Saturday, March 26, 2011

Burma Quake Update: Relief efforts underway


Friday, March 25, 2011

Earthquake residents say death toll now 104

Friday, 25 March 2011 21:29 Phanida

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – The unofficial earthquake death toll count has reached 104, according to information compiled on Friday by  residents of the quake zone in northeastern Burma.

The cracks split apart the whole section of the road.
Photo : Mizzima/Real Naing
According to local information, 47 people died in the Tarlay (Ta Lur) area; 22 in Kyakuni village in Mong Yaung Township;  29 the Mong Lin area, three in Tachilek and three in Naryaun.

Local sources in Tarlay said residents from there were still missing.

Burmese state-run media placed the number of dead at 74 on Friday afternoon, with 111 injured.

A Tachilek resident who traveled to Tarlay on Friday told Mizzima, ‘The earthquake was heavy in Tarlay. I saw many dead bodies in  coffins beside the road’.

Sources said the dead included victims in Kyakuni village who died while they were attending a Bible class and the church collapsed during the quake.

On Friday afternoon, Brig Gen Than Tun Oo, the commander of the Eastern Command, toured Tarlay and Mong Lin to inspect 300 soldiers who were carrying out rescue operations.

A total of 224 houses, six apartment blocks, 11 religious buildings and nine government buildings were destroyed in the Naryaung, Mong Yaung, Tachilek and Tarlay townships, state-run MRTV4 said on Friday afternoon.

Currently, UNICEF, World Vision, the Red Cross and international aid groups are carrying out rescue operations in the area.

Relief efforts underway for Shan quake victims

Friday, 25 March 2011 19:20 Mizzima News

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Local and international relief efforts are underway to help the victims of the earthquake that struck northeastern Burma on Thursday.

A house in Tachilek, Burma, where people are starting
to salvage debris for rebuilding after the earthquake
that struck on Thursday night, March 24, 2011. NGOs,
international relief agencies and the Burmese
government are starting to move into the remote area
to provide aid and make damage assessments.
Photo : Mizzima/Real Naing
According to a report from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs issued on Friday, the local authorities have been providing basic relief to affected households and the Burmese government’s National Disaster Preparedness Central Committee has deployed search and rescue and relief teams.

The death toll from the 6.8 earthquake that struck Shan State on Thursday evening stands at 74 people, with 111 people injured. But much of the affected region of Burma is remote and the full scale of the devastation and human toll has yet to be fully assessed.

This is the third earthquake to hit Burma this year. Quakes of 6.4 and 5.4 magnitude struck on February 4 and March 10 respectively, but no serious damage or casualties were reported.  This latest quake comes in the wake of the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan that left at least 27,000 dead or missing.

Access to some of the affected areas in Burma is difficult because of the terrain, poor roads and security restrictions. There have been reports of disruption of electricity, water supply and telecommunications in the affected areas. Key bridges have been reported damaged by the quake, according to sources who spoke with Mizzima.

UN agencies and local and foreign NGOs met in Rangoon on Friday morning to plan an emergency response.

As of Friday, UNICEF had dispatched field staff to carry out a need assessment survey. The organization plans to distribute health kits and water purification items.

World Vision International (WVI), an international NGO, has staff in Tachilek and Kengtung and is reported to have sent personnel to 20 villages in the Tar Lay and Mong Lin township areas where they are handing out food and water, following a request from the ruling State Peace and Development Council.  Further aid will be supplied following an assessment of the needs, according to the UN report.

The Myanmar Red Cross Society has dispatched 20 volunteers to collect information and offer basic assistance.

The UNHCR and the UNDP have expressed a willingness to help.

Website of meteorologist Tun Lwin hacked

Friday, 25 March 2011 19:14 Kyaw Kha

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – A Burmese hacker group that targets popular Burmese websites broke into the  Myanmar Climate Change Watch (MCCW) website created by noted meteorologist Dr. Tun Lwin.

Dr. Tun Lwin, a popular meteorologist, whose
website was hacked by a Burmese hackers'
group. Photo :
The website provides free up-to-date information on climate changes and weather news in Burma.

The hackers, known as the Blink Hacker Group (BHG), posted a notice on the website that said users’ passwords were kept in plain text format, which undermines user privacy, the group said.

They hacked the website first on March 11 and then posted the warning on the website on Thursday.

The warning directed the website owner to repair the flaw in storing passwords as soon as possible or otherwise ‘BHG would hack and destroy this website’.

The last posted update on the website was at 6:30 a.m. on Friday with the news of the 6.9 magnitude earthquake that struck Shan State, Burma, at 8:25 p.m. local time on Thursday.

Managing Director Moe Hein of Pioneer Web Line Co. said technicians would repair the hacked website as soon as possible.

‘We are now working to protect the website from hackers who could post false information and mislead people’, Moe Hein told Mizzima.

He said the website was technically insecure and needed upgrading to block hackers.

‘The hackers are Burmese nationals’, he said. ‘These hackers usually hack the popular websites and Tun Lwin is a “netizen” celebrity. Their aim is to draw attention by hacking the famous  websites’.

MCCW regularly posts weather news and warnings on the website and many people closely monitor it for the latest weather news.

Tun Lwin is the former director general of the Meteorology and Hydrology Department. He retired in 2009.

BHG hackers have broken into other popular websites devoted to the entertainment industry and e-commerce.

Burma Quake Update: 74 dead, 111 injured in Shan State

Friday, 25 March 2011 14:09 Jai Wan Mai

(Updated 5:45 p.m. local time)

New Delhi (Mizzima) – The earthquake in northeastern Burma on Thursday killed at least 74 people and injured 111 with the toll still rising, according to Burma state-run media on Friday afternoon.

A file photo of Tar Lay village on the road to Kyaing
Ton. A resident of nearby Tachilek said 11 people
died, 45 houses collapsed and four monasteries,
including Parhlaing, Fonekha and Naamkham
monasteries, were damaged in the village during
the earthquake Thursday night. Photo: Mizzima
State-run media said the quake’s epicentre was near Loimwe, as scattered reports began to trickle in from the remote region.

Three of the dead were from Tachilek Township, 11 from Ta Lur Township, 29 from Mong Lein village and 22 from Kyaukphyu village, according to a report on state-run TV.

Eight of the injured were from Tachilek Township, 29 from Ta Lur Township, three from Mong Yaung Township, 55 from Kyaukphyu village and 16 from Mong Lein Village.

A total of 224 houses, six apartment blocks, 11 religious buildings and nine government buildings were destroyed in the Naryaung, Mong Yaung, Tachilek and Ta Lur townships, authorities said.

Earlier, local residents told Mizzima that at least 20 people were killed in Mong Pyak in eastern Shan State.

Mong Pyak is about 30 kilometres from Tachilek, the Burmese border town opposite Mae Sai in northern Thailand.

According to residents, the three towns of Mong Lein, Ta Lur and Mong Pyak suffered heavy damage by the earthquake.

A witness told Mizzima that hospitals and government buildings in the townships collapsed and that many people were injured.

The Ta Lur bridge that links Tachilek and Keng Tung collapsed, he said. The bridge over the Nam Lein River provides the only road link between the two towns.

Concerned about further damage to the bridge, the local authorities have stopped people from using it. Travelers now use ferries to cross the river and pick up a ride with another vehicle on the other side.

The government has sent doctors to attend to the injured and survey the damage.

A Tachilek resident told Mizzima that people were too frightened to sleep in their homes on Thursday night. Further tremors at 6:25 a.m. on Friday drove people out of their homes again.

According to one resident: ‘The Tachilek people did not suffer much but many people from rural areas, such as Mong Ko and Mak Kur Se … were taken to Tachilek hospital’.

On Friday afternoon, the local authorities in the town were warning of another quake, which proved to be a false alarm.

The Ta Lur bridge that links Tachilek and Keng Tung
collapsed on Thursday night during the earthquake.
Travelers now use ferries to cross the Nam Lein
River and pick up a ride with another vehicle on the
other side. Photo : Mizzima/Real Naing
‘The authorities travelled around by car announcing by loudspeaker to live with utmost caution because further earthquakes are likely to hit within the next six hours’, a resident said at about 1 p.m. local time.

About 50 people are still taking refuge on the Shanyoma sports field in the town.

In Tarlay, 11 people died and 45 houses and four monasteries, including Parhlaing, Fonekha and Naamkham, collapsed, sources told Mizzima.

A resident of Ta Lur, 26 miles from Tachilek, said the death toll in his area was about 40 people, with some bodies still trapped in rubble and people still missing.

‘There are only 10 houses which were not destroyed by the earthquake’, he said.

NGO workers, police and firemen were working to rescue survivors and remove bodies, he said. The schools were destroyed.

The walls and entrance way to Siri Temple were also destroyed, he said. Currently, he said most villagers were seeking refuge next to the roads. NGO workers are giving villagers food.

He said reports indicated that all the buildings in Mong Lein village, seven miles from Ta Lur, were destroyed.

On the Thai side of the border, one woman was reportedly killed in Mae Sai when a wall in her house fell on her. Mae Sai Hospital is also reported to have been damaged and patients were evacuated from the building.

Parliamentary questions and motions leaked to media are rejected

Friday, 25 March 2011 12:54 Myo Thant

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – The Upper House speaker of the Burmese Parliament is rejecting all questions and motions submitted by members of Parliament which have been leaked to the media before being given to members.

A view of the new Burmese Parliament complex in
Naypyidaw, the capital. Photo : MRTV
A MP told Mizzima that speaker Khin Aung Myint said the questions and motions may be relevant, but they will rejected if they are made public beforehand.

Parliamentary rules require MPs to submit all motions and questions 10-days in advance to the office of the deputy director general of Parliament. Questions and motions which are approved are sent to all MPs in the respective houses one day in advance of when they will be heard.

Parliamentary rules forbid disclosing any proposed motions and questions before they are approved and distributed.

MPs in the Lower House said they have not had any problems over the submissions of questions and motions prior to discussion.

In Thursday’s joint session of Parliament, Agriculture and Irrigation Minister Htay Oo introduced a motion to oppose economic sanctions imposed on Burma. The motion will be discussed on Friday.

Opposition party MP Khin Maung Yee of the National Democratic Force (NDF) said his party supported lifting the sanctions. ‘Now the motion to be discussed is opposing such sanctions, not lifting the sanctions. So we have no reason to take part in this discussion’, he said.

A motion moved by MP Myat Nyarna Soe to build more special economic zones was defeated by 400 votes against and 129 votes for.

The Union Solidarity and Development Party MP and Ministry of Industry (1) Minister Aung Thaug raised a question as to whether the government had any plan to provide a stipend to students. Education Minister Dr. Chan Nyein replied that the government was providing stipends to more than 1,500 students per year.

In reply to a question, Agriculture and Irrigation Minister Htay Oo said that the government would take action against the production of inferior quality fertilizers.

The first session of the Burmese Parliament will likely be dissolved at the end of this month. Portfolios are expected to be handed over to newly elected ministers on March 30. The new fiscal year begins April 1.
Thursday, March 24, 2011

Up to 4,000 fishermen from Pyapon missing in storms

Thursday, 24 March 2011 18:06 Myo Thein

New Delhi (Mizzima) – Around 4,000 fishermen from the Pyapon area may have lost their lives in vicious storms that struck Irrawaddy Division last week, according to Win Kyaing, the general secretary of the Myanmar Fisheries Federation.

A Burmese boat which rescued survivors who were adrift
at sea after a storm on March 15 in the harbor at
Kawthaung in Taninsarim Division on Monday,
March 21, 2011. A state-run newspaper reported that 230
survivors were given refuge in the local high school.
Photos: Mizzima & NLD (Kawthaung branch)
Win Kyaing said in a meeting held by the Myanmar Fisheries Federation on Tuesday that the 4,000 fishermen represent about 2,000 fishing rafts that were lost in storms from March 14 to 17, according to a reporter who attended the meeting.

The number of dead or missing is difficult to determine, said authorities.

‘His estimation of the missing is based on the total number of rafts. There are about 1,500 registered rafts and 500 unregistered rafts [in the area]. A raft can carry around three people each. That’s why he estimated that more than 4,000 people are missing’, the reporter said. The rafts are manned by fisherman who go out daily to catch fish and work their nets.

A spokesperson from the Fishery Department in Pyapon District told Mizzima that almost all the fishing rafts in Pyapon District were lost or damaged, but only about 50 percent of the fishing nets were damaged.

‘We can’t tell the exact number of casualties because we still don’t have enough confirmed information. Some victims may have returned to their homes by their own means’, the spokesperson said.

Meanwhile, state-run newspapers said on Wednesday that 17 fishing vessels and about 800 rafts were destroyed in storms from March 14 to March 17, and a total of 3,638 victims had been rescued. The newspapers did not cite a figure for the number of fishermen who lost their lives in the storms or are missing.

Monks, students criticise efforts to have Western countries lift sanctions

Thursday, 24 March 2011 17:29 Kyaw Kha

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – A group of Burmese monks and students who secretly oppose the Burmese junta have criticised Burmese political parties, Asean countries and various Western countries that advocate lifting economic sanctions against Burma.

A joint statement released by the All Burma Monks’ Alliance (ABMA), the 88-Generation Students and All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU) said that the idea of trying to promote democracy and development through the Burmese Parliament was not possible.

U Dhamma Siri of the ABMA said that without pressing the junta to stop violations of human rights in Burma, urging the US and European countries to lift sanctions against Burma was meaningless.

‘The countries imposed sanctions against Burma because of the violations of human rights in Burma. If Asean countries and political parties in Burma really want the US and European countries to lift the sanctions, they need to press the junta to stop the violations of human rights in Burma. Otherwise, they are just doing it for their own sakes. Their attitude is unacceptable’, Dhamma Siri said.

In mid-March, political party representatives gave an EU delegation a letter calling for an end to sanctions. The letter was signed by the Democracy and Peace Party (Myanmar), the Union Democratic Party, the White Tiger Party, the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party, the Wunthanu NLD, the Union of Myanmar Federation of National Politics and the National Democratic Force.

The parties said that although the sanctions have focused on the junta, they can also harm he people of Burma and if  countries lift sanctions and invest in Burma, workers will have more job opportunities and perhaps earn higher salaries.

The groups noted that although many countries imposed sanctions against the junta, the top military generals and their cronies are still rich and largely unaffected by sanctions.

In mid-January, Asean called for the lifting of sanctions on Burma at its foreign ministers’ meeting in Indonesia.

Kyi Tha Tint, a spokeswoman for the ABFSU, told Mizzima: ‘The people have been oppressed by the military dictatorship for more than 20 years. The best way to make the Western countries lift the sanctions against Burma is to stop violating human rights in Burma and to build a free society’.

Tun Myint Aung of the 88-Generation Students Group said, ‘The reason Burma can’t attract foreign investment is because of not only sanctions but also Burma’s chaotic and complex economic policies. Corruption is rife. That’s why foreign countries did not want to invest in Burma’.

Ross Dunkley denied bail at fifth court hearing

Thursday, 24 March 2011 10:46 Te Te

New Delhi (Mizzima) – Hearings and more hearings. At the fifth hearing in the case against the Australian founder of the Myanmar Times, Ross Dunkley, a Burmese court on Wednesday again denied him bail and set a sixth hearing for Tuesday, March 29.

Ross Dunkley, the founder of the Myanmar Times, attended
his fifth court hearing in Rangoon on Wednesday, where he
was denied bail and remanded to Insein Prison. A sixth
hearing was scheduled for Tuesday, March 29.
Photo : Mizzima
At that hearing, a forensic doctor and an investigating police officer are expected to testify before the Kamaryut Township Court, and lawyers for the state and defense will present  arguments on whether the charges against Dunkley should be dropped, according to Wai Lin, a spokesperson for the Myanmar Times.

Dunkley has been charged with violating the Immigration Act, assaulting a woman, giving her drugs and holding her against her will.

Court observers said Dunkley appeared to be in good health when he appeared in court and that he has been allowed visits from friends at Insein Prison once a week. He is being held in the hospital compound, sources said.

Dunkley was arrested on February 10 and taken to Insein Prison the next day. Dunkley’s business associates said in an earlier statement that the alleged female victim testified in a previous hearing that she wished to withdraw her complaint that alleged she had been drugged by Dunkley but the Burmese authorities would not allow the complaint to be withdrawn.

The CEO of Myanmar Consolidated Media, Dr. Tin Tun Oo, and a colleague have agreed to act as bail guarantors for Dunkley.

Originally from Perth, Australia, Dunkley was the first foreigner to enter the Burmese domestic newspaper market in 2000 when he joined forces with Sonny Shwe, the son of a close ally of then military intelligence chief and junta prime minister, Khin Nyunt. Less than a year after Khin Nyunt’s purging from the military junta, Sonny Shwe was arrested and new Burmese co-owners took over his stake in the paper.

Rangoon media observers said that Dunkley and the Myanmar Times’ new CEO, Dr. Tin Tun Oo, were involved in a business dispute at the time of his arrest. Tin Tun Oo was named the new CEO four days after Dunkley’s arrest. Dunkley retains a 49 percent ownership in the English-language newspaper. He is also the publisher of The Phnom Penh Post.
Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Forecast: Tornados, thunderstorms in Rangoon, Irrawaddy and Pegu

Wednesday, 23 March 2011 18:41 Myo Thein

New Delhi (Mizzima) – For the remainder of the week, gales with winds of up to 70 miles per hour, tornadoes and thunderstorms are likely to hit lower Burma, according to a meteorologist with the Myanmar Climate Change Watch Group.

Heavy thunderstorms, tornadoes and gales are possible
this week throughout the Irrawaddy delta, Rangoon and
Pegu, according to meterologists. Photo: Mizzima
Magway and Mandalay divisions and northern parts of Karen and Mon states also seem likely to be hit by gales and thunderstorms, Dr. Tun Lwin told Mizzima.

“Cumulonimbus clouds are very likely to form’, he said. ‘So, the weather will be awful in some places. Casualties are likely to result  because of the weather’.

Tun Lwin said that it is difficult to know exactly when and where storms would hit, but if people exercised caution, dangers could be avoided.

He advised: ‘If you see cumulus clouds and hear the sound of thunder, take precautions. Thunderstorms and gales are likely to hit especially around 4:30 p.m’. He advised farmers and fishermen to guard against lightning strikes.

Meanwhile, a  businessman who lost a fishing vessel due to a storm that hit on March 15 said that there was no weather warning by the authorities, and fishermen had to rely on the Internet for information about the weather.

Pipes replaced along Kanbauk to Myaing Kalay gas pipeline

Wednesday, 23 March 2011 11:50 Kun Chan

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Due to frequent leaks, the 180-mile Kanbauk to Myaing Kalay gas pipeline has been undergoing repair since early March.

New gas line pipes are replacing old, leaking pipes in
sections between Mudon, Thanbyuzayat and Ye
townships in Mon State. (Photo: Mizzima)
Since March 3, new pipes, made in Korea, have been put in sections between Mudon, Thanbyuzayat and Ye townships in Mon State. The new pipes are 30 inches in diameter and 1-inch thick.

To construct the pipeline, more than 15,000 acres of land was taken over by the authorities to clear the route and the military was deployed to provide security, according to a report, ‘Laid Waste’, compiled by the Human Rights Foundation of Monland. About 30 military bases are located along the pipeline.

In November 2010, Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise began construction of the pipeline, which originates near Kanbauk in Tenasserim Division and ends in Karen State’s Myaing Kalay, passing across Mon State. The pipeline supports a cement factory in Myaing Kalay, which uses about 110 million cubic feet of gas per day.

Burma’s election process flawed from start

Tuesday, 23 March 2010 16:10 Larry Jagan

Bangkok (Mizzima) - Even though Burma’s election laws are still being rolled out, many in the Burmese opposition movement abroad have already decided that the forthcoming elections will not be free or fair. But many inside the country seem to feel that although flawed, these elections may provide an opening to create some political space and encourage reforms.

“We do not have the luxury of missing this chance,” Dr Nay Win Maung, co-founder of the Rangoon-based NGO, EGRESS and a newspaper proprietor, said in the sidelines of a seminar on Burma at Chulalongkorn University. “We must accept this opportunity to claw some improvements out of the regime, even if it’s only an inch.”

During times of change and uncertainty, the Burmese military regime can be caught off guard and surprised by the turn of events, and for some activists like the academic and former student leader Aung Naing Oo, this election may be one of those times. He believes the opposition, including the ethnic groups, should seize the opportunities that it presents. “But make no mistake this election process is not about democracy, it is Than Shwe’s aim through these elections to civilianise the government, but not to hand over power to an elected civilian regime,” he said.

This is one of the few things that analysts inside Burma and foreign experts seem to agree on.  “The military wants to civilianise itself -- as in 1974 -- through the election process, but hold onto power indefinitely, as has been evident since 1962 when Ne Win seized power,” Professor David Steinberg, a Burma expert at George Washington University told Mizzima.

In the meantime the National League for Democracy (NLD), which convincingly won the last elections in 1990 but was never allowed to take power, faces the tough choice of whether to re-register as a political party and contest the polls or boycott the elections altogether. Unlike 1990, when the party belatedly entered the fray, this time they would have to do so without their charismatic leader Aung San Suu Kyi, as under the new political parties’ law activists serving “prison sentences” are prohibited from being members of any party or running for office.

Last year Aung San Suu Kyi was convicted on charges of violating her house arrest when an American man swam uninvited to her lakeside home. She has spent more than 14 of the past 21 years in detention, and is currently serving 18-months under house arrest. Her lawyers say she is considering submitting a final appeal to the Supreme Court, but is yet to do so.  

“The main aim of the junta’s election laws is clearly to emasculate the NLD and prevent their leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi from taking any part in the forthcoming electoral process,” said the British Burma expert and biographer of the pro-democracy icon, Justin Wintle.

Of course the government media has been quick to dismiss this suggestion. “Some say the law is designed to ban a certain person from contesting election,” said a commentary, “Road Map to Democracy”, which ran in all the state-run newspapers earlier this week. “If it is intended for the said person, an article would have been referred to a specific crime so that the person will be banned from the election forever.”

Any convicted criminals are free to join political parties when they are released, unlike Burma’s first constitution which barred convicted persons from being members of parliament in the five years after their release, said the commentary.

“Aung San Suu Kyi remains a massive thorn in the junta’s side,” said the former British Ambassador to Rangoon, Martin Morland. “No matter what they try to do to silence and marginalise her, she remains the ‘elephant in the room’ constantly exuding sweet reason – even in the court-room,” he told Mizzima recently.

But the NLD will have to ditch her, at least temporarily, if they are to contest these elections. The party’s central executive committee meets early next week to decide what to do. Many top NLD members favour re-registering and fighting the polls. Many in the international community understand the difficult dilemma the opposition parties face. 

“If they [the democratic opposition and Burma's ethnic group] participate in the elections they risk legitimising a process they know to be flawed. Boycott the elections and they risk further marginalisation and exclusion from the political process,” a junior foreign office minister, Ivan Lewis, told the British parliament earlier this year.

That is exactly what the NLD will have to decide. But many inside Burma continue to insist the elections are an opportunity that cannot be ignored.

“Darkness has already covered us,” said social researcher and former political prisoner, Khin Zaw Win. “We have already lost more than 20 years and the people will only suffer more if we miss this opportunity.”

“People don't like the current military government of Burma,” a leader of the newly formed Democratic Party, Thu Wai recently told journalists in Chiang Mai. “Now we have a chance to change it by voting in the forthcoming elections.”

“These laws lay down relatively fair conditions for the election,” he said. The registration fee for each party – 300,000 kyat (or $ 300) -- is comparatively cheap, and more crucially the fee for candidates to register to run in the elections is 500,000 ($ 500) far below what was being predicted. Many politicians preparing for the elections had feared it would be at least $ 2,000.

“The most important condition is that the counting will take place at the polling stations, and the result announced there,” said a Burmese political pundit, who cannot be identified as it is still against the law in the country to comment on the election.

The count, as in 1990, will also take place in front of local scrutineers as representatives of all candidates will be allowed to watch the count and make sure there are no irregularities. This means that it will be harder for the regime to manipulate the results, like in the 2008 referendum, according to many analysts inside Burma.

Burma does have a history of free elections. In 1960 and again in 1990, there was no rigging of the vote. Once ballots were cast their integrity was respected. But some analysts fear that this may not be the case this time round.

“The problem is that with the military command structure and social hierarchy in Burma, many of the lower ranks may assume that it is necessary to ensure compliance with what they believe the leadership wants and thus tamper with the process, even if there is no clear order from the top to ensure the desired results,” said Professor Steinberg. 

Bu in the end though the regime seems to be counting on setting up the conditions before hand so that they don’t have to manipulate the votes after they have been cast. “The junta is trying to win this election in such a way that it doesn't have to resort to crude vote-rigging come polling day,” warned Mr Wintle.

“Compared to many other international examples, the electoral laws would not be judged as particularly unfair,” a western diplomat based in Rangoon told Mizzima on condition of annoymity. “But it’s the context that matters -- a heavily controlled constitution-drafting process, a constitution in favour of the military, a sham referendum result, and 20 years of determined deterrence to would-be political actors,” she said.

Within this context, it is not unexpected that most analysts, diplomats and observers are reluctant to give the regime the benefit of doubt. So much in practice may in fact depend on the group of individuals who have been selected by the junta to oversee the election – the new Election Commission.

“The Election Commission has, as in many democratic elections elsewhere, been given a large degree of authority,” said a western diplomat who covers Burma. “The difference here is that the authority they have is superficial -- their authority will be limited to issuing decisions made behind the scenes at a higher level.”

There is little known about the 17 members of the electoral commission who were recently appointed, except from the president Thein Soe. He was a Vice Chief Justice of Burma’s Supreme Court and former Military Judge Advocate General – very much a military man, though no longer actually in uniform. Among the other members are also former military officers, judges, professors and a retired ambassador. Academics, civil servants and the judiciary have not all been severely cowed under the repressive military regime so are unlikely to try to be independent and much more likely to follow the instructions of the junta leaders.

Since 1962, and particularly since 1988, no court judgement in Burma has gone against the military regime. So there is no reason to assume their behaviour will change now. The previous election commission actually dismissed Aung San Suu Kyi as the National League for Democracy’s Secretary General, but the party ignored the instruction and she carried on in that role – even during her long periods of house arrest.  

Now if they want to contest the next elections, they will have to be vetted by the new election commissioners. “The commission shall invite and interrogate any persons and examine relevant documents of anyone wishing to stand for election before accepting or rejecting their nomination,” says the election by-laws issued by the commission last week. Thus giving them enormous control over who is allowed to stand for election.

“They will certainly closely scrutinize anyone that the regime objects to and find ways of disqualifying them,” said a senior member of the Burmese pro-democracy movement in Thailand, Zin Linn.

“General Than Shwe has given the Election Commission extraordinary powers,” said the Australian MP, Janelle Saffin – Burma expert and constitutional lawyer. “The Election Commission is judge, jury, and final arbiter, in most matters. And it can involve itself in the internal matters of political parties,” she told Mizzima.

“And worse of all there is no possible appeal to an independent court -- the Commissioners can in effect do what they like with impunity,” she concluded.

So even if Aung San Suu Kyi is prevented from taking part in the elections, this in itself will not make the elections unfair or not free. They would certainly not be inclusive or credible.

What the electoral laws reveal is that the regime is putting into place systems whereby they can effectively control the results – even without actually rigging the vote.

The Election Commission is going to be the problem – as they can effectively determine the result and claim to be doing it on quasi-legal grounds.

But that apart, many academic, liberals and political activists are advocating giving the elections a chance. “It we don’t take this opportunity, we are denying the electors a choice,” said Dr Nay Win Maung. “And in so doing we are condemning the country to more decades of military rule.”

By participating in the elections, it will help to the creation of a “liberal authoritarianism” rather than pure military rule – and although imperfect – that would be better than the status quo, he said.
Tuesday, March 22, 2011

NLD forms social network for farmers

Tuesday, 22 March 2011 20:44 Phanida

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Social networking is coming to the farm. That’s the newest tactical tool for organizing farmers and developing a sense of community, say officials of  the National League for Democracy (NLD).

A farmer and his buffaloes prepare a paddy field for
planting in Rangoon in this file photo. The NLD will
use social networking to offer farmers a way to share
their problems and get advice. Photo: AFP
The planned NLD network will have 33 members from 19 townships, officials say. It will offer legal advice and information to farmers and will compile information on issues affecting farmers, while linking the farmers to NLD headquarters in Rangoon.

NLD vice chairman Tin Oo was named chairman of the network; Hla Pe, an executive committee member, is vice chairman.

‘In the past, farmers haven’t had a network or organization where they could report their problems’, Kyaw Myint, the secretary of the NLD Peasant Affairs Committee, told Mizzima. ‘Now, they can report their problems to us. For instance, they will be able to complain about land confiscations’.

The project grew out of meetings of top NLD leaders and 540 members which took place in Rangoon from March 9 to 18.

A sample of networking information so far: farmers reported that more than 4,000 acres of maize fields were destroyed because of unseasonably heavy rains in the Irrawaddy Division last week. And other farmers are seeking advice on how to solve a problem of chemical waste disposal by a paper factory in Zalun.

This is the third social network group formed recently by the NLD, joining a young activists’ network and a lawyers’ network.

Farmers are also getting the attention of  the National Unity Party (NUP). Spokesman Han Shwe said that the party will be encouraging farmers to form associations to promote the welfare of farmers.

He warned, however, that if political parties separately form their own farmers’ organisations, it could destroy unity among farmers and weaken a group’s effectiveness.

‘If the political parties discriminate against the farmers’ networks of other political parties, the unity among farmers could be shattered’, he said. ‘For instance, in the past, when the Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League (AFPFL) split into two groups, each group formed farmers’ associations and that destroyed the unity among farmers’.

Other NLD members of the farmers’ network are Mann Nyunt Thein (Pantanaw), Shwe Hla Kyaing (Kangyidaunt), Than Tun Aye (Kangyidaunt), Win Tun (Kyaunggon), Man Johny (Kyonepyaw), Aung Khin Bo (Bogale), Thaung Aye (Maubin), Maung Maung Gyi (Einme) and Kyaw Myint (Zalun).

April Fool’s Day likely time to inaugurate new Burmese government

Tuesday, 22 March 2011 12:30 Myo Thant

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – In early April, the junta will most likely do the nearly inconceivable and transfer power to a new parliamentary government led by president-elect Thein Sein, according to members of Parliament.

The president-elect of Burma, current Prime Minister
Thein Sein, who is expected to assume his new office
sometime in April. Photo : AFP
Khin Wine Kyi, an MP in the National Democratic Force, said April 1 is the start of the new fiscal year, and probably the time when governance will be transferred to 34 new governmental departments and the new president.

The president-elect and current prime minister, Thein Sein, a retired general, is also a founder of the junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and a close confidant of Senior General Than Shwe.

Moreover, the 66th anniversary of Armed Forces Day, which falls on March 27, will probably be a low-key affair this year so as not to detract from the new government, according to a source close to the army, who said the ceremony may be held indoors. In previous years, the occasion was used by Senior General Than Shwe to deliver a speech to a massive display of troops.

MPs said that, so far, they had not been invited to attend any Armed Forces Day ceremonies.

On Monday in the Upper House, Minister for Finance and Revenue Hla Tun responded to questions regarding lower taxation made by Dr. Myat Nyarna Soe, an MP in the  National Democratic Force, by answering that the taxation rate in Burma is the lowest rate among South East Asian countries and brings in sufficient revenue to manage the country and a lower rate is not now possible.

Minister for Energy Zaw Min responded to questions regarding ‘the resettlement of Kachin people who were victims of forced displacement as a result of government projects in Kachin State’ made by Su Khone Taint Yame, an independent MP. The minister said the government in the future will help in the resettlement of such people.

Also, the minister responded to a question regarding building a power station in Chin State to generate electricity. He told MP Zone Hlal Htan  of the  Chin Progressive Party that currently Burma has adequate supplies of electricity, and there is no plan to build a new power plant in Chin State.

On Monday in the Lower House, Minister for Electric Power Khin Maung Myint responded to questions regarding ‘whether various tariffs for electricity would be equalized or not’, made by MP Maung Nyo of the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party, answering that in Burma, electricity is produced in different ways and tariffs for electricity can not be standardized.
Monday, March 21, 2011

Military training of selected civilians underway in Irrawaddy Division

Monday, 21 March 2011 20:44 Kyaw Kha

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Officials with division Fire Brigades in Burma say that one-month firefighting training courses for civilians will now include military training at the township level in Irrawaddy Division.

Firefighters work to save people trapped in a fire in
Mingala Market in Rangoon in this file photograph.
Selected Rangoon civilians are undergoing firefighting
and basic military training. Photo: Mizzima
Previously, basic firefighting training was conducted in some areas in Irrawaddy Division each year, but this is the first year that basic military training has been included along with firefighting training.

Each village and ward is required to send three trainees between age 20-30 to a one-month basic training program.

‘The trainees have to attend a one-month course of both fire fighting and military training’, an officer in the Irrawaddy Division Fire Brigade told Mizzima. There are 100 trainees in each batch, he said, and meals and lodging are provided to the trainees.

Previously, the firefighting training was conducted by fire departments under the supervision of the divisional branch at the village tract and ward levels. This time the basic training is being conducted at the township level under the supervision of the Northwest military command.

‘The military training is basic level: how to aim, how to fire, how to crawl and how to march’, said an officer in the Fire Department.

Fellow villagers are required to pay compensation to the trainees for the time away from their workplace and other expenses at the rate of 1,000 kyat (US$ 1.14) per household.

A resident in Myaungmya Township said villagers selected the trainees from among unemployed youth.

According to the Military Service Law enacted on November 4, 2010, by the State Peace and Development Council, males between ages 18 and 35 and females between ages 18 and 27 shall be called for mandatory military service for three and two years, respectively.

UWSP conference ends on development note

Monday, 21 March 2011 17:56 Phanida

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – The United Wa State Party (UWSP) pledged to work harder to develop the Wa Region but warned that if the Burmese junta attacks its territory, it will mount a vigorous defence, at the end of its five-day annual conference.

Two Wa soldiers, members of the largest,
most well-armed ethnic army in Burma.
Photo : AFP
During the conference, which ended Sunday in Pangsang, members heard reports and plans from 27 departments on how to develop the region, according to an UWSP official.

Party chairman Bao Yu Xiang, who attended the conference on Sunday, told Mizzima that the Wa army was ready to defend against any junta military offensive. The United Wa State Army, the armed wing of the UWSP, has rejected the Burmese regime’s order to transform itself into a Border Guard Force.

On March 16, Kyauk Win Kwan, the UWSP vice chairman, said the Wa can successfully avoid the junta’s orders to join the BGF.

The Wa army is well armed and has the capacity to defend its region, Aung Kyaw Zaw, an analyst based on the Sino-Burmese border told Mizzima. The UWSA has nine brigades and a total of more than 30,000 troops, he said.

Aung Kyaw Zaw said that during the coming year the Wa party hoped to take part in a political dialogue with the new parliamentary government.

Since 2005, the Wa army has stopped growing poppy to produce opium in the area and promoted growing alternative crops such as rubber and tea plants, according to a UWSA officer.

‘Because we do not grow poppy anymore, we had some financial problems but we overcame them’, he said. ‘Some Wa have earned a lot of money from rubber while some have not prospered from rubber fields. Some people allege that we are still growing poppy, but that’s not true’, he told Mizzima.

The UWSA separated from the Burma Communist Party in 1989 and signed a cease-fire agreement with the Burmese junta the same year.
Thursday, March 17, 2011

Australian co-owner of the Myanmar Times again denied bail

Thursday, 17 March 2011 21:10 Te Te

New Delhi (Mizzima) – At the fourth hearing of the Kamaryut Township Court in Rangoon on Thursday, the detained Australian co-owner of the Myanmar Times, Ross Dunkley, was again denied bail and remanded to Burma’s notorious Insein Prison.

Ross Dunkley, the Australian founder and co-owner
of the Myanmar Times, appeared in the Kamayut
Township Court in Rangoon Division as the fourth
hearing on Thursday, March 17, 2011.
Photo: Mizzima
Wai Lin, a spokesperson of the Myanmar Times newspaper, said. Dunkley is currently facing five charges, involving immigration violations and criminal assault.

On Thursday, a doctor testified in regard to a woman, Khaing Zar, and whether or not drugs were found in her body at the time of the arrest, and testimoney was also given by a security guard, according to Dunkley’s lawyer. Another doctor will testify as a witness at the next hearing on March 23. There was no information available about the doctor’s or security guard’s testimony.

A lawyer for Dunkley, Min Sein, said they were considering filing for bail again before the next hearing.

Dunkley was arrested at his home in Rangoon on February 10 and was taken to Insein Prison the next day. He appeared in the Kamayut Township Court on February 24 to hear the charges against him.

The woman, Khaing Zar, who appeared at earlier hearings, reportedly tried to withdraw her complaint, but the police would not allow it. Police claim that Dunkley gave the woman drugs, assaulted her and held her against her will.

Sources said that Dunkley retains a 49-percent stake in the media group and the remaining 51 percent is held by Tin Tun Oo, a member of the Union Solidarity and Development Party from Pazundaung Township.

Parliament: questions, answers; recess till Monday

Thursday, 17 March 2011 20:10 Myo Thant

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – According to MPs attending the Burmese Parliament sessions in Naypyidaw, both houses will recess on Friday and resume on Monday.

Lower House MP Tin Nwe Oo said the recess is meant to allow MPs to take part in the full moon alms rice-offering ceremony at temples.

In Thursday's sessions, Lower House MP Aung Zin raised a question about whether the government would enact a law allowing farmers to keep their crops in both private and public warehouses, by paying prescribed storage fees The move would enable farmers to  achieve more stable prices for their produce, he said.

Economics and Commerce Minister Tin Naing Thein responded, saying that it would be necessary to build confidence among farmers in this regard and that there were not enough warehouses at this time. To build the required warehouses would take time, he said.

In the question period in the Upper House, MP Pau Lian Lwin from Chin State asked about the appointment of more ethnic Chin medical doctors in Chin State. Health Minister Dr. Kyaw Myint said that such a plan is underway.

MP Steven Thar Beik asked about establishing a board for enhancing education in the health service sector. Health Minister Dr. Kyaw Myint said that the ministry is now conducting educational and awareness campaigns on common seasonal diseases.

MP Dr. Myat Nyarna Soe asked about the black market trading of fuel. Energy Minister Lun Thi said that the government was working to reduce and eliminate the illegal trade of fuel.

Construction Minister Khin Maung Myint answered questions raised by MPs about road building in Shan and Kachin states by confirming the government was carrying out road work in the states.

Agriculture and Irrigation Minister Htay Oo answered questions raised by MP Sai Win Khaing about whether farmers are allowed to trade their seasonal crops freely, by saying the government would assist when significant situations arose.

Third state-run daily newspaper to be launched

Thursday, 17 March 2011 21:04 Phanida

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – A new daily newspaper, called Myawaddy, likely to be another of the junta’s mouthpieces, will be launched on March 27, which marks the 66th Armed Forces Day in Burma. It will be the third state-run newspaper in Burma.

Ye Myint was named executive editor. The staff will be comprised of former employees of the Information Ministry.

The headquarters of the newspaper will be located in Pobba Thiri Township in Naypyidaw. A branch office will be opened in Yankin Township in Rangoon.

It is not clear whether the newspaper will receive investment funds from the army or the Information Ministry. The newspaper is asking for news, articles, poems and cartoons.

The newspaper staff is now in training and  awaiting orders from the authorities, Paw Oo Thit, a staff member, told Mizzima.

Currently, the Information Ministry publishes two newspapers, the New Light of Myanmar and The Mirror, which have a daily circulation of about 300,000 copies.

Win Tin, a National League for Democracy central executive committee member and an ex-journalist, said that because of the newspaper’s military support it would not be a good source of information for the people.

‘Newspapers should not be published for propaganda purposes’, he said. ‘If the newspaper cannot reflect the public mood, it will not be good. Only if a newspaper represents the people, can it benefit the people’, he said.

The Mirror newspaper was founded in 1957, and it was popular with the public, but later it was misused by consecutive governments as a propaganda weapon and its popularity has decreased.

Currently, private media in Burma are allowed to publish only weekly newspapers. Moreover, all private newspapers must submit their stories and pictures to the junta’s censorship board prior to publishing.

Some private newspapers would like to publish a daily newspaper, and they have expressed hope that the new parliamentary government will allow private daily newspapers.

Observers in Rangoon said that at least four private newspapers are lining up to try to publish dailies.

Information Minister Kyaw Hsan said in Parliament on March 10 that in the print media sector, five daily newspapers, 170 weekly publications and 182 monthly magazines were published in Burma. The five state newspapers are The Mirror, and New Light of Myanmar, published in Burmese, New Light of Myanmar in English and Myodaw, published by the Rangoon municipality, and Yadanarpone, published by the Mandalay municipality.

Burmese troops overrun SSA-N base in Nam Lao

Thursday, 17 March 2011 19:18 Jai Wan Mai

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – After two days of fighting and a massive bombardment, Burmese troops seized the Nam Lao base of the Shan State Army – North (SSA-N) on Wednesday.

Troops of the Shan State Army-South in parade formation.
Shan State Army-North troops are now engaged in pushing
back a major attack by Burmese regime troops after they
overran the Shan base at Nam Lao. Photo : Mizzima
Many soldiers were wounded on both sides during the fighting, sources said. There were no reports on deaths.

The Nam Lao base in Mongo Hsu Township is the second largest base of the SSA-N and a strategic military gateway offering it access to its ally, the United Way State Army (UWSA) in Pang sang in northern Shan State.

A SSA-N source said the decision to withdraw from the Nam Lao base was a result of  the heavy shelling. Moreover, shells from the Burmese army allegedly landed on villagers’ houses and left at least one civilian wounded.

On Wednesday, about 500 to 600 villagers in the Mongo At tract of Mongo Hsu Township fled to the town for safety after Burmese troops continued to press their attack on Shan troops. The SSA-N said a number of villagers could have been killed or wounded.

During the fighting, a Burmese shell reportedly hit Nam Lao temple, killing four novice monks and injuring three more, sources said.

According to a SSA-N officer, after its forces withdrew from Nam Lao, the Burmese army was also able to seize another base, Lois Pang Koop, which is located nearby.

A local resident said, ‘The Burmese troops fired more than 100 rounds of artillery.  During the attack, many of them stepped on landmines which had been planted by the SSA-N’.

A SSA-N officer said regime trucks with wounded soldiers were dispatched to Lazio after the battle.

He said some of Shan soldiers were also wounded, but there were no deaths.

‘They came to attack us’, he said.  ‘It wasn’t the SSA that launched the attack, but we had to defend ourselves. We withdrew from Nam Lao base because we do not want the villagers to suffer’.

After the battle, the Burmese regime deployed troops from Tangy an to Nam Pawing sub-township in Lazio. Consequently, a clash took place between the SSA-N and Burmese troops at Na Ma, a Nam Pawing sub-township.

Reportedly, Burmese troops conscripted Nam Lao villagers as porters and pursued SSA-N fighters in the area. Villagers from Ho Nam and nearby villages fled to Mongo Hsu for refuge, sources said.

A Shan source said that SSA-N troops retreated to their main base at Wan Hay (SSA-N Headquarters), and it’s believed that Burmese troops may launch an attack on the base.

According to a resident in Lazio, ‘The Burmese troops have blocked all vehicles going to Wan Hay and the SSA-N soldiers will not be able to access the UWSA or SSA-S areas’.

In the meantime, a source in Tactile said that two weeks ago 40 to 50 trucks carried about 500 Burmese soldiers from King Tong to Mongo Yang. The troops set up temporary camps along the borders areas of the UWSA and the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA) territory in eastern Shan State, the source said. The deployment was designed to block any assistance from the NDAA or UWSA to aid Shan troops.

Reportedly, Burmese troops from Mongo Hsu and Mongo Nan are headed to the SSA-N headquarter area. About 1,500 to 2000 Burmese troops are believed to be deployed in the area.

According to a source, Burmese troops are spreading rumours that SSA-N soldiers must surrender by March 20.
Wednesday, March 16, 2011

FIFA president visits Burma, pledges more funds

Wednesday, 16 March 2011 21:56 Kyaw Kha

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA) President Sepp Blatter told a press conference in Rangoon on Tuesday that FIFA would provide more finanaical assistance to Burma for the development of soccer sports in the country.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter shakes hands with Zaw Zaw,
the president of the Myanmar Football Federation, after
a press conference at the Sedona Hotel in Rangoon on
Tuesday, March 15, 2011. Zaw Zaw, a junta business
associate, won the construction contract to build two
football stadiums and a building for the Football Academy
in Mandalay, in addition to renovating the Thuwanna Youth
Training Center Stadium. Photo: Mizzima
Blatter arrived in Burma at the invitation of Myanmar Football Federation (MFF) Chairman Zaw Zaw.

He arrived on Tuesday and participated in the opening of the Football Academy Training School in Mandalay. He also met with Mandalay Division regional military commander Brigadier General Ye Aung and Mandalay Mayor Brigadier General Phone Zaw Han.

Blatter also observed a ceremony at the Thuwunna Stadium in Rangoon, which is undergoing renovation to increase its seating capacity to 20,000 people.

Later on Wednesday, he visited Naypyidaw and met with President Thein Sein.

MMF spokesman Soe Moe Kyaw said the MMF receives US$ 250,000 annually for the development of football sports in the country. The MFF has submitted a new proposal for building another football training academy in Taunggyi.

FIFA provided funds in 2001 for four special stadium renovation projects and the construction of an office building for the MFF. It also provided funds for building the Mandalay football training centre in 2004.

FIFA also provided funs for renovating Thuwunna Stadium, Soe Moe Kyaw said.

Burmese football fell to the 161st position in the FIFA world football ranking in 2011, from 140th in 2009. The ranking is below other Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines and Cambodia.

Zaw Zaw, who became president of the MFF in 2009, is a business associate of key generals in the junta.

He a won contract for building international standard football fields and stadiums in Naypyidaw, which will be completed before 2013 for the South East Asia SEA Games. He also won the contract for building the football academy training centre in Mandalay.

UWSA can successfully resist BGF order, group told

Wednesday, 16 March 2011 21:30 Phanida

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Kyauk Win Kwan, the vice chairman of the United Wa State Party (UWSP), told a party conference that the Wa army can successfully resist the Burmese junta’s order to transform into a Border Guard Force.

The UWSP began a five-day party conference at its headquarters in Pangsang on Wednesday to review the group’s actions in 2010.

More than 213 members are attending the annual conference. Party chairman Bao Yu Xiang did not appear at the Wednesday opening session.

Vice chairman Kyauk Win Kuan told the conference that the group was united, and the United Wa State Army (UWSA) did not suffer any break-away groups in 2010.

Members heard reports from the the UWSP Agriculture and Irrigation Department, the Forestry Department and the Health Department.

The group will discuss its goals for 2011 in the coming days.

UWSA is the strongest ethnic armed group in Burma with more than 30,000 troops. It has rejected the junta’s Border Guard Force plan, but it is open to holding a political dialogue with the new parliamentary government, sources said.

On the other hand, the Burmese junta has rejected the UWSP proposal based on nine points including the designation of Pangsang (Pankham) and Wanhong townships as UWSA sub-military zone.

The new Constitution stipulated that a group of six townships, including Hopang, Mongma, Panwai, Nahpan, Metman and Pangsang (Pankham), would be formed as a Wa Self-Administered Division.

Within the six townships, the junta controls Hopang and Pangsang, the areas where most Wa residents live.

In May 2010, the Wa along with the Kachin Independence Army, National Democratic Alliance Army, Shan State Army-North, and New Mon State Party formed a political alliance to assist each other should one group be attacked by the junta.

Similarly, on February 17, 12 ethnic armed groups, not including the UWSA, formed the United Nationalities Federal Council to cooperate in defending against an attack by junta troops against the ethnic groups.

The UWSA separated from the Burma Communist Party in 1989 and signed a cease-fire agreement with the Burmese junta in the same year.

Government bans Internet overseas calls

Wednesday, 16 March 2011 20:19 Aung Myat Soe, Phanida

Bangkok (Mizzima) – The Burmese Telecommunication and Communication Ministry has issued a directive banning the use of the Internet for ‘voice over Internet protocol’ (VOIP) overseas calls.

A modern Internet cafe in Rangoon, one of many appearing
throughout the former capital. Photo :Mizzima
The directive, dated March 2, 2011, was issued by Managing Director Tint Lwin of Myanmar Communication, Post and Telegraph Corporation, saying that overseas calls made through VOIPs such as Skype, Gtalk, Pfingo and VZO are incurring losses to government revenue.

It was unclear what penalty would apply for people using such services or how the use of the services would be monitored.

The directive was sent to the chairman of Myanmar Info-Tech Corp. Ltd., which controls all Public Access Centres (PAC), or Internet cafes, across the country. The corporation reissued the directive and circulated it on March 10.

Internet cafe operators told Mizzima that Skype and Pfingo VOIP services are used most for making overseas calls by Burmese Internet users.

The overseas call charges (international direct dialing, or IDD) by government-run Myanmar Communication are too expensive for many users, and it must also be paid in Foreign Exchange Certificate (FEC). The calls made over VOIP are only a fraction of the cost.

The overseas call (IDD) rate is FEC 4.5 (about 4,000 kyat; US$ 4) to the USA for the first minute; FEC 1.4 for Thailand (about 1,000 kyat). VOIP calls costs about 100 kyat (US$ 12 cents) per minute to the USA and 50 kyat (US$ 6 cents) per minute to Thailand.

The government sold pre-paid GSM SIM cards with cheaper call rates last year, and it was popular among the pubic. Since then, the government has stopped or restricted the sale of SIM cards since the November 2010 general election.

Internet café owners told Mizzima that they have not yet received any official communication about the ban.

There are two public Internet service providers (ISP) in Burma: Yadanapon Teleport and Myanmar Post and Telegraph (MPT).

The new directive will not affect a revenue loss for Internet café operators but only affect Internet users, an Internet café operator in Ahlone Township told Mizzima.

‘If they cannot make oversea calls through these VOIP services, they will instead use the Gtalk and Skype computer to computer service by making a pre-appointment with their friend or family members, since they will not be able to call directly to their phone’, said a café operator.

‘They must wait until their party is online. The internet connection is too slow here, so it will cause more inconveniences and difficulties for our customers’, he said.

MP opposes motion submitted by MP in same party

Wednesday, 16 March 2011 14:20 Myo Thant

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – A  National Democratic Force (NDF) member of the Burmese Parliament opposed a motion by a MP in his own party on Tuesday to extend free education to the secondary level.

The proposal and opposition took place in the Lower House and was perhaps a sign of what some fellow members of Parliament said on Tuesday was confusion, or incompetence, regarding the duties and procedures required of MPs.

Khaing Maung Yi, an NDF MP from Ahlone Township, submitted a proposal to provide free education up to the secondary level for all students, only to see Kyi Myint, an NDF MP from Latha Township, speak against the measure, according to an MP who attended the session.

Khin Wai Kyi, an NDF MP in the Upper House, said that it was clear that the party was not unified in regard to how to go about achieving its goals.

‘Recently, our party instructed our MPs to submit copies of our parliamentary proposals to party leaders and get the party’s permission before submitting a proposal to Parliament. This dispute shows that they don’t have party discipline’, she said.

A fellow MP said it was clear the two MPs had different ideas about free education and how to implement it. Another MP told Mizzima that Khaing Maung Yi’s proposal was not clear, which led to Kyi Myint’s opposition, saying that even some rich countries could not provide free education up to the secondary level.

The MP said the motion also called for the country’s education system to meet international standards.

One of the priorities of the  NDF party is to establish free education up to secondary level.

During the Lower House session on Tuesday, Tun Myint Oo, an MP in the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP), submitted a motion to perform a census in Shan State. SNDP MP Nan Wa Nu spoke in support of the proposal.

In the Upper House on Tuesday, an MP asked Finance and Revenue Minister Hla Tun if the government could provide basic food allotments to government employees and their families. The minister responded that it was not possible. 

Responding to a question, Border Affairs Minister Khin Maung Myint said roads in Arakan State and Chin State would be improved.

On Wednesday, discussions in both houses  will reportedly include retirement pensions and farmers’ affairs.

Both houses will be in recess on Thursday and Friday to commemorate Dabaung, a full moon day, which falls on Saturday, March 19,  this year, in which people donate food to monks and attend religious ceremonies.
Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Burmese Junta and SSA-N fighting continues

Tuesday, 15 March 2011 21:21 Jai Wan Mai

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Two more clashes between Burmese government troops and the Shan State Army-North (SSA-N) took place in northern Burma on Tuesday, according to local residents.

Troops of the Shan State Army-South in parade formation.
Shan State Army-North (SSA-N) troops are increasingly
engaged in clashes with Burmese regime troops, who are
putting increased pressure on key SSA-N bases.
Photo : Mizzima
At about 2 p.m., a unit of the SSA-N clashed with  a Burmese unit between Mong Awt and the Salween River in Mong Hsu Township in northern Shan State. After a firefight, the SSA-N soldiers broke off the engagement.

A short while later, Burmese troops bombarded the SSA-N base at Nam Lao and fighting resumed.

There was no report on casualties.

The Nam Lao base, located northeast of Mong Hsu, is the Shan army’s second largest base, which offers access to an area controlled by the United Wa State Army (UWSA).

A source said the Burmese army would like to drive a wedge between the SSA-N and the UWSA by seizing control of the Nam Lao base.

According to the source, more than nine Burmese battalions are deployed in the area of Wan Hai, the SSA-N headquarters area. The battalions and their locations are: Battalion 517, Mong Pone; Battalion 247, Nam Sang; Battalion 515, Laika; Battalion 513, Pang Long; Battalion 516, Laika; Battalion 64, Laika; Battalion 12, Loi Lem; Battalion 191, Nam Pong; and Battalion 290, Lashio.
Tuesday, 15 March 2011 16:58 Kyaw Kha

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Burma’s Meteorology and Hydrology Department warned that gales, with winds of up to 63 miles per hour, are likely to hit Burma accompanied by heavy rainfall during March.

Passers-by inspect a tree that toppled in a gale in Monywa
in Sagaing Division in 2010. An increase in gales and
rainstorms in Burma is forecast for March. Photo: Mizzima
A gale force wind is rated seven to 10 on the Beaufort scale or 32 to 63 miles per hour (28-55 knots).

As daytime temperatures rise before the southwest monsoon season, cumulonimbus clouds will form during the afternoon or evening across Burma and gales with thunder, lighting, hail and isolated rain or thunderstorms are likely to occur, the weather department said. A cumulonimbus cloud forms a towering mass with a flat base at fairly low altitude.

A state-run newspaper said that a lighting strike killed a woman in Kalawea village in Thanlyin Township in Rangoon on March 11.

The woman was the third lighting-strike victim within a month, according to Tun Lwin, a meteorologist with the Myanmar Climate Change Watch Group.

Tun Lwin said a La Nina weather pattern in the Bay of Bengal will add to the high winds and thundershowers. People who use sea routes should be extra aware of the developing weather conditions, he said.

On March 11, 150 houses were destroyed and more than 760 people were displaced in Rangoon Division because of a storm with high winds and rain, according to data compiled by authorities. About 20 houses were destroyed due to a storm in Bogalay Township in Irrawaddy Division on the same day.

Tun Lwin, a former official in Burma’s Meteorology and Hydrology Department, currently publishes weather reports via his website.

Junta sends more troops to northern Kachin State

Tuesday, 15 March 2011 11:48 Mizzima News

Myitkyina (Mizzima) – About 500 Burmese regime soldiers have been dispatched to the Putao area in northern Kachin State as reinforcements, according to local residents.

The Kachin Independence Army is concerned that more
and more Burmese regime troops are moving into the
area around Putao. Photo : Mizzima
Residents said the troops belonged to Light Infantry Battalions No. 46 and 137 under the junta’s Northern Command.

Meanwhile, sources said local residents were forced to provide labour to build new structures for military bases and to dig bunkers for the troops, stationed about 18 miles south of Putao. One family member per home was forced to work, sources said.

‘In this season, young people want to work in the gold mines. But, they were forced to work for the military’, said a resident  in Washayang village.

Similarly, in late February, more than 200 soldiers from Light Infantry Battalion No. 58  were sent to Waimaw in Kachin State.

Kachin sources said the junta reinforcements are designed to  control the area and to pressure the Kachin Independence Organization, which has rejected the junta’s order to become a part of its Border Guard Force plan.
Monday, March 14, 2011

Some MPs not prepared to raise questions and make motions

Monday, 14 March 2011 21:47 Myo Thant

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Criticism is growing among some members of the Burmese Parliament, who say the level of questions and motions raised by fellow MPs does not meet recognized international standards.

The level of questions and motions in the newly formed
Burmese Parliament is below international standards,
say some fellow MPs. The new Parliament building is
shown in this file photo. (Photo: MRTV)
Question hours started in both houses of Parliament on March 9, but the sophistication of the questions and motions is frequently very low, say some MPs.

‘They raise questions without understanding the subjects’, said one MP. ‘You can imagine what happens when motions and questions are moved and raised. Some questions and motions are beyond their abilities; some questions are silly and some MPs who raise questions are not smart enough or prepared’, a MP told Mizzima.

MP Khin Waing Kyi of the National Democratic Force (NDF) party said she agreed with such criticism, saying someone who had personal experience on a topic would demonstrate more understanding of the issues.

‘Any person who practically tackles these issues will understand more than these MPs’, she said. ‘The people who handle and tackle the facts are better prepared than others, it’s natural’, she said.

Generally, many MPs are just passing on what they’ve heard about from their constituents, she said.

‘For instance, they know water supply is a problem in their constituency but they don’t know anything about the reasons for the shortage. They don’t know these subjects well so naturally their questions and motions are weak’, she said.

During the Monday session in the Lower House, Chin State Hakha constituency MP Ngun Maung asked if the government had any plans for more development work in Hakha, the Chin State capital. In reply, Border Affairs and Development Affairs Minister Thin Nyunt answered that planned development work had been completed.

During the Upper House session, MP Pau Lian Lwin asked about government plans for repairing Gangaw Road in Chin State. Construction Minister Khin Maung Myint replied that repairs would be done in accordance with the availability of funds.

An MP raised a question about the government building a cement manufacturing plant in Rakhine State, in order to take advantage of a limestone mountain in the region. Industry Minister Aung Thaung answered that it was not feasible to build a cement factory in the area based on government studies.

The responses made by ministers to questions raised in Parlimament are reported verbatim in the state-run daily newspapers.
A motion to raise the monthly pension pay will be moved on Tuesday, according to MPs.

MPs in the Upper House said questions to be raised on Tuesday included regional development and roads and the upgrading of the railroad service.

A Lower House MP said that question on free education and a census in Shan State would be raised on Tuesday.

Both houses of  Parliament met for about four hours.

Parcel contents, senders via express delivery services to be photographed

Monday, 14 March 2011 20:21 Mizzima News

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – The Rangoon Division Vehicle Disciplinary and Supervising Committee has ordered customers who want to send parcels through express delivery services via express buses to document the contents by taking photographs, starting Monday, March 14.

Bus passengers prepare to depart Rangoon in this file
photo. A new order from Rangoon Military Command
will require senders of express parcels to photograph
the contents and be photographed to send by express
bus service. Photo : Mizzima
In accordance with the order, the parcel delivery service must open and check the contents and take a photograph of the sender.

Moreover, the express bus line must check all passengers via bomb-detection machines, the order said.

The express parcel delivery services and bus lines were ordered to buy bomb-detection machines from FISCA Company Limited before March 11, according to the order signed by the supervising committee chairman Nyunt Wai,  a retired military officer.

A senior officer of the committee said that  the order was issued by the Rangoon Division Military Command.

For the second time, Moulmein students protest electricity cuts

Monday, 14 March 2011 18:45 Kyaw Kha

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – After students protested over electrical power cuts at night in Moulmein, the authorities have begun supplying electricity again at night during the ongoing graduation exams, according to local  residents.

Cars and lights powered by storefront generators brighten
up an otherwise dark night in downtown Rangoon.
Electrical power outages are common in the country. This
week university students in Moulmein have protested power
cuts at night during their graduation exams. (Photo: Brennan
O`Connor/Nomad Photos)

On March 8, university students in Moulmein threw stones at offices, breaking glass, in protest against daytime power cuts while they were taking exams. University students said they were also protesting on behalf of grade 10 graduating high school students.

A teacher said that electricity service had been supplied regularly at night, but then the authorities cut some nighttime service.

Before the protests, power cuts occurred both day and night, said a teacher.

‘After the students’ protested, the authorities supplied electricity each night’, the teacher told Mizzima.

An officer at the Moulmein Township police station said the power cuts during the exam period and at night occurred accidentally.

‘Now, we are supplying electricity regularly,’ a senior police officer told Mizzima. ‘The power cuts occurred accidentally. In fact, power cuts in Moulmein are usual.

Students in Burma have to take graduation exams in physics on Monday, biology on Tuesday and economics on Thursday.

Since Friday, because of the protests, police guards have been posted at electrical services offices and selected crossroads, according to students in Moulmein.

If the authorities continue to supply electricity at night,  students will not complain anymore, but if power cuts occur again, students are ready to protest, said a university student.

Graduation exams started on March 7 across Burma and will end on March 17.

Truck overturns in Chin State, five die

Monday, 14 March 2011 17:07 Aung Myat Soe

Bangkok (Mizzima) – Failed breaks on a dangerous stretch of road caused a fatal accident when a truck carrying passengers overturned on Friday, killing five people and injuring 35, according to witnesses.

The spot where a truck overturned about five miles
north of Tedim in Chin State, killing five people.
Witnesses said the breaks on the bus failed.
Photo : Mizzima
The truck, carrying more than 50 passengers, overturned about 10 a.m. after its brakes failed on a downhill stretch of road near Lamzan village, located five miles (8 km) north of Tedim. The injured were taken to Tedim Hospital.

On November 26, a passenger bus overturned near Tedim and 17 people died. Since November 2010, four vehicle accidents in the area have caused a total of 24 deaths, sources said.

Before the accident, soldiers from the junta’s Infantry Battalion  No. 269 requisitioned some passengers who were removed from the truck, which later overturned.

Storm in Rangoon damages homes in three townships

Monday, 14 March 2011 11:38 Mizzima News

Rangoon (Mizzima) – An estimated 150 houses were damaged by strong winds in three townships in Rangoon on Friday, the Rangoon Division Peace and Development Council (DPDC) said.

Rain and high winds damaged dozens of homes in
three townships in Rangoon District on Saturday,
March 12. Photo : Mizzima
The retired director general of the metropolitan office, Dr. Tun Lwin, told Mizzima that the wind came from a 10-mile wide cloud.

‘The cloud caused strong winds, lightning and tornados plus heavy rain’, he said.

The winds struck Khayan, South Dagon and Dagon Seikkan townships between 1:30 and 3 p.m.

A relief camp was opened for 530 victims from 90 damaged houses in Dagon Seikkan Township and another relief camp was opened at the State Basic Education School in Dagon Satellite Township for victims of 40 damaged houses.

A 17-year-old  student from No. 87 Ward in Dagon Seikkan received minor injuries from flying debris.

Rangoon has been hit by thunderstorms and strong winds over the past four days.
Friday, March 11, 2011

Without costly remedies, Inle Lake could dry up again

Friday, 11 March 2011 22:01 Tun Tun

New Delhi (Mizzima) – Burma’s Inle Lake in Shan State might dry up again for a second year because of little progress on conservation preservation, according to a conservation group and a local political party.

Long boats marooned in a section of Inle Lake, Burma's
second-largest lake, which is in danger of drying up
because of silt and water shortages. Photo : Mizzima
Inle Lake in Yawnghwe in Shan State is the second largest lake in Burma and a premier tourist attraction and pilgrimage site.

Two groups, the Forest Resource Environment and Development Association (FREDA), and Inn, a local political party, issued the warning.

FREDA chairman U Ohn told Mizzima that little effective preventive conservation work has been done and there has been a lack of promised foreign aid. ‘This is a cash crunch problem’, he said.

Inn National Development Party (INDP) Shan State Lower House MP Win Myint told Mizzima: ‘We are in the same situation we had before. The water in the lake is only one and half feet deep at Yawnghwe and Phaungdaw Seik. You can see the lake bed while you are traveling on the lake. Motorboats have difficulty in mooring at Phaungdawoo pier’.

The average depth of the lake is about 7 feet. The maximum depth is about 12 feet in summer.

In 2008, the lake dried up and shrunk from 40 square miles to about 23 square miles.

U Ohn said that he was disappointed by the failure to address the problem.

‘The scholars and academics have submitted their papers on this work’, he said. ‘But the funding for this work must be provided by either government or foreign donors. We have only limited financial resource of 6.6 million kyat (US$ 75,000).

‘We can do only minor work. The foreign donors are just giving lip service but not actually giving money to us. I am disappointed with the project’, he said. A local domestic fund for Inle Lake was raised by donations from local hotels, restaurants and private donors.

Stilt houses on Inle Lake in southern Shan State with the aqua-culture islet used to grow
FREDA estimated about US$ 50 million (45 billion kyat) is needed for the conservation project. The European Union EU earmarked 400 million euro for environmental conservation work in five Southeast Asian countries. About seven months ago, FREDA asked the EU for US$ 60,000 for survey work but it has not yet received a reply.

U Ohn said the causes are well known. ‘Hotels and restaurants in the area must do proper waste disposal management in their businesses’, he said. ‘They should not discard waste into the lake, and they should convert their waste into organic fertilizer. Also they must build proper toilets. The most important thing is a buffer zone in which we must grow trees and do reforestation work. In farming too, the farmers should use organic fertilizer instead of chemical ones. The chemicals used in growing tomatoes on floating islets do serious damage to the environment.

tomatoes. The lake, in danger of drying up for a second
year, is a major tourist attraction and important cultural
center. Photo : Mizzima
‘The inlet source of Inle Lake is the catchment area around the lake and it carries silt. So the lake cannot hold water for a long time and it can easily dry up. We must control the inlet and outlet of water in the lake. The inlet water must be clean and free from silt. At the same time, the outlet water should not be more than the desired amount’, he said.

FREDA is a nongovernmental organization in Burma that works for environment protection and conservation. Currently, it is working on reforestation of mangrove forests in the Cyclone Nargis-hit Irrawaddy delta region.

INDP MP Win Myint said the party has proposed a plan to plant trees up to 20 miles around the lake and the creation of a reservoir to supply clean water for the lake.

‘We can do this work as a mass movement with volunteers’, he said. It would be good to get foreign donations, he said, but the effort can’t depend on donations.

‘This lake is the lifeline of our local people so we have to do this work even it takes 10 or 20 years to complete. We are determined to do this work’, he said.

U Ohn said that he was frustrated to see weak coordination among the agriculture, forest, irrigation and fishery departments, but he was glad to see the formation of a government environment and economic research working group.

Currently, local authorities are engaged in dredging work in the lake and building embankments.