Saturday, October 31, 2009

Burmese-American’s case transferred

by Myint Maung
Friday, 30 October 2009 22:35

New Delhi (Mizzima) – The case relating to the Burmese born American, Nyi Nyi Aung (alias) Kyaw Zaw Lwin, has been transferred to Rangoon’s Southern district court by the special court in Rangoon’s Insein prison on Friday.

Defence lawyers said, the Mingalardon Township judge, who presided over the court inside the notorious prison, on Friday announced that the trial will now be held in the Southern district court. The next hearing is on November 16.

“The judge did not give any reasons for the transfer of the case to another court. Though it is not outside the procedure to transfer the case, it also means that the case would be handled by a higher court,” said Kyi Win, one of the defence counsels.

He added that while the charges remain the same, it is also possible for the higher court to add more charges against the accused.

Currently, prosecutors – the Mingalardon Township Police – have charged Nyi Nyi Lwin of fraudulence and forgery of a Burmese national identity card. But the accused has pleaded not guilty.

Nyi Nyi Aung was arrested on September 3, when he arrived at the Rangoon international airport from Thailand. He is currently detained in Insein prison and his lawyers said he is in good health. However, family members are still unable to meet him.

Nyi Nyi Aung was a student activist, who fled to Thailand in the wake of the military crackdown on protesters during the 1988 nation-wide uprising. He later resettled in United States and was naturalised as a citizen.

The US embassy in Rangoon has reportedly provided assistance, arranged a meeting between him and an embassy official in the prison and provided lawyers to defend him.

Burmese artists shortlisted for international art prize

by Mungpi
Friday, 30 October 2009 21:55

New Delhi (Mizzima) - A Burmese refugee women’s group, Kumjing Storytellers, and a renowned detained poet, Saw Wei, have been named among the shortlisted finalists for the 2009 Freedom to Create Prize, organizers said.

The London-based Freedom to Create, an initiative that seeks to improve lives by addressing society’s ability to support and sustain creativity, since last year has begun awarding artists around the world with three categories of Prizes – Main, Youth and Imprisoned Artistes Prizes.

Alice Parson of the Freedom to Create on Friday told Mizzima, “The award is mainly to promote justice around the world and to encourage artistic freedom.”

Parson said the organisation has shortlisted the Kumjing Storytellers, a group of Burmese refugee women, who use performing arts to tell their stories of ethnic persecution in Burma, as one of the finalists for the ‘Main’ Prize.

The Kumjing Storytellers are a group of Burmese refugee women, who fled to Thailand from Burma’s Shan state. "Kumjing" - a Thai women's name meaning ‘precious jewel’ is used to represent the women, who have migrated to live and work in Thai-Burma border areas.

Known as the ‘Journey of Kumjing,’ the group tells stories of persecuted women, challenge discrimination and assert their human rights through performing arts. Using some 250 paper machédolls, the group travels across Thailand and the world to raise awareness of their plight.

Saw Wei, a detained Burmese poet, who was sentenced to two years in November 2008 for writing a Valentine’s Day poem that contains a code criticising the Burmese military junta supremo Snr Gen Than Shwe, was shortlisted for the ‘Imprisoned Artiste’ Prize.

The award, which will be announced on November 25 at a ceremony in London, will also include a cash prize for each category. There are three prize winners in the Main Prize category, who will share a prize pool of US$75,000.

The first prize of US$50,000 will be split equally between the winner of the award, and an organisation nominated by them to further the cause that their work has highlighted. The second place prize of US$15,000 will be similarly divided equally between the winner and their nominated organisation. The US$10,000 third place prize will be shared the same way.

The Youth Prize will include a cash prize of US$25,000. It will be divided into two - the winner will receive US$10,000, while the remaining US$15,000 will be given to an organisation nominated by them to further the cause their artwork has highlighted.

The third category, the ‘Imprisoned Artist’ Prize, focuses on artists who are imprisoned because of their art and the role of their work in highlighting injustice. This prize puts less emphasis on the artist’s work and more on the personal risks incurred, the message conveyed through their work and its impact.

It includes a cash prize of US$25,000 that will be directed towards securing the artist’s release, advocating on their behalf and their cause and offering support to their family.

In 2008, detained artist – comedian and actor – Zarganar, also known as Thura, was named winner of the Freedom to Create’s “Imprisoned Artiste” Prize.


Negotiations on with Somali pirates

by Kyaw Kha
Friday, 30 October 2009 21:48

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Negotiations are underway for the release of the Singapore company owned merchant vessel with a Burmese marine engineer on board being held captive by Somali pirates, sources among Burmese sailors said.

There are 21 sailors on board the ‘Pacific International Line’ (PIL) owned MV Kota Wajar. The resident representative of Burma and the Singapore Government are negotiating with intermediaries of Somali pirates in Singapore, it is learnt.

"There is no need to worry about them. The company will do everything for them and the sailors in captivity will be paid compensation,” Managing Director of Leader Marine Co. Ltd Htay Aung told Mizzima.

A staff member from the PIL office in Rangoon also said that the PIL resident representative in Rangoon left for Singapore today.

After departure from Singapore, the container ship was seized by Somali pirates on October 15 near the Bay of Aden. The pirates demanded a ransom of USD 8 million.

Similarly the South Korean company owned MV Bright Ruby, with 14 Burmese sailors onboard, was seized by pirates in September this year. They were released from captivity later.

Bay of Aden is situated between Yemen and the East African country of Somali. This is a vital sea lane connecting the eastern and western parts of the world through the Suez Canal.

Over 20,000 sea-going vessels cross this sea lane annually and the pirates earn over USD 150 million a year from piracy, observers estimated.

Eastern Burma: another Darfur?

by Mungpi
Friday, 30 October 2009 20:43

New Delhi (Mizzima) –At least 75,000 people became refugees and more than half a million were internally displaced in eastern Burma in the past year, following increased militarisation, which strongly indicates crime against humanity comparable to the situation in Darfur, said a consortium of humanitarian assistance groups.

Thailand Burma Border Consortium (TBBC), an alliance of 12 aid organizations, in a new report titled "Protracted Displacement and Militarisation in Eastern Burma" released on Thursday said, threat to human security has been mounting as Burma’s ruling junta continues militarisation in areas of ethnic minorities.

“The process of militarisation has been on in Burma for decades, and this is the continuation of the tactics of controlling the population by moving the Burmese Army into these [ethnic] areas and taking control by moving people to relocation sites,” Sally Thompson, deputy director of the TBBC told Mizzima on Friday.

Thompson said, militarisation in ethnic areas have been continuing and is likely to further increase in the run up to the junta’s elections in 2010, as the regime pressurises ethnic armed rebels to transform into the Border Guard Force (BGF).

Since 1996, the TBBC said, over 3,500 villages, including 120 communities between August 2008 and July 2009, in eastern Burma have been destroyed and forcibly relocated.

The highest rates of recent displacement were reported in northern Karen areas and southern Shan State with almost 60,000 Karen villagers hiding in the mountains of Kyaukgyi, Thandaung and Papun Townships, and a third of these civilians fleeing from artillery attacks or the threat of Burmese Army patrols during the past year, the TBBC said in a statement.

In Shan state, a similar situation prevails with nearly 20,000 civilians from 30 Shan villages forcibly relocated by the Burmese Army in retaliation against Shan State Army-South (SSA-S), an ethnic Shan armed rebel group, in operations in Laikha, Mong Kung and Keh Si Townships.

In late August, conflict between Burmese Army troops and Kokang rebels in Northern Shan State forced over 30,000 Burmese refugees to flee to China.

Thompson said in July, a joint military campaign launched by the Burmese Army and its ally the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), against the Karen National Union (KNU), an ethnic Karen armed group, forced up to 4,000 people to flee to Thailand.

“We expect to see this pattern continuing in the ethnic and border areas as we approach the [2010] elections,” Thompson said.

The TBBC, which has been helping Burmese refugees since 1984, is currently providing food and shelter to more than 150,000 Burmese refugees living in nine camps along the Thai-Burma border.

With increasing conflicts in Burma and the arrival of more refugees, Thompson said these refugees will have no place to return until Burma has national reconciliation through dialogue.

Thompson added that the junta’s planned elections is unlikely to bring stability as it will have no credibility without the release of political prisoners including Aung San Suu Kyi and allow their participation.

But until there is any significant political change that can ensure the return of refugees and internally displaced people, the international community, particularly neighbouring Thailand should continue providing assistance including shelter and food.

The TBBC, which currently is supported by 15 donor countries, also urged the international community to increase their support as with the number of refugees arriving on the Thai-Burma border, and increasing prices, it is facing difficulties in consistently supporting the refugees.

Chinese energy delegation in town

by Moe Thu
Friday, 30 October 2009 11:56

Rangoon (Mizzima) - A Chinese delegation arrived in Rangoon yesterday to discuss the gas pipeline project, which is to link western Burma’s coastal area to China’s Yunnan province and the recent spate of protests against it, said a source in the energy sector.

The China National Petroleum Corporation’s delegation arrived former capital to talk about technical issues with Burmese authorities over the controversial project, which began in mid-September amid criticism by right groups, the source said.

The 980-kilometre pipeline is part of a 30-year natural gas purchase and sale deal CNPC sealed last December with a consortium of the Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise, South Korea’s Daewoo International, ONGC Videsh Limited and Gail (India) Limited.

The strategically important pipeline, which will transmit oil and natural gas from Africa and the Middle East, will shorten the transportation distance, and will pass through Arakan (Rakhine) State, Magwe division, Mandalay division and Yunnan in China. Currently it is transported by tankers through the Malacca strait to China.

The consortium found commercially viable gas deposits in A-1 and A-3 offshore blocks in Burma, which is also known as the Shwe gas project.

In response to the pipeline project, which is having a negative impact on the people – such as forced relocation – along the areas the pipeline is to be built, there have been vehement protests in India, Thailand, the United Kingdom and South Korea.

Shwe Gas campaigners said the project will generate about $ 29 billion over three decades for the Burmese junta.


Nationality verification of Burmese migrants: A meaningful debate

by Andy Hall
Friday, 30 October 2009 14:54

The Thai Government recently reiterated its policy to formalise the status of around two million migrants from Burma working here - nationality verification (NV).

NV is apparently required because these migrants left Burma without permission and then entered Thailand “illegally.” What with an abundance of brokers assisting them, and the fact wide swathes of the Thai economy remains reliant on them, it’s easy to get in at a cost. Once registered to work “legally” in the most dangerous jobs Thailand has to offer, migrant’s status remains “illegal, pending deportation.” Refused work accident compensation, rights to ride motor cycles and travel outside a province of registration; migrants live in a grey hole where insecurity and exploitation thrives.

So something apparently needed to be done to solve this terribly unjust situation. NV means migrants become both “Burmese” and “legal” at the same time. They also receive a “temporary” passport, which magically entitles them to benefits in Thailand they were previously denied.

Since NV involves working with the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), difficulties were always going to arise. While Cambodia and Laos sent diplomats to complete NV for their workers in Thailand, Burma insisted its workers return home to complete the process. NV for Burmese workers ground to a halt - only to re-awaken last year when Thailand allowed the process to be completed on Burmese soil.

Many observers, including political groups engaged in an almost five decades long political struggle against the “junta’s dictatorial rule”, sensed NV was not a magic “solution” to Thailand’s irregular migration challenges. Instead, it seemed a tad fishy. So is NV a win-win process? If not, the lives of millions of migrants are potentially at stake.

Migrants are currently sending their biographical information to the SPDC, and then travelling to Burma to complete NV. Since August, six NV centres have become fully operational on both sides of three main Burma/Thailand border crossings. Two more centers are planned. Once the process is complete, migrants return with “temporary” passports and two-year visas.

However for many, NV remains migrant’s worst nightmare and should not, at all costs, even be attempted.

Firstly, NV is potentially dangerous, especially for migrants from the plethora of ethnic groups in Burma whose communities are still at war with the junta. They are being asked to deal directly with the SPDC, which for many is a genuinely scary prospect that brings fear of persecution and imprisonment for themselves and their families.

Secondly, NV is complex and non transparent. Thailand has mounted no public awareness campaigns. Officials are simply telling migrants to complete NV before 28 February 2010 or be deported. A Burmese government leaflet is the only official information released – claiming the process is “risk free, cheap and friendly.” The reality is few migrants believe the SPDC.

Thirdly, NV is costly. The current price is 3,000 to 10, 000 baht. Brokers remain unregulated and are fleecing migrants, given someone needs to guide them through the 13-step process. The costs seem inappropriate given a previous migrant registration process just ended and migrant incomes are so low.

Not surprisingly, with such a secretive process, there has been talk of land confiscations for families of migrants attempting NV; 60 migrants from Bangkok arrested on arrival in Myawaddy and sent to Insein Prison; widespread extortion by SPDC officials; even an increased trend of migrants committing suicide to avoid the process, at least until a future life. Few can ascertain whether these “rumours” are true, but the RTG and SPDC denied them outright when they met the media in Bangkok recently.

Migrants have many serious questions about NV, but receive few answers. How is nationality verified? How long does it take? Why are Muslims excluded? What are the actual benefits? Why does Burma refuse to allow NV to take place in Thailand? Is NV related to the 2010 Burmese elections? No official answers. So migrants simply dismiss statements that deny the risks.

The numbers of migrants completing NV is still low - only around 2,000 of an eligible 1 million have been issued temporary passports. But for advocates of migrant rights, should we accept NV as a beneficial reality and move to discuss how it can be undertaken most effectively and safely? What are the alternatives?

Since the early 1990s, Thailand has implemented a piece-meal migrant registration policy that has neither protected migrant rights nor effectively managed migration flows. The standard procedure has been issuing yearly cabinet resolutions to allow registration of migrants for 30 days or occasionally granting an amnesty to all “aliens who sneaked into the country.” Costs are 3,800 baht for a work permit and health insurance. Often no change of employer is allowed. Due to lack of public awareness, its not rare for officials to learn about registration policies after they are being implemented, whilst migrant’s employers seem to miss the processes altogether before they end for another year.

So on balance, NV appears a more viable system for managing irregular migration in Thailand than anything from the past. It can at least potentially formalise entry and exit from the country in a way that could reduce exploitation, smuggling and even perhaps trafficking. But if a migrant’s home country is Burma, does something change?

Of course, the root cause of the “migrants from Burma” problem is Burma itself. But until that problem can be solved, Thailand cannot deny its responsibility to regulate migrants from Burma, and support their access to rights and welfare in the most effective way it can. Activists too should share this heavy burden, right?

The RTGs new policy of NV, whatever its ulterior motives may be, should be welcomed. For it has started a meaningful debate. When faced with systematic exploitation as one of the most vulnerable workforces in the world – characterized by one country that refuses to acknowledge their benefit and another which refuses to respond for them – this debate will eventually expose the serious predicament faced by migrants from Burma currently toiling in Thailand.

These migrants are usually passive victims of a situation they were not involved in creating. To be the active subjects of intense discussion, which can eventually find a lasting solution to their sad predicament, is surely the least they deserve.

(The author Andy Hall is director of the Migrant Justice Programme for the Bangkok-based Human Rights and Development Foundation)
Friday, October 30, 2009

Municipality files case against free funeral service association

by Mizzima News
Friday, 30 October 2009 13:02

New Delhi (Mizzima) – The Rangoon Division, North Dagon Township City Development Committee (Municipal) has filed a case against the Free Funeral Service Association yesterday for using a building not yet authorized by the civic body.

The municipality indicted the Association for using the unauthorized building after it did not abide by the instruction to arrange for drainage in front of the building.

“They did not give permission to use the building for our refusal to dig a 5’x5’ drain in front of our office’s brick fence. Now they have filed a case against us for using an unauthorized building,” Association Chairman actor Kyaw Thu told Mizzima.

The township civic body sent a letter to the Association informing that it would file a case against them. After Kyaw Thu replied telling them that they should file case against the organization, the civic body filed a case against the Association yesterday.

Kyaw Thu did not appear before the South Dagon Township court yesterday but sent the Association Manager instead.

An official from the North Dagon Township municipal office confirmed filing a case against the Association but he declined to give further details.

Explaining why they didn’t abide by the civic body’s instruction, Chairman Kyaw Thu, said “They directed us to dig the drain but not our adjacent plots. If the adjacent plots do not have the drainage, it will be like a reservoir and will become a breeding ground for mosquitoes. This will be hazardous for our patients”. Currently the waste water is drained to the rear of the Nga Mo Yeik creek.

Rangoon Free Funeral Service Association office and ‘Thu Kha’ free medical care service are being run at this Kyat 200 million building and providing free medical care to about 150 to 200 patients daily.

The free clinic is providing free treatment to all patients seven days a week with Eye, Orthopaedic, Obstetrician and Gynaecology, Paediatric volunteer specialists and volunteer nurses. The X-ray laboratory also provides free service for patients. The association has 16 hearses and provides free funeral service for 50 bodies daily.

The township civic body offered further permission for construction of the X-ray laboratory and other buildings if they agreed to arrange for drainage, Kyaw Thu said.

The civic body tried to indict them while the association was awaiting permission to use the newly constructed building after the municipality photographed it. If the court accepts the case, the free funeral service and free clinic are likely to be suspended.

“I have no idea about the case. If the court directs us to close, we have to close all our free services including the clinic. I may have to go to prison. We have done everything we could but the latest directive is a load of nonsense,” Kyaw Thu said.

The Free Funeral Service Association was established in January 2001 by Kyaw Thu and like-minded well-wishers. Later they expanded their service to a free clinic. They provide free funeral service irrespective of people’s social status.

Initially, they operated the service at the Brahma Vihara monastery in Thingangyun Township. It was shifted to the new location in North Dagon Township on 19 July (Martyr’s Day) this year.

The Kyauktada Township city development committee instructed them to move all their hearses to the ‘Yeway’ cemetery in North Okkalapa from Thingangyun Township in February this year. So they had to open their branch office at this cemetery and shift all hearses.

(Reported by Salai Han Thar San and edited by Ye Yint Aung)

Suu Kyi monitors US-junta direct engagement: NLD

by Mungpi
Thursday, 29 October 2009 20:04

New Delhi (Mizzima) – Even as detained Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi continues with her fact-finding mission on the consequences of western sanctions, she is also observing the process of engagement between the junta and the United States, her party spokesperson said on Thursday.

“While continuing with fact-finding Daw Suu said she is being provided with necessary documents and inputs by diplomats of the US, European Union and Australia,” Nyan Win, who met her on Thursday said.

Responding to her request, the regime allowed Aung San Suu Kyi to meet diplomats of the US, European Union and Australia on October 9. She discussed the sanctions with them.

In September, in a proposal to junta supremo Senior General Than Shwe, she offered to work together to help ease sanctions and requested a meeting with representatives of the US, EU and Australia.

Nyan Win said the detained Nobel Peace Laureate is looking forward to meeting US Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell. She is also monitoring the US’s direct engagement with the Burmese regime.

“She had welcomed the US’s new policy of direct engagement,” said Nyan Win, adding that the National League for Democracy had been informed that Campbell will be arriving by the first week of November.

Nyan Win along with his colleague advocate Kyi Win on Thursday met the Burmese pro-democracy leader and also discussed issues related to her appeal in the High Court.

Aung San Suu Kyi was given a three year sentence with hard labour on August 11 by a special court in Insein prison on charges of violating her previous detention regulations. But her sentence was halved by an executive order by the junta supremo Than Shwe.

Following the verdict, her legal team had appealed to the divisional court, which ruled in favour of the lower court’s decision. But Nyan Win said, they are preparing to file an appeal in the Supreme Court. They have drafted an appeal letter.

“Daw Suu said she wanted study the draft appeal letter and would tell us her opinion later. She has agreed to file a petition in the Supreme Court,” Nyan Win said.

Nobel Laureates call for action on Burma

by Mizzima News
Thursday, 29 October 2009 18:44

New Delhi (Mizzima) - Two Nobel Peace Laureates, Jody Williams and Mairead Maguire, on Thursday reiterated their call for the immediate release of fellow Burmese Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, saying without her release there cannot be genuine change in Burma and the ruling junta’s promises of reform would be only “sweet words of democracy”.

Jody Williams, who won the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts in banning landmines, during a press conference on Thursday in New Delhi, urged the international community and particularly the United States, which recently announced a new policy of engagement with Burma, to turn engagement into action and bring genuine change and democracy to the plighted Southeast Asian country.

“My personal concern about words and not action is that we hear many ‘sweet words of democracy and change’. Sweet words are terrific, but if it fails to bring change then it is a waste,” Williams remarked.

Williams said the U.S. and the European Union, if they choose to engage the Burmese regime, must ensure human rights conditions in the country are improving and should not start talking about an end to sanctions prior to the release of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The U.S. in September announced a new policy on Burma, saying it will directly engage the Burmese junta while maintaining existing sanctions, which could be phased-out or tightened depending on the junta’s response to human rights violations.

Williams, who in February 2003 was allowed a rare meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi, said the regime must prove their words by setting the Burmese democracy icon free and allowing her and her party to participate in the upcoming elections by conducting a review of the 2008 Constitution.

Burmese Prime Minister Thein Sein over the weekend told his Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) counterparts he is hopeful that Aung San Suu Kyi can play a role in national reconciliation and that his government might consider releasing her from detention if she maintains a “good attitude”.

Mairead Maguire, who won the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize for her work to bring peace to Northern Ireland, warned ASEAN not to be too full of praise for the Burmese junta and instead focus on pressuring the regime for real changes inside the country.

“The lack of human rights in Burma is a global responsibility – and it is time to pressure Burma to make real change,” Maguire commented.

Maguire added that Burma can only go forward once it hears the voices of ethnic political groups and human rights and democracy prevail.

The Laureates, in a press statement, said they support the call of civil society for “real change” in the lead-up to the elections in 2010, strongly arguing there can be no credible polling without the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and the over 2,000 political prisoners.

Williams and Maguire, along with Nobel Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi from Iran, are in India’s capital New Delhi at the invitation of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to mark the 50th anniversary of Tibetans in exile.

While in New Delhi, the Laureates are also meeting with women from Burma living in exile in New Delhi.

“We are asking governments to listen to the voice of the people – and support nonviolent change and democracy in Burma,” said Maguire.

Writing by Mungpi

ASEAN leaders allow Burma to get off scot-free

by Larry Jagan
Thursday, 29 October 2009 17:34

Mizzima – A smug Burmese delegation, led by Prime Minister and General Thein Sein, are back home after attending the 15th annual ASEAN summit in Thailand, where they successfully accomplished their main mission – to deflect international criticism and pressure, reveal nothing about the forthcoming elections and keep a very low-profile.

For the first time in years, the issue of Burma did not dominate the proceedings of the regional summit. In fact, the presidential statement on Burma was the mildest it has been for nearly a decade. All the leaders could agree on was to say that the regional organization hoped Burma’s national reconciliation process would be inclusive.

"We underscored the importance of achieving national reconciliation and that the general elections to be held in Myanmar [Burma] in 2010 must be conducted in a fair, free, inclusive and transparent manner in order to be credible to the international community," read the president’s statement at the end of the summit.

Instead of being grilled by fellow Asian leaders at the various meetings – bilateral encounters, formal sessions, retreats and dinners – the Burmese leaders could sit quietly at their tables and keep mum. This was a result in no small way determined by the simmering dispute between Thailand and Cambodia, which dominated the meeting. Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen took the limelight when he told journalists as soon as he arrived at the summit on Friday that the self-exiled former Thai Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, was just like Burma’s pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

As a result, the testy relations between the current Thai prime minister and the Cambodian leader did Thein Sein a favor – as he was almost left alone, except for Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, who wanted to remind Burma that they had promised to make sure their common border remained calm after the recent fighting in northern Burma and the mass exodus of thousands of Kokang refugees into Yunnan some two months ago.

Prime Minister Thein Sein and Foreign Minister Nyan Win also repeatedly dodged journalists waiting on the sidelines of the meeting in the southern Thai resort area of Cha-am. While every other delegation gave press briefings and interviews, the Burmese delegation refused every opportunity.

Impact of U.S. policy review

But some things did emerge from these meetings that may have an impact on the Burmese democracy roadmap and the forthcoming elections. There is certainly a recognition that the international situation regarding Burma has shifted significantly since the United States announced its policy review last month, suggesting the way forward as a combination of dialogue and sanctions.

“We are aware of a new era of hope and that there will be some normalization of relations between Burma and the United States, which we welcome,” Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh told Mizzima when asked about India’s policy towards Burma on the last day of the summit.

Thailand’s Prime Minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, was even more forthright, preferring to see the U.S. move as a vindication of the region’s soft approach to Burma. "ASEAN has always argued that engagement is the right approach. We feel that if everybody takes this approach we would be encouraging Myanmar [Burma] in her successful implementation of her own roadmap [to democracy]," Abhisit told journalists.

With the ASEAN summit coming only weeks after the U.S. announcement, it was always going to be easy for the Burmese delegation. And they seemed to know it – being the first delegation to arrive in Hua Hin, early in the afternoon a day early.

Meanwhile, the U.S. offer of dialogue with the regime has thrown other actors within the international community into disarray, raising increasing questions about how the U.N. and ASEAN can help Burma’s reconciliation process. For the U.N., it would seem this is the end of the road. But there may still be a role for ASEAN, and China certainly is keen to stay involved.

Election law coming

So what emerged from the Burmese delegation? The most important message Thein Sein seems to have brought from the Burma’s military leader, Senior General Than Shwe, was that the electoral law is being completed – though most analysts believe it was actually finished at least a year ago, if not much earlier – and will soon be made public.

“General Thein Sein said the electoral law will be announced very soon,” Abhisit told Mizzima after his bilateral meeting with the Burmese leader on the first day of the summit. But the Burmese Prime Minister provided no further details, he added.

Not really news. Everyone in Rangoon understands the electoral law is ready and should be published soon; though it seems certain it has been delayed by the recent U.S. policy review, as Than Shwe decides on a revised game plan.

What is also clear is that all Asia wants to see real national reconciliation take place in Burma and for that to happen the elections next year will have to be inclusive, fair and free. “The Myanmar [Burmese] government says the election next year will be inclusive, free and fair,” Thailand’s Foreign Minister, Kasit Piromya, told Mizzima after he and the Thai Premier met their counterparts in the first bilateral tête-à-tête of the summit.

But the ASEAN leaders had obviously made up their minds before the summit that whatever the Burmese regime said they would spin as best possible. “There’s been progress towards national reconciliation and movement on the roadmap recently,” Thailand’s Foreign Minister said in response to a question from Mizzima.

“There’s been 7,000 political prisoners released,” added the Thai Foreign Minister, “or at least that is the figure I heard.” Of course, according to the Burmese regime there are no political prisoners. In any case, of the 7,114 prisoners released, less than 250 were political prisoners, according to human rights groups that monitor the situation in Burma.

The other signs of progress towards national reconciliation that Thein Sein, at every opportunity, offered his counterparts, was that dialogue is taking place with detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. “She has been able to meet the government [Labor Minister Aung Kyi] twice recently, and several diplomats. This is movement,” Kasit boldly told Mizzima.

However, few in Burma would agree with him. But apparently all the heads of state and foreign ministers, including the Indian representatives, preferred to look on the bright side and accept the regime’s protestations at face value.

Aung San Suu Kyi

But what of the fate of the pro-democracy leader and Nobel Peace laureate? There Thein Sein played his best cards – using innuendos and implications to put the best possible spin on her intolerable situation, even though the opposition leader was recently sentenced to a further 18 months under house arrest on trumped up charges stemming from a security breach related to an unwanted visit by U.S. citizen John Yettaw to Suu Kyi’s estate. Some diplomats even said Thein Sein never actually used The Lady’s name in any of the meetings, though still apparently convincing at least the Thai Prime Minister that the military government had not ruled out a role for her.

“[Thein Sein] briefed us on some of the dialogue that is taking place and he feels optimistic that she can contribute also to the process of national reconciliation," Abhisit told a press conference at the end of the summit.

This follows an even more optimistic account of Thein Sein’s views a day earlier by Kazuo Kodama, the official spokesperson for Yukio Hatoyama, the Japanese Prime Minister. “She is under house arrest and the Prime Minister [said] if she continues to take a good attitude then it is possible that there will be a relaxation of the measures on her,” Kodama told journalists at his press conference in Hua Hin.

“Myanmar's [Burma’s] government believes that Aung San Suu Kyi seems to have softened her attitude towards the authorities,” said the Japanese spokesperson following Thein Sein’s briefing of an ASEAN+3 meeting, which includes China, Japan and South Korea in addition to the ten ASEAN members.

Kodama said that the Burmese regime "thinks if Aung San Suu Kyi maintains a good attitude it is possible that the Myanmar [Burma] authorities will relax the current measures.”

Elections are the answer

In the end, Asia’s leaders all seemed to agree that next year’s the planned elections will be the panacea for all Burma’s ills. Dr. Manmohan Singh told Mizzima that all the problems in Burma – a possible civil war with ethnic groups, human rights abuses and even the growing border tension with Bangladesh – would be solved through next year’s elections. While less sanguine, most other Asian leaders also opted to put their faith in the next year’s planned elections.

At the foreign ministers private dinner on Thursday night, Nyan Win assured his ASEAN counterparts that the election would meet the standards demanded by the international community, according to diplomats who attended the function. Thein Sein is also quoted by those who heard his briefing that next year’s election will be inclusive – though he never mentioned whether that means Aung San Suu Kyi would be freed and able to stand.

The ASEAN approach seems to be to give the Burmese junta enough rope to hang themselves. This is the regime’s last chance: they promised free and fair elections, so they will be held accountable for that. The buzzword though is ‘credible’. “They [Burma’s military rulers] recognize full well that we expect to see inclusive and credible elections,” said Abhisit. And we stand ready to help them in whatever way they want.”

China, of course, privately wants the same thing. “China adheres to the principle of national reconciliation and unity, by promoting political dialogue and consultation between the government and the opposition,” said Dr. Li Xuecheng at the Chinese Institute of Strategic Studies. “China is willing to work together with all the relevant parties, including opposition political parties, to make the 2010 elections a success.”

More than 200 Chinese government and private companies along China’s southeast coastal strip are planning to invest heavily in Burma after deciding Vietnam does not offer the investment incentives that Burma does. But they are all waiting for the elections, which they hope will bring about a new era of legitimacy and stability, according to Chinese academics and diplomats based in the region who closely follow Burmese affairs.

So, while the Burmese delegation may have slinked away from the ASEAN summit relatively unscathed this time, they may now find it impossible to meet the region’s expectations. But ASEAN’s approach of giving the regime the benefit of the doubt should worry the master military tactician in Naypyitaw. There is a limit to how often he can pull the wool over his neighbors’ eyes, and this is surely it.

On the other hand, if the ASEAN approach helps to make next years’ elections inclusive, free and fair, it will prove to be an astute diplomatic move. The fear remains, however, because of past precedents, that ASEAN’s leaders simply wanted to avoid confrontation.


NLD re-circulates disciplinary regulation

by Mizzima News
Thursday, 29 October 2009 12:45

New Delhi (Mizzima) – The ‘National League for Democracy’ (NLD) has reissued party disciplinary regulations, circulated six years ago, since activities of some party members have not been in keeping with the regulation.

NLD Central Information Department member Ohn Kyaing said that they had to reissue the disciplinary regulation because of some violations, including dissent on the party’s stand and policy matters. This regulation was first issued on 13 May 2003.

The regulation states that party members at the State and Divisional level can talk to the media in exile only about local activities and local affairs.

“The township level can talk about local activities but they cannot voice opinion on party policy affairs, otherwise there will be 100 attitudes if 100 party members talk in different tunes,” Ohn Kyaing explained.

“Party rules allow only the Central Executive Committee (CEC) to expound on sensitive policy issues. Now some of our party members are talking about these sensitive issues. So we reissued the instruction,” he added.

According to this regulation, party members must avoid activities which can undermine unity and political objectives of the party, avoid misusing intra-party democracy for the sake of their vested interests which can create sectarianism and factionalism in the party, avoid conducting organizational work in other areas apart from their own States and Divisions, talking to exile based media should not undermine the party policy among other guidelines.

The reissuance of the disciplinary regulation was made in keeping with the resolution passed in the CEC meeting held on October 26 based on suggestions given by party Chairman Aung Shwe.

The move came after about 25 party organizational committees from Mandalay, Pegu and Rangoon, gave interviews recently to the exile based Burmese media calling for convening of an All Burma Party Congress. In the interviews some party members even suggested and urged the party headquarters to rejuvenate the party by infusing new blood in the central leadership and expanding the Central Committee.

A party spokesmen, Khin Maung Swe, responded to these demands by saying that these demands were not made in accordance with the party constitution and related regulations. The demand for convening a party congress should be submitted through proper channels through party committees of village tracts, wards, townships, States and Divisions. If over 200 township party committees out of a total of about 400 had made the demand, they would seriously consider it, he told Mizizma on October 16.

Moreover the CEC issued a Special Announcement regarding the convening of a party congress on October 22 which says the CEC is aware of the necessity to reconstitute and reorganize the CEC and the Central Committee of the party.

Thus this issue will be discussed and decided when CEC meets party General Secretary Daw Aung San Suu Kyi or take necessary actions and resolutions when the Political Parties Registration law is enacted and promulgated by the junta, the special announcement further said.

Despite the NLD winning over 82 per cent seats in the 1990 general elections, successive military regimes refused to transfer power. The party had to withstand tremendous pressure exerted by the regime for over 20 years and could never hold the All Burma Party Congress.

(Reported by Salai Han Thar San and edited by Ye Yint Aung)
Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Campaigners exhort China to halt pipeline project

by Mizzima News
Wednesday, 28 October 2009 22:27

New Delhi (Mizzima) – Severe human rights violations and internal instability stares military-ruled Burma in the face, as the regime prepares to construct a dual gas and petroleum pipeline across the country with help from Chinese firms, campaigners said.

As the state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) and the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE) embark on the construction of the pipeline that will connect Kyauk Phyu town in Arakan state with China’s Yunnan province, local people along the pipeline route will be subject to severe human rights violations that will in turn lead to internal instability campaigners said.

Protesting against the pipeline project, the Shwe Gas Movement, a campaign group on Wednesday, sent an open letter, endorsed by over 100 Burmese and international organisations, to Chinese President Hu Jintao, exhorting him to halt the project immediately.

Kim, a member of the Shwe Gas Movement in India, during a protest rally on Wednesday in New Delhi said, “With the construction of the pipeline, there will be increasing human rights violations, including land confiscation, forced labour, extra-judicial killings and rapes.”

The nearly 980-kilometre pipeline is planned to be used for transferring oil shipped from Middle East and Africa as well as natural gas from the offshore gas fields of Arakan state to China’s Yunnan province.

“The project will provide the military junta a minimum of 29 billion US dollars over 30 years,” the Shwe Gas Movement said in a press release.

The proposed pipeline will begin in Arakan state and pass through Magwe division, Mandalay division to North-eastern Shan State and onwards to western Yunnan Province.

“China has the power to suspend this project, and rather than being part of the problem, becoming part of a long-term solution by promoting equitable development of the people of the two nations and peace in the region,” said Kim.

The Shwe Gas Movement along with over 100 organisations, in the open letter urged China to suspend the construction of the natural gas and oil pipeline until the impending risks can be mitigated and ensure that Chinese corporations operating overseas follow Chinese laws as well as international laws and guidelines to which China or its corporations are signatories.

The groups also urged Hu Jintao to continue with his earlier efforts to ensure substantive tri-partite negotiations in Burma as a sustainable path to national reconciliation, development, democracy and promoting regional stability.

In protest against the pipeline project, activists in at least 20 countries including India, Thailand, Japan, South Korea and the Philippines on Wednesday held protest rallies in front of Chinese embassies across the world.

Writing by Mungpi, some information provided by Eint Cherry

Nargis volunteers, including reporter arrested

by Mizzima News
Wednesday, 28 October 2009 20:49

New Delhi (Mizzima) – A number of members of a Cyclone Nargis volunteer group, ‘Lin Let Kye’, including freelance journalist Pai Soe Oo were arrested from Dagon Seikkan, Rangoon Division yesterday evening.

Pai Soe Oo (23), an active member of Lin Let Kye, means Shining Star, was arrested by local township authorities from his Yuzana Housing Apartment in Dagon Seikkan Township at 9 p.m. for questioning.

“Three persons wearing USDA badges and three local officials came and said that he would be taken to the Home Ministry. When I was ready to go with him, they said they would come again tomorrow,” a friend of Pai Soe Oo living with him told Mizzima.

Following a search of his home, the officials seized a note book with the names of Lin Let Kye members.

Pai Soe Oo is a former reporter of ‘Favorite’ and ‘Pyi Myanmar’ weeklies. He is also a blogger.

The Lin Let Kye volunteer group was formed in early May 2008 and has over 40 members. Most of them are Rangoon based reporters and young social activists.

“They compiled a list of Cyclone Nargis victims, who are children and donated school text books and provided other school expenses, in consultation with the school principals,” a source close to Lin Let Kye said.

The gatekeeper of the Home Ministry office said that there was no detainee in the Bahan Township office when asked about his whereabouts this morning.

“We visited the Home Ministry office this morning when he did not come back. The police personnel at the gate kept us waiting for over three hours. And then the gatekeeper appeared and told us that there was no detainee in the office. He suggested we inquire about him at the office of the local authority and the local police station,” one of those, who visited the Home Ministry office, said.

Similarly at least five other members of ‘Lin Let Kye’ were arrested from their rented apartment in Yuzana Housing on October 26. They are Ka Gyi, Zaw Gyi, Lai Ron, Shwe Moe and Aung Myat Kyaw Thu. Their whereabouts are still unknown.

The Burmese translator-editor of the Foreign Affairs Weekly and also a Lin Let Kye member, Thant Zin Soe was arrested on October 26. The Foreign Affairs journal is published by the media group, which also publishes ‘The Voice’ and ‘Living Colour’.

Some Lin Let Kye members are on the run as the authorities are conducting combing operations against the group.

The authorities also arrested famous comedian and film director Thura a.k.a. Zarganar and sports journalist Zaw Thet Htwe, while they were into volunteer service for Cyclone Nargis victims. They were sentenced to long prison terms later.

(Reported by Khai Suu and edited by Ye Yint Aung)


Youth conference condemns junta, urges Suu Kyi’s release

by Salai Pi Pi
Wednesday, 28 October 2009 18:23

New Delhi (Mizzima) - A conference of the All India Youth Federation held from October 26 to 28 in New Delhi discussed threadbare Burma’s deteriorating human rights situation and called for the immediate release of detained Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

The AIYF conference marked the 50th anniversary of the organization and the resolution adopted denounced the Burmese junta’s anti-democratic attitude and appealed to the international community to press the regime to release Aung San Suu Kyi.

“The forthcoming 2010 election is unacceptable. We also called on the military regime to release Aung San Suu Kyi immediately,” Murugun, General Secretary of AIYF, told Mizzima on Wednesday.

Murugun said, the conference also discussed issues ranging from world affairs to Burmese affairs and extended its solidarity to the democracy movement in the military-ruled Southeast Asian nation.

The All India Youth Federation is the youth wing of the Communist Party of India (CPI), and is a member of the World Federation of Democratic Youth, which is currently holding its Asia-Pacific regional conference.

The conference of the WFDY, of which two Burmese students and youth organisations - the All Burma Students League (ABSL) and All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU) - are also members, is being attended by over 500 youths from 10 countries including China, Vietnam, Burma, Lebanon and Hungary.

“What is happening in Burma is the regime is absolutely against the people’s mandate,” said Murugun. “The people should defeat the military junta.”

Communist Party of India (CPI)’s Secretary D. Raja, during his speech at the conference encouraged participants to support Burmese students and youths, who have been struggling for democracy and freedom for 20 years.

“He also explained to them about the current political situation in Burma and hoped that the day when democracy will be restored in the country is drawing nearer,” Kyaw Than, President of the New Delhi-based All Burmese Students League (ABSL), who attended the conference, told Mizzima.

Along with Kyaw Than, the conference was also attended by the foreign affairs in-charge of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU), Kyaw Win.

Murugun said the ongoing World Federation Democratic Youth (WFDY)’s Asia Pacific Regional Forum, which began after the AIYF’s 50th anniversary, will further discuss democracy and human rights issues across the world including in Sri Lanka and Burma on Thursday.

“I am really impressed with the conference. This sort of activity is rarely seen in Burma. Youths across the world could get together and discuss world matters,” Kyaw Win, said.

Burma’s military rulers have banned student unions and organisations including the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU). Leaders of the ABFSU including prominent activists Min Ko Naing and Ko Ko Gyi are now under detention.

Edited by Mungpi

UN honors former Secretary General U Thant

by Mizzima News
Wednesday, 28 October 2009 16:45

New Delhi (Mizzima) – The United Nations on Tuesday premiered a photographic exhibition dedicated to the honor of the late UN Secretary General U Thant at the Stamford campus of the University of Connecticut in the United States.

Kiyo Akasaka, the Under-Secretary General for Communications and Public Information, during the opening ceremony said the exhibition was dedicated to U Thant, the third leader of the world body, whose vision of the UN was for it to meet the needs and hopes of people everywhere.

U Thant, a Burmese diplomat, served at the UN from 1961 to 1971 and played a crucial role in solving several world crises, successfully concluding the UN’s Congo operation, easing tensions during the Cuban missile crisis, helping to reach a peaceful end to the Vietnam War and advocating for the end of apartheid in South Africa.

“He created, or laid the foundations for, many of the institutions that we have today working to alleviate poverty, to protect the environment and to safeguard health,” Akasaka said during the opening ceremony of the exhibition, according to a UN press release.

Akasaka told the audience in Stamford that the most important impact of U Thant was “his belief in the dignity of the individual, and the need to place the well-being of the individual at the center of all of our efforts.”

“These words embody the spirit of the United Nations and continue to serve as our guiding light today,” he added.

This year also marks the centenary birth of U Thant, who died in 1974.


Burmese way of filibuster

by Ngun Cung Lian
Wednesday, 28 October 2009 13:31

(Commentary) On May 10, 2008 the military junta ruling Burma held a constitutional referendum to approve a new constitution. Perhaps the results of the referendum were fixed, making the result a foregone conclusion, but that fails to excuse the junta from holding the referendum in the wake of Cyclone Nargis which had carved a swath of destruction across the nation, leaving about 140,000 dead or missing and millions of lives otherwise ruined. The referendum passed the constitution as the supposed voters starved because the junta denied them access to international relief efforts. It should come as no surprise that the new constitution, “approved” by the people, should work only to further entrench the violently oppressive junta rather than create democracy, as claimed.

I have no doubt that those giving legal advice to the Burmese generals throughout the national convention to draft the new Burmese constitution (we’ll call it the Nargis Constitution) were aware of the filibuster power traditionally exercised by the US senate. Unlike the US filibuster system, however, Burmese legal scholars have retooled the filibuster to serve as a new means of protecting the military [leadership] and their family members. For reasons explained below, I have chosen to refer to this as the "Burmese Way of Filibuster."

The designers of the new constitution, which is set to enter into force after the 2010 general election, have reversed the conventional practice of filibustering and adopted this new Burmese method. To understand the newly adopted Burmese way of filibuster, it is necessary to examine parliamentary make-up and voting procedure under the new constitution. Key to the system is the implementation of an appointment mechanism that reserves 25% of parliamentary seats of both houses of parliament for military appointees. This provision, in concert with the new constitutional requirement that any amendment to the constitution, in whole or in part, as well as any important legislation must be approved by at least a 75% majority, is at the heart of the Burmese way of filibuster.

It would be prudent here to define the nature of Burmese military custom. The nature of the military relationship in Burma is, not surprisingly, top-down. Particularly, the relationship between the top and the bottom echelons is, however, more rigid than other militaries around the world. The nature of the relationship is captured quite clearly in a popular saying within the army: “Whatever I feed you, eat it; whatever I command you, do it; but never, ever, question me.” With this norm so firmly entrenched in Burmese military culture, there can be no doubt but that none of the military personnel sitting in the Union Parliament building would, or could, cast a vote against the will of the Commander-in-Chief. Couple this with the C-in-C’s ability to remove them from office or dismiss them from the military at any time and the extent of the military’s control starts to become clear.

Now, one can start to get a sense of just what the Burmese Way of Filibuster is: If the Commander-in-Chief appoints 25% of the members of parliament who, owing their positions to the top brass, all vote according to the command and instruction given to them from above, and a 75% majority is necessary to amend legislation, then neither the constitution nor legislation can be changed without the full support of the military. Historically, the American filibuster operated as a method by which a minority party could hijack (the word filibuster literally means “pirate” or “Free Boot”) the legislative process and block legislation by preventing a vote. Contrast this to the filibuster as practiced in the US senate today, whereby only 60 senators, out of 100, all of whom are beholden to their constituents, are needed to break a filibuster and force a final vote on legislation. Now we can begin to see how the Burmese way of Filibuster is an effective throwback to the sort of “tyranny of the minority” of the old style American filibuster disguised as a democratic counterpart to the system now in use.

Apparently oblivious to this glaring defect, the United Nations, along with a number of states acting individually as well as numerous prominent figures, has been focused on urging the military to release political prisoners and engage in free and fair elections. There is a general sense that this would be a step toward full democratization in Burma; however, this is a mistaken belief. No matter how “free and fair” the elections, Parliament could never overcome the Burmese way of Filibuster inherent in the recently adopted constitution.

My mentor-turned-colleague Professor David C. Williams testified recently before the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee saying, “Free, and fair general election[s] would not bring civilian rule to Burma.” This is because of the provision, which I have called the Burmese way of Filibuster, in the Nargis Constitution. The constitution has been fraudulently adopted, yet is nevertheless set to operate following what will undoubtedly be an extremely controversial election in 2010.

Cyclone Nargis claimed about 140,000 lives and devastated millions of people, including members of my own family. I now cannot imagine, as a human being, how many lives will be claimed and devastated by the junta’s Nargis constitution. History, undoubtedly, will be able to provide us an approximate figure, but then, isn’t it already too late?

Dr. Salai Ngun Cung Lian is an Assistant Director and Post-doctoral Fellow at Center for Constitutional Democracy in Indiana University Maurer School of Law.

Concern over forced relocation of 60 Kachin villages

by Usa Pichai
Wednesday, 28 October 2009 12:48

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Over 60 villages are in the process of forced relocation from two dam sites in Burma’s northern Kachin State, said the latest report released on Tuesday by a Kachin Environmental group.

The Kachin Development Networking Group, (KDNG) a network of civil society groups and development organizations in Kachin State, Burma released a report “Resisting the Flood” on Tuesday. It has monitored developments and the likely impact of the 2,000-megawatt Chibwe Dam on the N’Mai River, work on which has already begun, and the Irrawaddy Myitsone Dam.

“Over 60 villages with approximately 15,000 people are in the process of being forcibly relocated without informed consent. This dislocation will cause many secondary social problems including conflicts over jobs and land, and an increase in migration and trafficking to neighbouring countries. Women will be particularly impacted,” the report said.

The group also sent an open letter on Tuesday to China Power Investment urging it to immediately stop construction of the Myitsone Dam and other dams in Kachin State “to avoid being complicit in multiple serious human rights abuses associated with the project”.

According to a statement from the group, on October 9, residents of Tanghpre village at the planned Myitsone dam site on the confluence at the source of the Irrawaddy handed an open letter directly to Burma’s Northern military commander, objecting to the dam.

In August military authorities informed residents that they had less than two months to begin moving out. “We cannot bring our farms with us when we move” said a representative of the Tanghpre Village Housewives Group in a meeting with the commander on October 10. “We do not want to move and we appeal to you to bring our concerns to Naypyidaw for consideration,” the statement noted.

On the same day, 300 residents assembled at the confluence for a public prayer ceremony to protect the rivers. Several historical churches will be submerged by the Myitsone Dam project, which will also flood forests in one of the world’s “hottest hotspots” of biodiversity, impact downstream riverine ecosystems that are home to the endangered Irrawaddy Dolphin and affect the delta region, which provides nearly 60 per cent of Burma’s rice.

The KDNG noted in the report that the project has no environmental, social or health impact assessments, which have been publicly disclosed, locally-affected residents have not been consulted about the project; their attempts to voice concerns have been ignored.

The report also noted that it is well-documented that development projects in Burma are accompanied by increased militarization and human rights abuses, including forced labour and rape.

The group mentioned that the location of the dams are insecure because it is in a ceasefire area that is extremely unstable; an outbreak of fighting would put local people, the project, and Chinese personnel at risk, and it faces risks from earthquake because it is located a mere 100 kilometers from a major fault line in an earthquake-prone area.

China Power Investment is planning a series of seven dams on the Irrawaddy and its two main tributaries. The majority of the electricity from all the dams will be transmitted to China.

On June 21 2009, Burma’s Ambassador to China Thein Lwin and the President of China Power Investment Corporation Mr. Lu Qizhou signed the Memorandum of Agreement between Burma’s Department of Hydropower Implementation and CPI for “the Development, Operation and Transfer of Hydropower Projects in the Maykha, Malikha and Upstream Ayeyawady-Myitsone River Basins.”

Politicians call for media freedom before 2010 polls

by Nem Davies
Wednesday, 28 October 2009 12:13

New Delhi (Mizzima) – Politicians preparing to contest the 2010 general elections have called for freedom of the media before Burma goes to the polls.

“We are not permitted to publicize our activities in the domestic media even as the 2010 election is drawing close. Now it’s too late to present our views to the people,” Democratic Party Chairman Thu Wei told Mizzima.

Similarly the United Democratic Front Chairman Shwe Ohn said that the role of the media was badly needed as the parties’ stand and opinions need to be publicized. The party was established in 2008.

“Just issuing party statements is ineffective because it will only reach people who are close to us. Speaking through the media will be more effective. But we are not allowed it,” Shwe Ohn said.

The Democratic Party Chairman Thu Wei and Ahmyotharyar Win Naing organized a lecture meeting on October 14 in Bahan Township, Rangoon Division called ‘Review Discussion on Burmese Politics in 2010’, which was attended by over 30 journalists from the foreign and domestic media. However, they were not allowed to report the news.

Moreover there is a law in force, which restricts the assembly of more than five people in Burma. Therefore the parties’ activities are hampered, Thu Wei said.

“As assembly of people is restricted, we have to hold such meetings under the guise of birthday parties and alms offering,” he said.

The restrictions on political parties are touted as the election commission law. The political parties’ registration law is yet to be enacted and promulgated.

In the 1990 general elections, such election commission law and political parties’ registration law were enacted and promulgated one year after polls were announced.

But Thu Wei, who contested in the 1990 election under the aegis of the Democracy Party, said that the restriction on the media is now tighter than in 1990. The laws for the 2010 elections have not yet been officially promulgated.

“Censorship before 2010 should not be in vogue. We’d like to see and hear the voices of those who are working for the election, including government officials. They are doing practical work. This way, they cannot lie to the people and people can scrutinize them,” he said.

An open letter to the junta’s Information Minister was posted on his internet webpage yesterday, which had a critical view and suggestions on weaknesses of the Burmese media in exile and the domestic media.

“State leaders and politicians are owned by the people. There must be transparency in front of the public so the people can object if they don’t like these politicians,” he said. He also said that the exile based Burmese media should be unbiased and should not only report on the opposition forces.

In his open letter, he criticized the domestic media also, saying that they were reporting only figures and facts but not news which made their reporting boring and uninteresting for the people.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Over 300 Australian women express support for Suu Kyi

by Salai Pi Pi
Tuesday, 27 October 2009 21:55

New Delhi (Mizzima) - Over 300 Australian women, including the wife of the country’s Prime Minister and those of Opposition leaders, assembled outside the Opera House in Sydney on Tuesday to express their support for Burma’s democracy movement led by Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

With support from Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, Federal Member of Page, Janelle Anne Saffin organized the show of solidarity under the banner of ‘Gather for Democracy, Stand for Freedom’, which brought together Australian women in support of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Saffin said the event was organised “In order to strengthen support and solidarity for Aung San Suu Kyi, who leads the struggle for freedom and democracy in Burma.”

“It was to show support of the Australian community and all levels of society including the highest level with the wife of the Australian PM and those of opposition leaders.”

Along with the Prime Minister’s wife Rein and Federal Opposition leader’s wife Turnbull, several Australian women ranging from well-known authors to high school students and Australian-Burmese women activists, joined the event.

“They spoke about Burma, Aung San Suu Kyi and how the people are suffering,” Joel Betts, director of Won Group told Mizzima on Tuesday.

Betts said the event is also a response to Aung San Suu Kyi’s request to Janelle Saffin, which the Burmese Nobel Peace Laureate made during a rare meeting with Saffin in Burma in 2002.

Saffin said, during her meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese pro-democracy leader had requested “Please use your liberty to help promote ours.”

“We have gathered here to show our support and admiration for a truly courageous woman and for the struggle of the people who deserve the right to determine their own future and choose their own leaders,” Rein, the Australian Prime Minister’s wife said.

Janelle Saffin recently introduced a Private Members Motion at the Federal Parliament, giving Members of Parliament the opportunity to debate on the ongoing human rights and humanitarian crisis in Burma.

In October 2007, Australia imposed targeted sanctions including an arms embargo on the Burmese regime and also imposed restrictions on financial transactions and travel to Australia by members of the Burmese junta and their associates.

Saffin urged the Australian government to continue providing greater humanitarian assistance in order to help the Burmese people, while maintaining sanctions on the regime.

“The [Australian] government should also continue to work with the U.S, Canada and talk with ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations], Japan and China to help the people in Burma,” she added.


Thai security forces raid KNU leaders’ homes in Mae Sot

by Salai Pi Pi
Tuesday, 27 October 2009 21:11

New Delhi (Mizzima) – Surprise raids were carried out by Thai security forces on Tuesday on the homes of several top ranking leaders of the Karen National Union (KNU), an ethnic armed rebel group, in Thailand’s Mae Sot, opposite Burma’s Myawaddy town.

At around 6 a.m. on Tuesday, members of the Thai police and the army raided the residence of KNU leaders including Chairman Saw Tamala Baw and Vice-chairman David Thackerbaw in Mae Sot.

Nan Phaw Gay, editor of the Mae Sot-based Karen Information Centre said, “Relatives of KNU members told us that Thai authorities came to their homes and conducted the raid.”

“It was possibly to search for weapons suspected to be in the possession of the KNU members,” she said, adding that she was unaware of any arrest.

Naw Zipporah Sein, General Secretary of the KNU, told Mizzima that she heard of the raids but did not confirm saying she was not at home during the raid.

But David Thaw, a KNU committee member told Mizzima that the raid might be connected with the recent regional summit in the Thai beach resort town of Hua Hin during the weekend.

“Thein Sein [Burmese Prime Minister] seemed to have pressed the Thai government during the recent ASEAN summit not to allow any opposition to take shelter on Thai soil,” said David Thaw.

During the 15th Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit, Thein Sein told his Thai counterpart that Burma will not allow any Thai dissidents to use Burmese territory as bases to attack the kingdom.


Twelve bombs explode in Kokang capital in weekend

by Myo Gyi
Tuesday, 27 October 2009 20:28

Ruili (Mizzima) – Two months after clashes between the Kokang ceasefire group and the Burmese Army, 12 bombs exploded on October 24 evening in the Kokang capital Laogai, which was captured by junta’s forces.

The explosions occurred near the Chinese architectural style seven-tiered spire roof building and gold shop owned by the new Kokang leader and MNDAA Chairman Pai Song Chein. The entire area is under the control of junta’s forces after it reconstituted the MNDAA with new leaders of its choice.

“The dozen bombs exploded one after the other on October 24 from 8 p.m. to midnight. There is a big building with a seven-tiered spire like roof in Chinese architectural style. The bomb, which exploded near the building was the most powerful,” a trader living in Kokang region told Mizzima.

Aung Kyaw Zaw, military analyst and observer based on the Sino-Burma border confirmed the bomb blasts. But no one has taken responsibility yet for the explosions. There is no information regarding casualty. Local people are tense and anxious, it is learnt.

In the wake of clashes between the MNDAA and the Burmese Army, over four days in late August, about 30,000 refugees were forced to flee to China. Only one third of them have come back home, the trader said.

Former MNDAA Chairman and chief of Kokang forces Peng Kya Shin refused to accept the junta’s proposal of transforming his army into the junta controlled Border Guard Force (BGF).

Following the rejection, the Burmese Army attacked the Kokang Army on the pretext of searching an arms factory and investigating a drug business operating there. Peng Kya Shin fled from the region.

The junta has set up a Regional Military Operation Command based at Laogai and deployed about 10 infantry battalions near the Kokang capital city.

Junta supremo to visit Sri Lanka

by Mizzima News
Tuesday, 27 October 2009 11:02

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – The Burmese junta supremo Senior General Than Shwe will visit Sri Lanka next month as part of an exercise to boost bilateral ties between the two countries, said official sources.

Than Shwe, with an entourage of several ministers is likely to leave Burma on November 11 in the newly bought Myanmar Airways International A-320 aircraft and will return to Naypyitaw on November 16.

His visit is reciprocal in nature following that of Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa to Burma last June.

During his visit to Burma, President Mahinda Rajapaksa invited General Than Shwe to visit Sri Lanka. During the ensuing visit, the junta chief is expected to visit the pilgrimage sites of the country.

Than Shwe's family, which has an ostentatious life style, will be part of the official visit.

Optimism from all corners but Burma is going nowhere

by Tint Swe
Tuesday, 27 October 2009 12:14

(Commentary) When it comes to Burma, there are four strategically important nations and blocs - China, the ASEAN, India and America and the EU. News coming from all four corners seems enjoyable and hopeful. It is something like the days when Aung San Suu Kyi was first freed from house arrest in 1995. But it is wise to observe what happened in 14 years between after her release and today. Generals at the top, prisoners in jails and Aung San Suu Kyi in her home and no changes took place by any means.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) welcomed a new US policy of engagement with Burma and the 16 leaders attending the 4th East Asia Summit in Thailand agreed to encourage the regime to ensure a fair general election in 2010.

ASEAN leaders are fans of the military junta. They easily accept the excuses given by their counterparts from Burma. They don’t mind any promise not fulfilled. Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said Aung San Suu Kyi might be able to participate in society and possibly politics again. A diplomatic expression of probability can be interpreted as “no”.

All participants in the ASEAN+6 were overwhelmed as Burmese Prime Minister said that the ruling junta saw a role for Aung San Suu Kyi in the reconciliation process before the elections to be held in 2010. What General Thein Sein meant was that Daw Suu can visit Shwedagon pagoda after 2010.

After meeting with his Paulphaw Prime Minister, China's premier Wen Jiabao also expressed confidence and pledged more financial aid to Burma.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh categorized it as an atmosphere of hope and welcomed the next year's election as reconciliation of the various segments of Myanmar society.

Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee correctly said that political reforms and national reconciliation should be expedited and must involve all stakeholders. But the party of Aung San Suu Kyi, the National League for Democracy asked to revise the constitution which was unilaterally announced as adopted in the midst of a devastating cyclone in 2008. Without any changes of the constitution, at the last minute, the junta may invite NLD.

Then all ASEAN folks will have to say good again as it was said in Thailand last Sunday.

Before his second round of talks with the SPDC of Burma, US Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell will be arriving in India for consultation next week. Coincidently India wants to take credit out of all good news regarding Burma by publishing a news report which says former Indian foreign secretaries have used the foreign office consultations with the US to push for engagement with Burma. It also said that at junta’s request, India has even passed on messages to the US at a reasonably high level.

Before Campbell announced this week that the US would closely work with India and China regarding Myanmar, since the era of Bush administration the US wanted to work with the UN and the two big neighbours to work out the troubles in Burma.

At the same time, India knows very well that with regard to the election next year, the military regime will not comply with the expectations from ASEAN and the legitimate demand from the NLD. So India will urge the US to start a separate engagement process from next year’s election. Whether the election is like that of Afghanistan or Nigeria, India is keen to engage with Burma. The same advice will be given to the US.

India and ASEAN leaders are also satisfied with the words of the junta which said it might soften the terms of Aung San Suu Kyi’s house arrest. Maybe she would be allowed to see her physician and lawyers a couple of times more.

Euphoria is there but Burma is going nowhere.

(The author Dr. Tint Swe is the elected Member of Parliament and the Information Minister of the exiled government National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma or NCGUB)

No signs of UWSA compromising: Observers

by Mungpi
Tuesday, 27 October 2009 20:16

New Delhi (Mizzima) - A Sino-Burmese border-based observer has rejected rumors that one of Burma’s strongest non-state armed groups – United Wa State Army (UWSA) – has agreed to transform its Army into a Border Guard Force (BGF), as proposed by the ruling junta.

Previous rumors circulating among Burmese observers suggested that the UWSA, which fields a strong Army of 25,000 troops, had agreed to the scheme after the junta persistently pressured the group into compliance.

“I heard that the Wa recently agreed to the Border Guard Force plan that the SPDC offered,” a source recently told Mizzima, referring to Burma’s ruling junta by its official name – State Peace and Development Council (SPDC).

The source also said the junta’s Triangle Region Commander, Major General Kyaw Phyo, used the threat of renewed hostilities as an instrumental component in winning over his counterparts.

However, a Sino-Burmese border based observer, Aung Kyaw Zaw, said there has so far been no such agreement reached with the UWSA, though not ruling out the possibility in the future.

“So far there is no such agreement. And there have been no high-level meetings in recent days between the UWSA and the junta. Tension is still high, with both sides reinforcing their troops,” Aung Kyaw Zaw said.

However, he commented that with several leaders of the UWSA, including Wei Hsueh-kang, Commander of the UWSA’s Southern Command, having enormous business interests, it is not impossible that an agreement will be reached.

“But even if the leaders might want to accept the offer, most of the lower and mid-level officials are unlikely to agree to it,” he added.

The UWSA and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) are among the few ethnic ceasefire armed groups that have rejected the ruling junta’s proposal to transform their armies into Border Guard Forces administered by the junta.

Burma’s military rulers have set the end of October as the deadline to respond to their proposal. Though there has been no clear indication of what will follow with the lapse of the deadline, several sources have witnessed the movement of Burmese troops to Northern and Eastern Shan State, potentially foreshadowing the onset of armed engagements.

Meanwhile, Sein Kyi, Assistant Editor of the Thailand-based Shan Herald Agency for News (SHAN), who extensively covers Shan State and its ethnic rebels, said he is so far unaware of any such agreement by the UWSA to accept the junta’s proposal.

“From what I am being told by our sources in Panghsang (Wa capital), there is no such agreement to accept the Border Guard Force proposal,” Sein Kyi explained.

“Tension is still high between the two sides, and there are also no official meetings going on,” he added.

Following the junta’s attack on the Peng Jiasheng led Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) in August, observers speculated that the junta is likely to target other ceasefire groups, including the Mongla-based National Democratic Alliance Army – Eastern Shan State (NDAA-ESS), in a similar fashion.

But critics say the junta’s ultimate goal is to bring down the UWSA, as they are the strongest and pose a threat to their plan of transforming ceasefire armed groups into junta administered Border Guard Forces.

According to the junta’s plan, the transformation into Border Guard Forces needs to be completed prior to the general election in 2010.

But Aung Kyaw Zaw said history has revealed it is impossible to silence the aspirations of ethnic nationalities by suppressing them with force.

“Even if the leaders of the UWSA want to negotiate and accept the junta’s proposal, the Wa are likely to come up with another name and continue their resistance. It will be impossible to silence them,” he added.

The UWSA, led by Bao Youxiang, broke away from the Communist Party of Burma (CPB) in 1989, the same year signing a peace agreement with the junta’s then military intelligence chief, Khin Nyunt.


Religious freedom yet to be won in Burma: new report

by Mizzima News
Tuesday, 27 October 2009 17:41

New Delhi (Mizzima) – The United States State Department has once again produced a report critical of the right to religious freedom inside military ruled Burma.

Monday’s release of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor’s 2009 International Religious Freedom Report accuses Burma’s government of both propagating and favoring the views of state-sponsored Buddhism, while systematically obstructing the practice of politically engaged Buddhism and other religions.

“The regime commonly employed nonreligious laws to target those involved in religious and political activism, including the Electronic Transactions Act, Immigration Act, and Unlawful Associations Act,” finds the report.

“The Government’s pervasive internal security apparatus imposed de facto restrictions on collective and individual worship through infiltration and monitoring of meetings and activities of virtually all organizations,” adds the document.

With specific reference to the monk-led protests of 2007, the report calls out the generals on their attempt to "systematically restrict efforts by Buddhist clergy to promote human rights and political freedom."

According to those consulted by American authorities, some 200 clergy remain imprisoned inside Burma, with roughly three-quarters of the said population arrested following the Saffron Revolution.

Meanwhile, adherence to and promotion of a form of Buddhism in accordance with the interests of the military government continues to be a goal of the regime as well as a means of personal advancement for those deemed to be dutifully toeing the line.

“In practice,” argues the report, “the Government continues to show a preference for Theravada Buddhism through official propaganda and state-sponsored activities, including donations to monasteries and pagodas, encouragement of education at Buddhist monastic schools in rural areas, and support for Buddhist missionary activities.”

Disapproval is also expressed for the junta’s 2008 Constitution, which the State Department points out does not allow members of religious orders to vote while providing the basis for suppression of religion under means "subject to public order, morality, health, and other provisions of the Constitution."

No constitution in Burma, however, has ever granted the clergy the right to vote.
Though crediting the government with apparently no longer subscribing to a policy of forced conversion, the reports authors spare no corner in their disclosure of the numerous means through with the regime seeks the conversion of non-Buddhists to Buddhism.

The report does acknowledge that government promotion of Buddhism to the detriment of minority religions is well entrenched in the annals of modern Burmese history, iterating, “Successive civilian and military governments have tended to view religious freedom in the context of perceived threats to national unity or central authority.”

Burma's Rohingya Muslims are singled out for their persistent targeting by the regime, a population that is still not even eligible to obtain National Registration Cards indicating they are in fact a component of Burmese society.

It is widely expected that Burma will be labeled a country of particular concern (CPC) come early 2010, when Washington’s annual, official report is expected released on the status of freedom of religion around the world. Burma has been included in every such list since the inaugural grouping was identified in 1999.

CPC designation is reserved for the governments of countries found guilt of “ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom.” The stigma can carry with it the imposition of sanctions, which regarding Burma have been widely employed since before the advent of the International Religious Freedom Act in 2008.

Thai politics taints relationship with neighbours

by Usa Pichai
Tuesday, 27 October 2009 13:05

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Thailand’s internal political strife has tainted and complicated bilateral relationship with its neighbouring countries, particularly Cambodia and Burma.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said on Monday that former Thai Prime Minister Chavalit Yongjaiyuth, who has close ties with ousted Prime Minister Taksin Shinawatra plans to visit neighbouring countries including Burma. It would be good if it is for the sake of the country, he added.

“Gen Chavalit is within his rights to visit these countries but should not cause problems to the countries, like when he visits Cambodia. I insisted that the anti-government groups should not put pressure on the Thai government by asking neighboring countries to help them,” according to a report in the Thai News Agency website.

Previously, Gen Chavalit visited Cambodia and met Hun Sen, The Cambodian premier, who asserted that Thaksin could remain in Cambodia as his guest and could be his economic advisor. Hun Sen added that he was not interfering in Thailand's internal affairs but that Cambodia has the right to exercise its sovereignty and take such a decision.

Former Thai premier Thaksin jumped bail and fled, evading his sentence to a two-year jail term for malfeasance in the controversial land purchase case in Bangkok. He spends most of his time in the United Arab Emirates after his status as a visitor was rejected by some countries including both the United Kingdom and Germany.

Hun Sen compared Thaksin to Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, asking rhetorically why he should not talk about his friend when everybody is allowed to talk about the detained Nobel Peace Laureate.

Abhisit responded saying that Hun Sen may have received incorrect information about Thaksin and should not allow himself to be used as a 'pawn'.

Kasit Piromya, the Thai Foreign Minister said Thailand and Cambodia are fellow ASEAN members and should cooperate and live together peacefully. Both countries should observe the same rules and the leaders should not do anything that could lead to misunderstanding.

On Saturday, at a bilateral meeting, the Burmese Prime Minister Gen Thein Sein, who attended the 15th ASEAN Summit in Thailand told the Thai premier that he would not allow any person to use Burma’s territory for activities against Thailand.

Abhisit thanked Burma for supporting Thailand as the ASEAN chair and said there would be more participation in development projects including the, Tavoy deep sea port in Burma and the East-West Corridor project which will benefit both countries.

About Burmese politics, Kasit said at a press conference on Saturday that he was optimistic about the ongoing developments inside the country, in which opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and representatives of the military government are engaging in dialogue.

He also welcomed the shift in tactics by the US government, which has called for engagement rather than relying purely on sanctions against the regime.

Assistance from ASEAN countries or an election observation team can be done collectively or individually. The final result will be worked out, Kasit said.

Constitution must be revised before election: opposition leaders

by Salai Pi Pi
Monday, 26 October 2009 21:23

New Delhi (Mizzima) – Prominent Burmese opposition leaders say the junta’s planned 2010 elections cannot be inclusive and broad-based unless the 2008 Constitution is first revised.

Win Tin, a veteran politician and senior member of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party, said in order to make the 2010 election inclusive the 2008 Constitution must be amended, as the document, which he asserts enshrines military-rule, will essentially bar all dissidents including Aung San Suu Kyi from participating in the poll.

“The constitution does not allow any political prisoners their electoral rights, and this will also include Aung San Suu Kyi,” Win Tin clarified. “Therefore, it is necessary that the constitution is revised before the election.”

Win Tin’s comments came in response to a statement from the Burmese Prime Minister at the 15th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit, concluded on Sunday.

The Burmese Premier, Thein Sein, reportedly ensured leaders of the 10-member ASEAN bloc meeting in Thailand that the 2010 elections would be free, fair and inclusive of all stakeholders.

Thein Sein also commented that Aung San Suu Kyi could be allowed to play a role in national reconciliation, further hinting that the regime may relax restrictions on the detained opposition leader if she maintains a “good attitude.”

“He briefed us on some of the dialogue that is taking place and he feels optimistic that she can contribute to the process of national reconciliation,” Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva told reporters.

“We welcomed the affirmation by the Prime Minister of Myanmar [Burma] that the general elections to be held in 2010 would be conducted in a free, fair and inclusive manner,” Abhisit continued in his statement.

While cautiously welcoming Thein Sein’s comments, Win Tin noted the Nobel Peace Laureate has been maintaining a soft stance towards the regime and urging national reconciliation for the last twenty years.

Meanwhile, Aye Thar Aung, Secretary of the Committee Representing Peoples’ Parliament (CRPP), a coalition of political parties that won the 1990 election, on Monday echoed similar views to those of Win Tin, primarily that the junta’s planned election next year cannot be inclusive unless the constitution, which he called “forcibly endorsed in 2008”, is revised.

“Without revising the 2008 Constitution, the election will not be able to yield anything good for the people of Burma,” Aye Thar Aung told Mizzima.

Aye Thar Aung added that Burma’s generals only want Aung San Suu Kyi to contribute for their national reconciliation plan but are reluctant to change their overall stance in fear of losing power.

“Changes have to come from both sides. They [the junta] also must change their stance towards her,” he elaborated.

He said the only way to build a genuine national reconciliation is to hold a tripartite dialogue between the Burmese generals, Aung San Suu Kyi and leaders of the ethnic groups.

Following the U.S. announcement of its new policy on Burma, Aung San Suu Kyi last month offered junta leader Senior General Than Shwe her willingness to cooperate in the easing of sanctions.

In response, Than Shwe allowed her and her party meetings with western diplomats.

Aung San Suu Kyi, who has spent 14 of the past 19 years in detention, was sentenced to another 18 months of house arrest in August after an American man swam uninvited to her lakeside home, spending two nights on the premises.

The NLD won a landslide victory in the 1990 election, but the regime refused to honor the result and instead drew up a seven-step roadmap to democracy. According to the roadmap, the proposed 2010 election is the fifth step.

In a statement at the end of the ASEAN summit in Thailand, leaders of the 16 countries encouraged Burma to ensure the implementation of their seven-step roadmap and to restore democracy in the country.

However, Win Tin emphasized the “NLD will not contest the upcoming election if the regime does not revise the constitution.” The NLD has also consistently called on the junta to release all political prisoners, in addition to mandating free and fair elections, before they consider participating in any poll.


US diplomat meets junta minister

by Mungpi
Monday, 26 October 2009 19:26

New Delhi (Mizzima) – Keen to strike a balance between the government and the opposition, the Charge d’Affairs of the US embassy in Rangoon Larry M. Dinger last week met Burmese junta’s Minister for Agriculture and Irrigation Maj Gen Htay Oo.

The meeting with the junta’s minister came days after the US representative met leaders of the country’s opposition party the National League for Democracy.

Burma’s state-run media, the New Light of Myanmar said on Monday, Htay Oo, who is also the General Secretary of the junta-backed civilian organization – the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), received Dinger on Saturday, three days after he visited the office of the NLD and met the party leadership.

The newspaper, dubbed the junta’s mouthpiece, however, did not mention details of the meeting between Htay Oo and Dinger.

On Tuesday Dinger met central executive committee members of the NLD. He discussed the current political situation in Burma and the new US policy on the country as part of the preparation for a visit by the Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell.

Khin Maung Swe, an NLD-CEC member said, Dinger informed them that Campbell is to visit the country soon. He was also keen to know the NLD’s view of the new US policy.

United States last month announced a new policy on Burma, and kick-started a fresh strategy of engaging the junta while keeping sanctions in place. On September 29, Campbell held his first meeting with Burmese Minister for Science and Technology, U Thaung in New York.

Campbell, in his testimony at the Foreign Affairs Committee, on Wednesday said he intends to go to Burma in the next few weeks on a fact-finding mission.

“During the trip, we will talk to the Burmese government, representatives of the ethnic nationalities, and the democratic opposition, including the National League for Democracy “Uncles” and Aung San Suu Kyi,” Campbell said.

The new engagement with the US, which has maintained sanctions on the Burmese Generals, has been applauded by the junta’s Southeast Asian neighbours, who at the end of the two-day ASEAN Summit in Thailand on Sunday expressed rare optimism about the regime.

During the Summit, Burmese Prime Minister was reported to have assured the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and their dialogue partners that the planned 2010 elections would be free and fair. Thein Sein also said they could relax the detention of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, if she maintains a “good attitude”.

But critics believe that it could be yet another ploy of the junta in attempting to ease international pressure.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Chinese energy firm to expand exploration

by Moe Thu
Saturday, 24 October 2009 22:23

Rangoon (Mizzima) – The China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) will expand its operations in Burma, christening three new drilling wells off the gulf of Martaban, according to an informed source within the energy sector.

The corporation, China’s third largest national oil company, will undertake exploration from November 1st to December 31st, investing more than US$40 million in the process, the source added.

The operation is located at an offshore block named M-10, bordering to the south of the M-12 and M-13 blocks, site of the Yetagon natural gas field, and to the east of M-9, a commercially viable gas deposit uncovered by Thailand’s PTTEP.

The source said a similar well was drilled at the same block in early last year but, while finding a gas deposit, was deemed not commercially feasible.

CNOOC is one of the major investors in Burma’s oil and gas sector, operating in five onshore and offshore blocks.

So far, four Chinese oil companies – SNOPEC, China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), CNOOC and Chinnery Assets – are active in a total of ten onshore and offshore blocks in Burma.

According to official figures, as of March 31, 2009, China has invested $1.33 billion into Burma’s economy and infrastructure, with the oil and gas sector placing third in the list with investment of $124 million dollars – while the mining sector ranks as the most prominent target of Chinese development funds, claiming some $866 million dollars of the sum.