Thursday, December 31, 2009

Opposition welcomes British PM’s Letter

 
Friday, 01 January 2010 15:03 Salai Pi Pi


New Delhi (Mizzima) - The leading Burmese opposition party today congratulated British Prime Minister Gordon Brown for reiterating the United Kingdom’s support for Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and her struggle for political change in Burma.

Nyan Win, Spokesperson for the National League for Democracy (NLD), on Thursday said the party praised the move of the British Prime Minister, who wrote to Aung San Suu Kyi on Tuesday of this week and assured her that his country will continue in the new year to help in the fight for the restoration of democracy and freedom in military-ruled Burma.

“Such a sort of call was unusual, but we welcome it,” Nyan Win told Mizzima.

According to a statement from the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office issued on December 29th, Brown is proud of the detained Burmese democracy leader for dedicating her whole life to the cause of freedom and democracy in Burma.

“You have selflessly highlighted the wider suffering of the Burmese people rather than dwelling on your own pain. And through that courage you have gained the respect of the entire international community not just for a person, but for a cause,” Brown said in his letter.

Brown also urged the Burmese military regime to engage with Aung San Suu Kyi and to allow her to maintain contact with diplomats in Rangoon.

Aung San Suu Kyi, still under house arrest, has spent over 14 of the past 19 years in detention. Her party won a landslide victory in the 1990 election after the present military government assumed power in 1988.

However, the military government refused to honor the result of the election. At present, a new election is scheduled for 2010 as part of the regime’s seven-step road map to “disciplined democracy.”

Brown said a genuinely inclusive, free and fair election and the participation of Aung San Suu Kyi in the rebuilding work of the country is the only path that can lead military-ruled Burma into an era of peace, stability and progress.

“If the scheduled elections proceed under a rigged constitution, with opposition leaders excluded and with no international oversight, the military rulers will be condemning Burma to more years of diplomatic isolation and economic stagnation,” warned Brown.

Brown further stressed that there is no sign of change likely to happen in Burma as Burmese regime still refusing the call of regional and international community for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and committing human right violation in the country.
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US marks Burmese Independence Day, reaffirming new Burma approach

 
Friday, 01 January 2010 15:01 Usa Pichai


Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - The United State remains ready to improve ties with Burma if there is measurable progress toward democracy in the country, according to a statement released on Wednesday in the run-up to the 62nd anniversary of Burma’s independence from Britain.

The statement from the US State Department expressed the warmest wishes to the people of Burma on the occasion, which falls on January 4th, and referred to recent meetings between diplomats of the two countries during which the United States reaffirmed its unwavering support for an independent, peaceful, prosperous and democratic Burma.

“The United States stands ready to take steps to improve bilateral relations based on reciprocal and meaningful efforts by the Burmese government to fulfill the Burmese peoples' democratic aspirations,” the statement specified.

“We support the peaceful efforts of people everywhere to exercise freely their universal human rights, and we look forward to the day when Burma’s citizens will be able to do so. We hope that day will come soon,” it added.

The United States has opened a high-level dialogue with the junta as part of President Barack Obama's policy of reaching out to its long-time adversary.

Recently, the US State Department also welcomed the Burmese regime allowing Aung San Suu Kyi to pay her respects to three senior leaders of the National League for Democracy in the Burmese cosmopolitan capital of Rangoon.

In September, the US announced a new policy on Burma that will involve direct engagement with the Burmese military junta while maintaining existing sanctions that can be tightened or eased depending on political progress in the Southeast Asian Nation.

In November, Hillary Clinton, United States Secretary of State, urged ASEAN nations to convince Burma to hold transparent general elections after a meeting with Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) foreign ministers in Singapore.

Clinton emphasized that ASEAN needs to nudge Burma towards democracy as "the internal problems with Burma are not confined within Burma's borders.” She added the US will not set any conditions for Burma's move towards democracy but that sanctions on the military regime will remain in place for the time being.
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Dhaka pushes for delimitation of maritime boundary

 
Friday, 01 January 2010 14:57 Siddique Islam


Mizzima (Dhaka) - The delimitation of maritime boundaries between neighboring countries is essential in order to secure Bangladesh’s access to natural resources in the Bay of Bengal, Foreign Minister Dipu Moni said on Wednesday.

The Foreign Minister made the remark when Burmese Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Maung Myint paid her a courtesy call at the Foreign Ministry in the capital Dhaka, as Rangoon is party to the delimitation dispute.

The Bangladeshi Foreign Minister expressed the hope that both countries would be able to resolve the issue in a time-bound manner, according to a Foreign Ministry press statement.

The next round of maritime boundary delimitation talks between Bangladesh and Burma will be held in the port city Chittagong from January 8th to 9th, against the backdrop of a recent fracas centering on each country unilaterally trying to explore for gas in undemarcated areas of the Bay of Bengal.

Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister also stressed early resolution of the Burmese refugee issue, while Burma’s Deputy Foreign Minister expressed his government’s desire to take back verified refugees.

On Tuesday, the Burmese junta agreed to take back 9,000 Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh as soon as possible.

The meeting also covered the enhancement of bilateral trade, improving road and air connectivity, relaxation of visa procedures for businessmen and developing institutional consultation mechanisms between border guard forces, according to the statement.

Recalling her recent visit to Burma, for the 12th BIMSTEC Ministerial Meeting, Dipu Moni said, “It is important to hold regular contacts between the two sides at all levels.”

She also expressed her government’s commitment to resolve all differences with Burma in a spirit of friendship and cordiality.

Burma’s Ambassador to Dhaka, Phae Thann Oo, accompanied Maung Myint in his visit. Bangladesh’s Ambassador to Rangoon, Major General Anup Kumar Chakma, was also present.
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Fresh misery looms large in New Year in Burma

 
Thursday, 31 December 2009 14:33 Mizzima News (Editorial)


Mizzima News - The New Year should be a time for hope and change, but for the people of Burma it promises to bring more of the same misery, albeit with some new twists.

2010 is the year of the final steps for the regime’s ‘roadmap to democracy’. General elections are promised for later in the year that should usher in a democratic system. Few observers, however, believe that the elections will be free or fair. Indications are that the generals are already grooming loyal military officers and civil officials to take over key positions. The junta-backed so called mass movement, the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) is expected to be converted into a political party.

The few remaining opposition parties, including the winner of the previous 1990 elections, the National League for Democracy (NLD), are unsure about contesting the elections. The NLD is calling for a review of the new constitution passed in a controversial referendum last year. Exile groups and the NLD claim the constitution still gives too much power to the military through reserved seats in parliament and the barring of political prisoners from holding office.

Laws governing the formation of political parties and how the elections will be held are yet to be announced. Opposition leaders and exile groups say the junta will wait until the last minute to announce the laws in order to make it as difficult as possible for ethnic and democratic politicians to organize political parties.

Some observers believe the outcome of the elections is already a foregone conclusion - the junta already knows who will win and the votes will be rigged accordingly. Opposition and ethnic representatives will be allowed to win some seats in order to give a veneer of democracy to placate both opponents within the country and the international community. Constitutional guarantees mean the military will still be calling the shots.

At the same time the generals are preparing for the elections it is also moving to consolidate control over its border regions and eliminate any serious opposition from the country’s myriad ethnic groups. The junta’s Border Guard Force (BGF) plan places the military forces of the ethnic groups under direct Burmese Army control leaving only their political wings which will be allowed to contest the elections. Ethnic leaders claim the BGF takes away their ability to bargain with the regime, and the constitution does not provide enough guarantees for ethnic rights.

Most of the smaller groups have already been largely subverted and bullied into subscribing to the general’s view for the future. The remaining groups such as the United Wa State Army (UWSA) and the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) are under pressure to join or face a military assault. A swift offensive against the Kokang in August that resulted in their defeat has only underscored the junta’s resolve.

Ethnic groups still resisting the government militarily such as the Karen National Union and the Shan State Army-South have been largely forced into increasingly smaller and more remote positions with their backs up against the Thai border. Their continued resistance has left them out of the roadmap, and to the junta’s thinking, irrelevant to its election plans.

Once ‘democracy’ is established through the elections and the ethnic groups co-opted, defeated or chased into the remote hills the generals will be the closest they have ever been to what they have desired most since taking power in 1962, a united Burma.
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Strategic cabinet meet in Naypyidaw

 
Thursday, 31 December 2009 14:39 Mizzima News (News Brief)


Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - Cabinet ministers of the Burmese military government were summoned to Naypyidaw today, in what is likely to be a strategic meeting to be chaired by junta supremo Senior General Than Shwe.

Sources close to the military establishment said, Than Shwe will elaborate on the plans relating to the 2010 general election in the meeting today.

"I expect some news tomorrow," the source in the capital said.

Meanwhile, local authorities are compiling a list of politicians in Bago, a town contiguous to former capital Rangoon.

Moreover, the government is asking all members of the Special Branch and police to submit their opinion on the opposition party the National League for Democracy.
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15 million US$ worth drug seized in Thailand

 
Thursday, 31 December 2009 11:31 Usa Pichai


Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - Thai authority arrest drug smugglers and seized illicit drugs cost more than 500 million baht (15 million US$) on Tuesday.

Suthep Tueksuban, deputy Prime Minister of Thailand said in a press conference on Wednesday that police arrested two drug dealers Athit Saetao, 26 year old and Kwoungyun Saejao, 28 year old in Bangkok. Both of them are from Chiang Mai, northern province of the country.

“Police has investigated and fake buying 100, 000 methamphetamine in a department store in Ramintra area of Bangkok, then arrested both dealers. After that, police has raided in their house in Bangkhen area and seized drugs 1.8 million pills and other kind of illicit drugs, ” He said, according to a report in Thai News Agency website.

Total value of seized drug is more than 500 million baht (15 million US$).

Suthep added that the dealers are in the network of drugs kingpin Wei Sia Kang, a well known drug figure in the Golden Triangle which straddles parts of Burma, Laos and Thailand.

“Next year, the drug problem tend to increase because Burmese government put a pressure on ethnic group who is drug producer, so that the group would produce more drug and sell to buy weapons, ” He said.

According to a report released in November by United Nations Office on Drug and Crime, “2009 Patterns and Trends of Amphetamine-Type Stimulants and Other Drugs in East and South-East Asia”, said the unstable political situation in Burma in 2009, could serve as a push factor to the current illicit drug production and trafficking dynamics in the region.

With ongoing hostilities between the government and ethnic armed groups, who had a ceasefire agreement, the political situation in Burma in 2009 was turbulent.

The report noted that instability could affect the current illicit drug production and trafficking dynamics in the region. There is a likelihood that these changing conditions will serve as a push factor for increasing the trafficking of illicit drugs and could result in the relocation of clandestine manufacturing sites across the border.

However, New York-based, Human Rights Watch, early this month urged Thai government to end police abuses after a district court in Bangkok on December 8, 2009 found Police Captain Nat Chonnithiwanit and seven other members for crimes in anti-drug operations of the 41st Border Patrol Police (BPP) unit guilty of assault with weapons, illegal detention, and extortion. Each was sentenced to five years of imprisonment.

Nat and his BPP team were arrested in Bangkok in January 2008 for serious offenses committed over a period of three years. To date, 61 people have filed formal complaints that they or their family members were abused by BPP police under Nat's command.

In the case that led to the convictions, Nat's squad arbitrarily arrested Jutaporn Nunrod in Bangkok on February 8, 2007, and then took her to a "safe house" at the Green Inn Hotel. She was stripped half-naked, subjected to electric shock, severely beaten, and had a plastic bag placed over her head for two days in order to extract a confession that she was involved in drug trafficking

"These convictions were not an isolated case of rogue officers, but part of chronic problems in police operations that use violence and illegality to fight crimes," said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "Police in Thailand have long had sweeping powers and have rarely faced punishment for often horrendous misconduct," according to a report from HRW.

Thailand saw the worst police abuses after then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra launched his notorious "war on drugs" campaign in 2003. During this campaign, Thaksin openly pushed police to adopt unlawful measures against drug traffickers, the report noted.
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Distinct possibility of renewed civil war

 
Thursday, 31 December 2009 11:09 Brian McCartan


Chiang Mai, Thailand (Mizzima) - The New Year may bring fireworks of a different kind in northern Burma this year. December 31 marks the final deadline for former ceasefire groups in Shan and Kachin States to agree to become part of a Border Guard Force under the control of Burma’s military or face a military offensive.

Since taking control of the country in 1962, the overriding concern of Burma’s military rulers has been building a unified state and to do that it must assert central government control over its border regions. The strongest opposition to that desire remains in northern Burma where several armed groups in Kachin and Shan States remain outside government control.

Ceasefires agreed with the groups since 1989 have assured that the region has been relatively conflict-free for two decades, however, they did not resolve the fact that the government still does not control large stretches of its border. The generals have insisted that the groups hand over their military wings to a new Burmese Army-led Border Guard Force (BGF) while the political wings can participate in general elections scheduled to take place in 2010. The Border Guard Force was initially proposed in April this year and the groups told they had until the end of October to hand over lists of troops that will join.

While some of the smaller groups such as the Kachin Democratic Army (KDA) and the New Democratic Army-Kachin (NDA-K) have agreed to join, the major groups - the United Wa State Army (UWSA), Kachin Independence Army (KIA), National Democratic Alliance Army-Eastern Shan State (NDAA-ESS) and the Shan State Army-North (SSA-N) - have refused to join. They fear that handing over their military wings to government control will leave them powerless in any future political discussions with the regime.

In a move apparently calculated to intimidate the ceasefire groups as well as show the junta’s willingness to risk the ire of China, the military launched a swift offensive against the smallest of the groups, the Kokang Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army in August. While the situation has largely returned to normal in the Kokang area, tension remains high in other parts of Shan State.

A proposal by the UWSA in November seemed to allow for compromise. In a November 10 letter to the regime, the Wa proposed giving two positions in each of its military regions, a deputy commander and a deputy chief-of-staff, to Burmese Army officers, but maintaining UWSA control over its own units. A similar proposal had earlier been made by the NDAA-ESS. The Kachin Independence Organization, the political wing of the KIA, has said it would like to wait to negotiate with whichever government results from the 2010 elections. Bao Youxiang, leader of the UWSA, said earlier this month that whatever happens is now entirely up to the junta.

Opinions are divided among analysts about just what the junta might do. Some believe the generals are bluffing. They do not believe the regime will risk postponing the elections by carrying out a military campaign that could drag on for months or even years.

There is also still the threat of angering Burma’s one ally, China. Although the generals showed a willingness to challenge China by attacking the Kokang in August immediately before China’s 60th anniversary celebrations of communist rule, it is unclear if they are willing to start a war that would have much larger consequences along their mutual border.

The brief fight with the Kokang resulted in more than 37,000 refugees fleeing to China and a rare rebuke from Beijing. Fighting with the other, much larger groups is expected to result in tens of thousands more refugees. The possible protracted nature of the fighting could bring prolonged instability to the region and a huge refugee population staying indefinitely on Chinese soil.

Burma’s leaders have taken pains to assuage Chinese fears during visits by two Chinese delegations this month. Lt General Ai Husheng, Chief-of-Staff of the People’s Liberation Army’s Chengdu Military Region, was in Burma from December 5 to 10. His stay included visits to Kentung near areas controlled by the UWSA and NDAA and a meeting with Burmese Lt General Min Aung Hlaing, chief of the army’s Bureau of Special Operations-2 and the architect of the offensive against the Kokang. General Min Aung Hlaing would be responsible for any operations against the groups along the border in Shan State. During a visit by Chinese Vice-President Xi Jinping on December 19 to 20, Senior General Than Shwe assured him that stability would be maintained on the border.

Other analysts believe a fight is in the offing. They point to the fact that the junta has already backed down from one deadline in October when it gave the groups another two months to decide. Giving in again could be taken as a sign of weakness by the regime - an image the generals have never been inclined to give.

Rather than an all-out attack, the army may opt to concentrate against one group at a time. A November 12 article in Jane’s Intelligence Review speculates that the KIA will be attacked first as the weakest and least well armed and trained of the three remaining major groups along the border. An attack against the strongest group, the UWSA, which has units on both the China and Thai borders, would almost surely bring in its close ally the NDAA-ESS. It would also risk an alliance between these groups and the non-ceasefire Shan State Army-South and spreading the conflict across southern and central Shan State.

Those who believe the junta may resort to force point out that next year’s planned elections and military action do not have to be mutually exclusive. The generals are capable of going ahead with the election anyway as it did with last year’s constitutional referendum held in the wake of destruction wrought by Cyclone Nargis. As long as the army can seize the major towns in the region, the generals can claim that the bulk of the population is represented in the voting.

Reinforcements have been brought in, bunkers dug and soldiers readied for combat. With the deadline only a day away and no announcement of a breakthrough following the last round of talks with the UWSA on December 19, renewed civil war is a very real possibility.
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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Thai cabinet permits PTT to purchase gas from Zawtika

 
Wednesday, 30 December 2009 15:08 Usa Pichai


Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - The Thai cabinet has permitted the country's largest state-owned energy provider, PTT to sign a new gas deal in the Zawtika Field in the Gulf of Martaban of Burma.

Watchara Kannika, deputy spokesperson of Thai Government’s House said in a press conference on Tuesday that the Thai cabinet approved the proposal of the National Energy Policy Committee for the new gas deal.

“The field in M9 block can produce 300 million cubic feet per day. Of that, 240 million cubic feet will be supplied to Thailand and 60 cubic feet used in Burma as price from this field. The price is the same as that of gas from Yadana and Yetagun fields,” he said, according to a report in Thai News Agency website.

Thailand’s Energy Minister Wannarat Charnnukul said on Monday after he chaired a meeting of the National Energy Policy Committee, which endorsed a five-year supply plan. The demand is expected to increase to 5.142 billion cubic feet of gas per day by 2015.

The MoU is worth more than US$1 billion (Bt33.29 billion) and will see a supply of gas for 25 to 30 years. Gas transmission from the field will start in 2013, Wannarat said.

The date of the signing has not been revealed yet.

The plan is to supply 6,890 megawatts, as per a second revision of the 2007 power-development plan (PDP).

Thai authorities have predicted the natural-gas demand to grow six per cent a year, with an annual demand from power plants to expand by 3.3 per cent, the industrial sector by 11 per cent and the transportation sector by 23 per cent.

Thailand also would sign a tariff MoU between the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat) and Laos, aimed at purchasing electricity from the Nam Nguem 3 power plant in that country which has a capacity of 440MW. It will start operations in 2017.

"We plan to collect a fee of Bt 2.65 per unit of electricity, but Egat must negotiate the MoU with all of the stakeholders again," Wannarat said.

However, in September, environmentalists have appealed to the government of Thailand to revise its energy plan that may have been ‘over estimated’, and would cause human rights violation in neighbouring countries.

Recently, Montree Chantawong, an environmentalist from Towards Ecological Recovery and Regional Alliance (TERRA) project under the Foundation for Ecological Recovery told the Mizzima that the recent plan of the Thai government which includes Lao and Burma is not necessary for Thailand’s energy needs.

“Several studies have found that Thailand has the ability to develop alternative energy sources. It’s not necessary to buy electricity particularly from both Tasang and Hat Gyi dams in Burma at the moment because the electricity reserve is still high,” he said.

The gas deal with Burma by the Thai government has been urged for revision by activists since 2007 after PTT signed an exploratory agreement with the generals to look for gas in the M9 Block in the Gulf of Mataban.

Rights groups are concerned with business dealings in Burma which help support the military regime.

However, Thai government insists that it is necessary for national energy security.
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NLD keen on holding CEC plenary meet

 
Wednesday, 30 December 2009 13:34 Myint Maung


New Delhi (Mizzima) - The National League for Democracy party is keen on holding its CEC plenary meeting with all 11 members for reorganizing and expansion of the CEC.

“This is related to our party’s future plan so the regime must permit us. Even if they don’t allow us we will hold the meeting when the political parties’ registration law and other related laws and regulations are declared,” party spokesman Khin Maung Swe told Mizzima.

“If the junta does not allow us to hold such a meeting, the current CEC must go ahead with the plan and inform Aung San Suu Kyi,” he added.

Ageing party leaders Chairman Aung Shwe, Secretary U Lwin and CEC member Lun Tin agreed to expand the current CEC when they met Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on December 16 at Green Bank State Guest House in Rangoon.

Aung San Suu Kyi who has been detained for over 14 of the past 20 years sent a letter to the junta supremo Senior Gen. Than Shwe in November, requesting him to let her meet all 11 CEC members including detained Vice-Chairman Tin Oo. But she has not yet been allowed to meet the CEC members.

Though the party elders agreed to expand and reorganize the current CEC, they could not take a final decision without holding a plenary CEC meeting because they are awaiting permission from the military regime, Khin Maung Swe said.

On December 9 the NLD announced the list of current CEC members. They are Aung Swhe (Chairman), Tin Oo (Vice-Chairman), Aung San Suu Kyi (General Secretary), U Lwin (Secretary) and members Win Tin, Than Tun, Soe Myint, Hla Pe, Lun Tin, Nyunt Wei and Khin Maung Swe.
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Democratic Party starts poll work

 
Wednesday, 30 December 2009 13:04 Nem Davies


New Delhi (Mizzima) -Women members of the Democratic Party (DP) have begun organizational work for the elections in some townships in Rangoon Division.

An official from the DP headquarters based CEC said that they had started organizational tours in Twante, Thone Gwa, Seikgyi Khanaungto, Kyimyindine, South Dagon, North Dagon, South Okkalapa, Yankin townships, totalling eight townships.

“We conducted door-to-door visits in these townships and most of our work was done in my home in South Okkalapa Township. We distributed the work among former Democracy Party members and sympathisers. The organizational work started since we established our party,” DP Organizational Work In-charge Tin Tin Mya (65) said.

She served in the same position in the Democracy Party which was deregistered by the military regime after it contested in the 1990 general elections.

Tin Tin Mya said that they found that most of the grassroots people are facing difficulty in ekeing out their livelihood and could not afford to pay house rent. They cannot access proper medical care.

“We talked to housewives and they felt that these difficulties like healthcare and education of their children can be resolved when democracy is restored in the country. We requested them to support our party in the election,” she said.

She identified three categories among women voters, she said.

“Some enthusiastically want to support us. Some are waiting for polling while most of them are ignorant about politics,” she said.

Currently there are 20 hardcore members in the party and most cannot yet enlist their names as party members as they are still awaiting declaration of the election law and regulations, it is learnt.

Some personnel from the Rangoon Police Special Branch (SB) monitored their organizational tour. They reportedly went to the houses which party members visited and made inquiries. But they did not harass anybody.

After the election law and regulation are enacted and promulgated, they will undertake similar organizational tours to townships in Irrawaddy Division namely Pyapon, Bogale, Dedeye, Mandalay, Myingyan, Hmawbi, Taikgyi, Kyaik Latt among others it is learnt.

“The remaining townships in Rangoon Division such as Taikgyi, Hmawbi, Shwepyithar, Hlaingtharyar among others have been visited by our party members so we don’t need to visit these again,” Tin Tin Mya said.

DP was formed in the last week of June this year with 15-members of the Central Executive Committee (CEC), headed by Chairman Thu Wei and daughters of former political leaders, Than Than Nu, Cho Cho Kyaw Nyein and Nay Yee Ba Swe.
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Fresh attack on KNU likely

 
Wednesday, 30 December 2009 12:16 Brian McCartan


Chiang Mai, Thailand (Mizzima) - A bomb blast at Karen New Year celebrations in Papun town on December 16 was quickly blamed on the Karen National Union (KNU) but border sources suggest that the blast may be the prelude to a dry season offensive in northern Karen State early next year.

The explosion killed seven Karen and injured a further 11 celebrating the New Year at a fair ground in the town of Papun. Burma watchers say bomb blasts have frequently been used by the junta in the past as excuses for launching military operations. Many observers believe that many of the bombs were planted by the regime itself.

In 2006 a series of explosions in central Burma were blamed on the KNU’s armed wing, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA). A regime spokesman said at the time that offensive military operations in eastern Pegu Division and northern Karen State were necessary to stop the “terrorist attacks” of the KNU. Military operations continued for months and resulted in the displacement of thousands of Karen villagers.

This time the regime looks set to use the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) to attempt to seize control of the region. Rumours of an offensive into northern Karen State began circulating shortly after the completion of operations against the Karen National Liberation Army’s (KNLA) 7th Brigade in central Karen State in June. The unusual rainy season offensive resulted in the KNLA’s loss of several border camps and established DKBA control of the border from Myawaddy to the confluence of the Moei and Salween Rivers.

Predictions of an offensive appeared to be substantiated when a column of DKBA soldiers was ambushed by the KNLA in September north of the town of Ka Ma Maung. At least seven DKBA soldiers were killed in the fighting and many others wounded which prompted them to turn back.

Border sources say the real reason for the halt in operations was that its architect, DKBA Colonel Maung Chit Thu had become ill. Chit Thu has become one of the most active officers in the DKBA and commands some of its strongest units. He commanded the fighting in June and his forces have taken part in most of the DKBA’s military operations aimed at consolidating their control over central and southern Karen State in the past few years. Key to any push into northern Karen State, his hospitalization for appendicitis apparently put the DKBA’s plans on hold for several months.

Now recovered, sources close to the DKBA say he is eager to restart operations aimed at finally defeating the last major pocket of KNU resistance to both DKBA and Burmese junta rule. Although the KNU still maintains several small pockets of territory in Tenasserim Division, Mon State and south and central Karen State, the largest areas which could still be called liberated territory remain in eastern Pegu Division and in Papun and Thandaung townships of northern Karen State. Both the junta, and many Karen, view these areas as the hardcore of the Karen resistance.

The area has been almost devoid of DKBA influence since its founding 15 years ago on December 21 1994. Attempts to recruit in the Papun area have been largely unsuccessful and only a couple of hundred DKBA soldiers have ever been present in the area. The DKBA was also unsuccessful in past efforts to extend its influence into eastern Pegu Division.

KNLA sources say the offensive would likely follow the same pattern as fighting in 7th Brigade earlier this year and other offensives in past years with DKBA troops out front and Burma Army soldiers in support. The DKBA conducted several conscription drives in the past year with the aim of increasing troop numbers to 9,000. This increase in strength is related to its transformation into border guard battalions, but also necessary to seize and control northern Karen State.

Burmese Army forces are expected to take a supporting role providing security to supply lines and artillery support. The army is already stretched due to the need to reinforce units in northern Burma where the defiance of former ceasefire groups to the regime’s Border Guard Force plans has created the possibility of renewed civil war. In addition units must be maintained in central Burma to prevent potential civil unrest.

A successful DKBA offensive would allow the group to claim control over almost all of Karen State and virtually remove the KNU as a rival for power in the region. For the SPDC it would remove an insurgent group that has been a thorn in its side since 1949 and replace it with what it views as a much more compliant group.

There is a risk, however, for the junta that control over all of Karen State could embolden the DKBA. It would place the DKBA leadership in a much better bargaining position to negotiate the terms of its conversion to a Border Guard Force. Although the group was the first to agree to converting its military into Burma Army controlled border guard units, progress appears to have stagnated. There are also growing rumours of dissatisfaction in the ranks of the DKBA with effectively handing over control to the Burmese military.

The DKBA may also feel that complete control over Karen State would allow it to better contest elections planned for next year and put itself in the driving seat politically. How the group will manage this, however, is unclear. The group’s political wing, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Organization, has been defunct for over a decade, and many of its members have publicly decried their lack of political savvy. Sources close to the DKBA say individual members are considering contesting the elections, but there is no word yet on forming a political party.

Success would also secure the DKBA’s business holdings in the region and expand them into new territory. It is so far unclear what will happen to its businesses once its soldiers convert to border guards. Effective political control, however, would presumably allow it to maintain its economic holdings even outside of its military structure.

The DKBA has been fighting the KNU since it split from that group on December 21, 1994. Their mutiny allowed the Burmese Army to seize key KNU bases in 1995 and was a major setback for the Karen. With active support from the junta the group has steadily expanded its influence in the region. The group, however, continues to suffer from a poor human rights image and general lack of support from the local population.
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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Burma agrees to accept 9,000 Rohingya

 
Tuesday, 29 December 2009 19:22 Siddique Islam

Dhaka (Mizzima) - The Burmese junta has agreed to take back 9,000 Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh soon, Foreign Secretary Mohamed Mijarul Quayes said in Dhaka on Tuesday.

Visiting Burmese Deputy Foreign Minister Maung Myint, who was into foreign secretary level talks in Dhaka with the Bangladesh foreign secretary, agreed to take back the refugees shortly as Bangladesh handed over a list of 28,000 Burmese nationals.

Mr. Myint arrived in Dhaka on Monday leading a five-member delegation for the two-day foreign secretary-level talks that began in the capital, Dhaka on Tuesday.

Briefing reporters on the outcome of the fourth foreign secretary level meeting, Mijarul Quayes said the remaining registered refugees will also be repatriated after nationality verification by the Burmese authorities.

He also said Burma has assured Bangladesh it will begin the process of repatriation "as soon as possible".

The foreign secretary also said they raised the matter during the talks and applied pressure on Burma to take them back as early as possible.

Burma has no reservations in taking them back after nationality verification of the undocumented refugees, foreign ministry officials said.

Muslim people from Northern Arakan (Rakhine) state have been crossing into Bangladesh in large numbers since 1991 to escape persecution by the military junta in Burma.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) set up two camps in the country's southeaster Cox's Bazaar district to repatriate the Rohingya people.

More than 28,000 out of 500,000 Rohingya refugees registered in 1992 have been living in the camps.
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Gold prices fall as does demand

 
Tuesday, 29 December 2009 20:59 Kyaw Thein Kha


Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - There is a downhill trend in prices of 24 carat and 22 carat gold but demand remains sluggish, gold traders and gold shop owners said.

The price of pure gold rose to Kyat 650,000 per tical (about 16 gm) last week but fell to Kyat 590,000 this afternoon.

“Gold sales are sluggish at this time. The 24 carat pure gold price is Kyat 596,000 today, down from the earlier price of over Kyat 600, 000,” they told Mizzima.

“The price of 22 carat gold is Kyat 558,000 per tical, which is the lowest today. It rose to Kyat 560,000 per tical in the afternoon. Despite the falling price, the demand is still sluggish,” he said.

The closing price of 24 carat gold on Saturday was over Kyat 598,000 and the price of 22 carat gold was Kyat 594,000. The exchange rate was Kyat 1,005 against the US dollar. The exchange rate of US dollar is Kyat 1,008 today, gold and dollar market sources said.

Some members of the Gold Traders Association in Rangoon said that the gold price in Burma is controlled by Gold Traders Association (Upper Burma) and Gold Traders Association (Lower Burma).

“They cannot control and fix the gold price as they have claimed. The price is determined by supply and demand in the market. How can they control gold price?” a gold trader from Shwebonthar market in Rangoon asked.

Before the gold market opens every morning all pure gold traders in Rangoon must assemble at the office of the Gold Traders Association on Shwebonthar Street. And then the Association fixes the price for 24 carat pure gold for each day’s trading.

Though gold shop owners do not need to assemble at the office every morning, they are reported to comply with the price fixed by the association.

There are 300 members in the association and the membership fee is Kyat 300,000 while the annual fee is Kyat 50,000. But beginning next year the membership fee will be increased to Kyat 500,000 and annual fees will be Kyat 100,000, the association has announced.
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Burmese-American charged with another case

 
Tuesday, 29 December 2009 20:11 Myint Maung


New Delhi (Mizzima) - US citizen Nyi Nyi Aung standing trial in Insein Prison was charged with yet another case today, this time by the Immigration Department, his lawyer said.

He is facing trial in three cases in Rangoon South District court sitting inside Insein prison. During today’s hearing the Botataung Township Immigration Department filed another case against him.

“Another case was filed against him today under section 6(3) of the 1949 Immigration Act, for making a wrong statement and entering with his ID. The Botataung Township Immigration Department Officer lodged a direct complaint in court. The court will pronounce its views on this complaint on 1 January 2010,” his lawyer Nyan Win said.

The defence lawyers argued on the first three cases today on behalf of their client Nyi Nyi Aung a.k.a. Kyaw Zaw Lwin (40) on whether he should be formally charged by the court as the public prosecutor had accused in the indictment or the charges dropped. Today’s trial was attended by the Vice-Consul from the US Embassy in Rangoon.

The former student activist fled to the Thai-Burma border after the army staged a coup in 1988. He resettled in the US later. He was alleged to have entered Burma eight times. Intelligence personnel arrested him when he arrived at the Rangoon Mingaladon airport via Bangkok on 3 September this year.

First he was charged under section 420 (fraud), 468 (forgery of national ID) of the Penal Code and under section 24 of the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act. Now the Immigration Department has filed another case against him today under section 6(3) of the Immigration Act.
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Burma frees over hundred foreign fishermen

 
Tuesday, 29 December 2009 18:16 Salai Pi Pi


New Delhi (Mizzima) - Burma has freed over hundred detained fishermen from Indonesia, Taiwan and China held last month for allegedly fishing in its territorial waters.

Dhyasti Kalista, Third Secretary of Information and Social-Cultural section of the Indonesian Embassy in Rangoon said on Tuesday, that the Burmese Home Ministry on Friday freed 111 Indonesian fishermen detained in Insein prison, Rangoon and a jail in Myeik in Tenintharyi division in southern Burma.

Though the release order for 102 Indonesian fishermen held in Insein jail was issued by the Burmese Home Ministry on Friday, Kalista said, they remained in the jail compound because there is no guest house to accommodate them.

“They have to stay there till we arrange a flight for them. But they are all being treated well by prison authorities,” Kalista said.

The freed Indonesian fishermen are among 128 fishing boat crew members from Phillipine, Taiwan and China. They were on board 10 fishing vessels seized by the Burmese Navy on Andaman Sea, near Coco Island on November 15. Later they were transferred to Insein jail without being charged and put on trial.

In the same way the navy arrested nine Indonesian fishermen last month and put them in Myeik jail.

“Our officials are bringing the nine fishermen from Myeik to Yangon [Rangoon] today,” Kalista said.

Meanwhile, an official in the Rangoon-based Chinese Embassy’s Visa Section on Tuesday said four Taiwanese and one Chinese were released from Insein prison and sent back to their respective countries.

“Four Taiwanese went back to Taiwan yesterday and one Chinese returned to China today,” a Chinese Official told Mizzima.

The Philippine Foreign Ministry today could not comment on the condition of the detained Filipino fishermen in Burma’s jail.
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China-Burma agree on oil pipeline project

 
Tuesday, 29 December 2009 17:01 Anirban Roy

Guwahati (Mizzima) - Whereas India failed miserably in its gas pipeline diplomacy with Bangladesh, China seems to be on track regarding its USD 1.5 billion oil pipeline project with Burma.

The China National Petroleum Corporation signed an agreement last week with Burma’s Ministry of Energy on rights and obligations for the China-Burma 2380-kilometre oil pipeline.

The new agreement clearly defines the rights and obligations of the Southeast Asia Oil Line, which is a CNPC subsidiary, in construction and operation of the pipeline. The new oil channel will be from Madel Island of Burma to Yunnan Province, in China and will transport over 22 million metric tons of crude oil a year.

The Burmese junta will be responsible for the security of the pipeline, which is to run through areas in north-eastern Burma, mostly inhabited by ceasefire armed ethnic groups.

The pact also provides for customs clearance for CNPC and unspecified tax concessions on crude oil passing through Burmese territory.

China also plans to set up an oil refinery in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province in southwestern China. So far, China has signed several agreements with Burma for the oil pipeline project.

The recent agreement is the green signal to start implementing the project, sources said, adding that the oil pipeline will help China to a great extent in meeting its growing demand of hydro-carbon and reducing its imports from the Middle-East.

The pipeline will cut down on distance and time in importing crude oil to China. Currently around 80 per cent of crude is transported via oil tankers thorough the infamous congested Malacca Strait.

The proposed pipeline will transport crude oil over a distance of 771 kilometres from Kyaukphyu in Arakan state on the coast of Burma to the Chinese city of Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province.

The new pipeline is expected to be constructed in two phases. With an initial capacity of 241,000 barrels per day (bpd), the flow rate will rise to 402,000 bpd after the second phase of development.

In the joint project between the two friendly neighbours, the state run Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise will hold 49.1 per cent while CNPC will have 50.9 per cent stake.

Chinese and Korean companies have always outsmarted India while shoring up energy deals with Burma. Now, New Delhi is closely monitoring the Burma-China bonhomie in the oil and natural gas sector.

Earlier, India miserably failed to initiate a gas pipeline link with Burma because of poor diplomacy with Bangladesh. The pipeline was to run through Arakan and the Indian states of Mizoram and Tripura before crossing Bangladesh to reach West Bengal’s capital Kolkata.

The laying of this 900-kilometre tri-nation pipeline was agreed to in principle by the energy ministers of the three countries in Yangon in January 2005, but could not be implemented because of New Delhi’s poor diplomacy with Dhaka.
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Burma affairs forum to be held in Rangoon

 
Tuesday, 29 December 2009 13:41 Nem Davies

New Delhi (Mizzima) - A lesser known pro-democracy group, comprising former student activists is attempting to hold a Burma Affairs Forum in Rangoon.

The preliminary meeting for the forum will be held in January next year for greater cooperation among pro-democracy forces and to combine all diverse views on the planned 2010 general election.

“The main agenda will have various issues of democracy, human rights and national reconciliation. The deliberations will focus on how we will face and work in the 2010 political scenario,” the organizing committee spokesman Phyo Min Thein said.

“We will work in cooperation by exploring and creating common ground from different and diverse views,” he said.

The organizing committee of the forum is comprised of five 88-Gen students - Thein Htay, Thaung Win, Min Lwin and Thein Tin Aung. The committee was formed in November this year.

The plan is to hold the forum in the second week of January next year. They are now meeting and discussing with various political groups such as veteran politicians, ethnic leaders and pro-democracy forces.

“We shall invite leaders from pro-democracy forces. We also invited the National League for Democracy (NLD). Even if they can’t attend the meet, they can give their opinions,” Phyo Min Thein said.

“We hope the meeting between Daw Suu (Aung San Suu Kyi) and Senior General Than Shwe materializes and will yield fruitful results. This result might not be on the lines of the Shwe Gon Daing Statement (issued by NLD). It may be a new one,” he said.

In the letter sent to Senior Gen. Than Shwe on November 11, detained opposition leader Suu Kyi requested a meeting with him to help in easing economic sanctions imposed by western countries on Burma.

“We want to see Daw Suu decide freely on the course of action in the current situation. We want to tell her we will firmly stand by her,” Phyo Min Thein said.

After the meeting between Daw Suu and her party CEC, there could be some concessions and accommodation by the military regime, the former students hoped.

“However, in the changing situation, we must have a common platform by combining the army, pro-democracy forces and political parties through negotiation, consultation and reconciliation in a fraternal atmosphere, ” he said.

“The army is an institution in our country also, “he added.

But it is still difficult to figure out whether their opinion and will are in line with the will of imprisoned figures, 88-Gen students who are serving prison sentences, Phyo Min Thein, who is also a former political prisoner, and was imprisoned for 15 years from 1990 to 2005, said.

“It’s difficult to say whether they welcome our work as they are not even allowed to express their political views. We think the people, our friends, pro-democracy forces and the international community will respond positively if we work for the sake of our country in good faith,” he said.

The international community including the US, EU and UN are demanding the release of all political prisoners including Suu Kyi unconditionally and immediately as a pre-condition for conducting free and fair general elections in 2010.

“Our friends who are languishing in prisons are also trying to join us to walk together on the road we have chosen. Their release is crucial for us,” Phyo Min Thein said.

But the organizers said that they would not invite groups, which toe the army’s line, and their movements are in harmony with the army’s movements.
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Burmese Dy Foreign Minister in Bangladesh for talks

 
Tuesday, 29 December 2009 12:18 Siddique Islam

Dhaka (Mizzima) - Burmese Deputy Foreign Minister Maung Myint arrived in Bangladesh capital, Dhaka on Monday leading a delegation for the foreign secretary-level talks, officials said.

The Director General of the External Publicity Wing of the Foreign Ministry Saida Muna Tasneem said the Maung Myint led five-member-team will meet the Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Mohamed Mijarul Quayes led team.

The two-day talks between Bangladesh and Burma is scheduled to start today morning, officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) said.

"Around 30 issues have been identified for the talks," another MOFA official said, adding that the entire gamut of bilateral issues encompassing trade to energy cooperation between the two neighbours would be discussed at the meeting.

Dhaka is expected to attach the highest importance to the issue of hydropower plant as the country is in dire need of electricity.

Establishing a direct air route between Dhaka and Rangoon, eliminating problems relating to business visa, introducing direct letters of credit (L/C) for foreign trade, and reducing the bilateral trade gap are some of the major issues to be discussed, they added.

Dhaka earlier requested Rangoon to consider setting up of a hydroelectric power plant in the Rakhine state under a joint venture. The Burmese side had agreed to discuss the matter in the upcoming fourth foreign secretary level consultation.

The Bangladesh foreign secretary recently told reporters that Bangladesh would press its neighbour to stop pushing Rohingya refugees into Bangladesh territory. Muslim people from the Northern Rakhine state have been crossing into Bangladesh in large numbers since 1991 to escape persecution by the military junta in Burma.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) set up two camps in the country's southeaster Cox's Bazaar district to repatriate the Rohingya people.

More than 28,000 out of 500,000 Rohingya refugees registered in 1992 have been living in the camps.
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Hope and danger in the 2010 elections

 
Tuesday, 29 December 2009 10:53 Zaw Min Aung

Mizzima News - Burma’s generals, who drew up the 2008 constitution based on the 104 basic principles set in 1993, are now fifteen years older. Many of the ageing generals are no longer on active duty, with most well into their eighties.

Time and circumstances do not favor them like in 1993. Although cognizant of the wanting constitution, they are equally in no mood to admit the flaws. Though feeling the enormous dissatisfaction among the people, they remain determined to see through the regime’s roadmap and gear up for next year’s planned election. Meanwhile, younger officers are careful to hide their dissent, wary of the feelings of the obstinate elder generation.

Yet, one way or another the older generals must eventually let the younger generation of officers run the country. Previous enthusiasm and hope amidst younger generations is now giving way to fear and knowledge that the elders may again change the rules of the game.

Therefore, it is not only democratic forces that wish to revise the constitution, elements within the armed forces also hope for change. For instance, they do not want to see the future Army Chief of Staff above the Prime Minister and they do not want the Army Chief of Staff to have the discretionary power to scrap the constitution.

The proposed post-election parliament is to consist of 25 percent appointed representatives by the armed forces. The goals of such a stipulation clearly include: a desire for continuity in government, full immunity from prosecution for past military transgressions, securing the wealth of officers, and preventing electoral reform and the ascension to power of the democratic opposition.

These criteria are seemingly non-negotiable as, for instance, any deviation from an immunity clause would in all likelihood impel the Army to launch yet another coup.

Nevertheless, knowing that the armed forces themselves are not entirely behind the 2008 constitution, opposition elements should soften their ridiculing of the existing document. The door is open to go forward, which might or might not guarantee the continued misuse of power by the present regime, implying that the opposition should toe the line regarding this new challenge with the hope of establishing a functioning state.

There are encouraging signs that General Than Shwe will accept the request of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi for a face-to-face meeting. No one expects all outstanding issues to be settled, but something could come out of it providing alternatives to the present means of governance. Having endured 50 years of military dictatorship, an elected constitutional government may not be a bad thing if it moves the country forward. Voices can be raised in dissatisfaction and much needed development projects could be implemented.

On the other hand, an election may simply lead to a proxy government headed by one of the SPDC’s present corrupt ministers.

Will the outcome of the 2010 elections solve all the country’s problems? No. But, it might be able to prevent the further grip on power and economic elitism held by Daw Kyaing Kyaing and Co. and any reign of terror conducted by the grandson of the present dictator. And that, would at least be a start toward a democratic Burma.
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Monday, December 28, 2009

Pigeon pea prices shoot up

 
Monday, 28 December 2009 22:37 Kyaw Kha

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - With India buying Toor (pigeon peas) from Burma, the price of the bean and its export rate are on the upswing, said the Burma Beans and Pulses Traders Association.

Production of crops declined given the bad weather in India and it began importing Burmese beans and pulses pushing up the price of pigeon peas, it is learnt.

The prevailing buying price of the bean is Kyat 905,000 (about USD 950) per ton while the export price in over USD 1,000 per ton.

Earlier, Burma exported this variety of bean at just USD 400 per ton, while the domestic buying price was just Kyat 350,000.

“Last year’s output of the bean accounting for about 250,000 tons has been sold out. This year the production fell and with the demand from India growing higher the price has gone up,” a member of the Association told Mizzima.

In Burma also, due to bad weather, the production of pigeon beans dropped by 40 per cent. This year the export price is the highest ever in three decades, it is learnt.

In Burma, pigeon pea is grown in Magwe, Natmauk, Aunglan, Pyi, Pakokku, Chauk, Yenanchaung, Kyaukpadaung, Sagaing, Monywa and Shwebo regions between January and March. The harvesting season starts in November.

A farmer in Hnawkan village, Natmauk Township, Magwe Division said that they got a good price this year.

“We sold our beans in Kyaukpadaung town and the current price is Kyat 30,000 per basket, a record high. Last year’s price was just Kyat 12,000. The farmers in our village are earning good money this year and can make offerings to monks in pagodas,” he said.

Pigeon beans produced around Pyi namely Aunglan, Sinpaungwe and Magwe are being bought by traders from Rangoon on advance payment, a bean and pulse brokerage firm owner from Pyi city said.

Before the price shot up, a total of 400,000 tons of beans were exported from January to October and the export value was over USD 210 million. A total of 240,000 tons of beans and pulses were exported during January to October in 2008 raking in about USD 120 million, an association official said.

About 300 Burmese companies are exporting beans and pulses to India and about 20 Indian companies are buying it, the official said.

(Edited by Ko Wild)
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Opposition lauds UN resolution on Burma

 
Monday, 28 December 2009 20:57 Salai Pi Pi

New Delhi (Mizzima) - A senior Burmese opposition leader today cautiously welcomed the United Nation’s resolution condemning the junta for systematic human rights violations and lack of fundamental rights in the country.

Win Tin, member of Central Executive Committee of Aung San Suu Kyi’s party National League for Democracy (NLD) said he welcomed the resolution of the UN General Assembly on human rights in Burma. He called it UN’s ‘routine work’ but morally very important.

“It is a good sign for Burma. It shows that countries across the world had carefully considered the human rights situation in Burma and voted to adopt the resolution,” Win Tin told Mizzima on Monday.

However, Win Tin said just UN’s expression of grave concern over human rights abuses including the systematic use of rape as a weapon and the ongoing attacks against ethnic groups in eastern Burma by the junta is insufficient.

“The UN needs to do more to discuss the human rights issue in Burma in the UN Security Council,” Win Tin said.

The ongoing human rights violation in Burma can be stopped only if the UN body comes up with evidence and punishes those responsible including the Burmese military, he added.

On December 23, 2009, the 64th UNGA adopted a draft resolution II on the human rights situation in Burma, by a vote of 86 in favour to 23 against and 39 abstentions. It was included in the Third Committee report on human rights situations and reports of special rapporteurs and representatives.

The resolution also called on the Burmese regime to immediately release the detained Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners.

After the resolution was passed, the UN’s report released on Wednesday said Burmese representatives to the UN expressed their disappointment over the continuing adoption of UN resolutions dealing with the situation in Burma.

“Myanmar [Burma] had voted against the “highly politicized and country-specific resolution”, rejected it and would not be bound by it,” UN’s report quoted a Burmese delegate to the UN as saying.

“Myanmar believes that the exploitation of human rights for political purposes is unacceptable. Furthermore, it could not accept nor allow interference in its national political processes,” the Burmese delegate said.

The Burmese delegation also appreciated 23 countries such as Russia and Burma’s neighbours China, India, and Bangladesh, except Thailand, which abstained opposing the UN’s resolution on the ongoing human rights abuses committed by the military regime.

The regime is determined to hold elections in 2010 as part of its seven-step road map to so called disciplined democracy, after the new constitution was forcibly approved in 2008, which the opposition said will entrench and legitimize military rule in Burma.
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Five years on 24 Burmese Tsunami victims identified

 
Monday, 28 December 2009 18:33 Usa Pichai

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - The police in Thailand have identified the remains of 24 victims of the devastating Tsunami that struck southern Thailand in 2004 as those of Burmese.

However, the police have not yet been able to contact the families or the Burmese authorities.

Pol Lt Gen Danaithorn Wongthai, Commander of the Forensic Police Office, of the Thai Royal Police said that 398 bodies of victims that were buried in Ban Bangmaroun Cemetery in Thailand’s Phang Nga Province have already been identified.

“There are 24 more bodies, which were identified as those of Burmese but no contact has been established with their relatives. The Thai authorities have also contacted the Burmese authorities four times to take possession of the remains but there has been no response,” he said, according to a report on Thai News Agency website’s on Saturday.

Nassir Archwarin, a staff of the Thai Action Committee for Democracy in Burma (TACDB), a Thailand-based NGO, which coordinated between employers, relatives of Burmese worker victims and the Thai authorities, told Mizzima on Monday that the TACDB has stopped its work on Burmese Tsunami victims over the last two years, while waiting for results of the remaining to be identified.

“Relatives and employers had reported that about 160 Burmese were missing till 2007. However, the police have not yet contacted us about the 24 identified Burmese bodies,” he said.

According to TACDB, between January and October 2006, a total of 120 Burmese bodies were identified and cremated in Ban Bangmaroun Cemetery.

The process of identification was hampered by discrepancies in identification. Some Burmese workers used different names in Thailand, and Burmese authorities were not involved in the identification process.

TACDB and the International Organization for Migration have collaborated to help families and employers of migrant worker victims since May 2005 till 2007.

The Thailand Tsunami Victim Identification Center moved from Phang Nga province to the Thai Royal Police Office in Bangkok in 2007 but the identification process continued.

The bodies were interred in concrete-lined aluminum coffins, which preserve bodies longer for possible identification.

The December 26, 2004 Tsunami-the deadliest in recorded history-was produced by a 9.1 magnitude earthquake in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Sumatra in Indonesia and killed nearly 200,000 people throughout the region and beyond. Nearly 5,400 people were killed in southern Thailand, including Thai nationals, foreign tourists and migrant workers.

The process of identification for migrant workers was delayed given the lack cooperation from Burmese junta officials in verifying victims’ national identities.
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Trade in Mae Sot-Myawaddy border up 27 per cent

 
Monday, 28 December 2009 13:29 Usa Pichai

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - Border trading in Mae Sot-Myawaddy has increased 27 per cent from 2008 totalling more than 24 billion baht (724 million US$) in 2009.

Samart Loifa, Governor of Tak Province border with Burma, who presided over a press conference on late Thursday together with related authorities, gave a picture of the border trading position.

“This year trading in the Mae Sot-Myawaddy border is more than 24 billion baht (724 million US$) encouraging businessmen to invest more through this border checkpoint,” he said.

Pongthep Buasap, Director of Mae Sot Customs Office said that export from Thailand is rising while import from Burma is coming down because agricultural products from Burma such as rice and onions were being exported more to China. “There is high demand for these products from China, while Thai importers are also waiting for the ASEAN Free Trade agreement which will come into effect in January 2010 with 0% tax for importing these products,” he said, according to a report in the Thai website Manager.

A proposal to set up an ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) was first mooted by the former Thai Prime Minister Anand Panyarachun, which was agreed upon with amendments during the ASEAN Seniors Economic Official Meeting (AEM) in Kuala Lumpur. In January 1992, the ASEAN members signed the Singapore Declaration, which was the creation of AFTA in 15 years. This was a comprehensive programme of tariff reduction in the region, which was to be carried out in phases through the year 2008. This deadline was subsequently moved forward and AFTA became fully operational on 1 January 2003.

The tariff reductions are for sensitive agricultural products and commodities such as rice. ASEAN members have until 2010 to reduce the tariff levels to 0-5%.

Export products on the top of the list are cooking oil, gasoline, second hand cars, Monosodium Glutamate (MSG), instant coffee powder, coffee creamer, and medicine and electronics equipment. Top imported products from Burma to Thailand are seafood, wooden furniture and agricultural products, according to the Mae Sot Customs office.

Early this month, Thailand’s Deputy Commerce Minister Alongkorn Ponlabutr made a trip to Burma, which resulted in two significant outcomes.

The first was that Thailand and Burma have agreed to resume trade relationship and investment by organizing the fifth Thai-Myanmar Joint Trade Committee, or JTC meeting during the first quarter of 2010, where Thailand will serve as the host. The JTC meeting was suspended for over five years. The JTC meeting will also include discussions on various issues such as offering account trade services for the two countries, as well as setting up wholesale and export markets around the Thai-Myanmar border, in order to increase border trade standards.

Secondly, a Thai-Burma Business Council will be set up and will operate with the cooperation of the Thai Chamber of Commerce and Myanmar Industries with three private institutes from Thailand, the Federation of Thai Industries, and the Thai Bankers' Association. The setting up of the council is expected to be completed by the first quarter of next year.
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Big brother focuses on stability in Burma

 
Monday, 28 December 2009 12:31 Brian McCartan

Bangkok, Thailand (Mizzima) - Chinese vice-president Xi Jinping’s visit to Burma over the weekend reaffirmed ties and resulted in the granting of exclusive rights to build and operate a controversial oil pipeline. The Chinese leader was also given assurances that stability would be maintained on the border. However, relations between Beijing and Naypyidaw have not always been so cordial over the past year.

The visit to Burma was part of a four nation tour that also included Cambodia, South Korea and Japan. The significance of Xi’s role in the weekend visit was seen by analysts as diplomatically introducing the probably future Chinese president to Burma’s leaders. It may also have been a show of support for the generals after several months of strained relations between the two countries.

Xi Jinping is widely believed to be the frontrunner to succeed current president Hu Jintao in 2012. Xi is currently the highest ranking member of the Secretariat of the Communist Party of China and ranked sixth in the Politburo’s Standing Committee. Although Xi was not selected as vice-chairman of the important Central Military Commission in September, he is still believed to be in a strong position.

The most significant outcome of the meeting was Xi’s overseeing the signing of an agreement granting exclusive rights to the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) to build and operate a crude oil pipeline. The 2,000 kilometer pipeline will extend from Burma’s western coast across much of the length of the country to China’s southwest Yunnan province and on to Chongqing. The pipeline operation will be run by CNPC-controlled South-East Asia Crude Oil Pipeline Ltd. which also received tax concessions and customs clearance rights to bring in construction materials as part of the deal.

Construction of the pipeline began in November and when completed is expected to carry an initial 12 million tons of crude oil a year. A crude oil port on the island of Kyaukpyu in Burma’s western Arakan State has been under construction by CNPC since in October. The port and the oil pipeline are part of an effort by China to avoid having to send tankers through the easily blocked Malacca Straits. In addition, a gas pipeline is planned to be built by CNPC to carry natural gas from the offshore Shwe gas field. The gas pipeline will pump 12 billion cubic units of gas per year to China when it comes online in 2012.

Burmese officials gave assurances to Xi that the junta would maintain security along the 771 kilometers of the pipeline that run through Burma. This is a contentious issue among human rights organizations which allege that the military’s efforts to secure the area will result in large-scale human rights abuses. Groups like environmental and human rights watchdog Earth Rights International say similar operations in the 1990’s to secure the route of the Yadana gas pipeline to Thailand caused widespread human rights violations.

Burma has become an increasing important source of natural resources for China, especially oil and gas. Beijing also sees Burma as essential to plans to develop its landlocked southwestern Yunnan province. To this end, China is actively promoting the construction of road networks and port facilities to make the transportation of goods through Burma for export.

Beijing’s economic influence has grown since the 1980’s when it cut support for the Burmese Communist Party in favour of better relations with the central government. Bilateral trade between China and Burma amounted to US$2.6 billion in 2008 according to Chinese official statistics, up 26.4 percent year on year. China has also risen to become Burma’s fourth largest foreign investor with contracted investment touching US$1.3 billion by the end of 2008.

China’s overriding concern with Burma is stability, both within the country in order to safeguard its strategic economic interests and along their mutual border. It needs to ensure that its access to Burma’s natural resources is secure and that its access to the Indian Ocean is guaranteed. It also worries about conflict along its border spilling over and destabilizing its southwestern region.

That stability was jeopardized earlier this year when the Burmese Army launched a brief offensive against Kokang rebels in August that pushed some 37,000 refugees across the border with China. The attack upset Beijing which had expressly asked the regime to refrain from any military actions until after it celebrated the 60th anniversary of communist rule in October.

Although China withdrew its support for the Burmese Communist Party, it maintained ties with the various ethnic armies that grew out of its collapse in 1989. This has allowed China to maintain some influence in Burmese politics and the groups provide a convenient buffer against possibility political instability within Myanmar.

The junta appeared unconcerned about the possible repercussions from Beijing. Some Burma watchers believe that by taking out the smallest of the border groups, the junta was testing China’s resolve to back the others and what actions it might take should the army attack the other groups. Although China issued a rare rebuke to the regime for the action, Beijing gave little outward support to the ethnic armies.

A flurry of meetings between Burmese and Chinese diplomatic and military officials took place afterward and relations have outwardly approached normal. “Myanmar will, as always, and working hard with the Chinese, preserve the peace and stability of the border areas,” Burma’s leader Senior General Than Shwe told Xi during his visit. “China and Myanmar share a long joint border, and Myanmar deeply understands and knows that maintaining peace and stability on the border is extremely important to both countries.”

The statement was likely meant to reassure China that some sort of arrangement will be worked out with the rebellious ethnic groups on the border that will not result in fighting and the resultant tens of thousands of refugees flooding across the border.

Tensions remain high on the border as ethnic-based armies resist attempts by the junta to force them to join a Border Guard Force under the Burmese Army’s leadership. The groups feel that joining would result in their losing any power and negotiating ability with the generals. They are currently trying to negotiate better deals with the junta before a deadline at the end of this month when they are either to agree or face renewed fighting.

Sources close to the ethnic groups say that much backroom negotiating is going on between the government, Chinese officials and ethnic leaders to avert further conflict to arrange a deal before a deadline at the end of the year. In a move which could be read as a shot across Burma’s bows, former Chinese volunteers and Wa veterans of fighting in the 1970’s have begun organizing in China, say exile media groups Mizzima and Shan Herald Agency for News, to find ways of assisting should fighting break out. This type of move would likely need the tacit approval of Chinese authorities.

Border tensions notwithstanding, China has remained a staunch supporter of Burma in international forums. This is especially the case in the United Nations where Beijing has frequently supported Burma through blocking moves by the US and its allies aimed at censuring the regime through the Security Council. During this weekend’s visit Xi assured Burma of Beijing’s continued support.

In addition, the Chinese delegation put forward a four point proposal to improve relations with Naypyidaw. The proposal suggested maintaining high-level contacts, deepening reciprocal cooperation, safeguarding peace and prosperity of the border area and strengthening coordination on international and regional affairs.

China’s proposal may be in reaction to recent US moves in an attempt to safeguard its interests in an area that until now it has had almost monopolistic control. Chinese officials are reportedly concerned by America’s new engagement policy with Burma. Although the US has so far not received any concrete indications that its overtures will amount to anything beyond diplomatic exchanges, the potential is there for America to increase its influence with the generals, particularly after nation-wide elections scheduled for next year.

Although often referred to as an ally of Burma, Chinese officials are aware of the limitations to their relationship with the generals. They are reportedly closely watching developments between the US and Burma in order to gauge how serious both sides are about improving relations. Any softening in relations between the two countries would undoubtedly be viewed as a threat to Beijing’s strategic interests in the region. Chinese officials are worried that engagement with the US could empower the generals to take less notice of Chinese concerns and negate advantages gained for the security of its seaborne lines of communication through avoiding the Malacca Straits.

Chinese officials are also concerned about the junta’s stated ‘roadmap to democracy’ wherein democratic general elections are slated for next year. While most exile groups and Burma watchers believe the elections will be anything but free and fair, the potential for political instability exists. China is less concerned about whether Burma is a democracy or a dictatorship, as long as whatever government is in power maintains stability within the country and does not pose a threat to Chinese interests.

Although the junta’s controversial new constitution has upset human rights activists and the political opposition, China is likely pleased that the military has made sure through provisions within the document that it will maintain control over the vital organs of the government. During the weekend visit, Xi gave support to Burma’s leaders saying China is happy to see Burma moving towards democracy and national reconciliation, and is confident that the Burmese government would realize its political targets and achieve national stability and growth.

Burma’s show of independence with its border offensive and a new American engagement policy have given Chinese leaders reason to rethink their Burma policy in order to safeguard their strategic interests. Xi’s visit provided Beijing with a way to show continued high-level support for the country’s military rulers. As Burma moves toward elections next year, this support may be crucial.
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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Junta lobbies hard on international fora

 
Thursday, 24 December 2009 23:03 Mungpi

New Delhi (Mizzima) - Burma’s state-owned newspaper New Light of Myanmar on Wednesday reported the return of Foreign Minister Nyan Win from Denmark after attending the UN Climate Change Conference.

The newspaper said Nyan Win, besides delivering a speech at the conference, also met Foreign Ministers of the European Union led by the Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt and hosted by Danish Foreign Minister Per-Stig Moller at the sidelines of the Copenhagen Conference.

In a press statement, the EU said during the meeting, also attended by the EU special envoy to Burma Mr. Piero Fassino, European Union Foreign Ministers reiterated their willingness to continue a dialogue aimed at substantial improvements towards a transition to democracy and respect of human rights in Burma.

The ministers also told Nyan Win that “the elections in 2010 are an important opportunity for allowing inclusiveness and showing serious progress on national reconciliation, which is necessary to address the political and socio-economic problems facing Burma/Myanmar.”

The ministers also urged the Burmese military junta to take substantive steps towards free and fair elections.

The report about Nyan Win’s December 16 to 18 trip to Denmark, which came after a week, is among the many stories that the Burmese junta’s mouthpiece newspaper is reporting relating to activities of junta officials.

The English version of the newspaper, which usually carries stories of the military general’s development work, has for the past few weeks been carrying reports of foreign officials including a few heads of states, and deputies visiting the pariah state.

On Thursday, the newspaper reported the visit of a delegation led by Mr Li Chao, Chairman of the Central China Power Grid International Economic & Trade Co Ltd, and their meeting with Burmese Minister for Electrical Power (2) Maj-Gen Khin Maung Myint.

On Wednesday, the newspaper reported the visit of Japanese Deputy Minister for Economics, Trade and Industry Mr. Hiroyuki Ishige and his meeting with Burmese Prime Minister Thein Sein.

On Tuesday, the newspaper reported the visit by Chang Zhenming, Chairman and President of CTTIC Group of China and his meeting with Burmese Minister for Transport Maj-Gen Thein Swe.

Monday’s newspaper was filled with the visit of Chinese Vice-President Xi Jinping and his meetings with Burmese military supremo Snr. Gen Than Shwe, and Vice Snr Gen Maung Aye.

While most of the visiting officials are not heads of states and do not carry significant weight, the fact that many foreign officials are visiting the country, which is under Western sanctions, is significant, a Burmese analyst said.

Win Min, a Burmese analyst based in Thailand, said lately more countries are interested in visiting and dealing with the Burmese junta, and the new United States policy on the regime could be a factor contributing to the change.

“The US’s new policy on engagement with Burma (while maintaining the sanctions) may also partly encourage other country representatives to visit,” Win Min added.

The US in September announced a new policy on Burma’s military regime. Under the new policy, the US is willing to directly engage with the junta, while existing sanctions would remain.

As a first step in US-Junta relations, the Assistant Foreign Secretary Kurt Campbell led delegation in November visited Naypyitaw and held talks with junta supremo Snr. Gen Than Shwe.

“I think it shows that many countries want to see if there can be an impact from their visits to open up the election process, while some countries may also want to secure their business interests before the elections,” Win Min said.

He said, as the Nobel Prize Winning economist Joseph Stiglitz concluded a visit to Burma, during which he was able to advise the Burmese generals on economic reforms, Japan may also be interested in checking out the possibilities a more open economy.

Win Min added that the visits by foreign officials could indicate that the junta has been working hard to gain international support for their roadmap, of which the fifth step is the general elections slated for 2010.
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Woman prisoner dies in Insein prison

 
Thursday, 24 December 2009 21:34 Khaing Suu

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - A woman prisoner died of cardiac arrest in Insein prison hospital yesterday, family sources said.

Tin Tin Htwe (38) mother of three children, was recently shifted back to Insein prison from Tharyarwaddy prison. She died yesterday early morning.

The source said the body is being kept at the Ye Way cemetery mortuary and the funeral service will be at 2 p.m. tomorrow.

The prison authorities gave necessary assistance to the bereaved family, which organized the funeral service, sources said.

She was suffering from heart disease and hypertension.

The duty officer in Insein prison did not answer queries on Tin Tin Htwe’s death, when contacted over telephone but responded to her family.

She was transferred to Tharyawaddy prison from Insein prison in December 2008. She was recently moved back to Insein prison.

She participated in the saffron revolution in Rangoon and was arrested on 26 September 2007 along with 14 other political activists. After which she was released on bail.

But the bail was withdrawn on 16 November 2008 and she was charged with cases under section 332 (obstructing public servants from discharging their duty) and under section 294 (committing obscene acts in public places) of the Penal Code on 24 November 2008 and sentenced to three years and three months in prison with hard labour.

She is survived by a son and two daughters besides her mother.

The Thailand based Association of Assistance for Political Prisoners-Burma AAPP-B said that three political prisoners including Tin Tin Htwe have died in prison so far this year due to inadequate healthcare facilities provided in Burmese prisons.

According to AAPP-B statistics, a total of 143 political prisoners have died so far in various prisons since 1988.

(Edited by Ko Wild)
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Junta stocking up on weapons for rainy day: observer

 
Thursday, 24 December 2009 19:49 Mungpi

New Delhi (Mizzima) - The Burmese military junta’s decision to purchase armament from Russia may have been triggered by their fear of budget constraints under the new government to be elected in 2010, an analyst said.

Win Min, a Burmese analyst based in Chiang Mai, Thailand, said the junta’s decision to purchase MiG 29 Fulcrum D fighter jets from Russia at a time when they should be busy preparing for next year’s elections, could be driven by its fear of budget constraints under the new government that will largely restrict them in their wild pursuit of weapons.

On Wednesday, Russia’s business daily Vedomosti told Mizzima, that Russia has signed a contract to deliver 20 MiG-29 K/KUB and about 8 to 10 Mi-35 attack helicopters, worth a total of US$ 640 million. The delivery will commence in 2010.

The arms purchase news comes days after the Nobel Peace Winning Economist Joseph Stiglitz’s visit to the military-ruled country, where he had advised the military government to reduce their spending on the military but to invest on education as the Burmese economy needs education to revive.

Stiglitz also advised the junta to use revenue, from the sale of natural resources including oil and natural gas, for opening a new era for the country, but warned that if they are not used wisely “valuable opportunities would be squandered.”

But Win Min said he believes the junta is acting on its worry that “it may not be able to buy this way after the 2010 elections under the new government’s budget constraints.”

The junta is also expanding the government-owned enterprises including the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings and the Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) to ensure that the military has its own budget, which cannot be controlled by parliament, even after a new government is formed after the 2010 elections, Win Min added.

The UMEH is run by the Defence Ministry’s Directorate of Procurement and is engaged in almost all joint ventures. The MEC funnels revenue from private enterprise into defence spending while the UMEH provides opportunities for secondary incomes for military personnel and their families.

Win Min said, “generally all armed forces want new weapons like all kids want toys,” but it is sad to see that the Burmese military junta, despite expert advice given by Prof Stiglitz to reduce defence spending and to increase investments on education and health, is only concerned about its insatiable needs of purchasing new toys.

Protesting against the weapons transfer contract, nearly a dozen Burmese pro-democracy activists in New Delhi, India held a rally on Thursday afternoon in front of the Russian embassy.

“Burma has no enemy and there is no need to purchase weapons. And these weapons will only be used to intimidate and suppress the Burmese people,” Salong, a member of the Shwe Gas Movement, told Mizzima.

Shouting slogans - “We want peace, not MiG-29’ “Hey Russia we want peace” - the activists said, the Burmese junta, instead of spending on development projects, is spending revenue earned from the sale of oil and natural gas to purchase armaments.

According to the Vedomosti, the Burmese junta had also purchased 12 MiG-29 K/KUB fighter jets in 2001. Burma had also imported US$ 2 billion worth of weapons since 1989, mainly from China.

Burma’s military rulers, which has ruled the country for the past two decades, is known to spend less than 3 per cent of its GDP per annum for health and education while the military spending is about 40 per cent.

Another reason for the junta purchasing the fighter jets, Win Min said could be the junta’s wish to strengthen its air force on the borders generally and on the Chinese and Bangladesh in particular.

“The military might want to improve its air force on the borders generally, but especially on the China and Bangladesh borders, since they want to threaten the ceasefire [armed] groups, especially Wa [United Wa State Army] to agree to their proposal of transforming into the border guard force,” Win Min said.

He added that the purchase of MiG-29 Fulcrum D could also be “to have better bargaining power with Bangladesh on their disputed maritime areas, which has natural gas.”
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Burma steps up work to complete border fencing

 
Thursday, 24 December 2009 18:59 Nyein Chan

Dhaka (Mizzima) - Reinforcements of 100 police personnel have been made on the Burma-Bangladesh border on Sunday to step up work on the ongoing fencing work.

The policemen are from the No (2) Riot Police Battalion stationed in Buthidaung Town. They were deployed on the Burma-Bangladesh border village of Kanyin in Maungdaw Township to reinforce the workforce.

According to a Maungdaw Town Peace and Development Council official, with police and soldiers sent from various battalions, the workforce has topped 1000. The authorities are gearing up to complete the fencing before the 2010 monsoon.

About 800 soldiers from the Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) 371,374,375, 376, 378, 379 of the Tactical Unit (15) along with Maungdaw-based Riot Police Battalion (13) and border security forces are working on the construction of the border fence.

Businessmen, who came across the construction site, said they saw soldiers dressed in half uniforms with badges of the Border Security Force, working on the fencing.

Burmese authorities, since March began fencing the border in an effort to curb illegal trade, smuggling of goods, and illegal migration into the two countries. Burma, which shares an 180-kilometre border with Bangladesh, will fence about 80 kilometres.

So far the border security forces have completed erecting poles on a stretch of 40 kilometres. The polls are 12 feet high and are erected at an interval of 10 feet each.
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The Internet in Burma (1998-2009)

 
(Research)

* 1998 - Myanmar Post and Telecommunication Ministry starts selling Email service under mptmail.net.mm. Travel agencies and business groups, along with foreign businesses, are the biggest buyers of the service. Additionally, all government ministries avail themselves of the service.

* 1999 - Myanmar Post and Telecommunication Ministry introduces MPT as a dial-up Internet service, costing 230,000 kyat (US$ 230 at today’s exchange rate). Most users were former mptmail users.
* 2000 - completion of an optical submarine telecommunications cable by the government aims to improve the efficiency of Internet service.
* 2001 - some Intranet Burmese websites come into service through Info Rhythm, a private business introduced to sell Intranet lines for public use. Installation is 50,000 kyat and there is a charge of 3,000 to 5,000 kyat per month for general usage.
* 2002 - Bagan Cyber Tech, a private Internet service, is the first and only Internet service provider in Burma. www.bagan.net.mm is the first Burmese portal site introduced by Bagan Cyber Tech and Bagan Forum and Yangon Chat become very popular services. Although Myanmar Post and Telecommunication sells not only dial-up but also broadband connections, it cannot overcome demand for Bagan Cyber Tech’s broadband connection among domestic Internet users. Bagan Cyber Tech manufactures and sells three kinds of prepaid cards (15 hours, 30 hours and 60 hours) called Access Kid, which use dial-up system.
* 2003 - Bagan Cyber Tech introduces IP-Star Internet connection. Although at first the installation cost is high, its good service and its compatibility with most areas attracts great interest among many industries and businesses.
* 2004 - MPT introduces ADSL service. Soon after, ADSL is also available from Bagan Cyber Tech, with an installation price tag of 250,000 kyat. As monthly payments get cheaper and connection speed is increased, the number of Internet cafes in downtown Rangoon mushrooms, along with corresponding Internet users.
* 2005 - private Internet cafes have to register as public information centers.
* 2006 - privately owned Bagan Cyber Tech is transferred to the government. Rechristened Myanmar Teleport, quality of service begins to steadily decline.
* 2007 - there are several failures of the Internet, as providers MPT and Myanmar Teleport ban a number of websites. Additionally, Burma Yadanarbon Teleport commences operations as a publicly owned Internet service provider.
* 2008 - MPT announces that ADSL service is available in 36 cities across Burma. All of Bagan Cyber Tech’s operations fall under the direct control of MPT. Red-Link Group becomes Burma’s second privately owned Internet service and introduces a new broadband product called Wi-max in Rangoon and Mandalay. Although Myanmar Teleport and MPT sell the Wi-max connection, most people buy and use Wi-max from Red-Link. Installation cost is $1,800 and monthly payments range from $35 to $50 according to services.
* 2009 - the market for Internet cafes and users becomes increasingly limited and strained as Internet connections continue to deteriorate. Rangoon Internet caf├ęs struggle to survive, as Internet service providers do not extend their lines. Additionally, fewer people patronize Internet cafes as the power supply becomes more erratic and the speed of connection slows considerably. Red-Link arranges for a pre-paid Wi-Fi network to be in service in eight locations in Rangoon and plan to launch a portal site, www.enjoy.net.mm. Installation of MPT and Myanmar Teleport costs over $2,000, Wi-max and IP-Star $1,800 and 5,000,000 kyat, respectively. Rangoon is estimated to hold 85 percent of Internet users and by far the greatest number of Internet cafes, 350 by one calculation.
* The speed of the Internet connection for the whole of Burma is 7.8 Gps and 25 percent of users are domestic. In Naypyitaw, all ministries are using fiber cables and VOIP is available for connections between Rangoon and Naypyitaw. MPT fiber cable connection costs $2,500 to install and carries a monthly payment of $500. Most people, except large business, cannot afford this connection. Currently the following Internet connection speeds are being used for Internet services: 128 Kbs (home), 256 Kbs (office); 512 Kbs (business); 1 Mbs (only available in Rangoon and heavily restricted).



Burma telephone lines and Internet connection

All communication services are operated under the management of Myanmar Post and Telecommunication. Telephone service is directly under the control of MPT. Myanmar Post and Telecommunication is recognized by the government as the sole sales agent and maintenance operator of all telephone lines and Internet connections throughout the country.

By 2008, the number of installed telephone lines reached 1 million, but some 500,000 persons remain on the waiting list for landline installation. However, the necessary investment of several million dollars seems too steep. Compared with regional countries, political unrest in Burma has impaired progress by blocking the needed foreign investments. At the end of 2008, 6,000 villages across Burma remained without telephone connection.

Mobile networks are planned to be installed extensively as microwave stations are being constructed. There are currently about 30 microwave stations in Rangoon. Nonetheless, several people remain in queue to receive mobile phones. A scheme to introduce cheaper mobile phones did not succeed in significantly raising the number of legal users.

In 2010, CDMA will be sold and usable in Rangoon, Mandalay and Naypyitaw at a rate of 500,000 kyat. There are about 500,000 mobile phone users in Burma, sharing 200,000 phones. Three percent of the Rangoon population has mobile phone access. A strong mobile phone market can be shaped if phones can be bought at reasonable prices and in reasonable geographic proximity. Currently GSM prepaid cards are available at increments of ten and twenty dollars. Although CDMA $50 cards are available in Rangoon, sales are not great because of high charges per call, frequent failure and the high cost of obtaining a unit. Rumors are presently floating that as of 2010, GSM cards will also be refillable.

It is interesting that consumption of CDMA cards is not as great as was expected, even though they are available at 500,000 kyat. Rangoon provides the bulk of consumers


Fiber optic

Burma’s principal fiber optic cable route comes from the Andaman Sea and lands at Pyapon, before connecting with landlines. From Pyapon to Hanthawaddy Exchange, the fiber cable passes under the Ngawon, Pathein and Yangon (Rangoon) Rivers. To date, the Hanthawaddy Exchange serves as an important Internet connection gate for the entire country. However, Yadanarbon Teleport is building a gateway and will control all incoming and outgoing Internet communication.

MPT officials are sent to India and South Korea to learn advanced communication technology. Upon return, they teach their newly acquired knowledge to officials at the School of Communication situated in the lower block of Pazundaung, Rangoon. Nonetheless, fiber cables meant to connect Naypyitaw have thus far encountered continued obstacles - including the cultivation of crops and destruction of the cable by locals under the cover of night. Owing to this reason, in late 2007 the vicinity around the route of the fiber cable was fenced off for security reasons and landowners compensated. Necessary equipment for construction of the fiber cable is typically ordered directly from Alalibab.com. During the ADSL and ADSL 2 sales, technologies used were received from Korea and India, respectively.

In 2009 a Burma-China high-speed fiber cable route was completed linking Kunming and the Yadanarbon Cyber City. There are also routes from Rangoon to Thaton to Bangkok and from Rangoon to Chiang Rai. However, these links have not raised the domestic connection speed.

Myanmar Post and Telecommunication will set up a national gateway server by Yadanarbon Teleport and will control all principal Internet connection service as of 2010.

Internet security and the banning of sites

Although some pornographic and political websites were originally banned, regulations were initially eased. In 2001, for example, Internet users had to register for Internet usage, but that restriction was lifted in 2003. However, after Bagan Cyber Tech started business, the number of sites blocked by Internet Service Providers (ISP) was increased. Bagan Cyber Tech was better known than MPT for its blocking activities. All explicit porn sites were blocked and political sites were inaccessible. Although the blocking of Internet sites continued from 2004 to 2006 - and increased with the political unrest of 2007, some sites blocked by Bagan Cyber Tech, such as Blogger.com, have been accessible by using the MPT connection service. Before Bagan Cyber Tech was transferred to MPT, the Myanmar Computer Federation issued a set of 20 rules, with Myanmar Computer Federation and Myanmar Infotech issuing PAC licenses for Public Information Centers.

Internet users are aware of their Internet security because they assume MPT and Bagan Cyber Tech/Myanmar Teleport block various sites and track data transfer. In 2009, according to unofficial analysis, 65 percent of Internet users discarded their data routes and used techniques or programs to make IP addresses untraceable.

Both MPT and Bagan Cyber Tech/Myanmar Teleport operated all Internet connections from the Hanthawaddy gateway, including mirror and firewall servers maintained at a main office near Myanmar Infotech. Russian and Chinese Technicians were hired as consultants in server modification projects.

Currently, some foreign technicians are appointed to work in the main office of Myanmar Teleport and Russian and Chinese technicians are jointly working in construction projects at Yadanarbon Cyber City. Further, in 2009, Israeli technicians installed National Gateway in Yadanarbon Cyber City.

Installations in Yadanarbon Teleport are nearly finished. The possibility of blocking and monitoring Internet usage could be increased because all Internet connectivity will be controlled through Yadanarbon Teleport.
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