Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Fresh sentence for NLD youth leader

Wednesday, 31 March 2010 20:55 Mizzima News

(Mizzima) - In continuance of harsh judgments against dissidents, a youth leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD) in Tarmway Township, in Rangoon Division, was sentenced to two more years in prison by the Tarmway Township court yesterday for allegedly being in touch with an illegal team.

Kyaw Myo Naing the youth in-charge 2 (Tarmway Township), was sentenced to two years by the Bahan Township court last year. Now he has been sentenced to two more years by Tarmway court.

A relative of Kyaw Myo Naing told Mizzima, “His case was heard in the Tarmway court and he was sentenced two more years according to Act 17 (1). Moreover, he will be charged with the Electronic Act 33 (A) in the Tarmway court on April 9.

On November 20, 2009, Aung Aung Oo, the NLD youth in-charge of Tarmway Township, Kyaw Min Tun (alias) Bo Tun, the Township’s security and discipline in-charge and Kyaw Myo Naing (alias) Kyaw Gyi, the NLD youth in-charge 2 of Tarmway Township were charged under Act 505 (B) for public mischief and sentenced to two years by Bahan court.

Two policemen from Bahan police station arrested them for distributing photo stickers of Aung San Suu Kyi, NLD leader on July 18 last year.

A NLD youth member, who went to the court yesterday said, U Aye Thein was Kyaw Myo Naing’s lawyer. Kyaw Myo Naing was detained in the special detention room in Insein Prison and not allowed to walk.

Dissidents in Australia protest Burma’s electoral laws

Wednesday, 31 March 2010 20:36 Kyaw Kha

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - Demanding the repeal of the Burmese military junta’s harsh and vindictive electoral laws, pro-democracy demonstrators in Australia staged a protest today outside the Burmese embassy in Canberra.

Sixty people joined the demonstration organized by the ‘Joint Action Committee for Democratic Burma’ (JACDB). The demonstration was staged in Canberra, the seat of power of the Australian Government, from 1 to 3:30 p.m., a committee official said.

“Our main demand is to repeal the unilateral and unfair electoral laws and to hold free and fair elections with the participation of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her NLD,” JACDB Secretary Aung Naing told Mizzima.

JACDB comprises four organizations namely ‘All Burma Students Democratic Front’ (ABSDF) (Australia Branch), National League for Democracy (Liberated Area) (Australia Branch), Mon National Council and Exile Karen in Australia.

The demonstrators welcomed and supported NLD’s decision of boycotting the election and chanted slogans of ‘We don’t want unjust electoral laws’, ‘Military regime Down Down’ holding aloft placards.

Though the Burmese embassy did not accept the statement issued by demonstrators, the protesters will send it to the Australian government departments including the Foreign Ministry.

The Burmese Navy and the Australian Royal Navy conducted joint naval exercises in early February this year near Port Blair of the Andaman Islands.

The Australian Foreign Minister also said that the electoral laws are unjust and unfair.

The Burmese junta must pave the way for elections, which should be inclusive with the NLD and all other political forces, which deserve to take part and the Australian government will cooperate with the Friends of Burma, including the US to continue putting pressure on Burma, he said.

Seventeen Burmese pro-democracy forces in Japan also staged protests against the Chinese government in Tokyo in front of the Chinese embassy for three days by demonstrating for two hours a day after the Chinese UN Ambassador Mr. Li Bao Dong defended Burma at the UN Security Council meeting last week by saying that UNSC does not need to discuss Burma issues at the meeting.

“We staged protests by holding aloft placards saying ‘Stop China Support to Burma Regime’, ‘China Should be a Good Neighbour’, ‘Free Aung San Suu Kyi’ among others and chanted slogans”, Federation of Workers’ Union of Burmese Citizens (in Japan) Vice-Chairman Phone Hlaing said.

The demonstration in Japan was organized by the Joint Action Committee of Burma (JAC). It will continue the protest till Friday, he added.

It is learnt that the National League for Democracy in exile will urge Japanese Members of Parliament Union at their meeting to be held in Tokyo today to protest the forthcoming elections in Burma, which will be held within the framework of unjust electoral laws and persuade the Japanese government, not to give aid to the Burmese regime by passing a law and to scale down diplomatic ties.

The NLD passed a resolution ‘Not to register as a political party’ and ‘Demanded the release of all political prisoners including Aung San Suu Kyi’ unanimously at the joint meeting of the CEC and Central Committee held on March 29.

Mixed response from India over NLD’s decision

Wednesday, 31 March 2010 11:09 Kyaw Mya

New Delhi (Mizzima) - Indian parliamentarians have applauded the National League for Democracy’s (NLD) decision not to participate in the Burmese junta’s planned elections, which would be the first in two decades.

The Indian Parliamentarians Forum for Democracy in Burma (IPFDB) said the NLD’s decision on Monday was a bold step in opposition to the military junta, countering the junta’s continuing plans to sustain power through stage-managed elections.

Sharad Joshi, convenor of the IPFDB, told Mizzima, “It is a great step to boycott the elections.”

Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD has decided not to participate in the upcoming election, sighting the electoral laws as unfair and the fact that the junta has not revised the 2008 constitution, which the NLD claims was written in a one-sided fashion.

The decision came after a meeting of members of the Central Executive Committee (CEC) and Central Committee of States and Divisions at Rangoon headquarters on Monday.

The junta’s electoral laws, announced earlier this month, restrict Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners from running for office in the upcoming elections. According to the laws, if the party wishes to contest the polls it will have to exclude Aung San Suu Kyi and several other NLD’s Central Committee members.

While the IPFDB voiced their support on the NLD’s decision, a New Delhi think tank, Centre for Policy Research, said the NLD is making a mistake by staying out of the political process, as the elections could be a window of opportunity.

Sanjay Hazarika, the Managing Trustee for the Centre’s Northeast Studies and Policy Research, told Mizzima, “The party [NLD] must think of the interests of the people of Burma instead of the interests of individual party leaders.”

Hazarika said though it is unfortunate that the NLD must leave out Aung San Suu Kyi, it would still do well to participate in the elections, as it would allow the party to have a role in the process.

He believes that the election would be the best opportunity to fight the regime, as there are no other institutions remaining to fight, including the sangha (monks), who failed in the 2007 protests.

“This kind of opportunity might not come again, how long will the party wait for such an opportunity? We cannot live in hope that the people will take part in another uprising against a brutal military regime that kills its own people,” Hazarika added.

The NLD, for its part, is in a difficult situation, as they will be declared outlawed if they refuse to re-register as a political party. But if they do so, they will have to abandon their leader Aung San Suu Kyi along with several other leaders still languishing in prisons across the country.

Fresh crackdown likely, Win Tin warns

Wednesday, 31 March 2010 11:06 Sai Zuan Sai

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - National League for Democracy (NLD) Central Executive Committee (CEC) member U Win Tin has warned that the military regime is likely to launch a new crackdown against the party.

“Our movements will be very much limited when we don’t have a party. If we make more movements and stand against them [the junta], they will declare our party an unlawful association,” Win Tin said.

CEC and Central Committee members yesterday decided not to register their party with the Election Commission as they argue the electoral laws are unjust.

As per the electoral laws, existing political parties must register with the Election Commission (EC) by May 6th or risk being labeled unlawful organizations.

Win Tin, who was imprisoned for 19 years because of his political beliefs, has long advocated for non-registration.

“They will certainly imprison those who take steps ahead of others and those who are competent. We must face it,” the 80-year old U Win Tin commented.

“We are not working just only for winning the election and holding power. We are working for abolishing and dismantling the entire military dictatorship. So they will certainly come down harshly against us,” he said.

Bogale Township NLD member Chin Won, who expressed his opinion that the party should register with the EC in order to avoid being deregistered, said, “Our party will be declared an unlawful association if not registered within 60 days. Then they will certainly suppress us if we make movements and assemble. They have already said this.”

However, even if unregistered the NLD does not need to convert to an underground party, estimated another anti-election campaigner, Zomi National Congress (ZNC) Chairman Pu Cin Sian Thang.

“Politics can be done if politics is in our mind. Our ZNC party has been banned since 1993. We don’t have a right to erect our party signboard and we can’t distribute our party literature. But we can continue our movement,” he said.

Poet Ko Lay (Inn Wa Gone Yee) told Mizzima over the phone that he heartily welcomed the NLD’s decision.

“I’m very much pleased with this decision. I’m not member of any party. I am struggling just holding a free pen as a poet, but I shall support the NLD and rally around NLD,” he said.

“There are many issues for them [the junta] to tackle, the Border Guard Force, the NLD party and the division of power. The difficulties are not only for us; they are facing them too and even more so. I think this election will not take place,” he added.

Security heightened for Mekong Summit

Wednesday, 31 March 2010 11:01 Usa Pichai

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - The Thai government is set to impose the Internal Security Act (ISA) during the convening of the Mekong River Commission Summit from April 2nd to 5th.

Suthep Teuksuban, Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister for security, said implementation of the Internal Security Act, originally set to end expire on March 30th, will also be extended until April 7th for the provinces of Bangkok, Nonthaburi and Samut Prakan.

“The cabinet has imposed the ISA at the site of the Mekong River Commission Summit to be held from 2 to 5 April. The law will cover Prachuap Khiri Khan and Phetchaburi Provinces. The responsible authorities have already prepared security officials for the summit,” he said according to a report posted Tuesday on a Thai government website.

The ISA has been activated in Bangkok and nearby provinces since March 11th in an effort to maintain peace during the ongoing anti-government demonstrations of the United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) in support of former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who is currently in exile.

The inaugural Mekong River Commission Summit will be held in Hua Hin District, Prachuap Khiri Khan Province.

Currently, the Prime Ministers of the four member countries - Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos - are to attend the summit, while China and Burma have each accepted invitations to send their respective Foreign Ministers to the meeting.

200 left homeless after storm ravishes refugee camp

Wednesday, 31 March 2010 10:59 Mizzima News

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - Fifty-seven houses were destroyed and 200 people made homeless in a refugee camp on the Thai-Burma border as a result of a strong wind storm.

The storm raced through the Ban Don Yang refugee camp near Three Pagoda Pass, Mon State, Burma, around 2 p.m. on Monday.

Though lasting only some ten minutes, the winds were strong enough to destroy thatch and bamboo structures.

One refugee said, “It’s very lucky that we are safe. When we were out of our house a tree fell on the house. During the strong wind a lot of people were running around. We ran to an open field.”

The camp chairman, Saw Htoo Han, said, “The food warehouse, primary school, computer classroom and patient room were damaged in the camp. The camp is home to 4,000 people.”

“At first, rain and hail fell. Then the strong wind came with a loud sound. Some huts were destroyed. The roofs of some cottages were opened,” Saw Htoo Han continued.

The principal of the primary school exclaimed, “The roofs, walls and floors of the school were opened and damaged. Now, we can’t teach to the students. There are around sixty students.”

Many refugees in the camp are from Kyar Inn Seik Kyi Township in Karen State, having fled a junta offensive in 1997.

Additionally, over 2,000 refugees from the Htan Him camp in southern Thailand were transferred to the Ban Don Yang in 1998.

The Thai Burma Border Consortium (TBBC) has arranged food and clothing for the refugees who lost their homes.
Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Shwe Mann visits Kachin State

Tuesday, 30 March 2010 20:53 Phanida

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - Gen. Thura Shwe Mann, Joint Chief of Staff of Operations of the Burmese junta visited Kachin State last week for two days even as tension continues to mount between the regime and the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) over transforming its armed wing into the Border Guard Force

The General, who ranks number 3 in the junta’s hierarchy, visited Northern Command in Myitkyina, Kachin State on March 24. He also visited Hopin, Tanai and Puta-O and returned to Nay Pyi Taw the next day.

“The main purpose of the visit seems related to military affairs. It may be because of the current situation in Kachin and Wa controlled areas along the border,” Civil-Military Relation analyst Win Min said.

Gen. Thura Shwe Mann was accompanied by 10 other high-ranking military officers including Bureau of Special Operation (BSO) commanders Lt. Gen. Thar Aye and Maj. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, Win Min said.

Lt. Gen. Thar Aye handles military operations in Kachin State, Sagaing Division and Mandalay Division and Maj. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing handles operations in Shan State and Kayah State.

“They came from Bamao. He told people to put pressure on the KIO to transform its armed wing the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) into the BGF,” a KIO official said.

But he did not meet any KIO leaders during the visit.

The Northern Command Commander Maj. Gen. Soe Win met KIO Chairman Zau Hara, Secretary Dr. Laja and Col. Gwan Mau at the Northern Command Headquarters on March 21.

He made inquiries with the KIO on the seizure of 33 bombs from two villagers in Kum Ban village, Bamao town by the Drug Enforcement Special Police Force on March 13.

The KIO responded saying though the bombs belonged to KIO, the villagers possessing the bombs had nothing to do with it, a KIO official said.

The KIO also responded to the junta representative Military Affairs Security (MAS) Chief Lt. Gen. Ye Myint on the BGF issue saying that they could not accept converting their army into BGF, which will be under the direct control of the Burmese Army and would like to stay as a Kachin Army under the newly elected government.

Bus plunges into ravine, six killed

Tuesday, 30 March 2010 18:12 Khaing Suu

(Mizzima) - Six people were killed, when a bus plunged into a ravine near the “Bawathanthayar" bridge between Aung Pann and Heho in Burma at 4 a.m. on March 27.

The Tawwin Express Naypyidaw-Taunggyi bus, owned by "Union of Myanmar Economic Holding Limited” was transporting 29 passengers when it plunged into a ravine.

An official in the traffic policemen’s office in Taunggyi told Mizzima, “The bus was a Tawwin Express bus. It plunged into a ravine in the morning of March 27 killing six passengers.”

A Tawwin Express bus company official corroborated that six people died but refused to give details.

A Taung Paw Thar Express employee told Mizzima, “The bus reportedly plunged into the ravine when the driver, the bus-conductor and the person in-charge got off the bus to investigate a flat tire. Only passengers were on the bus when it fell into the ravine.

The person in-charge, the driver, and the bus conductor are in the Taunggyi police station for investigations. The Naypyidaw-Taunggyi route is tortuous, resulting in many accidents.

Win Tin not arrested

Tuesday, 30 March 2010 13:11 Mizzima News (Brief)

(Mizzima) - A close friend of veteran politician and opposition leader Win Tin has rejected rumors of his arrest by Rangoon police on Tuesday.

“I don’t know who has started this rumor, but I have been explaining to the media since this morning at 4 a.m. (local time) that it is not true. Win Tin was not arrested and he just left for the NLD office,” Maung Maung Khin, a close friend of Win Tin explained.

The rumor of National League for Democracy (NLD) Central Executive Committee (CEC) member Win Tin’s arrest began spreading following the NLD’s decision on Monday not to take part in the ruling junta’s planned elections.

On Monday, NLD CEC and Central Committee from various branch offices across the country met at party headquarters in Rangoon and decided not to participate in the junta’s election due to flaws in the announced electoral laws and the junta’s refusal to yield to the party’s demand of revising the 2008 constitution.

The NLD has also demanded that the junta release all political prisoners including party General Secretary Aung San Suu Kyi.

Burma begins issuing machine-readable passports

Tuesday, 30 March 2010 12:07 Min Thet

Rangoon (Mizzima) - Military-ruled Burma on March 29th began introducing a new system of machine-readable passports in an attempt to combat the proclivity of fake passports in circulation.

The new passports, according to officials, have hidden barcodes that are only readable with computers via laser scan.

Applicants said the new system carries a cost of 19,000 kyats (approximately 19 USD) for the passport, with an additional 1,000 kyats for online applications.

Under the old system, applicants were required to buy an application form for 1,400 kyats and pay 3,500 kyats for passport size photographs, 8,000 kyats for the book and 500 kyats for online services.

Officials at the passport office on Rangoon’s Pansodan Street have additionally made accepting a bribe from applicants a semi-official practice, with it impossible for applicants to receive a passport without paying-off the officers.

With numerous Burmese traveling abroad in search of jobs and greener pastures, the passport application process has been a lucrative affair for officials. Nonetheless, applicants previously had to wait about a month or so before they could get hold of their passports.

Sources at the Ministry of Home Affairs said the new system of issuing smart card passports was implemented on the recommendation of the International Civil Aviation Organization. Travel agents and tour companies applaud the new system as it saves time to process.

“We welcome the new system of E-passports. The time taken for applicants to receive their passports would be significant in the past, as it usually took about a month in the old system,” a Rangoon international travel agent told Mizzima.

Thailand-Burma increase cooperation in fighting air pollution

Tuesday, 30 March 2010 11:05 Usa Pichai

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - The Thai government is providing a mobile air quality monitoring unit to Burmese authorities to assist in the fight against air pollution.

On Monday, Atthasit Kanchanasinit, Secretary of Thailand’s Natural Resources and Environment Ministry, presided over the opening ceremony of the Air Quality Monitoring Project between Thailand and Burma held in Mae Sai District opposite Tachileik in Burma.

Atthasit said the project is aimed at enhancing collaboration between countries affected by smoke from the burning of forests in Thailand, Burma and Laos.

“The air polluted from smoke has been getting serious since February, with small dusk particles higher than safety standards found in several areas of Thailand, particularly in Mae Hong Son and Chiang Rai Provinces which border Burma. The project will provide more information for surveillance of the smoke problem in both countries,” he said according to a report on the Thai news website 76Nationchannel.

Previously, Thailand sent a mobile air quality monitoring vehicle to Laos for similar purposes.

Northern Thailand and parts of neighboring Burma are this year again suffering from a smoky haze caused by the burning of forest and agricultural waste. The smoke has become so bad in Tachileik that flights have been delayed due to poor visibility.

Chiang Rai authorities have asked local villagers not to burn forest and straw, particularly in February, fining those who disobey. Local Burmese authorities, for their part, have banned the burning of garbage after 5 p.m.

On Monday, rain in some areas of northern Thailand somewhat lessened the crisis.
Tawan Sirima, a villager in Mae Sai District, said the rain could help disperse the smoke and that the air is presently cleaner than it has been the previous two months.

Several years ago the Thai government established a national center to coordinate efforts to decrease smoke pollution in northern Thailand. The center cooperates with neighboring countries to fight the issue. Nonetheless, despite increased international cooperation smoke levels this year are again dangerously high.

Last week, Siripong Hangsapreuk, Thailand’s Deputy Permanent-Secretary of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, said the ministry has proposed to raise the issue of the smoke problem during the First Mekong River Commission (MRC) Summit to be held in the first week of April in Thailand.

International consensus needed regarding Burma

Tuesday, 30 March 2010 10:56 Mizzima News

(Mizzima) - The lack of a coherent international strategy in addressing Burma’s ongoing economic and political crises is serving to exacerbate problems and demands a reevaluation of the international agenda, according to a report soon to be launched by the Washington D.C.-based Asia Society.

Acknowledging that the impetus for reform must come from elements within Burmese society, findings of an Asia Society Task Force still argue for an external role.

“In some ways, the situation has been exacerbated by conflicting signals and uncoordinated policy responses from regional and international players. We initiated this effort to highlight areas where greater international coordination is possible and bring differences into sharper relief,” voiced Asia President Vishakha Desai.

Supporting the Obama administration’s altered foreign policy vis-√†-vis Naypyitaw, Task Force Co-Chair Wesley Clark elaborated, “Burma is at the center of a torrent of powerful economic forces, and at the same time its political system is frozen.”

However, continued the Retired General, “if the U.S. sets the bar too high at the outset, it will deny itself an effective role in helping to move Burma away from authoritarian rule and into the world community.”

In analyzing the present Burmese context, special consideration was given to the declining observance of human rights since August 2007, the increasing strategic importance of Burma for regional powers, instability along Burma’s borders, the evolving relationship between Naypyitaw and Pyongyang, and possible changes in Burmese governance with the passing of the 2010 elections.

As such, the Task Force finds a need for the United States to focus its Burma policy on the changes taking place in the country, recommending Washington pursue “effective channels of communication, focused assistance programs, reform-oriented economic activity, coordination with Burma’s neighbors and the international community, and, if and when necessary, the tightening of targeted financial sanctions.”

“Decades of pursuing policies of isolation and sanctions by the West, and the U.S. in particular, have done little to influence change in Burma/Myanmar, and Asia’s ‘soft’ approach has yielded similarly limited results,” added project director Suzanne DiMaggio. “What is needed is a new diplomatic approach that is better articulated and harmonized at the national, regional, and international levels.”

The report, entitled ‘Current Realities and Future Directions in Burma/Myanmar’ and offering policy advice for international actors, is to be launched Wednesday at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington.
Monday, March 29, 2010

USDA transformed to political party

Monday, 29 March 2010 22:06 Kyaw Kha

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - The much anticipated transformation of the junta backed Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) into a political party, has come through. It will contest the 2010 general elections under the same nomenclature.

The information was disclosed by a high ranking party official.

The USDA has been converted into USDA party and all government staff and students and youths under 25 years of age have been expelled from the organization. The rest are being issued party membership cards since last week, the official said.

“We have started the ground work to contest the election. The organization is converted into a party. We have already formed division and district level branches and all the assets and ownership have been transferred. There are now no more government property and assets,” he told Mizzima.

Though the USDA party has not yet been registered with the Election Commission, it is preparing to contest the election.

While the military regime is trying to blackout news of the steps being taken for the conversion, all the USDA members interviewed by Mizzima confirmed the news.

Party sources disclosed that they do not need to do special organizational work because they have been doing regular work by building roads and bridges for the people.

The State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) set up the USDA on 15 September 1993 after seizing power by a coup in 1988. The five top generals of the ruling ‘State Peace and Development Council’ (SPDC) including Senior Gen. Than Shwe are patrons of the organization.

The USDA has 17 State and Division level branches, 66 district level branches, 320 township branches and 24 million members, according to an official statement issued in 2007. Agriculture Minister Maj. Gen. Htay Oo is the General Secretary.

According to the Party Registration Law, government staff members and all persons under the age of 25 years are barred from being party members. But the exact number of current members of the USDA minus the barred members is not yet known.

Serving generals and serving ministers of the cabinet will contest the general election as candidates of the USDA, the opposition group in exile, the ‘Forum for Democracy in Burma’ (FDB) Secretary General Dr. Naing Aung said.

“Military personnel will contest the election through the USDA. Many senior leaders will resign from their army posts and will contest,” he said.

Naypyitaw, the new capital has instructed blacking out the news on the current status of the USDA, which is considered the pillar of the military regime. Earlier, Burmese analysts speculated that USDA would assume a new name to contest the election and may be broken up to more than one party.

USDA members have been building roads and distributing drinking water as part of its organizational work along with serving military party members. But the image of the USDA was tarnished after the pre-meditated attack on NLD members and leaders in 2003 in Depayin and its involvement in the brutal crackdown on protesters in the 2007 saffron revolution.

The source in Naypyitaw said, some serving cabinet ministers and serving military officers will announce their resignation from their posts soon.

The NLD party of Aung San Suu Kyi, who narrowly escaped being killed in the Depayin attack, decided today not to register the party with the Election Commission.

Mizzima learnt that USDA leaders monitored the NLD meeting on the issue, held today.

Hawk’s eye on literary and academic talk show

Monday, 29 March 2010 18:59 Sai Zuan Sai

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - The literary and academic talk show to be held in Rangoon is under the hawk’s eye of the junta and will be monitored and tightly controlled by the Rangoon Division Peace and Development Council.

“We are now scrutinizing the subject of the talk show, the number of participants, among others,” an officer told Mizzima on condition of anonymity.

The directive for tighter control was issued before the ‘Armed Forces Day’ on March 27.

The new directive states the organizer of the talk shows must submit the application with a signed acknowledgement along with the names of the resource persons, the number of participants, among others.

A staff member of the ‘Knowledge Bank Library’, which frequently sponsors and organizes such literary talk shows said, “They checked thoroughly when I submitted the application for permission on March 27. Earlier, they didn’t ask many questions, just asked the names of the resource persons. And then they gave permission by stamping the office seal on our application”.

Similarly such thorough scrutiny was made on applications submitted for the Economics talk show and forum compared to earlier, an official of the ‘Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry’ said.

“Earlier we didn’t need to apply for our forums and talk shows. But now they are thoroughly scrutinizing it,” he said.

Many talk shows and forums are usually held at hotels and they need permission and recommendation from the authorities concerned from now on or else they cannot book the hall, a staff from Sedona Hotel in Rangoon said.

Pe Myint, a famous writer who usually participates in talk shows on his experience of his writing career and educational articles for youths, said that the new directive may have an impact on writers.

“The writers will lose their freedom under tighter controls. I wish the writers can overcome the current crisis,” Pe Myint said.

Dr. Nay Win Maung and civil society

Monday, 29 March 2010 12:15 Thomas Maung Shwe (Commentary)

(Mizzima) - Following a hotly debated panel discussion on Burma’s future held Monday morning at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, journalists from Mizzima and the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) requested follow-up interviews with featured speaker Dr. Nay Win Maung, Burmese media mogul and co-founder of Myanmar Egress, a NGO that receives foreign funding to conduct civil society and entrepreneurial training workshops. Dr. Nay Win Maung is also associated with a loose alliance of organizations and individuals that claim to neither represent the regime nor the National League for Democracy, yet support the nation’s upcoming and increasingly controversial national elections.

Dr. Nay Win Maung, as it happens, politely declined the request for an interview.

His comments during his panel presentation, however, gave the overall impression that things in Burma were gradually changing for the better. He told the assembled audience of Burmese dissidents, foreign diplomats and journalists that as Burma’s economy continues to be liberalized, military-civilian relations can also change over time.

During the presentation’s Q&A session when responding to a question about military cronies getting prized national assets, Dr. Nay Win Maung acknowledged that while the current phase of privatization “is in a way shaping the future winners and losers” those who buy the assets would still have to remain competent business owners “because if you’re not competitive then you will go bankrupt. It’s not the 100 meter run, it’s a marathon. So, starting ahead of the rest of the players doesn’t necessarily mean you win.”

Dr. Nay Win Maung’s positive spin on the privatization scheme currently plaguing Burma rings rather hollow. Recent examples from nations like Russia, Uzbekistan and Indonesia, which all experienced the rapid privatization of key state assets sold off to a small group of insiders at fraudulently low prices, shows that no matter how incompetent the cronies are they will remain wealthy and powerful due to the massive advantages initially received. Despite the overthrow of the Suharto regime more than a decade ago, lucrative business deals that his cronies and his children received during his rule ensure they are still key players in the Indonesian economy today, and in fact some of the richest people in the world.

During his presentation Dr. Nay Win Maung raised some eyebrows when he claimed that if parties at the state legislature level were able to gain a majority, then using the power granted to local governments by the constitution they could “easily” implement their desired policies. He neglected to mention, however, that the likelihood that opposition parties could achieve a majority at either the state or federal level is extremely slim, especially given that 25 percent of seats are reserved for appointed military officers.

In a 2008 email sent to Burmese opposition and ethnic leaders, a copy of which was obtained by The Irrawaddy, Dr. Nay Win Maung called on Aung San Suu Kyi to “provide a goodwill gesture in [giving Than Shwe a way out] by saying yes to the constitution.” That the new constitution bars Aug San Suu Kyi from ever serving as her party’s leader does not seem to bother Myanmar Egress. In Dr. Nay Win Maung’s words the jailed opposition leader must “learn to differentiate between genuine opposition politics and confrontational politics.” Another suggestion he put forth was that the NLD should agree to only contest half of the seats in the 2010 election, thus sending the signal that they do not want to take power but merely be in opposition.

In addition to his work with Myanmar Egress, Dr. Nay Win Maung is also publisher of Living Color magazine and The Voice weekly. The Burmese regime allows both journals to publish translations of foreign newspaper Op-Eds by the likes of Thant Myint U and Jim Webb, writings that favor Western economic engagement with the Burmese regime. Dr. Nay Win Maung co-founded Living Color magazine with the help of Ye Naing Win, son of former SPDC Prime Minister and Military Intelligence Chief Khin Nyunt. When Khin Nyunt was purged from the Burmese junta following an internal power struggle, Ye Naing Win ceased being officially associated with the publication.

The Irrawaddy magazine also alleged in April 2008 that Dr. Nay Win Maung “reportedly has concessions in the timber industry and is also an executive member of Kanbawza Bank, which is closely connected to the junta’s No. 2, Vice Snr-Gen Maung Aye.”

Due to its close associations with Maung Aye, Kanbawza Bank remains on the European Union’s Burma sanctions list as does its head Aung Ko Win (a.k.a. Saya Kyaung). The bank recently purchased an 80 percent stake in state-owned Myanmar Airways International, in what many critics argue was a fraudulent and illegitimate privatization gift to the junta’s cronies. Unfortunately due to Nay Win Maung’s refusal to be interviewed, Mizzima was unable to verify if he still has any role with Kanbawza Bank or if he still maintains a financial connection with the blacklisted firm.

Dr. Nay Win Maung’s background, according to the Washington Post, is that of “a son of a military officer brought up among Burma's military elites, giving him good connections to military insiders.” According to the Wall Street Journal it was these connections that made him a useful intermediary between Oxfam International and the Burmese regime following Cyclone Nargis.

In light of his privileged position as a member of Burma’s elite it is easy to see why Dr. Nay Win Maung would be allowed by the Burmese regime to travel overseas as a representative of Burma’s “civil society”.

Mizzima has learned from sources inside Burma that Dr. Nay Win Maung claimed to friends and diplomats during the height of Aung San Suu Kyi’s 2009 trial that all of Burma’s ’88 generation students were in favor of taking part in the 2010 elections except for Min Ko Naing. This proved to be quite untrue, as did his claim that jailed comedian Zarganar had been acting as an intermediary between the regime and the ’88 generation students.

When Mizzima interviewed a fellow member of Myanmar Egress about Dr. Nay Win Maung’s presentation in Bangkok, he replied that Dr. Nay Win Maung was speaking for himself and not on behalf of Myanmar Egress. Despite this claim many of Nay Win Maung’s opinion’s are expressed in Myanmar Egress‘s work and publications. In June 2009 the Wall Street Journal reported that a study published by Myanmar Egress which was written by Dr. Nay Win Maung suggested that the NLD should not contest more than 50% of the seats in the 2010 national election (a proposal also made in his email to ethnic and political leaders that was leaked to the Irrawaddy).

Myanmar Egress’s offices are located in a mid-range Rangoon business hotel. As the organization charges students as much as a US $100 to a short course, Myanmar Egress’s classes are for the most part limited to members of Burma’s elite and upper middle class. Myanmar Egress does, however, claim to offer some scholarships to those students in financial need.

According to the Myanmar Egress website, which is almost exclusively in English, the NGO was formed “by a group of Myanmar nationalists [sic] committed to state building through positive change in a progressive yet constructive collaboration and working relationship with the government and all interest groups, both local and foreign.” How one can bring about progressive change by working in collaboration with Burma’s regime while it insists on jailing more than 2,100 political prisoners and is busy selling off the nation’s most prized assets to cronies remains to be seen.

That Myanmar Egress favors economic engagement with the West as a way of solving Burma’s many problems is hardly surprising given that several of its board members stand to gain financially from the Burmese economy’s further integration in the global marketplace. The NGO’s President, Tin Maung Than, is Vice-President of the Myanmar Fisheries Federation and according to the New York Times an adviser to Burma’s new rice industry association, while Vice-President Hla Maung Shwe is Chairman of the Myanmar Shrimp Association. As both Burma’s commercial fishing and shrimp sectors are known for widespread labor rights abuses, environmental destruction and close links with the military, it is questionable how industry representatives could contribute in a positive way to assisting a Burmese civil society NGO. Nonetheless, according to the Wall Street Journal, in 2009 the British development agency gave Myanmar Egress funding to conduct aid management training.

Hla Maung Shwe is reported to have been a former political prisoner. Following his release from prison he shifted his focus to business. According to Mizzima’s sources, he plays a key role in Myanmar Egress despite having a relatively low profile.

With a media mogul, two fishing executives, a senior travel company representative and an assortment of other major businesspeople on its board, Myanmar Egress looks more like a chamber of commerce than a civil society organization. It is therefore no surprise that in a November 2008 press release, ActionAid, an international partner of Myanmar Egress, described the organization as a “voluntary wing” of the Myanmar Chamber of Commerce. Meanwhile, much of Burma’s real civil society remains behind bars, in exile or underground.

NLD not to re-register with Election Commission

Monday, 29 March 2010 18:02 Mizzima News

(Mizzzima) - In a significant decision, which may have far reaching consequences in Burmese politics, the main opposition party the National League for Democracy has decided not to re-register with the Election Commission for the 2010 general elections, following hectic parleys by the party brass at a meeting today.

"After a vote of the committee of members, the NLD party has decided not to register as a political party because the election laws are unjust," National League for Democracy (NLD) spokesman Nyan Win told reporters at the party headquarters in Rangoon.

The decision not to contest the election was decided unanimously at a meeting of members of the Central Executive Committee and Central Committee of States and Divisions, after heated debates both in the party fold and in Burmese political circles.nld-office-ygn1

"Vice-Chairman Tin Oo, who was released from house arrest recently, announced two decisions taken at the meeting. One was not to register the party and another was not to abolish the party although it is not being registered," said a youth leader who was waiting for the party decision in front of the party office.

However, Aung Shwe, chairman of Burma’s National League for Democracy did not turn up for the meeting of the party brass today, for a crucial decision on whether the party would re-register with the Election Commission.

A hundred and thirteen members of the party's Central Executive Committee and Central Committee attended the meeting today, except Aung Shwe (the chairman), U Lwin (secretary) and Lun Tin (CEC member).

Sources in the party told Mizzima that Aung Shwe had sent a message since yesterday, which said he would abide by the decision of detained party general secretary Aung San Suu Kyi.

The junta’s electoral laws announced on March 8, states if NLD wants to re-register, it must expel the general secretary Suu Kyi, who was sentenced to 18 months under house arrest, 10 members of the Central Committee and other party members accounting for 430 odd.

If the NLD, 12 million members at a highest point, does not re-register within the 60 day deadline that ends on May 7, it’ll cease to exist automatically. There is a heated debate on among party leaders whether the party should be re-register.

On March 13, the leader of the party, Suu Kyi told her lawyers that she didn’t want the party to be re-registered.

During the meeting of NLD’s leaders, near the Shwegondine traffic light, two trucks of security men and two fire trucks were stationed. In the campus of the B.E.H.S (3) Bahan, there were eight trucks of security forces.

Rules restrict construction of Thingyan pavilions

Monday, 29 March 2010 12:07 Khaing Suu

New Delhi (Mizzima) - Strict rules are being enforced by Burmese authorities in the construction of Thingyan (Water Festival) pavilions, according to builders.

Rules state every pavilion must be decorated with traditional designs to make it obvious that the celebration is a traditional undertaking. Moreover, a traditional dancing group and a decorated car from every pavilion must participate in city competitions.

“When we applied for the permit to build a Thingyan pavilion at the office of the District Peace and Development Council, the local authorities told us that they would ban alcohol and cigarette advertisements. Moreover, they ordered that every club must organize a traditional dancing team and make a decorated car. And we must compete in the opening and closing ceremonies at City Hall. In earlier years we celebrated relatively freely. We are disappointed with the strict restrictions this year,” said a youth who applied for a permit.

A Rangoon district official told Mizzima, “Anyone who wants to build a Thingyan pavilion wider than 40 feet must organize a traditional dancing team and make a decorated car. And they must compete in the opening and closing ceremonies at City Hall. ”

In the application form many rules are prescribed, including disallowing alcohol, cigarette and other advertisements not suitable to Burmese culture. Names of pavilions must suit Burmese culture as well and not be in English.

A young person planning to participate in the Water Festival said, “We want to dance freely with international modern music. Now, we have to play Burmese songs at the pavilions. So, we feel uneasy. Anyway, I’ll participate in the Water Festival.”

According to youth who are building a Thingyan pavilion, the number of pavilions in Rangoon this year may be less than last year not only because of increased restrictions, but also due to advertising sponsors wanting to support the Naypyitaw Thingyan Festival.

A youth commented, “It’s very difficult to find sponsors this year. They want to sponsor the Naypyitaw Thingyan Festival. They are giving 10 million kyats to Naypyitaw. We got five million kyats last year. But we will get just two million kyats this year. We lost at the last Thingyan and we will lose again this year. Our pavilion has a good public image so we continue. With little sponsor money we can’t build pavilions on Inya Road and University Avenue Road.”

Some Rangoon residents feel that the restrictions are intended to make the Naypyitaw festival more appealing than Rangoon events.

A young woman told Mizzima, “We used to celebrate on Inya Road every year. This year we are reluctant because building pavilions are not allowed on Inya Road. That means they want Naypyitaw Thingyan to be more alive than Rangoon Thingyan. Moreover, there is not enough water except around Inya Road.”

When Mizzima asked the opinions of young people in Rangoon, many wanted to go to a Vipassana meditation camp or to famous Pagodas for pilgrimage; opting not to participate in the Water Festival.

A youth from Hlaing Township explained, “We will not go to Naypyitaw. Though most vocalists will be in Nayypitaw at Thingyan time, I will be happy anywhere in Thingyan. If I go there, it will cost more money. Moreover, Naypyidaw will be very hot then.”

Government employees in Naypyitaw under the age of 35 are being restricted in their travels, further encouraging the Naypyitaw events to draw a larger crowd.

A brother of an employee from the Ministry of Information said, “My brother will be allowed to come back. But, young people who are under 35 are not allowed to go back to their places.”

A guesthouse owner in Naypyitaw added, “Yes, young employees are not allowed to go back. My sister cannot go back to Rangoon. She is from the Ministry of Energy. She must participate in the traditional dancing.”

Locals in Naypyitaw are reporting pavilions being built in the hotel zone and junctions of the new administrative capital.
Sunday, March 28, 2010

Increased budget for Thai border hospitals

Sunday, 28 March 2010 14:30 Usa Pichai

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - The Thai government has approved an increased budget for 172 public border hospitals to provide medical services for nearly 500,000 stateless people in the country.

Junrin Laksanavisit, Thailand’s Public Health Minister said on Friday that a recent cabinet decision granted about 472 million baht [14.3 million USD] for border hospitals to provide medical services to stateless people. The budget will come into force from April 1, 2010.

“We set up a new committee to follow up operative details, which are representatives of border hospitals, patients and related organizations. The ministry has ordered local border hospitals to provide services to those people,” he said, according to a report of the Public Health Ministry of Thailand on Friday.

The action follows a request in early February from a network of doctors, who work in state hospitals near the Thai-Burma border that it faces severe debt incurred by providing free medical services, both to Thai nationals who do not have identification cards and to persons having no nationality.

The doctors stated that hospitals operating in five districts of Tak now have debts as high as Bt 111.5 million, as half of their patients have no identification cards and about 33 per cent of hospital bed occupancy are by patients having no registered nationality.

In February, Dr Worawit Tantiwattanasap, Director of Umphang Hospital in Tak revealed that most patients without national identification papers still receive free medical services, and the hospitals also must pay other expenses such as meals and transportation fees for them. Hospitals also treat patients with deadly diseases, to prevent the diseases spreading to other areas if no preventive measures are taken, according to Thai News Agency Website.

He added that hospitals can no longer shoulder the expenditure and need government help.

After the resolution released on Tuesday, the border doctors network, Ethnics in Thailand Network and some of the migrant labour rights activists have welcomed the cabinet decision and urged the government to expedite the process.

Dr Kanoknart Pisuthakul, Mae Sot Hospital Director said that the group thanks the Public Health Minister, who played a significant role to push the policy that granted medical access to those ethnic members and people with no citizenship living along the border.

Ongkham, a Shan ethnic living in Chiang Mai province told Mizzima that this policy could help stateless ethnic people and migrants who face problems in accessing medical services.

“Earlier, even though several hospitals did not deny treating us some officials said that the hospital doesn’t have money to provide enough drugs. Many of us ethnic people and migrants from Burma are too poor to go to private hospitals or clinics,” he said.
Saturday, March 27, 2010

Anti-Fascist Revolution Day - March 27

Saturday, 27 March 2010 15:03 Myint Maung

Po Than Jaung, spokesperson of Communist Party of Burma (Interview)

Q: The Burmese military regime will hold the Anti-Fascist Revolution Day as Armed Forces Day (March 27). How will CPB respond?

A: Everybody knows 27 March is Anti-Fascist Revolution Day but successive military regimes have robbed this day from the people and celebrated it as their Armed Forces Day since the time of Bo Ne Win. In fact, today’s Tatmadaw (Armed Forces) is quite different from the Tatmadaw founded by Bogyoke (General) Aung San, which fought against Japanese fascists. The current generation of soldiers is also quite different from the generation of that time. The current generation has totally abandoned the fine traditions of the past.

I’d like to say celebrating anti-fascist revolution day as their Armed Forces day by hijacking this sacred revolution of the entire people and honouring the present Armed Forces, which is killing and persecuting the people is, in fact, insulting the entire people. Similarly the BSPP regime and current SPDC regime has distorted many other histories. One day we must upturn all these lies and rectify the wrong facts and histories.

Q: What is their objective in celebrating this day as ‘Armed Forces Day’?

A: Their objective is to rob the revolution day, highly valued by the people, for honouring their undignified mercenary army, dacoit army.

Q: What are the differences of the earlier objectives in founding the Army and current objectives of the Army?

A: The former Army was to save the people from the yoke of fascist imperialist by driving them out of our country and to annihilate them if necessary. The current objective is opposite of that. The current army is not fighting against the fascist imperialist but they are fighting against their own people. They are persecuting their own people. In the past, the entire people stood firmly behind then Army. Now there are no people standing behind them. This Army is dividing the people, destroying the unity of the people.

Q: How did the seizure of State power by Army take place? Please tell us the political background?

A: When civil war broke out, the Socialists and the military clique led by Bo Ne Win in the Army expelled the communists from the ‘Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League’ (AFPFL) and cornered them into going underground by intensifying the civil war like the situation of the students of current generation who had to go underground and to go to the countryside for armed struggle. In the civil war, the battle field was among the people and this people became cannon-fodder. They started suppressing the people too. In this way, the socialist "gang" was getting stronger gradually in the AFPFL government. Other factions in this AFPFL government could not compete with this armed gang. Then this military clique became stronger and stronger day by day and finally they seized power by military coup in 1958 for the first time. Since then, they tasted the State power and realized the sweetness of it. But they handed over State Power to the then elected civilian government in 1960. Not long after that, within 1 to 2 years, they seized State power again in 1962 and had held it until today. Since then, they have adopted the policy of enjoying the best financial resources and all natural resources of State by themselves and dividing among themselves.

Q: In the international arena, the armed forces are only for the defence and security of the State. In this outlook, is the situation in Burma consistent with this policy?

A: The Armed Forces which are holding arms should stay away from the political institution and political infrastructure. Every country will be in trouble when these two institutions are mixed up and especially the people will suffer. We can see such a situation in some countries but they did not last too long. It was short lived. Only in Burma, holding of State power by Army lasted nearly half a century. Next year, our country will have been in the hands of Army for half a century. It should not be like that. It will endanger our country, our people and even our neighbours.

Q: Many say that the 2008 State Constitution and electoral laws are specifically designed to prolong and perpetuate regime power? How do you view it?

A: Yes, it’s true. The election will give legitimacy to the Army’s seizure of power and holding it. They do it to perpetuate their power to the ages of their descendents and even forever if possible. They have been doing it in a well planned manner since the times of Bo Khin Nyunt with their roadmap for a long time, nearly 20 years. They took this step with full self-confidence. They are not weakened and they are not stepping backward. They are taking the final step after full preparation. They are trying to castrate the political lives of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her ‘National League for Democracy’ (NLD) party. They did this well planned work by hoping that after castrating these two, all the movements and struggles of people will be castrated too.

Q: What would you like to say to the generals in the Army on the strength and weaknesses of the Armed Forces?

A: I’d like to say to the generals in the Army, especially to those who are sincere and love the people that our country has severely deteriorated as they can see and as they know. Moreover our country is not only in abject poverty but also losing her virtue and dignity. The culprit is totally the Armed Forces (Tatmadaw). I’d like to request them to try their best to change the current situation.

Q: What would CPB like to say to the people in Burma?

A: Now we have reached a crucial point. The SPDC regime has started launching political offensives against the people. To counter this, we cannot do only by one organization and by one individual. All the political forces and entire people must resist it by unity and solidarity among us. If we are submissive to their offensive this time, we will be defeated and it will take a long time to resurrect. For this reason, I think, we need a unified, broad and consolidated ‘united front’ for bringing all political forces together to counter their offensive.

Burma to hold polls in October

Saturday, 27 March 2010 14:08 Mizzima News

(Mizzima) - The much hyped and controversial general elections in Burma are likely to be held by the junta in the last week of October or early November, an AFP report said on Saturday.

“The candidates will get about six months to campaign after they have registered as political parties. The elections will be in the last week of October or early in November,” the report said quoting an anonymous official.

The military junta that has ruled the country for the past 20 years, however, has made no official announcement on the dates of the polls.

But earlier this month, it announced the electoral laws, where it was criticized for imposing restrictions on political prisoners including detained Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, from contesting the polls.

According to the law, the National League for Democracy (NLD) party must expel its general secretary Aung San Suu Kyi, if it plans to register as a political party and contest the polls.

The NLD swept the elections in Burma in 1990 but the military refused to hand over power.

The detained Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, (64), has been under some form of detention for the past 14 of 20 years.

NLD youth against re-registering party

Saturday, 27 March 2010 12:41 Kyaw Kha

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - Fissures are fast developing in the National League for Democracy (NLD) fold over the contentious issue of re-registering the party in accordance with the harsh electoral laws of the ruling junta.

The NLD’s youth members have taken a stand and decided to reject the junta’s electoral laws and are against re-registration of the party, following a unanimous agreement at a meeting of the youth members on March 26. This is likely to influence the stand of NLD in the forthcoming elections.

It has become obvious that the NLD youth, who swear by the democracy icon and Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, are desirous of following her wish, even though she has made it clear that she was not imposing her opinion and members were free to take a decision on the re-registration issue.

The NLD’s vice chairman U Tin Oo, and about 60 NLD youth leaders from States/Divisions attended the meeting. At the meeting, the youth rejected the electoral laws and decided to oppose any move to re-register the party.

“It’s unfair. There are the 1990 election results. The junta had declared that they would go back to their barracks then. But, they went back on their promise. So, we can’t accept the electoral laws,” Ko Aye Tun, in-charge (3) of the NLD’s Central Youth Working Group told Mizzima.

Most of the NLD youth members, who attended the meeting are around 20 years old. They are from all States and Divisions except Karen and Chin States.

As of March 8, the day the electoral laws were declared, it is mandatory for political parties to register within 60 days. So, the deadline to register is May 6. Ten political parties, including NLD, have to register again in keeping with the rules.

“We’ve decided to stand by the Shwegondine Declaration. We’ll follow NLD general secretary Aung San Suu Kyi’s wishes and policies,” a youth member said.

“NLD Youth Working Groups” were organized in about 90 townships.

In the central NLD, there are five, who represent NLD’s youth members. Aung San Suu Kyi was in charge of the youth wing before she was put under house arrest. Later, the responsibility was given to the vice chairman.

If the NLD does not re-register the party with the Election Commission, it will cease to exist automatically, according to the electoral laws. On the other hand, if the party wants to re-register, the party’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners (over 430 people) have to be expelled. NLD will decide on the thorny issue on registering or not at the meeting of the Central Committee on March 29.
Friday, March 26, 2010

Time for bold strategies by NLD

Friday, 26 March 2010 14:33 Mungpi (Commentary)

(Mizzima) - With Burma’s military rulers having made their intention clear to conduct the 2010 elections without major opposition by setting several restrictions, it is high time for the opposition, particularly the National League for Democracy, to take a bold step, if the party’s objectives are to bring some form of democratic changes in the country.

The electoral law, announced by the junta in early March, effectively bans detained Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and the over 2,100 political prisoners languishing in jails across the country from the election.

With the law, the junta, which has been forcibly ruling the country for the past 20 years, has shown its ugliest face to the opposition and left the NLD without much options.

For the past 20 years, the NLD had been the most persistent political party to remain within the junta’s legal fold, and has maintained its existence though without much stink as it is left without claws.

As to the expectations of the diverse Burmese opposition groups, the international community led by the United Nations, United States, United Kingdom, and others have condemned the junta over its rigid electoral laws.

However, as had always been, the rhetoric condemnations are limited to words and lacks indications of consensus action by the international community on the junta’s plans, which would be yet another laughing stock for the junta, who sees its chances of playing the diverse stand that the international community is having on them.

But the ultimatum is not on the international community but is directly on the NLD, which has been maintaining its stand as a reflection of the Burmese peoples’ aspirations. The call is greater than verbal fights and the hour is urgent and does not have the luxury of internal party conflicts.

Earlier this week, Aung San Suu Kyi told her lawyer Nyan Win her view on the junta’s election plans saying she believes the NLD should not re-register. But it came as a response to the NLD’s Chairman Aung Shwe, who on the previous week said the NLD should re-register to survive as a legal political party.

The NLD must realize that it has spent 20 years within the junta’s legal fold and maintained its legal existence, while the Burmese people gradually suffered under the junta’s degrading rule.

Therefore, the time has no luxury for any internal political disagreement within the NLD and Aung San Suu Kyi, who is the sole figure that had helped keep Burmese politics alive internationally, must take a bold step, in keeping with the people’s expectations.

Otherwise, the junta has made the results look crystal clear. There are no disillusions to believe that the election could somehow bring about a democratic change.

The NLD must realize that there is no more time for refuting the junta’s illogical laws, decrees, and merely issuing of statements, and appealing for mercy at the stage-managed courts, as all have proved failures.

The NLD, therefore, must to adopt a new strategy from the little options it is left with.

While re-registering under the junta’s electoral laws would allow the NLD to remain legally alive, it would automatically kill the NLD’s spirit and without Aung San Suu Kyi being able to lead the party, the people would need a big explanation on why they should support the NLD again, as they have proven their failure during the last 20 years.

The other few options the NLD has can be to openly challenge the junta’s electoral law. Being the sole legal political party remaining of the 1990 election, the NLD has the right to reject the junta’s laws and electoral process and call on a nation-wide boycott. The NLD still has some time before the 60-day registration period closes on May 6th.

While confrontation and street protests might sound irrelevant and illogical in the face of guns, the NLD leadership should be able to cleverly mobilize the last of the peoples’ hope that they have on them.

As suggested by Nobel Peace Laureate, the NLD should not re-register but boycott it and call on all political parties and the people to stop participating in the junta’s elections.

While there would be a number of puppet political organizations still following the junta’s lead, alliance groups like the Committee Representing the Peoples’ Parliament (CRPP), are likely to follow the NLD’s lead and could bring back hope for the people.

The NLD must also realize that the UN and the international community including the United States cannot act without any forces acting internally inside Burma. External pressures would only have meaningful impact if there are internal forces like the NLD taking a bold lead.

The time requires more than old practices, as it would decide the fate of the Burmese people, but most of all it would determine the fate of the NLD and the noble sacrifices made by many great leaders including Aung San Suu Kyi are at stake.

Practically, the junta would do whatever it takes to continue with their plans, and it would be tiring to condemn them, both internally and internationally, unless there are actions following up.

Therefore, unless the NLD has a new strategy and acts in a timely manner, the people would have no reasons to believe that the NLD could still bring their aspirations alive at anytime in the future.

Mungpi is a special correspondent of the Mizzima based in Oklahoma City.

Self-degradation in the 2010 elections

Friday, 26 March 2010 13:14 Min Ko Moe (Commentary)

(Mizzima) - Free and fair conduct in the coming general election in Burma is not the issue, rather the issue is the rule of military dictatorship as the constitution compels civilians to subordinate their will to that of a military clique. The constitution is designed to control the minds and actions of all civilians, thereby denying them the right to dignified self-preservation. As the result, voting in and contesting the upcoming election is a process of democratic choices for self-degradation.

The constitution will divide the citizenship into two levels of status, the permanent ruling military class and the permanent ruled civilian class. According to the constitution, 25 percent of Hluttaw seats are reserved for military personnel. Moreover, whenever a clash of interests occurs between civilians and the military, the elected people’s representatives have no democratic choices, their only option to ignore justice as urged upon them by the civilians who elected them into office.

Article 6(f) of the new constitution states “the Union’s consistent objective is enabling the Defence Services to be able to participate in the National political leadership role of the State.” This is important as the provision of granting political power in the hands of one group is dangerous. Moreover, the interests of military representatives may or may not be similar to the interests of civilians. As evidenced in the language of the 2008 constitution, the military clique’s emphasis is on non-disintegration of the Union, military rule and justice according to the law whereas the civilian emphasis is on civilian rule, federalism, democracy and law according to justice. This clash, however, can only be resolved by the military as the constitution grants them the leading role in politics.

Most people who are going to contest the election are civilians who love the people. Whoever is elected, they have a moral and legal responsibility to solve the problems of the people and in particular their constituency. If the people call for social justice, elected representatives have a moral and legal duty to discuss, debate and enact the most appropriate political solution. However, the constitution only allows them to discuss the matter of justice for the realization of non-disintegration of the Union, rather than justice as an end in itself.

Without justice in the political, economic and social spheres, the lives of the people will be hard to live in a dignified manner. Yet, after enforcement of the constitution, public discontentment to the law of discrimination might target elected representatives who are actually powerless to fulfil the interests of the people. As a result, elected representatives would be forced to abdicate their moral responsibility as they are powerless to enforce justice. If, for example, the people urge the military to reduce its budget, estimated around 40 percent of annual State income, and instead increase investment in education and health, elected representatives would be in a dilemma as whether to follow natural justice or the military clique’s imposed justice.

Even though Burma is composed of 135 National races, the military overlooks the importance of national minorities, ethnics and indigenous people in the process of state-building. The constitution unequivocally excludes the term ‘minority’ and the idea of group rights. Instead, it uses the term ‘National Races’. Provisions regarding National Races are:

Article 354 (d): “Every citizen shall be at liberty in the exercise of the following rights, if not contrary to the laws, enacted for Union security, prevalence of law and order, community peace and tranquillity or public order and morality to develop their language, literature, culture they cherish, religion they profess, and customs without prejudice to the relations between one national race and another or among national races and to other faiths.”

Article 365: “Every citizen shall, in accord with the law, have the right to freely to develop literature, culture, arts, customs and traditions they cherish. In the process, they shall avoid any act detrimental to national solidarity.”

No provision is mentioned in the constitution for the collective enjoyment of people belonging to minority groups. There is no provision for minority groups to establish and administer their own educational institutions. There is no provision which allocates political power for minority groups in order to protect and promote their identity and welfare. Ultimately, ethnic groups are are denied the fundamental rights to protect their self-preservation and identity because the game of identity politics would be legally criminalised under the title of non-disintegration of the Union. Therefore, for minorities, voting and contesting elections would mean the exercise of democratic choices for identity-degradation.

Having a sense of right and wrong, just and unjust, fair and unfair, responsible citizens will surely struggle for justice, human dignity and identity. Without the administration of justice, the right to dignity and identity will not be properly safeguarded. On the one hand, soldiers and bureaucrats who have a legal responsibility to work for the realization of the purposes of the constitution will degrade self-esteem through their self-actions by violating the natural justice in their professions. The military is responsible for all acts of injustice prevailing in Burma. In other words, if equality in dignity and human beings is the foundation of justice, peace and development, inequality in dignity and rights stands for injustice, war and underdevelopment. Therefore any civil conflicts and poverty are the fault of the military due to their exploitation of the people.

Exploitation of man by man is not merely a matter of self-degradation for oppressed civilians, it is a matter of non-recognition of civilians as being human. According to the constitution, all civilians, including the 75 percent of elected people’s representatives, are excluded from mainstream politics. Civilians will not be able to enjoy their inate rights. Ironically, the enslavement of civilians would reaffirm the Basic Principles of the Union, as mentioned in Article 4: “Sovereign power of the State is derived from the citizens and is in force in the whole country”. This basic principle does not tell us the specific space or political body to exercise the sovereign power on behalf of the people. It is not clear that citizens have to give up their fundamental rights.

This argument highlights the powerless nature of the elected people’s representatives to protect and promote the inherent dignity and identity of those who elected them. For example:

Article 20 (e): “The Defence Services is mainly responsible for safeguarding the non-disintegration of the Union, the non- disintegration of National solidarity and the perpetuation of sovereignty.”

Article 20 (f): “The Defence Services is mainly responsible for safeguarding the Constitution.”

Amazingly, the constitution empowers the military to safeguard the non-disintegration of the Union and the constitution. The constitution does not give civilians the power to protect their lives and liberty. Under the veil of non-disintegration of the Union, the military clique arranges to protect themselves in the name of national politics no matter the cause of justice. In this context, the constitution cannot even be ammended without approval from 75 percent of the Hluttaw.

Therefore, respect between the State and individual is not a reciprocal relationship. The constitution grants too much power to the State. Following the philosophy of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, equality in dignity and rights of human beings can serve as the foundation of justice, peace and development. However, the 2008 constitution of Burma is designed to achieve the non-disintegration of the Union over justice. The scope of justice is thus limited within the concept of non-disintegration so that justice is not for all, but for a military clique in the name of Unity and Solidarity. Contesting a free and fair election in the context of Burma would mean voluntary agreement to the limitation of the scope of justice and the voluntary subordination of civilians to rule via military diktat. Therefore, in such a context the exercising of political rights such as the rights to vote and contest political office is an exercise in self-degradation.

(The author is a political science scholar living in New Delhi.)

Party literature cannot criticize military: Junta

Friday, 26 March 2010 01:14 Mizzima News

(Mizzima ) - The Burmese military junta, which has rolled out harsh electoral laws for political parties, making it difficult for many to contest, has now come up with rules for political parties while printing their pamphlets, books or election-related printed matter.

Elections have been declared for this year but no date has been announced yet.

The announcement on party literature on March 17, says parties have to register for printing election-related matter with the government under the 1962 Printers and Publishers Registration Act.

For permission to print, the political party needs to seek permission from the country’s notorious Press Scrutiny and Registration Board (PSRB) within 90 days after they register with the Election Commission. The party literature cannot criticize the military and the present regime, the announcement says. The printed material cannot disturb “law and order and tranquility” of the nation, it added.

Moreover, a political party has to deposit 500,000 Kyat (USD 500) for permission to print. The amount will be fully or partially forfeited by the PSRB if a party violates the stringent rules announced.

The 1962 Printers and Publishers Registration Act prohibits publications or materials that go against the interests of the government. The penalties for violators of this Act range from the banning of an article to seven years in jail.

Foreign journalists to cover Armed Forces Day

Friday, 26 March 2010 01:10 Phanida

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - Along with local journalists, some foreign journalists have been allowed to attend Burma's Armed Forces Day celebration that will be held in Nay Pyi Taw on March 27, according to journalists and editors in Rangoon.

An editor of a local journal said, “On March 23, Maj Tint Swe, Director of the Press Scrutiny and Registration Board invited authorized domestic journalists to his office and told them to attend the celebration.”

“The meeting was held at 1 pm. They took our ID card numbers and details in advance. He told us to send one representative from one journal. This time foreign journalists in Burma, and foreign journalists from Bangkok have been allowed to attend the celebration,” he added.

However, Mizzima is unable to, confirm which Bangkok-based media will attend the celebration.

Last year, the journalists had to pay 70,000 Kyats for travel costs, food, and accommodation to the Press Scrutiny and Registration office, but this year, the journalists have to pay 80,000 Kyats on the same heads. Last year, only journalists from media houses that have a close relationship with the junta were allowed.

Only white (or) soft yellow colour traditional Burmese jackets are allowed at the celebration. And domestic journalists must wear black coloured traditional jackets and Burmese traditional turban at the dinner party on March 27, said another editor who attended the meeting.

Foreign journalists were allowed to attend the 2005 Armed Forces Day at Nay Pyi Taw but they were not allowed later. This year, they are being allowed again.

Sixty journalists, who will cover the ceremony, will go together by express bus tomorrow. Among them are at least 30 Rangoon-based journalists.

The journalists must register their still cameras and video cameras to the Press Scrutiny and Registration Board and only registered cameras will be allowed at the celebration.

At the celebration, journalists will be able to take photographs and videos only in allowed areas.

Moreover, at Senior General Than Shwe’s private dinner party, only members of the government-approved Myanmar Writers and Journalists Association will be allowed.

The Vice President of Thailand based Burma Media Association, Zin Lin told Mizzima that inviting domestic journalists to the ceremony didn’t tantamount to media freedom; the regime just intends to respond to the criticisms after the 2010 electoral laws were announced.

“Both local people and foreigners have been critical of the electoral laws. So, to respond the junta is just trying to propagate its messages via the local media,” he said.

Burma faces critical challenges: Ban

Friday, 26 March 2010 00:48 Mizzima News

(Mizzima) - The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon today told reporters in New York that Burma faces critical short and long challenges and the United Nations will continue help realise the aspirations of Burmese people. He was speaking at the UN building after the closed door meeting of the "Group of Friends on Myanmar" that discussed the country's recently announced electoral laws by the junta.

He said the member countries in the group stressed the need for this year's election "to be inclusive, participatory and transparent in order to advance the prospects of stability, democracy and development" for the people.

"We encourage all parties to work in the national interest. The government must create conditions that give all stakeholders the opportunity to participate freely in elections. This includes the release of all political prisoners - including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi -- and respect for fundamental freedoms," Ban said.

He also reiterated his earlier statement that the announced electoral laws so far do not meet what is needed for an inclusive political process.

The Group of Friends on Myanmar, founded in December 2007, comprises 14 countries including Burma's neighbours and one regional bloc. They are Australia, China, the European Union, France, India, Indonesia, Japan, Norway, Russia, Singapore, the Republic of Korea, Thailand, the United Kingdom, the United States and Vietnam.

Today's meeting also stressed the need to work for a better standard of living for people in Burma, Ban told reporters.

He also added that member countries are disappointed that there has not been progress for the country's national reconciliation process.

"This reflects our view that Myanmar's political, humanitarian and development challenges should be addressed in parallel and with equal attention."

Detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has said that she cannot accept the "unjust" electoral laws of the Burmese junta. The laws that were announced in the second week of March bars anyone who is serving a prison sentence to be a member of a political party, to form a party or to contest the elections.

Moreover, the laws are entirely based on the 2008 constitution that has been widely ciriticised both at home and abroad as constitunalising the military's leading role in country's politics. It prevents any action to be taken against the military leaders for their human rights violations.

Some individuals and political groups have already announced their intention to participate in the election and they see the election as an opening to gradual transition from military dictatorship to democracy. The National League for Democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi's party, the main political force that swept the 1990 elections, is likely to decide on whether to contest the elections or not at the end of this month. The party will be outlawed if it decides not to contest this election, the first in 20 years.

Earlier, the UN Security Council also met to discuss Burma but ended without any resolution. China's representative defended Burma's right to have its electoral laws as a sovereign nation at the meeting.

Meanwhile, a rights group, the Christian Solidarity Worldwide, has welcomed the decision of the British government to support the establishment of a UN Commission of Inquiry to investigate crimes against humanity and war crimes committed by the Burmese junta.

Britain’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Mark Lyell Grant, said yesterday that Britain would support the referral of a case to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Tomas Quintana , UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Burma, in his report to United Nations Human Rights Commission earlier this month in Geneva has recommended for the establishment of a commission of inquiry. Australia also supported the move.

How about the benefits?

Friday, 26 March 2010 00:15 Adam Selene

(Mizzima) -Much has been said and written about the downside of the roadmap of the regime. And indeed the undemocratic nature of the constitution and the recently published party registration and election laws would in most countries result in public outcry and resistance.

But let us not forget where Burma is coming from. With condemnations by the opposition and western governments dominating the news there is a tendency to forget the benefits of the ‘transition’. The opposition would be wise not to base its opinions solely on the shortcomings of the junta’s roadmap in relation to universal democratic ideals, but also on the gains in relation to the only alternative available: a continuation of the status quo, the poverty and the repression.

So what are these benefits?

First and foremost: the elections would offer the opposition a limited way to participate in parliament and in government. When parliament convenes this would offer the opposition the possibility of resuming dialogue with representatives of the Tatmadaw, dialogue which is currently totally lacking. These intensified contacts could be a basis for trust building. It is even thinkable that the opposition drives a wedge between the army and the army representatives in the coming years. In Indonesia it was Golkar - the party of army officers and public servants - that was instrumental in kicking out Suharto. It could happen again.

Another benefit is that the army stops ruling by decree. After the ratification of the constitution there is a proper (albeit not completely democratic) judicial basis to operate on. Although admittedly the constitution is flawed, it offers chances also. For instance: the constitution grants labourers the freedom to organize. This is a huge step forward in a country where up to now civil society is all but non-existent.

The period after the electio 1ns is also a time when the opposition finally gets to present its plans and ideas. There is no guarantee that any of it will be adopted by the then government, but it will be quite interesting to see how the opposition wants to heal the Burmese economy, solve the ethnic problem, and get the education and healthcare systems back on track. At the moment the programmes of the plethora of opposition groups are pretty one dimensional. Even parties like the NLD and the Democratic Party only seem to have one policy target: full democracy. Without having a real understanding of what democracy really is or can be.

If the NLD decides on March 29 to take part in the elections this will send a signal to the international community. And if the NLD is allowed to play a meaningful role after the elections this could open up the way for investments and humanitarian aid. This will have a direct effect on the lives of many Burmese, for most of whom the main problem is that they live in poverty, without access to healthcare or education.

The opposition could also try to stop the sell out that is currently underway. Hopefully the privatization wave of public property can be stopped at some point. Or at least it can be investigated.

It is clear there are benefits to be enjoyed, some potentially with a lot of impact. But there is no denying too that it is far from ideal to have the army as a state within the state. The prospect of a possible new coup will loom large for the coming years, as it did in Thailand.

But by now it should be all too clear that the election is going to happen anyway and that the junta will not alter the constitution or acknowledge the results of the 1990 election.

The opposition should calculate the possible net result and not let itself get carried away by wishful thinking and lofty ideals. It wouldn’t hurt to take the long view. As a politician in Rangoon recently said to me: let’s get these elections over with. In a couple of years the people will be able to vote again, and then the cards on the table will have been reshuffled.

Adam Selene (pseudonym) is journalist based in Bangkok.
Thursday, March 25, 2010

Former student leader floats political party

Thursday, 25 March 2010 22:34 Sai Zom Hseng

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - Phyo Min Thein, a former student leader has floated a political party called ‘Ludu (People’s) Democracy Party’ to contest the forthcoming election.

“I think we should go through the electoral process like other political parties because we have to provide people some alternative,” former Secretary of ‘All Burma Federation of Students Union’ (ABFSU) Phyo Min Thein told Mizzima.

ABFSU, which has played a major role in the country's struggle for freedom and democracy, is now an underground organization with many of its leaders in jail.

Phyo Min Thein also said that the party’s registration and adoption of the party policy and programme will be done only after March 29.

The party flag will be tricolour in blue, red and yellow.

Former ABFSU Chairman in 1988 Nyo Tun, will join this party’s preparatory committee.

The preparatory committee of this party comprises Nyo Tun, Phyo Min Thein, Thein Tin Aung, Min Lwin, Lu Thit, Thein Htay and Myo Min Tun, accounting for seven members. The party’s motto will be Freedom, Equality, Fraternity, and People’s Democracy, he added.

It is learnt that they will try for the inclusion of detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and imprisoned ethnic leader Khun Tun Oo in the electoral process.

Other political parties, which are so far ready to contest in the general election are:

(1) Union of Myanmar (Burma) Scientific National Political Party

(2) National Political Alliance League

(3) Democratic Party-Myanmar

(4) Rakhine State National Political Force

(5) National Unity Party

(6) Diversity and Peace Party

(7) Kachin State Progressive Party

(8) Wunthanu NLD

(9) 88-Geneartion Students United Democratic Party

(10) Union of Myanmar National Politics

However, some of their actual names in English can be different from the names mentioned, when they actually register with the Election Commission.

Two political parties, the Union of Myanmar National Politics League led by Aye Lwin and 88-Generation Students and Youths (Union of Myanmar) registered with the Election Commission on March 22.

The National League for Democracy (NLD), which is facing a political crisis due to the recently promulgated electoral laws, will decide on the party registration issue on March 29, at its plenary meeting to be attended by Central Committee members and Central Executive Committee members to be held at the party head office.

UN's ICT training in Burma

Thursday, 25 March 2010 22:24 Mizzima News (News Brief)

New Delhi (Mizzima) - A United Nations agency is organizing an ICT (Information and Communication Technology) training in Burma, in collaboration with a Burmese government department.

The ICT academic training workshop will commence on March 29 and will carry on for a week. It will be held in Pyin Oo Lwin, Manadalay Division.

Hyeun-Suk Rhee Director of UN-APCICT/ESCAP told Mizzima “This is the first time that we are launching an ICT programme in Burma. Our brief is to sensitize through the programme policy makers and ICT professionals, who are our first target group. We hope after our launch, government agencies will be able to carry on the programme in partnership with universities and the private sector to include more people,”.

"We are going to hold an academic workshop in Burma in collaboration with the Civil Service Selection and Training Board of Myanmar (CSSTBM), an agency of the Myanmar government,” she added.

The United Nations Asian and Pacific Training Centre for Information and Communication Technology, Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN-APCICT/ESCAP) with its centre in South Korea has a mandate of building Information and Communication Technology human institutional capacity for ESCAP member countries to use ICT for social economic development.

AFPFL-like split unnecessary

Thursday, 25 March 2010 16:32 Yan Nyein Aung (Commentary)

(Mizzima) - The Anti-Fascist Peoples Freedom League (AFPFL) split into two factions, those who believed the league should be cleaned, led by U Nu and Thakhin Tin, and another group prioritizing the stability of the party led by Ba Swe and Kyaw Nyein. The division, unfortunately, is something Burmese are well familiar with, originating at least as far back as the anti-colonial campaign.

Today we are witnessing two opinions within the National League for Democracy (NLD), which is struggling for democracy and human rights in Burma and which won the 1990 general elections. The division is between a group of activists who see the cleanliness of the party's spirit and dignity as a priority, and other members who see it as important for the party to survive and remain stable under the oppression of the military regime.

When the military junta issued the political party registration and electoral laws, many political activists were thrust into an unexpected environment. The NLD has since said it stands by the principles enshrined in the Shwegondaing Declaration.

Yet the party’s survival hangs in the balance. According to the junta’s laws, the NLD must choose to sack its beloved leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, if the party wants to stand legally, since the laws prohibit a prisoner from serving as member of a legal political party. And more importantly, any registered party must commit to honor the constitution of Burma, of which the NLD has consistently demanded a review.

Aung San Suu Kyi's position is quite clear. She is opposed to the laws since they are unjust and fail to meet imposed standards; which literally means she is willing to continue to fight the imposition of unjust laws even if it means the end to her own party. Nonetheless, she is said to have confirmed that she will follow a majority decision of party members, as she stands for democratic principles.

Yet, if a majority of party members decide to call for her to join the proposed elections it can be questioned whether she should continue to stick with such colleagues. Leaders of this group believe Aung San Suu Kyi needs a legal organization to pursue her legal struggle and the party should consider sacking her for the purpose of registration according to the newly imposed laws.

The NLD, which has opposed party registration since 1993, they argue, will be forced to commit to the ‘protection’ of the new constitution. Moreover, the faction’s leaders claim the NLD should continue to exist for those who have sacrificed their lives during the last two decades.

However, it must be then questioned, which members of the NLD are calling for the sacking of Aung San Suu Kyi?

The present situation is totally different from the 1990 election result, which has remained unfulfilled for the last twenty years. More importantly, I believe the new situation is more important, since NLD members could opt to form a new party with the abolition of the existing party.

I believe NLD leaders that want to stand legally can resign from the party and join with people of the same opinion to form a new political entity. I would let them go and form a new political party using a name such as the new-NLD. Foreign missions based in Burma will support them and the junta may allow them to run for office. The perceived break would be regrettable and preventable, but they cannot deceive the people and must allow the people to make their own choices. However, I hope they will not be blamed in history as forcing divisions within the party.

Former dictator Ne Win and the generals that have followed have time and again gained advantages by splitting opposition parties, including among the ranks of the AFPFL, dragging the country into crisis and poverty. I cannot imagine when and how we will be able to free our lives of military slavery if the NLD disunites and splits.

Malaysian government urged to end abuse of migrant workers

Thursday, 25 March 2010 20:50 Usa Pichai

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - The Malaysian government has been urged by Amnesty International to end widespread abuse of migrant workers, including Burmese migrants.

The Amnesty International in a report released on Wednesday said that Malaysia should initiate action to end widespread abuses in the workplace and by police of migrant workers who make up more than 20 per cent of the country's workforce.

The report ; “Trapped: The Exploitation of Migrant Workers in Malaysia”, documents widespread abuses against migrant workers from eight South Asian and Southeast Asian countries, who are lured to Malaysia by the promise of jobs but are instead used in forced labour or exploited in other ways.

Michael Bochenek, the report’s author and Director of Policy at Amnesty International said, "Migrant workers are critical to Malaysia's economy, but they systematically receive less legal protection than other workers," and added that "They are easy prey for unscrupulous recruitment agents, employers and corrupt police."

The rights group noted that migrants, many from Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Nepal, are forced to work in hazardous situations and undergo long working-hours while many are subject to verbal, physical and sexual abuse. Most workers have taken loans at exorbitant interest rates and simply cannot afford to return to their home countries. Some are in situations close to bonded labour.
The Amnesty International said that labour laws in the country are not effectively enforced, and labour courts may take months or years to resolve cases. For domestic workers, who are not covered by most of the labour laws, recourse to the courts is usually not an option.

"Malaysia can and must do better for its workforce. Everyone, regardless of immigration status, is entitled to safe and fair working conditions and to equal treatment under the law," said Michael Bochenek.

The report concludes that many workers are victims of human trafficking. The Malaysian government has the responsibility to prevent such abuses but instead facilitates trafficking through its loose regulation of recruitment agents and through laws and policies that fail to protect workers.

In addition, the group heard over a dozen cases from Burma in which Malaysian authorities delivered immigration detainees to traffickers operating on the Thai border between 2006 and 2009. Several had been subjected to this practice more than once.

Malaysia is a destination for refugees and asylum seekers. At least 90,000 and as many as 170,000 or more refugees and asylum seekers, mostly from Burma and the Philippines, are in the country.

According to the group, Malaysia imposes severe and excessive criminal penalties - in some cases caning - on migrants who work without proper permits, even when errors by the employer are the reason for immigration violations.

Bochenek said that the Malaysian government must stop criminalizing its migrant work force and instead tackle forced and compulsory labour…until Malaysia's labour laws offer effective protection and are effectively enforced, exploitation will continue.

Wanchai, a Mon worker, who recently returned from Malaysia, now working in Mahachai district in Thailand, told Mizzima that he came back to Thailand because working conditions in Malaysia were not conducive.
“Malaysian authorities are very strict on migrant workers. We are scared to go out even though we have work documents. Besides, working conditions are quite bad. I used to work in a construction site but my former employer did not provide housing for us. We had to stay in a forest near the site where I was afflicted by Malaria.”

The AI concluded by calling on the Malaysian government to reform its labour laws and promptly investigate abuses in the workplace and by the police. In addition the government should also make more effective use of its Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act to prosecute individuals who recruit, transport or receive workers through fraud or deception in order to exploit them.