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

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 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.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

"My father was a soldier"


Today, I met with two political activists from different ceasefire areas in Burma.
One taught in a missionary school in Shan State. He was telling me about Burma's poor educational system and the burdens of tax and forced labor. In his area, each agrarian family had to pay a year agricultural tax of 10,000 kyat or about $7.50. ($1 = 1,325 kyat). That's a huge chunk of change for a country whose per capita GDP-according to the UN-is $217, making it one of the world's 20 poorest countries. The USA Today report HERE.

(According to one of my Burmese contacts, the way that the junta got Burmese citizens to turn out en-masse for the nationwide pro-government rallies proceeding the crackdown was to threaten them with penalties of 50,000 kyat ($38.50). BBC reported on ethnic Chins who fled Burma because they couldn't afford paying the 10,000 kyat fines for not attending the rallies. Those who have refused to attend have been jailed. The report HERE).

In addition to these exorbitant taxes and fines, villagers from this particular area in Shan State had to forferit 10% of their harvests to the Burma Army. Also, they occasionally have to serve as forced labor for road construction projects and Burma Army camp maintenance.

He also told me of his father. His father joined the Kachin Independence Army, the military arm of the Kachin Independence Organization, in the early 60's and fought the Burma Army for 10-11 years. After the KIO signed a ceasefire in 1993, the KIA splintered into smaller factions.

The other activist, who I had met on a previous occasion, came from Mon State, a territory that the insurgent New Mon State Party brought under ceasefire in 1995. When I asked him what he thought of the current negotiations, he said, "It's not real. We have 50 years of experience [in dealing with the junta]. They just like to tell the world that they're talking with Aung San Suu Kyi. When our leaders went to negotiate with the government [more than 40 years ago], they were arrested [After the SLORC came to power]. We lost our [15] leaders that way. After we signed the ceasefire, they didn't let us take part in the National Convention. We know them well. We need the international community to act, especially China and ASEAN.

I asked him how he and other activists maintained hope for a peaceful and democratic Burma. He replied, "That's all we do all day, everyday, is talk about how to keep hope."

Burma: No Turning Back / State of Fear


Frontline World has recently posted "Burma: No Turning Back", an eyewitness account of a Western journalist who was present for the brutal crackdown that followed last month's protests. It is eyewitness video testimony of what the situation is. Please forward it widely, and feel free to link to it. Here's the URL:

PBS also has an in depth documentary online titled "Burma: State of Fear".

More FRONTLINE/World Burma Coverage

Burma: Voices of Dissent

Reporter Anuj Chopra was in Burma just before the protests turned into the largest demonstration against the ruling military regime in two decades. Read his eyewitness report and watch a short interview clip with a dissident inside the country.

Myanmar's Hidden AIDS Epidemic
FRONTLINE/World reporter Orlando de Guzman reports on Burma's AIDS crisis. He travels inside the country talking to doctors and health workers, one of whom explains that it is "the lack of freedom, the lack of scientific information, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, these very fundamental rights that have been denied the Burmese people, have made the spread of HIV more likely and more grave."

Burma: Can Sanctions Bring Democracy?
In 2004, FRONTLINE/World reporter Joan Bieder ventured inside Burma, a country which appears to be "moving backward," to report on the impact of U.S. economic sanctions against a military regime that stills holds Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest.

Dispatch's horrifying, yet informative report Burma's Secret War is linked HERE and embedded below. In Burma's Secret War, "Dispatches exposes the new surge in violence inflicted on the Burmese people by their own regime. Enslaved by a brutal military dictatorship which wields absolute power, Burma is a secretive state where suppression reigns and dissent is not tolerated.

Journalist Evan Williams, who is banned from entering the country after reporting on Burma for more than 10 years, goes undercover to investigate the mass ethnic cleansing, forced labour and vicious clamping down of political opposition which characterise the dictatorship." HERE is Investigative TV Journalism website Four Corner's synopsis of William's report.

Government troops clash with KNLA


Below, another example of the junta's desire to extend infrastructure projects into ethnic areas and how the military breaks down unity amongst the different insurgent groups and gets them to fight each other.
Norway-based Democratic Voice of Burma's Oct. 27 article HERE:

Oct 26, 2007 (DVB)–Fights between the Burmese government army and ethnic rebels have been on the increase in Karen and Karenni states as the government tries to clear land for a road-building project.

Karen National Union spokesperson Saw Hla Ngway told DVB that fights have been reported between Burmese troops, backed by the Democratic Karen Buddhist Association, and the Karen National Liberation Army, the armed wing of the KNU.

The KNLA’s Battalion 18 under Brigade 6 has clashed with the government army as it advances into Karen rebel territory to clear land for a major road-building project to take place between Thailand and Burma.

Saw Hla Ngway said that another skirmish took place in the Ywartanshae area on Tuesday between KNU troops and about 400 soldiers from DKBA Battalions 906 and 909, led by Major Chit Thu and Major Nakhanmwe. The number of the casualties is still unknown.

"The fights are going to continue as the government is trying to clear the land by supplying the DKBA with all the weapons and facilities they need," Saw Hla Ngway said.

Seven other clashes have been reported from Karenni state involving insurgent group the Karenni National Progressive Party. The group's secretary (2) Khoo Oo Rah claims the fights resulted in one KNPP death, while six from the SPDC side were killed or injured.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Resistance in the Burmese jungle

Today's BBC story HERE. Another very informative article-by AP-on Burma's Secret War against Ethnic Minorities HERE.

*This article states that almost 100,000 IDPs fleeing from the Burma Army are hiding in the jungle. Partners Relief and Development, an organization that provides direct relief for IDPs, estimates that at least 2 million villagers are on the run. I have heard of estimates as high as 4 million.

The leader of a Burmese ethnic army has urged all opponents of the ruling junta to unite in the aftermath of last month's uprising.

"All those battling the regime must co-operate," said Colonel Yawd Serk, of the Shan State Army (SSA).

"If we cannot unite, and if the international community does not come to our help, then nothing will change in Burma for a decade."

Thousands of people are hiding out in Burma's dense jungles.

Colonel Serk, speaking at his fortified hilltop camp in the jungles close to the Thai border, did not sound optimistic.

He said he doubted the military government was serious about dialogue, and accused the United Nations of merely "talking, but doing nothing practical.

"As long as China, Russia and India continue to arm the regime then civilians will suffer."

Common cause

For years the steep green hills of eastern Burma have hidden a vast and chaotic conflict between rival ethnic armies, drug-smuggling militias and the unrestrained brutality of the Burmese military.

Civilians have been systematically targeted by government troops, with some 3000 villages destroyed and, according to the latest estimates, almost 100,000 people currently in hiding.

Half a million have been forced to abandon their homes.

The SSA says it has already begun preliminary talks with Burma's main democratic opposition group, the National League for Democracy, and also with representatives from another ethnic group, the Karen National Union, to try to seek a common negotiating position.

But most ethnic forces - like the United Wa State Army, whose frontline forts are within shouting distance of the SSA on the neighbouring hilltop - have signed ceasefire deals with the junta.

Despite growing signs of frustration, they may not be so easily persuaded to join any new alliance.

'Separate state'

The SSA is already preparing for the worst.

Burmese rebel soldier: "They killed monks and civilians, that is why we want our separate state"

In a clearing in the jungle, I saw about 300 new recruits - conscripted from villages across Shan State - busy training.

They appeared to be well disciplined and fairly well equipped with automatic weapons and new uniforms.

There are reports that other ethnic armies, including ceasefire groups, are also rearming and recruiting - partly as a result of the recent crackdown, but also because of growing disillusionment with the junta's proposed new constitution and its "roadmap to democracy".

"The Burmese killed my brother," said Sai Leng, aged 28. "The Burmese are our enemy, and we are fighting for independence."

He and his colleagues had all heard about the protests in Rangoon, and the subsequent military crackdown.

"They killed monks and civilians," said Sai Leng. "This is why we want our separate state."

Drugs trade

The rebel soldiers say they are helping civilians flee oppression
Nearby, a smaller group of 30 soldiers was preparing to head back out into the jungle.

They said they expected to be away for three months and their mission was to help civilians fleeing from government offensives.

Colonel Serk said he had 8,000 soldiers under his command and an annual operating budget of approximately £300,000 ($615,000).

He insisted that his army was not involved in the local drug trade - which appears to be flourishing after years of decline - and was vigorously fighting it.

Funding for the SSA came, he said, from taxes on local civilians.

Child victims

The conflict has affected children and left many without parents.

Thousands of civilians now live at the SSA camp, having fled from villages deeper inside Burma over recent years.

The headmaster of the local school said a third of all children there were orphans.

Fourteen-year old Neung sat in a wooden dormitory doing her homework.

She said she had been raped by Burmese troops two years earlier and had fled into the jungle.

She dreamed of becoming an SSA soldier, she said, but a wounded leg meant she would not be able to join up and fight the enemy.

Donate to the Mae Tao Clinic, help give medical aid to Refugees, Migrant Workers, and Others who cross from Burma to Thailand

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.

from the Mao Tao Clinic's donation page:

Welcome to the Mae Tao Clinic’s donation page. We have set up several partnerships with international organizations through which you can make tax-deductible donations to the Mae Tao Clinic.

The Mae Tao clinic spends many thousands of dollars on training health workers and buying essential medicines each year. Following are some examples of what your donation can help to buy.

* US$4 - Cost of teaching materials for one child for one year
* US$5.75 - Anti Malarials
* US$15 - Cost of measuring and producing one prosthetic leg for a landmine victim
* US$100 - Cost of training one new health worker to work at the clinic or in
conflict areas of Burma
* US$150 - Cost of supporting one teacher in a school for internally displaced
children for one year
* US$200 - Vitamin A and Deworming Programme: School Health Team to provide Vit A and
Deworming to 6000 Burmese students along the border twice a year
* US$300 - Cost of supporting a child to stay at a boarding house to access education
for one year
* US$430 - Essential Medicines: Cost of medicine per day at Mae Tao Clinic – serving
at least 200 patients per day
* US$625 - Family Planning Services: Cost of providing family planning supplies for
one month at Mae Tao Clinic

We have also put together a more detailed PDF spreadsheet outlining some of these medicines and their annual consumption totals, as well as associated costs the Clinic has to cover. Please click HERE to download and view it.

Please select one of the options below.
Donations from United States in US$
Donations from Canada in Canadian $
Donations in all other currencies

10 Reasons to be Involved in Burma


Why get involved in Burma? If you or your family or friends don't know much about what's going on and want to know more, here's a quick introductory rundown of the problems there. By the Free Burma Rangers. This is from printed material, not online, at least, not to my knowledge--so no link, sorry.

1. For human dignity. The power of the oppressor is unrestrained: girls being raped, children chased from their homes, parents murdered, restricted education, and people living in fear are wrong. Arbitrary arrests, and forced relocation are other tools of the regime. The idea that every human being has value crosses all political, religious, economic, and social lines, and for this we need to stand with the people of Burma.

2. For the restoration of democracy. There was a democratically-elected government that was forcefully displaced by a brutal dictatorship.

3. For the release of political prisoners. Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who is still under house arrest, is one of an estimated 1,400 political prisoners. (This number is probably closer towards 1,900 now after September's crackdown. According to BBC's article HERE, 500 of the close to 3,000 protesters arrested are still being held in detention as of Oct. 17).

4. For ethnic rights, honor, and future peace. Ethnic minorities comprise over 40% of the population of Burma and thus should be equitable partners now and in Burma's future. Without them there is no just or durable solution for a peaceful and democratic Burma. Burma's brutal campaign against ethnic minorities has resulted in more than 1 million internally displaced people [with some estimates putting the number of IDPs anywhere from 2 to 4 million], over 1 million refugees, and gross human rights violations such as Burma's large scale use of landmines to terrorize civilian populations. Many of the ethnic peoples of Burma were allies for freedom in World War II. It is a matter of honor not to forget them.

5. For public health. There is a growing AIDS epidemic in Burma, and in overall health, Burma ranks as one of the world's worst. Approximately one out of every 10 children in Burma die before their 5th birthday. The ratio is twice as high among the thousands of families forced to flee their homes by the military's ongoing campaigns.

6. For an end to religious persecution. There is a wide-spread religious persecution in Burma and this is a violation of a foundational and sacred human right.

7. For an end to forced labor and use of humans as minesweepers. Each year the regime forces thousands of civilians to work on State projects and , during military campaigns, uses people to carry supplies and as human minesweepers.

8. For the protection of the environment. Unchecked and large scale clear-cutting of some of the world's last remaining natural teak and other tropical hardwood reserves, toxic mining practices, and the poorly planned building and proliferation of dams are among the many destructive practices that are damaging the country now and for future generations. The wanton and unchecked destruction of the environment in Burma is not only harmful to Burma, but to all surrounding countries.

9. For the control of narcotics. Burma is one of the main producers of amphetamines in the world, and is #1 in Southeast Asia. After Afghanistan, Burma is the #2 producer of opium/heroin in the world.

10. For regional security. Burma is building up its military with assistance from other regional dictatorships and this, along with its interest in a nuclear program, makes it a regional security threat. Its immoral leadership and lack of accountability also make it a potential global threat.

Poor Healthcare System Plagues Myanmar


Today's AP article on Burma's poor medical system HERE:

They travel for days though checkpoints, across dangerous roads and past Myanmar’s bribe-hungry soldiers to make it to the Thai border. They’re not refugees fleeing the junta — they simply want to see a doctor.

Myanmar has one of the world’s worst health care systems, with tens of thousands dying each year from malaria, tuberculosis, AIDS, dysentery, diarrhea and a litany of other illnesses. While there are hospitals in the impoverished Southeast Asian nation also known as Burma, only a few can afford to pay hospital workers the various “fees” in the tightly controlled nation fueled by corruption.

“Even if you use the toilet in the hospital you have to pay money,” said a 70-year-old man from Phyu Township, who journeyed two days by bus to see a doctor at the Thai border town of Mae Sot and have a cataract removed. He declined to give his name for fear of reprisals.

“They never think of improving health care,” he said. “They only pull the trigger. Because they are holding the guns, we have to live like this.”

Last year, more than 100,000 Burmese sought help at the 120-bed Mae Tao Clinic in Thailand, where free care is offered through local and international funding and no one is turned away. About half were migrants who work illegally near the border, while the rest live inside Myanmar and make the trip solely for medical care.

“I’ve been getting treatment from three hospitals inside Burma, but you have to buy everything — even medicine,” said Ottoma, a 55-year-old monk who traveled three days from Shwekyin township near Yangon, the city formerly known as Rangoon, for treatment of an enlarged prostate.

“The monks have no money,” he said, sitting cross-legged in a traditional maroon robe. “We only get money from people who contribute; but people are very poor.”

The flow of people seeking treatment here hasn’t changed much since the violent crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations in Myanmar. The peaceful protests were sparked by anger following government-imposed fuel hikes of up to 500 percent — a move that boosted the cost of everything, including health care.

The sick are issued day passes to enter Thailand, but many bribe immigration officials to stay longer for treatment ranging from land mine injuries to chronic ailments that have festered from neglect or improper care.

“Among the displaced people here, the most threatening problem is in communicable diseases,” said Dr. Cynthia Maung, wearing a simple sarong and sandals.

She fled Myanmar in 1988 following a violent crackdown on student pro-democracy protests and started the Mae Tao Clinic a year later in a small house.

Today, the vast compound includes a delivery room, surgical ward and artificial limb workshop. It has a community feel, with women doing laundry as children play on swings and slides outside. But the sounds of rattling coughs and screaming babies, hungry or in pain, fill the rooms.

Many patients come too late and die in the clinic, while newborn babies and the elderly are sometimes abandoned by family who simply cannot afford to care for them, Maung said.

The situation inside Myanmar is complex and health data are often unreliable or difficult to gather, especially from restive areas of the country dominated by ethnic minorities who have been at civil war for decades.

Big killers such as tuberculosis, with nearly 100,000 new cases reported annually, plague the country of 54 million people. The AIDS virus has reached the general population, with more than 1 percent of the nation infected. While the rest of Southeast Asia has largely tamed malaria, it kills 3,000 people a year in Myanmar.

Stephen Atwood, UNICEF’s regional adviser for health and nutrition in East Asia and the Pacific, says the military government does a fair job of conducting childhood immunization campaigns and routine vaccinations, but adds it’s impossible to assess the health situation in many ethnic areas that are off-limits to foreigners.

Neighbors Laos and Cambodia have poor health systems that perform even worse than Myanmar’s by some measures.

But in 2000, the World Health Organization ranked Myanmar’s overall health care system as the world’s second worst, above war-ravaged Sierra Leone.

One in three Burmese children is malnourished. About 105 per 1,000 children die before age 5 in Myanmar, compared with 19 per 1,000 in nearby Vietnam and 7 per 1,000 in the United States, according to UNICEF.

At least 360 of every 100,000 women die in childbirth, compared with 130 in Vietnam and 17 in the U.S.

Most of Myanmar’s health care is funded by international sources, with the government spending only about 3 percent on health annually, compared with 40 percent on the military, according to a report published this year by researchers from the University of California, Berkeley and Johns Hopkins University.

Some countries, however, are reconsidering their aid packages. Japan, Myanmar’s largest donor, announced it had canceled a multimillion-dollar grant to protest the death of a Japanese journalist who was among at least 10 people killed when troops fired into crowds of peaceful protesters during the Sept. 26-27 crackdown.

An estimated 90 percent of Burmese live on just $1 a day, and the United Nations ranks the resource-rich country among the 20 poorest in the world following decades of mismanagement under military dictatorship. Tony Banbury, the U.N. World Food Program’s regional director, visited Myanmar this month and estimated at least 5 million people were going hungry. He called on donor countries not to neglect the people suffering there.

Travel restrictions, human rights abuses and the government’s tight control over humanitarian organizations have forced some agencies to pull out. The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria withdrew funding in 2005, though Australia and a number of European countries made up the difference last year.

The French arm of Doctors Without Borders left Myanmar last year and even the International Red Cross issued a rare public criticism in June, denouncing the government for forcing prisoners to serve as military porters among other human rights abuses.

“People who have no money go to a clinic and they cannot get care,” said Chit Win, of the Back Pack Health Worker Team, a group that sneaks medical supplies across the border into eastern Myanmar. “Most people say the best thing to do is just wait to die.”


On the Net:

Mae Tao Clinic:

What Burma Wants from the World

All from BBC.
The hardship that sparked Burma's unrest. Oct. 2
What Burma wants from the World. Oct. 9
Burma 'still hunting protesters'. Oct. 17
Unlikely resistance in Burma's Mandalay. Oct. 25
Inside Burma; Your Questions Answered. Oct. 12
Poverty driving Burmese Workers East. Oct. 10
China's crucial role in Burma crisis. Sept. 27
Burma minority 'fleeing to India'. Oct. 23
Japan adds to pressure on Burma. Oct. 16

No Breakthrough in Suu Kyi's Talks with Junta


Today's Agence France Presse's story HERE:

The Myanmar junta’s talks with detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi were no more than a bid to deflect criticism of its bloody crackdown on protesters before top UN envoys visit, analysts say.

The Nobel peace prize winner on Thursday was briefly allowed out of her home, where she has spent 12 of the past 18 years under house arrest, to meet with Labour Minister Aung Kyi, who was named to build ties with the opposition.

Although no details of the hour-long talk have been released, images of the meeting were broadcast on state television, a rarity in a country where Aung San Suu Kyi has spent years out of the public eye.

“It was significant in a sense that at least the military and Aung San Suu Kyi held talks,” Chaichoke Chulsiriwong, an expert on Myanmar at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, told AFP on Friday.

“But we have to remain cautious,” he added.

The junta rarely has direct dealings with Aung San Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy party won 1990 elections but was never allowed to govern.

In appointing Aung Kyi, viewed as a moderate in the junta, the ruling generals seemed to indicate the military was prepared for at least a minimal level of contact.

“But we can never trust this military government. … The ruling generals will do everything to ease international pressure, which is very strong after the crackdown,” Chaichoke said.

At least 13 people were killed and more than 2,100 people locked up by security forces that suppressed the September protests — the biggest challenge to military rule in nearly two decades — with bullets, baton charges and tear gas.

The junta has been widely condemned for its actions, and needs to be seen as taking steps ahead of next week’s expected visit by UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari, said Thailand-based Myanmar analyst Aung Naing Oo.

“It was very clear — the junta had no choice but to hold talks with Aung San Suu Kyi,” he said.

“The government felt it had to do something positive in order to defuse international pressure.”

Gambari, who is making his second trip to Myanmar since the unrest began, will be followed by Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, the UN special rapporteur on human rights.

Speaking from Japan where he met top leaders on the Myanmar issue, Gambari said the Thursday meeting was “only the first step” in what he hoped would be a resumed dialogue between Aung San Suu Kyi and the junta.

Others, though, were not so optimistic.

“The regime has no will to make any concessions, despite pressure from the international community,” said one western diplomat with extensive experience dealing with the junta. “There is no change in their attitude.”

The meeting, however, could have been an attempt to dictate what Aung San Suu Kyi can say to the UN envoys, whom she is likely to meet, said Debbie Stothard of Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma, a human rights group.

The regime was “trying to set limits on what she says and does,” she said.

Aung San Suu Kyi has staunchly refused to drop her support for international sanctions on the regime, a condition set by junta leader General Than Shwe for further talks toward national reconciliation.

Knowing she is not likely to change her stance could give the generals an excuse to abandon future talks, said Yoshihiro Nakanishi, a Myanmar expert from Japan’s Kyoto University, where detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi studied during the 1980s.

“If talks do not materialize, the military government can easily blame Aung San Suu Kyi,” he said.

"Enduring linkage" Against Junta


The highlights of Oct. 27's CNN article "Enduring linkage" against junta:

1. Opposition leaders relate how protests evolved inside Myanmar
2. Pending constitution would legitimize military rule, opposition says
3. Myanmar analysts: Linkage between students, opposition leaders, monks

Friday, October 26, 2007

Three trends that will keep Burma on the world's radar


The Nation's (Bangkok)Oct. 22 article HERE:

After the violent crackdown last month and Rangoon's dismissal of the UN's call for dialogue, three broad trends have emerged that will ensure that the perpetual Burmese crisis never again falls off the world's radar screen.

First, there is a stronger coalition of countries calling for additional and tougher sanctions, as well as increased humanitarian assistance and contact with the junta. The other is the acknowledgement of the pivotal role played by China and other neighbouring countries, including India and Thailand, in a peaceful transition in the months and years to come, as nobody is advocating an abrupt regime change in Burma. Finally, a strong coalition of human-rights and civil-society organisations around the world have raised awareness and educated the global community about the Burmese atrocities.

Ironically, these trends were brought about by the junta's brutal crackdown against Buddhist monks last month. The Rangoon junta has been able to get away scot-free with their less publicised oppressive acts against the Burmese people and opposition forces since 1988. Rangoon has been adept at playing realpolitik and trade-off games with major powers interested in its rich energy resources. The suffering of the Burmese has, for the first time in nearly two decades, unmistakably registered. So far, the international community's response has been swift and sustained.

Since the early 1990s, Western countries led by the US and the European Union have maintained various forms of sanctions against the Burmese regime, ranging from trade and investment, to financial visa matters. Last week, US President George W Bush announced additional sanctions targeting three dozen senior officials. Both the US and the EU are working together on banking sanctions that would freeze offshore accounts belonging to the junta leaders, their families and associates. An arms embargo is on the drawing board. These sanctions are smarter and more specific.

The regime's brutality, witnessed through countless video clips and photos, has bridged the perception gap that existed among key countries engaging Burma. Previously, only the US and the EU saw eye to eye on the need for sanctions. Japan and Australia preferred a middle-of-the-road approach with humanitarian aid and limited programmes. However, the latter two have hardened their positions following the crackdowns and continued arrests of dissidents.

For Japan, it was a wake-up call. The cold-blooded killing of Japanese video journalist Kenji Nagai abruptly shifted the mood of Japanese policy-makers who had previously shown tolerance over the Burmese situation. The Japanese stance has been that a softer approach coupled with human-resource development programmes would gradually change Burma and make it more democratic. So far that has proven to be wishful thinking.

Under heavy public pressure, the new Japanese government under Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda has downsized foreign assistance a little bit. Tokyo does not want to lose all the contracts that also directly benefit the Burmese. As the largest donor to Burma, any drastic reduction or halt from Japan would certainly hurt the Burmese, especially if the cuts pertained to various human-resource training areas.

To mitigate the repercussions on the Burmese people from increased sanctions, the EU has announced more humanitarian assistance that would benefit citizens there directly, notably those in non-economic matters. Burma urgently needs proper public services in education, healthcare and disease control - three priority areas that have been neglected for decades. The regime has ignored these fundamental imperatives, as most of the country's resources and finances were spent on military affairs and the relocation to the new capital of Naypyitaw.

As far as the region is concerned, the focus has been on the role that China could play in ending the regional crisis. Beijing has been very discreet in pressuring Burma. This represents a unique opportunity for China to lay down a foundation as a responsible international player. China was brought into action in the Darfur crisis by the threat of an Olympic boycott. In the case of Burma, China has shown a willingness to take up international concerns and debates at the UN Security Council (UNSC).

China realises that its close ties with Burma and passivity is hurting its "face", meaning prestige, and "international stature" before the Olympic Games. For selfish reasons, China must help Burma to find a way out in order to maintain stability. Beijing no longer has a business-as-usual attitude towards Rangoon. Both India and Thailand, which have extensive energy deals with Burma, have yet to break ranks with the regime. Likewise, after expressing revulsion regarding the atrocities in Burma, Asean must show it can move beyond rhetoric.

Finally, in the globalised village wired by the Internet, non-governmental organisations such as, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and various concerned groups have kept the world informed about the situation in Burma. They have also gone a step further by mobilising them into action. gathered over a million signatures for its petition on Burma over the Internet and that will be soon passed on the UNSC and Chinese President Hu Jintao. This kind of massive grassroots pressure across a borderless world exclusively on Burma is something new.

Taken together, these trends aim at keeping the Burmese crisis alive in the public debate at all levels. They show that in order to deprive the regime of legitimacy, the international community must not yield and must work as a team.

The opportunity has come and must not be lost to make sure that the regime will not come back and fight another day.

Thailand to launch operation against Burmese dissidents

Thailand loves Burmese oil, gas, and hydropower. Business interests are clearly at work here.
From Mizzima, off Burmanet, HERE
Offices of pro-democracy Burmese opposition groups in Thailand will be searched by security personnel in the kingdom as part of an “operation”, informed sources told Mizzima.

The nation-wide operation will be launched in two weeks. Sources say the measure follows the Burma military junta’s claims that Thai-based organizations instigated or were helping recent anti-regime protesters in the neighbouring country.

The regime has linked the monks leading the demonstrations in August and September with Maesot based organizations.

The Burmese Religion Minister Brig Gen Thura Myint Maung, in the state-run newspaper today said, “Bogus [fake] Monks” who are in contact with opposition groups based in Thailand had instigated the recent protests in Burma.

Myint Maung, citing the names of monks who organized the protests, said, “All 15 monks have visited Maesot in Thailand and some of them have attended explosive training courses and community organizer (CO) courses there.”

Help Keep 5 Alive


Please consider donating to Partners Relief and Development's 5 Alive Program.
$50 will help keep a family of five internally displaced persons alive for one month.
Donate HERE. You can download Partners' 5 Alive Brochure HERE.
You have ended up on a desolate island with only 5 belongings. You found them in the waterproof backpack that somehow made it to the sandy shore. What do you hope you find inside the pack? A journal? A pen? Mirror? Bug repellant? The truth is that you will not survive long in the elements on an unknown island. Unless of course you happen upon a shopping centre.

The ethnic minorities of Burma are going through a similar exercise... except for them it's not a game.
One of the Burma Army's strategies is to crush all resistance from the ethnic groups by destroying their villages, their homes and their livelihood. They go from village to village, systematically destroying everything. If people are found in their way, they will be destroyed as well.

When people are hiding from their own government and are unwilling or unable to leave their country, they are classified as Internally Displaced Persons. Innnocent people have to run for their lives. Mothers, fathers, grandparents and children all have to leave their homes with only the few belongings they can carry. The belongings they bring have to be able to sustain them for the next few months.

We have asked what the 5 most important items are. The list is simple. This is what a family of 5 needs to survive for a month:

1. 75 kilograms of rice; 5 kilograms of salt
2. 1 cooking pot
3. 1 lighter
4. 1 machete
5. 1 large plastic sheet for making a roof in the jungle

The items on the list above can help save a family of 5. It costs $50 to do so. Partners wants to keep as many groups of 5 Alive as possible. You can donate $50 now to keep 5 Alive.

The life or death difference you can make

The generous support of our 5 Alive campaign has made the difference between life or death for literally thousands of people. Partners currently support 20 teams who bravely enter combat areas to demonstrate God's love among people whose lives have been brutalized by Burma's terrible war. Please keep praying, keep supporting our 5 Alive program, and keep speaking on behalf of those victims of war who have no voice.

This child and her community were helped by relief teams in April 27, 2006. Partners was able to send in medicine, shelter materials, and clothes for thousands of people who were chased from their homes and communities by Burma Army troops.

The current situation

There are currently more than 25,000 people displaced in North Eastern Burma alone, we have confirmed the deaths of 76 innocent people, and there are 33 new camp-hide sites now established to care for those who can't carry on alone.

This year, the Burma Army has stepped up its attacks against the ethnic minorities, bringing their usual dishonour and destruction with them. The situation inside of Burma is worse now that it has been in ten years, yet the world remains quiet, mostly blind to the atrocities and oppression against a gentle and peace-loving people. They shoot without remorse, rape without regret, enslave without apology. Everyday, more hearts are damaged, more innocence is stolen, and more hope is shattered. Yet still, in the midst of hardship and trial, these amazing people continue to love and grow, pray and hope, laugh and live. Their capacity for love is astounding, and they mostly refuse to be bitter.

Just Ask yourself this question: "What if it were my family?"

Naw Paw Htoo, aged 60, comes from Tongoo District in North Eastern Burma. When I interviewed her last week in Ei Tu Hta Camp, she was composed and friendly. Nine months ago the Burma Army attacked and occupied her village, and looted property. They burned down the houses, shot 7 of her neighbors, and forced the others in her community to hide in the jungle. Naw Paw Htoo fled with two of her five children, the other three are still inside Burma. She and her children walked over a month to reach the border, finally ending up in Ei Tu Hta camp where she is today.

Three years ago, Naw Paw Htoo's husband was killed when he went to the nearby town to buy food. The Burma Army tied his hands behind his back, dragged him through the jungle, hung him in a tree upside down, gouged out his eyes and then drowned him. Naw Paw Htoo helped with the burial and funeral.

Because of generous donations from people like you, Partners helped establish this temporary camp where Naw Paw Htoo now lives. Patners organizes school for the children, and helps arrange for medical facilities and care. Thank you for caring so much that you give towards these crucial needs. If you would like materials to help inform your friends and community about what is going on in Burma please contact us.

Donate HERE.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Giving aid to IDPs--Putting Oneself in Harm's Way


Today, I met with workers from Free Burma Rangers, one of the leading humanitarian organizations providing relief to internally displaced persons inside Burma's armed conflict zones. They smuggle medicines, clothes, cooking utensils, matches, plastic sheeting, and other basic survival equipment to the hundreds of thousands of ethnic peoples displaced by attacks by the Burma Army. They have to travel through the jungles for days to weeks at a time to reach IDPs, all the while avoiding SPDC patrols, landmines, and tropical diseases. They administer medical aid to SPDC attack survivors, malaria and landmine victims, and to those suffering from numerous other illnesses.

The personal risk is great. You can get shot at, blown up by landmines, or stricken by malaria. I heard of 5 of FBR's casualties. One was killed by a landmine. Another was captured, tortured, and then executed. One died from cerebral malaria, and two drowned.

Another IDP medical assistance organization is the Back Pack Health Worker Team. Several of their members have died in the field.

Such brave determination and sacrifice.

You personally can help IDPs by donating to Partners Relief and Development's 5 Alive Program. $50 will keep a family of internally displaced persons alive for one month. Donate HERE. You can download Partners' 5 Alive Brochure HERE. You can also join Partners' listserv off its homepage.