Friday, October 29, 2010

Junta poised to hold power until parliaments convened

Friday, 29 October 2010 03:18 Phanida

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Burma’s ruling military junta will hold on to power until the country’s various parliaments are convened after the election, the Agriculture and Irrigation Minister Htay Oo told local and foreign press on Wednesday.

The Union Solidarity and Development Party secretary was speaking to reporters at the party’s first press conference ahead of nationwide parliamentary elections on November 7, held at its headquarters in Bahan Township, Rangoon.

The controversial 2008 constitution declared that the first regular session of a term of the People’s Parliament should be held within 90 days after the commencement of the general election; which means the junta may rule until February 4, 2011.

Htay Oo denied the rumour that an interim government would be formed within 90 days after the election. The minister also told journalists that the USDP already had prospective presidential candidates.

Also present, Rangoon Mayor Aung Thein Lin was reluctant to answer questions about USDP electoral campaigning in which it had allegedly misused municipal funds to resurface roads, according to an editor who attended the gathering.

As many as 1,158 USDP candidates would contest in the forthcoming election. In accord with electoral laws, 54 candidates were to be MPs as there was only a single candidate each competing in those constituencies, and 52 of them are from USDP, according to Htay Oo.

Protesters target Air Bagan for boycott over junta links

Friday, 29 October 2010 16:46 Thea Forbes

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – A group of westerners launched a boycott against Air Bagan in northern Thailand yesterday over its tycoon owner’s close connections to the ruling Burmese military junta.

Nine protesters gathered outside of the office of the largest private airline in Burma in Chiang Mai, Thailand to register their opposition to junta cronies, such as the carrier’s owner, billionaire Tay Za.

“Our boycott against Air Bagan is about informing travellers to Burma to look for alternatives to travelling on Air Bagan, and not allowing them to expand unchecked in Thailand,” demonstration spokesman Garret Kostin told Mizzima.

Protesters arrived at the airline’s office at noon on Thursday armed with placards, leaflets and whistles. Employees of Air Bagan quickly shut the office after the protest commenced.

The demonstators then walked around Loi Kroh Road and Thapae Gate (the ancient entrance to the old city), and other tourist areas of Chiang Mai, delivering leaflets and information in Thai and English to pedestrians, travel agencies and tour operators.

Tay Za is a close business associate of the military regime and a confidant of junta chief Than Shwe.

The Air Bagan office opened in Chiang Mai in July and has been running flights twice a week between Chiang Mai and Rangoon.

The carrier has had failed attempts to secure international routes to Bangkok and Singapore, leaving it Chiang Mai as an important international destination.

Kyi Kyi Aye, a director at the Ministry of Hotel and Tourism in Burma told the Chiang Mai Mail in July that: “The office marks a new stage in Myanmar-Thailand tourism co-operation.”

Tay Za has formed another proxy airline named Asia Wing, according to report in The Irrawaddy magazine this month. It will apparently be managed through a prominent travel company in Burma to escape the problems Air Bagan has faced, which included heavy losses from targeted financial sanctions from the United States and European Union countries and problems gaining insurance.

In 2008, British bank and insurer Lloyds TSB rejected the airline’s insurance policy renewal and by the end of the year, the airline was supposedly operating without sufficient cover. It is now believed to be covered by a Russian insurer.

Air Bagan’s office in Rangoon was unavailable for comment.

Karenni troops launch attack on Burmese Army outpost

Friday, 29 October 2010 23:55 Sai Wan Mai

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Karenni troops launched a full armed assault on a Burmese Army outpost in Loikaw Township, Karenni State last week, according to a report on a Karenni party website. Four junta troops and one Karenni were killed.

Karenni Army troops (above) train for battle. An outpost of the 247 Infantry Battalion of the Burmese Army, based at Daw Tamugyi village, was raided at dawn on October 16 by Karenni troops. Photo: Sai Wan Mai

The outpost of the 247 Infantry Battalion of the Burmese Army based at Daw Tamugyi village was raided on October 16 in a surprise dawn attack by Karenni troops led by Captain Phe Bu. The attack lasted for about 10 minutes, the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) website reported.

A senior KNPP official said: “During the attack, four Burmese soldiers were killed and the other four were detained by Karenni troops. We lost one man and three were wounded. Besides, we managed to seize some weapons from the Burmese troops.”

“However, our soldiers released the detainees after the fight calmed down. We handed them to the abbot of the village temple,” Phe Bu said.

The captain however failed to comment on the reason for the attack.

Prior to the assault, the Burmese Army unit had reportedly been oppressing villagers in the area, demanding that they perform forced labour.

According to a Karenni Aid worker in the area, “After the fight, the headman and the assistant of Daw Tamugyi village were arrested by the Burmese Army, which sent them to Loikaw. The reasons behind the arrests were unknown.”

However, he offered that, “Villagers always paid for the price for the clashes.”

The KNPP was set up in 1957 as the political wing of the Karenni Army. It is the only armed Karenni group that still fights against the Burmese regime while many of its Karenni fellow groups, the Karenni Nationalities People’s Liberation Front (KNPLF) and the Karenni National Defence Army (KNSO) have already become part of the Border Guard Force.

In the meantime, the KNPP allied itself with ethnic armed opposition groups such as the Shan State Army South and the Karen National Union, which are fighting for various levels of autonomy. The ethnic armed groups hold strong bases along the Thai-Burmese border.

Suu Kyi legal team expects her release before election

Friday, 29 October 2010 22:16 Phanida

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi looks set for release before nationwide elections to be held in a matter of days, according to one of her lawyers outside Burma’s top court in Naypyidaw, where the special appeal against her house arrest began today.

“I believe that Aung San Suu Kyi will be free before the election,” Nyan Win, one of three lawyers representing her, told Mizzima.

Khin Htay Kywe and Kyi Win joined Nyan Win as assistant counsel before the Special Appellate Bench of the Supreme Court in the junta’s capital, which had accepted the special appeal after two lower courts rejected the basis of arguments made by Suu Kyi’s legal team.

Chief Justice Aung Toe led Deputy Chief Justice Tun Tun Oo and Justice Kyaw Win on the three-member panel in the three-hour hearing amid calls yesterday and today by respectively US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon for release of all political prisoners in Burma,

Suu Kyi’s current sentence was due to expire on November 13, six days after Burma’s first elections in 20 years. Party members and supporters were expecting her to be released from detention at her home on Rangoon University Avenue road.

Nevertheless, the court had failed to fix a date for the next hearing, as was the junta courts usual practice, her lawyer said.

“The appeal is to test the state of Burma’s law and order. We seek not only the freedom of Aung San Suu Kyi but also to restore the rule of law,” Nyan Win highlighted repeatedly.

The leader of the National League for Democracy party has spent most of her life in detention of various forms since her party won the last national elections in a landslide in 1990.

Party members Han Thar Myint, May Win Myint, Win Myint, Thein Oo, Aye Aye Mar, Khin Saw Mu, Dr. Myo Aung, Lawyer Khin Maung Shein, Saw Nai Nai, and youth-wing members Myo Nyunt, Myint Myint Aye, Thuza Lwin, and Min Maw Oo were permitted to attend the trial.

Authorities imposed no unusual security arrangements during the trial or near the court, a 1990 elected member of parliament Saw Nai Nai told Mizzima.

Suu Kyi’s earlier failed appeals were submitted at district and division level courts.

She was originally sentenced in August last year to three years in jail after US citizen John Yettaw ’s uninvited visit after he twice swam to her home beside Inya Lake in Rangoon in May last year. Amid great international pressure, junta chief Than Shwe ordered that the sentence be halved and commuted to house arrest.

Burma’s Foreign Minister Nyan Win had told journalists in Hanoi before the Asean regional summit on Thursday that Suu Kyi might be freed after the elections.

There are more than 2,000 political prisoners including Suu Kyi in Burma. The NLD is boycotting the forthcoming election. On October 25, it issued a statement which told the people that choosing not to vote was a basic constitutional right.

Win Tin slates UN head’s rights report omissions

Friday, 29 October 2010 18:13 Thomas Maung Shwe

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – NLD co-founder and former political prisoner Win Tin expressed extreme disappointment that UN chief’s report to the UN General Assembly on Burma’s human rights situation failed to seriously address violations against ethnic minorities, he told Mizzima recently.

The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s report was presented to the general assembly last month but was only made public a month later. It was supposed to cover the situation of human rights in Burma for the period from August last year to August this year but it failed to detail any of the Burmese regime’s military offensives in ethnic minority areas during that time. In particular, there was no mention of the infamous attack last year in August and September on the Kokang region of Shan State that forced 37,000 refugees to flee to China.

Win Tin told Mizzima it was disturbing that Ban had neglected to cover abuses against ethnic people because “in Burma many of the worst and most frequent human rights violations committed by the army are against ethnic people”.

He said Ban’s failure to mention the junta’s attack on the Kokang region and the military offensives in ethnic Karen areas of eastern Burma was evidence that the secretary general and his staff were not interested in seriously addressing the issue of human rights abuses against ethnic people. Win Tin added that the attacks on ethnic people over the past year showed that Ban was wrong to make in his report the optimistic observation that “the past 15 years have seen a significant reduction in the overall level of conflict in Myanmar [Burma]”.

He was appalled that Ban’s report completely ignored the conclusion reached by UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burma Tomás Ojea Quintana in his March report that the human rights abuses in Burma were serious enough to warrant a commission of inquiry. Likewise, Ban’s report had omitted any mention of Quinana’s assessment that in Burma the “possibility exists that some of these human rights violations may entail categories of crimes against humanity or war crimes under the terms of the Statute of the International Criminal Court [known as the Rome Statute]”.

Because of a lack of his leadership and his unwillingness to take a stronger stand, the secretary general had “become a bit of joke in Burma”, Win Tin said. Referring to Ban’s repeated statements of “concern” regarding the situation in Burma, Win Tin asked “if he forgets to include in his report the army’s attacks on Burma’s ethnic nationalities and peasants in rural areas, is Ban Ki Moon really concerned?”

The UN secretary general is presently in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi, attending the Asean summit. Coming soon is a related story: “Burma issue poses problems for Asean Summit”

Former Mon party members yield arms

Friday, 29 October 2010 01:51 Ko Wild

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – A Mon group comprising former New Mon State Party members relinquished their arms and ammunition to junta troops on Tuesday, a state-run newspaper reported.

The Mon Peace Group led by Naing Shaung, and an unknown number of followers, surrendered their weapons to Southeastern Command chief Brigadier General Tun Nay Lin, with the stated goal of competing in Burma’s first national elections in 20 years on November 7, the New Light of Myanmar reported.

Naing Shaung, in his 70s, was an NMSP battalion commander who retired at the rank of colonel, according to current NMSP military adviser Nai Kaorot.

The newspaper report failed to give the number of Mon Peace Group members, their ammunition and or equipment, but observers from the New Mon State Party said that only about 10 of those surrendering had participated in the “armed revolution” and that the rest were there “just for show”.

Local residents said the Mon Peace Group would set up headquarters in Korkyakkha village, home to substantial Mon population, in Hpaan Township, Karen State.

The group handed over arms and ammunition just a week after the New Mon State Party had urged the public to boycott the junta’s forthcoming election.

The NMSP said that the 2008 constitution could not guarantee ethnic rights and urged the people to boycott the election.

Naing Shaung and his followers accepted rice, cooking oil, household items and money from Major General Thet Naing Win, Bureau of Special Operations Four, which oversees the Southeastern and Coastal commands. He is the former Southeastern regional commander.

Electoral rivals to the Mon Peace Group in Hpaan Township are the All Mon Region Democracy Party, the junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party, and Phalon-Sawaw (Pwo-Sgaw) Democratic Party.

After Naing Shaung retired from the New Mon State Party, he formed a militia known as the Yamanya Force to continue armed struggle against the junta. When the militia dissolved, he worked as the vice-chairman of the Mon Peace Group led by Major General Naing Aung Naing until the latter died this year. Naing Shaung then took over as chairman of the group that was formed in 2008.

Late last month, the NMSP ordered its soldiers to open fire on junta troops if they intruded into areas under its control, Mon military adviser Colonel Kaung Yuk (retired) said.

The junta has exerted increasing pressure of various kinds on the NMSP’s 7,000-strong armed wing, the Mon National Liberation Army (MNLA), to bring its troops under junta command within the Burmese Army’s Border Guard Forces (BGF). It has also brought its powers of persuasion to bear on local people’s militia outside the terms of the ceasefire agreement reached with the junta in 1995. However, the NMSP has defied the junta’s pressure and ultimatums.

Early last month, Thet Naing Win threatened the NMSP that its troops would be regarded as insurgents if they failed to surrender their arms.

But the NMSP has continued to reject all junta pressure and responded that they would like to resolve political issues only through political means and would continue negotiations with the new government after November 7.

The junta answered by imposing tight restrictions on NMSP movement, ordering them to report itineraries in advance, a move that had also spurred the shoot-on-sight order, on suspicion of the junta’s military objectives, the retired Mon colonel said.

Only district committee members and office assistants remained at the NMSP’s Moulmein liaison offices and the rest had been withdrawn, he said late last month.
Thursday, October 28, 2010

NLD senior leader joins call for ‘true Burmese union’

Thursday, 28 October 2010 01:12 Ko Wild

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - Senior National League for Democracy party leader, Win Tin, joined calls supporting the idea a second Panglong conference as a solution for Burmese ethnic peoples to win back the right of self-determination lost for 60 years, he said.
Zomi National Congress (ZNC) issued a statement on Sunday on its 22nd anniversary since founding, in Kalaymyo, Sagaing Division, which called for convening a second Panglong conference. The declaration was signed by NLD leaders, ethnic leaders and veteran politicians.

Win Tin, 81, told Mizzima he supported the declaration, which he too had signed.

The ZNC said it had made the call because the 2008 constitution and 2010 election could not guarantee national reconciliation and genuine federal union based on the right to self-determination as desired by ethnic peoples.

Mizzima interviewed Win Tin on why this statement was issued at this time, on its impact on the historical 1947 Panglong Agreement and the NLD’s opinion on federal union.

The Panglong Agreement was a deal reached between the Burmese government under Aung San and the Shan, Kachin and Chin peoples on February 12, 1947, which accepted in principle “Full autonomy in internal administration for the Frontier Areas” and envisioned the creation of a Kachin State by the Constituent Assembly (Burma’s first post-independence parliament). The deal came almost a year after the First Panglong Conference was held in the town of the same name in the south of Shan State.

The NLD, along with ethnic parties, has a signed the statement calling for a second Panglong conference. How did the declaration evolve?

This was not done by the NLD. The Zomi National Congress (ZNC) initiated it, negotiated with ethnic leaders and compiled their opinions. Only after that did our NLD party and groups such as veteran politicians sign it. So the prime movers behind … this … are ethnic leaders.

Can we say this is the stance of the NLD as vice-chairman Tin Oo and central executive committee (CEC) member Win Tin signed the declaration?

Yes, NLD agreed to this statement. All other CEC members signed it too. We don’t want to take credit for initiating this declaration as all of these works were carried out by ethnic leaders. These ethnic leaders led in initiating and compiling the opinions … in drafting and finalising this declaration. They asked us to join them and we agreed to do it. [After that] We participated in every part of it. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi may know about it also but as yet we’d had no contact with her at the time the declaration was drafted.

Do you think it’s a fair assumption Suu Kyi will agree with this statement?

I assume she’ll agree. The phrase ‘Second Panglong’ is an expression she once used so there will not be any hiccups with it. You may remember when U Nyan Win (one of Suu Kyi’s lawyers) disclosed her opinion on the issue of re-registering the party with the election commission for contesting in the upcoming election … [that] she was ready to accept the party’s majority decision.

Not everyone expected to be on the declaration signatory list have signed it. How would you explain this?

It seems that ethnic leaders had to do it very surreptitiously. Before sending the final copy to us, they negotiated among themselves secretly and we first heard about it only on October 20. At that time, it was difficult to book a flight and we weren’t able to reach Kalaymyo on time so we had to sign it in Rangoon. Other ethnic leaders in Rangoon such as Nai Ngwe Thein, Nai Tun Thein and Aye Thar Aung, also couldn’t make it in time.

As you said, we couldn’t find Aye Thar Aung on the list. What does the Committee Representing the People’s Parliament (CRPP) think about the declaration?

They will sign because Aye Thar Aung was away from Rangoon … on a tour to Kachin State with an NLD delegation. The whole CRPP will join. We weren’t yet able to tell Thein Pe about it though he is a member of CRPP. He was also away … with the NLD on a tour of the Chin Hills. He will join the list on his way back by stopping over in Kalaymyo. The situation is like that. Some did not take part in the discussions over drafting this declaration.

Will this second Panglong conference have an impact on the 1947 agreement initiated and signed by Bogyoke (General) Aung San?

No, it will not. The essence of that agreement was to consolidate the unity of Burman and non-Burman ethnic people in regaining independence from British colonial rule. The British colonial ruler wanted to divide Burma proper and frontier areas in granting independence … Some wanted independence along with the Burman and some didn’t. In Bogyoke Aung San’s sincere words, ‘we will take you along with us in regaining independence’. He approached the ethnic people in this way. Finally, the ethnic leaders signed this historical agreement along with the Burman. The essence is genuine union that guarantees equality and the right to self-determination of the ethnic peoples.

After … 60 years under the rule of BSPP and military dictatorship, we’ve gradually lost the essence of genuine union. We’ve also lost the equality and right to self-determination of ethnic peoples. When the National Convention (NC) was convened, ethnic people joined it with the expectation of gaining self-determination, equality and genuine union through it by reaching a ceasefire agreement with the junta. They attended the NC, which started in 1993, but … whatever they sought on ethnic rights … did not materialise as they weren’t given a voice.

Now, the Border Guard Force (BGF) has appeared and along with the danger of a new wave of civil war breaking out. We’ve already had the first salvoes with shots fired in the northern region (Kachin State). Even within the DKBA (Democratic Karen Buddhist Army) there was division, with some of its members agreeing to accept the BGF and some against it. The KNU (Karen National Union, DKBA’s rivals) had boycotted it long before. So, what we really have is a constitutional crisis.

According to the 2008 constitution, all the armed forces shall be under the control of the sole Commander-in-Chief of the Tatmadaw (Armed Forces). So the military junta must work towards putting all these ceasefire armed groups under the complete control of its chief after this constitution comes into force or even before coming into force. If this task can’t be achieved, they have to launch war against these ceasefire groups stationed along the borders.

At this time, the idea of resolving political issues by invoking the spirit of Panglong as tried by Bogyoke (Aung San) and the political aspiration of establishing genuine union with ethnic people and recognising the right to equality among all ethnic peoples has resurfaced … This is not a political conspiracy. The political spirit embedded in the Panglong agreement inherited from Bogyoke (Aung San) and his colleagues will vanish forever when this constitution comes into force. So this second Panglong issue appeared … this is not just a coincidence … .

What is the NLD’s opinion on the State Peace and Development Council’s (SPDC, the junta) BGF policy?

These ethnic armed groups started their revolutions, struggles … based on politics, 20-30-40-50-60 years ago. We can’t force them to join the junta’s army or convert their armies into either BGF or people’s militia by surrendering their arms because their struggles started based on political objectives and ethnic rights issues. Some have degraded into “opium armies” and some have surrendered their arms. So I think the junta’s final BGF proposal cannot be accepted by them by any means. NLD’s stance is to resolve ethnic and border issues through political means only, rather than through any kind of BGF. That it the better option.

The border area is inhabited by non-Burman ethnic groups. What is the policy of the NLD for border security in a federal union?

It would be premature to comment on these policies at this time. It is difficult for us. We are not the ruling party. We are very far away from ruling the country. But I dare say principles of federalism are quite contrary to secession. We believe in federal principles and we will implement them. In establishing a genuine federal union, I firmly believe that participation by all ethnic peoples for the sake of security of this union shall automatically be realised.

There are some ceasefire groups such as the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO), New Mon State Party (NMSP) and United Wa State Party (UWSP), and there are the non-ceasefire groups, the Karen National Union (KNU), the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) and many others. What are your thoughts on the role of all these groups?

I assume they will certainly join with us one day. Some will not. Some organisations think more about their own survival and businesses. We have seen such unhealthy tendencies for a long time. I believe they will not be left very much far behind us and will not be left alone if we can regularly offer them our political leadership.

What will be the role of the junta’s armed forces in this proposed conference?

Pro-democracy forces and ethnic forces have asked the military to engage in dialogue for more than 20 years but they haven’t responded … so I have to say there will be no chance of including the army in negotiations on Burmese affairs.

Can this conference concept create confusion against the previous position of the NLD and ethnic forces’ demands for a revision of the 2008 constitution and the tripartite dialogue?

No … these are separate matters. The … deliberations will continue. For instance, pro-democracy forces and ethnic forces represent two parties. The Tatmadaw is not included in either of these parties so the tripartite dialogue advocated by the UN and others would be impossible. But at least dipartite is possible. And then after accepting the formation of genuine federal union, it will be quite different from their constitution. Their military-ruled union is quite contrary to our genuine union so there will be some constitutional issues that we can sort out with them through negotiation.

Will the second Panglong conference be held before or after the election?

The time is too close. Convening the conference is not as easy as sitting in a teashop. Thorough deliberations must be made beforehand. So I think it won’t be any time soon … But we have the intention of make it materialise as soon as possible.

The SPDC seems determined to push its election through by all possible means. Moreover some parties are not interested in a boycott. Is this conference setting up a confrontation with the next elected government?

I don’t think so. Every government has the responsibility to resolve any issue arising in the country by negotiations, no matter what they like or dislike about the issue. It will be unwise if they resolve these issues by military means. They must explore ways to resolve these issues by political means only. It would not be right to resolve them by shooting and imprisoning people. There will be negotiations between us and the upcoming elected government.

Mandalay mosquito-coil fire leaves 34 families homeless

Thursday, 28 October 2010 21:20 Salai Han Thar San

New Delhi (Mizzima) – Fire that ignited when a mosquito repellent coil tipped over has razed 22 houses this afternoon in the Aungmyaytharsan Township of Burma’s second largest city, Mandalay, fire officials say.

The fire spread from a house in Amelyoe Ward after starting at around 3:45 p.m., razing the other homes and displacing 120 people. Firemen brought it under control at about 4:15 p.m.

“The fire was started by a mosquito-repellent coil in the bedroom of the house. At that time, there were only children inside … the value of damage is still being calculated,” the Mandalay Central Fire Department’s duty chief said.

An Aungmyaytharsan resident said: “The house where the blaze started is near us … Blue-collar workers live in that ward.”

Victims of the fire, 34 families, had sought refuge at Shweantaw Pagoda community hall at the junction of 22nd Road and 86th-87th Road.

Mizzima contacted the Aungmyaytharsan Police Station but the duty officer refused to disclose any details.

A massive blaze in March 2008 gutted Mandalay’s Yadanarpon Market, leaving at least two dead and causing property damage valued at US$50 million.

Basic needs missing in Giri’s wake amid cut power, phones

Thursday, 28 October 2010 18:43 Khaing Suu

New Delhi (Mizzima) – Food and water shortages, power cuts and severed phone lines are affecting thousands of homes and businesses in Kyaukphyu Township, Arakan State in the wake of Cyclone Giri, which hit Burma’s west coast last week.

“At least 71,000 people have lost their homes and an estimated 177,000 have been affected by the cyclone that hit late on Friday, leaving survivors in urgent need of food and water,” Reuters AlertNet humanitarian news service reported yesterday, citing aid agencies.

The storm made landfall near Kyaukphyu, bearing winds of 100-120 miles per hour (160-190 kilometres per hour), according to the Red Cross, and has killed at least 27 in the town.

A local politician said 11 had died in Pauktaw and 64 in Myebon townships.

Many roads, bridges, power lines and telecommunications equipment sustained major damage, and tens of thousands of homes have been partly or completely wrecked, the report said.

Ba Shin, a Rakhine National Development Party (RNDP) candidate for Kyaukphyu, told Mizzima: “Power cuts still affect homes in Kyaukphyu. I don’t know when we can use electricity again but I think repairs will take a long time. We have to use candles every night.”

“Landline phones are also not working, so we have to use mobiles phones. But the power cuts mean that when the batteries run down, we won’t be able to use mobiles either, Ba Shin said.

However, Kyaukphyu residents were no strangers to power shortfalls. Before the storm, the town electricity supply ran from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m, a source said.

The state-run newspaper, The Mirror, said that 40 office buildings in Kyaukphyu Township, two schools and the roofs of about 1,000 buildings were damaged.

Giri also damaged fishery trade centres and the many vessels of one of the town’s main livelihoods, its fishing fleet.

About 2,000 homeless were taking refuge at monasteries, meditation halls and schools in the town. Although authorities had provided rice for cyclone victims, the rice was wet, according to a Mizzima correspondent.

Moreover, victims in rural areas were being ignored by the authorities, a resident from Zinchaung village told Mizzima.

RNDP secretary Khaing Pyi Soe told Mizzima: “According to the information we compiled, 11 people died in Pauktaw, 64 people died in Myebon and 25 people died in Kyaukphyu due to the cyclone. Our cyclone relief rescue team has arrived in Kyaukphyu.”

Myebon Township was also severely hit and about 90 per cent of buildings were damaged, according to the residents.

A UN office in Rangoon reported that of the 177,000 residents in 71 villages affected, 10,000 were hit severely. It added that the number of victims might be more than had been reported.

“The cyclone cut off communications in the affected regions so we have to depend on sea routes to reach there, meaning we’ve encountered difficulties in compiling [accurate] information,” a UN spokesman told Mizzima. “Many paddy fields and businesses were damaged. It will take long time to return the towns to their previous states.”

The havoc wreaked by the cyclone has pushed the Burmese general elections scheduled for November 7 out of people’s minds in affected areas, they said.

“We are not interested in the election. We are too busy. My land is full of rubbish, the streets, too. It will take long time to clear them,” a resident of Myebon said.

The RNDP had sent an official letter yesterday to the junta’s electoral watchdog, the Union Election Commission, to postpone polls for a month in Kyaukphyu and Myebon, the party said.
Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Political prisoners hold little hope of release before polls

Wednesday, 27 October 2010 22:53 Mizzima News

New Delhi (Mizzima) – Burmese elections next month cannot be presumed free and fair unless the military junta releases all political prisoners prior to November elections and allows them to participate, a range of Burma analysts, pro-democracy advocates and the UN have said.

As the military continues to jail many political prisoners, their role in shaping the future political scene in Burma is fading almost completely. Junta’s electoral laws bar prisoners from the vote.

In the world’s largest democracy, political activist Jaya Jaitly said India allowed prisoners to vote, let them contest in parliamentary elections and some even served in high government positions.

“If we give an Indian example, Indira Gandhi threw all opposition leaders into jail in 1975. When the government announced elections, the leaders could contest … despite their detention. George Fernandes was being detained at that time as well. We took his photo and campaigned through out the country in cars. Then he won with the second largest number of votes. For that reason, why can’t someone join the vote whether detained or living under house arrest?”

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also called on the Burmese junta to release political prisoners during his visit to Burma after Cyclone Nargis. He reiterated his call in August this year, after the junta announced the election date, and urged that all political prisoners be released, adding that the election needed to include them to be free and fair.

Ban further reiterated those calls yesterday in Bangkok. He said that while the UN was committed to long-term engagement with military-ruled Burma that it was not too late to make next month’s election more credible, Reuters reported.

The United Nations would work with the new government formed after the much-criticised ballot on November 7, and that the junta could improve its international image by releasing all political prisoners immediately, he told a press conference at Government House in Bangkok.

“It’s not too late, even now. By releasing political detainees, [the junta] can make this election more inclusive and participatory,” Reuters quoted Ban as saying. “We will really be expecting this election will be a free one, fair one and inclusive one.”

But the junta had made no signals of releasing political prisoners before November 7, despite western democracies and regional countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines adding their calls to the UN’s to make this happen. Burmese parties and individual candidates have recently started adding their voices for the release political prisoners, for the polls to be inclusive.

Kaung Myint Htut, an individual candidate standing for a seat in the South Okkalapa Township constituency said: “It is routine that political prisoners are released after a general election. That is my dream, which is quite possible … I wish they could be released today or tomorrow. They could play a role assisting the election that is a turning point of our country’s change. They can debate and discuss their views, which would be a valuable contribution to the country’s freedom and self-determination. If this doesn’t happen, I wish them to be released after the election. I will continue to call for their release to be realised”.

However, Ashin Htarwara, a Buddhist monk who participated in the 2007 Saffron Revolution, was not holding out much hope that political prisoners, student leaders and jailed monks would be released under the Burmese military dictatorship.

“If the junta released [political prisoners] and called an election, we could say the election was fair, instead of continuing to lock them up in prisons. We’ve heard nothing so far from the junta about releasing political prisoners,” the monk said. “The prisoners frequently being released now are mostly criminals, which is why I’m deeply concerned about the situation.”

NLD vice-chairman Tin Oo said better political change could be allowed to happen if imprisoned political leaders were released and the junta started a national reconciliation programme.

“We have opened the door. It would be better if the government released political prisoners and sought dialogue to solve the problems. That is the principle by which we stand,” he said.

Many prominent activists and opposition leaders are still serving or have served lengthy terms in the junta’s infamous prisons, such as the NLD’s Aung San Suu Kyi, Shan leader Khun Tun Oo, General Sai Htin, 88 Generation Students leader Min Ko Naing, satirist Zargana, blogger Nay Phone Latt, and the many other NLD leaders, activists and monks who participated in the Saffron Revolution, which started in 2007 calling for decreased commodity prices.

Despite the junta’s claims that there were no political prisoners in Burma, the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma (AAPPB) had recorded that more than 2,010 prisoners remained behind bars for their political beliefs.

The United Nations, international advocates, NGOs, activists and many governments have frequently called on the Burmese junta to release all political prisoners.

Number of political prisoners listed by AAPP-B
Total number of political prisoners in Burma 2,193
… In ill health 141
… Humanitarian workers during Cyclone Nargis 20
… Elected representatives in 1990 national polls

… Student activists 285
… Women 176
… Monks in jail for political reasons 256
… National League for Democracy members 413
… Members of ethnic groups, activists

… Doctors 12
… Lawyers 12
… Labour activists 44
… Human rights advocates 31
Number of political prisoners who have died in prison 144

Laws commonly used by authorities to punish democracy activists
Emergency Provisions Act 1950

Violation of article 5 is punishable with 7 years in jail, a fine or both.

Law to Safeguard the State against the Danger of Those Desiring to Cause Subversive Acts

1975 State Protection Law

Violation of article 12 and 14: 3 to 5 years in jail.

Television and Video Act

Violation of article 32 (B): 3 years in jail or more or a 100,000 kyat fine, or both.
Unlawful Associations Act (1908)

Violation: 3 to 5 years in jail and a fine.
Electronic Act (SPDC Law No: 5/ 2004, April 30, 2004)
Breach: 7 years to 15 years in jail and a fine. Term can be extended 5 years, a fine or both.

Law restitution for Myanmar Immigration Act
Emergency Provisions Act (1947)
(SLORC Law No: 2/ 90), January 22nd 1990)

Violation: 6 months to 5 years in jail, or a fine of a minimum of 1,500 kyat or both.

Printers and Publishers Registration Law (1962)

Violation: 10 years imprisonment or a 30,000 kyat fine.

Corruption runs rampant in Burmese public sphere

Wednesday, 27 October 2010 17:34 Mizzima News

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Burma continues to languish near the bottom of international rankings regarding corruption in the public sphere, according to the latest findings of a global civil society organisation.

Compiled by Transparency International, the Corruption Perceptions Index 2010, released yesterday, catalogues 178 countries on the perceived level of corruption existing in the public sector. Burma finished in a tie with Afghanistan for 176th on the chart, besting only the troubled East African country of Somalia.

Nearly three-quarters of all countries scored below five in their overall points tally, in which 10 denotes a very clean environment and zero a high level of corruption. For the second consecutive year, Burma scored a 1.4.

Only Singapore and Brunei, of Burma’s neighbours and Asean, managed to eclipse the five-point barrier. Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Cambodia and Laos each failed to reach three points on the scale.

In addition to a positive correlation between the level of violence in a given country and the incidence of corruption, the report found “transparency and accountability are critical to restoring trust and turning back the tide of corruption”.

Concerning Burma, and in further testament to the lack of peace, transparency and accountability in the country, the results for the Southeast Asian nation were compiled using the minimum of three, out of a potential 13, surveys for which data was sought.

Input for the analysis, the organisation said, was compiled from “different assessments and business opinion surveys carried out by independent and reputable institutions … [T]he surveys and assessments used to compile the index include questions relating to bribery of public officials, kickbacks in public procurement, embezzlement of public funds and questions that probe the strength and effectiveness of public sector anti-corruption efforts”.

Denmark, Singapore and New Zealand shared top honours in the rankings, each scoring 9.3, respectively.

Burma protesters confront UN leader in Bangkok

Wednesday, 27 October 2010 01:46 Thomas Maung Shwe

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Several dozen refugees and migrant workers from Burma defied threats of arrest and deportation to confront UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon during his brief visit to the Thai capital yesterday.

The Burma exiles were angered by what they termed the secretary general’s lack of action on Burma and the United Nations’ perceived lack of interest in refugees and migrant workers living in Thailand.

The protesters gathered at the UN’s regional complex in Bangkok, next to a larger group of pro-Thaksin United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) or “red shirts” who were demanding that the UN takes steps to solve Thailand’s political deadlock.

In 2008, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra was found guilty in a Thai court of corruption and sentenced in absentia to two years in jail. He remains a fugitive.

All who demonstrated did so despite a police ban that outlawed such gatherings during Ban’s visit.

Khin Omar from the campaign group Burma Partnership told Mizzima that Ban’s performance on the Burma file was dreadful: “It is long past time for Ban Ki-moon to stop expressing concern and actually do something.”

As predicted, Ban chose to use his press conference at Government House, Bangkok, to state his concern about the controversial upcoming national elections in Burma. Even so, he still sent a positive message to the regime, telling reporters that “it’s not too late, even now, to make this election more inclusive”.

According to Khin Omar, many people from Burma are appalled by what they see as Ban’s deliberate attempts to downplay the continuing human rights abuses committed by the military regime and the fact that post-election regime was clearly going to be an undemocratic fiasco.

The long-time women’s rights activist pointed to a report Ban had delivered to the UN General Assembly last month on the subject of human rights in Burma that covered August last year to August this year as just the latest example of Ban’s failure to understand what was happening in Burma.

She was “particularly concerned” that in his writing the report, the secretary general and his staff chose to ignore the huge number of rights abuses committed in ethnic areas by the regime including last year’s August-September offensive in the Kokang region or the increased violence in eastern Burma’s Karen state.

Khin Omar also said she was disappointed but hardly surprised that Ban had also failed in his report to make any mention of the recommendations made earlier this year by the UN special envoy on the situation of human rights in Burma, Tomas Ojea Quintana, in which he suggested that the regime may have committed crimes against humanity and the UN should establish a commission of inquiry to investigate this matter.

On Monday, a coalition of three rights and labour organisations based in Thailand, released a joint statement calling for Ban “to instruct related UN agencies to urgently investigate allegations of abuse committed against migrants deported” from Thailand to Burma.

The statement by the State Enterprise Workers Relations Confederation (SERC), the Thai Labour Solidarity Committee (TLSC) and the Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF) also called on Ban to personally “intervene to prevent further abuse” of those deported from Burma.

In an interview that aired on the Burmese-language broadcast of Voice of America yesterday morning, Hseng Htay, of the HRDF’s Migrant Justice Programme outlined his organisations concern about the deteriorating situation for migrant workers and undocumented people from Burma living in Thailand.

The foundation’s concerns about depurations to Burma were very real as many refugees and migrants workers from Burma were deported on a regular basis. It said many of those deported to Burma who had later re-entered Thailand spoke of being handed over by the Thai authorities to the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), when they were given the chance to pay for their freedom, or if unable to afford it, handed over to Burmese military authorities for severe punishment and an uncertain fate.

In Mae Sot and other border towns in Thailand, Mizzima has spoken to many migrants who had barely survived their depuration to Burma. Often they speak of vain attempts to contact the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) only to be told to go away or hung up on by UNHCR staff who claimed they were unable to do anything for them.

Thiha Yarzar, a veteran of the 1988 Burmese pro-democracy movement who spent nearly 18 years in some of Burma’s worst prisons had few good things to say about the UNHCR. The Mae Sot-based activist whose story has featured on Al Jazeera, DVB, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and Time magazine reports told of being humiliated by the UN agency mandated to assist refugees.

The respected activist told Mizzima: “I’ve gone to the UNHCR office in Mae Sot 14 times, always with my documentation showing that I’m a former political prisoner, and each time they said they couldn’t help me. They usually don’t even let me in the building.”

Thiha Yarzar acknowledged that the UN body was restricted by what it could do because Thailand had failed to sign or ratify the UN refugee convention of 1951 but asked: “If the UNHCR is really so limited in what it can do for refugees in Thailand, why don’t they do something about this? Why do they give such glowing and misleading reports about their activities? It’s really quite insulting to be told to go away 14 times by an agency that claims to help refugees.”

Student-youth alliance back second Panglong declaration

Wednesday, 27 October 2010 19:55 Phanida

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - Burmese pro-democracy underground students and young people lent their support today to calls by the Zomi National Congress for convening a second Panglong conference.

The ZNC held its 22nd founding day ceremony on Sunday in Kalaymyo, Sagaing Division and issued its Kalay Declaration calling for the convening of a second Panglong conference for restoration of national reconciliation and establishing an inclusive federal union.

Burma Democratic Front secretary Pan Thu San, representing the alliance of seven student and youth organisations, explained the front’s reasons for its declaration of support.

“After the 2010 general election, the entire country will be enslaved by the military forever so it’s time [for the people] to show the military regime their unity by joining with all ethnic communities,” Pan Thu San told Mizzima. “We’re extending our support to this statement [Kalay Declaration] as we think it can be an outlet and solution to the current political stalemate if we can adopt a common platform.”

The Panglong Agreement was a deal reached between the Burmese government under Aung San and the Shan, Kachin and Chin peoples on February 12, 1947, which accepted in principle “Full autonomy in internal administration for the Frontier Areas” and envisioned the creation of a Kachin State by the Constituent Assembly (Burma’s first post-independence parliament). The deal came almost a year after the First Panglong Conference was held in the town of the same name in the south of Shan State.

“The Panglong conference gave its priority to equality. This second Panglong conference will be our lifeline as the current activities of the military regime do not include ethnic rights. So we extend our support to this statement as we think we should do like that”, Pan Thu San said.

The front is said to have around 700 members across the country.

The declaration calling for a fresh Panglong conference has been signed by National League for Democracy (NLD) leaders Tin Oo and Win Tin, Committee Representing the People’s Parliament (CRPP) secretary Aye Thar Aung, Mon national leaders Nai Ngwe Thein and Nai Tun Thein, veteran politicians Thakin Thein Maung, Ohn Maung and Nyunt Thein and more than 50 student and youth leaders.

“We’re prepared to get signatures of top leaders. This is … preliminary groundwork for convening the second Panglong conference. This is not a signature campaign but a plea for a decision on a common position of unity, dialogue and union affairs. We agreed on these principles,” 88 Generation Students leader Phyo Min Thein told Mizzima.

Negotiations with political parties for their response to the declaration would continue after the November 7 national election polling date, he said.

“They [contesting political parties] are contesting in this election with the expectation of change. It will be easy for us to negotiate with them after they realise the election cannot bring about change,” Phyo Min Thein said.

Reportedly, more political leaders from the states and divisions will also sign the declaration.

Dr. Aye Maung, chairman of the Rakhine National Democratic Party (RNDP), which will contest in the upcoming election supported the call for convening a second Panglong conference and said that ethnic unity should have already existed.

At its founding ceremony on Sunday, the ZNC awarded its annual Hero of National Reconciliation prize to Win Tin of the NLD. The ZNC contested in the 1990 general election and won two seats. This year, it refused to re-register the party with the junta’s electoral watchdog, the Union Election Commission, citing the upcoming poll’s lack of freedom and fairness.

Junta accused of slowing, cutting Net ahead of polls

Wednesday, 27 October 2010 01:07 Myint Maung

New Delhi (Mizzima) - Burmese internet users on the Bagan Net provider are having their connections cut regularly and when working, they slow to a crawl, according to cybercafé owners and surfers.

With little more than a week until election day, Burma’s Bagan Net internet service from Myanmar Teleport had been very poor for the past three days, they said, adding that they had no warning of impending difficulties.

“Bagan Net told us nothing … . The internet connection has been cut frequently but we can access local websites such as Myanmar Times online and People Magazine’s website. Although we could access our e-mail occasionally, after 10 minutes of use, the connection breaks down. Sometimes, we can use just about five minutes”, a cybercafé owner in Kyauktada Township, downtown Rangoon, told Mizzima.

The Burmese junta’s severe censorship laws and poor development of networks has earned Burma’s internet access environment the pejorative nickname of the “Myanmar Wide Web”.

An editor from a weekly journal told Mizzima: “I think that the closer we come to election day, the more often connections will be cut. I think their [the Burmese junta’s] intention is to block the flow of information out of the country. Not only internet connections, but also phone links have been disturbed. People think the junta is doing it intentionally”.

Because of the poor internet connection, the number of Net users had declined, another cybercafé owner said.

“Just a few people came to use the internet. They used to use Facebook and Google Talk, but these days, they could not access them … my cybercafé has nearly been empty,” the owner from Thingangyun Township told Mizzima.

An internet user said: “We can’t use the internet. Some cybercafés were closed. One of my friends who needed a Departure Form [D Form] to go to a foreign country, could not apply online as the government’s D Form site was down. We haven’t been able to surf other sites as well. I went to many cybercafés … but the connection was down at all of them.”

Web connections in Arakan, Kachin, and Karen states and Tenasserim, Mandalay and Sagaing Divisions have also been very slow.

A Bagan Net employee said that he was unaware of when connections would be restored.

An official in charge of the provider said connections were under maintenance, according to a cybercafé owner in South Okkalapa Township, Rangoon Division.

Since the monk-led “saffron revolution” of 2007, the junta has strictly controlled access to the internet. During the anti-government protests that year, the junta shut down all services out of the country, claiming a break in an underwater cable.

Net users and observers have accused the junta of again disturbing services intentionally as the election, to be held on November 7, draws near.

Nearly 60,000 Burmese have their own internet connections, according to figures from the Ministry of Communication, Post and Telegraph.

While Burma has been connected to the World Wide Web since 2000, the junta considers use of the internet so threatening that just connecting can be seen, under its laws, as a dissident act. The military government restricts access using censoring software that blocks sites, especially free online e-mail and pornography. The government also charges exorbitant fees for access.
Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Businessmen voters remain undecided

Tuesday, 26 October 2010 00:29 Myint Maung

New Delhi (Mizzima) - The following is the fifth in a series featuring opinions from a cross-section of Burmese society on the nation’s political climate and the upcoming national elections. Reporters chose the subjects at random, however for this instalment, Mizzima spoke only to businessmen.

With 12 days until election day, four of the five businessmen from as many townships in three divisions said they remained undecided about their votes.

Hotelier, Maymyo (Pyinoolwin) Township, Mandalay Division

“I haven’t decided which party I should cast my vote for. No political party has conducted electoral campaigns in Pyinoolwin. People [here] … don’t seem interested in the forthcoming election. Political parties haven’t conducted canvassing for votes as this is the town of a military outpost. I think I won’t vote as I don’t know which parties will contest in Pyinoolwin”

Insecticide retailer, Mandalay city

“Everything is as usual. I haven’t decided which party I should support. Although political parties have conducted campaigns in my constituency, I missed them because I’m usually at my shop … If I have to vote, I may vote for this party [Union Solidarity and Development Party, USDP]. Even if I don’t vote for it, I’m sure it’ll win.”

Bean trader, Taungdwingyi Township, Magway Division

“I’m going to vote in the election but I haven’t decided which party to vote for. I’m still just observing the political parties.”

Electrical retailer Rangoon

“I haven’t decided whether I should vote or not. I’m ambivalent. I think the election will not be fair, so sometimes I think I shouldn’t vote. On the other hand, I think I should vote for the pro-democracy parties. If I choose to vote, I’ll vote for pro-democracy parties. But I haven’t decided.”

Clothing industrialist, Monywa Township, Sagaing Division

“To be honest, I don’t want to vote … as Aung San Suu Kyi’s party is boycotting the election. Political parties haven’t canvassed my ward. I’m not interested in the campaigns of political parties. I want to dedicate myself to my work.

Junta losing political war against the KIO?

Tuesday, 26 October 2010 09:03 Nyo Ohn Myint

Chiang Mai (Thailand) – The recent pressure being levelled against the Kachin Independence Organisation by the Burmese junta follows a period of relatively smooth relations. Unlike some other armed ethnic groups, KIO leaders have continually sought to avoid confrontation with the Burmese military since accepting a ceasefire deal in 1994.

Meanwhile, Kachin leaders have groomed a new generation of KIO and civil society young people to continue the goals of the Kachin in a future Burma, envisioning the various generations working together. But, well aware of this strategy, Burmese authorities are attempting to pre-empt Kachin elders from playing a role in the state’s political developments.

The Kachin people, for their part, having never been won over by the Burmese junta, are prepared to support state governance under the administration of the KIO and its antecedents.

The regime’s approach in confronting armed ethnic outfits such as the KIO came about as a means to defuse domestic pressure mounting from Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) in the early 1990s. Specifically, a policy of “divide and rule” adopted from the British colonial administration was employed to drive a wedge between the democratic movement led by Suu Kyi and ethnic armed struggles.

Kachin leaders felt junta representative Khin Nyunt, who oversaw the ceasefire initiatives, could understand the demands of ethnic peoples, even though the former intelligence chief never promised any type of federal system or separation of powers for the states. Instead, pressure was placed on the Kachin and others to work within the framework of the National Convention, a critical component of the regime’s political “road map”.

However, things started to go drastically wrong from the ethnic ceasefire groups’ perspective after Khin Nyunt was purged in 2004, as they lost a critical line of direct access to the country’s political decision-making matrix. Instead, communication between ceasefire parties and the government was demoted to state and local levels. The national government concerned itself solely with the provision of commercial benefits. Ethnic leaders were left to wait and see regarding the future of any political developments.

Accordingly, ceasefire groups had hoped this year’s general election would provide an alternative means by which to deal with political matters, including possible statehood. But facing stringent restraints in the areas of time, resources and electoral laws, the junta has had an easy go of recruiting Kachins and others to back government-supported parties and marginalise the political clout of the KIO and like-minded outfits.

The uncertainty surrounding relations with Naypyidaw has led many ethnic leaders along the Sino-Burmese border to seek Chinese assistance, requesting the presence of Chinese leaders at the border in the hope of convincing Beijing and Kunming authorities to support the desires of Burma’s ethnic communities. However, it has been a difficult sell, as ethnic leaders are well aware of China’s entrenched national interests in the Burmese state.

China, for its part, also tasted the effects of 30,000 refugees flooding into the country from Burma in the wake of last year’s Burmese military offensive in the Kokang region. Beijing is thus quite reluctant to give the go-ahead to Burmese officials in the liquidation of the KIO and other ethnic forces operating along their shared border.

The bottom line is that China will not tolerate instability in Burma. As such, China will only have more problems if the Burmese regime moves against the KIO and other ceasefire groups; a predicament only compounded with the probable involvement of international organisations, including humanitarian and religious groups.

“A major offensive against the KIO … is very unlikely,” a source close to the Chinese government said. “China will not allow any civil war along the border with Yunnan province.”

Instead, observers assess current military manoeuvring on the part of the Burmese regime as an attempt to pressure Beijing to convince ethnic ceasefire groups to accept the regime’s Border Guard Force proposal.

With both Naypyidaw and ethnic forces lobbying Chinese officials for political backing, one source concluded “neither would get any concrete assurance from Beijing, with Beijing only encouraging talks and a peaceful solution”.

Either way, the Burmese regime is confronting a realisation that it has lost its ability to control political influence in Kachin state and other ethnic areas straddling the Chinese border.

Nyo Ohn Myint is chairman of the National League for Democracy (Liberated Area) foreign affairs committee based in Thailand.

Property worth US$3m lost in Laiza market blaze

Tuesday, 26 October 2010 08:51 Phanida

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Incenses sticks are suspected in causing a fire at a market early yesterday morning in the Kachin stronghold of Laiza near the Sino-Burmese border. The blaze left about three billion kyat (about US$3 million) in damage, the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) said.

One hundred and six shops at Market No. 1 that sell clothes, cosmetics, drugs, kitchen appliances and gold, nine houses and the Ward Two Peace and Development Council Office, were gutted in the blaze, KIO said.

“According to our estimation, property worth three billion kyat was lost in the fire,” KIO Fire and Rescue Committee secretary Colonel Naw Oun told Mizzima.

The fire started in a clothing shop owned by a Chinese couple at 12:30 a.m. yesterday, a victim said, and firemen had quelled the flames by 3 a.m.

“We heard the Chinese couple lit an incense stick, and the fire started from it,” a resident said. That information however has yet to be corroborated.

As the couple had fled, the KIO said it had informed the China liaison, market management and border-trade offices seeking their arrest. It also on Monday formed the fire and rescue committee to provide help to victims of the blaze.

Retailers usually lived in their shops so a total of 67 victims had been displaced and were taking refuge at the Laiza Hotel, Kachin Baptist Church, and Laiza High School, the KIO said. It added it would donate 100 million kyat (US$100,000) to the victims.

Meanwhile, the 50th anniversary of the KIO was held at the Sinpraw Majoi public hall in Laiza on the same day, and Sayargyi Khun Naung from the KIO’s education department read a speech on behalf of the chairman.

Despite the ceasefire between KIO and the junta signed in 1994, KIO has rejected the junta’s demand that it bring its troops under Burmese Army command with a Border Guard Force (BGF). The state-run newspaper, New Light of Myanmar, on October 15 labelled the KIO an “insurgent group”.

Death toll in oil pipeline fire reaches at least 50: witness

Tuesday, 26 October 2010 22:23 Ko Wild

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - An oil fire that started on Sunday as villagers in central Burma skimmed fuel from a leaking pipeline is under control, villagers and police have said. At least 15 people died and up to 100 were injured in the initial blast, hospital staff and police added,

One villager today however said that as many as 50 had died, and that the blaze was only extinguished this morning.

A leaking section of the oil pipeline reportedly exploded when an unsuspecting villager neared locals collecting crude oil spilling from a faulty joint in the pipe, according to Myitchay sub-township police, near Nyaunghla village, Myitchay, in Pakokku district, Magway Division, central Burma.

The BBC had reported yesterday however that residents - speaking anonymously to the Associated Press news agency - said the huge explosion went off when a villager had struck a match to see how much oil had been collected in drums near the pipeline, which linked Kyaukkhet village to Ayadaw Township in Sagaing Division further north.

At least 13 oil collectors from the villages of Nyaunghla, Theindaw, Aigyi and Kangyisu died instantly in the blast and about 100 people were seriously injured, according to sources from Myitchay police station and Myitchay hospital.

Myitchay, about 10 miles (16 kilometres) north of the ancient city of Pagan, is at the centre of Burma’s onshore oil industry.

The people had gathered to collect the leaked oil as they could fetch about 2,500 kyat (US$2.50) per gallon (3.8 litres), a villager said.

A welded joint in the more than 10-year-old section of the 10-inch (25-centimetre) diameter pipeline started leaking on Sunday, and residents from nearby villages had gathered to collect the valuable commodity when then the blast occurred at about 7 p.m. on Sunday evening.

“The fire didn’t spread anywhere but was fueled from the oil soaked into the ground so it was difficult to extinguish. It is still burning a little and couldn’t yet be doused completely. Now they are piling earth on the site with a bulldozer,” an officer from Myitchay police station late yesterday told Mizzima, on condition of anonymity. He failed to specify who “they” were.

About six fire engines from Pakokku, Kyunchaung, Chauk and Myitchay towns rushed to the scene and worked to extinguish the fire, bringing it under control yesterday, police said.

“The pipeline is made of steel but because of rust and normal wear and tear, it began leaking. The situation was worsened by floods and landslides at a nearby creek. An unsuspecting man had brought his lighted cheroot close to people struggling to collect the leaked oil when the blast went off … the case has not yet been registered,” the policeman said.

A Myitchay resident who was at the scene after the blaze said, “I found six bodies there. The injured people had serious burns and some were left with only a little hair. The rest had burns over the entire bodies. Children, men and women are among them,” the officer said.

Reports yesterday said the injured were admitted to Myitchay, Kyunchaung and Pakokku hospitals. A doctor from the 16-bed Myitchay sub-township hospital told Mizzima 62 patients were initially brought to his hospital but that 47 patients in critical condition had been transferred to Pakokku. A man and a woman had succumbed to their injuries at his hospital, he said.

However, one Myitchay resident today gave a very different account of the timing for the fire being put out and the overall casualty toll.

“Many people died in the incident. The fire was only extinguished this morning and villagers found about 40 human skulls where the fire had broken out,” the resident told Mizzima. “Nine more villagers died of their injuries at Pakkoku Hospital this morning, a doctor said … more than 50 people died in the fire.”

Contradictory information was also received today from the policeman at Myitchay police station, who said the fire was extinguished at 11:55 p.m. last night and that the exact casualty toll remained unknown.

Mizzima yesterday repeatedly tried in vain to contact Pakokku hospital and Pakokku fire brigade to obtain further details about the patients.

Meanwhile, a gas pipeline near Kyunchaung where the government-owned fertiliser plant staff live, had also burst but there was no fire, a villager said yesterday.

Villagers from Kyaukhwet, 30 miles from Myitchay, fist dug oil wells in the area using China-made engines and crown wheels from car differential gearing about 10 years ago while General Khin Nyunt was still prime minister. When the amateur drillers struck oil, the ruling military government seized the field, designating it a government-owned venture, a villager said.

The officials concerned had never monitored safety or the integrity of the pipeline since its construction 10 years ago, he said.
Monday, October 25, 2010

Elections and the role of ‘private’ publishers

Monday, 25 October 2010 20:55 Mizzima News

New Delhi (Mizzima) - Local and international media have Burma under a microscope as the 2010 general elections draw near, with constant news, analyses, articles and interviews. But amid the country’s notoriously heavy censorship, the local independent media have been able to exercise relative fairness in reporting ahead of the November 7 election, the first nationwide polls for 20 years, according to some private news journal editors.

Even so, the state censorship has restricted news faulting the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and news and articles recounting anything about the 1990 general elections, won in a landslide by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party. She remains under house arrest after spending at least 15 of the years since her win in detention, the current term against which she is appealing in Burma’s top court.

Mizzima spoke to the editor of a journal that mainly publishes news and asked about the conditions under which journals are being printed in the run-up to the elections.

“We can write … encouraging the public to vote in the election. But news and columns attacking parties, especially the USDP, are rejected [by state censors],” the editor said. “We have to take that kind of news very seriously.”

“It is also unacceptable to retell some of the events of 1990. We can’t report how free it was or how it was conducted, but on many other matters we can report and print stories,” he said.

Some Rangoon-based popular journals, such as The Myanmar Times, The Yangon Times, The Weekly, The Voice Weekly and The Monitor, have reported on the elections in separate sections.

An editor from another journal said that there was a new openness towards political coverage.

“If we look at the past 20 years, this is the freest time to write about news on political parties and to report on politics in general. In the past, some elected representatives from political parties were imprisoned for their political activities and detained for various reasons. We couldn’t report about these politicians. Now that the election is going to be held soon, especially since the polls were announced, we have been quite free to report about political parties.

“It is more open than before,” the second journal editor said.

However, a Rangoon resident said people read journals because they wanted to know about the political parties and candidates standing in the election, but financial constraints meant the number of people who have access to these journals was still low.

“The sector of the population that can afford to buy these journals is quite small. It is impossible to gain a proper picture about the parties and their candidates … We find journals to read about political parties, their candidates, what they promise to do for the people, how the situation is different between the past election and this one, and how they can promote human rights and freedom. Then we can obtain a balanced view of their positions.”

However, a female resident of Mandalay said many voters were uninterested in the election.

“I see many journals report this and that political news but I don’t read them because I can’t understand the issues and I’m not interested in the subject. I can’t spend much time thinking about it as I’m far too busy,” the woman said.

Dr. Than Win, an organiser of the National Democratic Force (NDF) party, which broke away from Suu Kyi’s NLD party to take part in the polls, spoke to Mizzima about how private media was one way around obstacles the junta had put up preventing parties’ access to state-run media.

The political parties were allowed to use state media only once for canvassing, but the independent candidates were prevented from enjoying the same right to broadcast their policies on state television and were rendered ineligible to state them in daily newspapers. For that reason, the local private media outlets have been essential for politicians to reach the public, he said.

“The [private] media is very important to our political activities because they and our policies are not reported in the state media. We were only allowed to broadcast once on state television. But people can access quite freely what political parties are doing in the private journals, which are published weekly. As we can’t access state media, we have to rely on private media. As media are reporting our activities, people will know what political parties are doing and it could raise their interest. I believe that in this way, they will help us to victory in the election.”

U Zozam, chairman of the Chin National Party said that when parties were reporting their policies and positions in the state media, the junta had heavily censored them.

“On state TV, I talked about how the Union Solidarity and Development Association was transformed into the USDP but my comments were not aired. We can access [the electorate] through TV in the countryside but many journals aren’t distributed here. I stated my party’s policies for about 15 minutes on state TV and almost five minutes were cut. As we are living in the Chin mountains, it is very difficult to explain policies to people in a 10-minute speech.”

While the political parties have praised the role of the private media, state media reported last week that Thein Soe, chairman of the junta’s electoral watchdog, the Union Election Commission, had banned international media and independent monitors from entering Burma in the run-up to the polls.

Burma’s press freedom flourished prior to the 1962 military coup, making it one of the freest among Asian countries for independent media, with more than 30 daily newspapers published. Now, Burma publishes only two state-controlled daily newspapers and Paris-based Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index ranks it 174 out of 178 countries.

Oil pipeline blast in Magway kills at least 13

Monday, 25 October 2010 21:50

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – A leaking oil pipeline exploded yesterday killing at least 13 people in Magway Division, central Burma, according to villagers and wire reports.

Witnesses said the explosion had occurred as a large crowd of poor villagers gathered around the leak to collect oil at a site near Nyaunghla village in Pakokku District.

Local officials reached for contact said that at least 13 people had died in the explosion. Villagers however told Mizzima the real death toll was much higher.

Agence France-Presse, quoting an official who requested anonymity, reported that at least 100 people were injured in the blast.

Villagers also said the government-owned pipeline was in poor condition and was poorly maintained.
Saturday, October 23, 2010

Gender discrimination in authoritarian Burma

Saturday, 23 October 2010 15:07 Mizzima News

With women’s rights on the decline in Burma, Mizzima reporter The The interviewed Thin Thin Aung from the Women’s League of Burma (WLB) in the run-up to the 2010 general election.

Q: The WLB has outlined various discriminations against women and gender inequality in Burma. So, which rights are being violated and how is violence against women being committed? What are the reasons for these violations?

A: Many women in Burma are suffering from oppression, discrimination, sexual harassment and sexual violence and it is rampant across the country. I find two reasons when I analyze the cases. The root cause of these violations is the growing militarism in Burma since the military took power in 1962 and the military culture that has developed since then. The second reason regards cultural and traditional practices followed by all ethnic races across the country that discriminate against women. Speaking to the first reason, torture and persecution against people are being committed by authorities in many areas in Burma. Under these circumstances, the security scenario has worsened and women are suffering from various types of oppression.

Q: Burma is a signatory country to the ‘Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women’ (CEDAW). In which areas has Burma failed to implement the conditions of CEDAW?

A: The military regime of Burma signed CEDAW in 1997. As a signatory country of CEDAW, it is automatically committed to implement all the provisions in CEDAW. But I don’t see the junta effectively implementing articles on the promotion of status of women. They are implementing the eradication of female trafficking plan. I see they are speeding up this eradication plan. But, they have failed to implement the promotion of health and livelihood for women and also failed to enact the necessary laws in this regard. The promotion of the status of women must include tackling issues regarding the elimination of women in the political decision-making process and decreasing job opportunities. These issues must be implemented and tackled by special projects and schemes.

Moreover, the regime has responsibility as a signatory country of CEDAW to eradicate discrimination against women in education. But, women are still discriminated against in education under the junta’s constitution and existing educational laws. Though admitting women to some learning institutions in Burma such as medicine and engineering, qualifying marks for women are higher than required for male counterparts. This is a direct violation by the government.

Q: Do you study the policies of political parties contesting the election?

A: Some parties include some issues on women’s affairs in their policy papers such as promising gender equality and to enact laws to safeguard the security of women. They are also promising job opportunities for women and the eradication of female trafficking. But, the points these political parties make are general and as such fail to effectively tackle the root causes. For instance, the policies mentioned in the manifesto of the Wunthanu NLD (a break-away group from NLD) are shocking to me. I said before that traditions and cultural practices in Burma are one of the root causes of discrimination against women in Burma. However, they look to promote women who can preserve the national culture. I am shocked to see these words in their election manifesto. What is the national culture? When we analyze it we can see the national culture is a set of disciplines that dictates to women how to behave, how to live and how to preserve the culture. These points include many violations against women. Also, some women leaders and politicians have said in their speeches that there is no discrimination against women in Burma. Women in Burma are enjoying gender equality, they say. It is very dangerous for us, because this is the attitude of urban people, the urban middle class and women intellectuals in Burma.

after-tribunal-womenThe attitude that there is no discrimination against women is embedded in the brains of these women. At the same time, they are saying they will fight for women’s rights. They must admit there are discriminations against women and no gender equality in Burma before advocating for women’s rights in Burma. If there is no discrimination against women and there is gender equality, they have nothing to do with women’s rights. So, they must first admit and recognize discriminations against women and the lack of gender equality in Burma. Only after recognizing these things can they develop a programme on how to tackle these issues. But, I think they are just making superficial points in an attempt to lure women votes for their parties.

Q: After this election do you see any prospect for better security and social welfare for women and a reduction in violence against women?

A: I don’t see any chance. Even after the election it will be difficult to see the elimination of violence against women, forced labor and the trafficking of women and children. The military dictatorship is the root cause of discrimination against women and violence against women. Throughout the reign of the military regime, ethnic women living in frontier areas have constantly suffered more violence, including sexual violence. Thus, violence against women can only be eradicated after the elimination of the military dictatorship. However, the main purpose of this election is to make the 2008 constitution come into force. Many provisions in this constitution suggest the continuance of military supremacy in our country.

For instance, article 445 of the constitution provides impunity for the military junta with respect to any violation of human rights. By seeing this article, it is very clear that military rule and supremacy will continue in Burma, as well as these violations. This provision seems to encourage predators to commit more crimes against women.

Q: What points in the constitution are the most important and dangerous for Burmese women?

A: If you see the provisions of this constitution you will note there are no provisions guaranteeing gender equality. Moreover, there are specific provisions that discriminate against women in education and job opportunities.

For instance, please see chapter 8 of this constitution, which says ‘women shall be entitled to the same rights and salaries as received by men in respect of similar work,’ and that there shall be ‘no discrimination for or against any citizen of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar in appointing or assigning duties to civil service personnel.’ But, the exception to these clauses is found in article 352, which says, ‘however nothing in this section shall prevent appointment of men to positions that are suitable for men only.’ So, I’d like to point out this is absolutely unfair and unjust to women.

Another dangerous point in this constitution concerns how action can be taken against servicemen and military personnel. Military personnel can only be tried by court martial under military laws for whatever crimes they commit. They cannot be tried by civilian courts for committing crimes against civilians. The constitution says ‘in the adjudication of military justice, defence service personnel shall be tried by court martial.’ Women will thus face more difficulties in seeking justice in civilian courts when crimes are committed against them by soldiers.

Q: I heard that the WLB is trying to put Burmese Army generals on trial at the International Criminal Court. What are your continuing efforts in this work?

A: Since we cannot seek justice from the un-independent judiciary system in Burma, we must put them on trial at the International Criminal Court for violations of international law. They have committed a lot of war crimes and inhumane crimes that need to be investigated by a UN commission of inquiry. About ten countries have already given their endorsement. So, we have a plan to enlist more countries in support of this commission of inquiry.

Q: In Burma, more than half of eligible voters are women. As a women’s rights activist, what would you like to say to women voters?

A: When you see the result of the 1990 general election, there were only 15 female MPs-elect out of a total of 485. That is only three percent. This percentage is very low by international standards. Under this constitution too, 25 percent of total seats are reserved in both legislative bodies for the armed forces, but there are no female military personnel in the armed forces.

Further, CEDAW calls for more participation of women in the decision-making process, at least 30 to 40 percent. But the provisions in the junta’s constitution are opposite to the CEDAW convention. So, we need to fight against this constitution. We must conduct legal reform by rectifying unjust provisions against women in this constitution, such as seeing women only as mothers linked with their children. We must amend these unjust and unfair laws. So, I’d like to say that women should resolutely and relentlessly oppose this election and try to amend this constitution.

Cyclone damage spurs calls for aid as 3,000 homes suffer

Saturday, 23 October 2010 22:07 Mizzima News

Rangoon (Mizzima) – Cyclone Giri has carved a swathe of damage across dozens of townships in its path after it crossed the west coast of Burma yesterday, residents said, adding their calls for urgent relief aid and expertise.

The Category Four storm made landfall between the port of Sittwe and Kyaukphyu, Arakan State, at around 5 p.m. yesterday, with winds of up to 120 miles per hour (193 km/h) per hour, the state weather bureau reported last night.

Telephone contact with the area was interrupted overnight after the cyclone hit but a resident of Kyaukphyu contacted by phone on Saturday morning said the area had suffered badly, Reuters news agency and Mizzima reporters said.

“Everything is gone. All the trees and lamp posts have fallen. Many buildings were damaged. Many people were left homeless,” resident Ba Phyu told Reuters.

Residents reported widespread damage also across the severely hit townships of Myebon and Minbya and Sittwe, Ann, Pauktaw and Manaung, which had received sustained strong gales.

“We heard that Myebon was the most seriously damaged of all. We have strongly urged community organisations to carry out relief work. Our team members will go to Arakan State to that end,” Rangoon-based Arakan Friends Association secretary Tun Naing said.

“Currently, public transport is unavailable because of the traditional Thadingyut Festival [of lights, usually held at the end of Buddhist Lent]. As soon as that becomes available, we will leave for the state.”

Another Kyaukphyu resident provided more details on the extent of the damage, and told how earlier predictions of a storm surge hitting the area had become a reality.

“The cyclone brought a storm surge that was up to a man’s height … I heard that the power cuts would last for a month. I saw many local Red Cross members on the roads. But I see they’ve done nothing,” the resident from Kyaukphyu said.

He added that more than 3,000 houses, nearly all of the homes in 10 wards of Kyaukphyu, were damaged in the storm.

“There was no news of any casualties but the [nearby] dam was breached. Our town was seriously damaged. I didn’t think that the cyclone would be as fierce as that,” a resident from Saiditaung Ward in Kyaukphyu said.

All of the palm plantations and salt pans were also damaged.

Arakan Friends today opened a donation centre in Thamain Bayan Road in Tarmway Township, Rangoon, to help victims of the cyclone. The charity had received about 10 million kyat (about US$10,000), Tun Naing said.

More than 70 Arakanese social organisations will hold a meeting about potential cyclone relief efforts in the Arakan religious hall at the eastern archway of Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon tomorrow.

Giri spurred fears of a repeat of the destruction caused by Cyclone Nargis, which hit the Irrawaddy Delta region in May 2008, triggered a huge sea surge, killed at least 140,000 people, and affected up to 2.4 million people, making many homeless.

British analysts Tropical Storm Risk (TSR) of University College London at 9:30 p.m. Burma time (3 p.m. GMT) positioned the storm about 50 kilometres east of Sittwe, with maximum winds of 92 miles per hour.

Giri winds build in Arakan, ‘contact lost with residents’

Saturday, 23 October 2010 01:03 Thein Zaw, Khaing Suu

New Delhi (Mizzima) – Cyclone Giri hit the western coast of Burma near Kyaukphyu, Arakan State at 5 p.m. yesterday, with winds of up to 120 miles per hour (193 km/h) per hour, the state weather bureau reported last night.

At 12:30 a.m. Burma time (6pm GMT), British analysts Tropical Storm Risk, at University College London, placed Giri over the western coast of Burma between Kyaukphyu and Sittwe, and said its winds had increased to a sustained 144 mph. Their storm tracker data puts already flood-ravaged Mandalay Division in its path.

The “red-level” cyclone swept through Kyaukphyu Township, and would trigger a storm surge as high as 12 feet (3.6 metres) there and in Ramree, Manaung, Sittwe, Pauktaw, Myebon, and Ponnagyun townships of the state, the Department of Meteorology and Hydrology said.

After the cyclone hit Burma’s western Arakan coastal areas, it may move to the northeast, bringing heavy rainfall and landslides to Arakan and Chin states, Magway, Mandalay, and Sagaing divisions, it warned.

During the cyclone, wind speeds of 80-100 mph were expected over Arakan coastal areas and 45 mph over the Irrawaddy Delta region, the department said. The authorities also warned motorboats and fishing vessels to remain close to shore.

Mizzima made numerous attempts to contact residents from Arakan State on Friday evening, but in vain.

Union Solidarity Development Party (USDP) candidate Dr. Tun Zan Aung, an ethnic Arakanese party member from Rangoon, told Mizzima: “I was able to contact my relatives in Manaung until around 12 a.m., but later, I could not. Before noon, the storm had not reached the town … Just a strong gale was blowing and rain was falling at that time. We haven’t been able to contact Manaung until now.”

A Toungup resident told Mizzima: “I heard that the cyclone severely hit Manaung and Kyaukphyu. I was able to contact my friends there until the evening. They said a very high tide had struck and that a strong gale had been blowing since noon. Currently, there’s heavy rain falling in the area.”

UN panel on North Indian Tropical Cyclones in 2000 agreed to assign names to the tropical cyclones in the North Indian Ocean. After long deliberations among the member countries, the naming of depressions developing into a Cyclonic Storm in the North Indian Ocean began from September 2004, with the first name assigned to Cyclone Onil, which developed over the Arabian Sea in late September 2004. As with Cyclone Giri, that name was assigned by the Indian weather bureau, IMD.

Each country gave eight names for the cyclones and a list of 64 names was prepared. It was also decided that the eight countries would take turns to name the cyclones. The IMD said at the time: “The practice of naming storms was adopted because it was proved that short names are easier to remember than numbers and other technical terms.”

Giri is the Sanskrit word for mountain. As a Sanskrit honorific it means “venerable, elevated, worshipful”.
Friday, October 22, 2010

Amartya Sen speaks to complexities of change in Burma

Friday, 22 October 2010 13:27 Joseph Ball

(Mizzima) – In a quip-laden keynote address, Indian award-winning economist Amartya Sen recently put forth his analysis of the present state of Burmese society and the means by which change can come to the blighted Southeast Asian country.

The Harvard Professor of Indian origin who spent the early years of his childhood in Burma was speaking on Wednesday in Washington D.C. at a conference entitled, “A Return to Civilian Rule? The Prospects for Democracy and Rights in Burma After the Election.”

With Sen’s prominent use of verbiage such as “the new Myanmar is actually the hell-hole version of the old Burma” and “Over the last couple of decades [in Burma] there has been nothing other than downs and downs,” it would be easy to conclude that the address was little more than a colourful regurgitation of the associated evils of the existing government.

However, while clearly a call for the realization of a more democratic system of governance in Burma, the speech also offered a challenging insight into the complexities facing current strategies aimed at facilitating meaningful change.

One area, though, from which the Nobel laureate clearly does not anticipate any change to emerge is in the convening of elections. Of the November polls, Sen remarked, “Expectations that things will change after the election are completely contrary to reasoned analysis.”

The elections, according to Sen, are purely to entertain the global community, as the regime has never shown any inclination toward prioritizing the interests of its own citizens and faces no serious threat from those inside Burma.

Yet, he also cautions, “It would be a great mistake not to see from the perspective of the [Burmese] government what it sees as the well-being of the people from its own perspective…they [Burma’s junta] are not unreasoned thinkers.”

As such, there appears to be a gap in understanding on the part of the global community in appreciating the mentality of Burma’s rulers, who are said to offer a countervailing assessment regarding the needs of the Burmese populace.

For this reason, it is interesting that Sen laments the lack of willingness on the part of India to take a vocal position on the moral imperatives of change in Burma, as morality seldom offers ground for compromise or varying interpretations. Of even greater interest, however, is attention paid to the fact that India did speak of political morality when it lacked power, while it fails to do so now that it has achieved a modicum of international influence.

Yet, governments such as the United States and United Kingdom are seldom at a loss to take up the moral dais when confronting Burma, though embodying far greater international clout than that of India. What this seems to indicate is that morality is a poor substitute for a policy of national interest. The question, as Sen seems to indicate, thus becomes one of marrying the moral discourse to that of more tangible national interest.

New Delhi’s present policy vis-à-vis Burma “breaks my heart”, in the words of the Sen, who sees in the calculations of Indian policymakers an absence of a need to respond to critical domestic voices, instead opting to “partially reinvent [India] in imitation of China.”

Nonetheless, while critical of Chinese policy regarding Burma, in addition to the policies of India and other regional states, Sen singles out China for Beijing’s dedicated concern in uplifting the welfare and livelihood of the Chinese citizenry. The conclusion is eerily reminiscent of former Singaporean leader Lee Kuan Yew’s assessment that the Burmese generals are basically incompetent for running such a resource-rich country into the ground. However, the message is also clear that electoral politics is but one component in governance and legitimization.

Much of the Nobel laureate’s speech was devoted to an assessment of international strategy toward fomenting change in Burma. To this end, Sen offered little optimism in the issuance of public statements denigrating conditions inside Burma or offering muted hopes of naturally occurring post-election change, instead postulating that Burma’s “military rulers are happy to have their ears full, as long as their hands are free.”

What is needed, challenges Sen, is the creation of an integrated movement and increased awareness across the international theatre, affecting the actions of all agents.

Sanctions targeting arms, financial resources and travel bans were singled out as weapons at the disposal of the international community. Though the conclusion is arguably consistent with the creation of an integrated global movement, at the very best this appears a partially tested (and failed?) strategy whose fruition can only be realized in a greatly altered global environment.

However, the assessment does challenge ingrained opposition positions, for if a truly integrated global policy is to be created, the demonization of China, to take one example, would surely have to be replaced with enhanced engagement and empathy.

A far more readily implementable suggestion prospered during the address seeks the advent of substantive debate regarding post-authoritarian Burma, inclusive of the fate of those presently at the helm of the country’s political machinations.

Sen’s diagnosis of the disease gripping Burmese society may well be more or less accurate and his prescription for the global community a viable means of curing the Burmese state. But, it is without question an assessment begging a long-term lens through which to analyze the illness and upon which to graft a successful course of rehabilitation.

This, however, is not to be confused as a victory for those who today proactively abet the regime or are complicit by virtue of their inaction. To these governments and personalities Sen foretells, “The ghost of today will haunt the present day collaborators of military butchers tomorrow.”

Amartya Sen is an unquestioned friend and ally of those who oppose authoritarian rule in Burma. But, it would be a mistake to take his overture this week as merely an opportunity for the political opposition and its international supporters to revel in the righteousness of their position.

While Sen minces no words in imploring the opposition to rid itself of defeatist language and incorporate the language of victory into its rhetoric, this, it is argued, needs to happen simultaneous with a critical examination of the present situation and a realistic assessment of what needs to and can be done to realize and embrace a changed Burma.