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.