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’,
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

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.