Tuesday, November 20, 2007

AVAAZ's call on ASEAN to ACT NOW

For those in Asia, please help put the pressure on ASEAN to act now!

from AVAAZ:
Asia: Act Now for Myanmar's People
On November 21, China, India, South Korea, New Zealand, Australia and Japan join the leaders of ASEAN at the East Asia Summit in Singapore. This meeting is crucial. With thousands of monks and democrats still imprisoned in Myanmar, these Asian leaders hold vital levers over the military dictatorship there.

Coordinated Asian pressure could decide whether dialogue between Aung San Suu Kyi and the military junta is genuine, or just another con-trick. That’s why we're sending a wave of messages from all around Asia, asking leaders to offer practical support to the UN effort, and to take real steps to press the Myanmar junta into freeing the prisoners and opening real dialogue.

Sign HERE.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Enough to Break the Balance?


Sunday, November 18, 2007

NEED-Burma and the Food Security Crisis in Burma


Last week, I began helping out part-time with the Network for Environment and Economic Development (NEED-Burma), an NGO that works on training Burmese on sustainable agriculture methods. Because of poor economic policies, rapid natural resource extraction, and the ongoing civil war, the food security and environmental situation in Burma is worsening. In 1960, Burma was the world's #1 rice exporter. Today, 40% of children are malnourished. This particular NGO seeks to train Burmese from all over Burma on how to grow organic and nutritious fruit and produce that does not pollute or degrade the environment.

Yesterday, NEED's Sustainable Agriculture Advisor said to me that most Burma-related empowerment groups concentrate solely on politics and democracy, but not many give environmental and agricultural training to those on the ground. NEED works to ensure that its farming methods can be replicated in any agricultural area in Burma.

Not to digress too much, but personally, as a trained environmentalist, one of the easiest and most effective ways to take care of the environment and to ensure a future for subsequent generations is to focus on how food is grown. Too much harmful pesticides is used and waste created in the food production methods that most of the world uses today.

In addition to starting a sizeable compost pile out of food waste and leaf litter, we began building an ecological sanitation toilet at NEED's model farm yesterday. It is based on the Indian Kerala system. It's a urine diversion dehydration (UDD) toilet. The urine will be siphoned off as fertilizer, the faeces will go into a drop hole for processing, and the washing water will go to an evapo-transpiration bed, probably for coconuts. To my knowledge, it will be the first of its kind in Thailand. And if this demonstration toilet is a success, and the knowledge can be transferred over to Burma, it can be the start of eco-san in Burma. That's an exciting and hopeful thought.

NEED's explanation on its choice of focusing on Sustainable Agriculture HERE.

Read the February 2007 brief on Burma's Ecological Crisis written by UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights to Myanmar Paulo Sergio Pinheiro HERE.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Myanmar says 14 killed in protests: UN investigator


The AFP brief of UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights to Myanmar Paulo Sergio Pinheiro's trip to Burma HERE. Pinheiro advocates for better medical treatment for political prisoners, prison access for the International Committee of the Red Cross, and stronger cooperation and coordination within the international arena to enact change in Burma. He will be presenting his findings to the UN Human Rights Council on December 11.

BANGKOK (AFP) — A UN rights investigator said Friday that Myanmar's military government told him 14 people had been killed in Yangon during the violent suppression of pro-democracy protests in September.

Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, who ended a five-day mission to Myanmar on Thursday, said the government recognised that 14 people had been killed in Yangon and cremated at a cemetery that he visited during his mission.

But he said he was still reviewing the evidence he gathered in Myanmar and could not yet give his own estimate on the casualties or detentions resulting from the crackdown.

"I'm not in a position to say that this is an accurate number," he told reporters in Bangkok, the capital of neighbouring Thailand.

The Myanmar government claimed that no Buddhist monks were among the dead, he added.

Protests that began in August in anger at an overnight hike in fuel prices snowballed in September when Buddhist monks began leading marches that turned into the biggest anti-government demonstrations in nearly 20 years.

Until now, the government had put the number of dead at 10, although diplomats have estimated the toll could be much higher.

Pinheiro declined to give his own estimate of how many people had been detained over the protests, but urged better medical care for the inmates.

"They need better medical treatment," he said.

The United Nations also urged Myanmar to end its nearly two-year ban on prison visits by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

"The special rapporteur reemphasised a strong call to the authorities to re-engage with the International Committee of the Red Cross," the UN said in a statement.

Pinheiro is due to present a report on his findings to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on December 11.

The United Nations said in its statement that Myanmar had given Pinheiro "a number of detailed records that respond partially to his requests" concerning the crackdown.

Pinherio also urged the international community to better coordinate their policies to prod the ruling junta toward reform.

"If you want to achieve some progress in Myanmar, we cannot have a cacophony of policies... We need to have coordination," he said.

After Pinheiro visited Yangon's notorious Insein prison on Thursday, Myanmar released 53 inmates -- but only six of them were political prisoners, all of whom had been arrested years before the protests.

Amnesty International has estimated that 700 people arrested over the protests were still in detention, although the government has said only 91 of the nearly 3,000 originally rounded up are still being held.

Pinheiro visited Insein prison twice during his visit to Myanmar this week, a trip aimed at investigating the deaths and detentions from the junta's crackdown.

On Thursday, Pinheiro said he was allowed to meet with some political prisoners, including prominent labour activist Su Su Nway.

But Pinheiro was not allowed to meet with democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the detained Nobel peace prize winner who has spent 12 of the last 18 years under house arrest in Yangon.

China Blocks UN Security Council Presidential Statement on Burma


Last Thursday, US Ambassador to the UN Zalmay Khalilzad has publicly stated that China has blocked the issuance of a UN Security Council Resolution on Burma. The story HERE.

The US on Thursday alleged that China blocked the issuing of a presidential statement on Burma at the UN Security Council.

Led by the US, a majority of the countries in the 15-member Security Council had favored issuing a presidential statement after closed door consultations on Tuesday and a briefing on the Burmese issue by Ibrahim Gambari, the UN Special Envoy on Burma.

A presidential statement—though not legally binding, unlike a resolution—can only be issued with a consensus, meaning that all members of the Security Council have to agree on it and its content. China opposed issuing a presidential statement on Burma, which would have been the second one in a little over a month.

“We were disappointed by their (China’s) unwillingness to support a PRST (presidential statement). They were only willing to support a statement. We worked hard to persuade them to go for a PRST, but they did not cooperate,” the US Ambassador to the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad said.

At the same time, Khalilzad noted the cooperation of China in the past with regard to Burma in facilitating the work of Gambari.

This is for the first time that a top US official has come out openly to state that China was not cooperating with it and other like-minded members of the Security Council on the issue of Burma. This was very much evident on Tuesday during the debate on Burma at the Security Council. While China and Russia observed that sanctions against Burma were counterproductive and termed the mission of Gambari to Burma as successful, the delegates of the US, Britain and France observed that the steps taken by the Burmese junta following international pressure were timid and more needed to be done.

Ethnic Ceasefire Groups Told to Sign Statement against Suu Kyi


The Irrawaddy's Thursday article on the junta's forcing ethnic ceasefire groups to denounce Aung San Suu Kyi. This comes on the heels of a statement made by Suu Kyi released via UN Special Envoy to Myanmar Ibrahim Gambari on November 8. In it, Suu Kyi said that it was imperative to consider ethnic perspectives in any discourse relating to national reconciliation. On November 10, twelve ethnic groups welcomed Suu Kyi's statement and called for a tripartite dialogue amongst the junta, political opposition forces, and ethnic minorities. The junta's move is an attempt to counter renewed internal support for the imprisoned Nobel Peace Laureate.

The junta has again relied on its age old policy of divide and conquer by manipulating ceasefire groups for its own aims. Again, it is surprising to note that while the SPDC refuses to engage in talks with registered political parties, such as the NLD, it has no qualms negotiating with armed insurgent groups. This demonstrates that the junta is much more responsive to violent threats than legally recognized, registered political forces. Incidentally, a news story on 80,000 IDPs in Karenni State HERE.

The Burmese government has coerced several ethnic ceasefire groups and other ethnic parties to sign a written statement saying Aung Suu San Kyi has no leadership role among ethnic nationalities, according to reliable sources.

State-run newspapers have recently run statements from several ethnic groups' which are critical of Suu Kyi. Observers say the statements are an effort to drive a wedge between pro-democracy groups and ethnic groups.

The United Wa State Army (UWSA), the Kachin Defense Army (KDA), the Kokant Army and the Shan State Army (North) met with government officials in Lashio in northern Shan State. Military officials called the leaders to sign a statement that was already written by unknown parties, sources close to the ceasefire groups told The Irrawaddy on Thursday.

“Three days ago, the junta’s Minister of Culture, Brig-Gen Khin Aung Myint, arrived to Lashio. On November 12, officials of the North-East Regional Command told leaders of ceasefire groups to come to Lashio by November 13. Wa’s deputy chairman was among them. The leaders of four ceasefire groups met with minister Khin Aung Myint and the regional commander on November 14,” said the source.

“The military officials brought anti-Daw Aung San Suu Kyi statements, already written, to the meeting. Leaders of the groups were told to sign the statements,” the source said.

Two ceasefire groups, the UWSA and Kokant, did not sign the statements during the meeting, and the SSA told authorities that it would reply to their request by November 15. UWSA is said to have an estimated 20,000 troops which is the biggest ceasefire group.

Meanwhile, the state-run-press has published the statements of other ethnic groups.

The statements in The New Light of Myanmar said they welcomed the meeting between Suu Kyi and the liaison officer, ex-Maj-Gen Aung Kyi. The statements said Suu Kyi does not represent ethnic groups, referring to her statement on November 8, which was conveyed by UN envoy Ishmael Gambari.

In the statement, Suu Kyi said, “In this time of vital need for democratic solidarity and national unity, it is my duty to give constant and serious considerations to the interests and opinions of as broad a range of political organizations and forces as possible, in particular those of our ethnic nationality races.”

Nyan Win, a spokesperson of the Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, denied the allegations in junta newspapers that Suu Kyi claimed to represent ethnic groups.

“This kind of allegation is delaying ongoing dialogue and the national reconciliation process,” said Nyan Win.

On November 10, twelve ethnic parties based inside Burma issued statements that welcomed Suu Kyi’s November 8 statement and called for tripartite dialogue.

“We welcome dialogue between the ruling, pro- democracy forces led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and representatives of ethnic nationalities,” said the statement.

The exiled ethnic umbrella group, Ethnic Nationalities Council, also welcomed Suu Kyi's November 9 statement.

AVAAZ's Boycott on Total Oil, Chevron, and Their Subsidiaries


***The petitions and pledges are now up to 19.***

AVAAZ also is launching a global boycott of Total Oil and Chevron and all their subsidiaries that operate in Burma. You can sign AVAAZ's pledge HERE. By hitting them straight in their bottom line, AVAAZ hopes to press these corporations to either push Burma to democratic reform, or to leave the country entirely.

I will say though, while many Western Burma-related NGOs and advocacy networks believe that a complete pullout of Western companies doing business in Burma is the quickest, surefire way to weaken the junta and bring about political change in the troubled nation, the situation is not as clearcut. While companies operating in Burma can use their leverage to enact political change, company pullout can create a power vacuum, creating the conditions for even more abusive (Chinese or other energy-hungry Asian) companies to fill in the void. Chinese, Malaysian, Korean companies would readily, easily, and quickly answer the call for investment.

I have heard that Burmese on the ground are actually against a pullout of Western companies. The are afraid that if Western companies leave, Asian companies with poorer human rights records will move in. In the historic Doe vs. Unocal Case involving the construction of the Yadana pipeline, the verdict held that Unocal WAS liable for human rights abuses committed by SPDC troops hired by the oil company. Some think a more effective way to uphold human rights in Burma, especially in areas where multinationals invest, is to put pressure on Western companies to operate in a responsible manner. The Corporate Social Responsibility discourse is much more predominant and established in the West than in the East, where many countries are still subject to the "race to the bottom" for development. Hence, advocating for Western companies to observe CSR is a more suitable option on which Western activists can rely. Moreover, I personally doubt that enough companies will pull out in a short timeframe to create serious cash flow problems for the junta.

Journalist and author Ross Gelbspan has put forth the following theory in his book about climate change The Heat is On. If a totalitarian state (like Burma) suffers from severe economic instability (such as one that would occur from a massive investor pullout), the conditions would be ripe for GREATER, not lesser human rights abuses. It's the same old Asian Values argument that says economic considerations and the right to development come before civil and political rights. By supervising companies who invest in Burma and getting them to responsibly operate, the hope is that multinationals can counteract human rights abuses.

Another petition: Sign Earthrights International's petition urging Chevron to use its influence to help stop the crackdown, and to stop investing in Burma HERE.

Friday, November 16, 2007

US Citizens, Help get the Block Burmese JADE and the Burmese Democracy Promotion Acts Passed


US Citizens, please help get the Block Burmese JADE (Junta Anti-Democratic Efforts)Act and the Burmese Democracy Promotion Act passed. Put the pressure on your Representatives and Senators for the toughest US Sanctions against Burma yet. These Acts would stop allowing the junta to launder funds, gems, timber, and other products in third countries before they are sold.

from the US Campaign for Burma:

Call Your Representative and Senators!
Make Sure the US is not bankrolling the Burmese Regime's Brutal Actions

In the House of Representatives, Rep. Lantos has introduced the "Block Burmese JADE (Junta Anti-Democratic Efforts) Act" and in the Senate, Senators Biden and McConnell have introduced the "Burmese Democracy Promotion Act". Both of these will tighten sanctions on Burma's military regime and really hit the generals where it hurts. Call in today to demand that your Representative and Senator co-sponsor. Find your Representative's info at www.house.gov and find your Senators' by going to www.senate.gov. Call today and call everyday until you get an answer! Find out more information on the resolutions and what you should do- Click Here to Take Action

The Burmese Democracy Promotion Act of 2007 (Senate) and the Block Burmese JADE (Junti Anti Democratic Efforts) has the power to force the regime to negotiate with Burma's democracy leaders and Ethnic nationalities. We must show the people of Burma that the U.S. is taking action to support their calls for freedom, democracy and human rights. Call your Senator today asking him/her to support the Burmese Democracy Promotion Act! Organize your community to call in as well. Contact details for your Senators are given below.

What the Acts Do:

The regime makes hundreds of millions of dollars each year off the sale of gems and timber. More than 90 percent of the world's rubies and fine-quality jade comes from Burma. The new sanctions will crack down on the regime's practice of avoiding U.S. sanctions by laundering gemstones and other products, especially timber, through third countries before they are sold.

This Act also freezes the assets of Burmese political and military leaders, prevents Burma from using U.S. financial institutions via third countries to launder the funds of those leaders or their immediate families, and prohibits Burmese officials involved in the violent suppression of protesters from receiving visas to the United States.

Burma also uses third countries to access the U.S. banking system. These overseas banks process accounts in and through the United States for Burma's rulers, providing the regime with much-needed hard currency. The regime uses these funds to purchase weapons and luxury goods, while the bulk of Burma's population lives in poverty.

Biden and McConnell's legislation tightens existing sanctions to prevent Burma's military rulers from profiting from sales to the United States, and blocks access to the U.S. financial system not just for Burmese human rights violators but also to those who provide the regime with banking services.

The bill also creates a new position of Special Representative and Policy Coordinator for Burma. The Special Representative will work with Burma's neighbors and other interested countries, including the members of the European Union and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, to develop a comprehensive approach to the problem, including sanctions, dialogue, and support for non-governmental organizations providing humanitarian relief to the Burmese people.

These Acts, if passed, would be the strongest action yet that the U.S. takes to pressure Burma's military regime to negotiate with Burma's democracy leaders and ethnic nationalities.

To read the legislation:

House : Block Burmese JADE (Junta Anti-Democratic Efforts) Act

Senate: Burmese Democracy Promotion Act

Contact information:

Call your Senators/ Representative's offices and ask to speak with their foreign policy staffer. If s/he is not there leave a message and ask her/him to call you back. Call today and every day until you get an answer!

Find Your Representative: www.house.gov

Find Your Senator: www.senate.gov

Senate: To add their name as a cosponsor: Let them know that to co-sponsor (Burmese Democracy Promotion Act of 2007 - S.2257)Democrats should contact Frank Jannuzi at the Committee on Foreign Relations at 202-224-4651

Republicans should contact Reb Brownell in Senator McConnell's office at 202-224-2541

House: To add their name as a co-sponsor:
Let them know that to co-sponsor they should contact Eric Richardson at the Committee on Foreign Affairs office at eric.richardson@mail.house.gov or 225-5021.

Talking Points for Staffer:
- Tell the staffer you want your Senator to co-sponsor the Burmese Democracy Promotion Act of 2007

- Give her/him proof that this policy works. It cuts off hundreds of millions of dollars to the regime and will specifically target the top generals' finances.

- Mention that the military junta still deserves sanctions. On top of brutally crushing thousands of peaceful demonstrators, including monks, the military regime has destroyed more than 3,000 villages. It has forcibly displaced more than half a million people inside Burma as well as causing a million refugees to flee across the border to neighboring countries and has made no efforts to move toward democracy.

- Let her/him know it is important to send a strong signal to the regime that the US government will continue to keep American money out the hands of the junta.

- This is not the only action being taken against Burma. On top of many diplomatic efforts, the EU has imposed new sanctions, as well as Australia, and even Japan has decreased aid to Burma.

- Finally ask the staffer to call you back when your Senator has co-sponsored the Burmese Democracy Promotion Act. Important: Leave your phone number!
Let him/her know that his/her constituents care about Burma!

Check up to see if they cosponsor:
It's easy to check and see if they follow through and agree to cosponsor. THOMAS, the Library of Congress' congressional records database updates a list of all information on legislation. Click HERE to find out who has signed as cosponsors in the House, and Click HERE to see who has signed as cosponsors in the Senate.

Please let me know when you have contacted your Senator and how it went - thelma@uscampaignforburma.org. These new sanctions will hit the regime where it hurts.

Canada Announces Tougher Sanctions Against Burma


Canada has just joined the ranks of the US and the EU in imposing tougher sanctions against Burma, barring exports to and imports from the dictatorship, as well as banning investments. The article on Canada's Special Economic Measures Act HERE.

A day after China and Russia told the United Nations Security Council that sanctions against Burma would be counterproductive, Canada, one of the strongest supporters of the pro-democracy movement in Burma, on Wednesday announced a series of tough sanctions against the Burmese junta.

Following the new sanctions, the Canadian government has imposed a ban on: all goods exported from Canada to Burma, with the exception of humanitarian goods; all goods imported from Burma into Canada; and any new investment in Burma by Canadian persons and companies.

The sanctions imposed under the Special Economic Measures Act, prohibits: the provision of Canadian financial services to and from Burma; the export of any technical data to Burma; Canadian-registered ships or aircraft from docking or landing in Burma; and Burmese-registered ships or aircraft from docking or landing in Canada or passing through Canada.

The Canadian government also announced a freeze on assets in Canada of any designated Burmese nationals connected with the Burmese government.

Announcing the sanctions, the Canadian Foreign Minister, Maxime Bernier, said, “Tougher sanctions against Burma are the right thing to do. They are right on moral grounds. The regime in Burma is abhorrent to Canadian values.”

Only a day earlier, participating in a debate on the current situation in Burma at the UN, the Burmese ambassador had urged member nations not to impose sanctions while the Russian and Chinese ambassadors had said that the imposition of sanctions against the military regime could be counterproductive. However, countries such as Canada, Britain and the United States are taking a harder line with the Burmese regime. The US Ambassador to the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad, had said at the UN on Tuesday that sanctions do play an important role in pressure building.

“The strongest message has to be sent. Sanctions are the means by which we, not just Canada, but the international community, can best exert pressure against the junta," Bernier said in a speech at the Economic Club of Toronto after announcing the sanctions.

Earlier in the day, Bernier met about 20 Burmese dissident leaders, including monks, at the Toronto Burmese Buddhist Temple. This was the first interaction of its kind between the Canadian foreign minister and senior Burmese dissidents.

“We are very delighted with today’s visit by Hon Maxime Bernier, Minister of Foreign Affairs,” said Zaw Wai Kyaw, president of Burma Buddhist Association of ontario. He also expressed appreciation of the government’s efforts and support to achieve national reconciliation, religious freedom, democracy and human rights for the people of Burma.

“We are pleased to arrange this meeting between the minister Bernier and Burmese representatives,” said Tin Maung Htoo, Executive Director of Canadian Friends of Burma. “This is indeed an historic moment, not only the minister meeting with them, but also making an important policy statement.”

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights to Myanmar Visits Insein Prison


Yesterday, UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights to Myanmar Paulo Sergio Pinheiro visited the notorious Insein Prison and Ngwe Kyar Yan Monastery, one of the scenes of the fallout from September's protests. The human rights envoy's purpose was to ascertain the number of deaths from the crackdown, to gauge the level of human rights abuses in Burma, and to survey prison conditions and the health of detained political prisoners. According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), the prison was prepped for Pinheiro's visit (Irrawaddy).

The Reuter's article HERE:

U.N. human rights envoy to Myanmar Paulo Sergio Pinheiro visited Yangon’s notorious Insein prison and other detention centers on Monday where protesters were held after soldiers crushed anti-junta marches in September.

A statement by the U.N. office in Yangon gave no details of the visits, but a diplomat said earlier Pinheiro would try to meet Min Ko Naing and Ko Ko Gyi, two leaders of August’s fuel price protests believed to be held at Insein.

“He is expecting to interview detainees before the end of his mission and receive further details on their records,” the statement said. He is due to leave on Thursday.

The Brazilian law professor, on his first trip to the former Burma in four years, also visited Yangon’s former Government Technical College and a police headquarters where some detainees from the biggest anti-junta protests in 20 years were held.

He also met senior abbots of the State Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee, the state governing body of the Buddhist clergy), and visited two monasteries “involved in the recent demonstrations.”

Hundreds of maroon-robed monks were among the 2,927 people official media say were rounded up in the crackdown.

State papers have denied any monks were among the 10 official dead, even though monks reported that at least five of their brethren were killed when soldiers and pro-government thugs raided monasteries thought to be leading the protests.

Several photos have emerged on the Internet of what appear to be mutilated bodies of dead monks, although it is impossible to known when or where they were taken.

Official media say all but 91 of those arrested were released after questioning — a figure that, like the junta’s death toll, Pinheiro is likely to probe in great detail. Western governments say the real toll is probably far higher.

Relatives of political detainees, many of whom played a part in another mass uprising against decades of military rule in 1988, said conditions in Insein had improved in the run-up to Pinheiro’s visit.

“We were allowed to send things to them. We got a chance to learn their health condition. It’s the first time since they were arrested in August,” one family member told Reuters.

In the past, Pinheiro has been allowed access to all political prisoners he wished to see, but stormed out of an interview with a detainee at Insein four years ago when he discovered a tape recorder stuck beneath the table.

Before September’s crackdown, Amnesty International estimated the junta was holding around 1,100 political prisoners, including opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest for 12 of the last 18 years.

Pinheiro’s visit, which will see him fly to the regime’s jungle capital, Naypyidaw, on Tuesday, followed the departure of Ibrahim Gambari, the U.N.’s point-man on Myanmar, last week.

Gambari’s second visit since the crackdown sparked hopes the military might be willing to talk about political reform with detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The Nobel laureate’s political party, which won a 1990 election landslide only to be denied power by the army, quoted her as being “optimistic” during a meeting with party chiefs.

Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest for 12 of the last 18 years, said the generals were “serious and really willing to work for national reconciliation,” party spokesman Nyan Win said.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Small-scale protest in Rangoon


From the Democratic Voice of Burma:

Nov 9, 2007 (DVB)–Students in Botahtaung township, Rangoon, staged a short-lived protest yesterday before being dispersed by government security forces, according to an eyewitness.

Around 50 students assembled on Bo Aung Kyaw street for the demonstration.

The protestors were holding pictures of junta leader senior general Than Shwe with women’s underwear superimposed on his head, and they shouted slogans condemning the government for its crackdown on monks.

Bystanders clapped their hands in support of the protestors.

The demonstration only lasted a few minutes before government security forces appeared and the protestors dispersed.

The witness was unsure if any arrests were made because all the demonstrators and bystanders fled the scene as soon as the government forces arrived.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Text of Aung San Suu Kyi's statement released by U.N. envoy


While UN special envoy to Myanmar Ibrahim Gambari was able to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi yesterday, he was unable to secure an audience with Senior General Than Shwe. Here's a statement released by Aung San Suu Kyi via Gambari. The AP article HERE

SINGAPORE: Following is the text of the statement by Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, released Thursday by U.N. envoy Ibrahim Gambari.

"I wish to thank all those who have stood by my side all this time, both inside and outside my country. I am also grateful to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, for his unwavering support for the cause of national reconciliation, democracy and human rights in my country.

"I welcome the appointment on 8 October of Minister Aung Kyi as Minister for Relations. Our first meeting on 25 October was constructive and I look forward to further regular discussions. I expect that this phase of preliminary consultations will conclude soon so that a meaningful and timebound dialogue with the SPDC leadership can start as early as possible.

"In the interest of the nation, I stand ready to cooperate with the Government in order to make this process of dialogue a success and welcome the necessary good offices role of the United Nations to help facilitate our efforts in this regard.

"In full awareness of the essential role of political parties in democratic societies, in deep appreciation of the sacrifices of the members of my party and in my position as General Secretary, I will be guided by the policies and wishes of the National League for Democracy. However, in this time of vital need for democratic solidarity and national unity, it is my duty to give constant and serious considerations to the interests and opinions of as broad a range of political organizations and forces as possible, in particular those of our ethnic nationality races.

"To that end, I am committed to pursue the path of dialogue constructively and invite the Government and all relevant parties to join me in this spirit.

"I believe that stability, prosperity and democracy for my country, living at peace with itself and with full respect for human rights, offers the best prospect for my country to fully contribute to the development and stability of the region in close partnership with its neighbors and fellow ASEAN members, and to play a positive role as a respected member of the international community."

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Burma the Most Corrupt and Worst Government in the World


Transparency International, the global coalition against corruption, puts out an "annual Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), first released in 1995, is the best known of TI’s tools. It has been widely credited with putting TI and the issue of corruption on the international policy agenda. The CPI ranks 180 countries by their perceived levels of corruption, as determined by expert assessments and opinion surveys." Burma is tied for last place with Somalia. You can see the listings HERE
From Irrawaddy:

In addition to being the most corrupt government, Burma has been ranked ‘zero,’ the worst government in the world according to the amount of freedom citizens have to voice opinions and select a government, according to the latest Worldwide Governance Indicators report.

Countries with the best overall rankings included Denmark, 100; Canada, 94; and Australia, 93.
Countries with the worst overall rankings included Burma 0, China 4 and Vietnam 8.
The Worldwide Governance Indicators (WGI) research project, covering 212 countries and territories, measured six areas of governance between 1996 and 2006 to make its rankings: Voice and Accountability, Political Stability and Absence of Violence, Government Effectiveness, Regulatory Quality, Rule of Law and Control of Corruption.
In the Voice and Accountability category, Burma has ranked near ‘zero’ since 1996.

Among Burma's neighbors: India ranked 58; Thailand, 32 and China, 4. Laos was ranked 6; Cambodia, 21; Malaysia, 38; Indonesia, 41; Philippines, 44; and Singapore 46.

The Worldwide Governance Indicators are produced by researchers from the World Bank Institute and the World Bank Development Economics Research Group.

The aggregate indicators combine the views of a large number of enterprises, citizens and experts in industrial and developing countries. The individual data sources underlying the aggregate indicators are drawn from a variety of survey institutes, think tanks, non-governmental organizations and international organizations.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

More Monks March


About 100 monks marched in Mogok, in north central Burma, source of most of the world's finest rubies and shappires, on Nov. 3rd, 3 days after 200 monks marched in Pakkoku on Oct. 31.

From the Democratic Voice of Burma. Article only in Burmese. Translated by a co-worker:

Mandalay State, Mogoke, the locals have reported that about 100 monks have peacefully marched chanting metta sutta from around 1pm. The march was met with locals coming out to support and encourage. A lot of them followed the monks on motorcycles and some marched along the sides of the monk to show support and as a form to protection. Around 3pm, local police and the military arrived to block the roads and requested the crowd to break up at PeikSwae suburb. Over a month after the protests were brutally crushed, the first protest since took place at Pakokku and today, it marks the second march by the monks from Mogoke. The peaceful march today was met with enthusiasm and support from the locals.

Burma's Link between Environmental Degradation and Human Rights Abuses


*The petitions are now up to 18. Here's the newest one--The Burma Rivers Network's PETITION calls on the Chinese government to closely monitor Chinese companies that invest in hydropower and other extractive industries in Burma (and other countries). Nontransparent operation, poor oversight, and not keeping affect communities informed has led to environmental degradation and human rights abuses in Burma.

In my opinion, most commentators and analysts have overwhelmingly overlooked to what extent foreign and government investment in large scale development projects has lead to environmental degradation and human rights abuses. Many hydropower plants, mines, timber concessions, and other infrastructure projects are located in armed conflict areas. Villagers are often forced to work on these projects with no pay or food, often to the point of starvation, exhaustion, and sickness. Many are killed for not being able to continue carrying excessive loads.

Even worse, Burma Army soldiers are employed to ensure the security of these projects. As projects are commonly located in ethnic conflict areas, it gives the opportunity for Burmese troops to continue their use of torture, killings, sexual violence, and village destruction to further subjugate ethnic groups and to weaken the resistance movement--these projects are part in parcel of the junta's campaign to extend influence and to consolidate control.

For more on this ecological perspective, other sources to look at:

Salween Watch
Earthrights International
International Rivers Network
Foundation for Ecological Recovery
South East Asia Rivers Network
Shan Herald Agency for News

What Burma's Junta Must Fear


An article by U Gambira, leader of the All-Burma Monks Alliance, which spearheaded nationwide protests in September. Wanted by Burma's military junta, he is living in hiding as he continues the monks' campaign.

In August, the Burmese people began to write a new chapter in their determination to find peace and freedom. Burmese monks peacefully protested to bring change to our long-suffering country. As we marched, hundreds of thousands of Burmese and our ethnic cousins joined us to reinforce our collective demand: that military rule finally give way to the people's desire for democracy.

Video and the Internet have allowed the world to witness the brutal response directed by Gen. Than Shwe, Burma's de facto ruler and military leader. Than Shwe unleashed his soldiers and the regime's thugs, who attacked us. Once again the streets in Rangoon and Mandalay ran red with the blood of innocent civilians seeking to save our country from the moral, social, political and economic crises that consume us.

Hundreds of our monks and nuns have been beaten and arrested. Many have been murdered. Alarmingly, thousands of clergy have disappeared. Our sacred monasteries have been looted and destroyed. As darkness falls each night, intelligence units try to round up political and religious leaders.

Military rule has brought Burma to collapse. Our economy is in ruins. Once the breadbasket of Asia, Burma cannot feed itself. Once we were a light for education and literacy; now, the regime has closed schools and universities. Once we breathed the air of freedom; now, we choke on the foul air of tyranny. We are an enslaved people.

My colleagues and I welcomed the strong actions of the United States to impose financial and travel restrictions on the regime and its enablers. Australia is following this model, and the European Union should as well.

Than Shwe and his fellow military leaders have sought to portray this uprising as a singular event, now over. A veneer of quiet has replaced the sounds of gunfire on city streets. Unfortunately, many in the international community buy in and actively support this propaganda.

At the United Nations, China and Russia continue to block the Security Council from facilitating a dialogue between democratic forces and the regime. Within our region, senior officials of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations have condemned the regime's actions but have done little else. Perhaps most disappointing, the world's largest democracy, India, continues to provide military assistance and trade deals that help finance the regime's war on its people.

What will it take for the world to realize that Burma's generals are a menace and that because of their misrule, drugs, diseases and refugees from Burma spill across borders and wash through other societies, ruining lives?

The recent steps by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and his special adviser, Ibrahim Gambari, to open a dialogue with Burma's generals are welcome and necessary. The United Nations can help bring peace to Burma. However, the Security Council is the proper forum. All efforts must focus on making council members take the steps necessary to coerce the generals to come to terms with the people. This involves setting a timetable for the regime to release all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi; allow free assembly; and give a full accounting of the thousands who have disappeared. The council should also seek a ban on all arms sales to the regime.

People ask whether I am disheartened and whether this latest spasm of democratic activism is over. The answer to both questions is no. Although I am wanted by the military and forced to hide in my own country, I am awed by the bravery of so many, including sympathetic security agents of the junta who opened their homes to democracy leaders and me.

Since August, I have seen my country galvanized as never before. I have watched our 88 Generation leaders bravely confront the military. I have watched a new generation of activists join to issue an unequivocal call for freedom. And I have watched as many in the police and military, sickened at what they were forced to do to their countrymen, give so many of us quiet help. The primary tools wielded by Burma's senior generals, a climate of fear and the use of violence, are no longer working -- and with nothing to lose, we are no longer afraid.

On Wednesday, more than 200 monks staged a protest in Pakokku. They stared military officers in the face. Their spirit and determination are a warning to the regime and those that prop it up.

Burma's Saffron Revolution is just beginning. The regime's use of mass arrests, murder, torture and imprisonment has failed to extinguish our desire for the freedom that was stolen from us so many years ago. We have taken their best punch.

Now it is the generals who must fear the consequences of their actions. We adhere to nonviolence, but our spine is made of steel. There is no turning back. It matters little if my life or the lives of colleagues should be sacrificed on this journey. Others will fill our sandals, and more will join and follow.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Junta expels U.N. diplomat


Internet has been cut again after the Oct. 31's protest. The generals are afraid that Pakokku will once again be the spark that ignites nation wide protests. Many monks have been warned not to take part in new demonstrations....

The junta continues to send mixed messages to the international community: As it prepares to receive UN special envoy to Myanmar Ibrahim Gambari, it has expelled UN resident coordinator Charles Petri. CNN's article HERE. MSN's HERE.

Myanmar's Foreign Ministry has ordered a top U.N. diplomat in the secretive Asian country to leave, the U.S. Charge d'Affaires in Myanmar told CNN on Friday.

According to Shari Villarosa, U.N. resident coordinator Charles Petri was told by the ruling military junta that "he was no longer welcome in the country."

There was no immediate response from the United Nations.

News of the order for Petri to leave came as Ibrahim Gambari, the special U.N. envoy to Myanmar, was due to return to the troubled nation on Saturday.

"They say that they are interested in cooperating with the U.N.," Villarosa said, "so this seems very unusual to say the least." It was uncertain whether Petri had been given a deadline for leaving the country.

It will be the second visit to Myanmar in recent weeks for Gambari, who has a five-day visa.

The United Nations does not know who Gambari will be meeting with, but it is thought that the envoy will facilitate talks between ruling generals and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, an opposition leader and human rights activist who has been under house arrest on and off for nearly 20 years.

In his October meeting, Gambari met with the military junta leadership as well as with Suu Kyi.

"What everybody has been seeking is the initiation of a genuine dialogue that leads toward broad national reconciliation," Villarosa said.
Don't Miss

The visit will come only a few days after dissident sources in Mae Sot told CNN that more than 70 Buddhist monks marched in central Myanmar on Wednesday.

The march, which the sources said took place in the town of Pakokku, is the first reported since a government crackdown on peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations in September, in which as many as 110 people are believed to have been killed -- including 40 Buddhist monks.

The protests were initially sparked by a huge fuel price increase imposed by the military government, but quickly escalated.

Myanmar's military junta admitted in mid-October to detaining more than 2,900 people during the crackdown, and many of them are still believed to be in custody.

Video smuggled out of the secretive country has shown unarmed protesters being beaten by government security forces, and one man -- believed to be a Japanese journalist -- shot and killed at close range.

Myanmar's humanitarian crisis has sparked international outrage, concern and attention

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Burma: Grace Under Pressure


An interactive slide show by Geoffrey Hiller on his trip to Burma with added social commentary on the plethora of issues there. The slide show HERE.

Also, the Burma Forum of Los Angeles has put together a PDF book Please Use Your Liberty to Promote Our; Personal Accounts of Survival, Resistance and Military Rule in Burma.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Second Rising? Buddhist Monks March Again in Myanmar


Right along with premonitions from one of the head leaders of September's protests, the demonstrations resumed today. While much smaller in scope, today's march sends a strong signal not only to the junta but to the international community that the opposition movement still has life left. It may be the spark needed to galvanize the Burmese for renewed protests. With the world on its toes this time, we can only wait and hope for the best, but also prepare for the worst. The AP article, linked through The Washington Post, HERE.
Other reports on today's March. (Mizzima and the Democratic Voice of Burma both reported that as many as 200 monks marched)
Democratic Voice of Burma

YANGON, Myanmar -- More than 100 Buddhist monks marched and chanted in northern Myanmar for nearly an hour Wednesday, the first public demonstration since the government's deadly crackdown last month on pro-democracy protesters, two monks said.

The monks in Pakokku made no political statements and shouted no slogans, but their march clearly was in defiance of the government and in solidarity with the earlier, anti-government rallies led by monks in many of Myanmar's cities in September.

Those demonstrations were crushed when troops fired on protesters Sept. 27-28 in a crackdown that left at least 20 people dead by the government's count, drawing international condemnation. Opposition groups says as many as 200 people may have been killed.

Pakokku, a center for Buddhist learning with more than 80 monasteries located about 390 miles northwest of the commercial center of Yangon, was the site of the first march last month by monks as they joined _ and then spearheaded _ the biggest anti-government protests in nearly two decades.

The protests originally started Aug. 19, when ordinary citizens took to the streets to vent anger after the government hiked fuel prices as much as 500 percent. The rallies gained momentum when Buddhist monks in Pakokku joined the protests in early September.

Reports that troops had beaten protesting monks in Pakokku on Sept. 6 rallied monks around the country to join the burgeoning marches.

On Wednesday, the monks started out at Pakokku's Shwegu Pagoda, marching for nearly an hour and chanting Buddhist prayers without incident, and then returned to their respective monasteries, two monks said in telephone interviews, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

Child soldiers 'bought and sold' in Myanmar


Yesterday's International Herald Tribune story on the selling and forced recruitment of child soldiers. According to Human Rights Watch, while the junta is renewing efforts to recruit child soldiers, one of the main insurgent groups, the Karen National Liberation Army, has improved its record of child recruits. KNLA officers who use child soldiers are punished. The AP article HERE. Today's Reuters' article on Burma's child soldiers HERE. Irrawaddy's HERE.

BANGKOK: Add to the many hardships in Myanmar today one more danger: being a boy. According to a report that was to be released Wednesday, the military, struggling to meet recruiting quotas, is buying, kidnapping and terrorizing boys as young as 10 to join its ranks.

The report by Human Rights Watch, the New York-based rights group, says military recruiters and civilian brokers scour train stations, bus stations, markets and other public places for boys and coerce them to volunteer. Some may simply disappear without their families' knowledge and spend years on the front lines of a brutal war against ethnic insurgencies.

"Clearly the military is preying upon children and using children to form a substantial proportion of its forces," said a co-author of the report, Jo Becker, the children's rights advocate for Human Rights Watch.

"In recent years the military has continued to expand while at the same time losing large numbers of soldiers to desertion," she said in an interview. "Recruiters and civilian agents are sweeping boys as young as 11 and 12 off the streets. Children are literally being bought and sold by recruiters."

These recruiters and agents receive cash payments and other incentives for new recruits even if the recruit fails to meet basic health and age requirements, said the report, which was based on interviews in Myanmar, Thailand and China.

The large number of child soldiers in Myanmar's army - and in the ranks of some 30 armed ethnic groups - has been known for years, and Human Rights Watch has published reports on it before.

The new report, coming at a moment of crisis in Myanmar, illustrates the kind of broad abuses that gave rise, along with economic hardships, to the huge anti-government protests in August and September that were crushed by the military junta a month ago.

"Even before the recent crackdown, many young adults rejected military service because of grueling conditions, low pay and mistreatment by superior officers," Becker said in the report. "After deploying its soldiers against Buddhist monks and other peaceful demonstrators, the government may find it even harder to find willing volunteers."

In response to criticism, the government formed a high-level committee in 2004 ostensibly to prevent recruitment of underage soldiers. "In fact the committee is a sham," Becker said. She said the committee has been active in denouncing outside reports of the recruitment of children.

Becker said it was impossible to say how many child soldiers are recruited in Myanmar, or even to be certain of the full strength of the armed forces, which is generally estimated at about 400,000.

But the report said that in interviews with 20 former soldiers, all but one estimated that at least 30 percent of their fellow trainees were boys under the age of 18. In some cases, particularly in newly formed units, as many as half were under age.

The legal age for military service is 18, and the report said recruiters and unit commanders often falsify the ages of their new recruits.

The report told of one boy who was recruited at the age of 11, even though he was only 1.3 meters, or 4 feet 3 inches, tall and weighed 31 kilograms, or 70 pounds. That former soldier told Human Rights Watch that his recruiter had bribed the medical officer to certify his eligibility.

The report quoted some former child soldiers as saying they and others had been detained in cells, handcuffed, beaten and sold by one recruiter or battalion to another.

Once in the ranks, the report said, child soldiers are subject to mistreatment by officers and are sometimes forced to participate in the human rights abuses that have been widely documented among the armed forces, known as the Tatmadaw. These include battlefield atrocities, the burning of villages, forcible recruitment of porters and sexual abuse of women.

Although in some cases the children are sheltered from combat, it said, others may be sent to fight within a few days of their arrival.

"One thing that is interesting is that many child soldiers say their first experience in combat is terrifying, they are scared of being shot and often would hide or shoot their gun in the air," Becker said. "But they acclimatized very quickly, so often by the second or third encounter they were no longer afraid."

Some of those interviewed went on to serve 12 or 13 years in the army, she said.

Desertion is punished with arrests and beatings, according to the report. It told the story of one boy, Maung Zaw Oo, who by the time he was 16 had been forcibly recruited into the army twice. He escaped after his first recruitment at age 14, only to be forced to join again soon afterward, the report said.

He told researchers that the corporal who brought him in received a large sum of money, a sack of rice and a big can of cooking oil as bounty. When his relatives tracked him down, they were told he would be released if they brought in five new recruits, the report said.

"I told my aunt, 'Don't do this,' " Maung Zaw Oo was quoted as saying. " 'I don't want others to face this, it's very bad here. I'll just stay and face it myself.' "

After that, he said, he volunteered for the most dangerous assignments, walking either first or last in a patrol.

"In the army my life was worthless," he was quoted as saying, "so I chose it that way."

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Break the Burmese Blackout


Donate to help Burmese opposition groups bypass the junta's media blackout. From AVAAZ.org:

The Burmese military has seen the power of global solidarity for the demonstrators--and has moved to shut down all communications with the outside world. As the images and stories have slowed, global media coverage of the Burmese crisis has lost its urgency.

But people power can beat the blackout.
Donate below to send crucial technical support and equipment to Burmese civil society groups, and help return Burma's voice to its people. 100% of funds donated will go to Burmese groups
Avaaz will keep no portion.


Inside Burma: Land of Fear


Here's a 8 minute clip of John Pilger's 1996 Interview, "Inside Burma: Land of Fear", with Aung San Suu Kyi. It contains a lot of scenes from the carnage and bloodshed from the 1988 crackdown. The full 53 minute-long video can be viewed HERE.

'Inside Burma: Land of Fear' was first broadcast in May 1996. It was written and presented by John Pilger and produced and directed by David Munro.

The film detailed the many injustices and human rights abuses that have so badly marked the country's past and present.

Amnesty International has described Burma as a 'prison without bars' of a country which has a beauty and resources probably unequalled in Asia.

Yet it is also a secret country. Isolated for the past 34 years since a brutal military dictatorship seized power in Rangoon, this rich country has been relegated to one of the world's poorest with the suffering of its people mostly unseen.

The generals who crushed democracy in Burma have ruled with a regime so harsh, bloody and uncompromising that the parallels with Cambodia under Pol Pot and East Timor under Suharto are striking.
A junta sign in Rangoon after the 1988 revolt

According to the United Nations, untold thousands have been forced from their homes, massacred, tortured and subjected to a modern form of slavery.

How was this country allowed to descend in such dramatic fashion and, after the pro-democracy uprisings of 1988, are its people any closer to being granted their rights to a vote and an economic system which will reward their labour?

Click HERE for John Pilger's articles on Burma.

Burmese Exile Media on Alert after Crackdown Warning


Yesterday's Irrawaddy articleon the Thai Government's schedule crackdown on Burmese opposition groups based in Thailand. More information on the crackdown HERE.

A Burmese exile media organization in Bangkok has dropped its Web site news service “temporarily,” amid reports of a crackdown on such operations on Thai territory that carry material critical of Burma’s junta.

The reports surfaced last week and caused other exile media groups in Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Mae Sot to lower their profile. There were warnings of possible raids by Thai police and immigration authorities.

The Bangkok-based media organization that dropped its Web site news said it had been asked by Thai authorities to close its office “temporarily” starting from last Friday. A spokesman for the organization asked The Irrawaddy not to identify it.

Since Friday, the organization’s Web site has been carrying a message saying that “due to security and technical changes we are temporarily stopping our internet page.” The organization is reported to be still working on its printed edition.

The unnamed organization and several other Web sites and publications run by Burmese exiles have played a key role in reporting on the brutal suppression of September’s demonstrations.

They have come in for constant attack by the Burmese junta, along with overseas-based targets such as the Burmese service of the BBC and the Norway-based Democratic Voice of Burma.

Zin Lin, spokesman of Burma’s democratic government in exile, the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma, told The Irrawaddy that its office in Bangkok had been warned by Thai authorities to adopt a “low profile.”

The NCGUB office in Bangkok was still functioning, he said. The headquarters of the government in exile are located in Washington DC.

“The Burmese state-media blamed the exile groups in Thailand for recent mass protests,” said Zin Lin.

Myint Wai, of the Bangkok-based Thai Action Committee for Democracy in Burma, told The Irrawaddy on Monday that his group is also vigilant in view of the reports of a possible crackdown.

The TACDB’s operations are mainly focused on Burmese migrant workers, many of whom have no legal documents.

Reports of a possible crackdown have also been circulating since Friday among the several Burmese organizations and NGOs working in northern Thailand’s Chiang Mai province.

Burmese officials are rumored to have asked Thai authorities to close some offices linked to the September demonstrations in Burma. In the past, the Burmese government has usually used a friendly channel to pressure Thai authorities close to Burma to harass exiled Burmese.

A source at the Democratic Voice of Burma said the DVB’s office in Chiang Mai was still operating but was taking a low profile.

Previously, some Thai officials occasionally acted in cooperation with the Burmese regime, who complain that Thailand allows opposition groups to operate and demand they take action against Burmese pro-democracy activists in the country.

In November 1995, Khit Pyaing, a Burmese-language news operation also known as New Era was raided by Thai police, and a veteran journalist, Ye Khaung, and his wife were arrested.

In October 2006, a Burmese stringer working for the Oslo-based DVB was forced to leave his home in Ranong province, southern Thailand, after voicing concern about his safety.

Previously, prominent human rights organizations, politicians and US congressmen have reacted promptly when Thai officials raided Burmese offices operating in Thailand.

During the administration of deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, several offices in Sangklaburi were forced to shut down by Thai officials. The crackdown prompted international outcry and condemnation.

The Irrawaddy has learned that US and western diplomats have also been closely monitoring the situation and the safety of Burmese groups living in Thailand.

Human Rights Watch asks for intervention of international community


New York-based Human Rights Watch has just released the following plea (linked through The Hindu HERE) for international intervention in Burma. It reports on army abuses and the new wave of IDPs/refugees. (Again, their estimates of 500,000 IDPs are conservative. According to Partners Relief and Development, an organization that assists in IDP relief missions, put this number at 2 million. I have heard of estimates as high as 4 million. More of HRW's reporting on human rights abuses in Burma HERE.

New York (PTI): Asking not to ignore human rights violations by the army in rural Myanmar, a US-based rights group has sought the intervention of international community into the dire humanitarian situation there.

"The international community must not ignore the dire humanitarian situation fuelled by army abuses in rural Myanmar," Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch said in a just released report.

"Besides, attacking monks and democracy protestors in Rangoon, Burma's military junta is forcing ethnic minority villagers to flee their homes in the country's border areas," Adams said.

Hundreds flee to India

Hundreds of Chin people from western Myanmar have fled to India in the aftermath of the government's recent crackdown on protesters and threats and pressure by local officials in Chin State to attend mass rallies in support of military rule.

The army, the report said, continues to destroy civilian villages in its counter-insurgency operations.

The report, which follows the release of a survey carried out by the non-governmental organizations, including Thailand Burma Border Consortium (TBBC) and its local partner, said "as of mid-2007 there were 503,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) in surveyed sites in eastern Myanmar."

About 99,000 IDPs were believed to be in hiding from the army patrols, 109,000 were in military- controlled relocation sites, and 295,000 people were in areas controlled by armed groups with some ceasefire arrangements with the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), the HRW report said.

The TBBC surveyed IDPs in Tennasserim Division, Mon State, Karen State and Pegu Division, Karenni State and southeastern Shan State.

Rest of the article HERE.

The BBC's article on the ethnic Chin's flee to India HERE. Because they refuse to participate in pro-government rallies, they are heavily fined. To avoid these fines and getting arrested, they escape to India.

Monday, October 29, 2007

What's It like to live like a Refugee or IDP?


There are more than 1 million refugees from Burma living in Thailand, India, and Bangladesh, but at least 2 million internally displaced peoples (IDPs), mainly ethnic minorities, who are fleeing from the attacking Burma Army. IDPs are basically refugees in their own countries. As they remain on territory under sovereign national jurisdiction, they are not given refugee status and are not protected by international law. They do not have the same access to basic humanitarian aid that is available to recognized refugees, so their situation is all that much more dire. In the jungle, they not only have to avoid soldiers, but landmines, tropical diseases, hunger, and the elements as well.

The most important concern that IDPs have is basic survival. Here are the everyday worries of IDPs (and refugees):

* Will I be safe?
* What will I eat?
* How do I find water?
* Can I get medical care?
* Where will I live?

Medicins San Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) has an interactive refugee camp that gives further insight into the hardships and situations that refugees and IDPs face on a daily basis. It is not Burma-specific, but does touch on general challenges that is representative of the refugee/IDP experience. Scroll down to the bottom of this page, and towards the bottom, click on "interactive guide"

A backgrounder on the global refugee/IDP situation HERE.

You can help refugees and IDPs from Burma by DONATING:
- DONATE to Partners Relief and Development's 5 Alive Program. $50 can help keep a family of 5 IDPs alive for one month. Read more HERE.

- DONATE: The Mae Tao Clinic (MTC), founded and directed by Dr. Cynthia Maung, a Nobel Peace Prize nominee, provides free health care for refugees, migrant workers, and other individuals who cross the border from Burma to Thailand. People of all ethnicities and religions are welcome at the Clinic. Its origins go back to the student pro-democracy movement in Burma in 1988 and the brutal repression by the Burmese regime of that movement. The fleeing students who needed medical attention were attended in a small house in Mae Sot.

You can help the clinic continue its work by either DONATINGor VOLUNTEERING.

Time for Thailand to Revisit its Policy on Burma


From The Nation 10/28/07

"The Burmese crisis coupled with increased international pressure and UN efforts have shaken Thailand’s policy towards Burma to the core. Successive Thai governments have for years failed to correctly gauge the internal situation in Burma and face up to the reality."

The full article HERE.

Singapore: A Web of Cash, Power, and Cronies


The Age's September 29th brief explaining Singapore's support of the junta. Besides providing a crucial money laundering haven for Burma's generals, Singapore has supplied the junta with arms; military training; computers, communications, reconnaissance equipment; and medical facilities (Senior General Than Shwe has received treatment for intestinal cancer there, and late Prime Minister Soe Win was a leukemia patient). The trade and investment gains are too tempting for Singaporean companies to forgo, explains an Oct. 3 article by the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization.

More Burma-related Yale Center articles:
Burma' Growing Dilemma 9/25/2007
Is Southeast Asia Becoming China’s Playpen? 1/11/2007
The Never-Ending Myanmar Nightmare 9/30/2006
Democracy in Burma: Does Anybody Really Care? 9/1/2005
Burma: Feel-Good US Sanctions Wrongheaded 5/19/2004
Crisis Puts Burma Back in the Spotlight 6/11/2003

According to the Burma Campaign UK, 10 Singaporean companies are on its "Dirty List" of for doing business with the junta, including the Development Bank of Singapore (DBS), the United Overseas Bank (UOB), the Overseas Chinese Banking Corporation (OCBC), and conglomerate Keppel Corp.

Incidentally, last week some of Burma's assets have been frozen in Singapore, but it may have been related to US sanctions barring certain money transfers from Burma(Irrawaddy's article HERE).

SINGAPORE isn't just skilled at mandatory executions of drug traffickers, running an excellent airport and selling cameras on Orchard Road. It also does a useful trade keeping Burma's military rulers and their cronies afloat.

Much attention is placed on China and its coming hosting of the Olympic Games as a diplomatic pressure point on the rampant Burmese junta. But there is a group of government businessmen-technocrats in Singapore who will also be closely monitoring the brutality in Rangoon. And, were they so inclined, their influence could go a long way to limiting the misery being inflicted on Burma's 54 million people.

Collectively known as "Singapore Inc", they gather around the $A150 billion [$USD 130 billion] state-owned investment house Temasek Holdings, controlled by a member of the ruling Lee family.

With an estimated $A3 billion [$USD 2.8 billion] staked in the country (and a more than $20 billion [$USD 18.4 billion]stake in Australia), Singapore Inc companies have been some of the biggest investors in and supporters of Burma's military junta — this while its Government, on the rare times it is asked, suggests a softly-softly diplomatic approach towards the junta.

When it comes to Burma, Singapore pockets the high morals it likes to wave at the West elsewhere. Singapore's one-time head of foreign trade once said as his country was building links with Burma in the mid-1990s: "While the other countries are ignoring it, it's a good time for us to go in … you get better deals, and you're more appreciated … Singapore's position is not to judge them and take a judgemental moral high ground."

But by providing Burma's pariah junta with the crucial equipment mostly denied by Western sanctions, Singapore has helped keep the junta and its cronies afloat for 20 years, since the last time the generals killed the citizens they are supposed to protect.

Withdraw that financial support and Burma's junta would be substantially weakened, perhaps even fail. But after two decades of profitable business with the trigger-happy generals and their cronies, that's about the last thing Singapore is likely to do. There's too much money to be made.

Hotels, airlines, military materiel and training, crowd control equipment and sophisticated telecoms-monitoring devices for its secret police — Singapore is manager and supplier to the junta, and the "cronified" economy it controls.

It's impossible to spend any time in Burma and not make the junta richer, thanks to Singapore suppliers' contracts with the tourism industry. Singapore's hospitals also keep Burma's leaders alive — 74-year-old junta leader Than Shwe has been getting his intestinal cancer treated in a Singapore government hospital, protected by Singapore security. Singapore's boutiques keep junta wives and families cloaked in Armani, and its banks help launder their money and that of Burma's crony drug lords.

Much of Singapore's activity in Burma has been documented by an analyst working in Prime Minister John Howard's direct chain of command, in the Office of National Assessments. Andrew Selth is recognised as an authority on the Burmese military. Now a research fellow at Queensland's Griffith University, Mr Selth has written extensively on how close Singapore is to the junta.

Often writing as "William Ashton" in the authoritative Jane's Intelligence Review, Mr Selth has described in various articles how Singapore has sent the junta guns, rockets, armoured personnel carriers and grenade launchers, some of it trans-shipped from stocks seized by Israel from Palestinians in southern Lebanon.

Singaporean companies have provided computers and networking equipment for Burma's defence ministry and army, while upgrading the bunkered junta's ability to network with regional commanders — so crucial as protesting monks take to the streets of 20 Burmese cities, causing major logistical headaches for the Tatmadaw, the Burmese military.

"Singapore cares little about human rights, in particular the plight of the ethnic and religious minorities in Burma," Mr Selth writes.

"Having developed one of the region's most advanced armed forces and defence industrial support bases, Singapore is in a good position to offer Burma a number of inducements which other ASEAN (Association of South-East Asian Nations) countries would find hard to match."

Singapore's Foreign Minister, George Yeo, is the current chairman of ASEAN.

Mr Selth says Singapore also provided the equipment for a "cyber war centre" to monitor dissident activity while training Burma's secret police, whose sole job seems to be ensuring pro-democracy groups are crushed.

Monitoring dissidents is an area where Singapore has particular expertise. After almost five decades in power, the Lee family-controlled People's Action Party ranks behind only the communists of China, Cuba and North Korea in leadership longevity, skilled in neutralising opposition.

"This centre is reported to be closely involved in the monitoring and recording of foreign and domestic telecommunications, including the satellite telephone conversations of Burmese opposition groups," Mr Selth writes.

Singapore Government companies, such as leading arms supplier Singapore Technologies, dominate the communications and military sector in Singapore. "It is highly unlikely," Mr Selth writes, "that any of these arms shipments to Burma could have been made without the knowledge and support of the Singapore Government."

He notes that Singapore's ambassadors to Burma have included a former senior Singapore armed forces officer, and a past director of Singapore's defence-oriented Joint Intelligence Directorate, people with a military background rather than professional diplomats.

He writes that after the 1988 crackdown, when the junta killed 3000 protesters, "the first country to come to the regime's rescue was in fact Singapore".

When I interviewed Singapore Technologies chief executive Peter Seah at his office in Singapore, I asked about the scale model of an armoured personnel carrier made by his company on his office table. He said ST sold the vehicles "only to allies".

Does that include Burma, I asked, given that Singapore controversially helped sponsor the military regime into ASEAN?

Mr Seah was non-specific: "We only sell to allies and we make sure they are responsible." He didn't say how. ST and Temasek don't respond to questions about their activities in Burma.

Singapore is so close to Burma that one of its diplomats there wrote a handbook for its business people there. Matthew Sim's Myanmar on my Mind is full of useful tips for Singaporean business people in Burma. "A little money goes a long way in greasing the wheels of productivity," he writes.

A chapter headed "Committing Manslaughter when Driving" describes the appropriate action if a Singaporean businessman accidentally kills a Burmese pedestrian. "Firstly, the international businessman could give the family of the deceased some money as compensation and dissuade them from pressing charges. Secondly, he could pay a Myanmar citizen to take the blame by declaring that he was the driver in the fatal accident. An international businessman should not make the mistake of trying to argue his case in a court of law when it comes to a fatal accident, even if he is in the right."

Mr Sim says many successful Myanmar businessmen have opened shell companies in Singapore "with little or no staff, used to keep funds overseas". The companies are used to keep business deals outside the control of Burma's central bank, enabling Singaporeans and others to transact with Burma in Singapore.

He may be referring to junta cronies such as Tay Za and the drug lord Lo Hsing Han. Lo is an ethnic Chinese, from Burma's traditionally Chinese-populated and opium-rich Kokang region in the country's east, bordering China. He controls a massive heroin empire, and one of Burma's biggest companies, Asia World, which the US Drug Enforcement Agency describes as a front for his drug-trafficking. Asia World controls toll roads, industrial parks and trading companies. Singapore is the Lo family's crucial window to the world, as it controls a number of companies there. His son Steven, who has been denied a visa to the US because of his links to the drug trade, married a Singaporean, Cecilia Ng, and the two reportedly control Singapore-based trading house Kokang Singapore.

A former assistant secretary of state for the US Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, Robert Gelbard, has said that half Singapore's investment in Burma has "been tied to the family of narco-trafficker Lo Hsing Han".

Tay Za, who is romantically linked to a daughter of junta leader Than Shwe, is also well known in Singapore. He was prominent in the Singapore media last year, toasting the launch of his airline Air Bagan with the head of Singapore's aviation authority. Dissident groups say the trade-off for Tay Za's government business contracts in Burma is to fund junta leaders' medical trips to Singapore.

Myanmar regime officials in Moscow for military cooperation talks


From Deutsche Presse-Agentur. After China, Russia is one of the junta's biggest military supporters. Russia, along with China, vetoed the UN Security Resolution against Burma last January and also has lobbied against sanctions. Now, the Russian Federation is considering continuing its military training of the brutal dictatorial killing machine of Burma. The details HERE.

Moscow - Representative of Myanmar’s military junta, which four weeks ago brutally cracked down on pro-democracy protests led by Buddhist monks, are in Moscow for talks on cooperation with Russian security services, reports said Sunday.The week-long talks will be specifically focussed on a proposed programme to have Myanmar officers trained in Russian military facilities, news agency Interfax cited Russian Ground Forces spokesman Igor Konashenkov as saying.

Russia as a veto power in the UN Security Council has rejected tightening of sanctions on the junta over its suppression of democracy, and has in the past supplied the regime with military equipment including combat jets and helicopters.

Myanmar’s military and police had on Friday staged a march in the country’s capital Yangon, assembling particularly around the area where last month’s monk-led protests took place.

The street demonstrations led by the monks in September and the subsequent crackdown by the ruling military junta led to 10 deaths, the government said.

Independent observers claimed the number of victims was much higher.

Pulling the Plug: A Technical Review of the Internet Shutdown in Burma


The OpenNet Initiative's bulletin on media censorship in Burma:

This bulletin examines the role of information technology, citizen journalists, and bloggers in Burma and presents a technical analysis of the abrupt shutdown of Internet connectivity by the Burmese government on September 29, 2007, following its violent crackdown on protesters there. Completely cutting international Internet links is rare. Nepal, which severed all international Internet connections when the King declared martial law in February 2005, is the only other state to take such drastic action. Although extreme, the measures taken by the Burmese government to limit citizens’ use of the Internet during this crisis are consistent with previous OpenNet Initiative (ONI) findings in Kyrgyzstan, Belarus, and Tajikistan, where authorities controlled access to communication technologies as a way to limit social mobilization around key political events. What makes the Burmese junta stand out, however, is its apparent goal of also preventing information from reaching a wider international audience.

The shutdown of Internet connectivity was precipitated by its use by citizens to send photographs, updates and videos that documented the violent suppression of protests in Burma, information that contributed to widespread international condemnation of the Burmese military rulers’ gross violations of human rights.

We examine the impact of communication technology in shaping these key political events in Burma, the limitations of these tools, and the prospects for the next round of information wars.

The rest HERE.

Burmese junta continues with the campaign of oppression and torture


Today's Asiantribune.com article focuses on the jailing and torture of female political activists, including nuns and pregnant women:

Burmese junta continues with its oppression and torture campaign ignoring the demands of the people of Burma and the International community. It is alleged that they have taken women activists captive and tortured them, including physical beatings and verbal violence.According to the Women’s League of Burma, even elderly women activist are not spared this criminal and inhumane treatment. “In these circumstances, we are very concerned about women’s activists, the nuns and pregnant women who have been detained by the regime,” the WLB said.

Women’s League of Burma also pointed out that the State Peace and Development Council continues with its oppression and torture campaign, while stalling talks and ignoring the demands of the people of Burma and the International community.

In fact 26th of October, marks one month since the State Peace and Development Council’s (SPDC’s) vile crackdown on the peaceful protests led by the Buddhist monks in Burma. On this occasion, Women’s League of Burma LB wants to pay tribute to all monks, nuns and civilians, including students of 88 Generation, members of the National League for Democracy and all women activists who bravely joined these peaceful demonstrations. WLB will always honor them for their heroic deeds.

Given below the text of the statement released by trhe Women’s League of Burma:

WLB is very heartened by the international responses condemning SPDC and imposing tougher sanctions against SPDC for their criminal assaults and murders of the Buddhist monks, who were marching on the streets and praying for peace.

However, SPDC has responded to condemnation with charades trying to disguise their intractability. They have to date completely ignored the wishes of the people. They persist in claiming that they will follow only their own 7- step roadmap, and continue with the formation of the constitution drafting committee without even consulting with the very individuals who are named as being in the committee.

Far from showing restraint, the SPDC has continued the hunt down those who participated in the peaceful demonstrations. They have taken women activists captive and tortured them, including physical beatings and verbal violence.

Even elderly women activist are not spared this criminal and inhumane treatment. WLB sees these acts as contradictory to the SPDC words of “dialogue” and are also in direct contradiction to the calls from the people of Burma and international community for an end to the violence and committing to a peaceful political solution. In these circumstances, we are very concerned about women’s activists, the nuns and pregnant women who have been detained by the regime.

We call SPDC to allow ICRC to meet all women political detainees and prisoners at once and arrange for their immediate release.

At the same time, we demand SPDC to immediately stop hunting down women activists who led and joined the peaceful demonstrations. SPDC must stop referring to or treating them as “criminals”.

On 23 October 2007 women activists in- hiding and fleeing sent an urgent appeal to UN Secretary General, Ban-ke-mon. We call for UN Secretary General, Ban-ke-mon and UN special envoys to treat this appeal as an extremely serious and urgent issue. We expect that they will use their good offices and position to make SPDC stop arresting those who participated in the demonstrations, and provide international protection of their safety.

Now it has been one month since crackdown, but SPDC has shown no concrete signs of meaningful action towards reaching a political solution. Instead they have spent the month launching smear campaigns against the heroic Buddhist monks and demonstrators.

The entire world has heard the call from the people of Burma and the whole world knows that the SPDC’s actions in the past month are aimed at undermining and sidelining the people’s demands.

WLB strongly feels that it is time for SPDC to realize the folly of their own actions; stop insulting the people of Burma and international community’s intelligence; and stop playing games at this crucial time in our lives and World history. For example letting UN envoys into the country but not giving them access to the people; taking Daw Aung Suu Kyi out of her house to have “one hour” meeting with SPDC official. No one is fooled by these token gestures. It is time SPDC was sincere about finding a political solution.

The first step to show their sincerity and enable dialogue to begin must be the immediate release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi today.

On this day marking one month of increasing SPDC violence and oppression, WLB demands that SPDC start the political process today, in order to put an end to the decades of suffering endured by the people of Burma and build peace and democracy.