Friday, July 31, 2009

End of the old man

 
by Mizzima News
Friday, 31 July 2009 20:10

The kangaroo court pretends there’s no problem in tackling the case of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi but it had to postpone hearing dates without coming up with a sound reason. This reveals, though they have the upper hand, they are in a crisis as well.

The court fixed July 31 for pronouncing its judgment on the ‘National League for Democracy’ (NLD) party General Secretary Aung San Suu Kyi’s case in which she has been charged with violating her house arrest term by the police as the prosecutor. However, they had to postpone the hearing again on the orders of Naypyitaw, fixing the date for August 11.

The special court inside the Insein prison made similar postponements without prior notice four times since the trial started on May 18. The judges themselves might not know the reason behind these postponements.

The United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had to intervene in this case, compelling him to visit Burma. Moreover, there has been a chorus of calls for the release of the Nobel Laureate globally. Though there is a debate on the effectiveness of international pressure these days, as for the isolated, self-conceited and aggressive junta leaders, such intervention is unbearable and intolerable.

It is not a coincidence that the junta requested Thailand’s Prime Minister to postpone his planned visit to Burma on July 31, on the pretext of dealing with internal politics, to two or three weeks later, through its ambassador in Bangkok.

The State Peace and Development Council is all too aware that supporters of Suu Kyi and hardcore activists will not stay passive with folded hands. They are not averse to arresting all of them, if necessary, over and above the 2100 political prisoners already languishing across jails in Burma, since it contrasts with the junta’s so-called seven-step roadmap to democracy.

In the meantime, the deterioration of the current situation for the paranoid and skeptical junta, ensconced behind the iron curtain, the classified report with the word ‘Secret’ on top of the paper, is being circulated wildly on the internet, which reveals there are loopholes in their inner security circle. These reports range from the visit of the third strongman of the junta’s military hierarchy Gen. Shwe Mann to communist North Korea, which is defying the international community with its nuclear arms race, to the meeting minutes between leaders of the junta and foreign countries.

In a quick response to these leaks, the junta retaliated with a combing operation in the Defence and Foreign Ministries besides resorting to cyber tracking and counter espionage.

On the other hand, the junta’s plan to transform ceasefire ethnic armed groups into the Border Guard Force (BGF) under the total control of their Armed Forces and disarming them is facing serious resistance and has been unsuccessful so far, as this plan lacks political guarantee and lack of mutual confidence.

The country’s economy is on the collapse mode in the face of the global economic crisis and the devastating Cyclone Nargis which left over 130,000 people dead. The economists estimate the country’s growth rate at zero percent.

Most of the generals in the top echelons of the junta whisper that dear leader Senior Gen. Than Shwe’s days are numbered and his fate is at its lowest ebb. To the superstitious and black magic believers among the generals, the collapse of ‘Danoke’ pagoda in Dala Township, which was repaired by first lady Kyaing Kyaing and her family, is a bad omen for this family.

The ‘Grand Strategy’ of transition to a puppet mixed administration of civilian and the military from the current military regime is uncertain and insecure.

It will be interesting to see how the psychological warfare savvy old man Than Shwe copes with the challenges faced on all fronts.

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Thailand to setup pilot project for refugees

 
by Usa Pichai
Friday, 31 July 2009 18:17

Chiang Mai (mizzima) – Thailand’s Ministry of Labour has initiated a dialogue with businessmen on a pilot project that envisages Burmese refugees, living in camps along the border, an opportunity to work outside their camps in the day and return by nightfall.

Labour Minister Phaitoon Kaewthong, during a meeting with the United States Committee for Refugees and Immigration (USCRI) on Thursday said the ministry plans to setup a pilot project in Mae Sot, the Thai-Burma border town, to allow refugees in the camps to work on a daily basis.

Weerawit Tienchainan, Director of USCRI, Thailand office, on Thursday urged Phaitoon to review Thailand’s labour policy and to create opportunities for Burmese refugees to work outside the camp.

“Currently, an estimated 40,000 refugees are of workable age but the government prohibits them from seeking jobs outside the camps. We are taking this opportunity to discuss and urge the ministry to consider this proposal,” Weerawit said.

While the minister said that the overall refugee policy depends on the Ministry of Interior, responsible for refugees in Thailand, authorities are toying with the idea of setting up a pilot project in Mae Sot to allow refugees to work in the day and return to their camps by nightfall on a daily basis, Weerawit said.

“We also held discussions with the business sector such as Tak Province Chamber of Commerce and some entrepreneurs. They said they are willing to hire refugees. Besides, the situation in Burma is not conducive for them to return. We should work towards a solution so that they can fend for their families,” Weerawit added.

Currently, an estimated of 140,000 Burmese refugees are living in nine camps along the Thai-Burma border. Some of them have lived in Thailand for more than 30 years.

Phaitoon said that the Ministry of Labour is concerned about the unemployment situation of Thai people and the issue of allowing registration of migrant workers that may lead to the unemployment rate going up.

“However, we will wait for the result of the migrant workers registration. In case, there is labour shortage, we will reconsider this proposal,” the minister was quoted as saying by a local Thai newspaper, Krungthep Turakij.

The Thai government expects that there will be about 1,000,000 migrant workers from neighbouring countries including Burma, who will register with Thai authorities.

Statistics of the Ministry of Labour suggest that the number of migrants registered as workers for the July 1 to 26 period is 848,328.

Registration for sectors other than fisheries will be concluded on July 30. Because the number of workers, who have registered in the fishery sector is not too significant, the Thai cabinet on Tuesday agreed to extend the registration period for migrant workers in fisheries from the end of July to September 30.

Weerawit had said earlier that refugees are at risk and can become victims of human traffickers with some of them persuaded to work illegally in dangerous places, including on fishing boats or forced to work in the sex industry or even as beggars.

“These problems have led the US government to keep a watch over Thailand regarding human trafficking, that may affect international relations in the future,” Weerawit said.

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Fake eggs enter Burmese market

 
by Mizzima News
Friday, 31 July 2009 10:56

Rangoon (Mizzima) - Burma’s state-run television on Thursday cautioned that fake-eggs, which look like normal eggs, have been entering the country through border gates.

The chemically-made fake eggs are much darker in colour and have no separate core, according to the Myanmar Television announcement at 8 p.m. (local time).

The TV also urged people to report to the authorities if they detect such eggs.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

What is a fake egg?

A fake egg is similar in looks to eggs of poultry chicken and is difficult to identify from its outward appearance. It is made of chemicals.

The white shell of the egg is made of Benzoic acid, jelly, chemical and baking powders.

The yolk of the chemical egg is made up of an unknown yellow powder mixed thoroughly with unidentified liquid and is also mixed with a liquid called ‘Magic water’, which contains calcium chloride.

Separating the yolk and white

The yolk and white of the chemical egg is separated by pouring the white and yolk into an oval-shaped plastic container and Magic Water, a form of thin membrane, which separates the yolk and the white.

The shell of the egg is made with a mixture of wax that contains paraffin and an unknown white chemical liquid. It is then poured into the oval-shaped plastic container and kept for sometime to dry. It then looks exactly like a real egg.

Caution in buying

Besides not having any protein that gives energy, and no other nutritious value, the chemicals used to make the fake eggs can lead to health problems.

Reportedly, the fake eggs have entered Burma through the border areas and are now in circulation. Consumers need to be cautious in buying the eggs.

If shaken the fake eggs spin faster and longer than real ones. On the surface of a mirror or plate it spins faster.

Darker in colour

The fake eggs are much darker in colour than the real eggs. These are more reflective as their shells are made of wax, and the surface is rougher. If the eggs are boiled the white and yolk of the fake eggs get mixed.

(Excerpts from the New Light of Myanmar)

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Protests outside Burmese Embassy in Bangkok

 
by Mizzima News
Friday, 31 July 2009 20:56

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - At least 20 Burmese pro-democracy activists on Friday staged a brief protest outside the Burmese embassy in Bangkok, demanding the release of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the verdict on whose trial has been postponed to August 11 by the court in Rangoon’s Insein prison.

The protesters - members of political parties, students, and migrant workers - condemned Burma’s military rulers for putting Aung San Suu Kyi on trial saying it is trumped up to convict her and sentence her to prison in order to keep her out of the 2010 election scenario.

The protesters also demanded that the ruling junta release all political prisoners, scrap the 2008 constitution and recognise the 1990 election results.

The demonstrators, who had earlier gathered in front of the embassy, were later herded to the rear of the embassy by Thai police.

Meanwhile, the court in Insein prison on Friday postponed pronouncement of the verdict in Aung San Suu Kyi’s trial to August 11 saying there are some problems relating to the law and that it needed more time.

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Six NLD members freed

 
by Phanida
Friday, 31 July 2009 21:30

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Six members of the opposition National League for Democracy, arrested on Thursday evening, were freed by authorities on Friday.

Thet Thet Aung of Rangoon’s Dagon Myothit Township, Htein Win and Khin Win Kyi of South Dagon Township, Nyunt Hlaing of San Chuang Township, who is an elected member of Parliament in the 1990 elections, Naw Ohn Hla and Khin Myat Thu were released after being detained for several hours since Thursday evening, according to NLD spokesperson, Ohn Kyaing.

On Thursday the authorities rounded up at least 30 people, mostly young supporters and members of the NLD, across the country, in a move to pre-empt anti-government protests on Friday, the day the court had earlier fixed to pronounce the verdict on the trial of Aung San Suu Kyi.

The court, however, postponed delivering the verdict on Aung San Suu Kyi to August 11, saying it is facing legal problems and needs time to decide.

Htein Win, youth in-charge of the NLD from South Dagon Township told Mizzima, “I arrived home at noon after being released. I was interrogated and asked what we will be doing on July 31. They asked whether we had plans to hold demonstrations and also wanted to know our plans for the 8.8.88 anniversary. They also asked what we will do if Aung San Suu Kyi is sentenced to a prison term.”

He said, the chairman of the ward, police from the special branch and several other officials came to his house at about midnight and asked him to come to the police station saying they needed to ask a few questions.

He was later taken to the office of the Ministry of Home and interrogated for two hours.

Htein Win said Khin Win Kyi was also brought to the same office for interrogation.

He was also reportedly made to sign a pledge not to say anything about the interrogations to the media.

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Northern Commander meets KIO in Laiza

 
by Myo Gyi
Friday, 31 July 2009 21:08

Ruili (Mizzima) – The Commander of the Northern Military Command Maj-Gen Soe Win, along with leaders of the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO), the largest ceasefire ethnic armed group in Kachin state, on Friday arrived in the Sino-Burma border town of Laiza, the KIO headquarters, for a meeting.

Soe Win and the KIO leaders arrived in the border town after the commander held talks with Kachin Church leaders in Myitkyina on July 29.

Eyewitnesses said the commander and KIO leaders were in a meeting in Laiza Hotel from 7 a.m. (local time) to 2 p.m.

“At about 6:10 a.m. two vehicles arrived in town. Later at about 7:15 a.m. the commander came in his Prado car escorted by a 4-wheel vehicle. At about 10 a.m. seven 4-wheel vehicles came with boxes,” the eyewitness said.

The KIO has rejected the junta’s proposal of transforming its armed wing, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) into a Border Guard Force but told Soe Win that they are keen on converting the KIA into a Kachin Regional Guard Force (KRGF) during their meeting on July 8 to 11 in Myitkyina.

After the meeting with the KIO leaders today, Soe Win visited a hospital run by the KIO and left Laiza at about 3 p.m.

The KIO is the largest Kachin armed group fighting for self-determination. It entered into a ceasefire pact with the ruling junta in 1994.

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Ministry orders checks on “black listed” tourists

 
by Nem Davies
Friday, 31 July 2009 19:30

New Delhi (Mizzima) – Tour agencies have been directed by Burma’s Ministry of Hotel and Tourism to check tourists applying for ‘Arrival Visa’ with the list of people banned from entering the country.

“The people banned are among those ‘black listed’ and the list is with the Immigration Department,” Ohn Myint, Deputy Director at Ministry of Hotel and Tourism in Naypyitaw, told Mizzima.

The notice states that persons included in the ‘black list’ will not be issued ‘Arrival Visa’. Tour agencies as such are required to submit one of three forms to the Immigration Department in Rangoon six days in advance, in order to provide time for checking the list.

A director of a popular tour agency in Rangoon said the screening of ‘Arrival Visa’ is being done mainly to check people involved in politics.

“We have to submit the bio-data of tourists, who apply for ‘Arrival Visa’ to the Immigration Department. They [immigration] mainly check tourist’s into politics. The “black list” is with them and it is confidential,” the director told Mizzima.

Though tourists can apply for normal visas at respective Burmese embassies abroad, it is mandatory for tourists, who face time limits in applying for normal visas, to connect with tour agencies in Burma to apply for the ‘Arrival Visa’.

“For people, who do not have time to obtain a normal visa, authorities issue ‘Arrival Visa’ but they need to get in touch with tour companies before they come. Every tour agent takes care of his guests,” a director at another tour agency in Rangoon told Mizzima.

The ministry’s order on Thursday states that tour agents can enquire whether the list of their guests has been cleared by the Immigration Department. They have no right to question the decision of the Immigration rejecting a guest.

The order also said that the ‘Arrival Visa’ system has been introduced in order to make travelling to Burma easier and to provide maximum service to tourists. It is also to check that tour companies do not charge tourists extra for their services and prevent the companies from evading tax payment to the government, which is seven per cent.

“Tour agencies must understand that a country has the right to reject or welcome particular tourists, without giving any reason,” the order adds.

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A(H1N1) infection could be alarming in Burma: Experts

 
by Nem Davies
Thursday, 30 July 2009 22:00

New Delhi (Mizzima) – Even as Burma’s Ministry of Health on Thursday announced that the number of human infection of type A (H1N1) virus in the country has increased to 10, health experts sounded the alarm bell saying given the poor public health system, there is a likelihood of more people being infected with the virus in rural areas.

“With an inadequate public health care system the situation could be alarming and difficult to control. What is more alarming is that it could go undiagnosed,” Dr. Voravit Suwanvanichkij, Associate Researcher at Center for Public Health in John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health said.

The government’s announcement, carried by its mouthpiece newspaper, said surveillance of the flu is being conducted at the Rangoon international airport as well as in the border gates. From April 28 to July 13, the government claims that it has tested 1.9 million people.

The New Light of Myanmar on Thursday reported detection of the tenth person infected with the virus stating that all the detected people have come from a visit abroad including Thailand and Singapore.

A veteran doctor at a private clinic in Rangoon said the possibility of the virus going unnoticed in rural areas is high as Burma lacks an adequate public health care system.

“It is very likely that the disease could spread in the rural areas, because these areas do not have proper health care and because the virus is easily transmittable,” the doctor said.

“I do not fear detecting the virus, but my worry is that it could spread to a large number of people because in neighbouring countries we have heard of such an outbreak,” he added.

Dr. Vit, however, praised the Burmese military junta, which often blacks out news and information regarding outbreak of diseases or even natural disasters, for announcing the detection of the virus.

“It is a delight to know that the government is forthcoming in announcing the situation on the ground,” he said.

But he fears that with the lack of a public health care system, the number of cases of infection might have risen alarmingly while remaining undetected.

Currently, authorities are referring patients infected with A(H1N1) virus to the Wai Bagi hospital in Rangoon’s North Okklapa Township for treatment. But critics fear that if the number of cases of infection increases, the 100 bed Wai Bagi hospital may not be able to accommodate patients.

But an assistant medical officer at the Wai Bagi Hospital assured that they could switch strategies in case the number of cases of infection goes up and would be able to cope with an outbreak.

“We can always switch strategies. It’s not that we prefer changing it but we need to utilise our resources to the maximum. So there is no need to worry,” the doctor said.

Meanwhile in neighbouring Thailand, the type A(H1N1) has claimed the lives of 65 people. In India the number of infected till Tuesday was 475 while in China till July 27, 1930 people had been infected.

The A(H1N1) virus has killed over 800 people. According to a recent United Nations World Health Organisation (WHO) estimate, the A(H1N1) virus could infect a total of 2 billion people across the world.
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Lawyers oppose sale of Suu Kyi’s plot

 
by Phanida
Thursday, 30 July 2009 20:27

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – The sale of a plot of land in detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s house compound has been opposed by her lawyer through an official letter on Thursday.

“We have sent our opposition to the two lawyers, whose names were in the announcement. We said the plot of land cannot be sold as it is owned by our client. We have sent a letter opposing it,” Nyan Win, Aung San Suu Kyi’s lawyer told Mizzima.

The July 24, issue of the state-run newspaper “Mirror” carried an announcement stating that a plot of land in the compound of House No 54 in Rangoon’s University Avenue has been sold and anybody, who objects to the sale, can oppose it within seven days.

The announcement said, a plot of land – 40 A, 41, 42, 42 A, 44 B, 44 C, and 64 C – 200 feet in length and 70 feet wide in Rangoon’s Bahan township has been sold-off by Khin Maung Aye and that any objection can be lodged within a week.

But following the announcement, Khin Maung Aye’s wife Daw Tin Tin Oo, living separately, made an announcement objecting to the sale of the plot of land and the constructions on the land.

Khin Muang Aye is the foster son of late Thakhin Than Tun and Daw Khin Gyi, who was the sister of detained Aung San Suu Kyi’s mother Daw Khin Kyi. He is a retired army officer and also a writer.

Though the announcement, signed by High Grade Pleaders Cho The May and Wai Wai Aung said opposition to the transfer can be made, it made no mention of the buyer.

“The plot of land mentioned in the notice is the area that has not been divided. But the notice does not name the buyer. They have hidden the name of the buyer. We are worried about the notice. We cannot divulge what we will do but we have our plans,” Nyan Win said.

The sale of the plot of land comes at a time when Aung San Suu Kyi, who lived in the compound, is awaiting a verdict at the Insein prison court.

Earlier, Aung San Suu Kyi’s brother Aung San Oo, claiming to be the rightful heir to the compound of House No. 54, filed a lawsuit.

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Host in the dark as Asean discusses energy

 
by Mungpi
Thursday, 30 July 2009 19:13

New Delhi (Mizzima) - Residents of Yan Myo Hlone ward in Chan Aye Thar Zan Township of Burma’s second largest city of Mandalay were in for a pleasant surprise, when they began to receive 10 hours of electricity supply since early this week against the usual six-hours a day.

“Surprisingly, we started receiving electricity supply for 10 hours per day since Monday,” said a local resident, expression of happiness writ large on his face. He of course had no clue to why power supply has increased in his ward.

While other wards and localities in Mandalay continue to get power supply of just six hours a day in a regular rotational system, Yan Myo Hlone ward is lucky to be located a few blocks from the famous Sedona Hotel, where several ministers from the Asean are staying for an energy security meeting that is currently underway in town.

Since Monday, energy ministers and deputies from Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), of which Burma is a member, and their partners including China, South Korea, Japan, India and Australia have arrived in the ancient Burmese capital of Mandalay for discussions on Asean Energy Security.

Ironically, the venue of the meeting, where the energy ministers are to adopt a seven-point Asean Plan of Action for Energy Cooperation (APAEC) 2010-2015, Mandalay, is having to purchase extra supply of power from China to light up the city.

Daw Aye Aye Min, head of Mandalay Division Electric Power Department, in mid-July said, the electricity department has sought to purchase 300 megawatts of electricity from Ruili, the Chinese border town, to meet the energy shortfall in Mandalay city.

While the deal has been reportedly sealed, the actual supply is yet to be received by the city with several of the priority areas of industrial zones still having to manage with the regular electricity supply of six-hours daily.

Located just two blocks from the popular Sedona Hotel, where the delegates for the Asean energy meeting are lodged, Yan Myo Hlone and neighbouring wards are enjoying the benefits of power supply that the meeting has brought about.

“I saw several policemen and soldiers around the Sedona Hotel and near the foot of the Mandalay Hill. Coincidently or luckily, we are receiving 10-hours of electricity supply these days. I think it is because of the meeting,” the resident said.

During the opening ceremony of the 27th Asean Ministers on energy Meeting (AMEM) held at the Convocation Hall of Mandalay University on Wednesday, Burma’s Prime Minister Lt-Gen Thein Sein said that Burma is committed to work together with other Asean members in finding a sustainable solution for energy security.

During the two-day meeting, to conclude on Thursday, the ministers adopted action plans that will include programmes of an Asean power grid, Trans-Asean gas pipeline, coal and clean coal technology, renewable energy, energy efficiency and conservation, regional energy policy and planning and civilian nuclear energy.

Thailand, the current chair of the 10-member Southeast Asian bloc, has reportedly raised issues related to the construction of two hydroelectricity projects – Hat Gyi and Tasang – which are planned to be constructed on the Salween River.

According to reports, Thailand is apprehensive that China might take over the Hat Gyi project, in which the Thai government has estimated to invest about USD 1 billion. Thailand, which has halted its work on the Hat Gyi to conduct environmental assessment, reportedly wants to resume construction work.

Activists said, the Asean’s plan of action would mean increased investments in Burma to build more hydroelectricity projects, gas pipeline constructions and extracting of coal and minerals.

Wong Aung, a campaigner with the Shwe Gas Movement said these investments would not meet the electricity needs of the people of Burma but would only benefit the ruling military generals, who spend less than 3 per cent of the country’s GDP on health and social services.

“We are therefore, asking the Asean and other countries to halt investments in Burma until there is a proper system that will guarantee that the benefit accrues to the people,” Wong Aung told Mizzima.

Neighbouring countries, mainly China and Thailand have reached an agreement with Burma’s ruling junta to construct a series of dams on the Salween and the Irrawaddy River.

Wong Aung said, the majority of the power generated from these dams would be sold to Thailand and China, while the remaining would be used to supply the military bases in Burma.

With the ruling generals on a dam construction spree and laying gas pipelines to connect neighbouring countries such as China for the sale of hydrocarbon, there is also a growing concern over environmental impacts.

With the past experience of the Yadana and Yetagun gas fields in southern Burma, and the gas pipeline constructions connecting Thailand, environmentalists have urged government and companies to carry out fair environmental assessment before implementing such projects.

“With the kind of impact envisaged on the environment and with no benefits accruing to the people, we are urging the Asean not to invest in energy projects in Burma at the moment,” Wong Aung said.

But it is unlikely that the junta ensconced in Naypyitaw, and their Asean friends, who are greedily looking at Burma as a resource base, will hear Wong Aung’s words of caution.

But for now, as the Asean ministers meet, the residents of Yan Myo Hlone ward, at least for a week, can go to bed without worrying about burning charcoal to cook breakfast the next morning.

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Opposition lawyer hounded by authorities

 
by Myint Maung
Thursday, 30 July 2009 18:05

New Delhi (Mizzima) – Nyi Nyi Htwe, a lawyer belonging to the opposition camp, recently released from jail and forced out of his profession, alleged he is finding it difficult to continue with his present calling of selling government lottery tickets because he is being hounded by authorities.

The 33 year-old lawyer from Pegu town has been selling government lottery tickets to eke out a livelihood, after his bar license was revoked. He alleged that authorities had warned lottery dealers not to franchise him nor hire out a push-cart to him for selling lottery tickets.

“Since my bar license has been revoked, there is nothing that I can do to survive. I have no other business, but my wife sells lottery tickets. Since we lack capital, we have to procure tickets from bigger agents on credit. We also cannot afford to hire a permanent push-cart. The authorities have been creating obstacles,” he told Mizzima.

His business associates have been warned against dealing with him. He is currently finding it extremely difficult to franchise government lottery tickets and hiring a push-cart, given the harassment by the authorities.

Nyi Nyi Htwe was sentenced to a six-month prison term on October 30, 2008 by the northern District Court in Rangoon’s notorious Insein prison on charges of ‘contempt of court’. He was, at the time, defending three National League for Democracy members including Yan Naing Tun, who were arrested and were facing trial for praying at the Pagoda for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners.

During the trial, the judge told Nyi Nyin Htwe to tell his three clients to change their sitting postures, where they had turned their backs to the judge. But the young lawyer said “they have their rights to sit the way they want.”

The judge charged him with ‘contempt of court’ and under Article 288 and sentenced him to six-months in prison.

While he served the prison term, authorities revoked his bar license. He was released on April 28, after he completed his six-month term.


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Another person tests positive for Swine Flu in Burma

 
by Ko Wild
Thursday, 30 July 2009 16:49

Chiang Mai (mizzima): One additional person has tested positive for the A (H1N1) virus, taking the total number of confirmed cases in the whole country to 10, according to a statement issued by the Ministry of Health.

State-run newspaper, Myanmar Ahlin, today reported that a 57-year-old man, who had returned from Singapore by flight MI-512 on July 20, has tested positive.

Thirteen family members, 74 passengers on the same flight and 130 of Rangoon’s Mingaladon Airport staff are being monitored by Health Department officials, the paper revealed.

According to official statements issued so far, the people, who have tested positive, had all returned from Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and India.

The health officials checked over 1.9 million people, who crossed the border gates, according to an official announcement.

However, many people doubt the actual figures and statistics of virus-positive people in the whole country because several hundreds daily cross the porous borders to Burma’s neighboring countries Thailand, China, Bangladesh and India.

Dr. Voravit Suwanvanichkij, Research Associate at the Center for Public Health & Human Rights of John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said there exists an alarming situation in Burma, as most people do not cross the borders into neighbouring countries through official check-points.

Thailand, where the virus is widespread, shares a border line of over 2,000 kilometres, with Burma. With people going in and out of the border area and avoiding the official check-points, along with the lack of public health system, the situation is very alarming, the doctor said.

“With an almost non-functional public health system, most infections are likely to thrive without being diagnosed or even noticed,” he added.

In Thailand, 9000 persons have tested positive and 65 were killed by the A (H1N1) virus. The disease has spread to 170 countries globally and over 130,000 people have tested positive.

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Top commander meets Kachin religious leaders

 
by Phanida
Thursday, 30 July 2009 16:32

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - Ethnic Kachin spiritual leaders met the ruling Burmese Junta’s Commander of the Northern Military Command, Maj-Gen Soe Win, on Wednesday and held parleys regarding the transformation of the Kachin Independence Organization’s (KIO) armed forces into a Border Guard Force (BGF).

The meeting, between Maj-Gen Soe Win-led junta delegation and leaders of the Myitkyina Christian Council (MCC) was held at St. Columban Catholic Church in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin state. The meeting, which was attended by KIO’s Vice Chairman (2) Dr. Htooja, went on for over 3 hours.

Burma’s ruling military junta had earlier proposed that the KIO, the largest Kachin ceasefire group, transform its army – the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) – into a Border Guard Force (BGF), which would be under the Burmese Army’s administration.

However, the proposal was met with a different proposal by the KIO, stating their refusal to transform into the BGF and instead citing their desire to transform as the Kachin Regional Guard Force (KRGF). This would allow them to maintain their army without interference by the Burmese Army.

“Maj-Gen Soe Win, during the meeting said KIO’s demand of transforming into KRGF was not enough. It would include only Kachin State. But, what the junta was proposing to the KIO was much better and would be at the national level,” a person, who attended the meeting, told Mizzima.

Another person, who also attended the meeting told Mizzima, “When the KIO asked Maj-Gen Soe Win whether the name KIO would still remain if they transformed into the Border Guard Force, he replied that the name would not remain the same.”

Regarding the question of what would happen to the current KIO’s electricity supplies; Soe Win told the gathering that it would be treated as a company.

Rev. Zung Kyang, Chairman of the MCC delegation, told Soe Win and the other delegates that they opposed war and conflict, and requested them to comply with the KIO’s demand of allowing them to transform into the Kachin Regional Guard Force.

“The MCC emphasized two points at the meeting. They are opposed to war and armed conflict and the need to discuss and accept the KIO’s proposal. We want the government to negotiate on the KIO’s demand,” an elder of the Kachin Baptist, who attended the meeting, told Mizzima.

The meeting was attended by leaders of Baptist, Catholic, and other independent churches from Myitkyina, Wai Maw, Moe Kaung, Moe Nyin, Hpakant, Kamine, Tanaing, Chi Phwe and Bamo towns in Northern Burma’s Kachin State.

“During the meeting, people, who did not understand the issue of transition, raised questions and had discussions. The Burmese Army delegates urged the people to unite in making the Constitution a reality and to build a democratic nation in order to have lasting peace,” a priest at the St. Columban Church told Mizzima.

The Junta’s proposed Border Guard Force, the idea for which was put forward to the KIO on April 28, will have 326 soldiers in a battalion and would include the Burmese Army representatives in the administration.

But the KIA, which has five brigades and has bases not only in Kachin State but also in Northern Shan State, does not want to negotiate as they have already agreed in their ceasefire agreement, but wants to form the Kachin Regional Guard Force, which would only be administered by the KIO.

Besides, the KIO had also requested the junta to allow their participation at the three branches of Kachin State Government to be formed after the junta handed over power to the new government, which would be formed after the 2010 election.

The KIO, which has been struggling for self-determination, signed a ceasefire agreement on February 24, 1994.
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Screening of motorcycle users to be intensified

 
by Ni Moe Myint
Thursday, 30 July 2009 11:28

Rangoon (Mizzima) – Rangoon authorities will intensify screening of motorcycle users, including intelligence personnel. Motorcycles are banned on Rangoon roads but for select people.

Only the Military Affairs Security (MAS), Myanmar Police Force and some departmental staff are allowed to ride motorcycles in Rangoon. But because of some imposters, the authorities are registering the names and designations of each person before handing out permission.

“The advisory letters have been sent to the ministries. We shall keep a record of how many persons and who will use motorbikes among other details. Now there are many impersonators posing as departmental staff. Since we cannot distinguish between authorised bike users and those who are not, we don’t know whether to take action against them,” a senior official from the Rangoon Division Traffic Police told Mizzima.

Personnel of security agencies, mainly use motorcycles for shadowing dissidents, opposition politicians and activists.

Some civilians, close to MAS and the police misuse the permission by riding their bikes with emblems and logos of the authorised departments, according to police sources.

“Other department officials can use motorcycles during office hours only but they must wear uniforms. Moreover there are some restricted zones for the bikes. But the police and intelligence agencies can use bikes without any restriction round the clock,” a staff from Lanmadaw Township Municipal Office said.

Some members of the government backed organization the ‘Union Solidarity and Development Association’ (USDA) can be seen using unlicensed motorcycles with their organization’s logo - the lion.

The traffic police have had to tighten registration of bike users because of increasing motorcycle accidents in Rangoon.

There were 25 motorcycle accidents, which killed eight persons from January to April 2009. This figure is more than the accidents recorded in the whole of 2008, according to statistics compiled by the Rangoon Division Traffic Police Force.

There were a total of 24 motorcycle accidents which killed five persons in 2008. In 2007, there were 29 motorcycle accidents and five persons died.

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Suffering and hope in a Burmese refugee camp

 
by Hnin Pan Ein
Thursday, 30 July 2009 12:16

(This article describes the lives and hopes of Burmese refugees in a Thai-Burma border camp)

Mizzima News - Rays of sun pierce the clouds, bathing the entire mountain range and forest. At other times during monsoon season, drizzle and mist veil the mountains, including Noe Boe Mountain, hiding them from the outside world. In the far distance, from the village of Noe Boe, torrential streams of water can be seen cascading from surrounding mountains following the rain, the scent of seasonal wild flowers and the earth lingering in the air.

When night falls Noe Boe becomes silent, the sound of water flowing in the rain swollen streams mixed with night birds all that can be heard, ushering in mixed and sometimes haunting feelings for the forlorn and desolate refugees living in the camp.

These refugees came to this camp fleeing the severe oppression inflicted upon them politically, militarily, socially and religiously. Some have been here for over 12 years. Throughout their time in this camp they encounter only a miserable and hard life. For their survival they search for wild berries and vegetables in the dense forest along with frogs and fish from the streams. Occasionally, they make a salad by boiling banana buds and mixing them with raw onion, pea flour and seasoning powder. Those Karen refugees who arrived first serve as survival teachers for those who follow.

There are two types of refugees in the camp, those who receive a refugee ration and those who do not. Those with a ration need not worry about basic foodstuffs, while those without must rely on what they can scrounge from the forest and buy in the camp. For drinking water, rainwater is collected during the monsoon season from the leaf-woven roofs of huts, before it reaches the ground and turns reddish. To facilitate the collection, some build rainwater harvesting units comprising four bamboo poles and a plastic sheet. Bamboo, due to its versatility, is essential for the camp’s survival.

The monsoon season also brings with it melancholy feelings and stress, as refuges struggle to cope with daily livelihood and harsh weather conditions. Moreover, it is very sad for them to wonder when families may be reunited, when friends and colleagues can one day be visited and when they can again set foot again on the soil of their motherland. Yet, at other times the memories and thoughts of family, friends and home provides a feeling of closeness, togetherness, love and joy.

There is no proper work to be found in the camp, only the bartering of goods and services with fellow refugees. As a last resort, they have to rely on family members and friends who have been resettled in third countries to send back remittances.

The phone and Internet allows refugees, the latter at a more affordable rate, to keep in contact with family and friends abroad and update them as to their situation. Phone booths and Internet caf├ęs are always busy and crowded, with refugees pouring out their despair, anxieties and hopes to those on the receiving end. It can be an experience of joy, pleasure, anger, sorrow and resentment – maybe even all at the same the time.

If friends living in outside countries do not want to talk with them or the money that is to be sent is not yet ready, they sometimes will not pick up the phone, leaving refugees to hear only the answering machine notifying them in a foreign language to repeatedly ‘Leave your message if any’. Phone booth owners warn them not to pick up the phone receiver before hearing the live voice on the other end to avoid unnecessary charges – a premature pick-up costing the dialer 10 baht to ‘converse’ with the answering machine, an expense few can afford on their shoestring budgets.

At other times family and friends will insist on calling back to save the refugees money. But sometimes refugees have to wait a long time at the phone booth for the return call, rushing forth whenever the phone rings, their necks extended like the ‘Padaung’ long-necks after waiting a long time in vain.

For those who can use the Internet, it is always hoped to find an Inbox full of mail. Even a single line from beloved friends can make them happy and bring encouragement. If they see friends online with a green light next to their name on Google Talk they are very happy and start to call them. And if those who are online try and ‘disappear’ once contacted in fear of being asked for money, refugees send an email to the concerned individual asking them not to try and avoid them, as they only wish to talk.

‘Peaceful coexistence’ for those in the camp encapsulates the feeling that the refugees live with body and soul existing separate. As most are simply waiting to leave, when the expected duration of wait becomes longer than expected their lives become more bitter and unpleasant, which sometimes brings with it cases of domestic violence and family conflict. It is natural to see counseling and psychotherapy services available in Noe Boe, while the owner of the liquor shop just outside the camp reaps a huge profit.

Asking each other about their situation and what news they have heard is habitual. And even if the news conveyed is false, anger is not shown, as the sharing of news is essential for the survival of everyone – daily news from prospective host countries, world news, news from around the camp and news of resettlement plans. We are happy when we hear encouraging news and despair when we hear bad news.

In the hope of expediting their departure and easing their transition into a new country, English lessons, especially with an English accent, are constantly sought after. It is a case of English, English everywhere, echoing forth from thatch roof huts and every nook and cranny of the camp.

New plants and trees are grown from seeds inadvertently thrown away during meal preparations. Around Noe Boe you can see chilly, pumpkin and papaya plants at almost every house with a courtyard. However, almost all papaya plants disappeared after a monk said, “If there is a papaya tree in front of your house, your departure date will be long” – though some housewives must lie to husbands not as superstitious, telling them that the plant was uprooted in strong winds. News spreads quickly around the camp of departure plans and the presence of any papaya plants in front of the concerned house.

Those who are lucky enough to leave and never again touch the red soil of the camp are seen off at the gate by those who are to remain behind, the sound of the engine starting on the blue bus which will carry those leaving for Mae Sot making those left behind further ponder just how long they will have to wait their turn. Tears of joy and sorrow mix in the eyes of farewells.

Those boarding the blue bus say to their friends after shaking hands, “Don’t worry, I’ll send pocket money to you when I get there”. And though they strolled together, fetched water together, gathered firewood together, searched for seasonal vegetables together, collected rations together, visited the market together, shared fortune and woe together around Noe Boe camp and the nearby forest – now these beloved friends are departing, not to return.

As for those left behind…it is back to the Internet cafes and phone booths in the hope of talking with a friend, securing a little pocket money and – just maybe – news on when they might in turn be boarding the blue bus to Mae Sot.
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Junta bans crossing Thai-Burma border at night

 
by Pho Zaw
Thursday, 30 July 2009 11:59

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – The Burmese military junta has imposed restrictions on crossing the border into Thailand at night in villages of Kawh Thaung Township, Burma’s southern most town bordering Thailand’s Ranong.

The Kawh Thaung District Chairman has issued an order restricting crossing the border into Thailand from the Phohtot, Mardam, Kha Mauk Gyi and Aye Chan Thar villages after 6 p.m. (local time). This is part of an operation to check drugs and human trafficking.

The new order also states that people crossing the border to Ranong during day time, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. are required to procure recommendations from the local authorities.

Most locals residing in the area usually cross over the Pashan River and enter Thailand’s Ranonng town for trading as well as for other daily business purposes.

The order on crossing the border at night comes after Thai authorities on July 25 caught a motorcycle with a Burmese registration number in Ranong town.

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Six more brands of traditional medicine banned

 
by Pho Zaw
Thursday, 30 July 2009 19:58

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - With six more brands of traditional medicines declared unfit for use by the Ministry of Health, the number of banned traditional medicines have risen to 22 in Burma.

The state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper on Thursday declared six types of traditional medicines unfit for use since these have not been registered.

The medicines have reportedly been produced in Shan State’s capital Taunggyi, Southern Shan State’s Pintaya town, Innlay Lake, Rangoon’s North Dagon Myothit, and Rangoon’s South Okklapah Townships.

The newspaper quoted the Director of the Department of Traditional Medicine as saying that these brands have been declared unfit for use as “they have not registered” with the department.

Earlier in May, the Department of Traditional Medicine declared 16 brands unfit to be used as they failed to register with the department.

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Leaflets exhorting war against junta distributed

 
by Mizzima News
Thursday, 30 July 2009 22:17

Rangoon (Mizzima) - Activists on Thursday evening distributed leaflets in Rangoon’s Tharmwe Township urging the people to wage war against the military junta if the verdict on Friday finds opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi guilty and sentences her to a prison term, eyewitnesses said.

The letters, signed by the ‘Committee leading peoples’ movement to destroy military rule and to restore democracy,’ says that “As Aung San Suu Kyi will be sentenced to a prison term on July 31, we urge everybody to take up the war in their respective capacities.”

Though it is still not clear who distributed the pamphlets, eyewitnesses said police later cleared about 20 that were distributed.

The distribution of the leaflets came despite authorities maintaining tight security in and around Rangoon to prevent any form of movement prior to the day the Insein prison court is to pronounce a verdict on Aung San Suu Kyi.
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Predicting Suu Kyi’s trial is “contempt of court”: Junta’s mouthpiece

 
by Mungpi
Wednesday, 29 July 2009 20:19

New Delhi (Mizzima) – With speculation rife that the court will pronounce pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi “guilty”, Burma’s state-run newspaper on Wednesday warned against predicting the outcome saying it amounts to ‘contempt of court’.

A commentary in the New Light of Myanmar, the junta’s mouthpiece, on Wednesday justified the trial against pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, her two live-in party mates and John William Yettaw, the American man, who swam across a lake and sneaked into Aung San Suu Kyi’s home, saying they have violated the law.

The newspaper while justifying the charges and trial said, “Everyone who breaches the law shall face a lawsuit and obey the court decision.”

On Tuesday, the court heard final arguments by the defence attorneys, formally ending the over two-month long trial. Now the court’s verdict is awaited on Friday.

Nyan Win, one of the defence lawyers, told Mizzima on Tuesday that legally the trial has proved Aung San Suu Kyi’s innocence and there is not sufficient ground to find her guilty. But he refused to comment on the possible outcome of the trial.

But many observers including senior leaders of the National League for Democracy, Win Tin, said the court will find her “guilty” and sentence her to a prison term.

However, the newspaper on Wednesday warned against such comments saying, “biased writings about the trial in progress, writings about which side will win or lose in that trial, predicted writings about the possibility of the defendant’s conviction and writings about tendency to give instructions to the judgment of the judge” amounts to contempt of court.

But Win Tin said the trial itself is unfair and there are no grounds to charge the pro-democracy leader as it is not her fault in a stranger forcing his way into her house, as she had not invited him.

He said the court is not acting independently in filing a lawsuit against the Burmese Nobel Peace Laureate and even in the trial, stating instances of the court dismissing two out of the four defence witnesses while allowing several prosecution witnesses.

He said even in the last stage of the trial – submission of final arguments by lawyers of both sides – the court has shown partiality towards the prosecution by setting a two-day gap after the defence had submitted their arguments.

“Daw Suu had told her lawyer that she was not happy with the two-day gap between the defence and prosecution’s submission of their final arguments,” Win Tin said.

The trial, which began on May 18, has attracted the attention of human rights activists, politicians, world leaders and celebrities calling for her immediate release along with other political prisoners in Burma.

The commentary on Wednesday also attacked such calls saying calling for Aung San Suu Kyi’s release while she is facing a court trial amounts to contempt of court.

Despite the newspaper’s claim that Aung San Suu Kyi would be released if she is found not guilty, Win Tin said it is obvious that the junta is all set to continue detaining her.

“It seems to me that the junta is all set to detain her in anyway. But it may possibly buy-time in doing so if the pressures mount,” Win Tin said.

He added that with the kind of international as well as internal pressure mounting over the trial, the Insein prison court might not pass a strong verdict on Aung San Suu Kyi.

“But it is likely that the prosecution will go to a higher court and appeal and then they will sentence her,” he added.

According to him, it is unlikely that the Insein prison court will sentence her heavily at the moment to ease the mounting pressure, but that does not mean Aung San Suu Kyi will be acquitted.

“In anyway, they will detain her,” he added.

He also said, Wednesday’s commentary in the New Light of Myanmar might be a warning that the junta intends to crackdown on opposition figures, who are commenting on the trial and speculating on the junta’s possible plans.
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Army Directorate restricts entry of Chinese travellers

 
by Myo Gyi
Wednesday, 29 July 2009 20:11

Ruili (Mizzima) – As of now Chinese travellers wanting to visit Burma through the border entry points must get prior approval of the Chief of Staff (Army) Office.

The new rule has come into effect from July 16 for Chinese travellers to Burma.

“It is mandatory from now on for Chinese tourists to send the advisory letter to the Chief of Staff (Army) Office before entering Burma. Their tour guide must escort them to Lashio first. If the persons in the list do not match with the persons at the exit point and someone is missing, the guide will be responsible for the missing person(s) and he or she will be interrogated. The guide must take full responsibility for all his guests,” a person close to Chinese traders told Mizzima.

An official of the Mya Padamya Travel Agency in Muse and a resident from Jie Gong, which is near the Sino-Burma border gate, confirmed the new immigration rules.

Chinese tourists have to first apply for approval from the CS (Army) office at Naypyitaw through the Immigration Department on the Sino-Burma border. They can enter Burma only after getting approval from the CS (Army) Office. Previously they could enter Burma easily with the help of travel agencies.

The restriction on visits by Chinese travellers with tour visas is because of visits by the tourists to restricted areas, the person close to Chinese traders said.

“Earlier, they visited Mandalay with ordinary travel permits. Then they visited restricted areas such as Pha Kant and the gold mines. Now the government has restricted their movement inside Burma,” he said.

Eyewitnesses on the border, however, said Chinese jade traders are still entering Burma as they did earlier.

Those who wish to visit Burma for other purposes need invitation letters from their concerned companies and departments.

“If they receive invitation letters from concerned departments for specific purposes such as visiting mining sites, exploratory visits, checking plots owned by their company, economic seminars, then they can get entry permits as either individuals or as part of a package tour. Such visitors must apply for visa at the Burmese embassies. As for border visits, these formalities are not needed. Tourism companies from both countries can arrange it themselves,” he added.

Moreover, illegal import of Chinese goods has been banned since early this month.

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Prices shoot up, onion to be imported

 
by Ni Moe Myint
Wednesday, 29 July 2009 18:33

Rangoon (Mizzima) – Prices of onions have doubled in a month and touched the highest point after 2006.

The price of high quality onions, usually consumed by hotels, rose from Kyat 650 to 1,300 (approximately USD 1) last month while the price of the ordinary variety rose from Kyat 300 per viss (1.65 kg) to Kyat 800.

In May and June this year, over 50,000 viss of onions were supplied to the commodity exchange in Rangoon but it came down to over 30,000 viss in July, according to statistics from the Myanmar Farm Produce Marketing Enterprise.

The Ministry of Commerce and Trade is now toying with the idea of importing onions from India and China.

“In previous years, we exported our surplus to them, but this year we have to import from them,” a senior official from Commerce and Trade Ministry said.

Following severe shortage in 2006, onion prices shot up to Kyat 2,000 per viss. Now onion growing acreage has declined and because of export to Thailand and low buffer stock, the supply of onions has dwindled in the market again.

A commodity exchange official in Bayintnaung said that onion farmers lost a lot in 2007 and 2008.

But the Ministry of Commerce and Trade, Myanmar Onion Garlic Kitchen Garden Producers’ and Exporters’ Association, said, ‘onion buffer stock operators may lose’ and ‘onion price will fall soon’.

“I have reduced my onion consumption while preparing a meal”, a housewife from Tamwe Township said.

It is estimated that the consumption of onion in Burma is over five million viss per month and in Rangoon alone, the consumption is over 1 million viss per month.

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Junta faces mounting pressure as Aung San Suu Kyi awaits fate

 
by Larry Jagan
Wednesday, 29 July 2009 15:46

Bangkok (Mizzima) - The special court in the notorious Insein prison will pronounce the verdict on the trial of Burma’s democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Friday as international pressure on the junta mounts to release her.

On Monday night in the Irish capital of Dublin, Bono lead singer of the famous British rock band U2, announced that Aung San Suu Kyi had been awarded Amnesty International's most prestigious honour – she had been made the organization’s “Ambassador of Conscience” for 2009.

“As powerful a voice and as strong a leader in these times, as Dr. King and Nelson Mandela were in theirs... is Aung San Suu Ky,” he told some 80,000 cheering fans, as the band played 'Walk On' -- a track written especially for Aung San Suu Kyi in 2001. Every night during the rest of the group’s current on the 360 tour, U2 plans to highlight her plight during their performances and play 'Walk On'.

U2 has been a long-time campaigner on Aung San Suu Kyi’s behalf. Their lead singer, Bono has been associated with many human rights causes in the past, and the group was previously awarded the title, which was introduced by Amnesty six years ago. Past winners of the award include Vaclav Havel (former Czech president and political prisoner), Nelson Mandela (former South African leader and political prisoner) and the former Irish president and head of the UN’s human rights body, Mary Robinson.

It was inspired by a poem written for Amnesty International by the Nobel Laureate for Literature Seamus Heaney, the award aims to promote the organisation through the life, work and example of its 'Ambassadors'.

Amnesty International’s award and U2’s renewed campaign comes at time when the pro-democracy icon and Nobel Peace Laureate faces a further term in detention. She has been charged with flouting the conditions of her house arrest, when she gave food and shelter to an uninvited and unwanted visitor, an American Vietnam war veteran, John William Yettaw who swam across the lake behind her residence to get entry to her compound.

While the trial has been anything but free, Amnesty insists the real issue is she should never have been arrested in the first place – not have ever been in detention. “It is not a question of whether the proceedings are fair or not, she should never have gone on trial in the first place – it’s a form of political and legal theatre,” Amnesty’s Bangkok-based Burma researcher, Benjamin Zawacki said in an interview with Mizzima. “As a prisoner of conscience she should be released immediately.”

Amnesty International’s campaign for the immediate release of Aung San Suu Kyi has been endorsed by hundreds of the world’s political leaders, human rights advocates, writers and entertainment personalities. One of those who have joined the campaign is the former UN human rights rapporteur for Burma, Professor Paulo Pinheiro. “These current charges are a complete and crude fabrication, a pretext to keep Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in detention for as long as possible,” he recently told Mizzima.

Suu Kyi has spent more than 13 years of the past 20 years under house arrest. Her latest detention began in May 2003, after she and her supporters were attacked by pro-junta thugs while travelling in central Burma. She was first arrested in July 1989 and spent six years under house until she was released in 1995.

For the past five years she has been in virtual solitary confinement, being allowed only very occasional visits by her doctor and lawyer. The UN’s special envoy, Ibrahim Gambari has been able to see her six times in the past few years, but the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was not permitted to see her during his two-day visit to the country earlier this month.

“It is appropriate that she should be given this award [Amnesty’s Ambassador of Conscience] almost 20 years since she began her long fight for human rights in Myanmar,” said Benjamin Zawacki. “Twenty years on and still in detention, she remains a beacon of hope for all Burmese people and the world as a whole,” he added.

As Bono poignantly pointed out as he accepted the award on Aung San Suu Kyi’s behalf earlier this week: “She has been under house arrest in her native Burma for most of the last 20 years.

Her crime is that if she was to participate in elections she would win.”

Within a matter of few days now, Aung San Suu Kyi will know her fate. "We are confident that we will win the case if things go according to the law,” her defence lawyer Nyan Win told reporters outside the court on Tuesday.

But of course in Burma the courts are not free of government interference, and it will certainly be political considerations which determine her future.

However few people – inside Burma and abroad -- believe there will any other verdict than guilty. “The trial has been entirely scripted and the end already decided before-hand,” the British Ambassador in Rangoon, Mark Canning told Mizzima after a rare occasion when he was allowed to attend the court hearing. Public sentiment echoes that of the diplomats.

“No one is in any doubt about the outcome,” said Moe Moe, a taxi driver in the country’s main commercial city. “Those men in green in Naypitdaw [the new capital some 400 kilometres north of Rangoon] know she is the peoples’ hero and the real leader of this country,” he added.

While international pressure is set to mount if she is found guilty, it is unlikely to have any impact on the top generals. “They have completely ignored all international concerns – and gone on with their devastating, shattering repression of all dissent – with extremely heavy sentences being handed down for the crimes of democratic protest,” said Mr Pinheiro.

Nevertheless Aung San Suu Kyi remains Burma’s beacon of hope for the future. And the international campaign supporting her and the democratic cause in Burma will continue to remind the junta, that while they may lock her up, try to silence her and prevent her from seeing visitors, the Burmese people and the world as a whole will not forget her and her heroic efforts on behalf of Burma’s fight for democracy and human rights. We are proud to announce … that Amnesty International has chosen Aung San Suu Kyi as the recipient of their Ambassador of Conscience Award 2009. Thank God for Amnesty International,” said Bono. “May God keep Aung Sang Suu Kyi safe.”

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Registration extended to September 30 for migrants in fishery

 
by Usa Pichai
Wednesday, 29 July 2009 15:58

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - The government of Thailand has extend the registration of migrant workers only for the fishery industry, even as workers are worried that the nationality verification process would mean problems for them in Thailand.

Phumin Leethiraprasert, Deputy Spokesperson, Government House of Thailand said in a press conference on Tuesday that the Thai cabinet has agreed to extend the registration period for migrant workers in the fishery industry from the end of July to September 30.

“The number of currently registered migrant workers in the fishery industry is the lowest because many more are on fishing boats that could not return to shore to register on time,” he said.

The statistics of registered workers with the Ministry of Labour is 848,328 (1st – 26th July, 2009). Registration for other sectors apart from the fishery will be concluded on the 30 July. The number of total migrants from neighbouring countries in Thailand is about 2 million.

On Monday, Rak Thai Foundation organized a seminar in Bangkok to discuss the recent migrant workers registration by the Thai government.

Promboon Panichpak, General Secretary of Rak Thai Foundation said that Thai government should extend the registration period because many workers cannot meet the deadline of July end.

“In addition, the authorities did not open registration for followers [worker’s family members], particularly migrant children, which is expected to be more than 100,000 in Thailand. These children are in the high risk group being victims of human traffickers or labour abuse,” he said.

Yongyuth Chalaemwong, Director of Labour Research and Development Department, Thailand Development and Research Institute said that 800,000 migrant workers, who are currently in Thailand provide economically benefit cost of about 63, 000 million baht [1,900 million US$ ] while only 16,000 million baht [484 million US$ ] has been remitted to their families in Burma.

Recently, Thai and Burmese governments agreed to cooperate to process nationality verification for Burmese migrants in three major official border towns; Mae Sot, Thachilek and Kah Thong. Authorities will issue passport and visa.

Narirat Lilapant, an employer in Phuket province told Mizzima that the registration is confusing and covers only eight months (valid till February 2010). “It is complicated both in terms of nationality verification and migrant registration and the government may change the policy again next year.”

Noun, a Shan migrant worker in Chiang Mai province said that she just paid several thousand that she borrowed from her friend for the registration. “My employer refused to pay for me because he is not sure that I may move to work in other places.”

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Obama renews sanctions on Burma

 
by Mizzima News
Wednesday, 29 July 2009 13:49

New Delhi (mizzima) – The President of the United States Barack Obama on Tuesday renewed sanctions against military-ruled Burma, including banning of sales and import of Burmese gems into the US.

A brief White House statement on Tuesday said, President Obama has signed the bill into law, which received overwhelming support of the Congress. The law imposes a ban on all imports from Burma for the next three years.

“On July 28, 2009, the President signed into law: H.J. Res. 56, which renews import restrictions contained in the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act of 2003,” the White House statement said.

The sanctions were due to expire this week.

Obama’s renewal of sanctions against the Burmese military regime comes after the Burmese junta on Tuesday said that a verdict on the trial of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi would be pronounced on Friday.

Aung San Suu Kyi, charged for violating her detention law, could face up to five years in prison if found guilty.

The US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton last week, during regional security talks in Thailand’s resort Island of Phuket, called on the Burmese junta to release Aung San Suu Kyi saying if the regime releases her, it would help US reinvest in the impoverished country.

The Burmese Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has remained in detention for 14 of the past 20 years. On Tuesday, the special court in Insein prison said it will come up with a verdict on her on Friday.

Despite severe economic deterioration, Burma produces one of the world’s most expensive rubies.

Though countries including the US, the European Union, Australia, Canada and New Zealand have slapped sanctions on Burma's gems, some Asian nations continue to buy them.
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Electricity supply improves in Rangoon

 
by May Kyaw
Tuesday, 28 July 2009 21:21

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – There has been a substantial improvement in electricity supply in Rangoon after severe shortage for months on end.

The townships in Rangoon (Yangon) in the City Development Committee (YCDC) area are divided into four groups -- A, B, C & H. The H group gets round the clock electricity supply daily.

The A, B and C groups are getting electricity from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. continuously and they get power alternatively and equally for the rest of the day.

Hospitals, CNG filling stations, police battalions, army units, cemeteries and Township Administration Offices in H Group get round the clock electricity daily.

But industrial zones are getting power for only nine hours during the daytime but do not get power at night. Power generation is not yet adequate to provide electricity at night.

Though the availability of power has improved to a large extent in Rangoon, people living in the town used to severe power shortages for a long time are still worried.

“Yes, electricity has become regular but it has been so for just a few days. We are not sure how long it will last,” a local resident of Rangoon told Mizzima.

Another local resident said that they are getting power regularly in the afternoon and alternatively at night and getting continuous electricity from 11 p.m. till morning.

But in Syriam, in the outskirts of Rangoon, they do not get power even alternatively.

“I don’t know whether the townships in Rangoon RCDC area are getting power regularly or not. In Syriam we are not getting electricity regularly. It is available off and on. Currently there is no power here,” a local resident of Syriam said.

The availability of power improved in Rangoon because of supplies from the China owned Ruili Hydropower Station, a staff from the Rangoon City Electricity Board said.

“The power situation improved because of supply from Ruili Station. Three Natural Gas Turbines are still under repair because of leaking gas pipes,” he said.

Previously power supply for Rangoon came from three off shore gas turbines in Thaketa, Ywama and Hlawga, on shore gas turbine in Ahlone and the state owned Hydro Electric Power Station.

Now Rangoon and Mandalay are buying power from the joint venture company, Ruili No. 1 Hydro Electric Power Station jointly owned by the Chinese company and Burma’s No. 1 Electric Power Ministry.

Rangoon City Electric Power Board Secretary Lt. Col. Maung Maung Latt recently told domestic news journals that they would supply Rangoon round the clock electricity within this month.

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Legally Suu Kyi is innocent: Defence lawyer

 
by Mungpi
Tuesday, 28 July 2009 20:07

New Delhi (Mizzima) – The over two-month long trial of Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi points to her innocence, legally and the verdict to be pronounced on Friday will put to acid test the rule of law in the military-ruled country, her lawyer said on Tuesday.

Nyan Win, one of Aung San Suu Kyi’s lawyers told Mizzima after the arguments put forward by the defence on Tuesday that testimonies of the witnesses, arguments of lawyers of both the defence and the prosecution have all proved that the Burmese pro-democracy leader is innocent.

“As far as I have analysed the trial, legally there is no evidence to convict her [Aung San Suu Kyi,” said Nyan Win, adding that it would surprise him and the other members of the defence team if the verdict pronounces her guilty.

On Tuesday Nyan Win submitted his clarification on the prosecution’s arguments stating that there are no grounds to charge the Nobel Peace Laureate and the charges filed by the prosecution are not valid as the 1974 constitution is no more in effect.

Fellow party member and one of the spokesperson of the National League for Democracy, Ohn Kyaing told Mizzima earlier that he believed legally there is no ground to charge and convict the Burmese democracy icon but expressed concern that the court might not independently take a decision.

“I think the court will convict her because that’s the junta’s plan,” he said.

Like Ohn Kyaing, observers and critics believe that the junta is using the incident of John William Yettaw’s visit to Aung San Suu Kyi’s home as an excuse to charge her and sentence her to yet another prison term, in a move to keep her out of the 2010 election scenario.

But Nyan Win said, the defence team has not given up, and is willing to go to any extent in trying to bring justice to the pro-democracy leader.

“Aung San Suu Kyi has agreed with us and has given us permission to continue fighting the case legally and we plan to take the case to higher courts if the verdict pronounces her guilty,’ Nyan Win said.

Opposition activists widely believe that the military has chalked out a plan to sentence Aung San Suu Kyi before the end of July to avoid the verdict coinciding with the ensuing anniversary of the 8.8.88 uprising on August 8.

But the junta, which initially thought of sentencing Aung San Suu Kyi in a short trial, is also taking into account the possible reaction – both international and domestic - that may erupt in the wake of her being sentenced.

Win Tin, a senior leader of the NLD and veteran journalist, earlier told Mizzima that pronouncing Aung San Suu Kyi guilty and sentencing her to a prison term could provoke peoples’ anger that could lead to yet another mass movement particularly in Burma’s former capital city Rangoon.

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New report on ‘food security’ in Burma

 
by Mungpi
Tuesday, 28 July 2009 15:33

New Delhi (mizzima) – Agricultural credit should be made available in order to prevent rural indebtedness and to improve agricultural production in Burma, said Dr. Noeleen Heyzer the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economics and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP).

Dr. Heyzer, who is on a week-long visit to military-ruled Burma to launch ESCAP’s study on Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security, said in order to ensure food-security and sustainable agriculture, countries in the region including Burma should take immediate steps in enhancing the purchasing power of the poor by undertaking pro-poor public expenditure, cash for work, rural infrastructure programmes and by developing the foundations for social protection.

ESCAP, at the request of member states, in 2008 conducted a study on timely analysis and policy options on how to ensure food security and sustainable agriculture. The report was officially released in April 2009 but she is visiting Burma to release a localised version for the country.

“She [Dr. Heyzer] is launching the report in Naypyitaw today,” Mitchell Hsieh at the UNESCAP information office in Bangkok told Mizzima.

The Executive Secretary, who began her trip to Burma on Monday and will remain till Saturday, in a statement on Tuesday said, “Adequate and sustained agricultural credit is crucial to prevent rural indebtedness and improve agricultural production, livelihoods and wage employment in rural areas.”

“These measures would reduce the hardships currently experienced by farmers and help address social impacts from the current economic crisis including return migration and human trafficking,” she added.

ESCAP’s study is also a response to some of the key findings of the Economic and Social Survey 2008, which showed that investment in the agricultural sector was declining and that a lack of agricultural credit was driving up farmers’ indebtedness.

Dr. Heyzer said it is the first step in a development partnership with Burma, whose agricultural economy contributes 42 per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Products (GDP) and 70 per cent of its labour force, to discuss its agricultural economy and policy.

Dr. Sean Turnell, an Associate Professor at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, told Mizzima earlier that Burma’s rural economy is on the verge of collapse with lack of funds in its rural credit system.

Turnell said farmers particularly in the cyclone-devastated areas of the Irrawaddy delta are facing severe shortage of funds eventually threatening shortage in food production.

According to Turnell the government’s bizarre economic policies particularly on rural agriculture and fuelled by the current global economic downturn has put farmers in a tight corner with difficulties in finding credit even from local money lenders.

The ESCAP’s study suggests that the marketing of agricultural produce may be improved by removing restrictions on the movement of food including rice. Regional cooperation is needed for the development and transfer of technologies for production, post harvest and storage of food.

Dr. Heyzer said ESCAP is in a strategic position to be in a development partnership with the Burma and the “Launching the study here in Naypyitaw is the beginning of this development partnership.”

The Executive Secretary will also discuss agricultural economic policies including for rice, agricultural credit, rural infrastructure and livelihood opportunities in Burma as possible stimulus for the economy and well being of the people.

Besides meeting the Minister of Agriculture and Irrigation, Dr. Heyzer, during her trip, will also hold talks with the Burmese Prime Minister General Thein Sein, Foreign Minister Nyan Win, the Minister of Planning and Economic Development Soe Tha, and Chairman of the Civil Service Selection and Training Board Kyaw Thu.

The UNESCAP’s executive secretary is visiting the country at the invitation of Burmese Minister of Agriculture and Irrigation Htay Oo.
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Court verdict of Suu Kyi’s trial on July 31

 
Mizzima News
Tuesday, 28 July 2009 14:53

New Delhi (mizzima) - The special court in Rangoon’s Insein prison heard the final arguments and responses on Tuesday and will pronounce a verdict on Friday on the trial of detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, her lawyer said.

(Update - 2)

“Prepared for the Worse” Suu Kyi told her lawyer

Mizzima News

Tuesday, 28 July 2009 14:58


New Delhi (mizzima)– Detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Tuesday told her lawyer that she is “prepared for the worst” as the court prepares to pronounce its verdict on her trial on Friday.

The special court in Rangoon’s Insein prison heard the final arguments and responses on Tuesday and will pronounce its verdict on Friday.

But the Burmese opposition leader told her lawyer Nyan Win, “to prepare for the worst”.

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Court verdict of Suu Kyi’s trial on July 31

Mizzima News

Tuesday, 28 July 2009 14:53


New Delhi (mizzima) - The special court in Rangoon’s Insein prison heard the final arguments and responses on Tuesday and will pronounce a verdict on Friday on the trial of detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, her lawyer said.

On Tuesday the court heard the last of the concluding arguments presented by the defence team. It will pronounce its verdict on Friday.

Burma’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s trial began on May 18, after the prosecution filed a lawsuit against her for violating her detention terms by ‘harbouring’ an American, who swam across a lake and entered her house in early May.

The defence team has argued that the Burmese Nobel Peace Laureate is innocent as she had not invited the American to her home and that the blame should go to the security system that was in place in and around her house for its carelessness in not detecting the visitor.

But the prosecution argued that she has violated her detention law under the 1974 constitution, which prohibits her from having contacts or meeting anyone during her detention.

While it is still not clear what the court’s verdict will be, it is largely speculated by observers and critics that the government is using the incident as a pretext to continue detaining her.

Aung San Suu Kyi has been in some form of detention for more than 13 years of the past 19 years.
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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Burmese fishery delegation study Indian aquaculture

 
by Syed Ali Mujtaba
Tuesday, 28 July 2009 12:22

Chennai (mizzima) - As part of an ongoing exchange programme between India and Burma, a 15-member delegation from Burma’s fisheries department wrapped up an eight-day tour of India studying the remarkable aquaculture development in the country.

The Burmese delegation visited the Central Institute of Freshwater Aquaculture (CIFA) in Bhubaneswar, Orissa, and Kolleru Lake in Andhra Pradesh.

The Burmese delegation evinced keen interest in the improved variety of ‘Jayanti Rohu’ fish developed by CIFA through selective breeding techniques that gives 17 per cent higher yield per generation than normal ‘Rohu’ fish.

Than Lwin, team leader and the president of Myanmar Fish Farmers Association during the visit to CIFA said the objective of his delegation’s visit is to learn the best carp (Jayanti) technology available in India to increase fish production in Burma.

He said it would boost their effort to increase both the quality and quantity of fish products without destabilizing the environment.

He expressed happiness seeing CIFA's technology to help boost fish production. CIFA is the second highest aquaculture producer in the world, next to China.

Mr Hla Win, a retired Deputy Director General of Myanmar Department of Fisheries, who is presently the adviser of the Myanmar Fisheries Federation, during the visit, underlined the importance of using superior technologies.

He said, with Burma having invaluable and appreciable fishery resources with diversity in marine and freshwater fish species, it could be effectively exploited with superior technology for raising production capacity.

According to reports, the Burmese delegation later visited a number of aquaculture farms and hatcheries in Kolleru Lake area in Andhra Pradesh, the carp pocket of India.

They had a series of interactions with progressive fish farmers, entrepreneurs and hatchery owners in the area.

The Burmese delegation studied the whole process of fish production and marketing chain in Kolleru, operating through forward linkages of improved post-harvest services like packaging, processing, storage, transport, marketing and backward linkages of providing inputs like seeds, fertilizers, chemicals, feed and aquaculture machineries.

Fish farming in Kolleru Lake area has scripted the success story of aquaculture in the region.

Besides, the Burmese delegation also had some useful interaction with the members of trade bodies to gain an understanding of the whole production and marketing process.

The 15-member Burmese delegation included 11 members from the Myanmar Fish Farmers Association, two members each from Myanmar Fisheries Federation and Aquaculture Division of Myanmar Fisheries Department.

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Burma to replace old currency notes

 
by Mizzima News
Tuesday, 28 July 2009 18:34

Chiang Mai (mizzima) – The Rangoon branch of Burma’s central bank has announced that old and worn-out banknotes can be exchanged for new ones at the Myanmar Economic Bank.

The currency notes which meets “the terms and conditions” can be exchanged at the Myanmar Central Bank’s branch office on Bo Suanpek Street in downtown Rangoon and at the branch offices of the Myanmar Economic Bank, the notice said.

However, the notice, which states that banknotes of Kyat 10 to Kyat 200 can be exchanged at the stated banks from August 3, does not specify the terms and conditions to be adhered to.

According to a report carried on Tuesday’s New Light of Myanmar newspaper, the junta’s mouthpiece, said the central bank is also providing small change to All Bus Lines Supervisory Committee and Market Departments of the municipal authorities of Nay Pyi Taw, Rangoon and Mandalay on a weekly basis.

Due to a shortage of banknotes, vendors in Burma have long practiced giving sweets and cigarettes instead of returning change to customers. Besides people using the old and worn-out banknotes are believed to have suffered from health problems.

In early June, Myanmar Central Bank and Rangoon’s Municipal committee run markets have jointly provided small change to 168 markets in the municipal owned areas and 11 tax-free markets on a weekly basis, according to reports by local weekly journals.
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Number of A(H1N1) infected goes up to seven in Burma

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by Mizzima News
Tuesday, 28 July 2009 18:51

Chiang Mai (mizzima) - With the detection of another person infected with the A(H1N1) virus, the number of infected people has risen to seven in Burma.

The state-run newspaper, New Light of Myanmar, on Tuesday reported that the last man to be detected with the virus was 25 years of age, who returned from Thailand on July 16.

The newspaper said, the man was transferred to Wei Bagi hospital and strict surveillance is being carried out on his six family members.

According to a New Light of Myanmar report on June 28, the first human infection of the type A(H1N1) virus was found in a 13-year old girl, who returned from Singapore.

The newspaper also reported that the 244 passengers, who came along with the last person with the virus infection on a TG-305 flight, were kept under surveillance by the authorities.

Though the newspaper said, of the total of seven patients, four have been discharged from hospital after recovering from the disease it did not mention anything about the passengers who were on board with the infected people.

The other three patients are reportedly under treatment by specialist doctors.

Though the government said, it has maintained surveillance over check-points at international airports as well as at border gates, with several Burmese crossing the borders illegally, critics have cast doubts over the government’s efforts to check the disease.
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USDA chief to visit Japan

 
by Nem Davies
Tuesday, 28 July 2009 19:01

New Delhi (Mizzima) – The Secretary General of the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), a pro-junta civilian group, is all set to visit Japan for a trip meant to lobby, sources told Mizzima.

Htay Oo, the USDA chief, is awaiting approval from the host country on his five-day proposed visit to Japan in the second week of August, sources said.

The Minister for Agriculture and Irrigation, Lt-Gen Htay Oo is known as U Htay Oo and heads the USDA, of which Burma’s military supremo Snr. Gen Than Shwe is a patron.

“When I asked the person in-charge of Myanmar affairs, I was told that the trip has not yet been decided,” an official at the Japanese Foreign Ministry told Mizzima on Tuesday.

The timing of the trip coincides with the upcoming elections in Japan, in which the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) is expected to win over the current ruling coalition party, Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and is expected to form the government.

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Burma requests Thai PM to postpone visit

 
by Mizzima News
Tuesday, 28 July 2009 19:11

New Delhi (Mizzima) - The military junta has requested Thailand's Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to postpone his trip to Burma by two to three weeks due to internal politics and the weather, the Bangkok Post reported.

Abhisit Vejjajiva's official visit to Burma was earlier scheduled for Friday, July 31. However, the Burmese ambassador to Thailand requested for a postponement citing internal politics and the weather, the report quoted the PM's deputy secretary-general Panithan Watthanayakorn as saying.
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Final hearing of Suu Kyi’s trial to continue on Tuesday

 
by Mungpi
Monday, 27 July 2009 20:06

New Delhi (mizzima) – The special court in Rangoon’s Insein prison on Monday heard the concluding arguments of the prosecution lawyer in the trial of detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi but fixed Tuesday for the defence to respond to the prosecution’s charges, her lawyer said.

Nyan Win, a member of Aung San Suu Kyi’s legal team, said, “The court has fixed yet another session on Tuesday for the defence to argue on the prosecution’s claims.”

The court session, which began at 10 a.m. (local time), on Monday heard the final arguments from lawyers of Aung San Suu Kyi’s two live-in party mates - Khin Khin Win and Win Ma Ma – John William Yettaw and the prosecution lawyer.

In his submission, the prosecution lawyer said, Aung San Suu Kyi has violated her detention law under the 1974 constitution by allowing an American into her house. He also tried to prove his point by referring to several documents related to the constitution, Nyan Win said.

The court has fixed Tuesday for the defence counsels to respond and “I think Yettaw’s lawyer will also submit clarifications,” Nyan Win said.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s lawyers on Friday made their concluding arguments stating that she cannot be charged under the 1974 constitution as it is no more in effect.

The trial of the Burmese democracy icon, which began on May 18, is in the final stages and a verdict is expected two to three weeks after the conclusion of the final arguments, Nyan Win said.

Even as critics view the trial as a pretext by the ruling junta to continue detaining the Burmese pro-democracy leader, many are speculating that the court is likely to convict her. She could face up to five years in prison if convicted.



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Ban hits Sino-Burmese border trade

 
by Myo Gyi
Monday, 27 July 2009 17:48

Ruili (Mizzima) – Sino-Burmese border trade is taking a beating and passenger bus services on the second biggest border trade zone, Bamo-Lweje, have dwindled to a quarter because of a ban on the import of Chinese goods.

The Burmese military junta banned import of Chinese goods from Jiang Peng, opposite Lweje, this month following which the volume of traffic fell considerably. Two passenger bus companies, Sein Lone Taung Dan and Shwe Hlegar plied over 70 buses. Now only 20 buses are plying on this route.

“Many buses have stopped plying. Of 70 to 80 buses, only 20 ply on this route due to reasons which are purely economic,” a bus driver from ‘Shwe Hlegar’ said.

The service is provided by Toyota Hilux pickup trucks and highway buses. Most of the cars are Hilux.

“We could not ply buses on this route for over a week. Our bus has been run on a trial basis for 1 to 2 days,” the wife of a driver of a highway passenger bus said.

Import of Chinese goods was banned after a complaint was lodged with Naypyitaw (capital) against government employees manning the checkpoints on the border trade route for extorting money from bus owners and traders.

“The Director of Na Ka Tha (Border Trade Authority) lodged a complaint against his subordinates to Naypyitaw at the beginning of this month. The higher authorities came and monitored the checkpoints and departmental business operations. It is now difficult for traders to cross the checkpoints,” a trader from Lwe Je said.

“They did not ban plying of buses on this route but prohibited import of Chinese goods. Passenger buses are still operating on this route but the numbers have fallen. This fresh ban has hit medium and small traders and the government employees,” he said.

“We cannot get a lot of goods from our customers now. Now we can get only a small amount of original (officially) imported goods from them. The goods cannot be imported into Burma because of the government staff. The situation has changed drastically. The number of traders travelling on this route has plummeted. We can barely recover fuel costs from our transport business, which is about Kyat 40,000 to 60,000 per trip,” he said.

After the Director of Border Trade Authority at Lwe Je complained against his subordinate staff members, the authorities upped and banned the import of Chinese goods. But no action was taken action against the staff members. Some were reportedly transferred to other places.

“We haven’t yet heard of any arrest. But we are having difficulty in carrying contraband goods because of strict monitoring. As such many staff members from Lwe Je office are frustrated,” a trader from Lwe Je said.

Observers living on the Sino-Burmese border said that it was strange to see import of Chinese goods being banned. Extortion and demands for protection money on these border trade routes such as Bamo-Lwe Je and Bamo-Laiza by government staff manning these checkpoints are not new and have existed for a long time.

The banned on imports of Chinese goods was made following a visit by Vice-Senior Gen. Maung Aye to the 105-mile Sino-Burmese border trade zone in early July.



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Concluding arguments of Suu Kyi's trial continue

 
by Mungpi
Monday, 27 July 2009 14:50

New Delhi (mizzima)- The special court in Rangoon’s notorious Insein prison on Monday resumed hearing of the concluding arguments on the trial of detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, after the court ran out of time on Friday.

The closing arguments on Monday began at about 10 a.m. (local time). Several foreign diplomats including from the United Kingdom and the United States were allowed into the court to hear the final arguments of the trial, which began on May 18.

Lawyers of Aung San Suu Kyi’s two live-in party mates – Khin Khin Win and Win Ma Ma – and John William Yettaw, the American man, who swam across a lake and entered Aung San Suu Kyi’s house uninvited and stayed for two days in early May, along with prosecution lawyers on Monday presented their final argument.

The final arguments for Aung San Suu Kyi were presented by her lawyers on Friday.

Lawyers of Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been charged for flouting her detention law, said the court is unlikely to pronounce a verdict on Monday. It might possibly take two to three weeks, they added.

Though critics and observers have dismissed the case as a trumped-up one by the military rulers of Burma and feel it is being used as a pretext to continue detaining her, most believe she would be convicted by the court, which merely executes commands by the military.

On Sunday, the junta, in its mouthpiece newspaper, the New Light of Myanmar, rejected criticism against its proposed elections in 2010 and the trial of Burmese Nobel Peace Laureate.

A commentary run in the newspaper, which often reflects the government’s views, accused US secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton of interfering in the affairs of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Burma is a member, for influencing members to press for more democratic reforms in military-ruled country.

Foreign Ministers attending the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) last week told Burma that unless political prisoners including Aung San Suu Kyi are released, the 2010 election would lack credibility.

Clinton in particular said if the junta releases Aung San Suu Kyi, US would like to expand its relationship with the country including opening up investment opportunities.

But the commentary of the junta’s mouthpiece said, “Demanding the release of Daw Suu Kyi means showing reckless disregard for the law.”

“It amounts to interfering in the affairs of the ASEAN,” said the commentary, adding “If ASEAN complies with the instruction of U.S. Secretary of State, ASEAN will become the follower of United States.”

“The court will hand down a reasonable term to her if she is found guilty, and it will release her if she is found not guilty,” the paper added.

Ohn Kyaing, one of the spokespersons for Aung San Suu Kyi’s party – National League for Democracy, on Monday said, “Looking at the tone of the newspaper’s report, I personally think the junta is determined to sentence Aung San Suu Kyi.”

But he said, “If the junta sentences her, it will greatly enrage the people of Burma as she is the only ray of hope for change.”

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Clinton’s myopia on Burma

 
by Enzo Reale
Monday, 27 July 2009 12:24

Did you think they had a "policy"? Think again.

Since her first trip to Asia, last February, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been busy advertising the "new approach" to the region promoted by the Obama administration. Especially, regarding Burma, she announced a "policy review" in the months to come: "Clearly, sanctions haven't worked", she said, adding that engagement by the neighbouring countries also failed to bring change to the isolated nation.

Officially the "policy review" is still on and, apart from some vague statements from Clinton's aides, nobody at the moment can spell out its contents and its real purpose. But last week, at a press conference on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit in Phuket, Secretary of State came up with quite a surprising proposal to Burmese rulers: "If she [Suu Kyi] were released, that would open up opportunities, at least for my country, to expand our relationship with Burma, including investments in Burma. But it is up to the Burmese leadership", Clinton said. In other words: ‘if you give me Aung San Suu Kyi, I'll give you money’. Unfortunately this isn't a policy, it's a gamble.

The attempt to buy Aung San Suu Kyi's freedom by the promise of new investments shows an amount of improvisation and naivety that should worry activists for democracy inside and outside Burma and, in general, all those who have always looked at U.S. as a force for democratic change in authoritarian countries. Instead of working to free Burma and its citizens, Mrs. Clinton chooses to concentrate U.S. efforts in pursuing a symbolic, popular and limited goal, the liberation of the Nobel Prize laureate. "What about reconciliation dialogue, the election in 2010 and ethnic issues? Don’t they know that they would detain her again?" veteran journalist and opposition leader Win Tin observed, when asked about Mrs. Clinton's remarks. But we could add: what about the other 2000 political prisoners? What about internally displaced people? What about forced and child labour? What about recruitment of children in the Army? What about refugees? What about the climate of intimidation and fear? What about Burma?

The Secretary of State's words are misconceived for many reasons. They can be interpreted as if the reality of misery and oppression of 55 million people could be reduced to the fate of a single, though important, democratic icon. If she could speak, I am sure Aung Sang Suu Kyi would reject this bargaining: she considers her freedom instrumental to the liberation of the Burmese people and not vice versa.

Moreover, Mrs. Clinton clearly underestimates the significance that the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) attach to her detention. Senior General Than Shwe and his clique have always considered political prisoners a necessary tool for the survival of the regime in the present shape. They use them to threaten the population, to debilitate the opposition, to buy time with the international community, according to circumstances. They're not going to risk their political future by simply freeing Aung San Suu Kyi as a part of an undefined cooperation agreement.

Finally, the proposal underlines the weakness (or the nonexistence) of an American strategy about Burma. After Mrs. Clinton’s remarks the generals know better than ever that the U.S. government has no idea on how to deal with them. There's no plan, just a game of courtship and rejection, of carrot and stick they’re probably enjoying. Actually, it looks like the only tangible U.S. policy under Obama is the cohabitation with authoritarian regimes, in Asia and elsewhere: “normalization” is the keyword. For a further example, take the essence of Mrs. Clinton’s speech about North Korea: in exchange for giving up its nuclear ambitions, she promised Pyongyang “full normalisation of relations, a permanent peace regime and significant energy and economic assistance in the context of full and verifiable denuclearisation”.

In the past year the Burmese government has been able to shift the focus from its chronic mismanagement of the country’s resources to economic sanctions imposed by Western countries. A fundamental help in this rough manipulation has come from anti-sanctions and pro-engagement groups, mainly outside Burma. Burmese historian Thant Myint-U, well settled in his usual equidistance between dictatorship and the democratic camp, is a champion of this “development first” narrative. In its last edition, also The Economist seems to embrace the theory that blames the critical situation in Burma on the obstinacy of Western powers and on the same Aung San Suu Kyi for pursuing a policy of criticism and sanctions aimed at promoting democratic change, instead of engaging the regime with development aid and investments: “Worse, everyone from the UN down views Myanmar through the lens of democracy above all else—even development.

For a desperate country with shocking rates of disease and mortality such a priority is dubious, at best, shameful at worst”, an editorial observes. According to this school of thought, Burma’s destiny would depend in the first place on foreign countries will to abandon their isolation policy, as if the paranoid military government that has ruled the country with an iron fist for 47 years had little or nothing to do with its decay.

Of course, development and aid are essential tools in such a dramatic context. But it’s a big mistake to consider development and democracy as alternative options.

Before 1997 no Western sanctions against Burma were in place, at least not in the present form and extent. What kind of development did Burmese citizens enjoy? The sad answer is… more wealth in the strongboxes of Burma's tyrants. Today Naypyidaw is busily trading with its neighbours, mainly China, India, Thailand and Singapore: why aren’t they developing the country and improving people’s lives?

A slippery ground, isn’t it? While the debate about this subject is welcome, we should not forget that the main sanction against Burma is the military regime itself. For that reason, democracy and development are intimately connected and it’s impossible to promote any sort of real development if the national robbery managed by a ruthless and illegitimate government is going to continue. The only treatment for Burma’s illness is the end of dictatorship, not more money (Western money, again?) in the pockets of the generals.

So, Mrs. Clinton, free Burma and you will also free Aung San Suu Kyi.

Enzo Reale is a freelance journalist. He writes about South-East Asia issues for Italian online newspapers and magazines. He edits two blogs (http://1972.splinder.com and http://asiaedintorni.blogosfere.it).

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