Sunday, February 28, 2010

Suu Kyi’s appeal rejection condemned

Sunday, 28 February 2010 13:49 Mizzima News

(Mizzima) - British Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Friday said he is ‘appalled and saddened’ that Burma’s military government has rejected an appeal filed by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s lawyers against her sentencing in August 2009.

“I am appalled and saddened that Aung San Suu Kyi’s appeal against the sentence imposed by the regime has been denied,” Brown said. However, he said the “failed appeal is sadly no surprise.”

Brown said from start to end the sole purpose of the show trial has been to prevent Aung San Suu Kyi from taking part in elections that the junta claims will be held later this year.

Lawyers of the Burmese opposition leader on Friday told Mizzima that the Supreme Court rejected the appeal against the verdict that sentenced Aung San Suu Kyi and her two live-in party mates to 18 months of house arrest handed down in August 2009.

“The Supreme Court said it is making no changes on the verdict and upholds the lower court’s decision,” said Nyan Win, a lawyer for the Burmese pro-democracy leader who is also a spokesperson for her party - National League for Democracy (NLD).

The NLD leader was sentenced in August 2009 to three years imprisonment for allegedly violating regulations of her previous house arrest by allowing an American, John Yettaw, who sneaked into her house to stay for two nights.

The sentence handed down by a district court, however, was reduced by a special order from Burma’s military Head-of-State Senior General Than Shwe to an 18 month suspended sentence, allowing time to be served at her lakeside home.

The British Prime Minister said while Burma with a free, fair and genuinely inclusive election this year could move forward to map a new path, with Aung San Suu Kyi being kept out of political life and over 2,100 other prisoners of conscience remaining incarcerated, the regime’s elections will gain neither recognition nor international legitimacy.

Similarly, British Foreign Office Minister Ivan Lewis in a statement on Friday said the rejection of the appeal is a further, sad indictment of the Burmese regime.

“The military government continues to suppress all dissent, deny Burma's people their fundamental freedoms, and detain democratic and ethnic leaders,” Lewis said.

“I urge the regime to recognize that in a country of over one hundred ethnic groups, there can be no national reconciliation, no peace and no prosperity without an inclusive political process,” Lewis added.

The defense team argued that the law under which Aung San Suu Kyi was sentenced is no longer valid and filed petitions at the Division and Supreme Court levels to that effect.

Nyan Win said the defense team is now gearing up to file yet another petition at the special petitions office.

Reporting by Phanida, writing by Mungpi
Friday, February 26, 2010

Car carrying Burmese migrants shot at three killed

Friday, 26 February 2010 22:35 Sai Zuan Sai

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - Three illegal Burmese migrants in Ranong were shot dead when Thai security forces opened fire on a car carrying them after it failed to stop at the checkpoint, Ranong police station sources said.

The police on duty said out of 15 illegal Burmese migrants, one male adult and two children were killed and five injured. The injured were sent to Ranong hospital for treatment.

"The police opened fire on the car, when it failed to stop at the checkpoint set up by police and some soldiers. It killed two children and one male adult. Five were injured and seven are being detained at the police station," a policeman on duty told Mizzima.

The Thai car driver will be charged for transporting illegal aliens and failing to stop at the checkpoint. The Burmese migrants will be charged with illegal entry into Thailand.

The car was on its way from Hin Chan to Chong Phaw, about 30 miles north of Ranong. The combined checkpoint manned by the Thai police and soldiers, signaled the car to stop. But the Thai driver tried to flee.

A local resident in Ranong said that he had heard about the shooting. There were two checkpoints between Hin Chan and Chong Phaw but the police make only surprise checks, when they receive a tip-off and only on suspicious vehicles. This is the first ever shooting on this road, it is learnt.

The Burmese section in-charge Myint Wei of the Thai Action Committee for Democracy in Burma (TACDB), which works for Burmese workers' affairs, said that it is premature to comment and put the blame on Thai security agencies for the shooting.

"We don't know yet whether the people were covered when they were shot at or the police opened fire on them knowing they were migrants. If they shot at the people sitting in the vehicle, it is uncalled use of force," he said.

In an earlier incident 54 Burmese illegal migrants died of suffocation and asphyxiation in Ranong, Thailand in April 2008 while they were being transported in a container truck.

Nine Burmese migrant workers were killed by Thai police and human traffickers late last month in Phup Phra Township, Tak Province, Thailand. The police officer responsible for the killings committed suicide but some of the culprits are still absconding.

FEC prices show downward trend

Friday, 26 February 2010 21:22 Khai Suu

New Delhi (Mizzima) - Foreign Exchange Certificate (FEC) prices have been falling over the past one month, traders said.

In December 2009, the FEC price increased from Kyat 970 against the US dollar and touched the highest of Kyat 1,060 in January this year. It fell gradually and reached Kyat 1,020 on February 24 and closed at about Kyat 1,000 today - a Kyat 20 decline.

"FEC price was Kyat 1,020 on February 24 and Kyat 900 yesterday. But it closed today at Kyat 1,000, a trader at the Money Exchange market in Rangoon told Mizzima.

A woman trader also said that the FEC price fell by Kyat 20 during the last two days.

When high FEC prices prevailed from December last year to mid-January this year, the military regime went into privatization of State owned enterprises and assets in FEC.

But after fuel shops and import of fuel were privatized last year, the price of FEC fell gradually.

When the oil and fuel import business was controlled and monopolized by the State, the fuel and oil importers had to pay in FEC at the bank account of the government Energy Ministry. Now that the business has been liberalized and privatized, the importers do not need to pay in FEC. They need only the US Dollar. So the demand for FEC in the market fell.

"Now many business ventures have been privatized and liberalized by the State so businessmen do not need to apply for permits by paying in FEC. So the demand for FEC declined," a businessman in Rangoon said.

"The FEC price fell probably because of privatization of diesel import. Moreover in government auctions, FEC was needed to make payments leading to its high demand. Now there are no auctions so FEC prices are down," a currency trader said.

An economist from Rangoon speculated that besides the privatization of oil import, there may be other hidden reasons behind the falling FEC price.

FEC or USD can be used in export-import business, paying internet bills, phone bills and buying international air tickets.

The FEC was first issued in 1993 by the junta's Central Bank of Burma which guaranteed a parity of price between FEC and USD. FEC is issued in 1, 5, 10 and 20 denominations.

Little Hope for Burma's Political Prisoners

Friday, 26 February 2010 19:02 Larry Jagan

BANGKOK (Mizzima) - The United Nations special rapporteur for human rights in Burma, Tomas Ojea Quintana believes there that the country’s political prisoners will not be freed any time soon. “There seems to be no movement on political prisoners since my last trip [a year ago],” the UN envoy told Mizzima in an interview in Bangkok a few days ago. “In fact the government continues to deny that there are any prisoners of conscience.”

At the same time more critics of the government and activists have been imprisoned on spurious charges. And political prioners already in jail mounted protests to coincide with the UN envoys visit.

Scores of prisoners in at least two jails have gone on hunger strike, according to an organistion that monitors the situation of Burma’s political prisoners, and more than seventy in the Buthidaung jail, which Mr Quintana visited during his trip to the west of the country. Tthe regime’s total disregard for the envoy was underlined when five more political activists - a monk and five female activists - were given stiff jail sentences in the middle of his visit.

“There were few positives from the trip,” Mr Quinata told Mizzima, apart from being allowed to visit Northern Rakhine State and meet 15 political prisoners in three different prisons.

“They were not prepared to discuss the forthcoming elections in any detail, though it was clear from my visit that unofficial campaigning has started even though the electoral law has not been published,” he told Mizzima.

The Argentinian lawyer was also frustrated that he was not allowed to see the country’s most famous political prisoner, Aung San Suu Kyi who is currently under house arrest, where she has spent more than 15 of the last 21 years.

“Of course I was disappointed not to meet her, and even though I had made my desire to talk to her about the forthcoming elections, I never expected to be given permission to see her.”

The envoy is scheduled to give a detailed report on Burma’s human rights situation to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva next month from this, his third mission to the country since his appointment two years ago.

“But my mission should not be judged by whether the regime makes any concessions or not,” he said. “It’s a process - and the fact that they allow me to visit and continue the dialogue on human rights is very positive.” Otherwise the envoy seemed very down-beat in his over-all assessment of the trip.

The Argentinian also complained about the Burmese authorities approach to his five-day visit. For one thing, he said, there was never any advance warning of the agenda. “It was a day-to-day programme,” he said. This did not permit him and his team to prepare properly and reduced the effectiveness of his mission, UN sources told Mizzima on condition of anonymity.

There is no doubt though that Mr Quintana’s visit to Rakhine State in western Burma to see for himself the conditions of Burmese Muslims there was a significant concession by the regime. This is the first time a senior UN envoy has been allowed in that region - though the UN country team do have projects and people in the area. He visited both the regional capital Sittwe and Buthidaung in the north of the state -- where the worse abuses against Burmese Muslims are alledged to take place.

Perhaps even more significantly he was allowed to be accompanied by the two senior representatives of the International Labour Organization in Rangoon, who are actively involved in checking reports of forced labour in the country.

During his mission there he was also allowed to visit Buthidaung prison where he met five political prisoners, including one of the ten local leaders of the Myanmar Muslim Association of Maungdaw -- who have been sentenced to some 13 years for allegedly holding a meeting to discuss the constitution in 2007 - and a senior Shan leader, Tun Nyo who is now 79. Both were in very poor health, the envoy said.

“Curiously the conditions in the jail have improved over the last six months, the prisonsers told me,” Mr Quintana told Mizzima. “But no one seemed to know why. They assumed it was maybe to do with election preparations,” he added. “But the conditions remain a matter of grave concern,” he added.

“It is essential that the ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] to be allowed to resume their prison visits,” he stressed. ICRC suspended these at the end of 2005 because of the interference of government officials. As a result many prisoners do not the medicines they need or soap.

More importantly the ICRC used to provide a channel of communications with the prisoners’ families. “I was the first visitor ever to Buthidaung prison,” he told Mizzima. “And while I thank the authorities for this opportunity, it is intolerable that some have had no contact with their love-ones since being transferred there - in some case that has been years.”

ICRC’s access to the prisons is something that has been in every report the envoy has put before the UN, and will feature prominently in his fourth report, the next to be submitted to the Human Rights Council in Geneva soon. It was also something that the envoy said he raised persistently and firmly at every opportunity, with the home minister, the attorney general and the chief justice. But the envoy remained pessimistic that the regime will take any notice.

Both Indonesia and China have also been quietly encouraging the junta to soften its stance towards ICRC behind the scenes. Most countries, even those with blemished human rights’ records, understand that the ICRC should be allowed to do its work unhindered by government interference.

“That the ICRC is not permitted to do carry out its full mandate is shameful, since this is considered worldwide to be a minimum standard of cooperation with the international community,” Benjamin Zawacki, Amnesty International’s South East Asia researcher based in Bangkok told Mizzima.

On Mr Quintana’s other two major concerns - the release of political prisoners and the forthcoming election - the regime remained equally intransigent.

“I don’t expect any progress soon [on the release of political prisoners],” he said. During his talks with the representatives of the regime he continued to stress the need to release all political prisoners before the elections if the process was to at all believable.

“These are well-educated and capable people who could participate in the election and help make the whole process credible I told the authorities,” he said.

But on the elections as a whole he found the senior representatives of the junta he met relatively uncompromising. No one was prepared to discuss the elections in any detail - all they would say was that the legal framework is being prepared and the electoral law will be released in time. The UN envoy was obviously frustrated at the regime’s apparent obstinance.

“But its important to have access to the authorities to be able to discuss human rights issues and explain what is needed to be done to meet international standards,” he said. “We can at least explain what is needed.”

When he met the Home Minister, Maung Oo, the Attorney General and the Chief Justice, he left the UN’s handbook on free and fair elections for their reference. Few people though, including the envoy, expect the regime to consult in any way.

“Barring an Election Law that marks a radical departure from its past and present laws and practices, the government is unlikely to allow political parties to participate fully--and meaningfully -- in the elections process,” said Mr Zawacki.

“Politicians and political parties must able to communicate freely with both the domestic and international media,” he added. “Unfortunately, all the signs are that the only views acceptable to the government will be its own, with no room at all for a debate of any kind.”

The key people involved in the elections that Mr Quintana met also categorically rejected any involvement of international observers. “They aren’t needed,” he was told.

The envoy also took the opportunity to discuss acceptable approaches to demonstrations with the police chief, Khin Yi.

The issue was raised in terms of future protests rather than the brutal handling of the monk-led marches in 2007. “It’s important to peacefully control demonstrations, and force needs to be used proportionately,” he told the senior policeman.

Tin Oo, the deputy leader of Aung San Suu Kyi’s party the National League for Democracy, was freed on the even of Mr Quintana’s mission to Burma after nearly seven years in detention. But during his visit five other dissidents were imprisoned - including a Buddhist abbot and four women activists.

The four women were arrested last October after being accused of offering Buddhist monks alms that included religious literature, said Nyan Win, spokesman for the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by detained Nobel Peace prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi. The women used to hold prayer services at Yangon's Shwedagon pagoda for Ms Suu Kyi's release.

The Buddhist monk, Gaw Thita was given seven years jail for violating immigration laws by making a trip to Taiwan last year, said his lawyer Aung Thein. He was also convicted of unlawful association and failing to declare possession of foreign currency.

On top of that, six detained political activists in Rangoon’s infamous Insein jail went on hunger strike a day before the UN envoy was due to visit the prison, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners in Burma (AAPP-B), a Thailand-based Burmese human rights group. They launched their week-long hunger strike after complaining that the prison authorities were denying them what they called “basic human requirements”. It was due to end on Thursday 25th February.

In a letter smuggled out of the prison, the political detainees complained that the rice that was given to prisoners was stale and mixed with small stones. “The bean soup and the sour vegetable soup often have insects in it and are dirty. We only get meat twice a week ... and we get no salt,” said the letter.

The prisoners are denied appropriate medical attention or needed medicines, and are not allowed sufficient exercise, complained the prisoners.

In the letter activists said that although prisoners were allowed to receive books and newspapers from their relatives, all reading material was heavily censored. “Sometimes the pages are torn [out] and the books censored,” said the letter. “There is no regular access to newspapers, [and] when they do arrive, are often out of date,” compllined the letter.

The prisoners are also not allowed paper or pens. “If a prisoner is found with paper or pens, they are sent to the punishment cell called the ‘Dog Cell’, said the letter. “We are not allowed to write to our families,” the prisoners complained.

Last week, according to Mulim activists in Rakhune state, more than 70 inmates of Buthidaung prison also went on hunger strike in protest at the insufficient food rations. Their protests erupted after the prisoners, mostly non-Burmese, were denied a meeting with Mr Quintana when he visited Buthidaung prison.

But on the positive side, Mr Quintan found a child soldier - who had been sentenced to 7 years for desertion. He had been conscripted when he was 16, seized off the street in hi school uniform on the way home. He was arrested when he went home to see his sick mother less than six months after he was forcibly recruited.

When the envoy raised it with the Home Minister he at least responded positively, and maybe released soon. The ILO is following up the case.

But human rights groups still fear that these high-profile visits are only used by the regime for their own ends.

“When visits by UN envoys fail to achieve any progress, they allow the country to still claim it is cooperating with the UN, and leave the UN itself with little choice but to claim that the visits themselves constitute progress,” aid Mr Zawacki. “But in this case the special rapportteur is making it clear that the failure is the government’s fault.”

Although no spectacular break-throughs may result from this visit, the fact that senior members of the regime are engaged with representatives of the international community is significant, especially on human rights. Some Burmese leaders at the very top are hearing what the government needs to be done, especially if the elections are to be credible and to meet international human rights’ norms.

“If anyone expects that fundamental human rights changes are going to come about strictly through UN visits and other efforts they're ignoring 20 years of history,” said Mr Zawacki. “Change will only come from within,” he added.

And the real problem is that the senior general Than Shwe, who makes all the decisions, may not be listening to any of it.

Pervasive drug production linked to rebel groups: UNODC

Friday, 26 February 2010 13:23 Sai Zuan Sai

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - The eradication of drug production in Burma is contingent upon a reduction in the number of ethnic armed forces, stipulates a United Nations Office of Drug Control (UNODC) report.

According to the report, drug cultivation and trafficking is critical to the survival of ethnic armed forces.

Shan State is said to be the biggest region for drug production, an area which is also home to a score of ethnic armed forces.

But Shan State Army (South) spokesman Major Sai Lao Sai defended his army, saying the group is implementing anti-narcotic and narcotic suppression programs.

“We have nothing to do with this drug cultivation and drug trafficking and we don’t want them [the drugs]. So I’d like to say we are not involved in the drug trafficking business,” contends the Major.

The UNODC report continues, “The major producers of heroin and ATS (amphetamine-type stimulants) tablets in Shan State are the largest armies in Shan State, the United Wa State Army (UWSA), Shan State Army (South) and forces in the Kokang region.”

However a UWSA spokesman defended the armed group, stating the UWSA has already declared their region an opium free zone where drug cultivation and trafficking is strictly prohibited.

U Khun Sai, Director of Shan State Drug Watchgroup, said as opium cultivation takes place in junta controlled areas, drug trafficking cannot be related to ethnic armed forces.

“Who would dare and be foolish enough to enter an area heavily guarded by well equipped SPDC [Burma Army] forces and cultivate opium. Those who are cultivating opium in these areas have to pay a levy and tax to the SPDC and in return SPDC officers turn a blind eye on opium cultivations,” he explained.

After former drug warlord Khun Sa surrendered to the military regime in 1996, an opium substitution program was implemented in Shan State, effectively reducing acreage devoted to the cultivation of the opium poppy by 87 percent, though the produciton of ATS tablets has skyrocketed over the same time period.

Nonetheless, about 330 tons of raw opium were produced in Burma in 2009, earning end sales of USD 360 million, estimates the UNODC report.

Melted Euphoria

Friday, 26 February 2010 03:24 Kyi Sin Thawda (Commentary)

As I was leaving the township chicken market, a young man in a blue municipal uniform approached me. I was surprised and scared.

“Brother, I just saw you taking photos in the market. Please come with me for a while” he said.

“No, I didn’t take any photos” I replied. “The gadget I’m holding in my hand is an MP3 player” I tried to explain.

Pointing to my MP3 player he shot back “I’ve seen these small cameras in magazines. They come with a TV, you can explain it to us later. Please come with me to our office now”.

I thought it was funny that he thought the menu on my MP3 player was a TV, but this was no laughing matter. I knew I couldn’t talk my way out of it and had to go with him, I had no other choice. I had in fact taken photos in the market, not with my MP3 player however, but with a camera now hidden under my shirt.

I had come to the market to cover bird flu epidemic and Burma’s preparations or lack thereof. The busy market butchers who prepare the chickens wear no gloves. Working for hours on end with their bare hands they appear completely unaware of the deadly viruses and infections they risk contracting. Carefully, I managed to snap the photos that I wanted, I thought I hadn’t been seen, I was wrong.

On the walk over to the municipal market office, I desperately thought of how I could hide my camera. Luckily, my escort was walking behind me. Whilst pretending to re-wrap my lungyi (Burmese sarong) I pushed my camera down into my underwear. Fortunately my accuser didn’t notice what I was doing.

When we reached the municipal office, my accuser’s superior asked me which media organization I was with. I replied that I was not a journalist and had only come to buy chicken. In my defense I explained that my accuser must have mistakenly thought my MP3 player was a camera. The official took my MP3 player and examined it.

He then asked to frisk me, one of those requests I couldn’t refuse. I thought to myself “What shall I do? Is it better just to confess?” Instead I opted for the ‘total denial’ method, knowing full well that I alone would have to deal with whatever consequences came my way. If arrested no one, especially my exile news organization, could rescue me. When trouble arises my only option is to face the music head on.

The superior frisked me and fortunately found nothing. Only after his failed search did he let me go and I could take a big sigh of relief. Many others haven’t been so lucky and Burma’s jails are full of many journalists caught trying to report the news from a closed a country.

Every day in Burma undercover reporters take great risks to get photos and video. And my brush with jail came because I was only trying to get pictures in a chicken market!! You can imagine how difficult it is trying to get shots of demonstrations, forced labor or of the military on the move. In Burma there is a lot of news that needs to be covered and journalists must be very careful while regularly taking huge risks. You can never tell a stranger or even many of your friends that you are a journalist. If those who ask what you’re doing are police informers and they report one you, expect the worst to happen.

After successfully getting good photos or video footage, an underground journalist gets a great feeling. The elation however is all too brief, as we then have the difficult task of sending the photos, articles or footage to our news agencies in exile without getting caught in the process.

Like most people in Burma we don’t have internet connections at home. Instead we have to rush to an internet café whenever we want to send something to our colleagues in exile. As soon as we reach the internet cafes, we have to check and see if there are any unfamiliar faces inside. One gets used to doing this automatically and within a few seconds we can distinguish suspicious strangers and familiar faces. We must be very careful at this stage. The man sitting beside me may either be a police informer or from military intelligence.

While at the internet café at any moment someone could come and say ‘brother, please come with me for a while’. Under the ‘Electronic Act’ alone, this ‘for a while’ will at the very least result in a minimum 15 year prison sentence. After checking my surroundings and making sure there are no strangers inside the cafe, I now can start work on my memory card.

Before sending the files one has to do many things, most importantly deleting unnecessary portions and compressing the file to save space. Often software that is not installed on the internet café computers is needed to do our work. So I have to store all the necessary software that I have secretly downloaded from websites into my own thumb-drive. And then we have to reinstall the software on the computer I’m working on. Not only is it time consuming but every minute that goes by results in me having to pay a higher bill when I leave the internet café.

Burmese exile based news sites are banned in Burma. In order to visit them, we have to use proxy servers to bypass the internet filters imbedded on the government controlled servers. One cannot relax at the cyber café while engaging in underground journalism work. We must be vigilant and observe our surroundings at all times, getting caught means years in prison. Even being found with two double A batteries and an ohmmeter is enough for the paranoid military authorities to convince themselves you are a dangerous bomber.

Once I have done all the compressing and editing then all that is left is to upload the files for my colleagues in exile. Just when I think I’m about done suddenly the internet connection becomes incredibly slow. A task that normally takes less than a half an hour can last several hours. Not only does it take great courage to upload our work but it takes great patience too.

And then after the uploading when all the files are sent, I have to delete all electronic clues that prove I engaged in “subversive” activities on the computer. This last step is extremely important.

One gets a great feeling of jubilation when they see their own news reports on the websites of an opposition news agency. Video journalists have to wait days or months for a brief glimpse of their footage on exile TV. And if their footage appears on a famous foreign channel like CNN, BBC or Al Jerzera, they have to celebrate their victory alone. The consequences of being found out are just too high.

Now I’m sitting in front of my TV ready to watch the bird flu news report that I recorded and nearly got arrested for. It’s coming soon.

Suddenly my room becomes dark. The electricity in my town has gone down again for the millionth time. I am really disappointed. My brief solitary moment of victory will have to wait till tomorrow.

NLD CEC approves 100 CC members

Friday, 26 February 2010 03:19 Phanida

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - The Central Executive Committee (CEC) of the National League for Democracy (NLD) in Burma today approved 100 members of the new Central Committee (CC).

The CEC began the selection and scrutiny of nominees for the CC sent by branches of States and Divisions of the party as of February 22. It approved the finalized list of new CC members today.

The final list has to be sent to the party Chairman U Aung Shwe tomorrow for his approval following which it will be released in the first week of next month, Party Information Department in-charge Khin Maung Swe told Mizzima.

“We finalized the list today and approved 100 nominees as new CC members but we need to seek the approval of our party chairman. The CEC has approved the list,” Khin Maung Swe, who is also a CEC member, said.

The list of CC nominees was submitted to the CEC on February 16 and 17.

The party fixed the number of its CEC and CC members at 20 and 100 to 120 respectively and the number of nominees for the CC was over 100.

A NLD statement said the party Central Committee has been formed to consolidate and strengthen the party and efficiently handle the party’s future plans.

Party functionaries said that they selected nominees on the basis of loyalty to the party, having calibre and capability, staying capacity and serving the party, standing by the principles and policies of the party and from among those against whom no disciplinary action was taken.

There were 80 CC members, when it was first formed in 1990, but most of the CC members were arrested by the regime in 1997 and party activities and party work were crippled, it is learnt.
Thursday, February 25, 2010

KWO’s report on horrifying abuse of women village chiefs

Thursday, 25 February 2010 19:23 Usa Pichai

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - Horrifying abuses heaped on ethnic Karen women in Burma, who became village chiefs because male village heads were at greater risk of being killed, has been revealed by an ethnic women’s organization in its latest report released on Thursday.

The Karen Women’s Organization’s (KWO) latest report “Walking Amongst Sharp Knives” is based on interviews of 95 Karen women from 2005 to 2009 on their experience of being village heads and being targeted for systematic abuse by Burmese Army troops across Eastern Burma.

The report states that in lowland Karen areas in Eastern Burma women are increasingly taking up the role of village chief, as male village chiefs are more likely to be killed by the Burmese Army. It exposes for the first time the impact of this dramatic cultural shift.

“This change, overturning deeply engrained tradition, has put women further into the front line of human rights abuses being committed by the Burmese Army and their allies,” the report said.

The abuses experienced or witnessed by the women chiefs documented in the report include: crucifixion, people burnt alive, rape, many forms of torture and slave labour.

The practice of electing women as village chiefs has spread through lowland Karen areas of Eastern Burma since the 1980s, as Burma’s military regime has expanded control and increased persecution of these war-torn communities. With men increasingly reluctant to risk their lives as chiefs, women have stepped in to assume leadership in the hope of mitigating abuses. However, testimonies of women chiefs show that, far from being exempt from the brutality of the Burmese Army, they have faced ongoing systematic abuse, including gender-based violence, according to the report.

The source of information is based on interviews with current and former women chiefs from five districts of Eastern Burma: Papun (Mutraw), Dooplaya, Thaton (Doo Tha Htu), Nyaunglebin (Kler Lwee Htu), and Pa-an. They are of the ages between 25 to 82. About one third are still serving as chiefs of their communities.

“Apart from being witness to numerous instances of abuse and murder of fellow-villagers, the chiefs themselves have suffered brutal punishment for alleged non-cooperation. One third of the women interviewed had been physically beaten or tortured. The women also testify to ongoing sexual violence. They also describe being forced to provide “comfort women” for the Burmese Army troops,” the report added.

Many of the abuses described in the report would appear to be in breach of international law, including five articles of the Rome Statute, of the International Criminal Court.

KWO is urgently calling on the United Nations Security Council to establish a Commission of Inquiry into war crimes and crimes against humanity being committed by the Burmese military dictatorship. It also urges the Royal Thai Government to grant continued protection to those refugees, who have fled military attacks and human rights abuses. In addition, the Thai Government should suspend investment in projects such as dams and infrastructure, which is fuelling militarization and abuses, and increasing refugee flow into Thailand.

Hyundai signs US $ 1.4 billion contract for gas facilities in Burma

Thursday, 25 February 2010 17:53 Mizzima News (News Brief)

(Mizzima) - South Korea’s Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) on Tuesday signed a contract for a US $ 1.4 billion project to build gas facilities in military-ruled Burma.

A HHI press release on Tuesday said, the company signed the contract for SHWE project in Burma’s western coast with Daewoo International Corporation, which had sent a letter of intent for the project in October 2009 to HHI.

Under the contract, HHI would build offshore gas fields in the Bay of Bengal by March 2013, and will install a gas production and processing platform to produce gas, transport it to Ramree Island through subsea pipelines and export the gas to China through an onshore gas terminal.

“Hyundai Heavy will handle the entire project on a turnkey basis including engineering, procurement, construction, installation and commission. The company will build a 40,000-ton class offshore gas platform, a subsea production system, subsea pipelines, an onshore gas terminal, a jetty and a supply base. The project will be completed by March 2013,” the press release said.

In 2009, Burma agreed to supply gas from the A-1 and A-3 blocks of Shwe gas fields, which is being developed by a consortium led by South Korea’s Deawoo International, to China National Petroleum Corp for a period of three decades.

Daewoo International plans to begin supplying gas from the field in May of the same year to China. The project will produce 500 million cubic feet of gas per day for 25 to 30 years, and all the gas will be delivered to China.

The gas fields are estimated to hold between 4.5 trillion and 7.7 trillion cubic feet of gas, according to Daewoo International.

Burma-India boost relations with naval parley

Thursday, 25 February 2010 15:25 Kyaw Mya

New Delhi (Mizzima) - Burmese Navy Chief, Vice Admiral Nyan Tun’s five-day visit to India, is yet another instance of giving a leg up to bilateral relationship between the two countries, particularly in areas of defence, a New Delhi based Burmese Member of Parliament in exile said.

Dr. Tint Swe, Information Minister of the National Coalition Government of Union of Burma (NCGUB), said while Indo-Burma relationship had relied more on economic cooperation, in recent years it had made inroads in the fields of politics and defence, with India worrying over China’s defence presence on the Indian Ocean.

“Over a few years the relationship between Burma and India has been increasing in the fields of politics as well as at the defence level. His [Nya Tun] visit indicates another example of cooperation between two countries,” the exiled MP said.

He added that cooperation in the area of naval activities in Indian Ocean is of vital importance to both military-ruled Burma and India.

Burma was among the 13 countries participating at the five-day Indian Navy’s Milan 2010, a biennial meeting of navies from Indian Ocean region/Asia Pacific region. It commenced on February 5 at the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

Nyan Tun, who was given a Guard of Honour on his arrival in India’s capital New Delhi on Monday, met Indian Defence Minister A.K Antony on Tuesday and is also scheduled to meet Indian Chief of Army Staff General Deepak Kapoor, Navy Chief, Admiral Nirmal Verma, and the Vice Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal P.K. Barbora.

While the Indian Navy costal guards, navy public information office and Director of Naval Operations office in New Delhi refused to divulged details of the visit and scheduled meetings and discussions, when contacted by Mizzima, Nyan Tun is reported to conclude his visit on Thursday, February 25, 2010.

Dr. Tint Swe, who has long monitored Indo-Burma relationship said, “There has been reports about the Chinese radar station based in Burma’s Coco Island and it is of great concern to India.”

Though Burma’s ruling military regime has consistently denied Chinese presence in Coco Islands, India is worried, he added.

“So the approach of India towards Burma is a kind of exchange of dialogue and discussions in meetings about the matter. India is always trying to bring Burma to its fold because it is concerned about Chinese influence over Burma,” Dr. Tint Swe said.

Reportedly, the Indian naval chief is likely to ask his Burmese counterpart to bring down Chinese presence in Burma, and for that India may offer assistance to upgrade the Burmese Navy, he added.

It is being speculated that the main agenda of discussion between the visiting Burmese navy chief and Indian officials could be China's naval expansion that influences the coastal regions of Burma and India.

India and Burma have steadily increased and strengthened bilateral relationship since the early 1990s. India is currently the fourth largest investor in Burma, following Singapore, China, and Thailand.

Burma-Bangla border safe haven for robbers

Thursday, 25 February 2010 14:49 Nyein Chan

Dhaka (Mizzima) - Plagued by an increasing number of robberies along the Burma-Bangladesh border, villagers in Maungdaw Township, northern Arakan State have been compelled to build guard posts and arrange for sentry duty, sources said.

With authorities failing to act, villagers along the Naf River collectively began arranging for guard duty in groups of five from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. The guards alert villages at the sight of suspicious strangers.

“Since we cannot rely on the border security force [known as Nasaka], we are forced to guard our villages,” a local headman of Phyuu Ma village in Maungdaw township, told Mizzima.

Nasaka often fires in the sky when they are told of robberies being committed and often doze off at the stations or make an excuse of not being permitted by higher-ups to intervene.

Maungdaw Township is on the Burma-Bangladesh border of Burma’s western state of Arakan. The border is the Naf River, a busy river route used both by businessmen and traders as well as by illegal immigrants to cross over to Bangladesh.

Lack of security measures makes the border a safe haven for robbers, who loot traders, businessmen, and also villages.

“Nobody gave us the responsibility of guarding villages, but since we struggle to earn a living, we can no longer tolerate the looting,” the village headman said.

The guard duty by each man for two nights till his next round is managed by the local township councils.

Locals said, with the border security force not taking measures, the robbers have become emboldened since early 2010 and often disguise themselves as officials paying midnight visits to check on overnight guests.

At least three robberies, including that in the house of the chairman of Ward No. (5) near Maungdaw town, have taken place in February, according to Arakan News agency, in exile, Narinjara.

In fear of robberies, villages along the Naf River including Kappa Kaung, Ngakhura, Yut Nyo Taung, Sapeayin, Thibawlaha, Yan Aung Pyin, Kyaing Gyuang, Tamantha, Taung Pyong, Leikyakone and Phyuu Ma villages, have began guarding their villages.

The robberies, which were initially frequent in Maungdaw Township, have also reportedly spread to neighbouring township of Buthitaung.

Local police, however, told Mizzima that most robbers are people who have fled to Bangladesh. These people, according to police, cross the Naf River into Burma and loot houses and go back to Bangladesh.

A police official, requesting anonymity, told Mizzima, “We are doing as much as we can to trace the robbers. But the problem is that the robbers do not seem to be residing on the Burmese side of the border. They cross the Naf River during the night and go back to Bangladesh after the burglary.”

“This requires cooperation between the border security forces of the two countries,” he added.

Similarly, the Bangladesh border security force, Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) sources told Mizzima that the BDR had also traced robbers, who were robbing traders and travellers, but they cross over to Burma side of the border.

ASEAN Head: Burma election is 'new beginning'

Thursday, 25 February 2010 13:17 Thomas Maung Shwe

(Mizzima) - ASEAN’s Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan claimed today in an interview with the BBC program Hardtalk that Burma’s upcoming 2010 election would be a “new beginning” for the country plagued by four decades of military misrule and mismanagement.

The election is seen by many governments in ASEAN as a promising development. Many Burmese democracy activists however are wary of coming out in support of an election that will held at a yet to be determined date, using a yet to be announced election law and held under Burma’s new constitution which guarantees heavy military involvement in the day to day running of the country’s affairs.

At times during the interview Pitsuwan appeared somewhat ill prepared to respond to presenter Stephen Sackur’s aggressive questioning style that is a trademark of the popular BBC program.

In response to Sackur’s statement that “hailing elections for elections sake is an insult to the Burmese people” the former Thai Foreign minister replied that “no election is perfect, it has to begin and that’s what is beginning , they promised at the end of this year. . .we are working on trying to make sure that our expectations will be fulfilled, that this will be credible, its going to be transparent.”

When Sackur bluntly asked “its not going to be credible is it?” Pitsuwan conceded “certainly not on the same level of any other country that you are expecting, this is a different country they’ve had a different background”.

Media persona urged to join pro-democracy movement

Thursday, 25 February 2010 13:03 Kyaw Kha

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - Media persona both at home and abroad, have been exhorted to join the pro-democracy struggle in Burma, by veteran journalist Ludu Sein Win and film director Win Pe.

In a video communiqué sent to the Burma Media Conference being held in northern Thailand from February 24, Ludu Sein Win said, "The media’s objective is interlaced with the cause of democracy and freedom of our country. So I would like to ask all of you to join hands and be of mutual assistance and cooperation until you reach your goal".

Ludu Sein Win hailed media persons under attack by those opposing and resisting the right cause and truth, because they are on the side of the people and the country.

Famous writer and film director Win Pe said in his message that the military regime had not only seized the executive, legislative and judicial pillars by military might but had also seized the fourth pillar - the media.

"The most important is the fourth pillar - the media. It is not just interfering and poking its nose in the media, the fact remains the media does not exist in Burma at all," he said.

"I wish today on this occasion that you can do your utmost being members of the media for progress, goodwill, safety and freedom of our country - the Union of Burma," Win Pe said.

The Burma Media Conference is for three days and is being attended by news agencies at home and abroad, politicians, bloggers and NGOs, accounting for over 100 people.

Aung San Suu Kyi happy with reorganization of NLD’s CC

Thursday, 25 February 2010 12:26 Phanida

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - Aung San Suu Kyi, general secretary of the National League for Democracy has expressed her happiness with the reorganization of the party Central Committee (CC).

The pro-democracy leader also conveyed her thanks to party Vice-Chairman Tin Oo for carrying out party duties soon after he was released from house arrest. She spoke to her lawyers Nyan Win and Kyi Win. They visited her home on University Avenue yesterday between 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. for monitoring the renovation of her residence.

"Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said she was pleased with our work relating to selecting CC nominees. She is aware that U Tin Oo began performing party duties immediately after his release from house arrest and asked us to convey her thanks to him, which has been done,” lawyer Nyan Win said.

All her four lawyers - Kyi Win, Nyan Win, Hla Myo Myint and Khin Htay Kywe - sought permission from the regime to meet their client but only two were given the go ahead.

They discussed the temporary injunction filed by her elder brother Aung San Oo against renovating her residence at the Rangoon Divisional Court and made insertions and additions in their application.

Aung San Suu Kyi felt the injunction is contrary to the law as the renovation is not causing damage to the disputed property.

The All Burma Monks Alliance (ABMA) had imposed their ex-communicative boycott on Aung San OO and his wife Le Le Nwe Thein for obstructing the work of people, who are making sacrifices for the pro-democracy struggle.

The party Central Executive Committee (CEC) has begun the selection of CC nominees submitted by States and Divisions party branches by making additions, deletions, alterations and insertion in the nominees' list since February 22 at the party head office in Rangoon.

Security beefed up on Burma-Laos border

Thursday, 25 February 2010 11:57 Sai Zuan Sai (News Brief)

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - In the wake of the murderous ambush on the Burmese police force on the Mekong River, in the Golden Triangle on February 20, which left 14 policemen dead and missing, the junta has beefed up security in the area and sealed the international border with Laos.

"There is a tactical command controlled by the Military Operation Command No. 18 in this area. A 200-strong people's militia force led by this tactical command is monitoring people at the checkpoints," an officer from Tachileik told Mizzima.

Soon after the attack about two to three battalions were sent to Wan Pong as reinforcements, Shan Narcotic Drugs Watch group member U Sein Kyi said.

The gunmen of drug lord Naw Kham ambushed three patrol boats transporting policemen and personnel of the anti-narcotics special police force on the Mekong River last Saturday, which left 11 dead and three missing. Two survived the attack with gunshot injuries and were sent to Rangoon General Hospital on February 22.

A joint force of the local police and soldiers began combing operations in the area yesterday and found two more bodies. The bodies are of Corporal Zin Lin Maung and a boatman but the body of police Sub-Inspector Thant Zin has not yet been found.

"The remains of the boatman were left in Wan Pong. Zin Lin Maung's body was badly decomposed and was cremated," the local authorities said.

The funeral was attended by the state police chief.

Army seizes farmlands in Arakan State

Thursday, 25 February 2010 09:10 Nyein Chan

Dhaka (Mizzima) - Army units have seized nearly 300 acres of farmland owned by local farmers in Sittwe and Ponnakyun Townships in Arakan State since the beginning of last month.

Sittwe-based Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) 232 appropriated 80 acres of land located in the villages Kyay Taw, Taung Nar and Yoe Tayoke, while Ponnakyun-based LIB 550 is reported to have taken control of 200 acres. The incorporated lands are to be used for army agribusiness endeavors.

"We have learned they will undertake rice cultivation and rubber plantations on these seized lands. Rubber plantations are part of their 100-acres plan to be implemented as per instruction given by Western Command Headquarters. Rice cultivation is not under this plan," a person close to Sittwe-based LIB 232 told Mizzima.

"There was no prior notice and no compensation given to farmers who lost their lands. An army section led by an officer from LIB 232 and a survey team came and measured the lands. After some days they erected signboards saying 'Army owned area - Do not trespass' on the lands they seized," a villager from Taung Nar elaborated.

Similarly, local people said that Ponnakyun-based LIB 550 seized nearly 200 acres of land in Thit Tet, Kyauk Sone, Be Kho, Marlar, Kywe Lan Chaung, Myin Taw, Win Tein, Khwa Sone and Nga Pyauk Se villages.

"The lands were seized from almost every village. Our village lost over 70 acres in seized land and our village has suffered the most in this land seizure campaign. I heard that nearly 10 more acres were seized in the second week of this month in Win Tein village. This is the latest seizure of land during these days," a villager from Kyauk Sone related.

"Almost everything is scarce in our area. The villagers are unhappy with the seizure of their lands but they can do nothing to console themselves and let it be. They don't know how to lodge a complaint for the seizure of their lands due to their ignorance," he added.

Farmers had used the now army occupied land to primarily grow paddy, betel leaf and pepper.

Demonstration in Malaysian camp, 106 Burmese released

Thursday, 25 February 2010 09:05 Salai Han Thar San

New Delhi (Mizzima) - Officers from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) rescued 106 Burmese refugees yesterday from Malaysia’s Lang Geng Camp, according to refugees.

After administering interviews, the UNHCR recognized 300 detainees in the camp as refugees following a hunger strike begun on February 22nd. The hunger strike was in response to the lack of a UNHCR visit for the previous two months.

A leader of the refugee hunger strike who had been detained for seven months told Mizzima 106 Burmese refugees who passed the interview may now be taken to Kuala Lumpur and freed.

"All of the Burmese refugees had a hunger strike from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. the day before (February 22nd). But they stopped the originally planned four-day hunger strike after being informed by the camp officer that UN officials would pay a visit to the camp," he said.

There are a total of 1,400 prisoners from various countries, including 600 Burmese refugees, in the Lang Geng Camp.

The UNHCR in Malaysia used to pay a monthly visit to the camp, but December had been the last time they came, according to refugees.

"It is good news that the UNHCR has rescued some Burmese refugees who are being detained in the camp but we demand that the UNHCR rescue many more Burmese refugees that have been waiting for the UNHCR to intervene on behalf of their problems and suffering in various camps in Malaysia," said Than Oo, Vice-President of the Malaysia-based Arakan Refugee Rescue Committee.

Although refugees from other countries are assisted by Malaysia-based staff from their own country’s embassies, there is no such help forthcoming for Burmese refugees, leaving the UNHCR as the principle mechanism of available assistance for refugees from Burma.

For those in detention in Malaysia, life in the camps can be very difficult.

"We are provided nothing in the camp except a set of clothes, with some lucky people getting two sets. And we even do not receive a bed sheet and blanket. We must purchase the blanket ourselves, 80 ringgits (1 USD = 3.4 ringgits) for one blanket. Only 30 prisoners out of 300 can afford to have a blanket. There is also no adequate medicine or proper care for the sick. Only those who get a serious sickness are sent to the clinic. So, three prisoners passed away in the prison while I was there in the camp. Since we are not fed well, many prisoners frequently get sick," explained one Burmese refugee.

From 300 to 600 refugees are kept per building in Lang Geng Camp, with only four toilets and a small 3 feet by 2 feet tank. Maximum capacity in each building is supposed to be 200.

There are more than 10 camps established by Malaysia's Immigration Department spread across the country similar to Lang Geng Camp.

Burmese refugees, numbering 61,500, comprise the largest bloc of refugees in Malaysia recognized by the UNHCR, according to UNHCR statistics.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010

U Tin Oo and realpolitik

Wednesday, 24 February 2010 21:17 Yan Nyein Aung (Youth)


The National League for Democracy (NLD) party Vice-Chairman U Tin Oo has been freed from house arrest and has resumed his duties. But the news of U Tin Oo’s release didn’t make waves and had a ripple effect as that of student leader Min Ko Naing and Baba (Uncle) U Win Tin’s did. Similarly this news did not get much media coverage. When Min Ko Naing was released, the National Convention was still in progress and basic principles for a new constitution had not yet been laid down. So there was still hope for changing of the political mainstream. Therefore the people had high hopes on the student leaders or 88 Generation students for bringing change in Burma.

But when U Win Tin was released, the 2008 constitution had already forcibly been approved and the junta had announced the 2010 general elections. But the international community and international media were still making noises on this controversial constitution and people were still hoping they had time to stop the junta from going ahead with its plans. Since his release, Baba U Win Tin defiantly and outspokenly talked about everything that he thought should be talked about without hesitation and reluctance. Maybe the junta ignored his words as long as there were no demonstrations and uprising that worries them.

Baba U Tin Oo, like Baba U Win Tin, is a person of integrity and is outspoken. He is committed and determined. He expresses his views very simply and frankly. He led the 8888 uprising along with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. He is the person who led NLD from 1995 to 2003, for about eight years and won the trust and respect of the party members, youths and people. But we cannot hope that he can change the course of the current political process. Nevertheless regaining of leadership by Baba U Tin Oo at this time will embolden the party. He is a trusted and revered leader of the party.

He was released on the evening of February 13. As soon as he took charge as Vice-Chairman on February 15, the first case he had to tackle was the selection of nominees to regroup and reinforce the party Central Committee (CC). We are encouraged to learn that Baba U Tin Oo was quite updated about party affairs in taking decisions and deliberating with the delegates from party States and Divisions branches from February 16 to 17 and as well as at the Central Executive Committee (CEC) meeting as if he had not been just released from house arrest. Selecting members for CC is crucial but it is not the most important matter.

Though they are saying the time is not yet ripe for contesting the 2010 general elections by holding the Shwe Gong Daing Declaration, the time to take a decision on this matter is not far away. Not surprisingly there are heated debates among party members on this matter with different views and different approaches, and naturally, no one can stop this trend. Let me say by using the current popular term in our party, there are two schools in our party now, namely ‘realist’ and ‘idealist’. Simply said, there are two types of party members and two trends of thinking in our party. The first one is those who want to think pragmatically and those who want to adhere to the principles and no compromise on their stance. Poetically saying, it is a tug-of-war between the head and the heart.

Such dialectic is natural in both human society and the natural world so that the ideal of each member is embedded and woven in our party. Someone might be a ‘realist’ today and he might turn to an ‘idealist’ tomorrow with the stance of never compromising on his commitment and principle. Therefore the current antagonisms in our party are not leading to destruction and devastation. They are not non-negotiable matters. They are antagonisms which can be settled and negotiated peacefully.

But Baba U Tin Oo himself exposed the antagonistic contradiction in our party on February 20 at the function held in his honour by veteran politicians and ethnic parties. In his vote of thanks and acceptance speech for the prize he was awarded, like before, he exposed a secret which was unknown until on that day, very frankly on the incidents and situations just after Depayin massacre and pre-reconvening of National Convention. The main point is the dialogue that took place at that time between Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the military regime (SPDC). At these meetings, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi told SPDC that she forgave everything that happened at Depayin. And also an agreement had been reached between them to return to the National Convention by the NLD. At that time, according to the delegates of SPDC, its Home Minister had wholeheartedly accepted this offer. But just a day before, the Commander-in-Chief of Defence Services Senior General negated everything and ‘undid’ every understanding and agreement. This is the secret he revealed on that day.

NLD party members can now see the hidden issue that should be taken into account very clearly. Our party is still holding ‘dialogue’ as the basic principle until the Shwe Gong Daing Declaration. But on the other hand, the main decision maker has not only no interest in this dialogue, but also cancelled all the results of past dialogues and he was not reluctant to dismiss the then Prime Minister, who was the key player in this dialogue. How can we resolve this contradiction?

As Baba U Win Tin has told us since his release from prison, we have only two options. The first one is, to resolve this crisis, surrender and submissive to everything by thinking pragmatically. The second option is to adhere to the principle at the cost of destruction of our party. This is the issue of existence of our party which is higher than antagonism between the heart and the head.

Baba U Tin Oo is the C-in-C turned, Defence Minister turned, legal academician turned politician. Throughout his life, he took many decisions by his discretion and pragmatic approach. At the same time, by adhering to his commitment and principle, he lived with the people, thought for the people, struggled with the people and spent nearly two decades behind bars in one or another form of confinement.

I honestly wish his vast and rich experience, firm commitment, high dignity and integrity and high morals will be useful and instrumental in crucial decision making in the party’s realpolitik programmes and future plans which are soon to be inevitably faced.

‘Halt abuse of migrant workers in Thailand’: HRW

Wednesday, 24 February 2010 18:14 Usa Pichai

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) -A rights group has made a fervent appeal to the Thai government to halt abuses by the police and withdraw discriminatory laws and policies against migrant workers from neighbouring countries.

The New York-based, Human Rights Watch released a report on Tuesday detailing the widespread and severe human rights abuses faced by migrant workers in Thailand. Abuses include killings, torture in detention, extortion, sexual abuse, and labour rights abuses such as trafficking, forced labour, and restrictions on organizations.

The 124-page report, "From the Tiger to the Crocodile: Abuse of Migrant Workers in Thailand," is based on 82 interviews with migrants from neighbouring Burma, Cambodia, and Laos.

Brad Adams, Asia Director of Human Rights Watch said that migrant workers make huge contributions to Thailand's economy, but receive little protection from abuse and exploitation. "Those from Burma, Cambodia, and Laos suffer horribly at the hands of corrupt civil servants and police, unscrupulous employers, and violent thugs, who all realize they can abuse migrants with little fear of consequences," he said, according to a press statement released on Tuesday.

HRW said police abuse migrants with impunity. A Burmese migrant told HRW that she witnessed two Thai policemen in Ranong repeatedly kick a Burmese youth in the chest, killing him, because he did not respond to their queries in Thai.

"Many Burmese watched but nobody went and helped because they were afraid of the police. Nobody said anything about the killing, and nobody informed the police station," said the eyewitness. "When I saw this [killing], I felt that we Burmese people always have to be humble and have to be afraid of the Thai police. I feel that there is no security for Burmese people [in Thailand]."

HRW noted that migrant workers face an imminent threat from the Thai government's decision that all migrants must go through the national verification process by February 28, or face arrest and deportation. Eighty percent of the migrant workers in Thailand are from Burma.

The report documented that migrants live in constant fear of extortion by the police, who demand money or valuables from migrants held in police custody in exchange for their release. It is not uncommon for a migrant to lose the equivalent of one to several months' pay in one extortion incident.

In addition, local police and officials frequently ignore or fail to effectively investigate complaints. Provincial decrees and national laws prohibit migrants from establishing their own organizations to assert their rights, while restrictions in policy on changing employers, moving outside designated areas, and convening meetings with more than a handful of persons leave migrants vulnerable to exploitation and ill-treatment.

HRW also called on the Thai government to establish an independent and impartial commission to investigate allegations of abuse by police and other authorities against migrants.

“Such a commission should have the power to subpoena, require presentation of evidence, and recommend criminal and civil charges against abusers. It should make public reports on a periodic basis,” HRW added.

Headless body found near Rangoon suburb Park

Tuesday, 23 February 2010 18:20 Kyaw Kha

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – A man's body with no head was found near Hlawga Park, east of San Pya village, Htauk Kyant, Mingaladon Township, Rangoon Division, police said.

The headless body was found in the morning of February 12 which was the national holiday of Union Day. The body was found beside the Rangoon-Hmawbi highway near the entrance gate of Hlawga Park.

The Htauk Kyant Police Station said that the identity of victim is not yet known but he is not believed to be from the area. According to police the investigation of the case is still underway.

"We have not yet received more information on this case. It is the body of male and we found only one dead body. We have not yet learned his identity and other facts", a police officer from this police station said to Mizzima.

This Rangoon-Hmawbi highway is usually deserted at the night time except some trucks and usually there are no small passenger cars driving on this road. Local people believe that the victim is not from the area and he might have been dropped off by someone coming from Rangoon.

According to the police office the area surrounding Hlawga Park is often deserted and is known to be a crime ridden area. Some murder cases have taken place in the area in the past he said.

In 2003-2004 several taxi drivers were murdered and robbed at night by passengers who hired the cabs to take them to Htauk Kyat, Hmawbi, Hlegu, Pegu and other suburban areas. After these incidents, many taxi drivers stopped taking their passengers to these suburbs at night.

Thai authorities clear landmines after soldiers injured

Tuesday, 23 February 2010 15:01 Usa Pichai

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Last week after three Thai soldiers were injured by landmines near the Thai Burma border, Tak Province authorities launched an extensive search of the area and are presently removing lethal mines along the banks of the Moei River which divides Burma from Thailand. The soldiers were injured while on anti smuggling patrol in an area known for smuggling near Thasailuad village in Maesot district.

Following the explosion Master Sergeant Wutthikorn Khamchum had his right foot amputated, while Sergeant Thawit Leumin and Sergeant Thanapat Amthim suffered minor injuries.

Samart Loifa, Tak Province Governor said on Monday that he urged villagers in the area to watch for explosive devices and inform authorities if they see anything suspicious.

“The incident occurred in an area where cars and motorcycles are smuggled regularly from Thailand to Burma. Officials believe that the suspects are smugglers angry by Thai authorities’ new measures that could limit crime in the area,” Samart said, according to a report posted on the Thai news website Komchadluek. Earlier this month in another incident along the border a soldier stepped on a mine and was also injured.

On Friday, Maj Gen Sonthisal Wittaya-aneknan, the commander of Naresuan Task Force of the Royal Thai Army visited the three injured soldiers and surveyed the area where the incident occurred.

Thai officials last month warned villagers living near the border to keep an eye on their vehicles after a number of motorcycles and cars were stolen in Thailand and thought to be taken to Burma,

In a monthly press conference in January, the Tak Province Governor said that Myawaddy authorities on the Burmese side of the river Moei are registering motorcycles and cars without verifying the original source of the vehicles from.

The Governor said this policy affected local villagers along the Thai– Burma border in the province. There were several instances of vehicles being stolen, even after officials attempted to restrict border crossing through 30 border check points along Meoi River, frequently used to transport goods and people between the two countries.

The zone is opposite Burmese territory controlled by the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) and it is difficult for the Thai authorities to follow suspects, who often flee to Burma to avoid arrest. The DKBA is a junta backed cease group that split from the Karen National Union in the mid 1990’s, it is considered by many experts to be a key player in Burma’s booming amphetamine export business, smuggling and extortion.

NLD leader Tin Oo awarded

Tuesday, 23 February 2010 12:51 Myint Maung

New Delhi (Mizzima) - Tin Oo the Vice-Chairman of the National League for Democracy was awarded for “bravery for national reconciliation” by the UNA, a coalition of ethnic parties, and his colleagues on February 20.

Released from a six-year house arrest term on February 13, the award was handed to the NLD Vice-Chairman at a ceremony in the house of Thakhin Thein Phe in Mayangon, Rangoon Division.

Pu Cing Tsian Thang the President of the Zomi National Congress (ZNC) said, “The bravery award for national reconciliation was given to him for his effort in achieving freedom and democracy for the people.”

The award recipient said, “I don’t think of myself as a hero. The fact is since Daw Aung Suu Kyi began leading the movement, I also participated so that my experiences could be useful to her.”

Since February 20 coincides with the 62nd anniversary of the Chin National Day, a Chin traditional shawl was also presented to the former army general Tin Oo. It was gently wrapped around him.

“With great difficulty, U Tin Oo visited Chin State, and was assaulted on his way back to Depayin. After being injured, he was first held in Kalay jail for eight months. We love U Tin Oo and therefore we presented him with the gift,” Pu Cing Tsian Thang said.

Tin Oo said he felt grateful and happy on receiving the gift from ethnic Chins, and considered it as “a symbol of their cooperation towards our efforts in accomplishing common political hopes, aims, and objectives. Only with unity and trust of ethnic nationals, we can have a federal union. I will try playing a part in nation-building, which must be a blend of unity and trust among ethnic nationals.”

Tin Oo was arrested after being attacked by a mob backed by the military junta in Depayin, Sagaing Division, on May 30, 2003, while traveling with Aung San Suu Kyi the General-Secretary of NLD on an organizational tour. He was then sent to his residence on February 13, 2004 and placed under house-arrest. He was released on February 13, 2010.

About 50 senior political colleagues, UNA’s leaders and members, and some of NLD’s Central Executive Committee members were present at the award ceremony.

Ohn Kyaing, a NLD CEC member attending said, “U Tin Oo said at the function that he has Thura-Thatti (Heroic Ability). And, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi possesses both heroic ability and Dhamma-Thatti (Bravery for Truth). We are fortunate to have a leader like Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. I therefore spoke at the ceremony urging the people to work together for helping her succeed.”

Tin Oo reiterated that he is just one of those who “followed the student leaders: Min Ko Naing, Ko Ko Gyi, Ko Min Zeya, Ko Htay Kywe, Ko Jimmy, Ko Pyone Choe and Ko Mya Aye, who stood at the forefront of the democracy upheaval in 1988.”

The UNA was formed by ethnic parties: the Mon National Democratic Front (MNDF), Zomi National Congress (ZNC), Arakan League for Democracy (ALD), and Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD). Although its candidates contested in the 1990 elections, UNA was later branded as an illegal entity by the military regime.


Two policemen injured in clash with drug cartel sent to Rangoon

Tuesday, 23 February 2010 12:21 Sai Zuan Sai

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Two policemen, injured in an ambush by drug traffickers on February 20, which claimed the lives of 14 police personnel, were sent to Rangoon General Hospital from Tachileik hospital by air yesterday.

The drug cartel’s army led by king pin Naw Kham opened fire on policemen on routine patrol in the Golden Triangle area bordering Burma, Laos and Thailand on Saturday, leaving 14 dead or missing and two injured. The policemen were from Wan Pong Township police force in Tachileik District, Shan State.

Police Sub-Inspector Sein Hlaing received gunshot injuries with bullets still embedded in his body. Police constable Kee Muu, who received gunshot wounds in his legs and arms, was sent to Rangoon by Myanmar Airways.

Quoting Sub-Inspector Sein Hlaing, a person close to Tachileik police station said that a 16-member police unit led by Police Inspector Khin Maung Yin was on routine patrol duty in three boats. Two boats came ashore when they saw two women and two men fleeing to the island when they reached Pu Kying Island in Laos' territory.

When the two police boats came ashore, the drug traffickers opened fire on them. They used 40 mm grenade launchers and then opened small arms fire.

The boatman in the last boat with four policemen fell into the water when they were ambushed with grenade launchers. The rest of the policemen opened counter fire and tried to flee in which the boat hit a rock and turned turtle. After the encounter, Laos soldiers saved sub-inspector Sein Hlaing and police constable Kee Muu from the water, it is learnt.

The clash occurred on Pu Kying Island, which is some distance from Wan Pong on the Mekong River. It is in Laos territory east of Pa Sar and Sam Puu villages.

The body of police inspector Khin Maung Yin was found on a jetty in Thailand at about 9:50 a.m. on 22 February and sent to Tachileik hospital mortuary, according to the police source.

"The police will cremate six bodies today. Three bodies are still missing and five bodies are in Wang Pong. The total is 16 besides two people's militias and three boatmen," Tachileik police sources said.

The missing are police sub-inspector Thant Zin, anti-drug force police corporal Zin Min Maung and a local boatman, it is learnt.

Police Chief Khin Yee arrived in Tachileik yesterday.

Quoting survivors, the police source said that the injured were brutally tortured and killed with knives by the drug cartel’s army.

The Naw Kham drug trafficking group is believed to have 80 personnel. It collects levy and protection money from drug traffickers in the notorious Golden Triangle along with trafficking of heroin and Methamphetamine drugs.

Naw Kham first joined the Lwe Maw militia force led by drug warlord Khun Sa and then joined the Shan United Army (SUA) and Mong Tai Army later. Then he shifted to Tachileik when Khun Sa surrendered to the junta in 1996. Local people accuse him of having a nexus with some local authorities.

NLD commences Central Committee selection process

Tuesday, 23 February 2010 09:28 Kyaw Kha

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – The National League for Democracy (NLD) yesterday initiated its Central Committee (CC) selection process at party headquarters in Rangoon.

While the Central Executive Committee (CEC) began selection work on Monday, the process could not be completed and the new CC list will likely not be announced till the coming Monday, according to the NLD.

"We received additional nominees and we have to recheck existing nominees as there are some objections and confirmation is needed at the grassroots level. So we will again do a selection process on Thursday," CEC member Win Tin told Mizzima.

Thus far the CEC has deleted, added and modified information of persons nominated for CC positions in lists sent by State and Division party branches.

Though the party has fixed the maximum number of CEC members at 20 and CC members at between 100 and 120, CC nominations are already said to exceed 100 in number.

Last month the CEC instructed its organizational committees at Division, State and Township levels to limit CC nominations to five to seven individuals, with the resulting lists arriving at CEC headquarters on the 16th and 17th of February.

The selection process is being conducted in accordance to five criteria: party loyalty, determination to remain active, adherence to party policies, past track record within the party and professional qualification.

The CC comprised 80 members in 1990 at the time of the last general election, but implementation of party functions became extremely strained with the arrest of most CC members by authorities in 1997.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Muslims in Arakan state get Temporary national ID cards

Monday, 22 February 2010 21:00 Nyein Chan

Dhaka (Mizzima) – As occurred prior to the may 2008 constitutional referendum, local authorities are reportedly going door to door issuing temporary national IDs to adult Muslims in some townships in Burma’s western Arakan State. Arakan is home to a large Muslim Rohingya minority many of whom are denied Burmese citizenship despite having lived in Burma for generations.

Since mid February staff from the Burmese Immigration and Manpower Department have issued ID cards at a fast pace to people in Rethe Taung, Buthidaung and Maungdaw Townships.

"We visited all homes in our township in groups. We checked the Immigration Form 10 (family registration form) and updated the forms with current family members. And we issued national ID cards to all who have attained 18 years of age", an Immigration staff from Rethe Taung Township told to Mizzima.

MD. Mahabue from Taung Pyo, Maungdaw Township said, "I got my new ID card only on the 19th of this month. This ID states that it is a 'Temporary ID', race as 'Bengali' and religion as 'Islam'".

The colour of the temporary ID is white and it costs Ks. 3,000-4,000 per card. They are being processed within one week and it is unknown when they will be revoked again.

Similarly these temporary ID cards were issued before 2008 constitutional referendum and the holders of these cards could not go to other townships, a former member of Ward Peace and Development Council in Maungdaw Township said. It is believed that the Burmese regime is distributing the ID’s so that Muslims in Arakan state can vote in the upcoming national election.

The plight of Arakan’s Muslim Rohingya made headlines last year when dozens of boats holding Rohingya refugees were pushed back into the ocean last year by Thai authorities. In an attempt to counter the sympathetic coverage the Rohingya boatpeople received, Burma’s top diplomatic representative in Hong Kong sent a letter to his fellow diplomats in the territory that stated his regime’s position on the matter. In the letter he claimed that the Rohingya could not possibly be Burmese citizens because their skin was too dark and they are uglier than ogres.

According to a staff person from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in Maungdaw, the percentage of Muslims in the townships where the temporary ID cards are being issued is 90% in Maungdaw, 70% in Buthidaung and 25% in Rethe Daung townships respectively.

H1N1 traps Chin youths in Naypyidaw

Monday, 22 February 2010 19:26 Phanida

New Delhi (Mizzima) - A group of Chin youth who earlier this month made the long trip to Burma’s new capital Naypyidaw to participate in the 63rd anniversary celebration of Union day are now stranded because several members of the group showed symptoms of the H1N1 influenza virus.

On the 4th February approximately 50 Chin Youth headed to Naypyidaw to represent their state in a Union Day cultural dance program . Mizzima has been informed that when some members of the group got sick and showed signs of the H1N1 influenza virus officials in Naypydiaw decided to prevent the entire group from returning home in an attempt to contain the spread of the virus.

A Chin mother whose daughter is stranded in Naypidaw told Mizzima that her daughter told her. "We all are not allowed to go back home because the H1N1 virus was found among some of us. And we are fed protection tablets and checked up in morning, afternoon and evening.” The mother hoped they might be allowed to leave on 25th February.

A journalist in Rangoon told Mizzima that some of the youths were admitted to hospital and that most of them are from Chin and Shan states. But still the government has not yet confirmed whether the youth in fact have H1N1 influenza or not.

"When we asked the Neypyitaw Health Ministry, they said that MR TV reports on the latest news about the H1N1 virus every day," the journalist said. When pressed further the Health Ministry officials refused to disclose more details about the Chin students, the journalist added.

On February 8 the Burmese regime’s official newspaper the New Light of Myanmar reported that many youth from different states and divisions had arrived in the new capital to participate in union day festivities and were staying at Naypyidaw’s No.7 Guest House.

Cars older than 1984 not to ply on Rangoon roads

Monday, 22 February 2010 18:26 Min Thet

Rangoon (Mizzima) – Cars older than 1984 will be banned from Rangoon roads in the 2010-2011 fiscal year, a senior officer from the Rangoon Division Transport Department said.

"Many people made queries in our office. Not all old model cars but we will certainly transfer models older than 1984. They will not be allowed to ply on Rangoon roads," he said.

Current commercial vehicles, trucks, passenger cars and taxis have license plates with letters KaKa and Kha Kha, From Ka to Ah and 1/Ka, 2/Ga among others. All old model cars with single letter license plates from Ka to Ah are not to be transferred from the city area, it is learnt.

"Some might think that old models mean those with license plates with lower letters. It's not so. We will only transfer cars of 1984 models and older," a senior officer from the Transport Department said.


Over 260 households being forcibly relocated

Monday, 22 February 2010 18:17 Khai Suu

New Delhi (Mizzima) – In yet another instance of high handedness by the Burmese military junta, over 260 households in Mudita Street, Ward No. 2 in North Okkalapa, Rangoon have been ordered to move from their current location, local residents alleged.

Most of the residents on Mudita Street, Ward No. 2 are slum dwellers.

The North Okklapa Township Peace and Development Council (TPDC) Chairman and Ward No. 2 PDC Chairman issued the order on February 16. The order entails shifting from their places. The reason cited was the outbreak of cholera in the locality last year.

"We were told to shift in January as well. We were to move to Buthidaung under the supervision and arrangement of the authorities and would be given Kyat 300,000 per household or else sign on a paper. We signed on the paper refusing the offer," a local resident from Mudita Street told Mizzima.

"We have lived here for 35 years and pay municipal taxes. We were told to go back to the place from where we came. Now they want us to demolish our houses but we don't want to move to another place at a bad time like now." another local resident said.

Rumours doing the rounds suggest the local authorities will also forcibly shift 1,500 other households in Metta, Marga, Neikban, Thitsa, Aung Bawga and Aung Chan Tha Streets from Ward No. 2.
Monday, February 22, 2010

Bangladesh cracks down on Burmese Muslim refugees

Sunday, 21 February 2010 15:27 Larry Jagan

The Bangladesh authorities have cracked down on Burmese Muslim refugees seeking refuge from the brutal Burmese military regime. The police operation has created a major humanitarian crisis according to an aid agency working in the area, Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF).

Over the past few weeks thousands of unregistered Rohingyas have fled their temporary homes in Bangladesh and sought safety in a makeshift camp, where they have no food, inadequate shelter and cannot work, according to the Arakan Project which monitors the situation of Burmese Muslims throughout Asia.

The Rohinygas have sought refuge in a makeshift camp, Kuta Palong, near the Bangladesh border with Burma. The numbers in this camp have swelled to over 30,000 in the past six weeks, according to the Arakan project.

The makeshift camp has nearly doubled in the last four months, MSF told Mizzima. In January alone, 2,000 Rohinygas refugees arrived. “As we speak, more are arriving out of fear and facing an uncertain future,” warned Paul Critchfley, head of MSF’s mission in Bangladesh.

The camp residents do not receive food rations and cannot leave the camp to find work for fear of being arrested, beaten and forced back to Burma.

“Hunger is spreading rapidly among the already malnourished population in the makeshift camp, and a grave humanitarian crisis is looming,” Chris Lewa, the director of Arakan Proiject told Mizzima.

“If the Bangladesh authorities do not stop the crackdown on these refugees immediately, then there a significant risk of starvation,” she added.

Residents in Cox’s Bazaar – the main town in the border area with Burma – told Mizzima that police and security forces have been targetting Rohingya refugees for several months now.

Since the beginning of the year, Rohinygas settled outside the two official refugee camps have been harrassed, intimidated and beaten, according to hundreds of personal testimonies collected by the Arakan Project.

“Thousands have been evicted with threats of violence,” Ms Lewa told Mizzima. “Robberies, assaults and rape against Rohingyas have risen significantly,” she said.

Local Bangladeshi villagers have also been venting their anger against the refugees. Aid workers in the area also report Rohinygas being beaten with sticks and women being raped.

“We have treated hundreds of refugees in the camp for wounds from violent assaults and beatings,” said Mr. Critchley. “Many women have also been raped.”

The refugees all tell a similar stories. “We cannot find work and no one helps us,” said Nurul, a 75-year-old former farmer, who has been living in the Kuta Palong camp for more than a month now with his wife and four children and grandchildren.

“My daughter was raped by local youths one evening, when she was returning, after working as a maid nearby. She told the police and identified the cuplrits: but the police did nothing,” he said.

“I have spent all my savings and we have nothing to eat,” said Rafiq, a 50-year-old day labourer who is sheltered in the camp since the end of January with his wife and five children. “We cannot go out to find work because we will be arrested if we go out. I cannot sleep at night, and have nightmares about the police raiding the camp and handing us over to the Burmese authorities,” he added.

“I fear we will be sent back to Burma,” said another Rohingya refugee. “Since we were born, we have always been on the run!”

“More than 500 Rohingya have been arrested in the past few weeks, some have even been forcibly returned to Burma,” said Ms Lewa.

“They could be forced out at any moment, so they're basically holding their families together. You have a space of slightly larger than a bathroom that has six or seven people and attached to it is another bathroom, so you have two families living in this really crammed condition,” another MSF staff member, Vanessa Van Schoor, told journalists in Bangkok recently.

“Sometimes I am overwhelmed with fear,” said Muhamad, a 35-year-old day labourer. “Perhaps the Bangladesh government has a plan to gather all Rohingya in one place and send us back to Burma.”

However, a local district police chief, Kamrul Ahsan denied these allegations telling Mizzima that only those Rohingyas staying in the country illegally had been arrested.

Senior police officers in charge near the makeshift camp admitted that the authorities were conducting normal security operations, but only foreigners who entered Bangladesh illegally were being detained. Between mid-November and mid-February, more than 500 Burmese illegal immigrants were detained and returned to Burma, said a local police chief.

“This month we have arrested over 50, and sent them back to Myanmar [Burma]. It is an ongoing operation,” the local police chief in Kuta Palong, Rafiqul Islam told local journalists this week.

The crackdown, he said was prompted by the rise in the number of Rohingya refugees in the area – felling the forests and building shanty towns the Kuta Palong camp – and was an attempt to stem the flow of illegal migrants. “If we don’t stop them now, the floodgates will open wide,” he said.

There are an estimated 300,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, some of whom escaped from persecution in Burma in the early 1990s.

There are some 28,000 registered refugees in two camps, monitored by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. These people receive food rations and health care. The others have to fend for themselves.

Human rights groups and aid workers estimate that more than 9,000 refugees arrived in Burma last year. In December the Burmese and Bangladesh governments agreed that 6,000 Rohingya refugees would be returned to Burma, though as yet none seem to have been sent back.

International organisations, however, fear that any repatriation programme would not be voluntary as most of the refugees do not want to go.

“Though I do not see any future here, it is worse in Burma,” said a 60-year male Rohingya who first fled to Bangladesh in 1992, but returned to his home in 1994 under the UN-sponsored repatriation programme.

“I stayed three years, but the extortion, persecution and travel restrictions forced me to flee again with my family more than 10 years ago.”

“I pray that one day Burma will be peaceful and that we can enjoy our rights,” he said. “Then I can return to my country.” Till then, he and most Rohingya refugees want to stay in Bangladesh; though the authorities may not let them.

The situation for Burmese Muslims in western Burma is intolerable. And the UK-human rights group Amnesty International (AI) characterised the situation there as perhaps one of the worst in the world.

There are an estimated 700,000 Rohingya in Burma, where they are not recognised as citizens and have no right to own land. They are also forbidden from marrying or travelling without permission.

“Discrimination in Rakhine State [where most of the Rohinygas flee from] is shockingly severe,” the UN’s special rapporteur for human rights in Burma, Tomas Ojea Quintana told Mizzima after visiting the area last week.
Saturday, February 20, 2010

Hawk’s eye on net users in Sittwe by regime

Friday, 19 February 2010 21:36 Kyaw Kha

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Monitoring of internet cafes has been stepped up in a big way by the Burmese military junta authorities, where a hawk’s eye is being kept on surfers, cafe owners in Sittwe, Rakhine State said.

Café owners have been ordered to keep a record of the names of users, the websites they surf and whom they chat with, they said.

“Officials have given us a three-page regulation and ordered us to keep a record of the names of users, the websites they visit, and who they send emails to. Then officials come on surprise checks to our shops,” an internet cafe owner in Sittwe told Mizzima.

There are seven internet cafes in Sittwe and most of the users are middle aged people, students and youths. The cafes charge users Kyat 500 to over Kyat 1,000 per hour.

The junta’s move to come down heavily on internet users and tighten internet security, stems from an attempt to prevent leakage of information to organizations and the media in exile.

“Some young users used to bypass checks to surf news websites operated from exile. And some sent emails and photographs outside Burma,” he added.

A notice pasted on the wall of the internet cafes warns surfers not to visit foreign based restricted websites.

“We can record only website links the users visit and their list of contacts. If we keep tabs on everything the authorities want, no one will come to the café,” another internet cafe owner said.

The Thai based All Arakan Students and Youths Congress (AASYC) Secretary Aung Man Oo felt the tightening of internet security was preventive in nature. It was a precautionary measure by the regime to prevent ‘unrest and commotion’ in the run up to the 2010 elections.

The Township Peace and Development Council (TPDC) Chairman in Sittwe summoned all internet cafe owners to his office early this month and directed them to keep a record of personal profiles of all users.

The New York based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) issued a statement in April last year, which said Burma is one of the 10 worst countries in suppressing internet users.


NLD presents Aung San Suu Kyi case to UN rights envoy

Friday, 19 February 2010 16:50 Sai Zuan Sai, Myint Maung

Chiang Mai, New Delhi (Mizzima) – The National League for Democracy's (NLD) Central Executive Committee (CEC) told UN rights envoy Tomas Ojea Quintana yesterday that Aung San Suu Kyi must to be released.

Her release is vital for Burma's national reconciliation; the five NLD CEC members told Quintana during their one hour meeting at Rangoon's Mya Yeik Nyo Royal Hotel.

“We talked with him about Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. We told him that she must be released. He also said that he wanted to meet with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi”, said U Win Tin an NLD CEC member present at the meeting.

Leading the NLD delegation was NLD Vice-Chairman Tin Oo the eighty-four year decorated soldier released last weekend after serving 6 years of house arrest.

“Mr. Quintana said to us that he was very glad to see all of our CEC members here and he was encouraged seeing us altogether. And he would note down what we presented here to him and report to his superiors”, Khin Maung Swe told Mizzima.

At the meeting the NLD brought up the junta's rejection of the NLD's 1990 election victory, the NLD's demand for the immediate release of all of Burma's more than 2000 and the urgent need to amend the widely reviled 2008 constitution which permanently enshrines the military's domination of national affairs.

The NLD team also made clear to the UN envoy that they were still adhering to the points outlined in the Shwe Gong Daing Declaration and therefore the party will not contest the upcoming national elections supposedly set to take place at some point this year. The Shwe Gong Daing Declaration was adopted last year and approved at plenary meeting attended by delegates from State and Division NLD branches, MPs and the party's central leadership.

“Human rights issues are important and they cannot be considered separate from basic politics. We have no plan to join the upcoming election. We will stand on the Shwe Gong Daing Declaration.”, Win Tin said.

In the Shwe Gong Daing Declaration, the NLD party called for amending the 2008 constitution, releasing all political prisoners, the resumption of real dialogue between the opposition and the military for national reconciliation and the need for some kind of official recognition of the NLD's 1990 election landslide victory.

During the meeting the NLD informed the UN rights envoy about the regimes numerous attacks on the NLD, including the forcible closing of NLD party offices, the removal of party signboards from NLD offices and the regime's various restrictions which prevent the NLD from working with the party's grassroots supporters.

Unclear if Envoy will be allowed to meet Aung San Suu Kyi

The envoy told the NLD representatives that he would leave for Naypyidaw on Friday and hoped that upon his return from the capital the generals would allow him to see Aung San Suu Kyi. It appears Quintana will only find out if he will be able to meet the Nobel Peace Prize Winner when he returns from the military regime's sparsely populated new capital.

Following the meeting the NLD expressed their satisfaction with the UN envoy and his visit to Burma.

“We are satisfied with his visit as he will present the human rights situation in Burma to the relevant UN authorities. With regards to Burma, it is not only a human rights issue, there are also political issues which must be presented too. We hope he understands about our political situation. We hope he also presents these political issues to the UN”, Win Tin said.

During his 5-days fact finding trip which began on the February 15th, Qunitana also visited Sittwe and Buthidaung prisons in Rakhine State. While in Rakhine State, the International Labour Organization (ILO) Resident Representative in Burma Steve Marshall also accompanied him. In Rakhine they met with over 20 NGOs and Muslim leaders.

According to the UN's Rangoon spokesperson at Buthidaung prison, Quintana met with prominent 88 Generation Student activist Htay Kywe and other political prisoners including Tun Nyo, Myat Tun, Ahmed and Kyaw Min. Kyaw Min, a member of the Rohingya minority and an elected MP member is presently serving a 47 year prison sentence following his 2005 arrest and subsequent nullification of his Burmese citizenship.

At Sittwe prison the envoys met with political prisoners Than Tin, Pyae Phyo Hlaing, Aung Tun Myint and U Sandar Thiri. After arriving back in Rangoon on Thursday, Quintana met with political prisoners at the infamous Insein prison. This group included Naw Ohn Hla, Ma Than Than Htay, Kyaw San, Kyi Than, Myo Win and Khai Kyaw Moe.

Although the Information Department of the UN's Rangoon office claimed their envoy would meet with ethnic leaders during his trip, the respected United Nationalities Alliance (UNA) told Mizzima they did not receive a request for a meeting from the UN.

The UNA spokesperson Pu Cing TsianThang.told Mizzima that “the SPDC (junta) interprets ethnic leaders as those having cordial relationship with them and non opposition parties. As we have not yet received any information from UN office until today, there is almost no hope for us to meet with him”.

(Edited by Ye Yint Aung)