Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Critics decry Norinco outlay on Ivanhoe’s Burmese mine

Tuesday, 31 August 2010 20:23 Thomas Maung Shwe

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Critics of Canada’s Ivanhoe Mines say that a recent report in Burma’s state-controlled media that Chinese weapons firm Norinco is to spend nearly US$1 billion to develop the Monywa copper project’s long-stalled second phase is further evidence that the notorious weapons firm has bought Ivanhoe’s stake in Burma’s largest mining project – a charge the Vancouver-based miner has repeatedly denied.

The Myanmar Times, Burma’s state-controlled English-language business weekly reported on August 16 that Norinco, or China North Industries Corporation, would spend US$997 million to develop Monywa’s Letpadaung deposit. The untapped cache is about four miles (seven kilometres) southeast of the three other deposits that have been the focus of the Monywa mine’s operations in northwest Burma’s Sagaing Division.

The Monywa copper project is operated by the Myanmar Ivanhoe Copper Company (MICCL), a joint venture formed in the 1990’s between Ivanhoe Mines and state-controlled Mining Enterprise No. 1. In February 2007, Ivanhoe placed its 50 per cent stake in MICCL in a secretive independent blind trust in preparation for sale.

Mizzima reported this year that Ivanhoe’s independent trust sold its stake in MICCL late last year to Norinco and Chinese mining giant Chinalco in a deal that involved Burmese cronies closely connected to junta leader Than Shwe who acted as middlemen.

Ivanhoe Mines adamantly denied that the independent trust sold the firm’s stake, despite a Nornico statement in early June announcing that it had reached a deal with the Burmese regime for access to Monywa’s copper. Ivanhoe led by chairman Robert Friedland refused to disclose who controlled the trust or show any proof that the trust still controls Ivanhoe’s stake in MICCL.

Canadian Friends of Burma (CFOB) executive director Tin Maung Htoo said that news of Norinco spending nearly a billion dollars to develop the Monywa mine was yet more evidence that Ivanhoe’s stake was sold.

He said: “We’ve known for months that Norinco and Chinalco bought Ivanhoe’s stake in Monywa. Now that Burma’s state media is reporting that Norinco is going to spend a billion dollars to develop the Letpadaung deposit, we have yet more proof that the Chinese bought Ivanhoe’s stake in Monywa. But Ivanhoe will continue to deny this sale has happened because they don’t want to admit sanctions may have been violated by the involvement of blacklisted junta cronies in the deal.”

Tin Maung Htoo calls the Ivanhoe sale an “open secret”, citing a web posting in March last year that outlined the deal on Australian business news commentary website Business Spectator by a Glenn Ford, the same name as MICCL’s present general manger. The posting stated: “Now Chinalco, in partnership with Chinese state-owned arms dealer Norinco, is buying the whole copper deposit of Ivanhoe and the Myanmar government.”

Norinco, one of the Chinese military’s biggest suppliers, has long been the subject of intense western scrutiny for its activities. The Bush administration alleged that Norinco exported missile technology to Iran and took steps to penalise the firm in 2003 and 2005.

Did Nornico’s billion-dollar figure include the cost of purchasing the Ivanhoe stake?

In March 2003 Ivanhoe said the Letpadaung expansion was going to cost around US$315 million. Though this estimate appeared seven years ago and the US dollar has fallen in value, the US$997 million that Norinco will reportedly spend on Letpadaung is still a significant increase in the cost of the expansion.

Tin Maung Htoo believes he knows why the cost has increased. He told Mizzima: “We don’t know the whole story yet but I strongly suspect that the billion-dollar figure quoted by The Myanmar Times includes the money that Norinco had to spend to acquire at least partial ownership of what was Ivanhoe’s stake in MICCL.”

In October 2007, some six months after putting its MICCL stake in a blind trust, Ivanhoe claimed that it had determined it was “prudent to record a US$134.3 million write-down” in the value of their 50 per cent stake, thereby reducing its value to nothing.

Tin Maung Htoo said it was very plausible that the middlemen connected to Than Shwe, said to be involved in Norinco’s Monywa deal, first took possession of the stake from the blind trust and resold it to Norinco, giving themselves a handsome profit in the process.

“A massive windfall for Than Shwe and his cronies was the inevitable outcome of Ivanhoe’s clever ploy to write down the value of its stake in MICCL to nil; the cronies get the stake for free and then in turn resell it to the Chinese for hundreds of millions,” Tin Maung Htoo said.

He added that: “Now is the time for Canadian authorities to investigate Ivanhoe’s questionable departure from Burma and determine if the firm violated Canadian sanctions by its actions. I urge Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon to take action.”

Monywa and Nornico’s ‘arms-for-copper affair’

Burma’s respected opposition satellite broadcaster, the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), reported at the end of June that sources said several weeks before Norinco announced it had signed a deal to get copper from Monywa, members of the Burmese regime visited China to “check on the shipments” of SH-1 155mm self-propelled howitzer cannons made by Norinco. The howitzer vehicles were then sent to Burma.

Jane’s Defence Weekly describes the SH-1 as a self-contained six-wheeled truck bearing the 155mm howitzer and a 12.7mm machine gun. It has a top road speed of 90km/h and the artillery piece has a maximum range of 33 miles (53 kilometres).

Analysts contacted by DVB speculated that the howitzers were exchanged for copper from Monywa. Tin Maung Htoo told Mizzima that he found the allegations over such exchanges credible, pointing out that Daewoo senior executives were convicted in a Korean court for helping the Burmese regime build a weapons factory as part of a deal to pave the way for Daewoo’s access to Burma’s offshore gas.

“The Norinco arms-for-copper deal is a win-win for China and Burma; the weapons maker gets cheap copper and the Burmese regime gets howitzers to use against its own people,” Tin Maung Htoo said. “Sadly, more innocent civilians will die because of this; we can thank Ivanhoe Mines and its chairman Robert Friedland for building one of ‘the lowest-cost copper mines in the world’ for the Burmese regime.”

Monywa’s Letpaduang expansion long-delayed

Despite the fact that every year since the Monywa mine came online in 1998 Ivanhoe repeatedly claimed that the undeveloped Letpadaung deposit had massive potential, the firm was unable to secure external funding for its expansion, which Ivanhoe had claimed could increase Monywa’s overall production by a massive 450 per cent.

An Ivanhoe press release from March 2003 quoted then deputy chairman Ed Flood as stating that “Letpadaung is widely recognised as one of the best undeveloped copper projects in the world”.

It said the “total measured and indicated resources at Letpadaung are 946 million tonnes grading 0.43 per cent copper, using a cut-off grade of 0.15 per cent copper”.

In the same release Ivanhoe claimed that the Australian consulting engineers Ausenco had devised a plan that would involve only the expansion’s “capital costs of US$315 million over six years, of which only US$40.9 million in external funding will be required”. The rest of the capital would come from funds generated by the mine’s existing operations.

Despite Ivanhoe’s optimistic forecasts the firm was unable to secure the funds or the approval of the Burmese regime to expand work at the Kysingtaung deposit and begin work at Letpadaung. Referring to both deposits Ivanhoe concluded in a March 2006 update to its shareholders that “without a substantial increase in mining capacity it is doubtful whether these two deposits can be economically developed”.

Representatives of Ivanhoe Mines could not be reached for comment.

Junta seizes KIO medicines as armed clashes loom

Tuesday, 31 August 2010 00:27 Phanida

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Junta military security and police this morning seized a year’s supply of medicines from a Kachin rebel motorboat docked on the Irrawaddy River in the Kachin State capital of Myitkyina, the boat’s skipper said.

The seizure comes amid heightened tensions between the ethnic peoples of the northern Burmese state led by the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) and the Burma’s ruling military junta, which is raising the ante over the KIO’s continued rejection of the order for it to bring its Kachin Independence Army (KIA) under junta command within the Border Guard Force (BGF) by September 1.

Adding to the strain, the KIA were gearing up for war on Friday while a majority of participants at a Kachin congress again rejected disarming despite a junta threat to end the ceasefire between the two sides, spokesmen said.

Analysts said the medicine seizures were designed to apply more pressure on the KIO.

Valued at an estimated 1.6 million kyat (about US$1,600), the drugs were confiscated by Military Affairs Security officials and officers from Police Station No.1 from the boat owned by the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) as it was moored at Kuthu Pier at about 9 a.m., the skipper said.

Kachin Independence Army (KIA) doctor Yaw Han had bought the drugs from the Saunghayman pharmacy in Myitkyina for the clinic at Htainnan village in Putao District where the KIA’s 7th Battalion was based, he said.

“We used to carry rice, cooking oil, salt, medicine and food. I don’t know why they confiscated the medicines this time,” the skipper said on condition of anonymity. “The authorities also warned us that they would arrest the boat’s owner and skipper next time, if they found medicines were carried.”

Yaw Han told the authorities he and the villagers had difficulty getting to Myitkyina from the village, which was why he had bought enough medicines for a year. The Military Affairs Security officers and police replied that they had confiscated the medicines in accord with orders from their superiors – that the Kachin were banned from carrying any medicine or food (on the river).

The confiscated medicines locked up at Myitkyina Police Station No. 1. The authorities told the KIO that they would return the medicines only if they received orders to that effect, sources said.

KIO leaders asked the junta why the medicines had been confiscated, but the junta had failed to reply.
Monday, August 30, 2010

Karen party flags readiness to join forces with USDP

Monday, 30 August 2010 22:04 Mizzima News

Rangoon (Mizzima) – An ethnic Karen party has signalled its readiness to form an alliance with a controversial junta-backed party, according to its chairman. Some members have expressed disdain for such a deal.

The Kayin People’s Party (KPP), with headquarters in Shwepyitha Township, Rangoon Division, was willing to join forces with the main junta-supported party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party, KPP chairman Tun Aung Myint, a retired Burmese Navy commander, said. The USDP was set up by current Prime Minister Thein Sein and other recently retired senior military officers.

The USDP membership is drawn mainly from the junta’s often-violent, anti-democratic organisation, the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), which was recently transformed into the political party.

“The USDP was formed systematically, the party is strong and we can accept their policies so the USDP is not our competitor. We are ready to form an alliance with them [USDP members],” Tun Myint Aung told Mizzima.

The ethnic Karen party’s leaders said it could collect nearly 6,000 members, most of whom were retired servicemen and junta civil servants.

It was also their belief that the forthcoming elections on November 7, would be free and fair, they said.

Party general secretary and a former police chief, Say Wah, outlined some of the the KPP’s policy agenda. If the party won seats in the elections, it would try to bring peace to Karen State, he said.

“We can’t establish democracy immediately. I think the army is systematically retreating from politics by promising the elections,” he said. “We will try to narrow the gap between the rich and the poor of our country. We will provide an equal-opportunity education and health-care systems.”

The party has 40 candidates, a party member said. Among them, Tun Aung Myint will stand for a Rangoon seat in the States and Divisions Assembly and Say Wah is to contest the seat of Taungoo, a city in Pegu Division, for the National Assembly.

Second vice-chairman and retired deputy army commander of Arakan State, Aye Ko, will contest in Twantay Township, Rangoon Division, for the People’s Assembly. First vice-chairman Dr. Sai Mon Tha will stand in Irrawaddy Division for a States and Divisions Assembly seat, a party spokesman said.

Some party members said on condition of anonymity that they were against the policy of an alliance with the junta-backed USDP.
Saturday, August 28, 2010

Kachin majority rejects regime’s order to disarm

Saturday, 28 August 2010 02:02 Phanida

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – A majority of participants at a congress of ethnic Kachin groups has rejected disarming despite a Burmese military junta threat to end the ceasefire between the two sides, a spokesman said. Meanwhile, the main Kachin militia are gearing up for war, a soldier told Mizzima.

The junta deadline for the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) to reply to its order for the group’s estimated 20,000 troops to disarm is September 1. The congress opened today in the Kachin stronghold of Laiza, a town near the Chinese border in Burma’s far north, and will end tomorrow (Saturday).

The 140 delegates from 18 districts who attended the congress all passed on their views that the KIO should retain its arms, one of the participants aid.

“The congress will continue tomorrow as we haven’t made a final decision. The aim of today’s meeting was just to collect the opinions from the delegates. From my point of view, we shouldn’t hand over our guns to the junta,” the KIO spokesman said.

Delegates from the KIO’s armed wing, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), were absent because they were preparing for war, a KIA soldier told Mizzima.

The deadline was delivered on Sunday at a meeting between the junta’s main negotiator with ethnic armed groups, Military Affairs Security chief Lieutenant General Ye Myint, and KIO delegates, at the Burmese Army’s Northern Command headquarters in Myitkyina, the state capital. He told the KIO that if the KIA failed to surrender its arms in the time allotted, the ceasefire would end.

Ye Myint went on to meet Zone Teet Yame from the junta’s Border Guard Force (BGF) and Lasang Aung Was from the people’s militia and told them to arrest former KIO staff from the beginning of next month, an officer from the militia, who attended the meeting, said on condition of anonymity.

The KIO had said it would neither contest nor disturb the forthcoming elections on November 7.

It held a meeting with Kachin leaders and Christian leaders to gain their input from August 14 to 16, views that will be taken into account while reaching the final decision at this weekend’s congress.

In the last month, Ye Myint has been touring the country, pressuring armed ethnic ceasefire groups to bring themselves under junta command within the Burmese Army’s BGF and imposed the same September 1 (next Wednesday) deadline on the New Mon State Party (NMSP).

Last Friday he told United Wa State Army leaders in Tangyang that the junta would send the army into four townships in Wa-controlled territory the same day as security for electoral commissioners. The Wa leaders said they would defy the move.

Than Shwe and deputy quit military in major reshuffle

Saturday, 28 August 2010 00:02 Thomas Maung Shwe

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Burma’s junta leaders including Senior General Than Shwe, who holds the title of Commander in Chief of Defence Services, and his right-hand man, Deputy Senior General Maung Aye, resigned their military posts in a major reshuffle today.

Replacing them will be former Adjutant General Lieutenant General Thura Myint Aung and former Bureau of Special Operations (BSO) 3 chief Lieutenant General Ko Ko, who have become Commander in Chief of Defence Services and Deputy Commander in Chief of Defence Services respectively.

Former Bureau of Special Operations 2 chief General Min Aung Hlaing, has become the new No. 3 in command as the Joint Chief of Staff of the Army, Navy and Air Force. This powerful position was held until recently by General Thura Shwe Mann.

After Burma’s first nationwide elections in two decades arrive on November 7, the government will be formed by a civilian president chosen by the upper and lower houses following the nomination of three people. The two unsuccessful candidates become vice presidents.

The reshuffle means it is possible that the junta leader since 1992, Than Shwe, 77, can be president, while close allies Muang Aye, 72, and Thura Shwe Man, 62, vice presidents. If that happened, it would confirm the belief among internal and external Burma watchers that the polls represent a sham in which the ruling generals merely exchange uniforms for suits or longyis, and actually shore up their power further.

Around 27 military officials and government ministers including Prime Minister Thein Sein resigned from the military mid-year and formed the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), out of an often-violent social organisation known as the Union Solidarity and Development Association, proven to have been involved in physical attacks on pro-democracy activists, and sweet-heart business deals with the ruling junta. Stepping out of fatigues means the top leaders can contest the polls as USDP members.

Analysts said it was likely Than Shwe would remain head of state as leader of the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) – the junta’s name for itself – until the president is selected after the election.

In the 1990 polls, Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi scored a massive poll win at the head of the National League for Democracy party, but the junta ignored the win, clung on to power, imprisoned thousands of NLD and other opposition party members, and flatly voided the result in March.

After this year’s polls, civilians will be lawmakers without the power to check military policy moves, as the armed forces are guaranteed 25 per cent of seats in all assemblies, and have reserved key ministerial posts.

The junta’s controversial 2008 constitution sets out how the vote will elect lawmakers for parliament, the senate and 14 regional assemblies, but not the executive branch of the government itself.

Naypyidaw sources said Thura Myint Aung will be responsible for filling the 25 per cent military quota, which will amount to hundreds of lawmakers in all three types of legislatures, as set out by the constitution. The charter was written after the junta held a widely condemned referendum days after Cyclone Nargis struck the Irrawaddy Delta in May 2008, killed at least 140,000 and left more than two million homeless.

Observers, rights groups, aid workers and foreign governments condemned the fact that the junta’ trucks carrying ballots throughout Burma could have been carrying much-needed water, food and shelter supplies to those stricken by the storm, which caused an estimated US$4 billion worth of damage.

General Thiha Thura Tin Aung Myint Oo, who vacated the position of quartermaster general in November, has been replaced by Major General Wei Lwin, former chief of the Naypyidaw Military Command.

At least 10 lieutenant generals have also resigned, to see their positions in the armed forces replaced by major generals including former military command chiefs.

It is predicted the officers will contest in the elections on November 7. Details of the latest reshuffling of Burma’s armed forces are still under investigation.

Below are the names of other newly promoted senior officers and their ranks:

Current Post Former Post
Joint Chief of Staff of the Army, Navy and Air Force BSO 2 chief - Lieutenant General
Min Aung Hlaing
Quartermaster General

Naypyidaw Command chief
Major General Wei Lwin
Adjutant General Coastal Command chief
Major General Khin Zaw Oo
Military Appointment General Rangoon Command chief
Major General Win Myint
Rangoon Command LID 77 chief Colonel Tun Than
Military Intelligence Headquarters Southwestern Command chief
Major General Kyaw Swe
Chief of Military Ordnance Deputy Defence Minister
Major General Thein Htay
BSO 1 - Kachin State, Mandalay Division, Chin State, Sagaing Division Northwestern Command chief
Major General Myint Soe
BSO 4 - Karen State, Mon State, Tenasserim Division Southeastern Command chief
Major General Thet Naing Win
BSO 2 - Shan State, Karenni State Northeastern Command chief
Major General Aung Than Htut
BSO 3 – Pegu Division, Irrawaddy Division Southern Command chief
Major General Hla Min

BSO – Bureau of Special Operations
LID – Light Infantry Division
Friday, August 27, 2010

New Delhi says no clandestine Burmese nuclear program

Friday, 27 August 2010 12:25 Mizzima News

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – India has weighed in on the debate surrounding a clandestine Burmese nuclear program, concluding that its eastern neighbor is without such a project.

Speaking yesterday in New Delhi, Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna said while New Delhi does not believe Burma presently operates a nuclear program, it continues to monitor the situation for any signs that could lead to a different conclusion.

"Myanamar [Burma] asserts that it has no nuclear program on its anvil. The government of India will have to believe [the official statement]," Krishna said in India’s upper house of parliament. "We will also gather through our own intelligence what is happening. The government always monitors [nuclear] developments closely because it concerns our security."

The announcement from New Delhi will do little to clear the smoke surrounding what some observers believe is a secret nuclear program that could conceivably produce weapons grade material within a matter of a decade.

In early June, US Senator Jim Webb was at the last moment forced to cancel a trip to Burma owing to the release of a Democratic Voice of Burma documentary claiming to offer definitive proof of the regime’s nuclear ambitions. Washington-Naypyitaw relations have soured since the cancelled trip, as the Obama administration’s cautious approach to engagement with Burma’s generals appears at a standstill.

Earlier this month, the White House gave notice that it supports a UN inquiry into crimes against humanity committed by Burmese military authorities.

Regional trading partners as well as UN Security Council members China and Russia have consistently maintained that Burma poses no regional security threat. Beijing and Moscow have used the assessment to dismiss UN Security Council Resolutions targeting Burma, arguing that such action falls outside the remit of the Security Council owing to the lack of a recognizable international security threat originating from Naypyitaw.

It is expected that India will assume a non-permanent two-year seat on the Security Council commencing January 2011.

Britain issues fresh travel alert ahead of elections

Friday, 27 August 2010 00:08 Ko Wild

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – The political situation in Burma remains unsettled and tensions could resurface ahead of elections in November, the British foreign office warned its citizens in a travel-advice update for the Southeast Asian country on Tuesday.

The notice said: “Security forces are on increased alert. Visitors and residents should exercise caution, avoid all demonstrations and large gatherings and avoid taking photographs or videos of the military, the police or demonstrations as doing so could be interpreted as provocative.”

The foreign office did not specify the exact locations to avoid in its notice but mentioned places frequented by expatriates and foreign travellers.

The update also noted “a general threat from terrorism in Burma”, citing the Thingyan water-festival blasts in Rangoon in April.

“On 15 April 2010, there were three bomb explosions during festivities at Kandawgyi Lake, in central Rangoon. At least 10 people were killed and 170 injured. This incident was the worst of its kind since May 2005 when explosions in two shopping centres and a trade fair killed at least 23 people and injured more than 150,” it said.

Also mentioned were explosions at the Myitsone dam project in northern Kachin State, the blasts near Kawkereik on the Thai-Burmese border, the three explosions in Moulmein last May and, in September, seven explosions on the outskirts of Rangoon. It gave detailed lists of the casualties from these blasts.

The British government had said the results of the planned elections would be unacceptable and had also endorsed the forming a UN commission of inquiry on human rights violations in Burma. It had also urged the release of all political prisoners including pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and called for the regime to engage in dialogue with opposition and ethnic groups.

The travel alert also noted the violent crackdown on demonstrations led by monks in September 2007, which left many killed, but said however: “There have been no large protests against the government since 2007.”

It continued to warn however that: “The political situation continues to remain unsettled and you should continue to avoid all demonstrations and large gatherings. It is illegal to protest or form assemblies of people in Burma. Tensions could resurface as preparations for the elections in 2010 gather momentum.”

It further pointed out potential heightened tensions surrounding the detention of Suu Kyi, mounting hostility between the State Peace and Development Council (Burma’s military junta) and the Wa army in northern Shan State, and the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO).

It reminded travellers that the military regime tightly controls freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and freedom of religion in Burma and that the junta had arrested, jailed and deported foreign nationals who had publicly advocated reform.

During the crackdown on the “saffron revolution” (after the colour of monks’ robes) that took place in September 2007, Japanese video journalist Kenji Nagai, 50, was shot dead while recording the protests. Judging from a photo of his death taken by Reuters photographer Andrees Latif, the soldier responsible is believed to be from one of the Light Infantry Divisions in charge of crowd control in Rangoon at the time of protests.

British embassy officials are not allowed to travel freely outside Rangoon without prior permission from the Burmese government, except to a limited number of destinations so that consular assistance in an emergency may therefore be restricted or delayed, and the British nationals should visit only the permitted places, the travel advisory warned.

The United States also warns its citizens over travel in Burma. The travel notice issued by the US State Department mentions brutal killings during the 1988 mass uprising and murder attempts against Suu Kyi in Depayin in 2003, when her convoy was attacked by at least 5,000 thugs from the junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Association. About 70 National League for Democracy supporters were killed.

Tourists have not needed to apply for visas from Burmese embassies and from May could easily obtain visas on arrival at Rangoon’s international airport. However, the junta recently announced that such visas would be suspended from September 1 and that travellers would again need to apply for visas at Burmese foreign missions.

Observers suggested that the suspension was to restrict the number of foreign nationals coming in to Burma in the run-up to elections on November 7.

According to official figures, more than 6,000 British travellers visited Burma last year and 3,226 visited Burma in the first five months of this year. They are among travellers mainly from the rest of Europe, America, Asia, the Middle East and Oceania.

Border Guard Force accepts children from DKBA

Friday, 27 August 2010 00:55 Kyaw Kha

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – At least 40 child soldiers have joined the ranks of the Burmese regime’s new border forces, after a number of Democratic Karen Buddhist Army battalions this month came under junta command, a fellow soldier revealed today.

Child_Soldiers“In the past, they [the children] were DKBA soldiers but now they have become BGF soldiers,” a soldier from the Border Guard Force (BGF) central office told Mizzima. “As far as I know, there are about 40 child soldiers in the 999th Brigade and Kalohtoobaw’s battalion alone,” he added.

Some officers and soldiers from the DKBA (which reportedly had more than 7,000 troops) resigned, some retired and some joined the BGF, so it is estimated that about 1,000 DKBA troops have rejected the junta’s proposal to join the force.

A former DKBA soldier from the 7th battalion under the 999th Brigade said: “The force’s priority is to accept the youths. Some are about 16 years old, but they appear older than 20. Some children were forced to join the DKBA and some joined of their own accord.”

The DKBA recruited many child soldiers, Aung Myo Min, director of the Human Rights Education Institute of Burma (HREIB) based in Thailand, said.

“DKBA has become a subordinate of the junta’s army, so handling the child soldiers’ case has become the duty of the State Peace and Development Council [SPDC, Burma’s ruling military junta]. If it really wants to eliminate child-soldier cases, it must not allow this [accepting child soldiers into the BGF] to happen,” Aung Myo Min said.

“The SPDC … should give those children immediate help and send them home. The junta has the duty not to accept the children in the Border Guard Force”, he added.

Burma signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1992, so if the Burmese Army, or the BGF, used child soldiers, they could be charged with violation of that convention, he said.

The junta formed the committee for the prevention of military recruitment of underage children on January 5, 2004, with the co-operation of UN, but since then observers and some UN reports have said the committee had taken no action and that the Burmese Army was still recruiting child soldiers. The UN labour organisation, the ILO, has reported widespread cases of kidnapping used in such “recruiting”.

Than Shwe's retirement imminent

Friday, 27 August 2010 21:04 Mizzima News

Mizzima has learned from military sources that Burma's military dictator Senior General Than Shwe will officially resign his post in September. The ageing dictator will be replaced as head of the Armed Forces by General Thura Myint Aung, a close ally in his 50's.

Our sources have also confirmed that the regime's second in command, Vice Senior General Maung Aye, will also follow Burma's notorious strongman into official retirement. Maung Aye, widely known for his alcoholism and loyalty to Than Shwe will be replaced by the former Chief of the Bureau of Special Operations Lt. Gen Ko Ko.

According to sources, while it has yet be announced by Burma's state owned media General Min Aung Hlaing has already been promoted to become the junta's third ranking member, Joint Chief of Staff of the combined Army, Navy and Air Force. This powerful position was formerly held by the recently retired General Thura Shwe Mann.

Quarter Master General Thiha Thura Tin Aung Myint Oo will soon be relived by former Naypyidaw Command head Maj. Gen. Wei Lwin.

Most of the senior officers holding the position of Lt. Gen. have already resigned, and have been replaced by Maj. Gen. rank officers, many of whom were regional commander chiefs.

It is expected that many of Burma's newly resigned senior officers will contest Burma's upcoming November election. An election which many observers expect to be rigged.

Below are the names of other newly promoted senior officers and their rankings:

Current Post Former Post
Joint Chief of Staff of the Army, Navy and Air Force BSO 2 chief - Lieutenant General
Min Aung Hlaing
Quartermaster General

Naypyidaw Command chief
Major General Wei Lwin
Adjutant General Coastal Command chief
Major General Khin Zaw Oo
Military Appointment General Rangoon Command chief
Major General Win Myint
Rangoon Command LID 77 chief Colonel Tun Than
Military Intelligence Headquarters Southwestern Command chief
Major General Kyaw Swe
Chief of Military Ordnance Deputy Defence Minister
Major General Thein Htay
BSO 1 - Kachin State, Mandalay Division, Chin State, Sagaing Division Northwestern Command chief
Major General Myint Soe
BSO 4 - Karen State, Mon State, Tenasserim Division Southeastern Command chief
Major General Thet Naing Win
BSO – Bureau of Special Operations
LID – Light Infantry Division

Burma reshuffles top military brass

Friday, 27 August 2010 17:09 Mizzima News.

Several Lieutenant Generals have today resigned and seen their positions in the armed forces replaced by Major Generals. According to unconfirmed reports, General Thura Shwe Man and the junta’s Secretary (1) General Thiha Thura Tin Aung Myint Oo are among those who have resigned from their military posts. It is predicted that the resigned officers will contest in the upcoming election. Details of the latest reshuffling of Burma's armed forces are still under investigation.
Thursday, August 26, 2010

Khin Maung Swe discusses his election withdrawal

Thursday, 26 August 2010 20:30 Kyaw Kha

Mizzima spoke today with Khin Maung Swe, leader of the National Democratic Force (NDF), who yesterday withdrew his standing for elections on November 7, though he remains supportive of the process.

What prompted your decision not to contest the elections?

The Union Election Commission (UEC) chairman called and told us [four leaders of the party] that had been imprisoned under penal codes 122 and 124 [for acts of treason related to forming a parallel government following the 1990 general election], we were prohibited to enter elections for the rest of our lives. If we want to contest in the elections, he asked us to submit a letter. I explained to the UEC that we had served the prison sentences without any days deducted and that we are now ordinary citizens. Those released should enjoy equal rights as ordinary citizens. We also asked why the UEC hadn’t make a decision on this matter when we registered the party and why the issue was only being raised now. If we are allowed to form a political party, it is understood we enjoy the right to contest in the elections. I am nevertheless still a leader of the party. I don’t want to discredit the party. For that reason, I will not raise the issue again with the UEC.

How do you consider the freedom and fairness of this election?

Now you are witnessing the injustices. I have repeatedly told the facts since the election laws came out. I have spoken many times about the unfairness. Only at the time of the elections will we be able to observe whether the polling is being conducted in a free and fair manner. Is there any use of threats? Are there any vote-buying attempts? Are polling station officials treating party representatives fairly?

If you are withdrawing from the elections, why is your party still contesting?

I didn’t resign from the party. I am still a party leader and there has been no decision that all party leaders must contest in the election.

Do you foresee the military government imposing further restrictions?

Even if it that happens, I will still support the elections because I am looking for the people to benefit. Rather than the party winning in the elections, I stand for the people and their ability to make a choice. I joined the elections wanting to work for the benefit of the people and making people aware as to whom is actually working for democracy and which organisations are standing with them. But we must travel a narrow and difficult path. I see the elections as an opportunity after 20 years. Shall we stay away and neglect them because it is a difficult and thorny path? Shouldn’t the people practise their voting rights that they have deserved for 20 years? Can’t we bring any power to the people, who can rightfully enjoy legislative power in the new parliament?

What is the position of the other leaders of the party?

I decided not to enter the elections for personal reasons. I support the elections. I should not interfere with the other three leaders’ affairs. I may lose face if I speak wrongly of their position. That’s why I don’t want to say anything.

How is your [party’s] readiness for the election?

We have organised more than 1,00 members.

Do you have anything else you would like to add?

For the benefit of the people, we chose [to participate in] the elections no matter how dim the light. People can say bad words about us, but we don’t take it seriously. We don’t care if people call us names. We see that we need to take the first steps during this time for democracy and human rights for our people. When people need change, we shouldn’t oppose everything by saying “no voting” or “no elections”. For that reason, I want to convey the following message to our fellow citizens through Mizzima: Even if the elections are unfree or unfair we must pass through this time together with the people, and we should continue to strive to open the doors of democracy, one after another.

Parties call for electoral watchdog to delay polls

Thursday, 26 August 2010 23:05 Phanida

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Three political parties running out of time to meet membership quotas and submit candidate lists to qualify for Burmese elections in November have called on the electoral watchdog to postpone the polls until mid-December, party representatives said.

In a joint letter to the Union Election Commmission (UEC) yesterday, the 88 Generation Students and Youths (Union of Myanmar), Union of Myanmar Federation of National Politics and Myanmar Democracy Congress parties, said the 15 days by which parties had to submit candidate lists was insufficient and that the UEC should reset the polling date and the deadline for submitting candidates.

They said the UEC should do this in honour of conducting free and fair elections. The UEC deadline for candidate lists is August 31 and the parties want the deadline extended to 45 days.

“This deadline is not convenient as we are suffering under both time and financial constraints. We want the deadline extended to six weeks so we have about 60 days for preparations [ahead of the polls],” Aye Lwin, from 88 Generation Students and Youths, said.

He will stand for a seat in his hometown, Thegon, in the central Burmese division of Pegu, and his party plans to submit at least 75 candidates. His party will even field a candidate in Naypyidaw, the seat of the military regime, which most parties are avoiding.

A fourth party is joining the calls for more time. The National Political Alliances League called on the UEC to reset the deadline for submitting candidate lists to September 14.

There are 330 seats for the lower house, 168 seats for the upper house and 330 seats for the States and Divisions assembly in this general election. On top of that, 25 per cent are set aside for the military members, who do not have to campaign.

Bo Moustache and followers still reject BGF plan

Thursday, 26 August 2010 16:54 Kyaw Kha

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – A renegade faction of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) continues to keep the junta at arm's length, refusing to subscribe to the regime’s Border Guard Force scheme.

dkba-notkhanmwayLed by Bo Moustache, approximately 1,000 DKBA troops remain outside the junta’s designs for the transformation of the Karen splinter army into a Border Guard Force under the junta’s leadership.

The 906th battalion, led by Major Nyan Min, 905th battalion, led by Major Kyaw Kyaw and 904th battalion, led by Major Kyaw Thet, have each rejected the Border Guard Force proposal. Each of the battalions is Kawkareit-based and under the command of Bo Moustache’s brigade. Additionally, strategic commands (1) and (2) led by Major Chinlone are also rejecting Naypyidaw’s overture.

Bo Moustache, aka Saw Lar Bwe, originally had five battalions under his command, but two battalions led by Majors Motethone and Sawblue, comprising a total of 300 troops, transformed themselves into a Border Guard Force on August 21.

“The commanding officers of those battalions have businesses in Hpa-an, Kawkareit and Myawaddy. That’s why they accepted the junta’s plan, for the sake of their businesses. Anyway, the deputy commanding officers did not follow them. They joined us,” Major Chinlone told Mizzima.

Similarly, on August 18, the battalions of DKBA’s chairman Saw Tha Htoo Kyaw, the vice-chairman General Kyaw Than and Colonel Saw Chit Thu were transformed into Border Guard Forces.

“My salary is more than 100,000 kyat (more than US$100). But, I don’t know about my position in the force. We are Karen. Although our organisation is transformed, our hearts remain the same. But, as a Border Guard Force, our actions will be different than before,” Saw Tun Myint, whose battalion was transformed into Border Guard Force, told Mizzima.

Although rumours are circulating that former DKBA officers will contest in the forthcoming election, there remains no confirmation from DKBA leadership.

Suu Kyi urges party and public to monitor polls

Thursday, 26 August 2010 19:13 Myint Maung

New Delhi (Mizzima) – Detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has agreed with her party’s decision to boycott Burmese elections on November 7 and urged members and the public to monitor polling fairness, her lawyer said.

The response came during a two-hour meeting between the National League for Democracy (NLD) party general secretary and Nobel Peace laureate, and her laywers, Nyan Win, Kyi Win and Khin Htay Kywe, at her home in the former Burmese capital of Rangoon, from 2 p.m. on Tuesday.

“She agreed with the decision of the party leaders to boycott the elections and asserted that the boycott actually started since the party’s central committee decided not to stand in the elections on March 29,” lawyer Nyan Win told Mizzima.

Despite the decision, she said: “The party should not ignore them and should watch them closely. Even though the electoral rules are not fair, we still need to monitor the polls to know whether the junta can follow its own laws even if they are preferential to it [and the parties it supports],” Nyan Win quoted Suu Kyi as saying.

The boycott was officially decided at a meeting of seven central executive committee members and eight central committee members at the home of NLD vice-chairman Tin Oo on August 19. It said the decision was reached because the junta’s 2008 constitution and electoral laws for this year’s polls were “unfair and one-sided”.

At the meeting on Tuesday, Suu Kyi and her laywers discussed legal cases regarding her home renovations and her appeal against the sentence that extended her house arrest, Nyan Win said, without disclosing case details. He added that Suu Kyi was in good health.

The authorities have told Suu Kyi and her lawyers to have the house renovations finished this month. Some painting and window replacements were incomplete.

While Rangoon Central Court on May 10 granted Suu Kyi special leave to appeal against the extension of her house arrest, it has failed to set a date for the hearing.

American citizen John Yettaw entered Suu Kyi’s property after swimming across Inya Lake days before the period of her house arrest was to finish. Over the visit, Suu Kyi was charged under section 22 of the Law to Safeguard the State Against the Dangers of those Desiring to Cause Subversive Acts and sentenced to three years in prison by the North District Court in Insein Prison on August 11, 2009.

However, amid great international pressure, junta leader Senior General Than Shwe commuted her sentence to 18 months under house arrest in accord with Criminal Procedure Code section 401, sub-section (5). He ordered that half her sentence be remitted and the remainder, suspended, which means NLD leaders hope Suu Kyi will be released a week after the forthcoming election.

The ruling military junta announced on August 13 the date of general elections.

NUP lodges complaint against USDP

Thursday, 26 August 2010 16:47 Phanida

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Allegations of violations of electoral laws continue to be leveled against the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), with the National Union Party (NUP) the latest to cry foul.

The dispute arose in regard to campaign tactics in Pegu, where USDP members chanted slogans such as, ‘USDP will win’, prompting the NUP to file a complaint with the Pegu District Election Commission that electoral laws had been violated.

Some believe the USDP and NUP are working in alliance toward the November polling date.

“The Township Election Commission must tell them not to act like that and that they should act in accordance with the law. We shall inform them today. Taking action or not depends on them only. We won’t say the USDP violated the electoral law. This must be said by Election Commission,” NUP Pegu Division Secretary Hla Myint told Mizzima.

In an announcement issued by Union Election Commission (UEC) dated 21st June, political parties are forbidden from chanting slogans, marching in procession and making noises and disturbances at religious buildings.

“They chanted slogans of ‘Vote for USDP’, ‘USDP will win’ and ‘We shall win, We shall win’,” according to Pegu residents.

“We will point out the violation of law by any party. The remaining part is to be done by the authority concerned. If they do not take action, we will note down it,” Hla Myint added.

The Pegu Election Commission was not available for comment when contacted by Mizzima.

The Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP), established by General Ne Win, was converted into the NUP in 1988 and contested the 1990 multi-party general election, winning ten seats. It is the third largest party in the 2010 election.

The USDP is led by Prime Minister Thein Sein and is widely understood to be the proxy party of the current military government. Under their plans, ten Lieutenant Generals will resign from their military posts this coming Friday, a Defence Ministry source told Mizzima.

In its policy statement, the USDP says it will build an efficient and strong military comprising over 400,000 troops.

Currently confirmed USDP candidates and their constituencies:

Minister Constituency
Irrigation Minister Htay Ooo Henzada
Planning and Development Minister Soe Thar Twante
Energy Minister Lun Thi Kungyangone
Industry 1 Minister Aung Thaung Tanugthar
Communication Minister Thein Zaw Mogaung
Social Welfare Minister Maung Maung Swe Namsan

Junta threatens Wa army with ‘unlawful association’

Thursday, 26 August 2010 00:29 Ko Wild

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – The Burmese junta’s chief negotiator with armed ceasefire groups has threatened the Wa army with unlawful association charges and military force, a Wa leader says.

Lieutenant General Ye Myint, the head of Military Affairs Security (MAS), the junta’s military intelligence wing, said the United Wa State Army (UWSA) would be declared in breach of laws governing unlawful association and that the State Peace and Development Council (the junta) would deploy its army units to effect those charges against them next month.

His comments came during a meeting with UWSA representative and political consultative committee chairman Lai Kham at Tanyan in northern Shan State last Friday. He was there to coax the group into the SPDC’s Border Guard Force (BGF), which would bring the Wa troops under junta commanders.

Naypyidaw appeared angry with the Wa over its refusal to accept the BGF “offer” and also said it would deploy administrative units to the Wa-controlled areas on the eastern bank of the Salween River in Pansang, Mengmao, Panwai and Naphan townships, a Wa leader present at the talks said.

The 20,000-strong Wa army did not seem to take the association threat seriously as Ye Myint had made given such ultimatums before, but a Wa leader said that his army would refrain from making the first move against junta troops.

“The Wa stand only for negotiations. [Whether we] fight or not depends only on them [the SPDC], but all of us must defend our territory, our compounds and our homes if they are attacked. We can say that the situation is tense”, the Wa leader told Mizzima.

The Wa decided to allow polling for the elections on November 7 only in two of the six townships designated as their “Wa Self-Administered Division”, outlined in the 2008 constitution. The permitted townships are Hopang and Metman (Mawpha). The organisation banned polling in Mengmao, Panwai, Naphang and Pansang.

Hopang and Metman are controlled by junta troops and the other four are controlled by Wa troops. In a notification issued by the Union Election Commission on August 11, the four townships are mentioned as Pyithu Hluttaw (Lower House) constituencies and Hopan and Metman are mentioned as State Assembly constituencies.

The area under dispute is Mai Pauk District, which contains Mengphang, Mantmein, Mai Pauk, Hotaung, Monyin townships. The Wa army claimed it as its territory but the junta refused to recognise the Wa claim. Monyin is reportedly designated a no-man’s-land.

“Now they [the junta] say they’ll hold elections but there are no [voter-]education campaigns … The people don’t even know what an election is. Not only in Wa State, the entire population [of Burma] cried out that the 2008 constitutional referendum was a farce … Most of the people did not know about it. There weren’t even any interpreters for that referendum”, a Wa villager said.

After meeting the Wa delegation, Ye Myint on the same day met delegates from the Eastern Shan State Special Region No. 4, or the Mengla organisation, led by San Leun, at the Triangle Command headquarters based in Kengtung. He urged them also to bring its troops into the junta-controlled BGF, a Mengla source said.

The Mengla group again rejected the junta’s BGF offer, and polling in its territory, the source said.

Mengla Township was designated a State Assembly constituency by the Union Election Commission.
Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Officials hedge on junta’s future with hidden funds

Wednesday, 25 August 2010 00:48 Bern Smith

Sydney (Mizzima) – Senior Burmese government officials are salting away assets of all kinds and stashing funds in offshore banks in a sure sign the insiders are beginning to hedge their bets on the ruling military junta’s future, a prominent Australian analyst of the Burmese economy has said.

Professor Sean Turnell of Sydney’s Macquarie University said the officials were looking to guarantee their families’ futures in Burma’s ruling class.

The Burma Economic Watch principal has addressed the US Senate committee on foreign relations about the effectiveness of US sanctions, of which he is a firm believer.

Also a former Reserve Bank of Australia senior analyst, he said little could be expected from Asean, India, nor China when it came to pushing for reforms from the junta, but there was some hope from within the military clique.

“Some developments are quite dramatic at the moment,” he said. “There are sizeable holes in the regime, but that’s really it on the upside.”

Turnell, who will next month travel to Washington to meet members of Congress, believed senior figures within Burma’s military administration were “running scared”.

“With the election coming, it’s obvious that it will be the farce that everyone says it’s going to be, and the most senior [generals] will still have everything,” he said from his home in Sydney.

He said some elements of the international community saw these key figures as rising “robber barons” in Burmese society, comparable with the American phenomenon of the 1900s. In the United States, such businessmen amassed great personal fortunes, but national institutions such as libraries and foundations and infrastructure such as railways, were a positive by-product of the era.

But the Burmese reality was far bleaker, Turnell said: “In the last six months what we’re really seeing is the rising of a criminal business class, with the privatisation push it’s really a rapid criminalisation of the economy.”

“They’re protecting themselves more in the manner of the mafia,” he said. “It’s morphing from this nationalistic, quasi-Stalinist state into a criminal economy”, where the individual played a more prominent role than was healthy for a developing economy, he said.

And with the focus turned to the “connected” individual capable of securing a concession or privilege from the junta had come greater disparity.

“We’re not going to get a Hyundai or Daewoo out of this,” Turnell said, dismissing the argument of economic liberalists that democracy and human rights evolved with economic development. “These people [with privileges granted by the junta] are not innovators, nor manufacturers, this is simply rent-seeking.”

There was no new middle class coming to the fore and demanding their rights and exercising newfound power as consumers, he said.

A classic example of what Turnell described as the “madness” of the generals was a recent decision to ban onion exports to combat a domestic shortage.

“Farmers had entered into contracts, they had contractual obligations,” he said. But those obligations would now be breached because of the generals’ actions. And so a promising industry had been cut off at the knees, he added.

He compared the current onion ban with that of beans and pulses a few years ago. Once the bean and pulse export industry had been ruined by export bans, the generals left it alone – in the past few years it had been making something of a comeback.

“There is no path to anything [for producers] other than mere survival,” he said.

Turnell bemoaned the argument that development would lead to greater rights for the people of Burma and a more equitable system would bloom with time. “If it was genuinely developing then you would have to say ‘well, that’s better than nothing’, but it’s just not happening,” he said.

Burmese refugees suffer scabies in New Delhi

Wednesday, 25 August 2010 18:59 Salai Han Thar San

New Delhi (Mizzima) – Burmese refugees in New Delhi, India have been suffering from an outbreak of skin diseases since early this month, which free clinics catering to them blame on high humidity, poor access to clean water and inherent poverty.

Also blaming pollution in the metropolis of more than 22 million people, the clinics said the asylum-seekers and refugees, men and women, had scabies rashes on their heads, hands and legs.

About 8,400 Burmese refugees including those of Chin, Arakanese, Kachin and Shan ethnic groups, live in New Delhi. About 3,700 were recognised by the United Nations refugee body, the UNHCR, and carry identification cards to that effect. The applications for around 4,500 asylum-seekers were being processed, according to a report released last month by the organisation. Many of them survive only with the aid of two free self-help health centres.

“They had raised lesions on their skin, which festered and produced pus. It is because of the weather conditions and the environment. The atmosphere is very humid and infectious”, Dr. Tint Swe, Yamonena, one of the free clinics, told Mizzima.

According to clinic records, 20 of 87 patients treated in the first two weeks of this month were suffering scabies. The doctor said he had treated a total of 30 skin patients in the period.

“The patients felt itchy and their sores were festering. Because of the rain, more patients have suffered skin diseases this month”, Kyawt Kyawt, a nurse from the Women’s Rights and Welfare Association of Burma (WRWAB) clinic, said.

Most of the Burmese live in the suburban wards of Vikas Puri, Uttam Nagar, Asalatpur and Janak Puri, in New Delhi’s west.

The unhealthy environment has become one of the main problems the refugees face. Water distributed by the Indian government in their areas can only be used for washing and bathing. For cooking, they have to buy bottled water. Sometimes, they need to queue where there are water taps.

“The water distributed by the government can’t use for cooking. Sometimes, there is rust in the distributed water. At that time, we can’t use it even for taking a bath or washing”, Ahkhu, a Burmese refugee from Vikas Puri said.

Dengue is also a problem. Last year, 1,153 people in the city suffered from the potentially haemorraghic, mosquito-borne fever and three died.

Some Burmese patients were assumed to have suffered the dengue fever, but there was no medical equipment in the free clinics to confirm presence of the disease, Kyawt Kyawt said. So, all the free-clinic doctors could do was tell them to have a check-up in hospital, if they had enough money.

“We don’t have the resources to buy some medicines so we’ve had to tell patients to buy those medicines themselves,” she said. “We also advised them to be checked by a specialist, also if they have enough money.”

After heavy rain in New Delhi from mid-July, 496 cases of dengue had been recorded, at a rate of at least 30 new cases a day, The Times of India newspaper reported.

Labour activists released

Wednesday, 25 August 2010 14:50 Myint Maung

New Delhi (Mizzima) – Two activists who had assisted farmers in central Burma in filing legal proceedings against the seizure of their farmlands by local industry, have been released.

Myint Maung and Thura Aung, from Aunglan Township in Magway Division, were released from Thayat Prison on Tuesday after winning an appeal through the Central Court in Mandalay Division.

The appeal was lodged against decisions taken by the Aunglan District Township Court and Magway Division Court.

In December 2009, Myint Maung was sentenced to two years in prison under section 427 of the Penal Code, while in late 2008 Thura Aung was given seven years under section 6 (1) of the Public Property Protection Act. Following the ruling of the Central Court, their sentences were reduced to six months and one year, respectively.

“Our cases were not nullified by the Central Court in Mandalay. Our sentences were just reduced. That still means we committed a crime,” Myint Maung told Mizzima.

“They unjustly charged me with mischief. That makes my history bad. So, I can’t accept it. I’ll continue legal proceedings in this case,” Myint Maung said.

In November 2007, the Yone Seik sugar mill No. (5), owned by Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd., seized farmlands from 70 farmers in Aunglan Township and 57 farmers from Myohla village, forcing them to grow sugarcane.

The farmers lodged a complaint against the action with the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Rangoon office the following year.

In March 2009, officials from Burma’s Ministry of Labour and the ILO went to the area and notified the farmers that they were again permitted to cultivate their lands as they chose.

However, when the farmers began cultivation in the summer, township authorities and sugar mill officials implicated them in cases of trespassing. The eleven farmers who lodged a complaint with the ILO were subsequently arrested and sentenced to varying prison terms.

Ten of the farmers were since released in February of this year, along with a lawyer for their case, Pho Phyu. But Aye Win, another of the farmers, continues to serve her prison term.

Additionally, Htay Aung, Zaw Htay, Aye Myint, and Nyan Myint, who assisted the farmers in filing the complaint at the ILO office, remain in Thayat Prison to complete reduced sentences.

Mizoram ruling party urges free, fair elections in Burma

Wednesday, 25 August 2010 21:49 Salai Tun

New Delhi (Mizzima) – The ruling party in India’s northeastern Mizoram State said yesterday it would like Burmese elections planned for November 7 to be free and fair.

The state is a vital step in land-trade links between India and Burma and employs more than 50,000 Burmese migrant workers.

The state's Congress party chief spokesman P. C. Lalruata said: “Our party would welcome [the polls] more if they [Burma’s ruling generals] hold these general elections in a democratic way, in free and fair manner. We have much doubt over these elections.”

“The elections will be free and fair if the people can participate freely. But they are not seemingly establishing Burma as a democratic country; it’s looks like a whitewash,” he said.

Despite feeling positive about the holding of elections for the Burmese people after they have been deprived of basic freedoms for many years, Indian politicians believe pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi should be released from house arrest and allowed to participate.

Opposition Mizo National Front party lawmaker Vanlalzawma said: “Political prisoners should be released before the elections or at least … granted participation … from prison. In India, people behind bars can participate in elections. It’s also not good to see that elections are to be held without releasing Aung San Suu Kyi.”

They added that the junta should let the UN monitor the elections to ensure they are free and fair and that the regime should not be above its electoral watchdog, the Union Election Commission.

“The current government needs to be changed and the UN should be allowed to move freely in Burma. The UN does not want military dictatorship, they want only democracy … I want to see [Burma as] a democratic country through free elections. The government must not meddle with the functions of the election commission”, Vanlalzawma said.

However, Congress party lawmaker C. L. Ruala had few illusions about the polls’ fairness.

“They [The Burmese junta] didn’t transfer power to the political party that won a landslide victory in the 1990 general election. I absolutely don’t think it [freedoms in Burma] will be better after the elections, which will be held under the rule of the military regime. The elections won’t be free or fair until they allow free election campaigns.”

As an established and large democratic country, India should not support the Burmese elections, but it was unlikely it would extend its support if the regime held the upcoming elections under undemocratic conditions, party leaders in Mizoram State said.

C. L. Ruala said his party would like to see a better relationship with Burma as its oil and gas were vital for India and that the latter was trying to tip the regional balance of power against China, which also borders Burma.

He added: “India is providing millions of dollars to Burma to alleviate the hardships of the Burmese people, building roads and other communications projects … China is also targeting Burma’s energy resources so that India is trying to do its utmost [to get hold of Burma’s resources] lest China gains a firm and total foothold.”

Karen party to stand only in Irrawaddy Division

Wednesday, 25 August 2010 01:46 Khaing Suu

New Delhi (Mizzima) – Bureaucratic roadblocks by the junta’s electoral watchdog have forced the Union Karen League party to miss the deadline on membership quota to contest seats in nationwide elections slated for November 7 and will run only in Irrawaddy Division, a party organiser said.

It had intended to stand across the country but had trouble submitting the minimum required strength of 1,000 in the time allotted by the junta’s Union Election Commission (UEC). As a registered party, it managed to have just over 500 members’ names approved by the UEC within the stipulated 90 days after registration so it will run only as a regional party, Rangoon Division organiser Tin Hla told Mizzima.

“When we submitted the party membership strength to the UEC, it … found some forms were not signed and some forms failed to mention dates of birth, so the rejections reduced our membership strength,” Tin Hla said. “Now we can’t complete the work of collecting their signatures and recruiting members in the remaining time.”

UKL party organiser and executive committee member Hnin Phyu confirmed the bureaucratic delays. “We submitted about 1,500 party members’ names to the UEC but some were rejected.”

General provisions of the Political Parties Registration Law, Chapter 5, require that a party submit its membership strength by listing each members’ name, party membership number, father’s name, date of birth, national registration certificate number, address, date of joining the party and signatures of party members.

The UKL submitted its party strength to the UEC’s head office in Naypyidaw on August 10 but it rejected the list, citing the missing details. The deadline was Saturday, August 21 but the party only managed to hand in names of a little more than 500 members on August 18.

To avoid being dissolved, the UKL will contest only in Irrawaddy Division where many ethnic Karen people live and only some rich candidates will contest in all three legislative bodies in the division, a party spokesman said.

The party had registered with the UEC with the intention of contesting seats in Irrawaddy, Rangoon, Pegu, Tenasserim divisions and Karen and Mon states. It also stood in the 1990 general elections but failed to secure a single seat.

The UEC approved the UKL’s re-registration on May 21 and assigned it number 11. The party’s head office is in Kyimyindine Township, Rangoon Division, another Karen population centre.

NDF leader gives up on polls citing bureaucratic obstacles

Wednesday, 25 August 2010 19:44 Kyaw Kha

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – National Democratic Force party central executive committee member Khin Maung Swe announced today he is withdrawing from nationwide polls on November 7.
He and other members of the main opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party had split to form the National Democratic Force (NDF) so they could stand in this year’s elections.

The junta’s electoral watchdog, the Union Election Commission (UEC), told Khin Maung Swe and the NDF’s vice-chairman Tin Aung Aung, central executive committee member Thar Saing and politburo member Sein Hla Oo, to file an appeal to allow them to stand, as electoral laws barred them from participating on grounds of their high treason convictions in 1990.

Though they had already filed such petitions they said they were instructed to file again, so Khin Maung Swe believed this suggested the junta would block any of their efforts to be elected.

“I have submitted this petition to them. Now they’ve [the UEC staff] asked me to file it again as a personal appeal. They will not give me permission to contest in this election even though I submitted this petition again as they said. So I will not file this petition again and will not contest in this election,” Khin Maung Swe told Mizzima.

“They’ve imposed restrictions on me for this election. They have permitted registration of our party so they should also allow its leaders to participate … It is logical and natural,” he said.

It is not yet known whether the three other leaders will resubmit their petitions.

Other politicians who have turned their backs on the upcoming election, denouncing it as neither free nor fair, include Union Democratic Party chairman Phyo Min Thein.

Village dam breaks after heavy rain in Mandalay

Wednesday, 25 August 2010 19:30

New Delhi (Mizzima) – Five days of heavy monsoonal rain have caused the breach of a man-made village reservoir in central Burma’s Mandalay Division, villagers said.

Heavy rain that started five days ago caused the reservoir to fill, overflow and then break in Kyapinkone village, five miles (eight kilometres) east of Thazi Township in Meiktila District, a resident said.

“The [heaviest of the] downpours came twice and they were very heavy. The reservoir broke but it affected only just a little”, Ohn Shwe from Wundwin Township, 25 miles north of Thazi, said.

Some of Wundwin’s streets flooded on Tuesday after the dam broke, Ohn Swe said.

The water level of the previously dry Samone Dam, another reservoir in Wundwin, had risen after the downpours, he said.

Parents forced into USDP in return for polio shots

Wednesday, 25 August 2010 02:09 Mizzima News

Rangoon (Mizzima) – Parents of children vaccinated against polio in the former Burmese capital have been pressured into joining the main junta-backed political party, they said.
From early this month, local authorities, health department staff and Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) members have run a vaccination programme for children under five at in the offices of township peace and development councils in Rangoon during which parents were coerced into signing forms to join the USDP.

A mother from Tamway Township said: “After my child received the vaccination, they [USDP members] gave me an application form to be a Union Solidarity and Development Party member. I told them I didn’t want to join but they insisted I sign the form so, finally, I had to.”

Moreover, parents from Thingangyun, Mingala Taungnyunt, the southern and eastern parts of New Dagon, Shwepyithar and North Okkapala townships also said they were forced to join the junta-backed party in the same manner.

Also, the peace and development council of ward three in Kyauktada Township had been coercing people to join the USDP, a resident said.

“We already knew what the USDP is because it’s opened party offices and members have been collecting party memberships,” the resident said. “They’re building the party using any possible means but I can’t join it. If I do, they’ll get my vote and I won’t let that happen.”

Rangoon has 45 townships and a population of six million.
Tuesday, August 24, 2010

India mulls further investment into Burmese energy sector

Tuesday, 24 August 2010 20:17 Mizzima News

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Scant weeks after Burmese head-of-state Senior General Than Shwe paid an official visit to India, New Delhi may be on the verge of upping its level of investment into Burmese natural gas.

State-owned oil companies Indian Oil (IOC) and Oil India (OIL) are said to be in talks with the Mumbai-based Essar Group to take up joint 20 percent shares in the shallow-water (A2) gas block.

The Economic Times today reports that an Indian oil ministry official has confirmed recent visits to Essar by both IOC and OIL.

“They are considering to jointly pick up 40 percent stake in Essar’s gas block,” he said.

The field concerned is still said to be at the exploratory stage, with estimates of recoverable reserves yet to be determined.

Globally, Burma’s confirmed natural gas reserves are modest. As of 2009, the CIA listed reserves at 283 billion cubic meters, placing Burma 41st in the world and sixth among ASEAN states.

However, given the poor economic development in other sectors of the economy, the export of natural gas to Thailand alone is estimated to account for 40 percent of all export earnings.

Burma expert Derek Tonkin notes that it is a figure set to drastically rise once pipelines to regional giants China and India become operational.

The Economic Times quotes a figure of 13 trillion cubic feet of potential reserves in the (A2) bloc. If anywhere close to accurate, the figure sighted is well more than double the converted CIA data of known reserves.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, 45 percent of the world’s gas reserves are yet to be discovered.

Communist Party calls for unity in mass uprising

Tuesday, 24 August 2010 14:53 Ko Wild

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – The Communist Party of Burma (CPB) has given notice of its desire to hold closed-door meetings with other organizations in order to formulate a common agenda for the post-election period.

In a statement issued on the 18th of this month, the CPB said it is interested in formulating a Minimum Common Programme (MCP) for the country following the November 7 polling.

The CPB, which does not accept junta efforts at ensuring victory for its chosen political debutante, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), declared the objective of the strategy as building up the base of People Power.

Rival political parties allege the USDP unfairly benefits from financial and political patronage offered by the country’s ruling military.

In the statement, the CPB suggests the National League for Democracy (NLD) and Committee Representing People’s Parliament (CRPP) should establish a Provisional Government when the people’s movement breaks out. The NLD emerged victorious from the country’s last general election twenty years previously.

“The first thing we should do is to strive for a great movement supported by the people. It will fail if not supported by the people. We must build our forces in both underground and over-ground forms and fight against them [the junta] in these forms,” CPB spokesman Comrade Po Than Joung said.

However, CRPP General Secretary Aye Thar Aung cautioned the installation of a Provisional Government was still premature, though he reiterated they would uphold the people’s mandate given them by virtue of their 1990 electoral victory.

The CRPP does not recognize the upcoming election, believing it will not lead to a democratic system for the country and will fail to bring about national reconciliation.

Aye Thar Aung added that the CRPP would, with the guidance of the NLD, continue its struggle to resolve the contradictions between Burmese military authorities, ethnic forces and the international community.

“In this struggle we will join hands with the people. The people are facing severe daily hardships in their livelihood, so they will not keep silent for long. They will certainly join the opposition movement,” Aye Thar Aung said.

The NLD, meanwhile, is continuing field trips to townships, divisions and states in order to consolidate its movement with the general population and other pro-democracy forces.

The CPB’s MCP claims negotiations and discussions with Burma’s current military rulers will be a fruitless effort. Therefore, reform minded officers among the armed forces must be targeted and organized as negotiation partners. However, further details as to the implementation of the strategy were not available, said Po Than Joung.

He also clarified, “This movement has nothing to do with 2010 election.”

Nonetheless, a representative from the Democratic Party (Myanmar), which will take part in the election, said they do not agree with the notion of boycotting the election and striving for a people’s movement.

“We must act in our own belief. Even after the election, we will continue our own movement in the parliament because there is still a long, long way to democracy,” party chairman Thu Wei said.

There are 330 seats to be contested in the People’s Parliament (Lower House), 168 seats in the National Parliament (Upper House) and 689 seats for Local Assemblies in Regions and States – a total of 1,187 seats up for grabs on November 7.

Weekend gas blast closes school in Myawaddy

Tuesday, 24 August 2010 00:34 Mizzima News

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – A school destroyed by fire late on Sunday night yesterday after the explosion of gas cylinders on a truck in Myawaddy, in eastern Karen State, remained closed yesterday for renovations.

Five people were injured by the ensuing flames that started after the tanks exploded during transport from a warehouse owned by Win Naing, a resident said. It took three fire engines to bring the fire under control.

The Independent Mon News Agency (IMNA), quoting a witness, reported that one of the tanks had sustained damage and began to leak after it was loaded into the transport truck. The tank was left on board and the driver drove off with his dangerous cargo until the leak caught fire between the border town’s fourth and fifth wards, setting off a massive explosion that was visible from across the Thai border in Mae Sot.

“It was like bomb had exploded very loudly, the first time just one gas [tank] exploded and then all of them burned, [but] nobody was injured [in the actual blast],” he said.

The fire gutted the vehicle, three homes and School No. 1 on the west side of the landmark Shweminwun Pagodaon the outskirts of Myawaddy, according to Mizzima witnesses and an IMNA report.

“The school was closed this morning. Some glass … was broken and some doors showed signs of fire damage,” a parent of one of the pupils told Mizzima.

The cylinders were imported from Thailand for distribution in Rangoon Division and Moulmein in Mon State.

A joint police, army and fire department taskforce examined the cars to see if they had carried the cylinders on Asia Street and past an old bus station, a source said.

“It was like bomb had exploded very loudly, the first time just one gas [tank] exploded and then all of them burned, but nobody was injured [in the blast itself],” the IMNA quoted a witness as saying.

The driver had escaped apparently unscathed, the witness said, adding that the firemen were injured because the brigade had underestimated the size of the inferno.

A source in Mae Sot, across the Moei River in Thailand, told IMNA that the town’s residents could see the flames. He had first attributed the sight to a bomb blast, after a bombing at a night market in Myawaddy early this month killed two people.

According to IMNA sources in Myawaddy, the owner of the warehouse that supplied the gas tank had been jailed for a year over another gas blast in Myawaddy.

The Mon news agency, quoting sources close to the owner, reported that the owner and the driver had fled to Mae Sot, the former to avoid a second arrest.

Visa on arrival stopped as poll date nears

Tuesday, 24 August 2010 14:47 Mizzima News

Rangoon (Mizzima) – Seeking to tighten control on foreigners entering the country, Burmese authorities will suspend the issuance of visas on arrival commencing on the first of next month, a senior official from the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism in Naypyitaw said.

Visas on arrival had been issued at Rangoon and Mandalay International Airports since four months previously, but the service is to be temporarily suspended ahead of the November 7 general election, he elaborated.

“It will last at least three months,” the official said of the action. “It will certainly affect and slow down the tourism industry. But our ministry can’t do anything, as it is a directive coming directly from the state level. Tourists will face more difficulties as will tour guides. All businesses related to the tourism industry will be in chaos.”

“Suspension of the visa on arrival service will adversely affect us. I think this order was issued to gain tighter control on the people who will come to observe the upcoming election. They don’t want these observers to see their unfair practices in this election,” a tour guide who has been in the business for over ten years commented.

An immigration officer at Rangoon International Airport added that he was so far unaware of the edict, being instructed to only study the total number of tourists arriving and foreign currency earned.

European tourists have thus far been the ones to most take advantage of the visa on arrival service, a responsible person from Union of Myanmar Tourism Association said.

Some 200,000 tourists entered Burma in 2009, an increase of 23,000 from 2008 but still 50,000 fewer than in 2007.

It is also reported that the junta has stopped issuing visas to INGO staff in Burma working on Cyclone Nargis relief operations.

The change affecting social workers comes less than ten days after the United Nations’ Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) and the junta’s Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement Department said rehabilitation work stemming from the aftereffects of Cyclone Nargis needed to remain a top priority.

Ethnic Arakanese party leaders’ families harassed

Tuesday, 24 August 2010 03:12 Khaing Suu

New Delhi (Mizzima) – Police have been harassing relatives of registered ethnic Arakanese party leaders and stepped up monitoring of the party’s offices, over which it has complained to state and national electoral watchdogs, the party’s secretary said.

The Rakhine Nationalities Development Party (RNDP) party serving the main ethnic minority of Arakan State in western Burma sent letters of complaint to junta electoral watchdog Union Election Commission (UEC) and its state branch office on Friday to complain that party leaders’s family had been questioned by local, Special Branch, and anti-crime police since early August, party secretary Khine Pyi Soe told Mizzima.

“My relatives [have since] warned me not to do politics because they felt afraid as the result of interrogation. In doing this [questioning], people are paralysed by fear. It’s a serious threat to people to be party members and support the party”, he said.

In early August, the secretary of Sittwe (the state capital) branch of the RNDP, Aung Mya Kyaw, was also questioned by police and anti-crime police and his brother from Maungdaw Township, was interrogated by Special Branch police. Khine Pyi Soe’s sister of Thitpoaktaung village, Minpya Township, and her brother, were also taken in to the Special Branch office for questioning.

Moreover, Special Branch officers had since July 27 been monitoring the party by taking photos of party statements and slogans on the notice board of party headquarters in Sittwe, so the party sent a letter of complaint to the electoral commission. The day after the letter was sent it was raining, so the notice board was kept in the office, but the authorities entered the office to take the photos of statements and slogans, the party said.

“At first, only Special Branch officers took the photos, but later a joint force of anti-crime and local police came … the situation was chaotic”, Khine Pyi Soe said.

Moreover, the Arakan State electoral commission on August 11 warned the party that if it continued to issue statements that contained “wrong information” over the legal case of Abbot Ashin Pyinnyar Sara, who founded an orphanage in his monastery in Sittwe, the party would be dissolved.

Ashin Pyinnyar Sara was arrested on July 27 and accused of having sexual relations and other crimes, appeared in Sittwe District Court on Wednesday to hear evidence against him, local sources said.

The abbot is detained in Sittwe Prison on charges alleging breaches under section 420 (fraud), section 292 (handling obscene materials) and 295 (defiling a place of worship) for insulting religion, section 406 (criminal breach of trust), section 505 (b) for endangering state security, section 68 (c) of the Municipal Act, and section 24 (1) of the foreign currency act. He also appeared in court on August 10 and 17.

The junta-backed Union State and Development Party, led by junta ministers, the National Unity Party, Rakhine State National Force of Myanmar party, Mro National Party, Mro or Khami National Solidarity Organisation, and the Kaman National Progressive Party will also contest seats in Arakan in the elections on November 7.

Rangoon police and PDC offices to move

Tuesday, 24 August 2010 15:00 Mizzima News

Mizzima - Offices of the Rangoon Division Police and the Rangoon Division Peace and Development Council (PDC) have been ordered to move to the Peoples’ Parliament Building on Pyay Road, an officer from the Rangoon Division Police Office said on the condition of anonymity.
However, the legislative office and Rangoon Division Court are not being required to relocate and the Rangoon Division Election Commission will remain open, commented a spokesperson from the Rangoon Division Peace and Development Council.

The Rangoon Division General Administrative Department is currently located on Bank Street in Kyauktada Township. There are hundreds of photocopy shops, printing houses, notary businesses and legal offices on the street to support the work of the department.

Those businesses will encounter difficulties after the relocation of the offices, according to a lawyer from the Rangoon Division Court.

“We heard that the Division Court would not move. But, anyway, the businesses which depended on the offices [that are moving] will face difficulties,” the lawyer said.

The relocation order was originally delivered in July, with efforts now being made to expedite the process ahead of this November’s general election.
Monday, August 23, 2010

State censor board bans use of bamboo-hat logo, seal

Monday, 23 August 2010 23:11 Khaing Suu

New Delhi (Mizzima) – Burma’s state censor has banned news journals using in their reporting the seal and logo of the party that broke away from Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party, National Democratic Front party leader Khin Maung Swe said.

The Press Scrutiny and Registration Division, the Burmese junta’s censor board had cut the NDF’s bamboo-hat logo from interviews and news presented by Rangoon-based journals Monitor, Hot News and The Voice weekly since the first week of this month, he said.

“Some journals could report only interviews; some journals could report both interviews and use the logo. The journals replied that the logo was deleted by the censor board when it was contacted,” NDF party leader Khin Maung Swe told Mizzima.

Sources close to the journals confirmed the ban.

“We presented our draft copy of interviews and the bamboo-hat logo but the censor deleted both interviews featuring the NDF and the logo,” an editor with links to these journals said.

“We can print the seals and logos of other parties … As far as we know, they even turned down the draft copy attached with the clippings of state-run media bearing this logo,” a source close to Hot News told Mizzima.

The NDF said the censor had restricted news coverage containing its logo, though the seals and logos of other parties remained unaffected by the restriction, adding that the party should be allowed the same freedoms as other officially registered parties.
The party said the logo and seal was permitted in the media only when the dispute between the NDF and NLD arose. The Monitor denied the claim.

“Why should the logo recognised and permitted by the [election] commission be banned? No, the censor board permitted our journal and other journals to cover the news and its logo,” Monitor editor-in-chief Myat Khaing told Mizzima. Last month’s issue of the journal was allowed to cover NDF news and use its logo and bamboo hat.

Censor board section head Yu Yu Win said: “I think this logo might also have appeared in other journals. We permit these logos if they are officially recognised by the [electoral] commission. I can say only this.”

The dispute of using this logo arose when the NDF applied for party registration with the electoral commission, which permitted use of the logo. The commission however failed to communicate its approval to the censor board, a source close to the censor said.

Similarly, Snapshot journal was barred from running an interview with NDF party chairman Dr. Than Nyein two months ago, a source close to the journal said.

“It seems the authorities are building more hurdles … for our election campaign as the polling date draws nearer,” Khin Maung Swe said.

The NDF will field about 100 candidates in the election, which is to be held on November 7.
Saturday, August 21, 2010

Burmese cuisine popular but ‘envoys lacked junta support’

Saturday, 21 August 2010 00:26 Kyaw Kha

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Burmese traditional foods were a hit at a recent world food festival held by the Vietnamese government in Vung Tau, Vietnam, with strong visitor interest in Burma’s cuisine, food producers said. They added however that they received no help from the ruling military junta, despite being urged to go.

Food suppliers from 80 countries exhibited, but it was Burmese dishes that captured participants’ attention, according to the sources.

“Burmese traditional thick noodles, sticky rice and fried dried-fish were popular … On the first day of the festival, we prepared food for just 500 people. Within an hour, we run out of food to sell,” Phyu Phyu Tin, the owner of Monsoon Restaurant, Rangoon, told Mizzima. “So, the next day, we prepared dishes for 1,000 people. That amount was not enough, too. So, the rest of the festival, we prepared … for 2,000 … that too was not enough.”

The festival was held from July 21 to 25. Monsoon Restaurant and Royal Thazin, a restaurant near Inya Lake, Rangoon, sold Burmese traditional thick noodles, traditional sticky rice, mont hinga (Burmese traditional fish and noodle soup), traditional tomato curry, fried dried-fish and fried beef, their owners said.

The festival was opened from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. but most of the food had run out before 7 p.m. At first, the restaurants’ owners thought that mont hinga would be popular, but it failed to thrill visitors, they said.

“Foreigners are very interested in my stall because the foods are unfamiliar with them and most of them don’t know Burma well. So, they were eager to know what kind of foods came from which [part of the] country,” Phyu Phyu Tin said “We were able to attract more visitors than could Indian and Thailand food stalls because those cuisines are available all over the world.”

Although Hotel and Tourism Vice-Minister General Aye Myint Kyu encouraged the food producers to participate in the festival, the ministry failed to provide any material support. The owners of the restaurants had to spend their own money to travel there.

Food suppliers from other countries received support from their governments, so they could arrange traditional music and dance shows and display traditional clothes, according to Phyu Phyu Tin. Burma was unable to do this.

“Food sellers from other countries could even do food decoration as they had sufficient support from their governments and their teams were large … we had to participate on a self-help basis”, Phyu Phyu Tin said.

Political prisoner denied surgery for 1½ years

Saturday, 21 August 2010 02:24 Phanida

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Political prisoner Myo Win Wai, who voluntarily worked to collect the dead after Cyclone Nargis struck, has needed surgery for 1½ years for a serious medical condition but authorities continue to deny him care, his father said.

Myo Win Wai, 25, had been diagnosed as requiring surgery for severe haemorrhoids in March last year but authorities ignored his condition and sent him far from his parents’ home in Rangoon to Khantee Prison in the northwestern Burmese division of Sagaing, his father Tin Hla, who returned home on Tuesday, said.

Authorities allowed Tin Hla and Khin Win Kyi, his mother, who live in Shwepyitha Township, to meet Myo Win Wai at Khantee Prison on August 10.

“He said that he could not eat anything because of the haemorrhoids. At the time, he said he hadn’t used his bowels for five days … he couldn’t even drink water. His words made us cry”, Tin Hla told Mizzima.

Myo Win Wai told them his fellow inmates were also suffering from very poor health.

“Some have suffered severe malaria. One … Nyi Pu is a paraplegic. His medical record was not filed, so he didn’t know what medicines he should take. My son’s condition is so serious that I don’t have the heart to hear more,” Tin Hla said.

His family had sent an appeal letter to the authorities of Khantee Prison and the Ministry of Home Affairs seeking appropriate medical care for their son.

Meanwhile, the prison doctor had also informed prison authorities that Myo Win Wai needed an operation but the prison authorities replied that they had already reported the matter to their superiors.

On August 12, his parents complained to investigatory panels such as the Special Branch police and Sa-Ah-Pha (a special military detective team) but they gave the same answer as the Khantee authorities.

Myo Win Wai was arrested by Special Branch police at 11 p.m. on September in 2008 for voluntary Nargis relief work with prominent comedian Zarganar.

He was given five years in prison under the Immigration Act’s section 13 (1).

Before he was sentenced, he had also fought against labour- and child-rights violations, his father said.

Myo Win Wai’s fellow inmates including Than Zaw Myint and Pea Pyoke, aka Win Myint, were suffering from severe malaria, Tin Hla said.
Friday, August 20, 2010

Remembering Burma’s humanitarian workers

Friday, 20 August 2010 18:44 Mizzima News

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – In a social atmosphere often held hostage to competing political agendas, Burma’s humanitarian workers face constant obstacles in the fulfillment of their missions. But still, these caring agents attempt to provide their vital services in Burmese society.

Myint-Myint-Khin-PeAugust 19 marked the second anniversary of UN’s World Humanitarian Day, administered by its Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The occasion recognises the importance the world body places in increasing public awareness about humanitarian assistance activities.

Among the humanitarian workers in Burma, Daw Myint Myint Khin Pe and her husband help operate the Free Funeral Service Association (Rangoon). Mizzima assistant editor Ko Wild spoke to Myint Myint Khin Pe, aka Daw Shwe Zigwet, on the occasion of World Humanitarian Day and in recognition of the services rendered by her and her husband.

Q: Your husband Kyaw Thu, a noted actor and chairman of this organisation, told Mizzima he joined the Free Funeral Service Association following encouragement from you. How were you first drawn into this field of work?

A: My aunt, Burmese Department Professor Daw Hla Myat, was a patron of the Byamasho Free Funeral Service in Mandalay, which was led by renowned writer Ludu Daw Ah Mar. This organisation is almost two-and-a-half years older than ours. I was immediately interested in this work, but my children were too young. First, I thought I would join when my children had grown up. But my aunt later informed me that film director U Thu Kha would soon establish such an organisation in Rangoon and suggested that I join them if I was interested. I was about 40 then.

Q: Why did you choose this line of social work, which is usually taboo in our society?

A: First and foremost was the encouragement I received from my aunt. Also, in recognition of death, which is unavoidable for anyone. Facing the demise of loved ones is the saddest time for many. I believe I can to some extent console and comfort these people during their saddest moments. As for my husband Kyaw Thu, it is a good opportunity to pay back his audience.

Q: What are your roles in the organisation, which was founded in 2001?

A: As we are founders of this organisation, we serve as executive committee members. I work on financial matters too. Additionally, I now focus in other areas, such as library and education, and I drive hearses.

Q: The organisation has expanded services to include a free clinic, library and education. Are there any young people who come to join your organisation to perform these works?

A: About 20 to 30 new youths come to our organisation every month but we don’t accept all of them. They submit forms to join our organisation. We study their attitude regarding this social work, their time availability and other factors, and scrutinise this information before selecting those to join our organisation. Then we train them by explaining our objectives and our activities. The first four days of each month are for training. After that, we assign them duties for future months.

Q: Who are your donors?

A: Most of the donors are from Burma. Some Burmese living in foreign countries also donate Burmese currency through relatives and family members. Occasionally we also receive some foreign currency.

Q: You provided water distribution free of charge in April and May, didn’t you?

A: Yes, we did. First we did this out of our own pocket. The money was donated by my father-in-law and mother-in-law. It was not funds from our organisation. We distributed water and dug wells in areas where water shortages was severe, especially in Pegu and Dala. As we could not visit these places in person, we delegated this work works to local people. Similarly, we donated money to victims of the bomb blasts that took place in the Rangoon (Thingyan water-festival) plaza. We pooled our resources and donated money. In Hlaing Township there was also a fire that burned down more than 1,400 houses. We donated money as well as basic goods to the victims when they were relocated to an area without civic amenities.

Q: Did you provide humanitarian assistance to Cyclone Nargis victims too?

A: In this relief operation, a boy who was once one of our members and was living in Singapore helped us. At that time, Ko Kyaw Thu was sick and only I was available. I could not do this heavy burden of work alone and appealed for further assistance. The volunteers had to come and work at their own expense. Many of them are still working in our organisation now. We got many new recruits from this campaign.

Q: What is the difference between your life as the wife of a famous actor, and as a partner in a humanitarian organisation?

A: Frankly speaking, I have no interest in motion pictures. When I married him, he had not yet become an actor. Only after our marriage … I was not very happy when I was the wife of an actor. I saw this career as a business. So I didn’t shape my children for this kind of career. However, I like social work and activities. And later I realised that his acting life contributed much to the social work too. Our family life is now quite happy.

Q: You were once accused of human trafficking. Can you please explain this episode?

A: Kyaw Thu went to South Korea alone for shooting. I accompanied him in Japan for a visit. Some exploited this film-shooting business for human trafficking between these countries and my husband Kyaw Thu wasn’t aware of it. He realised it only when he got there. They trafficked people as part of the film crew. Kyaw Thu was taken for questioning in Mandalay when he returned. We were not involved … The film producer committed the act along with some other people involved with the project.

Q: The USDA had attempted to use your service for political purposes. How did it happen?

A: Major General Htay Oo (then General Secretary of the junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Association) donated four million kyat (US$4,000) to us, saying they were also interested in doing this free funeral service. He requested to let them learn from us. We replied that they needed to wear our black and white uniform. Not agreeing, they ordered the dissolution of 24 organisations in May 2007, including ours. But, they later gave us back our organisation after we wrote letter requesting the reinstatement of the Free Funeral Service Association (Rangoon).