Saturday, January 23

Hearing In Senate Foreign Relations Committee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verdict Expected for Kyaw Zaw Lwin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Air Force Jet Crashes at Myanmar Airport

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

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

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

Friday, January 1

American Citizen Charged in Myanmar Court

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) -- A special court Friday formally charged a Myanmar-born American, initially accused of attempting to foment rebellion against the country's military rulers, for forgery and violation of the foreign currency act, his lawyer said.

In another court case, the Supreme Court announced that it will hear final arguments to decide whether to review the most recent extension of the house arrest of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Kyaw Zaw Lwin, a U.S. citizen, was charged with forgery for allegedly making up a national identity card, which carries maximum 7-year prison term. He was also charged with violating the currency act, that could put him in prison for another three years, said his lawyer Nyan Win.

Kyaw Zaw Lwin, who is also known as Nyi Nyi Aung, was arrested Sept. 3 when he arrived at Yangon airport and accused of trying to stir up anti-government protests.

The lawyer said his client ended a 12-day hunger strike on Dec. 15 and "looked well and was in good spirits."

Kyaw Zaw Lin's mother is serving a five-year prison term for political activities and his sister was sentenced to 65 years in prison for her role in pro-democracy protests in 2007.

The lawyer for Suu Kyi, also Nyan Win, said the Supreme Court posted an announcement on its notice board setting Jan. 18 as the date to hear final argumentd in her latest case.

Suu Kyi's lawyers appealed to the Supreme Court in November after a lower court upheld a decision to sentence her to 18 months of house arrest. She had been convicted in August last year of violating her previous term by briefly sheltering an American intruder who swam uninvited to her lakeside home.

The legal team argued that her house arrest extension was unlawful as it was based on provisions from the 1974 Constitution that was no longer in existence, said Nyan Win.

"We are optimistic that the Supreme Court will review the Divisional Court decision as we have presented strong legal points," he said.

The 64-year-old Nobel Peace Laureate was initially sentenced to three years in prison with hard labor, but that sentence was commuted to 18 months of house arrest by junta chief Senior Gen. Than Shwe.

Suu Kyi has been detained for 14 of the past 20 years.

Suu Kyi's sentence ensures she cannot participate in Myanmar's first elections in two decades that are scheduled for next year. Her party swept the last elections in 1990, but the results were never honored by the military, which has ruled the country since 1962.