“Obedience is not enough. Unless he is suffering, how can you be sure that he is obeying your will and not his own? Power is in inflicting pain and humiliation. Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing. Do you begin to see, then, what kind of world we are creating? It is the exact opposite of the stupid hedonistic Utopias that the old reformers imagined. A world of fear and treachery is torment, a world of trampling and being trampled upon, a world which will grow not less but more merciless as it refines itself. Progress in our world will be progress towards more pain. The old civilizations claimed that they were founded on love or justice. Ours is founded upon hatred. In our world there will be no emotions except fear, rage, triumph, and self-abasement. Everything else we shall destroy everything. Already we are breaking down the habits of thought which have survived from before the Revolution. We have cut the links between child and parent, and between man and man, and between man and woman. No one dares trust a wife or a child or a friend any longer. But in the future there will be no wives and no friends. Children will be taken from their mothers at birth, as one takes eggs from a hen. The sex instinct will be eradicated. Procreation will be an annual formality like the renewal of a ration card. We shall abolish the orgasm. Our neurologists are at work upon it now. There will be no loyalty, except loyalty towards the Party. There will be no love, except the love of Big Brother. There will be no laughter, except the laugh of triumph over a defeated enemy. There will be no art, no literature, no science. When we are omnipotent we shall have no more need of science. There will be no distinction between beauty and ugliness. There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always -- do not forget this, Winston -- always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face -- for ever.”
Tuesday, August 11
In the Orwellian country that is Myanmar, the former Burma, a woman who has committed no crime can be tried and judged guilty. And that is what happened last month.
This month, in fact this week, the sentence was declared. It was originally to have been three years, but was commuted to only one and a half years.
Let’s take a minute and consider what she actually did.
When an American named John Yettaw swam across the Inya Lake to her house, she did not immediately throw him out. This assumes, of course, that she knew about his presence in the first place.
Why was he not allowed to swim to her house? Well, it turns out she was under “house arrest” for fourteen of the last twenty years. What crime had she committed that she would be under arrest for that length of time? She won an election in 1990.
No, those are not unconnected thoughts. Her crime was that she won an election in 1990. So what do the madmen who run Myanmar want? In the words of O’Brien:
“Now I will tell you the answer to my question. It is this. The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power. Not wealth or luxury or long life or happiness: only power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from all the oligarchies of the past, in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just round the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means, it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now do you begin to understand me?”
Tuesday, August 4
A prominent Burmese labor rights activist, Su Su Nway, was placed in solitary confinement for three days after participating in a ceremony to mark the 62nd anniversary of Martyrs’ Day on June 19 in Kale Prison, in Sagaing Division, according to her sister.
Speaking to The Irrawaddy Newspaper on Tuesday August 4th, her sister, Htay Htay Kyi, said, “She was put in solitary confinement because she stood up and sang an independence anthem composed by Min Ko Naing to mark Martyrs’ Day.”
Htay Htay Kyi said she visited her sister on July 21 when she delivered medicine to Su Su Nway who said she had been denied medical care by the prison authorities.
Su Su Nway, 37, suffers from hypertension [high blood pressure] and heart disease.
In 2006, she won the John Humphrey Freedom Award for promoting human rights.
She was arrested together with two colleagues after they pasted anti-government posters on a billboard in downtown Rangoon during the monk-led uprising of 2007. She was sentenced to twelve and a half years in prison.
Su Su Nway is among 2,100 other political prisoners who are currently being detained by the Burmese military authorities.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in July called on the Burmese junta to release all political prisoners before the national elections in 2010.
Burmese permanent representative at the UN, Than Swe reportedly told Ban that Burma will release prisoners before the election; however, he did not specify if political dissidents would be among the prisoners released.
Sunday, July 19
At least 10 children have died and several are ill after being afflicted by Dengue, a mosquito-borne viral disease, in Kalemyo a town near the Indo-Burma border in Sagaing Division, north-western Burma, an official at a private clinic said.
“As far as I know at least 10 children have died. A lot of other children are admitted in the hospital, which is crowded with patients,” the official in Thapyaynyo clinic in Kalemyo said.
When contacted, an official at the Kalemyo General Hospital on Friday said, the ‘Patient Ward’ of the hospital is full of children being treated for Dengue haemorrhagic fever.
The outbreak of Dengue was noticed in Kalemyo in the beginning of June and has been continuing since.
A local resident of Kalemyo told Mizzima that most of the children in her neighborhood are suffering from the disease. While many have been taken to hospital several others are depending on private clinics.
Dengue in Kalemyo, a town located on the border of Chin state in western Burma, is common during the monsoons.
Local residents said, despite being a curable disease, Malaria and Typhoid continue to claim several lives every year.
Monday, June 8
BANGKOK — It cannot have pleased Myanmar’s ruling family: the collapse of a 2,300-year-old gold-domed pagoda into a pile of timbers just three weeks after the wife of the junta’s top general had helped reconsecrate it with a diamond orb and a sacred golden umbrella.
A rescue worker looks through the rubble of the ancient Danok pagoda, which collapsed last Saturday as workmen were completing its renovation — killing at least 20 people, according to émigré reports.
There is no country in Asia more superstitious than Myanmar, and the collapse of the temple was widely seen as something more portentous than shoddy construction work.
It comes at a moment when the junta has put on trial the country’s pro-democracy leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, after an American intruder swam across a lake and spent a night at the villa where she has been under house arrest for most of the past 19 years.
After two weeks of testimony, the trial is on hold as the junta apparently tries to decide how to manage what seems to have been a major blunder, drawing condemnation from around the world.
The superstitious generals may be consulting astrologers as well as political tacticians as they decide how to proceed. That would not be unusual for many people in Myanmar.
Currency denominations and traffic rules have been changed in the past, the nation’s capital has been moved and the timing of events has been selected — even the dates of popular uprisings — with astrological dictates in mind.
“Astrology has as significant a role in policies, leadership and decision making in the feudal Naypyidaw as rational calculations, geopolitics and resource economics,” said Zarni, a Burmese exile analyst and researcher who goes by one name. He was referring to the country’s new capital, which was opened in 2005.
And so it seemed only natural to read a darker meaning into the temple collapse.
The Danok pagoda, on the outskirts of Myanmar’s main city, Yangon, was blessed May 7 in the presence of Daw Kyaing Kyaing, the wife of the country’s supreme leader, Senior Gen. Than Shwe. The event received major coverage in the government-controlled press.
In a solemn ceremony, the worshipers fixed the diamond orb to the top of the pagoda along with a pennant-shaped vane and sprinkled scented water onto the tiers of a holy umbrella, according to the government mouthpiece, The New Light of Myanmar.
Like the rest of the heavily censored press, the newspaper was silent, a week ago, when it all came crashing down. But word of mouth — and foreign radio broadcasts — spread fast in Myanmar.
“O.K., she thinks she is so great, but even the gods don’t like her, people believe like that,” a senior astrologer said on condition of anonymity because of the danger of speaking to the media.
The ceremony was part of a decades-long campaign by the senior general to legitimize military rule on a foundation of Buddhist fealty, dedicating and re-gilding temples, attending religious ceremonies and making donations to monks.
That campaign was undermined, and perhaps fatally discredited, in September 2007 when soldiers beat and shot protesting monks in the streets, invaded monasteries without removing their boots and imprisoned hundreds of monks.
“No matter how many pagodas they build, no matter how much charity they give to monks, it is still they who murdered the monks,” said Josef Silverstein, a Myanmar specialist and emeritus professor at Rutgers University, at the time of the protests.
So when the Danok pagoda suddenly collapsed last Saturday as workmen were completing its renovation — killing at least 20 people, according to émigré reports — many people saw it as the latest of a series of bad omens for the junta that included a devastating cyclone early last year.
Its sacred umbrella tumbled to the ground and its diamond orb was lost in the rubble, according to those reports.
“The fact that the umbrella did not stay was a sign that more bad things are to come, according to astrologers,” said Ingrid Jordt, an anthropology professor at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee and a specialist on Burma.
“It is also a sign that Than Shwe does not have the spiritual power any longer to be able to undertake or reap the benefit from good acts such as this,” she said in an e-mail message. “In a sense, the pagoda repudiated Than Shwe’s right to remain ruler.”
As laborers began trying to put the pagoda back together, local residents were quoted in émigré publications with vivid accounts of supernatural happenings.
“The temple collapsed about 3:10 p.m. while I was loading bricks on a platform around the pagoda,” a 24-year-old construction worker told The Irrawaddy, a magazine based in Thailand.
“The weather suddenly turned very dark,” he was quoted as saying. “Then we saw a bright red light rising from the northern end of the pagoda. Then, suddenly, the temple collapsed. I also heard a strange haunting voice coming from the direction of the light.”
Indeed, the Danok pagoda may have been a poor choice for the junta’s ruling family to seek religious affirmation.
According to The Irrawaddy: “Several elderly locals from Danok Model Village said that they believed that the pagoda never welcomed cruel or unkind donors, and always shook when such persons made offerings.”
Thursday, May 21
Myanmar's military regime is allowing reporters and diplomats into the trial of Aung San Suu Kyi.
But allowing access to the trial isn't halting accusations that the hearing is a ploy to keep the pro-democracy leader behind bars through next year's election.
Suu Kyi is accused of violating the terms of her house arrest after an American stayed at her home without official permission. The offense is punishable by up to five years' imprisonment.
The Nobel Peace laureate has been in detention without trial for more than 13 of the past 19 years. She was due to be released next week.
Meantime U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says it's "outrageous" that Myanmar's military-led government is still holding Suu Kyi in detention.
Clinton told lawmakers Wednesday at a Capitol Hill hearing that the junta is holding Suu Kyi merely because she is politically popular.
Clinton says elections scheduled in Myanmar for next year are "illegitimate" even before they begin because of the way the junta has treated the Nobel Peace laureate.
Suu Kyi has been in detention without trial for more than 13 of the past 19 years. She is accused of violating the terms of her house arrest after an American man stayed at her home without official permission.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday it is "outrageous" that Myanmar had put pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi on trial but hoped it would end soon and she would be released.
Clinton, speaking to a Senate subcommittee overseeing State Department funding, said the Obama administration was trying to see if third countries could pressure the military junta in Yangon to obtain her release.
"Clearly China, India and others are major players," Clinton said, suggesting these countries would be approached.
"We're going to try (to push for her release), and I don't think I can make any kind of assurance because we don't know whether we will have any success in convincing them otherwise," Clinton told the senators.
"But it is outrageous that they are trying her and that they continue to hold her because of her political popularity and they intend to hold elections in 2010," the chief US diplomat said.
These elections from the beginning "will be illegitimate because of the way that they have treated her," she continued.
"So it is our hope that this baseless trial will end with a quick release of her and then a return to some political involvement eventually by her and her party," she added.
Aung San Suu Kyi went on trial on Monday on the charges of breaching the terms of her house arrest over a bizarre incident in which an American swam to her lakeside house.
The charges carry a jail term of up to five years and would stretch her detention past its supposed expiry date this month and through controversial elections due in 2010.
John Yettaw, 53, who was held for sneaking into Suu Kyi's house and staying there for two days before he was caught, was also put on trial on charges of breaking the security law and immigration conditions.
Yettaw, 53, apparently used a pair of homemade flippers to swim across a lake to her crumbling residence in an apparent show of solidarity, but Aung San Suu Kyi's main lawyer Kyi Win said they had asked him to leave.
Monday, March 16
According to a report said the regime closed down about 50 Chin orphanages on March 6, 2009 as their licenses expired. The regime has seized all the buildings
“We had registered for a period of five years. I don’t know others’ cases. Actually, we had registered in 2003 and its validity is up to 2008. Now we have to register for 2009 to 2013, but just before doing so the authorities stopped renewing the license,” said a local Chin from Rangoon .
It means 50 out of 100 Chin orphanage schools in Rangoon city have now been shut down by the government. Similarly, 13 out of 16 schools in Hleku townships also closed including Victoria Childcare Centre (VCC) which looks after 54 orphanages.
Kanpalet Township , Southern Chin state, which looks after 99% of the children in VCC has sent them back to their relatives as per the rule of government that allows a person can adopt not more than five children in his life time.
“The children’s future will be totally dependant on the adopters. Some will be adopted well and some might be adopted as house keepers or servants. It’s very hard to figure out their fortune,” said a victim at one of orphanage schools.
At the same time, some schools are searching for people to adopt the children.. It is difficult to know where other schools are located and who are taking responsibility regarding this matter as the government has restricted them and they are afraid to used telephone for their security.
“Once we had used telephone for conversation about our work, the authorities immediately arrived and they inquired about it. We don’t want to use the phone anymore after facing this thrice as we’ve afraid,” he added.
He continued that the care takers at the orphanage schools have been given an appointment on 17 March. It needs to be watched how it will turn out, but the schools cannot be opened again.
Chin orphanage schools started to open in 2003 in Yangon city and there are about 140 of Chin orphanage schools in Burma.
Friday, March 6
His AK-47 slung loosely over his shoulder, the cadet qualifies his prediction, perhaps in deference to the officers who listen as he speaks.
“We don´t know what the leadership will decide,” he says. “We will follow their orders.”
Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, encompasses the homelands of several distinct ethnic groups that resent the totalitarian rule of ethnic Burmese, who form a majority in this impoverished Southeast Asian nation.
Burmese dominate the powerful armed forces, which prop up the military junta that governs Myanmar, widely recognized as one of world’s most corrupt and repressive governments.
The Kachin Independence Army (KIA) is the military wing of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), among the largest and most powerful of the armed groups that challenge the junta´s rule.
Founded in the early 1960s, the KIO represents ethnic Kachins, themselves a loose coalition of predominantly Christian tribes whose historic territory encompasses the Himalayan foothills of northernmost Myanmar, bordered by southern Tibet, far-eastern India and the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan.
For more than 30 years, the KIA has waged a guerrilla campaign against the military from its jungle bases along the Chinese border. Other armed groups were active in the region during this period, including the Communist Party and various warlords, many of whom financed their armies through opium smuggling, intensive logging and mining for gold, rubies and jade.
In 1994 the KIO leadership signed a cease-fire with the military, an agreement many Kachins saw as a betrayal of their aspirations for political autonomy.
The cease-fire brought a measure of stability to Kachin state and enriched some powerful individuals who were willing to cooperate with Burmese authorities, but it did little to alleviate the suffering of Kachin civilians.
In the 15 years since the truce, Kachins say there has been no genuine attempt at reconciliation, and many expect a renewed outbreak of armed hostilities.
During the war years, Kachin state developed a reputation as one of the most lawless places in the world.
Only a handful of foreign observers managed to sneak inside to document reports of human rights abuses by Myanmar’s military in its efforts to defeat the resistance groups and consolidate control over Kachin state.
One journalist, Outside Magazine editor Mark Jenkins, was drugged, beaten and dumped in an alley with a death threat written on his hand after interviewing Kachin villagers near the state capital of Myitkyina in 1996.
The Kachins hope for more exposure to the outside world, one KIA soldier explained. “Here in Kachin, it´s been 15 years since the cease-fire, but nothing has changed.”
“I have a degree in economics, but there is no job for me,” added another soldier. “There are no good positions for Kachin people. There is oppression and exploitation everywhere.”
Like others quoted in this article, the soldiers asked not to be named, fearing retribution from the government.
The KIA military academy is located off a rough mountain road that links the wartime army headquarters, a windswept base called Pajau, with more comfortable and modern peacetime headquarters outside the bustling border town of Laiza.
Recruits rise before dawn to practice karate and repeat the pledges of the army: “We will always obey the orders of the Kachin Independence Organization,” they shout. “We will never give up our arms.”
These two pledges may come into conflict if the KIO leadership decides to participate in nationwide elections scheduled for 2010.
The elections are the culmination of a constitutional process introduced by the junta last year. Few observers expect the elections to be free or fair.
Both within Myanmar and abroad, the elections are widely seen as an attempt by the junta to legitimize iron-fisted military rule.
A clause in the new constitution states that all rebel groups must disarm and submit to the central control of the Myanmar military.
Although the KIO initially signaled its intent to participate in the election, officials now claim the KIO itself will stay on the sidelines, although KIO members may form a party to contest the elections.
Whether the Kachins decide to participate, the government that emerges will no doubt be heavily influenced by the leaders of the current military junta.
If the government attempts to forcibly disarm the KIA and other armed ethnic groups, the Kachins may retreat from their peacetime headquarters and retrench in the rugged hills along the Chinese frontier.
Note: the following story is from BurmaNet. The two locations where the bombs exploded were sites of massive government retaliations against the student-led protests in 1988. The "Whole Burma United Revolutionary Front" (WBURF) has claimed responsibility for the bombings.
The explosions hit hours apart Tuesday evening at a Yangon park and bus stop, and police and soldiers immediately sealed off the scene.
“Authorities concerned have reminded the people to provide information to those responsible in time if there is something or someone (suspected) of committing destructive acts,” the New Light of Myanmar newspaper said.
The paper said an investigation was ongoing and gave no indication about who might be behind the blasts, but the military regime has in the past blamed similar attacks on ethnic rebel insurgents battling junta rule.
The first explosion blew a hole in a fence and smashed the windscreen of a truck, the paper said, while the bus stop bomb near a busy intersection blew a small crater in the ground and damaged the shelter.
Myanmar was rocked by a series of similar small blasts late last year, with one man killed in Yangon in October and two people killed in a township outside the main city in a video cafe bombing.
Although the junta usually blames armed exile groups or ethnic rebels, it has also pointed the finger at democracy activists.
State-run media in September accused two members of detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) of bombing pro-government offices in July last year.
The NLD won a landslide victory in 1990 elections, but the junta never allowed it to take office. Aung San Suu Kyi has been under house arrest almost constantly since.
The military has ruled Myanmar since 1962, partly justifying its grip on power by claiming the need to fend off ethnic rebellions which have plagued remote border areas for decades.
Opinion by Jean Geran:
Secretary of State Clinton should not go wobbly on the junta. In the midst of her recent Asia trip, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton indicated that the United States is reviewing its policy toward Burma. As the Obama administration assesses its options, it would be wise to remember it is dealing with one of the world’s most brutal tyrannies, which has held power for decades through terror and totalitarian control. Fear and force are the two things that the ruling junta most understands—and are the only two factors that have ever succeeded in altering its behavior over the years. Any policy review must be mindful of that history.
In recent months, the Burmese generals stepped up their imprisonment of dissidents. The number of political prisoners has swelled to over 2,000. Horrific attacks and displacement of civilians in ethnic minority regions continue unabated. The legitimate leaders of the Burmese people such as Aung San Suu Kyi and Min Ko Naing, along with representatives of the tormented ethnic minority groups such as the Karen and Shan, continue to seek more support from the international community and more pressure on the regime. Now is not the time to abandon them.
It is especially disturbing to think that a review of U.S. policy may cede important ground gained under the Bush administration. In addition to President Bush’s forceful advocacy on the issue, First Lady Laura Bush took a personal interest in Burma’s plight and, among other initiatives, helped bring the issue of the tyrannical Burmese government for the first time before the U.N. Security Council. Any policy change that goes the other direction and eases pressure would be disastrous for the Burmese people.
The most important thing that the West can do is to apply more and smarter pressure on the generals to force them to the negotiating table—not with us, but with the legitimate leaders of their own people. We can also press Burma’s neighbors—specifically India, Thailand, and China—to end their support for the regime.
Frustration over the lack of progress has revived longstanding debates over sanctions and humanitarian aid. On the surface the arguments for easing sanctions and allowing more aid strike sympathetic chords with those unfamiliar with the peculiar and psychotic nature of Than Shwe and the rest of the junta. It is easy to think that aid will ease the suffering of the people. But only the most carefully channelled assistance can avoid cooptation by the regime, and even these channels are extremely rare and limited to flows across the border from Thailand and small subtle efforts that work under the radar of the regime. Large-scale aid flowing through Rangoon, especially through larger U.N. agencies, inevitably is controlled by the regime or its cronies and strengthens their grip on power.
The generals have repeatedly shown their contempt for the welfare of their own people. This contempt was most tragically seen in their appalling response to Cyclone Nargis. The disaster led to over a hundred thousand deaths, many unnecessary, due to restrictions or even denial of aid. One need only remember the ships, planes, and tarmacs full of supplies that were not distributed because the regime denied access to the victims; or the plight of courageous Burmese citizens like 23-year-old student Kay Thi Aung, who was imprisoned in September 2008 for her efforts to provide aid to cyclone victims, and who recently suffered a miscarriage due to the deplorable jail conditions; and comedian Zarganar, sentenced to 59 years imprisonment for criticizing the regime’s failures. In most other countries the actions of these two would not be considered political activity, but to the lawless Burmese regime all things—even humanitarian gestures—are “political.”
The current sanctions have not yet brought freedom, but that is no reason to abandon them. They must be intensified and coordinated multilaterally.
The people of this fertile, resource rich, and once well-educated country are suffering under the economic malevolence and ignorance of their oppressors, not the effects of economic sanctions. A policy review of sanctions would be helpful only if it leads to better targeting and expanded coordination with allies in the region and beyond. But any backtracking or easing of pressure would be a huge mistake and would play right into the hands of the generals.
Likewise, a policy review that leads to a renewed diplomatic push in Washington and at the United Nations might have a chance of overcoming the Russian and Chinese veto threat. A strong U.N. Security Council resolution, especially one with sharp multilateral teeth such as an arms embargo or targeted global sanctions, would quickly get the attention of the generals. The case for Security Council action is clear. Ongoing military offensives against civilians that include rape as a weapon of war, as well as refugee displacement, disease spreading across borders, and trafficking in drugs and people, make the situation in Burma as much a security issue as a human rights or humanitarian one.
Concern for Burma has long attracted strong bipartisan interest and support in the United States, and Secretary Clinton herself has previously made a priority of supporting female leaders such as Aung San Suu Kyi. If this review goes forward and new tactics are considered, U.S. policymakers should remember the nature and history of this brutal regime and pay heed to the vital voices of the Burmese democracy movement over those tired voices of Western academics, the United Nations, or aid agencies. We in the West have failed the people of Burma time and again with our weak statements and our short memories, and yet they persevere with an honor and steadfastness that should put us all to shame. They are the ones who know what is best for their country. We must continue to stand beside them against tyranny and terror until freedom and prosperity are once again theirs.
Jean Geran is a senior fellow at the Legatum Institute. She served as the director for democracy and human rights on the National Security Council and as an abuse prevention officer on the U.S. Disaster Assistance Response Team in southern Iraq.
Friday, February 27
For half a century, formidable forces rebel armies, uprisings, economic sanctions, pressure by the United Nations have attempted to dislodge or at least temper Myanmar’s ruling junta. All have failed.
The generals of Myanmar, also known as Burma, continue to crush popular protests with guns, commit atrocities against ethnic minorities and currently hold more than 2,000 political prisoners, including pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate who has been under house arrest for more than 13 of the past 19 years.
So can any new approach by Obama effect meaningful change in Myanmar?
Options in his arsenal appear limited, but some will be tried, and they could prove important.
“If there is going to be any change in international policy which will make a difference, it’s going to have to come from Washington. The U.S. remains a key player,” says Thant Myint-U, a Burmese historian and former U.N. official. “For the Burmese government, the U.S. holds out what they want, which is international acceptability and respect, and an end to its pariah status.”
A prominent Southeast Asian politician agreed.
“Obama could be a pivotal leader (on the issue) because of his high concern for democracy and human rights,” Philippine Senator and former Senate President Aquilino Pimentel told the Associated Press.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, on her recent Asian swing, indicated Washington was “looking at what steps we might take that might influence the current Burmese government and we’re also looking for ways that we could more effectively help the Burmese people.”
Analysts foresee more carefully crafted U.S. sanctions, greater cooperation with the United Nations and others to forge a common front on Myanmar, and trying to convince China to exert influence on its close ally. But employing a carrot and a stick, humanitarian aid may also be increased.
“Obama’s approach to foreign policy, a stress on common action among allies and negotiation, will be more effective than Bush’s unilateralism and moralistic hectoring,” says Donald M. Seekins, a Myanmar expert at Japan’s Meio University.
Obama’s new U.N. Ambassador Susan E. Rice has said there remained “scope for greater regional and international action to pressure Burma’s dictators,” including multilateral sanctions and getting Myanmar’s Southeast Asian neighbors to support tougher action.
But she warned Myanmar may represent “one of the most intractable challenges for the global community.”
In a country where many still regard the United States as a potential savior, there is skepticism that the new president can loosen the junta’s grip on power but also some hope.
Myanmar, under the military’s grip since 1962, may be one of the few countries where many say they would welcome an invasion by the United States or at least a bombing of the junta’s remote, bunker-like capital of Naypyitaw.
Although censors banned the publication of Obama’s inauguration speech, many managed access and interpreted his remarks about the world’s dictators as an open message to Myanmar’s generals.
“President Obama was referring to Myanmar. He is willing to help the Myanmar government if they are ready to accept American assistance, but also gave a strong signal that America will not tolerate corrupt regimes,” said lawyer Maung Maung Gyi, citing Obama’s warning to those “who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent,” and Washington’s readiness to assist those who would “unclench your fist.”
has come out in support of sanctions against the junta, and during the presidential campaign likened Suu Kyi to the late American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. The sanctions, which have strong bipartisan backing, include a post-1997 ban on all U.S. investments in Myanmar and the freezing of U.S. assets of junta leaders.
In the past, Washington has also tried to exert some pressure through the United Nations and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which includes Myanmar. But China, Russia and India all with economic or strategic interests in Myanmar have blocked such moves while ASEAN’s policy of noninterference has hindered reform in Myanmar.
The annual summit of ASEAN leaders, hosted by Thailand later this week, is almost certainly to be another case of what the Burmese jokingly call “NATO” No Action, Talk Only on the Myanmar issue.
But some Southeast Asian figures are pressing for both more ASEAN as well as U.S. action on Myanmar.
“ASEAN has to flex its muscle more. ASEAN should be in the forefront of the struggle for human rights in Myanmar but probably the European Union and the United States can impose some measures that will compel Myanmar’s military rulers to address the plight of its people,” Pimentel said in Manila.
This history caused Clinton to lament: “It is an unfortunate fact that Burma seems impervious to influences from anyone. The path we have taken in imposing sanctions hasn’t influenced the Burmese junta, but … reaching out and trying to engage them has not influenced them either.”
Washington currently applies political and economic sanctions against Myanmar because of its poor human rights record and failure to hand over power to a democratically elected government.
Thant Myint-U of Singapore’s Institute for Southeast Asian Studies, said the sanctions would make sense “if the U.S. was willing to make Burma it’s No. 1 priority and use all its leverage with China and India to make them global and that’s not going to happen.”
Washington instead should move ahead with direct talks and real engagement in an effort to influence the next generation of military leaders, he said, because they hold the key to change.
Tuesday, February 24
Campfires twinkle along the Chinese border as soldiers sing raucous freedom ballads and strum beat-up old guitars. They sing in Jinghpaw, the main language of the Kachin people, and their joy is irrepressible on this cold night in the Himalayan foothills of northern Myanmar.
The far north of Myanmar — formerly Burma — is home to the Kachins, a group of predominantly Christian tribes whose struggle against the military government of Myanmar is now in its fifth decade. As ethnic and religious minorities in one of the most repressed and impoverished countries in the world, the Kachins are fighting an uphill battle to achieve political autonomy throughout their homeland.
The Myanmar military government, dominated by ethnic Burmese, has long sought to suppress insurgencies led by ethnic groups such as the Kachin, Karen and Shan. Like many conflicts worldwide, the struggles between Myanmar’s minority ethnic groups and the central government are exacerbated by the inherent wealth of the contested lands.
Kachin state is lightly populated but rich in natural resources, which include timber, gold and the world’s only significant deposits of high quality jade. Most of these resources are exported to China, which is the biggest provider of arms to the Myanmar military. Ordinary Kachins must look on while the wealth of their land is sold out from under them, financing their oppression.
“The prosperity of Kachin state has been seized by the junta,” said Seng Maw, 23, one of two female students at a leadership training academy run by the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO). “We don’t own the rights to our own resources.”
A 1994 ceasefire agreement between the KIO and the Myanmar military ended active hostilities, but the political situation remains tense. The ceasefire froze the conflict in place without addressing any of its causes. Many civilians anticipate a renewed outbreak of war in 2010, when the government has scheduled elections that few believe will be free or fair.
Kachins see their freedom struggle as separate from political opposition on the part of the ethnic Burmese majority. Even if a democratically elected government were to replace the junta, the Kachins doubt any Burmese government would respect their autonomy.
“The Burmese political system has always been top down,” explained Daw Kong, a KIO volunteer. “Democracy will be very hard for them to put into practice.”
Anger at the Myanmar government runs deep, especially among young people.
“I have a university degree in economics, but there is no job for me,” explained a 22-year-old who joined the Kachin Independence Army after failing to find employment in the state capital of Myitkyina. “There are no good positions for Kachin people.”
For now, the KIO maintains a shadow state in pockets of territory along the Chinese border. Although the area under exclusive KIO control amounts to less than 10 percent of Kachin state, peace has provided the breathing room to build institutions of self-government and civil society. The KIO has its own police department, education system, television station and immigration department, and levies taxes at border crossings with China.
Much of the KIO’s funding comes from business deals that facilitate the exploitation of natural resources by Chinese and Burmese companies, and its own human rights record is mixed.
According to a 2007 report by the monitoring organization Human Rights Watch, the KIA accepts minors who volunteer for military service, but no longer recruits soldiers who are under 18 years old.
The KIO’s opium eradication program has drawn recognition from international observers.
“The KIO are one group that is clearly sincere about eradicating drug production,” said David Mathieson of Human Rights Watch. “The international community has to recognize the good intentions of the KIO.”
The KIO leadership has relocated from a windswept mountaintop base to modern headquarters overlooking the bustling border town of Laiza. The new facilities feature concrete office buildings equipped with internet connections and a large meeting hall used for Sunday church services.
The 5th brigade of the Kachin Independence Army is stationed near Laiza, next to a golf course where KIO officials host members of the Myanmar government’s northern command. A misplayed shot here could end up in Chinese territory — totally out of bounds.
This fairway diplomacy is a meager substitute for genuine political dialogue, but the Kachins take it seriously. Golf is taught alongside jungle survival skills at the Kachin military academy, where a putting green is just steps away from a map depicting fortified positions.
Veterans of the guerrilla war attend officer training school at the military academy, alongside a new generation of soldiers who profess an eagerness to fight for their nation. Soldiers are paid 10,000 kyat per month, less than $10.
“My generation thinks there will be a war,” said a young academy cadet. “We don’t know what the leadership will decide. We will follow their orders.”
Some Kachins feel the KIO sold out by agreeing to a ceasefire.
The ceasefire “was the best chance for KIO leaders to corrupt the natural resources such as gold mining, jading and logging for their own comfort,” wrote a former KIO official who requested anonymity.
Such high-level corruption might hamstring the KIO’s ability to rally support among ordinary Kachins.
“In Myanmar we have three in one – government, military and business,” explained Dtoi La, a trainee journalist. “That’s true for the junta and the KIO.”
For now, Kachins prepare for the future as best they can. Their dream is not a return to the old ways of subsistence agriculture, but rather a chance to develop as other nations do.
“We don’t want to be left behind,” Dtoi La said. “Keep an eye on Myanmar. There will be war in the future.”
Note: The Chin people of Burma are overwhelmingly Christian, including Baptist, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Methodist, and numerous other denominations.
New Delhi (Mizzima) - With the Burmese military junta's profound objection to the celebration of Chin National Day, ethnic Chin in Rangoon are albeit being forced to mark the day under different banners, organisers said.
On Friday, Chin people in Rangoon, celebrated the 61st anniversary of Chin Nation Day under the banner of 'Fresher Welcome' of University students.
"We requested the local authorities in the township and district levels in Rangoon but they rejected our request to allow us to hold the Chin National Day celebration," an organizer said.
"So, we had no choice but to celebrate our national day under a different name."
But in Hakha, capital of Chin State, authorities forced Chin community leaders to observe the Day as 'Chin State Day', a local resident said.
"Actually, we prefer to use the actual name 'Chin National Day'. But the authorities do not allow us to do so. So we have no choice," she added.
Chin National Day was adopted at the first Chin National Conference held on February 20, 1948 in Falam town in Chin state. During the conference, Chin leaders agreed to abolish the use of the chieftainship system of administration and agreed to form a democratic system of governance.
However, the Chin National Day was later renamed as the Chin State Day during the rule of the Burma Social Programme Party (BSPP) regime led General Ne Win, who assumed power in a military coup in 1962.
Salai Kipp Kho Lian, a Germany based Chin activist, alleged that changing the Chin National Day into Chin State Day is part of the junta's nationalization policy to eradicate the identity of ethnic minorities in Burma.
Kipp said it was on January 3, 1974 that the Burmese regime declared the Chin Special Division into Chin State so February 20 cannot be in anyway observed as Chin State Day.
"It does not make any sense to change Chin National Day into Chin State Day," Kipp said.
"It is a part of the Burmese regime's Burmanization campaign to eliminate ethnic groups," Kipp alleged.
But he said, "The more they [the regime] oppress us, the more we become active to promote our national identity."
On Friday, Chin people around the world including New Delhi, Denmark, and Malaysia marked the Chin National Day.
In New Delhi, more than 1000 Chin communities gathered in the western region of the city to celebrate the Chin National Day, where they performed traditional dances and sang folk songs to depict the culture of various ethnic groups among the Chin community.
Saturday, February 21
From The Associated Press (AP):
State radio and television announced that the convicts from various prisons would be released starting Saturday. The brief announcement said that 6,313 prisoners were being freed in recognition of their good conduct and so that they would be able to participate in a general election planned for next year.
Human rights groups estimate that the regime holds more than 2,100 political detainees, including pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is under house arrest. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Suu Kyi has spent 13 of the past 19 years in detention without trial.
When the junta freed 9,002 prisoners last September, only about a dozen were political detainees.
In recent months, the junta’s courts have sentenced more than 100 dissidents, including some of the country’s most prominent activists, to prison terms that would keep them incarcerated well past the 2010 polls. The junta says the elections will restore democracy, but critics charge they will be a sham to keep the military in control.
The top U.N. envoy to Myanmar, Ibrahim Gambari, who recently visitied the country, told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York that he had not received any official communique from the government and was waiting to see how many of the prisoners were criminals and how many were political prisoners.
“At the same time I believe it’s fair to welcome the release of prisoners, particularly political prisoners,” Gambari said.
Asked for Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s reaction, U.N. spokeswoman Michele Montas echoed Gambari, saying “it still remains unclear whether and how many political prisoners this deal may include.”
“We encourage the government to release all political prisoners including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi,” she said.
Myanmar, which has been under military rule since 1962, is shunned by Western nations because of its poor human rights record. The ruling generals came to power in 1988 after crushing a pro-democracy uprising and killing as many as 3,000 people.
The junta called elections in 1990 but refused to honor the results when Suu Kyi’s party won overwhelmingly.
By Stanley A. Weiss
U.S. relations with this country have stagnated for years, as Washington strives to sanction the country’s brutal leadership into submission. Meanwhile, the misery of Myanmar’s 54 million people deepens by the day.
Yet, the ice may be cracking. This week, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared that Washington “is looking at steps that might influence the current Burmese government” and “ways that we could more effectively help the Burmese people.”
Meanwhile, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, issued a statement of willingness to begin dialogue with the regime without preconditions.
But it is time to admit that the regime’s full acquiescence to U.S. demands is not a requirement for improving people’s lives. That does not mean the United States should cease supporting the democratic aspirations of Myanmar’s people, or that Washington should embrace a regime that has driven a resource-rich country into poverty, used violence to stifle dissent, jailed more than 2,000 political prisoners, deprived its citizens of education and health care, and conscripted children into military service.
But the U.S. policy of isolation is only making the junta more recalcitrant. A member of a foreign intelligence service told me of speaking with a top general, who said, “We are not scared of Western sanctions; we will survive as long as we have rice, salt and ngapi (fermented fish paste).”
Myanmar has endured colonial rule, foreign invasion, civil war and armed insurgency; its intensely nationalistic leaders are paranoid and proud in equal measure. Besides, the junta can count on more than fish paste to see them through: Myanmar has significant natural gas reserves and neighbors happy to trade and invest.
Proponents of sanctions counter that the policy needs more time; that critical loopholes have only recently been tightened; that the answer isn’t to lift the sanctions but to bring more countries - especially China - on board. Yet there is no reason to think Beijing would be susceptible to U.S. pressure on Myanmar.
Meanwhile, as Brahma Chellaney, one of India’s top strategic thinkers told me, the United States “doesn’t have to live with the consequences of its actions,” but neighboring countries “will not escape the effects of an unstable Myanmar.”
Sanctioning Myanmar may make Americans feel good, but feeling good and doing good are not the same. If the U.S. intent is to improve people’s lives in Myanmar, it must find a new way forward.
First, to succeed in Myanmar, U.S. officials must think like the Burmese. Not only have punitive sanctions and relentless public condemnation failed to moderate the regime’s behavior, they have pushed the junta further away from the West and into Chinese arms.
Too close a relationship between Myanmar and China is in neither the generals’ nor Washington’s interests, but the United States has offered only the back of its hand. The U.S. won’t even call Myanmar by its name, even though “Myanmar” is the Burmese named for their country, while “Burma” was the name imposed by British colonizers.
As a former Asian diplomat with deep knowledge of Myanmar told me, the people at large “see the West’s persistence in calling the country ‘Burma’ not only as childish and petulant but also as a disrespect to the country and its people.” Using “Myanmar” in recognition of the country’s difficult history and independence struggle is a gesture that might alleviate some of the junta’s suspicion of the outside world.
Second, the United States should increase humanitarian assistance, channeled via the United Nations and NGOs. Myanmar’s people endure grinding poverty; their leaders spend only 0.3 percent of GDP on public health, as many as 6 million people lack access to food, and UNICEF reports that 50 percent of infant deaths are from preventable causes. Yet the country receives less than $3 of official development assistance per capita - as compared to $38 for Cambodia and $49 for Laos.
A range of Western donors are already working successfully in Myanmar. In less than two years, the Three Diseases Fund has reached over 93,000 people with HIV prevention activities, provided antiretroviral treatment to 5,500 people living with HIV, supplied over 800,000 people with bed nets, and supported drug distribution to 123,000 tuberculosis patients.
As British Ambassador Mark Canning told me, humanitarian assistance “not only helps people in need, but acts as a medium through which to engage the more constructive elements in government, exposes thousands of young people to the way the foreign relief community works, and reminds them that the international community is out there and there is the promise some day of a more normal relationship.” It offers both moral and material solidarity with Myanmar’s people.
And they want our help. In my quiet conversations with taxi drivers, shopkeepers and tour guides in Yangon, no one spoke to me of politics. Instead I was asked, “How can I go to your schools? Will America help us get medical treatment?” Ma Thanegi, a former aide to Aung San Suu Kyi who now advocates against sanctions, told me there were only two functioning radiotherapy machines in this Texas-sized country.
Last year, the major headline out of Myanmar was a deadly cyclone. This year, let’s hope it will be the winds of change.
Stanley A. Weiss is founding chairman of Business Executives for National Security, a nonpartisan organization based in Washington.
Friday, February 20
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Wednesday that economic sanctions imposed by the United States and other Western governments had failed to pressure the repressive Burmese government, signaling a potentially major shift in U.S. policy.
Clinton, at a news conference here, did not deny that easing sanctions was one of the ideas under consideration by the Obama administration as part of a major review. “We are looking at possible ideas that can be presented,” she told reporters and said that she had discussed the issue with Indonesia officials here.
“Clearly the path we have taken in imposing sanctions hasn’t influenced the Burmese junta,” she said, adding that the route taken by Burma’s neighbors of “reaching out and trying to engage them has not influenced them either.”
Burma, also known as Myanmar, is regarded as one of the world’s most oppressive nations. The National League for Democracy, the party of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, won a landslide electoral victory in 1990, which the military leadership refused to accept. She has been held in confinement repeatedly since then.
Any move by the Obama administration to scale back sanctions on Burma could face strong opposition in Congress, where lawmakers have imposed a series of increasingly tougher restrictions on the Southeast Asian nation. The Bush administration also invested significant diplomatic capital into moving Burma for the first time onto the agenda of the United Nations Security Council, although proposed resolutions criticizing the junta’s behavior have been vetoed by Russia and China.
Vice President Biden last year was the key mover in the Senate of the Block Burmese JADE act, which renewed restrictions on the import of Burmese gems and tightened sanctions on mining projects there. The act also imposed new financial sanctions and travel restrictions on the junta’s leaders and their associates and created a post for a high-level envoy and policy coordinator for Burma.
But some humanitarian organizations have begun to question the sanctions policies. In an influential report issued in October, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group argued that humanitarian aid should begin to flow into the country and bans on Burmese garments, agriculture and fishery products and restrictions on tourism should be lifted.
“It is a mistake in the Myanmar context to use aid as a bargaining chip, to be given only in return for political change,” the report said. “Twenty years of aid restrictions — which see Myanmar receiving twenty times less assistance per capita than other least-developed countries — have weakened, not strengthened, the forces for change.”
While Clinton has been careful not to tip her hand on the direction of the policy review, she has used strikingly mild language about the Burmese government, describing “the unfortunate path” taken by Burma, leaving it “impervious to influence from anyone.”
Tomas Ojea Quintana, U.N. Special Human Rights Rapporteur for Myanmar, arrived on Saturday for his second mission to the country and visited political prisoners earlier in the week.
“He left for Naypyidaw this morning but we are not sure who exactly will receive him,” a diplomat based in the main city, Yangon, told Reuters.
The U.N. says Quintana had asked the military government for access to “a number of prisoners of conscience” but it was unclear if he would be able to visit opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest in Yangon for 13 of the past 19 years.
The generals moved the capital to Naypyidaw, about 380 km north of Yangon, in 2005.
Quintana was in eastern Kayin State on Sunday and Monday, visiting the prison in the local capital, Pa-an, and meeting leaders of ethnic groups opposed to the junta.
Later on Monday he went to the notorious Insein Central Jail on the outskirts of Yangon, where he met political prisoners including Tin Min Htut and Nyi Bu, elected MPs from the main opposition National League for Democracy (NLD).
They were sentenced to 15 years in prison in a closed trial on Friday, the day before Quintana arrived.
The two men had been arrested last August after they wrote an open letter to the U.N. criticising the military regime’s proposed political reforms.
State media made no mention of the U.N. envoy’s visit.
Under a new constitution brought in last year, multi-party elections are to be held in 2010, although the generals will be handing over little real power to the elected leadership.
Suu Kyi’s NLD believes the results of the last election in 1990 should be respected and form the basis for any transition to democracy. The NLD won a landslide victory, only to be denied power by the military, which has run the country since 1962.
The NLD has not said publicly whether it will take part in the election but it has called on the regime to set up a multilateral commission to review the constitution.
All three state-owned papers, which are generally considered to be the mouthpiece of the junta, urged the opposition on Wednesday to take part in the 2010 vote.
“If they really want to serve the interests of the nation and the people, they should recognise the benevolent attitude of the government and stand for elections fairly in line with the law,” the English daily New Light of Myanmar said in a commentary.
The NLD for its part issued a statement on Tuesday calling for a meeting between Suu Kyi and regime supremo Senior General Than Shwe.
“It will be the best way to bring about significant advantages for the country if the two leaders, who have the decisive power, meet and talk immediately without any preconditions instead of arguing with each other,” it said.
An ethnic Chin local in Hakha village said that Dr Mu Htan, who was elected by Htantalan as an independent representative for the people’s parliament in 1990, is making locals work on the reconstruction.
“He is forcing locals to contribute one head per household for one week for the road construction with no meal provided,” said the man.
Mu Htan is known to have close business deals with the government. It is thought that locals are being forced into the work to gain favour with Chin state’s Peace and Development Council chairman colonel Hon Ngai.
“Also he is aiming to collect 62 million kyat donation money for that project and has been pressuring parents of local youths who are living abroad now to ask for money from them,” said the man.
The reconstruction is being done on an old road linking the state’s capital Hakha to Hmandaw village in Sagaing division, halfway between Kalay and Gantgaw townships.
Hakha locals have said they were worried they might miss the marking of the Chin national day on 20 February because they had to do work for Mu Htan.
Mu Htan was unavailable for comments.
Wednesday, February 11
[The Nation] The Thai Foreign Ministry’s permanent secretary Virasak Futrakul yesterday told US actress Angelina Jolie to mind her own business and demanded an explanation from the UN agency for refugees why it brought her to a refugee camp here in the first place. The Interior Ministry supervises refugee camps along the Thai-Burmese border and the UN refugee agency has stepped out of line by taking the Hollywood star there, Virasak said. He also reminded the UN High Commissioner for Refugees that the UN has no mandate in these camps and therefore should not be saying anything. The agency said that Jolie and her partner Brad Pitt visited the camp on the Thai-Burmese border after receiving permission from the Interior Ministry.
So much for the diplomatic jargon and necessities, but excuse us for reminding the world that the international community has a major problem on its hand. It concerns the Rohingyas, a stateless people who reside in Burma’s Rakhine State bordering Bangladesh.
But while no one can fully control the words and actions of Hollywood celebrities, the fact of the matter is, when they speak, just about everybody listens.
Thailand’s claim of sovereignty over this matter is understandable given the fact that the country is not a signatory to any refugee convention. But hiding behind diplomatic protocol doesn’t hold water, especially when the country is in a public relations mess following reports that our security forces have pushed hundreds of Rohingya boat people back out to sea. Some have been left unaccounted for while others have given heartbreaking accounts of mistreatment by the Thai military, which towed them back out to sea in ill-equipped boats with little food and water. Another blow to Thailand’s image is the fact that the Indian navy, which has rescued Rohingyas, repeated their stories to the world.
We don’t need to dance to Jolie’s tune just because she is a Hollywood superstar. What we need to do is come up with a sound policy that is based on legal and humanitarian principles. Instead of blaming Jolie, who has the luxury of walking away from this after a few days of photo ops, why don’t we start talking about the root cause of the problem? Or is that against the unwritten rules of Asean when it comes to “domestic matters” in a neighbouring member country?
This particular problem is caused by the Burmese junta - a source of headaches and heartache for Thailand, all Asean members and the international community.
Monday, February 9
Three boys, about 13 years of age in Paletwa town were forcibly recruited in the army on January 28 by Commander Maung Than and seven soldiers from the Lisin Army camp of IB (304). They are still at the military camp, a local said.
He said the victims are NguiTheing (13) son of Pa Net, In Thawng (14) son of Khipui, and Sawng San (13) son of Khan Kung of Lung Zaw Kung village. They were taken from their homes..
“Ngui Theing was taken from his house. He was reluctant to go and cried out but even village heads were afraid to stop the forced recruitment, he told to Khonumthung News.
A report said that five boys from Matupi and Paletwa townships ran away to Mizoram state between December 2008 to January 2009 as they were afraid to join the army.
A local in Matupi said that if soldiers in Matupi IB (304) can recruit children, they will be promoted to a higher rank. So army people are searching for boys in the villages.
“When the authorities constructed the Matupi army camp in December 2008, they were trying to persuade a boy who was not attending school to serve as a soldier. But he refused and he was put in the lockup for a whole night as punishment,” he added.
Regarding this matter Terah of Chin Human Rights Organistaion(CHRO) said, “Actually the government should protect children from forced recruitment as child soldiers, but they doing this disgusting thing for their own interest and it violates human rights,”
The military junta is a signatory to the International Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) paragraph (38) which mentions that it has to protect under 15 year-old children from forced recruitment to the military
Friday, February 6
The projects, in Chaung zone and Paung Townships, Mon State have both been organized by monks or former monks, and are now bringing electricity to over 600 households, with capacity for hundreds more.
“Our village has electricity now, because of the efforts of the monk and monastery donors,” said a woman from Dare village in Chaung zone Township, on Belukyn Island. “If we just hoped for electricity from the government, our village would never have electricity.”
The project in Dare was spearheaded by the abbot of the Mingalala Thu Kat Monastery, who organized a group of 15 laymen that purchased a generator from Rangoon in December. About 120 of Dare’s 200 households are currently drawing power.
“Paung Town has electrical wires from the government, but it is rare that we get any power,” added a resident of Paung Town. “That’s why some villages try to get electricity themselves. Even if they get electricity from the government, it is not enough power to do anything.”
The project in Paung Township is centered in Mu Naing village, where former monks from the local monastery raised money to buy a hydroelectric generator in November. The project has capacity for more than 1,000 households, with 514 currently connected.
Less than a kilometer away in Moulmein, Mon State’s capital city, residents have been complaining about the decreasing wattage of the power they receive. Last week, Mon State officials extended electricity to villages in nearby Mudon Township. They did so, apparently, without increasing the power output from Ngante station at Moulmein.
The wattage from the project on Belukyn Island, meanwhile, has residents raving. “The power supply is very good,” said the Dare resident. “We can cook, we can iron. We can use a refrigerator, fill batteries or even watch TV.”
Electricity in most parts of Burma is non-existent or inconsistent at best, with even major cities like Rangoon suffering from limited supplies and frequent outages. In Mon State, residents are often promised electricity contingent on bribes, but still fail to receive power.
That this House expresses deep concern at recent events in Burma with authorities in Rangoon ordering that services cease in at least a 100 local churches with a threat of prison for non-compliance; notes the concern of some of the local Christians who believe that the immediate cause of the crackdown is church involvement in providing relief for victims of Cyclone Nargis; further notes continued widespread discrimination against religious minorities and in some places violent persecution of Christians and Muslims in other parts of Burma; calls on the Government to raise concerns about religious freedom with the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC); urges the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Religion and Belief to investigate violations of religious freedom in Burma; and calls on the United Nations Secretary General to increase and intensify efforts to urge the SPDC to cease its widespread violation of human rights, including violations of religious freedom, to release all political prisoners, to open all parts of the country to unhindered access for international humanitarian organisations and to engage in meaningful tripartite dialogue with the National League for Democracy and the ethnic nationalities.
by Larry Jagan
Opium poppy cultivation in Burma has increased alarmingly in the past two years amid fears that region's worsening economic crisis will encourage an even greater spurt in growth, warns the United Nations.
Falling international commodity prices and increase political instability in Burma's border area has fuelled fears that many of Burma's poppy farmers will find it impossible to resist the temptation to return to their old ways. In the past few years there has been a dramatic fall in the area under poppy cultivation and opium production, but these gains have been reversed in the past two years, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime's (UNODC) annual survey just released.
"The problem of poppy production in the region has been contained but not solved," the UNODC chief in Bangkok, Gary Lewis told Mizzima. "There have been significant increases, especially in Myanmar, which are threatening to rise further because of the worsening economic conditions faced by former poppy farmers."
More than ninety percent of the poppy grown in south-east Asia – Burma, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam – is grown in Burma's north-eastern Shan State, though significant strides have been made in Burma over the past decade to dramatically reduce the cultivation of poppy and the production of opium.
Poppy cultivation has fallen from more than 120,000 hectares under poppy cultivation to around 30,000 in 2008 in Burma. Opium production has fallen from more than 1300 metric tonnes to 410 during this period. This is the equivalent of producing 40 tonnes of heroin. This reduction has been largely the result of international pressure on two of the largest opium producers in Burma's Golden Triangle – which borders China, Laos and Thailand -- the Kokang and the Wa. Both are rebel ethnic groups, with large guerrilla forces, but have ceasefire agreements with the Myanmar government.
The Kokang virtually ceased opium production in 2003 and the Wa in 2006. But in the past two years both poppy cultivation and opium production have begun to grow again. "The trend is certainly upwards with a significant increase in the land under cultivation in Myanmar," said Leik Boonwaat, UNODC chief in Laos, who has also been stationed in Myanmar. "For former opium farmers who already live in dire poverty are facing twin levers of increasing opium prices and falling commodity prices that may encourage them to reduce poppy growing."
The prices of most commodities grown or produced in Burma as alternatives to poppy, particularly maize and rubber, have fallen by more than fifty percent, according to the UN's annual drug report. Tens of thousands of former poppy farmers are facing a bleak future, according to an ethnic leader in northern Burma, who declined to be identified. They are almost certain to resume growing poppy, simply to survive, he said.
Most of the Wa and Kokang's alternative crops -- tea, rubber and fruit – are sold to traders across the border in China. But these merchants are no longer interested in buying these products from Burmese producers as demand in China has all but dried up.
Chinese traders are not even buying jade from the Pangsan market. There are even tougher times ahead for the Wa in particular, a source in their capital told Mizzima on condition of anonymity. The leaders are really worried about the future, he added.
"The price of opium has more than doubled in the past few years – from $153 a kilogramme in 2004 to $ 301 currently on the Myanmar market – making it hard for former opium growers to ignore this incentive to return to poppy cultivation," Leik Boonwaat told Mizzima.
With declining prices for their substitute crops and soaring market prices for opium, thousands of former poppy growers are at risk of returning to their traditional crop to produce the extra cash income they need.
Already there are significant signs that Burma's poppy growers are returning to their old trade. In the past two years there has been a distinct upward trend, according to the UN's latest annual report. Although opium production fell a little last year compared to the year before, this is because the yield was worse.
The greatest increase has been in Southern Shan state, where the Wa leadership is in the hands of the Chinese gangster Wei Xiao Gang – who is wanted on trafficking charges in the United States.
While the UN survey suggests that in the main Wa area – Wa Special Region 2 – there has been no resumption yet of poppy cultivation, there has been a steady increase in both eastern and northern Shan state. More worrying is the steady increase in poppy cultivation in both Kachin and Kayah states.
The fragile situation in the northern Wa areas is also of great concern to international anti-drug agencies, according to senior Thai intelligence officers. So far the Wa ban on poppy production, punishable by death, is holding but this may not be the case in the year.
Wa leaders have always know that the situation remained precarious – the ban was never a popular move – and depended on the poor Wa farmers having greater food security and an alternative source of a cash income.
"The Wa leaders may even be forced to renege on their promises to the UN and international community if the economic and security situation deteriorates further," a UN drugs official familiar with the problems in Shan state told Mizzima, but declined to be identified.
The current political problems in Burma – the planned elections in 2010 and the junta's efforts to disarm the ceasefire groups, especially the Wa -- is dramatically increasing instability in the border regions, which have been traditional opium producing areas and this mounting uncertainty is also going to increase the pressure on former opium growers to return to their poppy fields.
Aware of these problems – and the danger of more former growers resuming poppy cultivation, the UN believes there is an even greater need now to step up action against the drug smugglers.
"Already there are important measures in place for the cooperation and exchange of intelligence between drug enforcement agencies in the region – through the border liaison offices that were established several years ago," said Mr. Lewis.
Smuggling routes have changed in the past few years, with tighter border controls especially along the Myanmar border with China. "Certainly traffickers have had to change their transport methods and routes – much is now being moved through Laos from Myanmar, to meet the demand of the drug addicts in southern China, Thailand and Vietnam," said Mr. Boonwaat.
But some of the Golden Triangle opium production is heading out to India, Europe and the United States through the Rangoon port, according to Burmese government officials.
Last week the authorities seized some 118 kilogrammes of heroin stowed away on a ship, the Kota Tegap, headed for Italy via Singapore. It was hidden between planks of timber that was part of an export consignment.
The ship is owned by the ethnic Chinese Burmese businessman, Kyaw Sein and left the Asia World terminal, owned by the son of the notorious former drug baron Lo Hsing Han. Tun Myint Naing is also targetted by US sanctions. So far no arrests have been made, but investigations are continuing, according Burmese officials.
The ship had actually sailed, before it was ordered to return to port. It was Chinese intelligence who alerted their Burmese counterparts.
"This type of intelligence sharing is happening on a regular basis," Pithaya Jinawat, the deputy Secretary general of Thailand's Office of the Narcotics Control Board (ONCB) told Mizzima.
"The Chinese have tipped off the Thai authorities and Lao officials on several occasions in the past couple of years that have resulted in seizures of illicit drugs and the arrest of many traffickers," he said.
"There is no room for complacency," said Mr. Lewis "There is much more that needs to be done." In particular, to combat the money laundering of the proceeds of illegal activities and the illicit drugs trade.
Not all countries in the region have put anti-money laundering legislation in place. But then law enforcement agencies, judges and advocates all need to be trained. In this regard Asia has a long way to go.
But perhaps UNODC's biggest problem in trying to stamp out drug production and trafficking in the region is the lack of funds. The agency needs more financial support from donors to be able to effectively carry out all its work – especially in Myanmar," Mr. Boonwaat confided.
For the donors who provide these funds, there is a much greater concern: the spiralling growth in meta-amphetamines (ATS). As the UN tireless tackles the problem of opium production – the Chinese gangsters in the Golden Triangle have turned increasingly to yaa baa (as ATS is commonly known in this region).
Our fear is the production of yaa ba has become the most effective crop substitution for the Red Wa and the Chinese gangsters who back them," said a Thai military intelligence officer on condition of anonymity.
Tuesday, February 3
Myanmar's detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi yesterday met visiting UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari, outlining conditions for dialogue with the junta as the diplomat struggled to make a breakthrough. Gambari is in Myanmar to try to push all sides in the military-ruled nation toward dialogue on democratic reform, after his last visit in August ended in deadlock with Suu Kyi refusing to meet him.
The junta has also shown little sign of embracing the Nigerian troubleshooter's role, and he is not expected to meet reclusive head of state Senior General Than Shwe during his four-day visit, which began on Saturday.
Yesterday, Suu Kyi was allowed out of the lakeside home where she has been kept prisoner for most of the last 19 years to meet Gambari and five senior members of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party.
Suu Kyi expressed frustration over the world body's failure to persuade the junta to give up their monopoly on power, her party said.
She told Gambari that any visit by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon should be conditional on the release of her and all political prisoners, NLD spokesman Nyan Win said, while the party also reiterated its stance.
"Our demands are the release of all political prisoners, a review of the constitution, call the People's parliament and also dialogue," said Nyan Win.
People's parliament refers to the landslide election victory by Suu Kyi and the NLD in 1990 - an outcome that was ignored by the junta, with the military instead cementing its now nearly five-decade grip on power.
Nyan Win said Suu Kyi also raised the plight of more than 270 pro-democracy activists recently jailed for up to 104 years.
"She pointed out that the long prison sentences, such as 65 or 100 years, were handed down with no defence and no lawyers allowed," Nyan Win said.
Thursday, January 29
Up to 100,000 Christian Chin who have fled to India in the past 20 years to escape persecution by Myanmar’s Buddhist military rulers are at risk of being forced back, Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday.
The New York-based rights said local authorities and community organisations in Mizoram frequently targeted Chin migrants, one of the former Burma’s many oppressed ethnic minorities.
“They live at the mercy of the local population,” HRW said in a report on the plight of the Chin, whose ancestral homes are in the mountainous reaches of northwest Myanmar.
“The Chin in Mizoram lack jobs, housing and affordable education,” HRW consultant Amy Alexander said, adding most were relegated to temporary, labour-intensive and low-paying jobs, earning around 100 rupees ($2) a day for 10 to 16-hour shifts.
The report comes at a time when attention has turned on the Rohingyas, another minority group in Myanmar, who have been fleeing abuse and harassment.
In the last two months, 550 Muslim Rohingyas are feared to have drowned after the Thai army forced 1,000 found in the Andaman Sea into wooden boats before towing out to international waters and cutting them adrift.
Despite relatively close ethnic ties between the Chin and Mizoram natives, tensions between the two populations regularly flared into anti-Chin pogroms, the HRW report said.
“Because they are stateless and marginalized and the poorest of the poor, they tend to be the scapegoat whenever there’s an incident at the border,” HRW researcher Sara Colm said.
The largest such campaign was in 2003, when the Young Mizo Association (YMA) forced 10,000 Chin back into Myanmar, HRW said.
In September 2008, the YMA issued an order for the Chin to leave Mizoram by the end of the month. The threat did not materialize, but it was enough for them to go into hiding, close their churches and wait till tensions were over, HRW said.
Such incidents showed India failing in its obligations to protect refugees or asylum seekers, Alexander said.
New Delhi has not signed the 1951 Refugee Convention but under international law, is bound by the principle of ‘nonrefoulement’, which protects migrants from being returned to any country where they could be persecuted.
In addition to what HRW described as “decades of systematic abuse” at the hands of the Myanmar army, the Chin’s woes have been compounded by a 2007 infestation of rats that destroyed huge swathes of crops and food stores.
A recent U.N. survey estimated that 40 percent of people in Chin State, Myanmar’s poorest, did not have enough food, increasing the number of people trying to leave the country.
Wednesday, January 28
The Chin people, Christians living in the remote mountains of northwestern Myanmar, are subject to forced labor, torture, extrajudicial killings and religious persecution by the country's military regime, a human rights group said Wednesday.
The New York-based Human Right Watch said as many as 100,000 people have fled the Chin homeland into neighboring India, where they face abuse and the risk of being forced back into Myanmar.
"The Chin are unsafe in Burma and unprotected in India," a report from the group said. The report said the regime in Myanmar, also known as Burma, continues to commit atrocities against its other ethnic minorities.
Myanmar's ruling junta has been widely accused of widespread human rights violations in ethnic minority areas where anti-government insurgent groups are fighting for autonomy. The government has repeatedly denied such charges. An e-mailed request for comment on the new report was not immediately answered.
Chief Secretary Vanhela Pachau, a top official for India's Mizoram state, said he had not seen the report and could not comment.
"(The police) hit me in my mouth and broke my front teeth. They split my head open and I was bleeding badly. They also shocked me with electricity," the group quoted a Chin man accused of supporting the insurgents, who are small in number and largely ineffective.
He was one of some 140 Chin people interviewed by the human rights group from 2005 to 2008. The group said the names of those interviewed were withheld to prevent reprisals.
A number of people spoke of being forced out of their villages to serve as unpaid porters for the army or to build roads, sentry posts and army barracks.
Amy Alexander, a consultant for Human Rights Watch, told a news conference that insurgents of the Chin National Front also committed abuses such as extorting money from villagers to fund their operations.
Alexander said Myanmar's government, attempting to suppress minority cultures, was destroying churches, desecrating crosses, interfering with worship services by forcing Christians to work on Sundays and promoting Buddhism through threats and inducements. Some 90 percent of the Chin are Christians, most of them adherents to the American Baptist Church.
Ethnic insurgencies erupted in Myanmar in the late 1940s when the country gained independence from Great Britain.
Former junta member Gen. Khin Nyunt negotiated cease-fires with 17 of the insurgent groups before he was ousted by rival generals in 2004.
Among rebels still fighting are groups from the Karen, Karenni, Shan and Chin minorities.
At least half a million minority people have been internally displaced in eastern Myanmar as a result of the regime's brutal military campaigns while refugees continue to flee to the Thai-Myanmar border. More than 145,000 refugees receive international humanitarian assistance in Thai border camps.
Alexander said that some 30,000 Chin have also sought refuge in Malaysia while about 500 were living in Thai border camps.
Tuesday, January 27
Burmese authorities last week [week of 12/01/09 -- see report below on 16 January] increased restrictions on Christian activity in the capital city of Rangoon and surrounding areas, including the closure of several churches, Compass sources confirmed yesterday.
Orders issued on Jan. 5 had already forced many Christians meeting in residential homes or apartments to cease gathering for worship. Officials last week ordered several major Rangoon churches, including Wather Hope Church, Emmanuel Church and the Assemblies of God Church, to cease holding services and continued enforcing the Jan. 5 ban on meetings held in unauthorized facilities.
In the late 1990s authorities stopped issuing permits for land purchase or the construction of new churches, leading many Burmese Christians to conduct services in rented apartments or office buildings, according to the Burmese news agency Mizzima.
The Kyauktada Township Peace and Development Council on Jan. 5 invited pastors from more than 100 Rangoon churches to a meeting where they were told to sign documents pledging to cease operation of their churches. About 50 pastors attended, according to Mizzima.
The documents threatened punishment, including potential jail terms and the sealing of church facilities, for pastors who refused to obey the closure orders.
Another local online news source, the Democratic Voice of Burma, claimed officials from the Ministry of Religious Affairs had summoned the owners of buildings where churches met and ordered them not to rent their properties to religious groups.
Mizzima quoted an unnamed Burmese Christian who claimed that 80 percent of churches in Rangoon were affected by the order.
History of Religious Repression
Some local Christians and international observers say the crackdown is related to Christian involvement in relief efforts for the victims of Cyclone Nargis, which hit Burma in May 2008.
Despite widespread devastation and loss of life, Burma’s reclusive government initially banned foreign aid but finally accepted it on condition that Burmese officials would distribute it. Christians, however, had responded immediately to the crisis, gathering relief supplies and transporting them to the Irrawaddy Delta region. Police or army officials stopped some groups, but many were allowed to proceed. At least one such group told Compass that officials likely feared the conversion of Buddhists who accepted aid from Christians.
The military junta ruling Burma promotes Buddhism at the expense of other minority religions, according to Paul A. Marshall’s 2008 Religious Freedom in the World. The country’s population is 82 percent Buddhist, 9 percent Christian and 4 percent Muslim, with traditional ethnic, Chinese and Hindu religions accounting for the rest.
The church closure orders may simply be an extension of Burma’s existing religious policies, which elevate Buddhism in an effort to solidify national identity. Burma ranks high on lists of religious and human rights violators at several watch organizations, including the U.S. State Department, Human Rights Watch, Freedom House and Open Doors.
Documents declaring the government’s intention to “stamp out” Christianity have circulated for some time. Rights organization Christian Solidarity Worldwide drew attention to one such document in a 2007 report entitled, “Carrying the Cross: The military regime’s campaign of restriction, discrimination and persecution against Christians in Burma.” The report summarized a 17-point document allegedly produced by an organization affiliated with the Ministry of Religious Affairs entitled, “Program to Destroy the Christian Religion in Burma.”
The first point in this document declared that, “There shall be no home where the Christian religion is practiced.”
A military dictatorship has ruled Burma since 1962. Following the takeover, the government renamed Burma as the Union of Myanmar and the capital city as Yangon, but many news agencies and government bodies continue to use the original names. When elections were held in 1988, with the opposing National League for Democracy clearly in the majority, the generals rejected the popular vote and used brute military force to cement their power throughout Burma. A similar show of force met hundreds of Buddhist monks who initiated mass anti-government protest rallies on the streets of Rangoon in September 2007.
While almost all Burmese citizens suffer under the regime, Christians are often singled out for specific attack or repression because of their perceived connections with the West.
Reports from various mission groups suggest Christianity is flourishing under the regime, but believers must be creative with their worship – particularly in rural areas. In reports confirmed by Compass, Christians in one state began photocopying Bibles to overcome restrictions on religious publications. Others baptized new Christians during the annual water festival, where citizens douse each other with buckets of water, ceremonially washing away the “sins” of the past year.
Heightened Security, Control
Rangoon residents say a much heavier security presence has been evident in the city since early January, when political activists began distributing anti-government leaflets, The Irrawaddy newspaper reported on Jan. 13. The leaflet drops may have contributed to the current crackdown on church gatherings, as generals suspect all organized groups of having a political agenda.
At a graduation of military students in Rangoon on Jan. 9, Vice-Senior Gen. Maung Aye, who is commander-in-chief of the army and deputy commander-in-chief of Defense Services, warned students to steadfastly uphold the country’s “Three Main National Causes” to prevent “recurrences of past bitter experiences.” The causes were listed as non-disintegration of the Union of Myanmar, non-disintegration of national solidarity and perpetuation of sovereignty.
The New Light of Myanmar, a government newspaper, reported the general as saying that, “You will have learned bitter lessons from a number of world events, in which certain States have become weaker … owing to external intervention in their conflicts.”
The Burmese government’s Press Scrutiny and Registration Division (PSRD) censored publication of a major part of US President Barack Obama’s inauguration speech in the Rangoon-based weekly journal The Voice, according to journalists in the former capital.
Sources said that the censorship board decided not to allow the publishing of parts of Obama’s inauguration speech that included sensitive political messages.
A part of the speech that was cut was: “To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”
Burmese inside and outside the country circulated this part of the speech through the Internet and it was widely interpreted as a message to dictators, including Burma’s rulers.
A journalist in Rangoon said that Burma’s censorship board ordered the speech to be removed from the front page of The Voice, but it allowed the journal to publish stories and pictures of Obama in its inside pages.
Burma’s privately owned magazines and journals have widely covered news of Barack Obama since the presidential election campaign began.
According to media sources in Burma, there was originally little harassment or any serious warnings from the notoriously fickle censorship board. But all publications have reportedly been careful not to cover sensitive material about the strained US-Burmese relationship.
Burma’s top military leader, Snr-Gen Than Shwe, formally congratulated the US president on his election victory.
Last week, the Agence-France Presse (AFP) news agency reported that the Burmese junta hopes that the new US president will change Washington's tough policy toward the military regime and end the "misunderstandings" of the past.
“Our two countries' relations have had some misunderstandings in the past with the Bush administration. Mr Obama needs to study our country's real situation so that he can change policy,” a Burmese official reportedly told AFP.
“There have been many mistakes in the past [in relations between the countries]. We have had misunderstandings. But now we are expecting good intentions,” he said. The official also accused former President Bush of making "one-sided" decisions.”
In spite of media restrictions, many people inside Burma watched the live televised coverage of Obama’s inauguration on satellite television.
Rangoon-based media sources said that the PSRD was acting under the instructions of the Ministry of Information. The censorship board did not permit the publishing of articles related to Obama’s speech in other weekly journals, including The Yangon Times and True News.