vehicles carrying rice to cyclone victims in Rangoon’s Thanlyin Township was attacked on Thursday by armed members of Swan-Ar-Shin, a government-supported organization that helped suppress last September’s demonstrations, one Rangoon source reported. The attackers were armed with clubs and knives, the source said."

    One NGO worker said permission had to be obtained from another pro-government organization, the Union Solidarity and Development Association [USDA], before relief supplies could be delivered.

    REB

    We Should Be Angry!

    The last time I was in Myanmar, the kind folks of that country were not being allowed to read this blog. The government has determined that it is not in the best interests of the regime there for folks to read this. So, along with pornography, the government censors such things as the internet and the free distribution of ideas.

    There is an unelected "government" in Burma that, having usurped power from the elected government, is afraid of its own people. They are afraid of what people will think of them if they hear anything other than the official version of the truth. We should therefore not be surprised -- saddened, yes, but not surprised -- when we learn that the military government of Burma is now keeping food and other aid from its own citizens. Why? The only reason that one can give with these men is that it would make them look weaker in the eyes of their own citizens and would strengthen the resolve of the Burmese people to look elsewhere than their military for relief from the oppression of such calamities as Nargis.

    But if the people see their own government for the cowards and weaklings that they are (weaklings with guns are still quite formidable, as the monks found out last October), then they will look to other options than keeping the Tatmadaw and Nasakha. The military disarmed most opposition groups during the 1960s and 70s. Now they are keeping food from those disarmed citizens.

    Whatever else one may think of the UN or its World Food Programme, it is necessary to realize that there was a lot of high-energy food left sitting on the tarmac at Yangon's Mingaladon airport. But it was not the UN's fault. The Tatmadaw does not want anyone else but their own members handing out the food. This is because they would lose face in the eyes of the people. The opinion of the people is therefore more important to the military junta of Burma than are the lives of the people.

    When does a government quit being the "powers ordained of God" and show itself to be simply an occupying force of thugs intent upon stealing the food and lives of the people? When it shoots its own citizens and religious leaders? When those being shot have done nothing more than peacefully present their own opinions in the public square? How about when it starves its own citizens?

    General Than Shwe lavished presents on his daughter Thandar at her recent wedding -- gifts estimated by some to be worth over 25 million British pounds. But when it comes to allowing others to give presents to his people so they can survive, he shows himself to be far less generous. Nero reportedly fiddled while Rome burned. Whether that story is true, it surely is the case that Than Shwe is fiddling while Myanmar drowns and starves. Next the disease will begin. Cholera and Typhoid will begin running through the area where the dead bodies lie. The military junta of Burma have little public health understanding even when there is not a disaster. The death toll will mount...while Than Shwe fiddles.

    What can happen? ASEAN can cut off ties to the junta; China can refuse any further aid to the generals (most of their aid is military -- the last thing the Burmese people need right now); the UN can insist that either aid will be distributed or the ruling junta of Myanmar will no longer be recognized as the rightful government of Burma.

    REB

    Thursday, May 8

    Information on Cyclone Nargis has been posted daily since the fourth at my other blog:

    http://fbpminister.wordpress.com

    REB

    Tuesday, February 26

    The Following Compiled By The Aquila Project


    Last fall, monks, students, and citizens took to the streets to protest the brutal military regime in Burma (Myanamr).

    Listed below is some information that has been gathered regarding what is now called the ‘Saffron Revolution’.

    Saffron Revolution in Numbers(From Asia Pacific People’s Partnership on Burma (APPPB)

    In total there have been 227 protests openly defying the military regime.

    On September 24 alone, over 1,000,000 people took to the streets in 26 cities and towns across Burma, marching for freedom and a better life. (1)

    In total, demonstrations have taken place in 66 cities across the country in all 7 states and all 7 divisions. (2)

    So far an estimated 3000 protesters have been detained. This includes at least 1,400 monks and nuns. (3)

    On August 21, 13 leaders of the 88 Generation Students Group were arrested. On average, they have already spent 30% of their life behind bars.

    In the bloody crackdown that began on September 26, more than 200 people have been killed. (4) The ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) only claims that 9 have been killed.

    In the crackdown, 1 Japanese journalist was killed, at least 5 other journalists were
    arrested and 10 were injured or harassed. (5)

    Before August 21, there were 1158 political prisoners in Burmese prisons. (6)

    At least 1,000 people have been disappeared during the Saffron Revolution. (7)

    At 11am on September 28, the SPDC shut down the country’s only public web server. This prevented Burmese people from getting urgent messages to the world.

    The protests started after the SPDC increased the price of fuel by as much as 500%
    90% of families in Burma live near or at the poverty line ($1 US a day). (8)

    1 Forum for Democracy in Burma (FDB) estimate
    2 FDB estimates.
    3 Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) estimate
    4 DVB estimate
    5 Reporters Sains Frontiers (RSF) (30 September 07), ‘At least five journalists arrested in Rangoon,including Japanese daily’s correspondent’,
    6 AAPP
    7 AAPP
    8 United Nations Survey
    New Daily Newspaper For Myanmar?

    The publisher of the weekly Myanmar Times newspaper, Myanmar Consolidated Media Company, is to publish a daily newspaper from May this year, according to one of the company’s employees.

    The Myanmar Times employee said a printing workshop for the daily newspaper is now being set up in Rangoon’s New South Dagon township with technicians from Australia, and a training process for reporters has been developed.

    A journalist in Rangoon said the 20-page newspaper will be printed in Burmese and the first edition is expected to come out in May this year, after the national referendum.

    “They have been recruiting reporters for the daily newspaper for the past two months. Anyone who is interested in journalism can apply for the training programmes,” said the journalist on condition of anonymity.

    The Myanmar Times daily newspaper, if approved by the government, will be the first private newspaper to be published daily in Burma since general Ne Win’s military government took over national power in 1962.

    Friday, February 22

    Broken Plane

    Air Bagan has suspended its flights to Putao in Northern Burma’s Kachin State from today after an aircraft broke into two while taking off in Putao airport on Tuesday.

    On February 19, an Air Bagan plane, ATR 72, failed to take off and broke into two. The aircraft overran about 300 feet off the airport’s runway. Air Bagan’s owner Tayza has left for Putao to inspect the plane.

    There were six foreign tourists along with two officials of the American embassy in the aircraft, sources in the airline said.

    While the pilot broke his hand, the rest of the 57 passengers were reportedly unhurt.

    Thursday, February 21

    Christian Science Monitor continues to monitor situation in Burma.

    "We are ready for compromise," insists Mr. Han Than. "We are not at war with the government. All we want is to express our opinion – but even that we are not allowed." Under international pressure, the junta recently agreed to send an envoy to hold talks with Suu Kyi, but these have been going nowhere. Last month she sent word to her party that no progress has been made.

    And so, reluctantly, most Burmese are left with faith in the long term. "We have no faith in these passing pronouncements," says the head of a monastery in the ancient town of Sagaing, who spoke anonymously for security reasons. "In any case, if we got democracy today we would lose it the next day because we would not know what to do with it.... We have been 'de-educated.' "

    Although Burma used to be famous in Southeast Asia for its quality education, today the situation is abysmal as half of its budget goes to the 400,000-strong military and less than 1 percent to education. According to the UN, 50 percent of children here do not finish primary school.

    Wednesday, February 13


    Local residents in Rangoon [now known as Yangon], Burma’s former capital, say security has apparently tightened. They report seeing members of Swan Arr Shin, a junta-backed civil organization, patrolling the city.

    Soldiers, police and Swan Arr Shin members can be seen conducting security checks on vehicles entering Rangoon, according to local residents.

    “We don’t know why, but the authorities have been checking licenses and recording the number plates of vehicles as they enter Rangoon. And in the city about three truckloads of soldiers, with red ribbons around their necks, are on patrol,” a local resident of Kyuaktad Township told Mizzima.

    “And in Ahlone and Kyimyindine Townships authorities have taken young people and made them put on Swan Arr Shin uniforms and patrol the city at night. The kids are excited as they are given uniforms and taken in vehicles to go on patrol,” he added.

    Tuesday, February 12

    Christian Science Monitor Reports Censorship In Burma

    Rangoon, Burma - Saw Wai is a Burmese poet known for his love songs. His eight-line Valentine's Day ode, about a brokenhearted man in love with a fashion model, was a particularly tender one. But there was one problem.

    If read vertically, the first word of each line formed the phrase: "Power Crazy Senior General Than Shwe."

    The senior general himself, head of Burma's (Myanmar's) military junta, could not have been amused. The head of the censorship board was urgently called to the capital; the weekly "Love Journal" has been shut down and copies of the offending edition were yanked from newsstands.
    Saw Wai is now in jail, where apparently he will spend Feb. 14 in isolation, behind bars.

    Extreme government censorship is as much a part of life in today's Burma as rice and pagodas.

    Everything from TV programs to newspaper ads goes through a rigorous vetting board. But the junta is fighting a losing battle against a population hungry for information, armed with tools ranging from transistor radios to sneaky editors and myriad ways to bypass blocks on Internet sites.

    Since last September's monk uprising, the censorship has increased. And criticism of the ruling junta is not all that is wiped out – so is most bad news, including reports on natural disasters and defeats of the national soccer team. Even good news can be cut if it's about countries out of favor with the government.

    Reporters Without Borders' (RSF) Press Freedom Index placed Burma 164th out of 168 countries last year, just ahead of Cuba, Eritrea, Turkmenistan, and North Korea. This year, the country might do even worse.

    "The police and army continue to hunt for journalists and activists who photographed and filmed the [September 2007] crackdown on the pro-democracy demonstrations," RSF says in its January report.

    All TV and radio stations in Burma are government owned. The same is true for the country's three daily papers, which routinely run front-page stories along the lines of "Maj-Gen Khin Zaw of Ministry of Defense inspected bridges on the railroad yesterday," or Maj- Gen Tha Aye of the Ministry of Defense attended a ceremony to broadcast fertilizers for summer paddy."

    Far more popular than the dailies are the 80-odd privately owned weekly and monthly magazines here – which are read, according to the British Broadcasting Corporation's (BBC) World Service Trust, by some 40 percent of the urban and 20 percent of the rural population.

    Yet these have to submit everything from their editorials to cartoons to a government censorship board before publication. Falling afoul of the board results in immediate punishment ranging from having the paper closed, to years of imprisonment.

    Very slow Internet access – which, in any case, is found only in the biggest cities – while cheap, is still a luxury for many. It, too, is under government control. Officially, all e-mails go through the authorized government-run Internet service providers, where detailed data on users is collected, and the mail itself is scoured, sometimes causing days of delays. Popular e-mail sites such as hotmail.com and gmail.com, along with foreign newspapers and a long list of other supposedly undesirable sites, are blocked.

    Following last year's riots, all Internet access was cut off for three weeks. And, according to several Internet cafĂ© owners, since then, they have been pressured to register the personal details of all customers and save screen images every five minutes on each computer – all of which could be demanded at any time by authorities.

    So how does news actually get in, out, and about? The commercial papers are locked in a never-ending game of cat and mouse with the censors, explains an editor of one popular weekly here, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of security concerns. For example, newspapers typically re-send the same stories to the censor board a few weeks later, rewritten, with a new headline. "If we fail the first time, we restick the main point about three quarters of the way down in the story and surround it with very technical language to get the censors bored. We can still say a lot," he explains.

    "Journalism is a vehicle for doing what we care about – which is actively advocating for social and economic change," admits the publisher of another weekly, who also asked his name not be used.

    Meanwhile, foreign shortwave radio services are enormously popular here, with an estimated 40 percent of Burmese tuning in to the BBC, Voice of America Burmese broadcasts, Radio Free Asia, and the Democratic Voice of Burma. Small Chinese-made radios cost as little as $5.

    Watching satellite television is harder because of frequent electric outages, and the expense. Nonetheless, it is popular with Burmese gathering in tea shops to watch sports and catch news.

    "My constituency is a small town in upper Burma, but even there we have small satellite dishes and radios, and everyone is listening to the radio or watching the tennis," says U Han Tha Even, spokesman of the opposition NLD. "Even the military is listening to the BBC. Where else would they get information?"

    In addition, in Rangoon and Mandalay, months-old copies of The Economist or Time magazine pass like gold from hand to hand. At night, under generator-run lights, locals crowd into makeshift outdoor secondhand book markets, browsing.

    The Internet cafes in these main cities are packed with youngsters overriding the blocks with endless formulas to reach proxy servers – and freely surfing the web, in open defiance of the law. They chat with friends across the border in Thailand, check gmail accounts, read news, search for scholarship opportunities overseas, and follow American celebrity antics.

    "I think there as many ways to enter gmail through side portals as there are ways to block it," says Zaw Zaw, a young Internet cafe owner, who admits he does not follow rules about tracking customers, and, so far, nothing has happened.

    "Media from the outside is so very important," stresses Burmese monk in exile Abbot U Uttara, who heads the Sasana Ramsi Vihara in London. "Not only to stay informed, but because it conveys to those within Burma that the world has not forgotten them."

    The flow of information goes both ways. While Burma is notoriously strict about letting foreign journalists into the country and restricts travel within Burma, many do enter, and a lot of what the junta is trying to cover up is reported anyway. Meanwhile, courageous local journalists reporting for outside media are very active. Burmese news sites based outside the country – such as Irrawaddy.org and Mizzima.com – put out daily reports using journalists within.

    During September's demonstrations, despite a heavy crackdown on media, and the shooting to death of a Japanese journalist (which the government claims was accidental), images of the beatings and shootings of unarmed protesters crossed the world within minutes of the events – courtesy, mainly, of local activist journalists who rushed to nearby cafes or embassies with photos and reports. Mobile phones, while more expensive in Burma than almost anywhere else, are also becoming popular – allowing for immediate sending of both photos and text messages.

    Valentine's Day poet Saw Wai remains in jail, says the weekly publisher, but there is no doubt others will continue fighting the boundaries here by cheekily sending out subversive messages, flooding the censors with reworded news stories, buying more radios, and bypassing blocked sites. "The times where you could isolate a whole country will never return. It's just not possible," he says. "Ours are small victories, but they are still victories."
    Government In Exile Calls For Boycott

    The leader of Burma’s US-based government in exile has called for a boycott of the junta-announced referendum on a draft constitution and of elections planned for 2010.Sein Win, prime minister of the National Coalition Government of Union of Burma (NCGUB), told The Irrawaddy neither a referendum nor an election would solve Burma’s problems and would only legitimize authoritarian military rule.

    Sein Win said the announcement of a referendum, to be followed by an election in 2010, could not be accepted while opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi remained under house arrest. The regime hadn’t even started talks with opposition leaders and ethnic groups, he said.

    By unilaterally announcing the planned referendum and election, Sein Win said, the junta had sent a message that it was moving ahead with its seven point road map. “This means that they do not want to take the opposition into confidence, and they are totally ignoring the 1990 elections. As such we are not confident of the next election,” he said.

    The Washington-based NCGUB was constituted and endorsed by representatives elected in the 1990 elections in Burma. Sein Win, a cousin of Suu Kyi, has led it since 1990.

    Sein Win said the NCGUB also opposed the regime’s plan for a referendum and election “because of the present situation when there is no freedom of media, and no rule of law. Under these circumstances, people should not take part in any of those processes.”

    The regime should hold talks with Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy, and with ethnic leaders, Sein Win said. Then, he added, “we will have our solution.”

    Sein Win said it was also time for the UN Security Council to give a stronger mandate to the UN Secretary-General’s Office and the UN Envoy to Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, allowing them to play an effective mediatory role in bringing about an equitable solution to the political deadlock in Burma.

    Some observers have speculated that Saturday’s announcement may have been the result of pressure from China, concerned about a small but vocal movement to boycott the Beijing Olympics in August.

    In a broadcast interview at the weekend, US first lady Laura Bush said China had not brought enough pressure to bear on the Burmese junta.

    “They [China] have not pressed them enough to—for the regime to show any sort of movement,” Bush told PBS.

    “And, of course, they have continued to support Burma financially by buying natural resources,” said Bush, who has taken a personal interest in the pro-democracy movement in Burma, especially since the September demonstrations.
    USDA Member Found Beheaded


    The body of a Union Solidarity and Development Association was found beheaded in Htantabin township, Rangoon division, on 4 February, local residents said.The USDA member, whose name was not given, was from Thone Thate ward in Hlaing Tharyar township, Rangoon division.

    A resident of Hlaing Tharyar said that the USDA member had been decapitated and his skin partially removed.

    “All the nerves on his body were exposed and his head was stuck up on a bamboo pole,” the resident said.

    The USDA member was reportedly known for treating people in the township badly when he was alive.

    Other USDA members in the area were said to be shaken by news of the circumstances of the killing.

    “It seems other that USDA members who have heard about this murder are so scared they might face the same fate that they have been much quieter recently and have not been harassing local people,” the resident said.

    Residents have not heard of any arrests made so far in connection with the case.


    Htantabin township police station was unavailable for comment.

    Mon 11 Feb 2008 Filed under: News, Press Release

    Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) has called the ‘roadmap to democracy’ announced by the Burmese military regime on Saturday a sham, which will serve only to ‘rubber-stamp the authority of this brutal regime’.

    The announcement was made on the evening news for state radio and television on Saturday 9 February 2008, and outlined plans to hold a referendum on the proposed constitution in May 2008 and a general election in 2010. This is the first timetable that has been outlined for a constitution and elections.

    The draft constitution is being written by the National Convention, where the overwhelming majority of delegates are handpicked by the regime. None of the nine pro-democracy parties which took part in the 1990 elections and won 90 per cent of the parliamentary seats are included in the constitution drafting process. In addition no major representatives from the ethnic nationalities which make up 40 per cent of the population of Burma are included.
    Questioning or criticising the National Convention and communicating with the international media about the process are crimes under the regime’s Order 5/96 and carry a 20-year jail sentence.

    CSW is currently in the region on a fact-finding visit and has obtained fresh evidence of systematic and widespread human rights violations including forced labour, rape and torture.
    First-hand testimonies were obtained from Burmese monks who fled as a result of the September crackdown, Shan and Karen internally displaced people and refugees.

    CSW’s Chief Executive, Mervyn Thomas, said: “Far from being a positive development, this timetable will simply rubber-stamp the authority of this brutal regime. For there to be real change in Burma the regime must immediately release Aung San Suu Kyi and all the political prisoners, open all parts of the country to unhindered access for international humanitarian and human rights organisations and enter into meaningful tripartite dialogue with the National League for Democracy and ethnic nationalities. We call on the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki- Moon, to go in person to Burma to facilitate these steps as a matter of urgency. The world must not be conned by this sham.”

    Saturday, February 9


    MYAWADDY, BURMA – Christian Freedom International (CFI), a U.S.-based humanitarian organization, is urging the global community to call on Burma’s government to end the ethnic cleansing violence that has caused the deaths of thousands of its own citizens, with thousands more swarming into refugee camps.

    The challenge comes as one of Hollywood’s latest films, Rambo IV, is being released in theaters around the world -- a movie where its writer, producer, and leading actor, Sylvester Stallone, began work on the script shortly after the devastation of the September 11, 2001 U.S. terrorist attacks. In the early stages of the script’s development, Stallone consulted with Soldiers of Fortune magazine and asked one crucial question: where is the one place on earth where the worst atrocities are taking place and getting the least amount of attention?

    The answer was Burma.

    In the latest installment of the 20-year-old Rambo movie franchise, Stallone attempts to revive his protagonist character, John Rambo, where the Vietnam veteran is living a solitary, peaceful life in Bangkok, Thailand -- until the day he’s summoned to escort a group of Christian missionaries up the Salween River to deliver relief aid to war-weary refugees in Burma. When the missionaries fail to return from their trip nearly two weeks later, the veteran is once again approached by the missionaries’ pastor, who pleads for his help in locating the aid workers that have been kidnapped by the vicious Burmese army.

    CFI anticipates that the movie’s recent release will draw more attention to the grim reality of the world’s oldest civil war, in a country where Karen and Karenni Christians have been especially suffering for decades. Since 1996, Christian Freedom International has built schools, orphanages and field hospitals, as well as provided food, medicine and Bibles for thousands of suffering Christians in Burma.

    The organization has also remained as an active voice in the political arena on behalf of Burma’s refugees, and in recent months worked closely with the U.S. State Department to assist with the resettlement effort that is allowing many of the country’s exiles to begin new lives in the United States.

    Although thousands of refugees are now living safely on American soil, thousands more remain in grave danger as they continue to flee from the Burmese army. CFI president Jim Jacobson is currently on location in Burma, delivering Bibles and urgently needed medical supplies to Karen and Karenni refugees.

    Jim Jacobson, a former White House policy analyst during the Reagan administration, has frequently visited Burma to personally deliver aid -- and encouragement -- to displaced Christians in the region.

    Note: most of the Christians in Burma are Karen or Chin, but the suffering there is among all the people, Christian and non-Christian alike.
    Elections in 2010?

    written by Aung Hla Tun
    YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar's military government said on Saturday it would hold a referendum on a new constitution in May followed by multi-party elections in 2010, a move dismissed as worthless by the opposition without the release of Aung San Suu Kyi.

    "We have achieved success in economic, social and other sectors and in restoring peace and stability," the junta announced on state television after sending in the army to quell Buddhist monk-led pro-democracy demonstrations in September.

    "So multi-party, democratic elections will be held in 2010," said the statement issued in the name of Secretary Number One Lieutenant-General Tin Aung Myint Oo, a top member of the junta.

    The elections would be the first since 1990, when Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) won multi-party elections in the former Burma.

    The military, which has ruled the country since 1962, ignored the result, crushing pro-democracy demonstrations at the cost of several thousand lives.

    Nobel Peace Prize laureate Suu Kyi has spent much of the time since then in detention.
    A spokesman for the Burmese government in exile, which includes MPs elected in 1990 but who fled after the junta refused to let the election result stand, said the announcement would mean nothing unless Suu Kyi was released and took part.

    "Without the participation of Suu Kyi, the NLD and ethnic parties the people will not accept this constitution," said Zin Linn.

    Saturday's announcement from the junta did not make clear whether the NLD would be allowed to take part, but the constitution is believed likely to disbar Suu Kyi from office by ruling out anyone married to a foreigner, as she was, and to ensure the top leadership comes from the military.

    Suu Kyi's husband, British academic Michael Aris, died in March 1999.

    "In accord with the fourth step of the seven-step roadmap to democracy, a nationwide referendum will be held in May 2008 to ratify the newly drafted constitution," the junta statement said.

    The new constitution, now being drafted after the completion of a national convention first convened in the 1990s, will be finished soon, the statement added.

    The NLD has refused to take part in the convention.

    The government announced the seven-step roadmap in 2003 but had refused to set a firm timetable until now. Some Western powers dismissed the roadmap as little more than a sham to allow the junta to retain power.

    Wednesday, February 6

    Mirror Mirror On The Wall

    Burma’s censorship authorities have found new tools to monitor submitted written manuscripts before approval—mirrors and magnifying glasses.

    Rangoon-based writers told The Irrawaddy that censors working in the Press Scrutiny and Registration Board office are now equipped with mirrors and magnifying glasses to help them seek out hidden messages in poems, novels, stories and advertisements.

    The new tools were introduced following the discovery in a published poem of a clandestine message mocking junta leader Snr-Gen Than Shwe.

    The first words of each line of the short poem, written by Saw Wai under the title “February 14” and published in the weekly “Love Journal,” made up the message: “Senior General Than Shwe is foolish with power.” Saw Wai was subsequently arrested.

    The head of the censorship board, Maj Tint Swe—himself a writer, with the penname Ye Yint Tint Swe—was summoned to a meeting with high-ranking officials, where he had to explain the lapse. Sources say he may soon be fired.

    Saw Wai’s ruse was the second of its kind to mock Than Shwe in this way. In July 2007, an advertisement in the English-language semi-official The Myanmar Times newspaper contained a hidden message calling Than Shwe “a killer.”

    The advertisement was placed in the paper by a Danish satirical art group posing as "The Board of Islandic Travel Agencies Ewhsnahtrellik and the Danish Industry BesoegDanmark." When read backwards, the Danish-looking word "Ewhsnahtrellik" spelt out "Killer Than Shwe."

    A Burmese editor living in Rangoon confirmed to The Irrawaddy on Monday that censors were now using mirrors and magnifying glasses to search for hidden messages in the texts they are required to check before publication.

    Editors and publishers say the additional work is slowing up the censorship process. “The censors are even checking cover pages of magazines time and again.”

    One Rangoon writer said he now had to submit his manuscripts one month ahead of publication, compared to one week in the past.
    U.S. Imposes More Sanctions to Press Myanmar’s Rulers

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) — The Bush administration on Tuesday imposed more financial sanctions against a business tycoon linked to Myanmar’s military rulers, this time aiming at companies used to purchase helicopters and other military equipment.

    The action designates three companies controlled by the tycoon, Tay Za, and his Htoo Trading conglomerate, including a subsidiary based in Singapore, as supporters of a repressive government responsible for human rights violations, the Treasury Department said.

    The action is the third set of American sanctions intended to put pressure on the leaders of Myanmar, formerly Burma, since a violent government crackdown on protesters last year.

    “The president has made clear that we will continue to take action against the military junta and those who prop it up so long as human rights violations continue and democracy is suppressed,” said Adam Szubin, director of the Treasury’s sanctions arm, the Office of Foreign Assets Control.

    The action prohibits Americans from doing business with the companies and with seven newly designated individuals, and seeks to freeze any assets they may have under United States jurisdiction.

    Mr. Tay Za and five of his other companies, including the tourist airline Air Bagan, were blacklisted by the Treasury in October.

    The designated companies included Myanmar Avia Export Company, which the Treasury said was used to purchase helicopters and aircraft on behalf of Myanmar’s military. The Treasury also designated Ayer Shwe Wah Company, a company for which the son of a Burmese general serves as a director, and Pavo Aircraft Leasing, a Singapore-based company that directs Htoo business ventures there.

    The Singapore state broadcaster Channel New Asia quoted Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in November as speaking out against sanctions on Myanmar, saying no one in Southeast Asia supported them. Myanmar’s impoverished neighbors, Laos and Cambodia, have also condemned the sanctions.

    From NY Times
    RB

    Tuesday, February 5

    Myanmar Arrests Blogger
    (From NY Times of 1/31/08)

    BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) -- Myanmar's junta has stepped up surveillance of the Internet, arresting one blogger who wrote about the stifling of free expression in the military-ruled nation, a media advocacy group said.

    The blogger, Nay Myo Latt, was taken into custody in Yangon on Wednesday after writing about the suppression of freedoms following last fall's crushing of pro-democracy demonstrations, Reporters Without Borders said.

    Despite international condemnation and pressure following the demonstrations, there is little evidence that the junta is easing its repressive rule or moving closer to reconciliation with pro-democracy forces led by Suu Kyi.

    The arrested blogger, a member of Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, owns three Internet cafes, Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said in a release seen Thursday.
    Myanmar authorities have stepped up their surveillance of the Internet since the beginning of the month, pressuring Internet cafe owners to register personal details of all users and to program screen captures every five minutes on each computer, the release said.
    This data apparently is sent to the Ministry of Communications, it said.

    The only blog platform that had been accessible within Myanmar, the Google-owned Blogger, has been blocked by the regime since Jan. 23, preventing bloggers from posting entries unless they use proxies or other ways to get around censorship, the group said.

    ''This blockage is one of the ways used by the government to reduce Burmese citizens to silence. Burma is in danger of being cut off from the rest of the world again,'' the statement said.
    Suu Kyi, who remains under house arrest, Wednesday warned the public to ''hope for the best and prepare for the worst'' in her country.

    The democracy icon was allowed to meet with executives of her National League for Democracy party, who afterward voiced her unhappiness that there is no deadline for talks to bring about democratic reform.

    Friday, January 11

    Daw Suu Kyi Meets With Junta?

    (BBC News) Detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has had another meeting with an official from Burma's ruling junta.

    Witnesses said Ms Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest for 12 of the past 18 years, spent about one hour in talks at a military building in Rangoon.

    It is thought she met Aung Kyi, the labour minister appointed as a liaison last year amid global outrage at the military regime's repression.

    If confirmed, it would be the fourth time the pair have held talks.

    Ms Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), said last month that meetings with the junta had so far yielded little.

    The country's generals came under sustained international pressure late last year after brutally suppressing peaceful demonstrations.

    The EU and US both introduced a raft of new sanctions and UN diplomats engaged in frantic diplomacy in a bid to rein in the generals.

    But most Asian leaders have been reluctant to criticise the regime, and there have been few signs of genuine reform in Burma.

    RB

    Saturday, January 5

    Burma marks Independence Day
    (BBC News). Military ruler Gen Than Shwe used the occasion to reiterate the government's determination to continue with its seven-stage roadmap to democracy.

    But critics say the plan is just a way to perpetuate the military's control. They used the anniversary to call for the release of political prisoners.

    The British ruled Burma for 63 years, until shortly after World War II.

    The BBC's Jonathan Head, reporting from neighbouring Thailand, said there was little sign of any celebration in Burma, 60 years on from independence.

    The national flag was raised in Rangoon and in the new capital, Naypyidaw, at the exact moment that the British flag was lowered in 1948.

    Than Shwe did not attend either event, but a statement was read out in which he called for national unity and discipline.

    He said the people of Burma were working towards "the emergence of a peaceful, modern and developed discipline-flourishing democratic state".

    He stressed his commitment to the democracy roadmap - a process which critics say is entirely controlled by the military and excludes the high-profile opposition figure Aung San Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD).

    'Pretence'

    The statement suggests the military leadership does not appear to have softened its stance since September's violent crackdown on pro-democracy campaigners, which resulted in the deaths of at least 31 people.

    No mention was made of the protests, nor to Aung San, Ms Suu Kyi's father and the leader of Burma's independence struggle.

    Sean Turnell, an expert on Burma at Australia's Macquarie University, said this was because "if he glorified the role of Aung San, in a sense, he was also glorifying Aung San Suu Kyi".

    "It's like America celebrating the Fourth of July without mentioning Washington," he told the French news agency AFP, referring to the first US president.

    Following September's protests, the military junta appointed an official, Aung Kyi, to liaise with Ms Suu Kyi and her NLD party, prompting hope that there could be a genuine dialogue between the two sides.

    But NLD spokesman Nyman Win said the talks were a "pretence" and had made little progress since Aung Kyi and Ms Suu Kyi met in November, their only meeting so far.

    "We don't know when they are going to meet again," he told AFP.

    Thursday, January 3

    The High Price of News

    The military junta ordered a 160-fold increase in the annual satellite television tax in what appeared to be an attempt to keep people from watching international news broadcasts. The new cost, about $780, is three times the average yearly income. Without satellite, the only other television news is on rigidly state-controlled MRTV. The few private television stations avoid all current affairs in favor of soap operas and pop music. (Reuters)

    RB