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Recommended links:

1. Film: Abandoned, not Forgotten”: or on YouTube
2. Burma's constitution in PDF: 
3. Letters from Burma by Daw Augn San Suu Kyi: Death in the custody 1  2  3 
4. Chronology of Political Prisoner in Burma for October 2008

Thoughts and News highlights below:

Who will stop the Burmese regime before 2010-elections in Burma?
2. Washington Post Editorial: The Freedom Challenge
3. NY Times
Myanmar Gives Comedian 45-Year Sentence for Cyclone Comments
4. LA Times: Chevron's hype
5. Irrawaddy: Sickening’ Film on Plight of Burmese Migrant Fishermen
6. AI: Death in custody of Leo Nichols

Who will stop the Burmese regime before 2010-elections in Burma?

    As you may be aware, harsh sentences are currently being given to activists in Burma: a 68 year sentence for Monk Leader U Gambia, 65 years for Min Ko Naing and 88 generation students, 45 years for Comedian Zagana; 20 years for blogger Nay Phone Latt; and six years for Hip-hop singer Zeyar Thaw. The punishments to activists may seem too harsh, but they are not unusual. There are currently more than 2000 political prisoners in Burma, and they come from all walks of life: monks, members of parliament, teachers, students, lawyers, women, NLD members, Nargis volunteers, human rights promoters and ethnic nationalities. There are some who have received life sentences or death penalties. Ma Khin Khin Leh, a young mother and teacher from Bago, is still serving a life sentence given in 1999 for organizing a protest. Even more disturbing, she is believed to be held in Myanmar's notorious Insein Prison, where she reportedly suffers from an unspecified lung problem, rheumatoid arthritis and dysentery.  

   It could have been much worse for the activists if the world had not been watching Burma. In 1976, the General Secretary of the Chin Student Association Ko Tin Maung Oo, a student leader from Rangoon Arts & Science University (RASU) was given a death sentence; he was hanged in Insein Prison on June 26, 1976. There was no trial, no defense, just a judge, a sentence, and an execution.

"Raising awareness and creating pressure has at least fostered the situation where the prisoners are given sentences, however harsh, rather than summary executions, as was the case in 1976 .Protests from outside Burma do mitigate conditions for these prisoners.

   However, some are not so fortunate. There have already been over 130 deaths while in custody -- punishment a bit short of physical hanging. Such deaths are often due to severe torture and/or denial of medical attention. Leo Nichols, the Honorable Consul for Scandinavian Countries in Burma (his story below) died in custody in 1996, two months after being arrested for owning a fax machine. Requests by foreign governments for an independent autopsy and enquiry were refused. He was buried the next day, and the family members were reportedly warned not to attend the funeral. In 2006, Ko Thet Win Aung also died in prison after his serious illness was ignored. (Before his death, his sentences was increased by seven years, from 52 years to 59 years imprisonment.)

   In "Letters from Burma," published in 1997, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi wrote about three cases of death while in custody: the demise of MP U Hla Than, Writer Hsaya Maung Thaw Ka and NLD pioneer member U Maung Ko.

   In fact,  the regime's harsh punishments are business as usual, and are seen as  preventive measures in order to win the upcoming 2010 elections. The regime will silence any threats standing in its way to affect a complete victory in the elections. To that end, all leaders such as Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, U Gambia, Zargana, and Min Ko Naing are now imprisoned.

   Under the current circumstances, it will be miraculous if the regime fails to steal the elections in 2010, as it did with the national convention, the constitution drafting and the referendum. These completed steps are part of its process known as the seven-step "Roadmap to Democracy",  adopted in 1993. It has executed all these steps forcibly and single-handedly. The party that won the election with an overwhelming majority, the National League for Democracy (NLD), has been completely silenced and sidelined. The victory in the next elections will be the regime's final milestone in achieving its true mission: to erase the 1990 election results and legalize its rule in Burma. By then, the mandate that the people of Burma gave to the NLD in the 1990 elections will become history.

    It will be another miracle if the regime, which has been waging a vicious war against its own people for seeking democracy, could successfully establish a true transition to democracy. The change that may come with the elections would be only skin-deep. After the election, the government may look like a civilian one, but would, in fact, duplicate the current regime, just as it did in 1974 when the dictator General Ne Win magically turned himself into the civilian president U Ne Win through a sham constitution adoption. To that end, the regime has already crafted a constitution that places its Army Chief above the law --- it can seize power at will and can, by its own law, fill 25% of the seats in both houses of parliament with Defense Services Personnel.

After challenges of historic proportion: the Saffron Revolution and the cyclone Nargis, the regime is more emboldened.  It has realized that it can do anything it wants in Burma with little or no resistance, even under the world's watchful eyes. It will not likely stop at holding 25% of the parliament seats but will try to fill the remaining 75% with its cronies and allies. To that end, the regime has reportedly ordered arrays of army officers to resign to take up positions in the new administration as civilians. People are already sensing which general will become Burma's next president, prime minister and so on. To sum it all up, in 2010, the regime will complete its “democratic” transition by fulfilling the task of power transfer -- back to itself.

The lingering questions are “who will stop the regime?” and “how can it be done before it is too late for 2010?” We must however believe in the people of Burma and that what goes up must come down. We must keep working to accelerate the change by speaking out, raising awareness, and generating pressure. There is no doubt that our efforts save lives in Burma and will eventually lead to a real change there.

As to the news below, there is a Washington Post editorial on new US administration and Burma, a story on how Chevron is trying to fool you on its efforts on green energy and a sickening film about the Plight of Burmese Migrant Fishermen.

Nyunt Than


1. Washington Post Editorial: The Freedom Challenge
2. NY Times
Myanmar Gives Comedian 45-Year Sentence for Cyclone Comments
3. LA Times: Chevron's hype
4. Irrawaddy: Sickening’ Film on Plight of Burmese Migrant Fishermen
5. AI: Death in custody of Leo Nichols

The Freedom Challenge

In Burma, a test of Barack Obama's attitude toward promoting democracy

Monday, November 24, 2008; Page A16

BARBARITY IN Burma last week served as a reminder that, with or without President-elect Barack Obama, the global struggle for liberty will rage on long after George W. Bush takes his "freedom agenda" home to Texas.
Some of Mr. Obama's foreign policy advisers are nearly as impatient to deep-six that policy as they are to bid farewell to its author. They believe that Mr. Bush's extravagant rhetoric overpromised and underperformed. Dissidents were encouraged and then abandoned. Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay mocked Washington's pretensions to lead or lecture.

The critics are right on all counts. If Mr. Obama intends to govern with more humility, caution and realism, we say, bring it on. U.S. foreign policy could use a healthy dose of all three.

But abandoning the promotion and support of democracy as core American goals would be a terrible mistake. Mr. Bush was right to see freedom as integral to all other foreign policy objectives. The stifling of democratic alternatives in Arab countries fuels terrorism. China's succor of dictators in Africa impedes healthy development in poor countries. Democracies are more likely, over time, to cooperate honestly with each other on global challenges such as climate change and disease control. And the United States can regain and retain the stature to lead in the world, on any issue, only if it is using its power on behalf of universal ideals.


No doubt these principles will feature somewhere in the new administration's rhetoric. But because other, seemingly more hardheaded considerations will always compete, the rhetoric will not mean much unless democracy promotion is baked into the administration's structure, budget and personnel.

The need is especially urgent when global recession could undermine democracy and stoke bellicose nationalism. It's urgent, too, because in the past decade, dictators and authoritarian ruling parties have learned to fight back. When Vladimir Putin seeks to extend Russia's influence, he doesn't just want more people watching Russian movies or buying Russian MiGs. He wants to replicate among his neighbors the kind of one-party rule he has imposed on his own country. His efforts will continue whether or not the Obama administration chooses to push back on behalf of the budding democracies Mr. Putin would target.

The spasm of repression in Burma last week similarly is not just about one country. In secret trials hidden away in fetid prisons, the ruling junta of that Southeast Asian nation of 50 million people sentenced more than 150 activists, Buddhist monks, bloggers, students and others to decades and decades in prison.

U Maung Thura, a comedian better known by his stage name of Zarganar, was sentenced to 45 years, with several charges still pending. His crime: attempting to deliver aid to victims of Cyclone Nargis last spring, when the regime did not want reminders of its own failure to help.

U Gambira, a monk who helped lead peaceful demonstrations against the regime 14 months ago, was sentenced to 68 years. A journalist was sentenced to 14 years for taking photographs during a sham referendum last spring. Lawyers have been sentenced for seeking to defend these activists and for resigning from cases when they were not permitted to mount serious defenses.

As news of these sentences spread from anguished relatives to supporters across the border and so around the world, another development was more openly announced: China's plans to proceed with a $2.5 billion pipeline to bring Burma's oil and gas to its Yunnan province. For China's Communist Party, repression in Burma is not an obstacle but a convenience, enabling the exploitation of natural resources with a minimum of well-targeted corruption.

The regime's ferocity last week, unexpected even by its dismal standards, came as something of an embarrassment to Western humanitarian groups, which have been revving up a campaign to convince the Obama administration that Burma's regime is moderating and that engagement, rather than isolation, is the right policy. Supporters of engagement argue that it helps neither the United States nor the long-suffering people of Burma to leave the field to the Chinese.

This may be true. But public opinion and, we trust, a sense of self-respect will never permit the United States to outbid China for the junta's affections. And in Burma, unlike in many dictatorships, there is a clear alternative authority: the National League for Democracy, which overwhelmingly won an election two decades ago. The regime negated the results, and the league's leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, has been under house arrest for most of the time since. Like Nelson Mandela in his long years of imprisonment, she remains the legitimate leader of her people. Like South Africans, Burmese will remember who sided with her during their years of oppression and who sided with the oppressor. And as the world watched and measured America's shifting stance on apartheid, so it will measure the next administration's commitment to democracy in Burma and beyond.

November 22, 2008

Myanmar Gives Comedian 45-Year Sentence for Cyclone Comments

A secret court run by Myanmar’s military leadership on Friday sentenced a prominent Burmese comedian and activist to 45 years in prison, continuing a recent crackdown on dissidents.

The comedian, U Maung Thura, 47, better known by his stage name Zarganar, or the Tweezers, was detained in June after he organized a private assistance effort to help victims of the May cyclone, which killed more than 130,000 Burmese. With aid organizations and Western governments, he criticized Myanmar’s handling of the disaster.

Mr. Maung Thura’s conviction was handed down by a court in Insein prison in Yangon, where many political prisoners are held. He was found guilty of violating several statutes, including the Electronic Act, which regulates all forms of electronic communication in the country. The act has increasingly been used by the ruling junta to justify long prison sentences against democracy advocates and others.

His prison term may be further lengthened Monday when the court considers additional charges against him.

“He got 45 years for only three charges. More sentences will be passed on four remaining charges on Monday,” his sister-in-law, Ma Nyein, told Reuters.

In a government raid last June, authorities seized Mr. Maung Thura’s computer and CD’s containing video that the military government would prefer the world not see: images of the devastation wrought by the May 3 cyclone, as well as the opulent wedding of the youngest daughter of the junta’s leader, Senior Gen. Than Shwe.

After the cyclone, Mr. Maung Thura coordinated an effort to deliver thousands of dollars in aid to remote villages in the Irrawaddy River delta. In an interview on May 19, he said he would continue his work despite government threats.

“These are my people,” he said. “I want to save my own people. But the government doesn’t like our work. It is not interested in helping people. It just wants to tell the world and the rest of the country that everything is under control and that it has already saved its people.”

Mr. Maung Thura has been jailed at least three times in the past two decades for his outspokenness and antigovernment satire, but for limited terms. His stage name refers to a Burmese call to audacity made popular during the nation’s anti-colonial struggle: “If you have hairs that stand up at times of fear, pull them out with the tweezers.”

Some 150 critics of the government have received prison sentences of from 2 to 65 years in the past three weeks. On Thursday alone, 35 critics were sentenced to long prison terms, including Ashin Gambira, a Buddhist monk and a leader of the September 2007 antigovernment protests, who was sentenced to a total of 68 years, the Web site Irrawaddy reported.

Those sentenced have included some 70 members of the opposition National League for Democracy, the party of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the detained Nobel laureate. Some of the most severe sentences were handed out to 23 members of the 88 Generation Students group who had been spearheading nonviolent protests for the past several years.

Bloggers, musicians and poets have also been sent to prison.

On Thursday, a hip-hop singer, Zeyar Thaw, was jailed for six years, and 14 members of Ms. Suu Kyi’s party were sentenced to two and a half years each for calling for her release on her birthday in June, said a party spokesman, Nyan Win.

Chevron's hype
The oil company's ads say it is investing heavily in alternative and renewable fuels, but corporate reports indicate otherwise.,0,1838635.story

By Antonia Juhasz
November 21, 2008
» Discuss Article
Chevron's "human energy" advertisements are everywhere: TV, magazines, bus stops and newspapers. The commercials -- which end with the words "oil," "geothermal," "solar," "wind," "hydrogen" and "conservation" flashing one at a time between the three bars of Chevron's logo -- encourage us to believe that the company is equal parts clean energy, conservation and oil. But is it really, as the commercials claim, "part of the solution" to the world's climate crises, rather than at the heart of the problem?

You'd think the company would be eager to demonstrate its commitment to alternative energy with accessible, easy to understand financial figures. In fact, the details are all but impossible to come by.
If you go to the company's website, you'll find cheery reports on various alternative fuels that state: "Chevron has invested more than $2 billion in renewable and alternative energy services since 2002. We expect to invest more than $2.5 billion from 2007 through 2009." But you will not find more detailed breakdowns that attach actual dollar amounts to specific investments in specific years.

If you call, you'll be told the same PR message: Some $4.5 billion in once and future green expenditures. And you may also get referred to other postings on the website, which include the company's "corporate responsibility report," annual shareholder reports and 10-K tax filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.But you won't get specific numbers -- as the company's spokesman told me, Chevron does not "break down spending for individual businesses" or "disclose more than has been disclosed in the 10-K."

So what is in the 10-K? I looked at the latest complete filing, which included 2006 and 2007, when Chevron's record-breaking profits, its net income after expenses, were $17 billion and $18.7 billion, respectively. I found page after page of financial information but no charts or chapters that make it possible to document, in any complete way, the company's yearly expenditures on "renewable and alternative energy services."
There was, however, an interesting chart to consider -- Chevron's "capital and exploratory" expenditures. It covered a great deal of the company's operations, from oil exploration, refining and marketing to its chemical business and beyond.

In 2006, Chevron spent $16.6 billion, and in 2007, $20 billion in this category. Of that, $13 billion and $15.5 billion, respectively -- nearly 80% -- went to searching for, developing and producing crude oil and natural gas. Not exactly green "services."

The chart also lists "all other" expenditures, which does include green enterprises: power-generating plants (four are "clean" geothermal operations); "alternative fuels" (the filing isn't more specific); and technology companies, which turn out to include Chevron Energy Solutions, which helps businesses increase energy efficiency and use renewable and alternative power; and Chevron Technology Ventures, which manages investments in emerging energy technology and its integration into Chevron's core businesses.

This "all other" category allows us to get a sense of the company's dollar commitment to alternative and renewable energy. Let's be extremely generous (because "all other" also includes dirty businesses too, like coal mining and traditional power plants, and apparently neutral expenditures such as "worldwide cash management") and credit the entire category to the green column: $417 million in 2006 and $774 million in 2007.

That's 2.4% and 3.8% of Chevron's total capital and exploratory expenditures. Not even a measly 4%.

Another way to look at it? In 2006, Chevron purchased the most expensive offshore oil-drilling rig in history for $600 million -- nearly 1 1/2 times its entire "all other" capital and exploratory expenditure that year.

And this is really the crux of the problem. Compared with what it spends producing oil and other environmentally catastrophic fuels in increasingly environmentally catastrophic ways -- scraping through tar sands, burrowing under mountains for oil shale and barreling into the depths of the ocean -- Chevron is spending minuscule amounts on clean alternatives.

The "human energy" ads are designed to get us to believe that when we fill up our tanks at a Chevron station, we're supporting clean energy, an assumption that might discourage us from advocating for new taxes on the oil industry or for cuts in its subsidies -- money that could be used for government investments in alternative energy.

The ads look nice, and to see Chevron's logo decorated with the words "solar" and "wind" is reassuring. But year in and year out, the energy giant's record-breaking profits don't go to renewable energy, they go to oil. Don't believe Chevron's hype.

Antonia Juhasz is the author of "The Tyranny of Oil: The World's Most Powerful Industry -- And What We Must Do to Stop It."

‘Sickening’ Film on Plight of Burmese Migrant Fishermen
NOVEMBER, 2008 - VOLUME 16 NO.11

A documentary film showing how Burmese seamen aboard Thai fishing boats are abused, beaten and even murdered is now available for viewing on the Internet.

The 10-minute film, titled “Abandoned, not Forgotten,” was released on the official Web site of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITWF), whose General Secretary, David Cockcroft, described it as “a sometimes sickening but very necessary addition to the evidence that many Burmese citizens forced to flee their country are being appallingly treated.”

Burmese fishermen dock in Ranong, Thailand.
(Photo: The Irrawaddy)
In one scene, an ex-fisherman describes how a cook beat a young Burmese crew member with an iron bar. “The skipper asked if the guy was dead or not. I told him: ‘He hasn’t died yet, leave him alone, I’ll look after him.’ The guy was hit again on the back of his head and his brains spilled out. He took an hour to die.”

The ex-fisherman concluded: “I think our Burmese boatman die like dogs and pigs.”

Cockroft said: “This is a 21st century scandal, and everyone involved—including those who wittingly or not buy or sell fish products tainted by this horrible exploitation—must examine their consciences and act.”

According to the London-based ITWF, 250,000 Burmese migrant fishermen and women work in Thailand’s fishing industry, at sea and in fish-processing factories. Only 70,000 are legally registered. With little or no legal status or protection, many face brutality and near slavery.

“Abandoned, not Forgotten” can be viewed on the Web site or on YouTube


AI Index: ASA 16/34/96
Distrib: PG/SC

Date: 16 July 1996



Death in custody of Leo Nichols

Amnesty International is concerned about the death in custody of James Leander Nichols, commonly known as Leo Nichols, who died on 22 June 1996 two months after his arrest. Leo Nichols was aged 65 and suffered from diabetes, hypertension and heart problems. Amnesty International is seeking clarification from the authorities in Myanmar about whether he was receiving routine medication and medical attention while he was imprisoned. Of mixed Burmese and European origin, Leo Nichols was former honorary consul in Myanmar for Norway, Denmark, Finland and Switzerland. He was a very close friend of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of Myanmar's main opposition party who was held under house arrest for almost six years until her release in July 1995. Many believe his arrest was prompted by the close links he had with her.

A successful businessman, Leo Nichols raised and donated money to a number of charities, including Burmese orphanages, and is reported to have paid for a number of material items in Aung San Suu Kyi's household, strengthening the likelihood that the authorities suspected him of close involvement with the opposition National League for Democracy. The NLD won a clear victory in elections in 1990, but the military government has failed to relinquish power and has imprisoned many NLD leaders and supporters. Leo Nichols was charged with operating unregistered phone and fax lines from his home and sentenced to three years' imprisonment.

Immediately following his death, Denmark asked to be allowed to send a forensic expert to perform an autopsy to determine the exact cause of death. This request was not permitted, although authorities in other countries which he had represented in a diplomatic capacity also joined the call for an independent inquiry. All four countries wrote to the ruling military government demanding a full explanation of his death. An autopsy was allegedly performed by government doctors which is said to have found that Leo Nichols was suffering from massive left coronary atherosclerosis and died of heart failure. He was buried the day after his death and the authorities are reported to have warned his family not to attend the funeral. By contrast, several military officers were present. A memorial service was held for him some days later and was attended by ambassadorial representatives from those countries he had represented.

Following the news of Leo Nichols' arrest, the Danish government is reported to have repeatedly asked for his prison conditions to be improved, fearing that harsh prison conditions could place him in danger given his age and state of health.

Amnesty International is concerned that Leo Nichols' death may have been preventable. In addition to wishing to clarify what medical care he received in prison, it is also concerned by reports that he was subjected to sleep deprivation during long periods of interrogation. AI is seriously concerned by these reports, given his history of medical problems which were known to the authorities and to the prison administration. Furthermore, conditions at Insein prison where he was held are harsh and prisoners have been subjected to ill-treatment in punishment for infractions of the strict and often arbitrary prison rules. Such ill-treatment has included beatings, deprivation of family visits and the holding of prisoners in very cramped and cold conditions. In mid-November 1995, for example, the authorities began to hold a group of almost 30 political prisoners in tiny "cells" built to house military dogs. This was in punishment for sending a letter about prison conditions to the UN, for the possession of thr
ee radio sets and for the circulation of a newspaper inside the prison. Within these cramped quarters, they were made to sleep on cold concrete floors without bedding and they were also deprived of family visits.

Amnesty International is renewing its calls to the authorities in Myanmar to provide a detailed explanation of how Leo Nichols was treated while in detention, what medical attention he received, the exact cause of death, the circumstances surrounding his death and whether - in the opinion of doctors - his death could have been prevented. The official account is that he was found unconscious in his cell and transferred to hospital where he died one hour later. Some believe he died in Insein prison.

Amnesty International is also calling on the authorities to ensure that conditions in the prison conform to proper standards and to provide an undertaking that the ill-treatment of prisoners will cease.

Subject: NCGUB Statement on Death in Custody
From: maung@xxxxxxxxxxx
Date: Mon, 24 Jun 1996 08:53:00

815 Fifteenth Street NW, Suite 910, Washington, DC 20005


Leo Nichols, 65, who served as honourary consul for Norway and contact person for Denmark and Sweden, died on 22 June at 11 a.m. at the Rangoon General Hospital. He was buried on 23 Jnne at 2 p.m. at Saw Ba Gyi Christian cemetery near Insein Prison. Friends and family were told not to attend the funeral, About 40 persons, mostly military intelligence agents, were present at the cemetery.

Friends are planning to hold a Roman Catholic memorial service for 'Uncle Leo' next Saturday but have not yet received permission to do so from the State Law and Order Restoration Council.

Cause of death according to a SLORC ordered autopsy was cerebral haemorrhage. 'Uncle Leo', a prominent businessman was arrested in early April for allegedly using telephones and fax machines without the permission of authorities. He was sentenced to 3 years imprisonment on 18 May. It is known that 'Uncle Leo' was kept in solitary confinement from the time of his arrest. Although he suffered from a heart condition, he was denied his medication all the time he was in custody. Leo Nichols was transferred from solitary confinement to an ordinary cell on 20 June. He was transferred to the prison hospital on 21 June and the next day to Rangoon General Hospital where he died 1 hour after his arrival 'Uncle Leo' was a close friend of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's family but had no formal ties with the NLD. According to NLD sources, 'Uncle Leo', on occasion lent Daw Aung San Suu Kyi the use of his car.

SLORC cannot deny responsibility for the death in custody of Leo Nichols. Whatever the cause of his death, SLORC is responsible. SLORC has no excuse for denying a 65-year old man medical attention while in custody, whatever his alleged crime.

Leo Nichols' arrest for using 'illegal fax machines' for his business, his solitary confinement, his denial of medical attention while in custody, his 3-year prison sentence, his death and burial without benefit of friends and family, all serve to underline the essential lawlessness of the military regime that is currently ruling Burma against the expressed wish of her people.

The National Coalition Government once again calls on the international community to step up action against SLORC before the lawless situation in Burma deteriorates further.

For more information, Telephone: 1(202) 393-7342

Amazon Defense Coalition: Chevron Whitewashes Its Website of Burma

Charges of Rape and Murder Prompt Disappearance of Entire Country from Corporate Website

SAN FRANCISCO--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Chevron has quietly removed from its website any reference to its operations in Burma, a country where the oil giant has been implicated in allegations of rape and murder connected to a lucrative pipeline project that generates up to $1 billion annually for the countrys brutal military regime, the Amazon Defense Coalition said today.

The company has replaced the majority of substantive information on its website with a short page glossing over their role in the country.

Chevron removed the references to Burma while it has been embroiled in high-stakes legal case charging it helped orchestrate the deaths of two Nigerian villagers protesting Chevrons operational practices in the African country. The trial on those charges began Tuesday in federal court in San Francisco.

Earth Rights International, a legal organization based in Washington, D.C., has leveled withering criticism at Chevron for jointly operating a natural gas pipeline with the Burmese military. Just in the last year, the Burmese army has violently suppressed protesting monks and diverted international relief aid after a devastating hurricane, and the countrys government is considered an international pariah.

The pipeline generates an estimated $1 billion per year in hard currency for the clique of generals who rule Burma. Chevron has defended the project on the grounds it exercises a liberalizing influence on the countrys government.

Just two years ago, Chevrons Burmese operations were featured prominently on the companys website. This week, one could not find a single reference to Burma on the website where Chevron boasts of its worldwide operations and lists the dozens of countries where it has investments.

The earlier website is archived at

In a recent report, lawyers for ERI concluded that Chevron faces liability for being complicit in murder, rape, and slave labor committed by the Burmese Army in providing security for the pipeline. ERI is most known for having settled a legal case against Unocal over the same charges before Chevron bought Unocal in 2005 and inherited the pipeline project.

As ERI noted in their report The Human Cost of Energy: Chevrons Continuing Role in Financing Oppression and Profiting From Human Rights Abuse in Military-Ruled Burma (Myanmar): Chevron and its consortium partners continue to rely on the Burmese army for pipeline security, and those forces continue to conscript thousands of villagers for forced labor, and to commit torture, rape, murder and other serious abuses in the course of their operations. Due to its involvement in the Yadana Project, Chevron remains vulnerable to liability in U.S. courts for the abuses committed by these security forces. The full report is available at

The removal of any mention of Burma is the latest in a long series of controversial moves by Charles S. James, Chevrons General Counsel, to hide or divert attention from Chevrons growing human rights problems.

James has shown a repeated willingness to tolerate unethical practices by Chevron to hide its growing reputation as a global human rights violator, said Jeremy Low, who monitors the companys human rights record for the Amazon Defense Coalition, which has sued Chevron for environmental damage in Ecuador.

What were seeing is hard information replaced by absolute fluff or just blank space, he added.

Just last week, Chevron was accused by the environmental group Amazon Watch of paying journalists to write favorable editorial content without disclosing their financial relationship to the company. One of the journalists, San Francisco writer Pat Murphy, has not denied he accepts fees from Chevron to write one-sided articles in his online newspaper that mysteriously get Google bombed to the top of search engines.

Undisclosed payments to journalists for favorable coverage are considered highly unethical, yet James has not denied that the company engages in the practice.

The Nigeria case, being tried before Judge Susan Illston, has created a lengthy record of charges that Chevron paid Nigerian military officers to shoot local villagers who had staged a peaceful protest on one of the companys oil platforms. The trial, expected to last five weeks, began on Tuesday.

In the Amazon region of Ecuador, where Chevron faces a potential $16.3 billion liability for dumping more than 18 billion gallons of toxic waste, local lawyers have long accused the company of paying uniformed Ecuadorian army officers to provide security designed to intimidate members of indigenous groups.

I am sure James wishes Chevron could erase its human rights problems as easily as it can erase mention of Burma from its website, said Low. But as the company is now finding out, thats not so easy.

To view the former websites, maintains an extensive database:

Long URLs in this release may need to be copied/pasted into your Internet browser's address field. Remove the extra space if one exists.

About the Amazon Defense Coalition

The Amazon Defense Coalition represents dozens of rainforest communities and five indigenous groups that inhabit Ecuadors Northern Amazon region. The mission of the Coalition is to protect the environment and secure social justice through grass roots organizing, political advocacy, and litigation.


For Amazon Defense Coalition
Karen Hinton, 703-798-3109


VOA News: New International Pressure on Burmese Regime to Reform
The Sunday Times: New hopes for democracy in Burma?
Human Rights Watch: Burma: One Year After Violent Crackdown, Repression Continues
NY Times: Myanmar Writhes in the Grip of Its Junta
Boston Glove Editorial: Burma's unfinished revolution
Mizzama News: Monks protest in Sittwe, western Burma
Bangkok Post Breaking News: Burma arrests three on NLD anniversary
The Ithaca Journal: Exiled Burmese freedom fighter dies in Ithaca

New International Pressure on Burmese Regime to Reform

27 September 2008

Renewed international pressure is being put on Burma's military regime to release political prisoners, end oppression of minorities and institute democratic reforms.  From United Nation's headquarters in New York, VOA's Margaret Besheer reports on Saturday's high-level meeting on Burma called by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses members of the 63rd General Assembly the United Nations, 23 Sep 2008
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, 23 Sep 2008
The U.N. secretary-general convened the first ministerial level meeting of the so-called "Friends of Myanmar" - the other name by which Burma is known.

Representatives of the five permanent Security Council members, as well as several Asian nations, the European Union, India and Norway attended the meeting, held in the margins of the General Assembly's annual debate.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband told reporters that the Security Council has spoken clearly in demanding the Burmese regime release political prisoners and initiate an all-inclusive dialogue between the government and the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD). "That degree of cooperation has not been forthcoming from the Burmese regime and it remains the fundamental tenet of the Friends of the Secretary-General that the regime must work with the secretary-general and his representative Ambassador Gambari to achieve political and economic progress," he said.

The secretary-general's special envoy on Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, has made four visits to that country in the last year. His most recent has been widely criticized for not achieving any gains. During that trip, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi who is under house arrest, did not turn up for a meeting with him, in an apparent show of frustration with U.N. efforts to move the political process forward in Burma.

Burma experienced a devastating cyclone in May of this year. Just days later the regime held a constitutional referendum that was widely derided as neither free nor fair. But the regime has countered that the new constitution has paved the way for multi-party elections in 2010.

Singapore's foreign minister, George Yeo, expressed concern about the form those elections might take. "The dice will be loaded in favor of the military, but I believe from a certain viewpoint that some progress is better than no progress. The problem is that the NLD [opposition] has not been part of the process, they may not participate in it, and if they do not the country will remain divided and the problem will remain unsolved," he said.

Secretary-General Ban visited Burma after Cyclone Nargis and met with top leaders. He is widely expected to return to the country at the end of this year. But some observers questioned under what circumstances he should go back. Minister Yeo said such a visit is a "move not to be lightly taken." "When he goes back, it has to be very carefully timed, because expectations must be calibrated. He should not go back unless there are clear signs of progress, but his intervention at an appropriate time can be critical," he said.

Mr. Ban did not stop to speak with reporters following the closed-door meeting. But in a statement, his spokesperson said the high-level participation at the meeting is a clear signal of the importance that the international community attaches to the situation in Burma, and encouraged the Burmese government to work more closely with the United Nations to address issues of key concern.

The Sunday Times 
Sunday, September 28, 2008

New hopes for democracy in Burma?

News from Agence France-Presse says ministers of UN Security Council permanent member states together with many Asian nations were scheduled to hold their first meeting Saturday to advance democratic reforms in Burma.

That country, now officially known as Myanmar, has been ruled by the military since 1962. Since the time of General Ne Win, the military men have ruled tyrannically. They have also often idiotically subordinated the Burmese people’s wellbeing to the military’s obsession with control. This was most recently manifested in the junta’s refusal to let foreign aid and rescue missions to give food, supplies and medicine to hundreds of thousands of victims of natural calamities rendered sick, starving and homeless.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for the informal talks, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, in response to the scantiest signs that the military rulers might be willing to embrace political reforms now.

A year ago, in September, the military junta responded to pro-democracy demonstrators with an excess of brutality. The UN Secretary General apparently thinks now is a good time to nudge the ruling generals into becoming less inhuman.

Since last September, the generals’ acts of cruelty against pro-democracy Burmese have increased, the independent US-based Human Rights Watch states in a report. In addition, HRW says, “the military government has failed to deliver on promises it made a year ago, despite international efforts at mediation.”

The United Nations itself says that the September 2007 crackdown left 31 people dead, including a Japanese journalist who was shot at close range. Seventy-four Burmese are still missing. Thousands more were arrested and kept in the junta’s prisons.

Ministerial level meeting

Agence France-Presse’s P. Parameswaran reports that the first ministerial meeting on Myanmar of Ban’s “so-called group of friends” would raise the profile of the longstanding international demand for the junta to hold a dialogue with the democratic opposition.

 “The fact that these countries are attending at the ministerial level and have agreed to this meeting shows that they are putting up the Myanmar issue as a high concern,” Parameswaran quotes Ban’s spokeswoman Choi Soung Ah as saying. The group’s ambassadors at the UN headquarters in New York had met several times since its first meeting in December last year.

It is made up of permanent Security Council members United States, Britain, France, Russia and China as well as Australia, European Union, India, Indonesia, Japan, Norway, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) will have a representative.

Ban’s special envoy Ibrahim Gambari has made four visits to the country since the September 2007 crackdown. But he failed to restart a dialogue between detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the generals. Gambari’s four trips to Burma have, in other words, not achieved much. He did learn that Ms. Suu Kyi is more or less not unwell.

Impatient prodemocracy dissident groups have become critical of Gambari and even the UN itself. But, Parameswaran once more quotes Choi issuing the caution that Gambari’s visits are “the only window we have and let’s not shoot the messenger.”

The Security Council, as usual, is divided on the issue. China, very close to Burma as a trading partner, investor, aidgiver and moral supporter even during the years when Maoism was the PRC’s ideology, and Russia, which is also has good commercial relations with the military junta, have been vetoing previous Security Council moves to urge Myanmar to return to democracy and free all political prisoners.

But there was some good news last week. On Tuesday, the junta released seven political prisoners, members of prodemocracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League of Democracy. Among those freed was the famous journalist Win Tin. Seventy-nine years old, he had been in the junta’s prison since 1989.

As if they want to remind their oppressed people that they can, like God, give and take away, the generals rearrested one newly freed activist the next day.

This August and September, Human Rights Watch says, 39 prodemocracy activists were arrested. That raises the total of political prisoners in the generals’ hands to 2,100.

Laughable referendum on constitution

In a move that the whole world found laughable, the generals did not postpone a scheduled referendum on a new Burmese constitution in May, despite the devastation and deaths from a killer cyclone being still not yet counted. Most of the families who fled their flooded villages had not yet come back to their homes when the referendum was held. The junta officially later said there were about 138,000 and missing. Foreign aid workers estimate much more than that figure.

The vote, pro-democracy activists complained, was as usual, unfree and controlled to favor the military’s desired result. The junta claimed it to be absolutely clean. And soon the military rulers proclaimed a new constitution under which multiparty elections can be held in 2010. But the rules promulgated under their new constitution bars Aung San Suu Kyi from running.

In 1990, the military junta called a general election, which Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy won decisively. She should have assumed the office of prime minister. But the junta nullified the election results and placed her under arrest.

As a prisoner, she won the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 1990 and the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.

Human Rights Watch Press Release
Burma: One Year After Violent Crackdown, Repression Continues
UN Should Press Military Leaders to Keep Their Promises

(New York, September 26, 2008) – The international community should demand accountability from the Burmese military government for the brutal crackdown in September 2007 on monks, activists, and other civilians, Human Rights Watch said today. Repression in Burma has increased and the military government has failed to deliver on promises it made a year ago, despite international efforts at mediation.
" Last September, the Burmese people courageously challenged their military rulers, and they were answered with violence and contempt. The repression continues. While a handful of political activists have been released, more are being arrested and thousands remain in prison. "
Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

The crackdown that began on September 26, 2007, was a brutal response to growing protests initially triggered in part by the doubling of fuel prices in mid-August 2007. In the following weeks, Buddhist monks in Rangoon, Mandalay, and other towns across Burma staged peaceful marches to protest government policies and poor living standards. Lay supporters gradually joined the marches, swelling to tens of thousands of people calling for political, economic and social reforms.

“Last September, the Burmese people courageously challenged their military rulers, and they were answered with violence and contempt,” said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The repression continues. While a handful of political activists have been released, more are being arrested and thousands remain in prison.”

On September 23, 2008, the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) announced the release of 9,002 prisoners from Burma’s jails, among them seven political activists, including 78-year-old U Win Tin, a prominent activist and journalist imprisoned since 1989.

But in August and September 2008 alone, the Burmese authorities arrested an estimated 39 political activists and sentenced 21 to prison terms. On September 16, Burmese authorities arrested Nilar Thein, a prominent activist in hiding since the 2007 protests. Zargana, a famous activist and comedian, has remained in prison since July 2008 for publicly criticizing the SPDC’s slow response to aid following Cyclone Nargis. The SPDC currently holds more than 2,100 political prisoners, including more than 800 arrested following the 2007 protests.

In the crackdown a year ago, Burmese security forces beat, arrested, detained and shot monks and other protesters in the streets of Rangoon. Police and plain-clothes paramilitary members arrested thousands of peaceful participants in the protests in nighttime raids on monasteries and their homes. In the following days, hundreds more were beaten, arrested and detained at makeshift detention facilities, police stations and jails.

In the most extensive documentation of the crackdown to date, Human Rights Watch documented at least 20 cases of extrajudicial killings, and dozens of beatings and arrests by riot police and army soldiers, assisted by local paramilitaries of the pro-government Union Solidarity and Development Association.

The true number of people killed may never be known, since there has been no investigation by Burmese authorities or UN investigators. The UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Burma, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, made a report after his November 2007 visit, but acknowledged it was not a full investigation and recommended that the UN Human Rights Council call for investigations into the circumstances of the crackdown.

“It’s a failure of the Burmese government and the international community that the perpetrators of killing, arbitrary arrests and torture during the September 2007 crackdown have not been brought to justice,” Pearson said.

Instead, the SPDC has continued with its plans of pseudo-political reforms, conducting a constitutional referendum in May. The military government claims that there was a voter turnout of over 98 percent of eligible voters and that 92 percent of them endorsed a constitution that cements military rule. Human Rights Watch has reported on the human rights problems surrounding the referendum, including sharp restrictions on freedom of assembly, association, and tight controls on the media.

Since the September 2007 crackdown, the United Nations Secretary General’s Special Advisor on Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, has made four visits to Burma. The SPDC made numerous promises to Gambari that is has failed to keep:

* Dialogue with the detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi did briefly resume but broke down;
* The constitutional referendum was not free and fair;
* Not all political parties are able to participate in the electoral process; and,
* The roadmap to democracy is neither credible nor inclusive.

“Despite an array of promises to the United Nations, the Burmese military government has not made good on any of them,” Pearson said. “Rather than let Burma’s rulers continue to engage in fruitless dialogue, the international community should demand real action.”


September 26, 2008

Myanmar Writhes in the Grip of Its Junta

YANGON, Myanmar — A year ago, Myanmar’s police and military stormed the streets of this moldy, crumbling city and began a deadly crackdown on thousands of Buddhist monks protesting sharp rises in the price of food and fuel. Now the country’s ruling generals are steeling themselves for a reprise.

As the anniversary approached, the police erected checkpoints on the outskirts of Yangon, formerly Rangoon, and conducted nightly house-to-house searches, usually just after midnight, hunting for dissidents or critics of their rule — anyone who might want to commemorate the protests.

After an explosion on Thursday near Sule Pagoda and City Hall, the focal point of demonstrations last year, heavily armed police officers cordoned off the area, and men in green uniforms patrolled the streets carrying crowbars. A local shopkeeper said four people had been wounded in the blast.

The generals’ domination in Myanmar, formerly Burma, has been tested repeatedly over the past two decades — by the monks last September, by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the democracy leader under house arrest, and by a powerful cyclone earlier this year that brought the generals into confrontation with an outside world confounded by their resistance to accepting help.

Yet today, with their principal rivals sidelined, exiled or imprisoned, the generals appear to be at the apex of their power.

“This isn’t a regime on the run or about to fall,” said Charles Petrie, who until last year coordinated the United Nations’ operations here. The generals may seem oblivious to the outside world or out of touch with people’s economic hardships here, Mr. Petrie said. “But in military and security terms,” he added, “they definitely know what’s going on.”

Burmese dissident groups nurture a long-held hope that some sort of regime change will bring greater prosperity to an impoverished population living amid remarkably fertile lands, abundant tropical hardwoods, ample natural gas reserves and many other riches.

But the only foreseeable change is a lot less grandiose: Than Shwe, the senior general who has been in charge since 1992, is now in his mid-70s. Questions about who and what will follow lead to endless and intense speculation here.

Asia has had its share of military dictators in recent decades, but few have been as secretive and all-powerful as Senior Gen. Than Shwe. When the secretary general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, tried to reach him in May to discuss assistance for the victims of Cyclone Nargis, the general neither took nor returned his calls. (After repeatedly trying over several days, Mr. Ban gave up and sent letters instead.)

General Than Shwe has been the key to the resilience of the military government through his masterful but Machiavellian control over fellow officers. In many ways General Than Shwe — singularly — is the government.

“It was one of the strangest things,” said Priscilla A. Clapp, the chief of mission at the American Embassy from 1999 to 2002. “When I would talk to generals who were very high up, they said, ‘Even people at the top don’t know what’s going on.’ No one knows all the things that Than Shwe is doing except Than Shwe himself.”

That utter centrality — reminiscent of the status of the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il — has led to a fair amount of uncertainty over what kind of leader or political system General Than Shwe will leave behind.

Among his most important powers is controlling the billions of dollars from natural gas sales to Thailand, Ms. Clapp said. The amount will total at least $3.5 billion this year, according to Thailand’s central bank data, and there is no oversight of this money but his own.

The line between government service and personal business is also often blurred. The families of the top generals are involved in many of the country’s largest businesses. In the same vein, Myanmar’s health minister, Kyaw Myint, is also General Than Shwe’s personal physician.

The senior general has managed to stay on top through a series of purges and forced retirements, including a drastic dismissals in 2004 that sidelined Khin Nyunt, a relatively liberal-minded prime minister, and the estimated 1,000 to 2,000 military intelligence officers under the prime minister’s command.

The purges have eliminated many possible successors and created an intellectual vacuum at the highest levels of government. This has also led to a large generational gap between General Than Shwe and his likely successors.

Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, the United Nations’ special envoy to Myanmar for human rights from 2000 until last year, said there was an obvious lack of international experience at the top echelons.

“They are one of the most ill-prepared elites in terms of dictatorships that you can find in the world,” Mr. Pinheiro said. “They are very isolated.”

Until the 1990s, when President Clinton put into place tough sanctions against Myanmar, military officers trained or participated in exchange programs with the Pentagon. Today, most of the top leadership is barred from entering the United States, Europe and Australia.

In an era when basic information about most world leaders is just a Google search away, Myanmar’s government has not put forward any personal information about General Than Shwe. There are no biographies — official or not — in bookshops here, and the general is never known to have given an interview to a journalist, local or foreign. Unlike the Kim dynasty in North Korea, General Than Shwe is not celebrated in a cult of personality.

Perhaps the most detailed information on him was published 27 years ago, when Myanmar’s military was marginally more accessible. It fits on one sheet, half the size of a piece of photocopy paper, and is the most complete résumé available of Myanmar’s ruler: Than Shwe was born near Mandalay in 1933 in the rural heartland of what was then British-administered colonial Burma, it says. He completed secondary school but never attended college. He worked as a postal clerk before joining the army, where he was trained in psychological warfare and fought in numerous battles against insurgents.

More than anything else, the years as a field commander appear to have forged his image of himself.

“He believes he’s a true nationalist,” said Razali Ismail, the United Nations special envoy from 2000 until 2004. “The first time I met him he said: ‘People think we are doing this for power. No, this is for the sake the nation. I have fought for the country. I have scars on my body’ — he pointed to himself — ‘bullet wounds.’ ”

For decades after its independence from Britain in 1948, Myanmar was badly fractured along ethnic lines. The military battled Chinese-backed Communist insurgents who, at one point, controlled large swaths of the country. Some ethnic groups remain armed today, but cease-fire agreements with them and the withdrawal of support for rebels by China and Thailand has brought a period of relative security.

Political analysts here say that General Than Shwe sees himself in the tradition of Burma’s ancient kings, who unified the country through force and then built dams, roads and bridges to cement the loyalty of far-flung regions.

“You get the sense that Than Shwe believes he’ll go down in history as one of the great leaders of the country,” Mr. Petrie said.

For each of the past eight years, the government has claimed that the economy has grown by more than 12 percent, faster than China or any other country in the region. Yet its population is so poor that the World Food Program estimates that five million people lack sufficient food.

In recent months, cooperation between the generals and the outside world has improved somewhat. The cyclone in May, which initially caused great tension between Myanmar and Western governments that offered aid, may have created a small opening for better cooperation, said Mark Canning, the British ambassador in Myanmar.

“The hope is that this is sustained and leads to some wider benefit,” Mr. Canning said.

Refugees International, a Washington-based advocacy group, recently published a memo saying that aid groups were enjoying an “unprecedented level of access and mobility” in the hard-hit Delta region. United Nations officials and aid workers say the agriculture minister, Maj. Gen. Htay Oo, has been particularly cooperative.

But therein lies another example of the vagaries of Myanmar politics. General Htay Oo is also the head of a large organization that serves as a sort of civilian auxiliary force for the military, a group that is widely believed to be the army’s future political party if the country makes a transition to civilian rule.

By encouraging the distribution of foreign assistance, General Htay Oo may be consolidating a domestic power base in the Delta.

For its part, the junta has pushed a new constitution, and in May the generals announced that more than 90 percent of voters had ratified it.

But while the referendum was widely considered a sham — the government arrested people who urged voters to reject it — the new constitution may force the generals into a new configuration of power.

If 1933 is indeed the year of General Than Shwe’s birth, he will be 77 years old when the constitution takes effect in 2010. Political analysts wonder whether he will give up the day-to-day business of ruling the country.

It is also unclear what role his second in command, Vice Senior Gen. Maung Aye, will have, or whether Gen. Thura Shwe Mann, the joint chief of staff, who is often described as a potential successor to General Than Shwe, will live up to that billing.

The only thing that appears fairly certain is the survival of the army, said Ms. Clapp, the former top American official here.

“The military is not going to be overthrown in the near future,” she said. “It’s too powerful, it’s too cohesive. No matter what kind of rivalries may be going on inside they will stick together in the end.”


Boston Glove Editorial
Burma's unfinished revolution
September 26, 2008

A YEAR AGO, Buddhist monks, students, democracy activists, and fed-up citizens in Burma were shot, beaten, and jailed for expressing their grievances peacefully. The brutality of the ruling junta provoked a brief flurry of outrage around the world, but China, India, and Thailand, the current chair of ASEAN, went right on currying favor with the junta, and all too soon the indignation subsided - at least until the Burmese generals withheld humanitarian relief from victims of Cyclone Nargis last May.

But some voices of conscience have not forgotten Burma. On what they call the "dark anniversary" of last year's Saffron Revolution, eight Nobel Peace Prize laureates, including Desmond Tutu of South Africa and the Dalai Lama, have called for "true democracy" in Burma, appealing for the release of their sister laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and expressing solidarity with all people "yearning for freedom in a nation that has itself become a prison."

The generals have set in motion their own sham roadmap to democracy. But this transparent scheme for perpetuating the junta's hold on power satisfies only those commercial clients and geopolitical advantage-seekers who have an interest in being satisfied. The generals' regional partners remain unflustered that Transparency International, the organization that rates 180 countries for their relative degree of corruption, has just reported that only Somalia comes out worse on the list than Burma under the generals.

President Bush, encouraged by Laura Bush, who met recently with refugees on the Thailand side of the Burmese border, has said all the right things about Burma. The next president will have to persuade China, India, and Thailand to join in pressuring the junta to free Suu Kyi and permit a genuine transition to democracy.

Monks protest in Sittwe, western Burma

Mizzima News
Saturday, 27 September 2008 21:38

New Delhi - About 150 Buddhist monks in Sittwe town in western Burma's Arakan state staged a protest march on Saturday morning to observe the first anniversary of last year's 'Saffron Revolution', eyewitness said.

Than Hlaing, a local resident of Sittwe town who witnessed the protest march told Mizzima that about 150 monks began marching from the Sittwe main road at about 10 a.m. (local time). The demonstration was peaceful.

"The monks were marching silently. Police and other officials in several cars and motorcycles followed them and asked them why they were marching," Than Hlaing said.

"People on the road were bowing and paying obeisance to the marching monks," he added.

The monks, he said, took the right side and continued marching on to U Ottama till the end of the road. They dispersed peacefully later.

"As soon as the first batch dispersed, another group of about 100 followed them and dispersed at the same point," said Than Hlaing adding that the monks ended the march at about 10:30 a.m. (local time).

While the authorities did not disrupt the procession, officials, however, followed the monks, Than Hlaing said. He was told that a monk, Shin Thawbanah, of the Ashokayone Monastery was taken away by the police.

"I was told that he [Shin Thawbanah] was taken to the police station for interrogation," said Than Hlaing, adding that he was unaware of the details.

The monks, according to Than Hlaing, were marching along the street in commemoration of the first anniversary of last year's monk-led protests, that was brutally crushed by the ruling junta.

According to the UN, at least 31 people were killed while thousands of monks and activists were arrested and detained. But activists and opposition political groups said, the number of deaths following the junta's brutal crackdown could be hundreds if not thousands.

Burma arrests three on NLD anniversary
Bangkok Post Breaking News

Rangoon (dpa) - The military government arrested at least three National League for Democracy (NLD) supporters Saturday before the opposition party celebrated its 20-year anniversary, witnesses said.

Police detained two men and one women near the NLD headquarters before the anniversary ceremony to mark the establishment of the party in 1988.

Before the ceremony about 10 people shouted slogans including "Free Aung San Suu Kyi" and released birds from cages in front of the NLD headquarters, but it was unclear if those arrested were part of that group.

Journalist U Win Tin, 79, who was released from 19 years in prison last Tuesday, attended the anniversary celebration for his first time, having been in prison on all the previous anniversaries.

He said he would help NLD and its leader Suu Kyi in the struggle for democracy.

The Nobel Peace Prize laureate Suu Kyi remained under house arrest and could not attend the ceremony. She has been under house arrest for 13 of the last 19 years.

Before U Win Tin was released last Tuesday, as part of a broad amnesty that freed 9,002 prisoners, he was Burma's longest-serving political prisoner.

Two NLD members who were also released on Tuesday, U Khin Maung Swe and Dr Than Nyein, also Saturday's attended celebration.

Missing from the ceremony was NLD member Win Htien who was one of the 9,002 released last Tuesday, but was arrested again less than a day later.

Win Htien was a founding member of the NLD in 1988.

NLD chairman U Aung Shwe issued a statement calling for the military junta to immediately release Suu Kyi and NLD vice chairman U Tin Oo from detention "because of their unrelenting efforts for the emergence of democracy and human rights in the country."

U Aung Shwe also called for the release of all other political prisoners. The United Nations puts that number at about 2,000.

While the junta holds absolute power in Burma, the international community still supports Suu Kyi as the most credible leader of the country. The NLD won the 1990 elections in a landslide, but the junta refused to recognize the results.

Exiled Burmese freedom fighter dies in Ithaca
The Ithaca Journal:

From Journal Staff Reports • September 27, 2008

Han Lin, who helped bring attention to the fight for democracy in his homeland of Burma to his adopted hometown of Ithaca and internationally, died Friday of cancer at Cayuga Medical Center at Ithaca.

He was diagnosed with cancer in January 2007 and was admitted to the hospital Sept. 11, said Maura Stephens, an Ithaca humanitarian and writer who worked with him. His death came five days after his 57th birthday. He is survived by his wife, Htay Htay Yee, and six children.

Han Lin — like many Burmese he didn't use first and last names, and the two parts are his full name — was born in southern Burma and grew up under military regimes.

In 1988, while working as a middle-school math teacher, Han Lin led his village in a populist uprising, which led to widespread killing by the regime and arrest of many opposition leaders.

Among the leaders was Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the party that won elections the regime refused to recognize and who would later win the Nobel peace prize.

Han Lin fled into the jungles near the Thai border and in 1996 crossed over to a refugee camp. He came to Ithaca in 1997, where a colleague, Thun Gyaw, lived, Stephens said. The Ithaca Burmese community came to number about 100 families.

In 2005, Han Lin, fellow exiles and others working with them persuaded Ithaca Common Council to pass the country's first resolution declaring Aug. 8, a key date in the 1988 uprising, Burmese Democracy Day. It was the first such resolution in an American city calling attention to the situation in Burma, which the regime now prefers to be called Myanmar.

“We will never give up,” he said in a 2006 interview.

Han Lin began working as a facilities attendant at Ithaca College and worked there until late 2006. While living in Ithaca, he led demonstrations in Washington seeking international intervention in Burma. Among his efforts to draw attention to the plight of Burmese were marches and hunger strikes. After one 260-mile march and 17-day fast, he was hospitalized in Brooklyn. “I was a little tired,” he said, recalling it a year later.

Stephens said Han Lin's family is very grateful to the staff at Cayuga Medical Center for the care given him during his hospitalization. He never returned to Burma, she said, but his friends and family members still are active in fighting for the Burmese people.

Calling hours with Buddhist prayers are planned for 12:30-2:30 p.m. Sunday at Bangs Funeral Home, 209 W. Clinton St., followed by a celebration of his life, open to all, from 3-5 p.m. at the Women's Community Building, 100 W. Seneca St.


1. AI:  Myanmar: Freedom for U Win Tin but 2,100 political prisoners remain behind bars

2. Regime Frees Longest-serving Political Prisoner, Win Tin
3. NY Times: Myanmar Frees Political Prisoner
COMMENTARY: An Evil Game: Token Release of Political Prisoners
5. BP Update: Six Political Prisoners out of 9002 Freed

Win Tin (Photo: Reuters)


For immediate release: 23 September 2008
Myanmar: Freedom for U Win Tin but 2,100 political prisoners remain behind bars

Amnesty International welcomes the release of at least seven prisoners of conscience in Myanmar, including U Win Tin who had been imprisoned for 19 years and was one of the longest-serving prisoners of conscience in the country. The fate of the other estimated 2,100 political prisoners who are still behind bars in Myanmar remains, however, a cause for concern, said Amnesty International today.

“While the release of U Win Tin and his fellow prisoners is certainly the best news to come out of Myanmar for a long time, unfortunately they don’t even represent one percent of the political prisoners there,” said Benjamin Zawacki, Amnesty International’s Myanmar researcher. “These seven people should never have been imprisoned in the first place, and there are many, many more who should also be released.”

Amnesty International notes unconfirmed reports that the government of Myanmar may grant “amnesty” to as many as 9,000 prisoners in the run-up to planned elections in 2010. However, it remains unclear whether this figure includes political prisoners.

U Win Tin refused to accept an amnesty by the government, as to do so would have implied that the reason for his imprisonment was legitimate. Reports indicate that there were no conditions on his release.

“Prisoners of conscience, like those released today, are exactly what the term says: people sent to prison simply because of what they believe, and the peaceful actions they take because of those beliefs,” added Benjamin Zawacki. “They have done nothing wrong and we call for their immediate and unconditional release.”

U Win Tin is a 78 year old journalist, prominent dissident and senior official in the main opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party, led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

The other six prisoners of conscience released are also NLD members and four are MPs-elect from the 1990 elections in which the NLD was victorious.

* Dr. Daw May Win Myint (female), 58, an MP-elect, and Dr. Than Nyein (male), also an MP-elect, 71, were imprisoned in 1997 for organizing an NLD meeting. Their original sentences had been repeatedly extended since 2004 and they suffer from poor health.

* Win Htein (male), 66, a senior assistant to NLD leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, was imprisoned in 1996 for, among other offences, organizing farmers and NLD members to collect agricultural statistics. He had been held in solitary confinement and suffers from numerous health problems, including hypertension and heart disease.

* Aung Soe Myint Oo (male), an NLD MP-elect, was sentenced in August 2003 to seven years, for ‘having a motorcycle without a license’ but was widely believed to have been targeted for his political activities.

* U Khin Maung Swe, (male) 66, an NLD MP-elect, was sentenced in August 1994 to seven years in prison.

* U Than Naing (male), a member of the NLD.

“The release of these seven political prisoners is most welcome. But this is not -- and cannot be seen as -- an end in itself, only the beginning,” said Benjamin Zawacki.

Amnesty International issued an Urgent Action to its supporters about U Win Tin in July this year. He had been in Yangon’s Insein Prison, often in solitary confinement, for much of the past 19 years and had not received the medical treatment he needed.

U Win Tin was arrested on 4 July 1989, during a crackdown on opposition political party members. He was sentenced three times to a total of 21 years' imprisonment. U Win Tin was most recently sentenced in March 1996 to an additional seven years' imprisonment for writing to the United Nations about prison conditions and for writing and circulating anti-government pamphlets/leaflets in prison. The authorities characterized this as "secretly publishing propaganda to incite riots in jail."

U Win Tin had written a document for the UN which he called The testimonials of prisoners of conscience from Insein Prison who have been unjustly imprisoned; demands and requests regarding human hights violations in Burmain which he described torture and lack of medical treatment in prison. While the authorities were investigating the writing of this letter, U Win Tin was held in a cell designed for military dogs, without bedding. He was deprived of food and water, and family visits, for long periods.

Irrawaddy: Regime Frees Longest-serving Political Prisoner, Win Tin
Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Burma’s longest-serving political prisoner, 79-year-old journalist Win Tin, was freed on Tuesday after 19 years behind bars.

Win Tin was among 9,002 prisoners released, only a handful of whom were political detainees.

The freed political prisoners included another well-known writer, Aung Soe Myint, and four members of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD)—Khin Maung Swe, May Win Myint, Win Htein and Than Nyein.

A close friend of Win Tin, Maung Maung Khin, told The Irrawaddy the long-serving political prisoner had been released unconditionally and in good health.

“He didn’t need to sign any conditional agreement with the Burmese authorities,” Maung Maung Khin said.

The state-run newspaper, New Light of Myanmar, confirmed on Tuesday that 9,002 prisoners had been released. 

Win Tin, formerly editor of the influential newspaper Hanthawaddy, vice-chairman of the Writers’ Union, and an active participant in the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, was arrested in 1989 and sentenced to 20 years on charges that included “anti-government propaganda.”   

Win Tin won international recognition for his pro-democracy involvement, and in 2001 he was awarded the World Association of Newspapers Golden Pen of Freedom and the UNESCO Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize.

He suffered heart and prostate problems during his imprisonment, and two rights organizations, Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association, charged that he had been denied “proper medical treatment” and the opportunity to write.

Since 2006, he had been denied visits by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Around 2,000 political prisoners are now believed to be detained in Burma’s prisons.

Tate Naing, secretary of the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), called for the release of them all, including Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been held under house arrest for more than 13 of the past 19 years, and leading members of the 88 Generation Students group.

Suu Kyi’s lawyer, Kyi Win, said on Tuesday that a legal appeal against her continuing house arrest would be lodged in Naypyidaw on Thursday.
At least 39 activists were arrested last month alone, and 21 of them were sentenced to terms of imprisonment, according to the AAPP.

Burmese observers in exile suggested Tuesday’s amnesty was linked to the start of the 63rd session of the UN General Assembly in New York. They pointed out that prisoners had been released in the past in times of growing pressure on the regime.

In a political development, the NLD called on Monday for a review of the new constitution by a committee formed of candidates elected in the 1990 general election, representatives of the regime and ethnic groups and constitutional experts.

NY Times: Myanmar Frees Political Prisoner

Published: September 23, 2008

YANGON, Sept 23 (Reuters) - Myanmar's longest-serving political prisoner, journalist Win Tin, was freed on Tuesday after 19 years in jail and immediately vowed to continue his struggle against 46 years of unbroken military rule.

"I will keep fighting until the emergence of democracy in this country," he told reporters outside a friend's house in the former Burma's main city, Yangon. He was still wearing his light-blue prison clothes.

The ailing 79-year old was arrested in July 1989 and sentenced to jail for giving shelter to a girl thought to have received an illegal abortion.

While inside, he received additional punishment for agitating against the military government and distributing propaganda, bringing his total sentence to 20 years.

He was released on the same day that 9,002 prisoners were set free, but said he had complained to prison officials about being lumped in as part of a nationwide amnesty for mainly ordinary criminals getting out on good behaviour.

In protest, he refused to pick up his personal belongings or change into his civilian clothes.

"I did not accept their terms for the amnesty. I refused to be one of 9,002," he said, adding that no conditions had been attached to his release.

"Far from it. They should have released me five years ago. They owe me a few years," he said.

He also played down worries about his health, cited as another reason for his release.

"I am quite OK. I am quite all right," he said.

Many human rights groups had feared his health was in severe decline, and a year ago, Win Tin himself was musing about dying behind bars.

"Will death be my release? As long as democracy and human rights are not within reach, I decline my release. I am prepared to stay," he wrote in a short poem handed to visiting United Nations human rights envoy Paulo Sergio Pinheiro.

Amnesty International said it was "elated" by news of his release, but that it was important not to forget that more than 2,100 people remain behind bars in Myanmar on account of their political or religious beliefs.

London-based Amnesty researcher Benjamin Zawacki said the generals may have decided to release Win Tin for fear that his death in custody could have stoked unrest only a year after major anti-junta protests led by the revered Buddhist monkhood.

"Maybe they thought it was better, on balance, to have Win Tin on the outside in case he passes away rather than have him die on their watch, so to speak," Zawacki said.

Win Tin was one of Myanmar's most high-profile political prisoners after opposition leader and Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been in prison or under house arrest for 13 of the last 19 years, and her deputy Tin Oo.

Suu Kyi managed to wring small concessions out of the junta earlier this month by refusing deliveries of fresh food to the Yangon home where she has been under arrest for five years. The refusal prompted speculation she was on a hunger strike.

An Evil Game: Token Release of Political Prisoners
By KYAW ZWA MOE Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The release of Win Tin, a renowned 79-year-old journalist, and other political prisoners is very good news. But wait. Their amnesty is further proof that the junta is playing its usual evil games.

Win Tin was released on Tuesday after serving more than 19 years in the notorious Insein Prison in Rangoon. Other well-known politicians and political activists were also released, but the exact number can’t be confirmed.

The military regime announced an amnesty for 9,002 prisoners for good behavior, saying the amnesty was granted to help build a new nation ahead of the 2010 general election.

Observers believe that only a small number of an estimated 2,000 political prisoners were among those freed.

Of course, political activists are happy that Win Tin, the former editor of the respected newspaper, Hanthawaddy, and a key adviser to pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, is free. He was the longest serving political prisoner in Burma and perhaps all of Southeast Asia. He is famous for his unwavering political spirit.

Apart from Win Tin, at least seven other senior members of the main opposition National League for Democracy were released from Insein and other prisons.

Their release should not be viewed as a policy change by the regime. The junta, as always, carefully calibrated its move based on external events.

The amnesty follows the opening of the 63rd United Nations General Assembly at UN Headquarters in New York, where the United States will again raise the Burma issue. US President George W Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will make it a point to seek more cooperation from the international community to help restore democracy in Burma and protect human rights.

US Ambassador to the UN Zalmay Khalizad said, “We’ll continue efforts to increase pressure on Burma, to make progress on the political track. There has been no progress on that.” Two other permanent members of the Security Council, Britain and France, are expected to join the US in taking a strong stand on Burma.

So, it was time for the regime to do something to counter criticism in the UN assembly. The international community will welcome the release of political prisoners, and the junta can say it has complied with part of the UN’s demands.

Actually, it’s an old game—political prisoners have always been pawns for the junta. In other words, they are hostages to be released whenever the regime wants to ease mounting international pressure.

Since the regime took power in 1988, the number of political prisoners has always remained above 1,000. The junta, according to Amnesty International, now has 2,000 political prisoners. If the junta really wanted to change its policy, it would release all political prisoners, including Suu Kyi, prominent student leader Min Ko Naing and ethnic leaders such as Hkun Htun Oo.

This latest release will undoubtedly draw praise from some members of the international community. But we shouldn’t be fooled. The release of all 2,000 political prisoners would be the first step of genuine political reform.

Anything less means political prisoners are just pawns in an evil game.


BP Update: Six Political Prisoners out of 9002 Freed
Burma's military junta has freed 9,002 prisoners for good behavior so they can help build a new nation ahead of elections planned for 2010, state media reported Tuesday.

The state-controlled Myanma Ahlin newspaper said that freedom was granted to prisoners around the country who exhibited good "moral behavior."

"The government is trying to transform these convicted prisoners into citizens who can contribute to the building of a new nation," the newspaper said, adding they were released "so they could participate in the fair elections to be held in 2010."

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), there were six political prisoners including four MP-elects among those freed. They are U Win Tin, U Win Htein, Dr. Than Nyein (MP-elect), Dr. May Win Myint (MP-elect), U Khin Maung Soe (MP-elect) and U Aung Soe Myint (MP-elect).

U Win Tin, 76, was the longest serving political prisoner in Burma. He was arrested on July 4, 1989 and sentenced to 20-year imprisonment on charges including 'anti-government propaganda.' In 2001, U Win Tin was awarded the 'UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize' for his efforts to defend and promote and right to freedom of expression. That year, he was also awarded the 'World Association of Newspapers' Golden Pen of Freedom Award.'

-------------------------- " -----------------------

1. On eve of Saffron Revolution anniversary, Burma's exiled news sites attacked
2. Remembering Burma’s Saffron Revolution
Exiled Burmese monks dream of new uprising
Burma Digest: One year on…

. American Revolutionary
6. India targeting China's oil supplies
7. What's changed in Burma in the past 20 years?
8. Singapore: Singapore Asks Burmese Activists To Leave The Countr

On eve of Saffron Revolution anniversary, Burma's exiled news sites attacked
18 September 2008
Source: Mizzima News Agency

On the eve of the first anniversary of the week-long Saffron Revolution, the websites of three leading Burmese news agencies in exile have come under attack, rendering them inaccessible since the afternoon of September 17.

Distributed Denial of Services (DdoS) attacks overwhelmed the websites of the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), "The Irrawaddy" and the "New Era Journal". Under DDOS attacks, websites are flooded with so much automated requests for data that their respective systems effectively get jammed.

The websites of the three Burmese news agencies have not been responding to their requests since Wednesday afternoon.

"It is pretty certain that we are under attack. We were attacked at about 11 a.m. today," Toe Zaw Latt, chief of DVB Thailand bureau told, an Alerts partner of the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA). Mizzima, which is also an independent news service run by exiled Burmese in New Delhi, India, itself experienced a similar DDOS attack last July.

"The Irrawaddy" magazine, an independent news provider run by Burmese journalists exiled in Chiang Mai, Thailand, said its website has been facing problems since Tuesday evening. "We can confirm today (18 September 2008) that we are being attacked," Aung Zaw, editor-in-chief of "The Irrawaddy" told Mizzima.

The Bangkok-based "New Era Journal" also confirmed that its website is also under attack.

This is the second attack against the Oslo-based DVB in the past three months.

The webmaster of the DVB said it is difficult to determine the level of the attack, adding that they could not predict when the sites will be accessible again.

"We do not know who is behind all this, but it is certain that these are deliberate attacks," Toe Zaw Latt said.

Mizzima noted, meanwhile, that Internet speed has also been down in Rangoon since Wednesday morning between 10 am to 3 pm. As a result, several Internet cafes in downtown Yangon reportedly had to close. Sources said Internet connection only resumed at its regular speed at 6 pm.

September 18 marks the anniversary of the start of street protests in Yangon which built up to a violent military crackdown in Burma last year. Burmese journalists—both inside and outside the country—have been worried about how Burma's junta might deal with the anniversary of what has come to be known as the "Saffron Revolution".
Mizzima News ( is a news organization headquartered in New Delhi, India, run by exiled Burmese journalists. A SEAPA partner, it aims to promote awareness about the situation in Burma and promote democracy and freedom of expression in the country.

Remembering Burma’s Saffron Revolution


A Burmese citizen remembers the September 2007 uprising.

Following are excerpts from an interview with a Burmese witness to the September 2007 Saffron Revolution. He asked to be identified only as Zarni:

On Sept. 5, at about 2 p.m., more than 100 monks left the Western monastery and went along Bogyoke Street heading east. When they reached the Central monastery, the number of monks increased to between 200 and 300. By the time they reached the Eastern monastery there were almost 500 monks and, from there, I saw them proceed to the main pagoda saying metta [loving kindness] prayers.

There may have been reports that this would happen, but [the people of Pakokku] didn’t know in advance. Only when the monks came out did the people come out on the streets in throngs to watch them.

There were crowds all over the place, along both sides of Bogyoke and Taung Taing Streets. The streets were full of people. There must have been hundreds of thousands of them. Some of them were paying obeisance [with hands held together] and some were clapping. But the monks told them to stop clapping,  so they all put their hands together in the act of paying obeisance to the monks.

I was on my way back from picking up my child from nursery school, and as I got to the traffic lights near the hospital in the center of the city I saw about 20 armed soldiers, about the size of a platoon, led by 101 Battalion G-1 [General Staff Officer grade one] Colonel Khin Maung Htwe and Major Myo Thant Zin, waiting. I was shocked and shaken by the sight.

So I ran toward the monks and reported this to them. The monk who was leading the procession told me that they were marching along with metta and  that if the military took action against them without any mercy, to let them do so because the monks would continue to spread their metta. And the monks continued with their procession.

Tears of compassion

The public just waited  with concern to see what would happen. They were worried that the military would resort to violence. Some were so much in sympathy with the monks that we could see tears in their eyes. Even I could not hold back the tears of compassion for the monks.

At that time I had my child with me, so I took him home. When I came back the monks had started to disperse and run in the streets. I could see a few slippers and robes of the monks left behind. When I saw the monks run I shouted at them not to do so. At that time there were about 12 gunshots, and I was so affected that I even shouted out at them to shoot at me instead. Some monks ran into the Eastern monastery and some into the hospital.

At that time, reports emerged that 10 monks had been arrested. The roads were immediately cordoned off. This is where the incident occurred. Both ends of the road were closed off. No one could enter. The people who were watching were also ordered to leave—some even got hit on their heads with batons. I saw this with my own eyes.

Some [of the spectators] got hurt and ran with their hands covering their heads. I don’t think anyone was critically hurt,  as they were hit on their heads with bamboo batons.

I  just wanted to know what had happened to the monks,  so I went into the Eastern monastery and stayed with them. No one could go back into the street where the incident occurred. They cordoned it off completely. In the Eastern monastery, I asked the monks  for details of what had happened.

A life in hiding

After the incident on Sept. 6-7, the media asked me a lot of questions…so I told them what really happened. In the newspapers, like the Myanmar Ahlin [New Light of Myanmar], it was reported that political activists in Pakokku and the media conspired and made up the whole affair. This in effect made us look like their enemies.

On Sept. 6, I had reported the news about how the monks from Central monastery had burnt and destroyed cars belonging to the authorities. When [the authorities] realized that this was my doing, from the early morning of Sept. 7, I noticed that intelligence agents were following me wherever I went. So I didn’t go home but went into hiding in the afternoon.

It is sad to talk about [my family life]. Just because I got politically involved in a small way, the people around me didn’t like it, so my wife asked for a separation. Last year I had to give her permission for a separation.


At that time more than 30 people [who  had spoken  with the media or encouraged the monks] were arrested. They were released after about a week. Those who are still not released are parliamentary member U Hlaing Aye and organizer U San Pwint. Those two are  National League for Democracy (NLD) members. They are held in Myingyan Prison and have been sentenced to 2-1/2-year prison terms.

In addition, there are four other civilians who are not members of the NLD and are also not related at all with the Pakokku incident who were arrested. They are U Lay La, U Thant Shin, U Tha Aung, and U Sein Lin. They have been held in Thayet Prison since I left on the night of Sept. 7, and no judgment or sentencing has been made against them. They are still in Thayet Prison. [Editor’s note: Sentences were handed down Sept. 11]

They are normal citizens. It’s impossible for the authorities to accuse them of supporting the monks as practically everyone was doing it. I have heard that they have been charged under Penal Code 147 for inciting monks to create disturbances. The authorities believed that these people were inciting the monks to burn down the electrical equipment shop of the USDA secretary Hla Win Naing, who had been instrumental in giving information to arrest the monks. I heard that this is why these people have been charged under Penal Code 147.

Although they are not NLD members, they are seen as people who have a political agenda, so the authorities have held grudges against them in the past. So that is why they have conjured up unfair charges and have arrested them.

A sense of unease

Not just the Pakokku monks, but all those who are devout Buddhists will feel a sense of unease and will never forget this incident.

I don’t think I am in a class where I can say that I am politically active. But what people who have been involved in politics feel is that even your best friends want to dissociate  themselves from you if you are political. At this moment not only will my close friends not visit me, but even my wife has asked for separation. And it’s really sad that even my mother who used to visit me once a month now won’t visit me at all.

Original reporting by RFA’s Burmese service. Translated by Soe Thinn. Burmese service director: Nancy Shwe. Executive producer: Susan Lavery. Edited and produced in English by Joshua Lipes and Sarah Jackson-Han.

Exiled Burmese monks dream of new uprising

In their distinctive russet red robes, the two Burmese monks sit cross-legged and meditate before sunrise in front of an altar topped with candles, offerings of fruit, water and flowers and a statue of Buddha.

Released by Burma's opposition movement, this video gives an insight into the saffron revolution, and U Gawsita's role in it. ;

It is a ritual played out each morning in temples across Burma. But the two holy men are conducting their worship 8,500 miles from home in a highly improbable setting - a converted bedroom in a run-down clapboard boarding house in the upstate New York town of Utica.

U Gawsita, 28, and Abbot Pyinnya Jota, 48, played key roles in the Saffron Revolution when thousands of monks led mass peaceful demonstrations against the brutal junta that rules their homeland a year ago this week. But they were forced to flee into exile after the bloody suppression of the protests.

In scenes that captivated the world, ranks of shaven-headed barefoot young men turned their alms bowls upside down in a symbol of defiance then marched through the streets at the head of crowds that grew from hundreds into hundreds of thousands.

The generals who have run the country since 1962 originally appeared stunned by the remarkable displays of civil disobedience that began on September 18. But after eight days, they retaliated with characteristic viciousness, quashing the dreams of democratic change.

The monks, considered sacrosanct across the Buddhist world, bore the brunt of the regime's fury - hundreds were beaten, rounded up and detained and monasteries were raided and closed.

"Raiding monasteries is like raping Buddhism," said Pyinnya Jota, a veteran regime critic and founder of the All Burma Monks' Alliance who spent 11 years in jail and co-drafted the list of reform demands that fired the protests. "It is an unspeakable offence."

And U Gawsita became one of the most familiar faces of the protests when he was pictured in foreign news reports - on video footage smuggled out of the country - rousing the crowds with impassioned speeches.

The scar on the top of head is testimony to the harshness of the crackdown - the result of a baton smashed across his skull as, microphone in hand, he led a demonstration at Rangoon's Shwedagon Pagoda, the most sacred site in Burma.

In Utica, a depressed former textile mill town which has recently seen a large influx of Bosnian and Burmese exiles arranged by a local Lutheran refugee centre, preparations are underway for a rally today celebrating the anniversary of the Saffron Revolution.

But in Burma, alarming news is emerging of a fresh round of arrests of monks and raids on monasteries by a regime fearful of new protests marking the date.

There are also unconfirmed reports that Aung San Suu Kyi, the pro-democracy leader and Nobel peace prize winner who has spent much of the past 20 years under house arrest, is conducting a hunger strike.

A year after Pyinnya Jota and U Gawsita took incredible risks in the hope of inspiring a revolution in the former British colony, it is their own lives that have been turned upside down.

Both fled, separately and in disguise, through the jungle to seek sanctuary first in monasteries on the Thai border before being granted refugee status by the United States, where First Lady Laura Bush's personal interest in Burma has ensured that the country's plight is a White House priority.

Pyinnya Joya arrived just 10 days ago and in Utica last week he was being given an introduction to the complexities of the US banking system by a Burmese student who has also been granted asylum.

U Gawsita has been here since March and proudly shows visitors a signed photograph of President George W Bush with him in the White House, a memento of a recent trip there as part of delegation of Burmese exiles. "It was an honour to meet Mr Bush," he said proudly. "He is very committed to the freedom of the Burmese people."

But while he admires and praises American principles of democracy and freedom, he often strikes the melancholic note of an émigré robbed of his roots and culture.

"Burma is a country where you can be detained for one day or 10 years. People just disappear. There is no freedom," he said.

"That's the big difference with America. You can feel the freedom. You can see it in people in the street. But still I can't say that I'm happy here. I was born in Burma, I miss Burma, I belong in Burma."

He is still struggling with the culture shock of his new surroundings. He has learned little English and rarely leaves the house - when he does, his monk's robes draw curious stares, although he says people have been friendly. "And everyone here is always rushing. They are in a rush to be somewhere or do something. That's very different from Burma," he says with a sigh.

Both men talk with particular dread about the prospect of their first Utica winter, where heavy snows draw skiers to the town slope. Pyinnya Jota is already bemoaning the autumnal weather - temperatures dropped below 10C at night last week - but his new friends have warned him to expect much worse.

Before he was forced to flee, Pyinnya Jota was deputy abbot of Rangoon's Maggin monastery, renowned for providing hospice care for Aids patients. The monastery remains shuttered after a series of raids by the authorities. He was forced into hiding because of his high profile.

He knew from painful first-hand experience the fate of those arrested by the regime after he was beaten and tortured during previous terms of imprisonment. So reluctantly he opted for exile when word came that his safe house was about to be raided. He took a circuitous route to Thailand to avoid the security checkpoints set up to catch dissident monks, and a network of sympathisers hid him in towns along the way.

U Gawsita had also required subterfuge to get him through the road checks - he pretended to be a mechanic working on a bus driven by a friend and hence was not required to show his identity papers to the police.

The dejection as they fled was a bitter contrast to the incredible sense of exuberance and hope at the height of the protests. "Everyone was so happy and cheerful and hopeful," said U Gawsita. "The people finally felt the time had come and they could be free of the junta after all the years of discontent. I couldn't stand the oppression and injustice anymore. This was the time."

And he is bitter at the failure of the United Nations or the "international community' to come to their help. "The Burmese people will go back on the streets. They must do that to change things. But they will need support too," he said.

Pyinnya Jota is also in reflective mood after his recent arrival in the US. "We truly believed we could bring democracy to Burma. We knew that we couldn't rely on other countries or the United Nations to force change so we pushed it ourselves. But we also needed some outside help," he said.

"We thought we would win but then it all changed when the junta staged the crackdown. They sent spies into the monasteries, rounded up the monks and put the army on the streets. Nobody thought they would attack the monks. Then it was over."

He rejects the regime's accusation that the monks were playing politics. "Our actions were not about politics, they were about compassion and care for our fellow humans," he said, speaking in gentle but firm tones. "We often talk about metta (the Buddhist tenet of 'loving kindness') but this principle also needs to be practised. That is what we were doing."

From their unlikely new base Utica's Elm Street, the two monks defiantly insist that they will return home when the junta falls. But given the depressing durability of the dictatorship, propped up financially by China in return for allowing Red Army-owned companies to exploit Burma's lucrative supplies of timber and jade, it seems certain that U Gawsita and Pyinnya Jota will have plenty of time to get used to the local winters.

Burma Digest

One year on…

Remember the rush of euphoria when the people of Burma began a protest, the monks took to the streets in support, 100,000 monks protested against the evil SPDC regime and their incompetent, uncaring despotic dictates? We actually thought that this was the beginning of the downfall of the corrupt degenerate tyranny that has plagued and ruined Burma since 1962.

Remember the gunfire, the screaming, running terrified crowds, the menacing soldiers and armed police, the SPDC thugs roaming the streets, hunting those who stand for liberty and freedom, the deaths, the videos, photos, testimonies; testimonies that would shame anyone with a conscience; the end of a short-lived dream of change.

Remember the outcry from around the world, the pleas for dialogue, or restraint, for peace. The protests and the suppression flashed across our TV screens and newspapers for weeks. The follow-up reports in newspapers and minority TV channels that remember where Burma is. The reporting has now tailed off, a forgotten crisis; the world has moved on; Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea, Tibet, Darfur, Zimbabwe, Georgia, oil prices, financial market collapse.

Remember the UN, the UNSC in all its deliberations; deliberations that rumble on like a thunderstorm moving away into the far distance. The envoys, entreaties, resolutions, threats, debates, vetoes.

Remember the SPDC bully boys rebuffing any criticism, calling on the friendly powers for protection, lying to Gambari; lambasting him with propaganda, feeding him the official line on road-maps and elections. Ignoring calls for independent monitoring and rigging the results. Keep blasting Gambari with insults and lies, misinformation and half-truths.

Remember Nargis; Burma’s word natural disaster in living memory; the SPDC’s callous brutal handling of aid and the international community who could have done so much more.

Remember DASSK and the NLD; calling for dialogue and peaceful transition; one of the few voices of reason and integrity in a sea of utter hatred and divisiveness, ignorance and repression.

The international community voices concern, sanctions the regime, sends envoys, and continues dialogue. But with what result? Nothing changes; the regime stands fast. Burma isn’t really at the top of the list of what’s important; each super-power has its own self-interest that comes first; saving the people of Burma isn’t a national priority.

I was reminded of a phrase in Laurie’s 1879 tome ‘Our Burmese wars’, a jingoistic imperialist view of the first two Anglo-Burmese wars; in which the question of further annexation of upper Burma is blithely discussed, despite opposition from politicians, peace parties and others concerned with the cost of such an adventure. Laurie claims that if the British did wish to take upper Burma from the despotic tyrant, King Thibaw, then all the peoples of Burma; Burmans, Talaings, Karens, Peguese (Mons) and Shans would rise up and join them to rid themselves of such a terrible ruler. He could as well have been writing today about the wishes of the peoples of Burma to rid themselves of the SPDC.

But Afghanistan, Iraq, Georgia weren’t invaded because the people of those countries were calling for intervention; they are invaded because it was in the best interests of the invaders, not the invaded. What more can the people of Burma expect from any other country?

If the junta’s road-map is the only game in town, then what will the NLD and others do? Join in the farce of a rigged election with a predictable outcome; submit to a ‘civilian’ government of SPDC-appointed USDA thugs. Whatever the election process is supposed to be, the junta will use its usual tricks – coercion, bullying, threats, bribes, vote-rigging, miscounting, etc., etc., - to ensure that its chosen goons are elected by a massive and impossible majority. Will the NLD or any other truly representative political party get the chance of standing for election without being thrown in jail and vilified in the press?

The mockery of justice continues, peaceful demonstrators imprisoned for years on trumped up charges from stupid repressive laws. Slaughter of the innocents in villages far from the prying eyes of journalists and outsiders; rape, torture, ethnic cleansing, destruction of villages, brutally terrorizing the civilian population. So, business as usual for everyone in Burma.

If the Saffron Revolution stands for anything, then it is for the determination and perseverance of the people of Burma (monks and laity) who continue to demand freedom from oppression and self-determination in a free and fairly contested parliamentary democracy. Their voice has not been squashed with their fragile bodies, it still rings out loud and clear. Let us all remember their sacrifice and honour the fact that they gave everything for the future of us all.

American Revolutionary

Quiet Boston Scholar Inspires
Rebels Around the World

BOSTON -- In February, the Iranian government showed a fictionalized video on the dangers of foreign plots against the state. One of its stars: a mysterious American named Gene Sharp.

In June 2007, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez publicly accused Mr. Sharp of stirring unrest in Venezuela. Last year in Vietnam, authorities arrested several opposition activists who were distributing a book written by Mr. Sharp. In 2005, fires destroyed two Moscow bookstores selling Russian translations of the same book.

The target of all this intrigue and animosity is 80 years old and slightly stooped. He walks with a cane.

[Gene Sharp, whose writings have irked Iran and other governments.] Shanona White for the Wall Street Journal

Gene Sharp, whose writings have irked Iran and other governments.

Working from a modest house in East Boston, Mr. Sharp is nearly unknown to the U.S. public. But he is despised by many authoritarian regimes and respected by opposition activists around the globe. Mr. Sharp has had broad influence on international events over the past two decades, helping to advance a global democratic awakening.

An aging academic, Mr. Sharp says he has no links with the government or any intelligence agency. He responded to Mr. Chavez's speech with an open letter suggesting that if the president is concerned about being overthrown, he should read "The Anti-Coup," a booklet Mr. Sharp co-authored.

Spread via the Internet, word-of-mouth and seminars, Mr. Sharp's writings on nonviolent resistance have been studied by opposition activists in Zimbabwe, Burma, Russia, Venezuela and Iran, among others. His 1993 guide to unseating despots, "From Dictatorship to Democracy," has been translated into at least 28 languages and was used by movements that toppled governments in Serbia, Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan.

Several years ago, a funding cut drastically curtailed the operations of Mr. Sharp's Albert Einstein Institution, which is devoted to research and promotion of peaceful resistance to dictatorships. He dismissed most of his staff, closed his office in a Boston business district and retreated to his personal digs.

Since then, Mr. Sharp has worked from a brick townhouse near Logan Airport. Shy, never married and childless, Mr. Sharp spends most of his days in the company of a young assistant and a massive black dog named Caesar. To unwind, he tends orchids in a greenhouse on the top floor.

"You see how rich we are," says Mr. Sharp, dressed in wrinkled black pants, as he motions at his cluttered office. Books are everywhere, even on shelves in the bathroom. A bulletin board boasts stickers for a student movement that brought down Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic ("He is finished") and for a Tibetan student group ("Game over. Free Tibet").

Mr. Sharp never expected his work would find adherents in so many countries. "I'm still a little stunned by that," he says.

Although nonviolent struggle has played a major role throughout history, Mr. Sharp was among the first modern scholars to take a comprehensive look at all the various movements, from the civil-rights struggle in the U.S. to uprisings in Eastern Europe.

"You had to do a lot of work to get all you need," says Ivan Marovic, one of the founders of the Serbian youth movement that helped depose former leader Mr. Milosevic. "Gene Sharp put it all together."

In his writings, Mr. Sharp teased out common principles that make nonviolent resistance successful, creating a broad road map for activists looking to destabilize authoritarian regimes. Mr. Sharp's magnum opus, the 902-page "Politics of Nonviolent Action," was published in 1973. But the main source of his success is his 90-page "From Dictatorship to Democracy."

This slim volume offers concise advice on how to plan a successful opposition campaign, along with a list of historically tested tactics for rattling a dictatorial regime. Aimed at no particular country, and easily downloadable from the Internet, the booklet has found universal appeal among opposition activists around the globe.

Though he warns readers that resistance may provoke violent crackdowns and will take careful planning to succeed, Mr. Sharp writes that any dictatorship will eventually collapse if its subjects refuse to obey.

He offers a list of 198 methods of nonviolent action, like the staging of mock elections to poke fun at problems like vote-rigging, using funerals to make political statements and adopting symbolic colors, a la Orange Revolution in the Ukraine. Less conventional tactics include skywriting political messages and "protest disrobings."

In Zimbabwe, opposition activist Magodonga Mahlangu has organized the tract's translation into two main local languages. In Russia, opposition activist Oleg Kozlovsky estimates he and his colleagues have used about 30 of 198 protest methods listed in Mr. Sharp's booklet. Venezuelan student leader Yon Goicoechea says Mr. Sharp's work inspired him to think creatively of ways to carry out antigovernment protests: Activists once tied themselves to the stairs of a government building and have staged street theater to mock constitutional changes.

The son of an itinerant Protestant minister, Mr. Sharp was born in 1928 in North Baltimore, Ohio. The Sharps moved around a lot, and young Gene often lost friendships and "had to start all over again," he recalls. While still in high school, Mr. Sharp began reading about Nazi atrocities, which helped trigger his fascination with the nature of totalitarian regimes and with ways to resist them.

In 1951, Mr. Sharp received a master's degree in sociology from Ohio State University. His lifelong research interest has been Mohandas Gandhi's Indian independence movement that shook off British colonial rule largely by peaceful means. In the 1950s, Mr. Sharp spent nine months in jail for refusing conscription during the Korean War. He later moved to England and then Norway, where he studied how local schoolteachers used nonviolent means to weaken the country's pro-Nazi Quisling regime in World War II.

In 1965, Mr. Sharp came to Harvard University as a researcher in international studies, and in 1983 he founded the Albert Einstein Institution, choosing the name because the renowned physicist also had an interest in nonviolent resistance.

In 1987, when Mr. Sharp was teaching at Harvard, a flier for his seminar on nonviolent sanctions caught the eye of Robert Helvey, a Vietnam veteran and a former defense attaché at the U.S. embassy in Burma.

"I had an image of nonviolence as being a bunch of long-haired hippies," recalls Mr. Helvey, who was at Harvard on a year-long fellowship from the Army. After he heard Mr. Sharp talk about seizing power, he says he realized the approach had "nothing to do with pacifism" and invited the scholar to lunch. The two men hit it off.

Around the same time, a military junta seized power in Burma. Three years later, Mr. Helvey, by then retired from the military, was in the Burmese jungle imparting Mr. Sharp's teachings of peaceful resistance to antigovernment guerrillas.

Although nonviolent opposition had a history in Burma, the concept was a tough sell among the more-militant dissidents. "We were very much engaged in the armed struggle at the time," recalls Kyaw Kyaw, a Burmese opposition activist who says he eventually embraced the idea of nonviolent action.

In 1992, Mr. Sharp slipped into Burma on a boat from Thailand and taught some seminars to the guerrillas. A Burmese exile asked Mr. Sharp to write a short primer on nonviolent struggle. The result was "From Dictatorship to Democracy," which was initially intended only for Burmese consumption.

In 1997, Marek Zelazkiewicz, a Polish-American peace activist involved in the Balkans, picked up a photocopy in the U.S. and took it to then-unraveling Yugoslavia. Mr. Zelazkiewicz first preached nonviolent resistance in Kosovo, where ethnic Albanians were being persecuted by Mr. Milosevic's Serb-dominated regime. That fight quickly got too brutal for peaceful opposition.

So, the peace activist decided to work on Serbian public opinion and headed to the Yugoslav capital of Belgrade, hiding pictures of alleged Serbian atrocities and a copy of Mr. Sharp's booklet in his duffel bag. "If you take out the ladies, it was nearly [like] James Bond," Mr. Zelazkiewicz says of his cloak-and-dagger movements. He hand-delivered a copy to a local democracy-promotion group called Civic Initiatives, which translated and published it.

"It was interesting to hear that there was this whole science behind what we were learning the hard way," says Srdja Popovic, one of the founders of Otpor, a youth opposition movement that got the book from Civic Initiatives. Otpor activists traveled to Budapest, where Mr. Helvey gave them a workshop on nonviolent resistance. Otpor's country-wide campaign of grassroots activism and civil disobedience helped push Mr. Milosevic out of power in 2000.

By then, Mr. Helvey, working closely with Mr. Sharp, had written his own book examining how best to undermine or co-opt a regime's "pillars or support," such as the police, the military, media and civil servants.

Heartened by their success in Serbia, Otpor members gave seminars on nonviolent struggle to Georgian and Ukrainian activists, relying in part on Mr. Sharp's tract. Mass protests in Georgia in 2003 and in Ukraine in late 2004 and early 2005 forced incumbent regimes out of office. "You cannot import social change," says Mr. Popovic. "But the knowledge can be transferred."

Mr. Kozlovsky, a member of the Russian opposition group Oborona, came across "From Dictatorship to Democracy" on the Web in 2005 and immediately decided to have it translated into Russian. The first printing house he enlisted backed out of the deal, saying the book was too sensitive, so he found another publisher who printed 1,500 copies, Mr. Kozlovsky says.

In July and August of 2005, two small bookstores where the book was sold burned down, destroying some of the books, Mr. Kozlovsky says. "I still keep a half-burned copy on a shelf in my office," he says, adding that he's trying to organize another printing. At one of the stores, Mr. Kozlovsky says, an explosive device thrown by unknown parties set off the blaze.

The cause of the other fire has been officially ruled an accident. There's no evidence of government involvement in the incidents. Both shops carried other opposition literature as well.

Thousands of miles away, in the United Arab Emirates, Iranian oil and gas engineer Mehdi Kalantarzadeh found "From Dictatorship to Democracy" on the Internet, combined it with Robert Helvey's book, and translated the mix into Farsi last year. The Iranian activist forwarded his translation to Shahla Lahiji, a prominent Iranian publisher who often pushes the limits of state censorship.

"I knew what I'm publishing," Ms. Lahiji says. "I knew it wouldn't make the regime happy." Ms. Lahiji says the book was selling briskly at her stand in the book fair in Tehran last year, and that a few months later a pro-government Web site accused her of "teaching velvet revolution to the people."

In the Iranian government's fictional video that aired on Iranian television a few months later, three Iranians receive cash to stir unrest in exchange for a promise to "have a good time in America." The scheme unravels after one plotter's sister calls an Iranian government hotline (the number is provided). A stern voiceover introduces a computer-drawn likeness of Mr. Sharp as "one of the CIA agents in charge of America's infiltration into other countries," according to a translation by the Middle East Research Institute, based in Washington, D.C.

For all his success, a few years ago Mr. Sharp, who left Harvard in the 1990s to focus on the institution, found himself confronted by a coup of sorts -- this one at his doorstep. Since its founding in 1983, the Albert Einstein Institution had been funded by Peter Ackerman, managing director of investment firm Rockport Capital Inc. who had written his doctoral thesis under Mr. Sharp's guidance before earning millions working with financier Michael Milken in the 1980s. Over the years, Mr. Ackerman estimates he has given a sum in the "low eight figures" to the institution.

But by 2004, Mr. Ackerman wanted the institution to be more active in spreading nonviolence research, he says. He was exploring other means of promotion, such as video. Mr. Sharp preferred keeping the institution smaller, although he won't go into specifics. Mr. Sharp says the dispute is "related to different views of reality between Peter and myself."

Mr. Ackerman cut the funding of the Albert Einstein Institution and turned to the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, or ICNC, which he founded in Washington, D.C. in 2002. An annuity which Mr. Ackerman set up in the 1980s still provides Mr. Sharp's personal income. Mr. Sharp's institution still collects some minor funding from other private sources.

Mr. Ackerman has underwritten production of two documentaries, one on the downfall of Mr. Milosevic and the other on the history of nonviolent conflict.

He has also commissioned the creation of a video game, "A Force More Powerful," in which players can model nonviolent struggle in fictional scenarios, such as a dictatorship in the country of Infeliz. The game's chief designer is Mr. Marovic, one of the founders of Otpor, the Serbian opposition group.

The Otpor alumni now run the Belgrade-based Center for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies, or Canvas, which is funded by Mr. Ackerman's ICNC. Canvas has trained activists from Venezuela, Nigeria and the Palestinian territories, among many others. A large part of ICNC's and Canvas's theoretical arsenal is drawn from Mr. Sharp's writings.

Mr. Ackerman points out that he still supports Mr. Sharp financially and distributes his books. "My center is a bigger compliment to Gene than Gene is willing to make to himself," he says.

Write to Philip Shishkin at

India targeting China's oil supplies

Military planners in India are eyeing a crucial junction of the world which serves as the conduit for 80 per cent of China's imported oil.

Chinese army officers at Nathula Pass, a section of the border between India and China
Chinese army officers at Nathula Pass, a section of the border between India and China

The Strait of Malacca, where the Indian Ocean joins the Pacific, is seen as China's Achilles' heel. These shipping lanes, vital for Beijing's energy supplies, could be the setting for any future confrontation between India and China.

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India 'must not show weakness to China'

The two giant powers are long-standing rivals who share a disputed 2,100-mile border and are waging a diplomatic struggle for influence in Asia. They fought a border war in 1962, which ended in victory for China and left Beijing in control of 16,500 square miles of territory claimed by India.

Both countries are increasing their defence budgets, with India's military spending rising by an average of 18 per cent in each of the past three years and now exceeding £15 billion.

If these tensions were ever to boil over into war, India would probably exploit a crucial advantage. Its navy, which eventually plans to deploy three aircraft carriers and two nuclear-powered attack submarines, would probably seek to close the Strait of Malacca to Chinese shipping through an increased presence. By cutting off the supply of oil, this could cripple China and prove the decisive move in any conflict.

"The most likely flashpoint would be along the border, but ultimately the decision in any war would be on the ocean," said Sheru Thapliyal, a retired Indian general in New Delhi who once commanded a division on the frontier with China.

"The Indian Ocean is where we could use our advantage to the maximum. If you want to choke China, the only way you can choke China is by using naval power."

With China's key vulnerability in mind, India has constructed a naval base within striking distance of the Strait of Malacca at Port Blair on the Andaman Islands. China has countered by installing military facilities of its own, complete with electronic monitoring and eavesdropping devices, on the nearby Coco Islands. These specks of land belong to Burma, a long-standing ally of China.

Beijing is now taking other steps to address what President Hu Jintao has called the country's "Malacca dilemma". With hugely ambitious infrastructure projects, China hopes to bypass the Strait of Malacca and eventually end its dependence on this vulnerable waterway for energy supplies.

On India's western flank, China is helping to build a new port in the Pakistani town of Gwadar. Thrust together by their shared rivalry with India, Pakistan and China are old allies.

Gwadar could eventually provide a base for Chinese warships. Or it may be used as the starting point for a pipeline travelling through Pakistan and carrying oil and gas into China itself. If so, Beijing could import energy from the Middle East using this route, bypassing the Strait of Malacca.

The same rationale may explain China's actions on India's eastern flank. A new port and pipeline terminal are being constructed at Kyauk Phyu on Burma's island of Ramree. This will be the starting point for a 900-mile pipeline, able to carry oil directly to Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province in southern China.

"They know that we could attempt to choke them completely and that's why they want these ports," said Vijay Kapoor, a retired general in New Delhi and former commandant of the Indian Army War College. "Their aim in all of this is to prevent us from being able to choke them."

China's moves are being closely watched in India, where the military establishment fears that Beijing's plans in Pakistan and Burma amount to a deliberate strategy of "encirclement". If China's navy acquires permanent bases in the Indian Ocean, tension will grow.

But Indian diplomats tend to believe these fears are exaggerated. They believe that China is motivated by nothing more than securing its economic boom and taking normal precautions against unforeseeable events.

What's changed in Burma in the past 20 years?

Htet Aung Kyaw

Sep 17, 2008 (DVB)�Tomorrow, 18 September, is the 20th anniversary of the coup that ousted the socialist regime of U Ne Win and brought the State Peace and Development Council to power following the junta's crackdown on the "Four Eights" uprising.

But the question now is how much has changed in the 20 years since the 8888 uprising? Does Burma need a new approach?

Although there have been no tangible political improvements in the past 20 years, the way people think does seem to have changed. This shift in mentality could be said to be the most significant sign of progress in the past 20 years.

"All the changes are based on the 8888 uprising. A change in ideas is a very important step towards real change," said Dr Aung Khin, a London-based historian and prominent commentator on foreign-based Burmese language radio stations. He pointed out that the willingness of many Burmese inside the country to speak out to foreign radio stations is a significant change compared with the 26 years of Ne Win's socialist era.

Ludu Sein Win, a veteran journalist in Rangoon who was jailed several times during the Ne Win era for his critical writings, agrees with Aung Khin. "Yes, we have more opportunity to speak out now. I had no opportunity to talk to the media during U Ne Win's Masala era. But now, there are many journals inside the country and you in the foreign media speak every day to Thakhins [veterans of the independence war], politicians, lawyers, activists, journalists � even farmers in the countryside," he said.

"Talking to foreign-based radio stations is the only way to take action against local authorities who abuse their power and human rights," one of Sein Win's fellow journalists in Mandalay told this correspondent. "I have seen a lot of evidence of action being taken after you aired news stories about their abuses. This is a good sign," he said.

But a lawyer in Rangoon who has been a strident critic of the military regime says this is not enough. "Yes, people more criticise the government now than ever before. But how many people is that? I don�t think it�s more than 500 people, while there are another 50 million who are still afraid of the military," the lawyer pointed out.

Aung Zaw, editor of the Irrawaddy magazine in Chiang Mai, Thailand, said this increased level of criticism should not only be directed against the military government but should also focus on pro-democracy groups. "When it comes to the culture of criticism towards each other, we are still weak when it comes to using facts and figures and we lack the skills to make the other side hear us out calmly," he said.

"But at the same time, if you look at bloggers, the internet, websites and Irrawaddy publications, we have been looking at the weaknesses of the opposition almost constantly."

But Khun Myint Tun, an MP in exile in Mae Sot, Thailand, worries about the consequences of self-criticism. "In order to be open, we must be able to criticise ourselves and our organisation. But this criticism has to be constructive; we need to be disciplined and take care not to damage our unity," he said.

However, activist-turned-political analyst Aung Naing Oo says the opposition needs strong criticism. "We talk about the faults of the military government while ignoring the faults of the opposition. At the 20-year point, if we say the movement has not been successful for one year, two years, three years, 20 years, we need to think why it has not been successful," the former Student Army leader commented.

Obviously, many Burmese are now asking themselves why they have still not achieved victory after 20 years, and why they were doomed to fail again in last September's Saffron Revolution, despite their efforts in the 8888 uprising?

There is no shortage of questions, but the answers are harder to come by. No one can come up with a precise and commonly-agreed strategy for a final push after 20 years of sitting and waiting for outside help.

But one thing that is now clear is that many activists have lost confidence in the UN's negotiating role after special envoy Gambari's last mission. They are also beginning to lose confidence in the 20-year-long push for dialogue led by Aung San Suu Kyi.

"Metta [negotiation] is not enough, armed struggle is also needed," said a Buddhist monk in Rangoon who was involved in last September�s Saffron Revolution. "We do not doubt the Dhamma but the Dhamma is not as useful as a bullet-proof vest when we are facing this brutal military," the monk added with a pained expression.

These views are echoed by former military officials such as captain Sai Win Kyaw, who joined protesters in the 8888 uprising, and major Aung Lin Htut, a key member of former prime minister general Khin Nyunt's spy network and former deputy ambassador in Washington.

"We know the soldiers' mindset well � they never consider dialogue, only firepower," a former army official suggested. "Unless you have a strong, well-armed force, the SPDC will not care about you."

But a rebel leader in Thai-Burma border sees things differently. "No one supports armed struggle nowadays, only non-violent methods. If you find any donors for armed struggle, please let me know," he said with a wry smile.

Of the many armed groups, including the All Burma Students� Democratic Front which was founded after the 8888 uprising, not one was ready to come to the aid of the monks during September's Saffron Revolution. "Armed struggle is not easy," the rebel leader said, citing the list of nearly 1000 casualties among his comrades while thousands of others have now resettled in Western countries.

However, a defence analyst based in Thailand said numbers were not the issue. "You don't need thousands of regular troops as you did over the past two decades, but dozens of elite special forces," he suggested.

"But I not sure who the donor would be for this project," he joked, alluding to the dependence of many organisations, including armed groups, on the donors' pocketbooks. "However, it would only be about five percent of the budget of the whole exile movement," he estimated.

Whether you agree or disagree with his suggestion it is clear that we need to seriously consider why we have not yet achieved our goal after 20 years. What changes do we need to make to our policy and tactics?

Htet Aung Kyaw was one of the students involved in the 1988 uprising and is a former Student Army rebel. He is now working for the Oslo-Based Democratic Voice of Burma as a senior journalist.

Singapore: Singapore Asks Burmese Activists To Leave The Country

SINGAPORE: Persistent defiance of the laws, not political pressure from the Burmese government, was the reason why a number of Burmese nationals working or studying in Singapore were asked to leave when their immigration passes expired.

Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng said this in a written reply to a question tabled by nominated MP Eunice Olsen at this week's sitting of Parliament.

She asked if Burma's military rulers had pressured or requested the government to clamp down on anti-junta activists and deny them residence in Singapore.

In his reply, released Wednesday (17 Sept), Wong said the Burmese nationals disregarded Singapore laws by staging illegal activities, like outdoor protests, to pursue their political agenda.

This was despite repeated police advice to stick to lawful avenues.

Three Burmese nationals left Singapore for countries of their choice after their immigration passes were not renewed by the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA).

When contacted for further details, the Home Affairs Ministry identified the individuals as being members of the Overseas Burmese Patriots (OBP).

An informal grouping of activists, the OBP emerged in October last year to raise awareness about the political situation in Burma.

Citing illegal activities that the group staged, the ministry said: "The OBP is by no means the only patriotic group in Singapore or the only group that has organised activities to express their concern about the situation in Myanmar (Burma). However, unlike other groups which have conducted their activities in a lawful manner, the OBP has chosen to do so in open and persistent defiance of our laws.'

One such activity was a street protest on 20 Nov last year during the Asean Summit. Some 40 people, carrying banners, walked down a pavement outside the Orchard Parade Hotel to voice their discontent with the junta.

Citing the incident, Wong said the group intentionally protested near the summit's Shangri-La Hotel venue to court public and media attention.

"Their unlawful behaviour was an unnecessary distraction to our security forces and could have compromised the security arrangements for the summit delegates, some of whom were heads of Asean governments."

Police investigated the incident and, after consulting the Attorney-General's Chambers, "exercised leniency and administered stern warnings in lieu of prosecuting the offenders in court", he said.

Reports said the three Burmese activists who left Singapore took part in this protest.

Wong said that while a vast majority of the 50,000-strong Burmese community had been law-abiding and expressed views in a lawful manner, a small group "chose to break the law and yet defiantly demand the right to stay in Singapore as an entitlement".

"They have tried to politicise the issue through the media and through uninformed foreign groups, in the process distorting the actions to remove them from Singapore as being politically motivated.

"They hope that political pressure will force the authorities to accede to their demands to continue staying in Singapore. The ICA has rightly decided that such persons are undesirable, and that they should leave."

Foreigners are expected to respect the laws and local sensitivities in the same way that Singaporeans abroad are obliged to do so, he said.

"Some of these Myanmar (Burmese) individuals have enjoyed education subsidies and other benefits but have chosen to repay this with disrespect for our laws and to defy the authorities," he added.

When told of the latest government statements, OBP spokesman Myo Myint Maung, a Singapore Management University third-year student, indicated that there would be no change in his group's position: "We will continue with our political agenda in the most appropriate way that will serve justice and democracy without endangering Singapore society." (By KOR KIAN BENG/ The Straits Times/ ANN)

Burmese Junta Warns Monks of Crackdown as Protests Widen

Published: September 25, 2007

BANGKOK, Sept. 24 — Myanmar’s military junta issued its first warning on Monday after a month of widening antigovernment demonstrations, saying it was prepared to crack down on the Buddhist monks who are at the heart of the protests.

Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Buddhist monks, escorted on each side by hand-holding supporters, protesting Sunday in the wet streets of Yangon, Myanmar.

The New York Times

A crowd of 10,000 protested in Mandalay on Saturday.

Associated Press

Buddhist leaders spoke against Myanmar’s military rulers Sunday in Yangon, the largest city. About 10,000 monks attended.

Speaking on state television, the junta’s minister of religious affairs told senior Buddhist clerics to rein in the tens of thousands of monks who have marched through several cities in recent days.

If not, said the minister, Brig. Gen. Thura Myint Maung, unspecified action would be taken against the monks “according to the law.”

He said that the protests by the monks had been instigated by the junta’s domestic and foreign enemies, the same accusation that had previously been made against members of the political opposition. Any action against the monks would be extremely risky for the government because of the reverence in which they are held in Myanmar, the Buddhist nation formerly known as Burma.

The country’s rulers are also coming under increasing pressure from the United States, which has imposed sanctions on Myanmar for years, including a ban on all Burmese products. When President Bush, who has spoken out frequently on Myanmar, addresses the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, he will announce more sanctions, including financial restrictions against Myanmar’s leaders and a ban on visas for them and their families, said Stephen J. Hadley, the national security adviser.

Mr. Hadley said Mr. Bush would use his address to call on other nations to support the protests. “Our hope is to marry that internal pressure with some external pressure coming from the United States, the United Nations and really all countries committed to freedom to try and force the regime into a change,” he said.

The junta’s warning to the monks came at the end of a day when protesters filled the streets in greater numbers than ever, pushing their confrontation with the military government toward an unpredictable and possibly dangerous outcome.

In the main city of Yangon, formerly Rangoon, the monks who have led the protests for the past week were outnumbered by civilians, including prominent political dissidents and well-known cultural figures.

Setting out in the morning from the gold-spired Shwedagon Pagoda, a crowd estimated by The Associated Press to be as large as 100,000 marched unopposed in separate columns through the city. Other protests were reported in Mandalay, Sittwe and Bago. Monks and their supporters have also marched in other cities in recent days.

Until now, the government remained silent and mostly out of sight, giving over the streets to the protesters with virtually no uniformed security presence in evidence.

For all the energy and jubilation of the crowds, Myanmar seemed to be holding its breath. As the demonstrations expanded from political dissidents a month ago to Buddhist monks last week to the broad public, the government’s options seemed to be narrowing.

The demonstrations proceeded under the shadow of the last major nationwide convulsion, in 1988, when even larger pro-democracy protests were crushed by the military at the cost of some 3,000 lives.

“We are in uncharted territory,” said the British ambassador to Myanmar, Mark Canning, speaking by telephone from Yangon after observing the crowds.

“These demonstrations seem to be steadily picking up momentum,” he said. “They are widely spread geographically. They are quite well organized. They are stimulated by genuine economic hardship, and they are being done in a peaceful but very effective fashion.”

The government may have been hoping that the demonstrations would simply run out of steam, but their rapid growth and the pent-up grievances that are driving them make that seem unlikely. With each day, the growing size of the crowds seems to attract even more participants.

Another possibility is the opening of some form of compromise or dialogue between the government and its opponents. But that is an option the country’s military rulers have never genuinely embraced.

Instead, they have jailed their political opponents, held the pro-democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest and rejected the demands of the country’s marginalized ethnic minorities. When the challenges against them have seemed threatening, they have used force, as in 1988 or in 2003, the year the government unleashed a band of thugs to attack Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi when her popularity seemed to be getting out of hand.

Myanmar was alive on Monday not only with the heady energy of mass demonstrations, but also with rumors of an impending military crackdown. Exile groups with contacts inside the country have been reporting troop movements and warnings to hospitals to prepare for many casualties.

But political analysts said a number of factors that were not present in 1988 might now be constraining the government. The first is that the world is watching. Since 1988, Myanmar has become the focus of international condemnation for its abuses of human and political rights and its treatment of Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest for 12 of the past 18 years.

It has become an embarrassment to its nine partners in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a regional political and economic organization; some of the group’s meetings have been boycotted by the United States because of the inclusion of Myanmar. Using economic and political leverage, that association has been increasingly open in calling for reform in Myanmar.

The most significant constraint on Myanmar’s behavior may be China, its giant neighbor, which has supported it with aid and commercial ties, undermining the economic penalties imposed by Western nations.

“China wants stability here, and the way things are going is not really consistent with that,” said a Western diplomat reached by telephone in Myanmar.

Chinese businesses have invested heavily in Myanmar, which is a major source of raw materials — particularly oil and gas — and a potential link to seaports on the Andaman Sea.

China has said repeatedly that Myanmar’s troubles are its own internal affair, and last year it blocked an American move to place Myanmar’s violations of human rights on the agenda of the United Nations Security Council.

But it has recently taken small public steps to press for democratic reform in Myanmar. In June, it arranged a highly unusual meeting in Beijing between representatives of Myanmar and the United States at which the Americans pressed for the release of Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi.

This month, as the demonstrations built in Myanmar, a senior Chinese diplomat, Tang Jiaxuan, told the visiting Myanmar foreign minister, Nyan Win, that “China wholeheartedly hopes that Myanmar will push forward a democracy process that is appropriate for the country.”

But with its population rising up against it in the strongest challenge of the past two decades, some analysts said, it may be too late to urge the generals to be calm.

“At this point, I think all bets are off and the Chinese will have no real influence on what they do,” said Dave Mathieson, an expert on Myanmar with the international rights group Human Rights Watch.

Steven Lee Myers contributed reporting from New York.

China Braces for Prospect of Changes in Myanmar

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Published: September 27, 2007
BEIJING, Sept. 26 — As China publicly calls for stability and reconciliation in Myanmar, it is also preparing for the possibility that the mounting protests could lead to the downfall of the military junta heading its resource-rich neighbor, regional experts said Wednesday.

China is Myanmar’s most important trading partner, investor and strategic ally, and has consistently thwarted attempts to put pressure on Myanmar’s rulers, through sanctions or other measures. On Wednesday, China blocked an effort by the United Nations Security Council to condemn Myanmar. In January, China blocked a Council resolution condemning Myanmar’s human rights record.

But China has also maintained discreet links with opponents of Myanmar’s military rulers and tolerates the activity of some exiled opponents on Chinese soil, the experts said. And China has urged the junta to avoid a repeat of the violent crackdown on demonstrations in 1988 that led to extended periods of house arrest for the opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

In a meeting with Myanmar’s foreign minister, U Nyan Win, on Sept. 13, Tang Jiaxuan, a member of China’s State Council and a former foreign minister, said the Chinese government hoped that its neighbor could restore stability and promote national reconciliation, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

“If Aung San Suu Kyi became the leader of Burma tomorrow, China would be the first country to roll out the red carpet,” said Bertil Lintner, an analyst of Myanmar politics based in Thailand. “But they wouldn’t like to see it happen.”

China, already stung by human rights advocates who have warned that its ties with Sudan’s repressive government could cast the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing as the “Genocide Olympics,” wants to avoid further damage to its reputation from Myanmar’s handling of political dissent, analysts and foreign diplomats in Beijing say. They also say China would prefer that the Burmese junta maintain stability in a nation that is an important supplier of raw materials.

Two-way trade between the countries increased 39.4 percent in the first seven months of this year over the same period in 2006, reaching $1.11 billion, according to official Chinese government customs figures.

Experts say China is eager to import energy from a country that has proven natural gas reserves of 0.54 trillion cubic meters, according to a 2007 statistical review of world energy.

China would also like to keep a pliant government in place to develop strategically important access to the Indian Ocean, according to security experts.

In an effort to expand its influence in Myanmar, China has become the junta’s biggest arms supplier and has extended discounted loans and development aid to the nation.

There have been reports that China wants to build a $2 billion oil pipeline from Myanmar’s coast on the Bay of Bengal to Yunnan Province in China that would allow the delivery of oil from the Middle East without passing through the Strait of Malacca, a waterway that could be easily closed during a period of international tension or conflict.

Officially, China maintains its customary diplomatic stance of noninterference in the internal affairs of other countries. “As a neighbor of Myanmar, we hope to see that its society is stable and its economy developing,” China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Jiang Yu, said Tuesday at a regular news briefing in Beijing.

But, analysts say, there is evidence that China has been hedging its bets on political developments in Myanmar. Mr. Lintner, the Thailand-based analyst, said Beijing maintained unofficial contacts with exiled Myanmar opposition groups in Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries. Other experts agree that these informal contacts with exiles, along with recent official statements from Beijing calling for a peaceful settlement of differences among all groups in Myanmar, suggest that China has doubts about the junta’s survival.

“One day, they expect the military will no longer be running the place,” said Trevor Wilson, an expert on Myanmar at the Australian National University who was the Australian ambassador to Myanmar from 2000 to 2003.

“It will be political parties, maybe even the current opposition, running the place,” he said, “and China needs to keep open some channels of communication with them and not put them entirely offside.”

Despite China’s close economic and political ties with the junta, there are also signs that it is dissatisfied with some aspects of its performance. Mr. Wilson said senior Chinese diplomats in Myanmar had been bluntly critical of the junta’s poor economic management and its inability to stem the flow of illicit drugs across the Chinese border.

At times, political tensions in the early years of this decade led to the suspension of new Chinese loans to Myanmar, he said. Regional experts also noted that China had openly called on the junta to show restraint in dealing with the protests.

In his meeting this month with Myanmar’s foreign minister, Mr. Nyan Win, Mr. Tang, the Chinese diplomatic envoy, also said Beijing wanted Myanmar to move toward “a democracy process that is appropriate for the country,” Xinhua reported.

That did not mean that China wanted Myanmar to adopt Western-style democracy, analysts said, but it was a suggestion that the junta should move toward a settlement with its opponents.

Join Burma Supporters at Solano Stroll to parade and raise awareness about Burma/Daw Aung San Suu Kyi
on Sunday Sept. 14, 9 am in Berkeley, CA. More info:

1. AFP: Suu Kyi refuses most food rations for three weeks: party
2. AP: Suu Kyi's party expresses concern for her health
3. Bangkok Post - EDITORIAL: No counting Suu Kyi out
4. The Nation - Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi refuses food for three weeks
5. Bangkok Post: Hunger strike    
6. VOA: Burmese Regime Fails To Cooperate
7. BADA Statement of Support for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's Recent Actions

Suu Kyi refuses most food rations for three weeks: party
AFP - Saturday, September 6
YANGON (AFP) - Myanmar 's detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has refused to accept food rations for three weeks, her party said Friday, calling on the military regime to take steps to ensure her "survival."
Her National League for Democracy (NLD) party said the 63-year-old, who has been under house arrest for most of the last 19 years, had apparently stopped accepting most of her daily food rations.
Aung San Suu Kyi receives daily rations from the regime and has no other source of food.
"We have heard that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi does not completely accept the daily food supplies to her," NLD said in a statement, using an honorific before her name.
"The authorities who unfairly detained her are responsible for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's security and survival," it said.
"Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's refusal of food supplies is to denounce her continuing detention, which is unfair under the law," the party added, without declaring her actions a hunger strike.
"The National League for Democracy party and the people are extremely worried," it said.
Aung San Suu Kyi is allowed little contact with the outside world, but in recent weeks has refused even the rare meetings that the junta has offered her.
She has met with her lawyer three times over the last month and had a medical checkup in August, but refused to meet with the junta's liaison officer this week.
She also refused to meet with visiting UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari last month, fuelling speculation about her motives, with analysts saying she was trying to express her frustration with the slow pace of the regime's "dialogue" with her.
Aung San Suu Kyi's party won a landslide victory in a 1990 election but the junta never allowed it to take office. Myanmar has been ruled by the military since 1962.

Suu Kyi's party expresses concern for her health
Fri Sep 5, 6:07 AM ET
YANGON , Myanmar (AP) - The political party of detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi urged Myanmar 's military government Friday to ensure her well-being as she continued to refuse food deliveries to protest her detention.
The National League for Democracy "expressed concern" that Suu Kyi has not accepted food delivered to her home for almost three weeks, the party said in a statement.
It did not say whether she was on a hunger strike, a question that has remained unanswered since the first mention of her refusal to accept food over a week ago.
The 63-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate has been held in detention by the ruling military junta for 13 of the past 19 years, mostly under house arrest, and relies on food delivered by her party for sustenance.
Friday's statement called Suu Kyi's action a protest, which had only been alluded to until now.
"She is refusing food supplies in protest against ... her unlawful detention under the security law," the party said.
Suu Kyi also wants greater freedom of movement for two female companions who live with her and help take care of the house, it said. They are currently not allowed to leave the compound.
She is also protesting that authorities have not allowed her to receive a monthly medical checkup by her physician as they earlier promised, it said. A doctor visited Suu Kyi on Aug. 17, but her previous checkup was in January, the party said.
"Her safety and well-being are the soul responsibility of the authorities who have unlawfully detained her," it said.
Suu Kyi's lawyer, Kyi Win, was allowed to meet with her for 30 minutes on Monday, and said she told him that "I am well but I have lost some weight."
Rumors of a possible hunger strike have circulated widely in Yangon , where Suu Kyi's isolation has only increased the mystique that surrounds her.
Similar hunger strike rumors spread in 2003 and in 1989, but proved untrue.
Supporters have speculated that Suu Kyi is frustrated over the United Nations' failure to bring about democratic reform in the country, which has been ruled by the military since 1962.
Suu Kyi canceled meetings with U.N. special envoy Ibrahim Gambari during his six-day visit to Myanmar last month, and he left without seeing her.
U.N. envoys and other senior officials have visited the country nearly 40 times since 1990, and the U.N. General Assembly has passed numerous resolutions calling for change.

Bangkok Post - EDITORIAL: No counting Suu Kyi out
Friday September 05, 2008
Even though it is not yet clear whether Burma 's detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has staged any form of strike against the failure to bring change to the country's repressive regime, the international community must take the signals sent so far seriously. And it must try to act on it more thoughtfully than it has over the past many years.
The Nobel Peace laureate sent her first signal - seen as a significant shift from her usually cooperative dealings with the United Nations so far - when she refused to meet with UN special envoy to Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, during his latest six-day visit to Burma late last month.
During the past two decades, since the military junta usurped power after Mrs Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy, achieved a landslide victory in the 1990 elections, the dissident leader had always welcomed the UN's diplomatic efforts, as she herself believes that only a dialogue could lead Burma to democratic reform. The problem is that as the junta pushes on with its so-called roadmap to "disciplined democracy" which supposedly will culminate in a general election in 2010, it has also always tried to keep the Lady out of the scene.
With the UN special envoy being confined to the junta's schedule - where he may go and with whom he may meet - the UN itself risks falling into the junta's game plan. Burmese dissidents are worried that unless the UN manages to send out a stronger, clearer message about the roadmap, it may end up lending legitimacy to the process and obliterate the lawful result of the 1990 elections altogether.
The viewpoint expressed to Mr Gambari by Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej is also worrisome. Basically, Mr Samak told the special envoy that the international community might need to sacrifice Aung San Suu Kyi if it wishes to see some measure of democracy being allowed to develop in Burma . Critics are concerned that the Thai PM might raise this idea at the United Nations General Assembly in New York this month. As Thailand has assumed its turn as chairman of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Mr Samak's take on the issue should be a point to ponder, unless of course the Asean community takes charge of the issue and finds some way for a more sensible and sympathetic approach to prevail.
With no details of Mrs Suu Kyi's latest condition and stance available yet, the pressure is on Asean and the UN to find a new way to continue the dialogue it has opened with all stake holders, especially the opposition leader, whose legitimate voice must be heard.
If the special envoy's process has hit a dead end, then some new options must be initiated which may include revitalising the process or starting a whole new method that would include all stake holders, in particular Mrs Suu Kyi, and help release the people of Burma from the repression they have been suffering for such a long while.

The Nation - Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi refuses food for three weeks

By Deutsche Presse Agenture
September 6, 2008 : Last updated 06:32 pm
Rangoon - Burma opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has for the past three weeks refused food deliveries to her home-cum-jail in a hunger strike against her detention, opposition sources confirmed Friday.
The National League for Democracy (NLD) said Suu Kyi had refused to receive food packages from friends for the past three weeks to protest her unlawful detention which has "exceeded the legal limit."
Suu Kyi has been under house detention in her family home in Rangoon since May 2003, on charges of disturbing the peace.
The detention followed an attack by pro-military thugs on Suu Kyi's convoy in Tepeyin, Sagaing division in northern Burma on May 30, 2003 . Several of her followers were killed in the melee.
The Nobel Peace Prize laureate has been kept in near complete isolation, allowed monthly visits by her doctor and occasional visits by UN special envoys.
Last month she refused to meet with UN special envoy to Burma Ibrahim Gambari on the grounds that he had done nothing to secure her freedom.
Over the past two months Suu Kyi has been allowed three meetings with her lawyer Kyi Win, which is unusual.
Under Burma emergency law political prisoners can only be kept under detention for a maximum of five years on charges of disturbing the peace, but Suu Kyi's detention was last May extended for another six months, raising legal questions.
Burma 's ruling junta has been sending mixed signals about the duration of Suu Kyi's incarceration.
There have been hints that she may be released within six months, but many observers believe it is unlikely that she will be released before the next general election slated for 2010.
Suu Kyi's NLD party won the 1990 polls by a landslide, but the party has been denied power by the military for 18 years and she has been kept under house arrest for around 13 of the past 18 years.
Burma has been under military rule since 1962. Ironically, it was Suu Kyi's father, Aung San, who fathered the military establishment as part of the country's independence movement from its former colonial master Britain .
Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, is deemed Burma 's democracy icon, and one of the few opposition leaders with enough popular and international support to undermine the military's monopoly of political power in the south-east Asian nation.
Bangkok Post: Hunger strike    

Rangoon - Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has refused food deliveries to her home-cum-jail for the past three weeks in a fast to protest her detention.

The National League for Democracy (NLD) confirmed that Suu Kyi had refused to receive food packages from friends for the past three weeks to protest her unlawful detention which has "exceeded the legal limit."

Suu Kyi has been under house detention in her family home in Rangoon since May 2003, on charges of disturbing the peace.

The detention followed an attack by pro-military thugs on Suu Kyi's convoy in Tepeyin, Sagaing division in northern Burma on May 30, 2003. Several of her followers were killed in the melee.

The Nobel Peace Prize laureate has been kept in near complete isolation, allowed monthly visits by her doctor and occasional visits by UN special envoys.

Last month she refused to meet with UN special envoy to Burma Ibrahim Gambari on the grounds that he had done nothing to secure her freedom.

Over the past two months Suu Kyi has been allowed three meetings with her lawyer Kyi Win, which is unusual.

Under Burmese emergency law political prisoners can only be kept under detention for a maximum of five years on charges of disturbing the peace, but Suu Kyi's detention was last May extended for another six months, raising legal questions.

The Burmese ruling junta has been sending mixed signals about the duration of Suu Kyi's incarceration.

There have been hints that she may be released within six months, but many observers believe it is unlikely that she will be released before the next general election slated for 2010.
Suu Kyi's NLD party won the 1990 polls by a landslide, but the party has been denied power by the military for 18 years and she has been kept under house arrest for around 13 of the past 18 years.

Burma has been under military rule since 1962. Ironically, it was Suu Kyi's father, Aung San, who fathered the military establishment as part of the country's independence movement from its former colonial master Britain.
Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, is deemed her country's democracy icon, and one of the few opposition leaders with enough popular and international support to undermine the military's monopoly of political power in the south-east Asian nation.


VOA: Burmese Regime Fails To Cooperate
04 September 2008  
Burmese Regime Fails To Cooperate - Download (MP3) audio clip
Burmese Regime Fails To Cooperate - Listen to (MP3) audio clip

The Burmese military junta has again failed to cooperate with the United Nations in an effort to promote democratic political progress in Burma. Special Advisor Ibrahim Gambari recently completed a six-day visit to Burma where he was unable to meet with junta leader General Than Shwe or National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. It was Mr. Gambari's fourth trip since widespread pro-democracy protests were violently crushed by the military last September.

In a written statement, U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Robert Wood said, "The United States is deeply disappointed" that the Burmese regime has refused to work with the U.N. to bring about democratic progress. The military junta has rejected calls by the U.N. Security Council, the U.N. leadership, and the Association of South East Asian Nations for the release of political prisoners. The Burmese government has also refused to engage in a dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi and other democratic and ethnic minority leaders.

It is difficult to imagine any real political progress in Burma until the country's leading democracy advocate is released. Indeed, Aung San Suu Kyi has spent more than thirteen years of the last nineteen years under house arrest. And she is not alone. It is estimated that there may be as many as two-thousand political prisoners in Burma.  

And there seems to be no end to the arrests. Just prior to Mr. Gambari's visit, the military regime in Burma jailed five activists for taking part in a peaceful demonstration marking the 20th anniversary of a pro-democracy uprising in 1988.

The United States calls on the Burmese regime to live up to the agreements it made with U.N. representatives during prior trips. Improved relations between Burma and the international community depend on the Burmese regime taking concrete steps toward democracy.

Burmese American Democratic Alliance (BADA)
Statement of Support for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's Recent Actions
Date: August 26, 2008
   Download statement PDF MS Word

We absolutely support Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in making a great stand even under detention; she has refused to meet with the UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari, as currently being reported. Her vision, judgment, courage and leadership in highlighting the failed efforts of the United Nations (UN) and the State Peace & Development Council's (SPDC) one-sided position could not come sooner. We fully stand by her decision.

We share the concern expressed by the spokesperson of her party, National League for Democracy (NLD) over Mr. Gambari’s "yet another failed visit to Burma". UN's 20 years long efforts to bring peace, freedom and genuine democracy to the people of Burma has been unsuccessful. The UN has allowed the military to strengthen and tighten the power grip, while brutally crushing the dissidents and the people of Burma, including the Buddhist monks.

The people of Burma have already paid a huge price for the UN's inability to deter oppression and dictatorship, and solve Burma's problems politically. As a result, the country and the people have sunk much deeper into misery, poverty and chaos brought about by the tyranny of the brutal regime. Precious time should no more be wasted by using echelon diplomacy nor the military dictators be allowed to continue one-sided policies and forceful establishment of their rule. Time is running out for the UN to produce meaningful results and save Burma and her people.  

The one and only true will of the people of Burma is to implement the results of the 1990 election in which NLD, led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi won a landslide victory. The regime continues to resist the will of the people and of the international community by denying the rightful leadership to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her NLD party.  It is a long overdue responsibility of the United Nations to bring about effective political dialogue between all stake holding parties and the military.

We completely reject the regime's planned sham election in 2010 to erase the 1990 election results and to formalize military rule in Burma. It is a part of the process of so called road map to democracy that is not only illegal, but also staged with despicable acts such as holding the referendum while half of Burma's population was devastated by the May 2008 Cyclone Nargis. The people of Burma will once again be forced at gunpoint to participate in the fake voting process of the planned 2010 elections.  

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has refused to accept food since August 15, 2008. We want to express strong concern over her health situation and continued detention. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was violently attacked, captured and put under house arrest since May 30, 2003. Her continued detention is unlawful and we fear for the safety of her life.

The regime must release Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners including Buddhist monks and student leaders as a first step towards peacefully resolving Burma's issues.  

We call upon the United Nations Security Council and the international community to do their utmost to: 

1. Request UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon himself to go to Burma and help start a meaningful and effective political dialogue.
2. To secure the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners immediately.

Executive Committee
Contact: Anil Verma, Secretary, (510) 485-3751


Please join Protest Rally on the eve of Olympic closing to highlight China's role in enabling the Burma's brutal dictatorship in order to exploit Burma economically and militarily : Saturday, Aug 23, 2 pm at Chinese Consulate, 1450 Laguna St, San Francisco More info:

The Boston Globe: Commentary: Begging won't save Burma
Wall Street Journal: Benchmarking Burma
New Yorker: Drowning: Can the Burmese people rescue themselves? (Letter from Rangoon)
Washington Post: In Broken Economy, Burmese Improvise or Flee
Atlantic Monthly: Lifting the Bamboo Curtain
BBC: In pictures: Sketching Burma's cyclone

Epoch Times: Burma's ‘Blood Jade' Used in Olympic Medals?
Telegraph: Leading insurers Chubb and XL Capital quit Burma
UNC Chapell Hill:
President Bush's Pre-Olympics Speech in Thailand

THE UNITED Nations can be an irreplaceable forum for diplomacy and a provider of humanitarian assistance. But this parliament of Nations has repeatedly failed to live up to its responsibility to protect populations from criminal regimes. Nowhere has that failure been more flagrant than in Burma, where a vicious military junta continues to deceive and defy the world body.

The junta's disregard for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and his special envoy for Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, will be at center stage this week, when Gambari visits that sad land. As in his previous visits, Gambari can be expected to implore the same generals who callously turned away offers of relief for cyclone victims last spring to release political prisoners and bring about a reconciliation with the National League for Democracy, the overwhelming winner of the last free elections held in Burma, in 1990.

But Gambari's mission is not merely to beg junta leaders for goodwill gestures. His mandate from the UN General Assembly lists two clear and measurable "indicators of achievement" for the year 2008. One is to obtain the release of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest - and of other political prisoners from prison. The second is to bring about "reopening of the offices of the National League for Democracy throughout the country."

If Gambari fails to fulfill this mandate, he should explain why. The UN should then seek more effective means of protecting citizens of Burma from a regime that murders and rapes its own people and conscripts more child soldiers than any other country. In place of fruitless dialogue, the UN will have to explore an arms embargo, banking sanctions, and serious pressure from Burma's Asian neighbors.

Benchmarking Burma

August 15, 2008


The United Nations special envoy on Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, is expected to arrive in Rangoon in the next few days for another round of talks with the country's military regime. If his visit is to have any meaning, he must move beyond the U.N.'s traditional diplomatic niceties and make concrete demands for change.

Since 1990, U.N. envoys have made 37 visits to Burma. The Human Rights Council and General Assembly between them have passed more than 30 resolutions, and the Security Council has made two Presidential Statements. All of this has had little effect. Vague requests to the junta to engage in dialogue with democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, made without any deadline, have led nowhere. She remains under house arrest, just as she has been for 12 years.

So rather than more of the same, the U.N. must present the regime with specific benchmarks for progress, accompanied by deadlines. The first benchmark should be the release of political prisoners, who currently number over 2,000. Many are in extremely poor health due to bad prison conditions, mistreatment, torture and the denial of medical care. Mr. Gambari should insist that the junta release political prisoners before U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's visit to Burma in December. And Mr. Ban should be willing to cancel his trip if the junta doesn't comply.

Another important benchmark would be immediately ending the military offensive against civilians in eastern Burma, which has destroyed 3,200 villages and displaced more than a million people since 1996. The junta has destroyed twice as many ethnic villages as has the Sudanese regime in Darfur. Burma has the highest number of forcibly conscripted child soldiers in the world.

Setting such benchmarks with realistic deadlines would enable Mr. Gambari to evaluate the progress he is or isn't making. If the junta complies, so much the better. But if it misses the benchmarks, that would clearly signal the need for international action.

The international community could impose several powerful sanctions for failure to meet these benchmarks. One would be revoking the junta's credentials to represent Burma in world bodies like the U.N. The junta is an illegitimate government, having overwhelmingly lost elections in 1990 and proven itself negligent in its handling of Cyclone Nargis. According to the U.N., more than a million cyclone victims have still not received help. The U.N. also says the regime has been stealing millions of dollars of aid money through its below-market fixed exchange rates. The junta is unfit to govern, and there is a legitimate alternative in the form of the leaders elected in 1990 now living as a government in exile.

Beyond that, a universal arms embargo should be imposed through the Security Council -- and maximum pressure placed on China and Russia not to use their veto. Major financial centers such as Tokyo, Hong Kong and Singapore, as well as the European Union, should impose carefully targeted financial sanctions against the ruling generals' personal assets. And the international community should call the generals by name for what they are: criminals. The prosecution of Sudan's leader Omar al-Bashir and the capture of Radovan Karadzic have set a precedent. Burma's generals should be brought to account in the International Criminal Court or through another jurisdiction.

The U.N.'s credibility is on the line to an unusual degree in Burma, given the obvious illegitimacy of the regime and the obvious harm it's doing to its people. Mr. Gambari owes it both to the Burmese people and to the U.N. to try a different, and hopefully more productive, approach on this trip.

Mr. Rogers is advocacy officer for South Asia at Christian Solidarity Worldwide and the author of "A Land Without Evil: Stopping the Genocide of Burma's Karen People" (Monarch Books, 2004).

See all of today's editorials and op-eds, plus video commentary, on Opinion Journal.

New Yorker - United States
Letter from Rangoon

Can the Burmese people rescue themselves?

by George Packer August 25, 2008

Soldiers about to close off access to Rangoon’s Sule Pagoda, during the protests of September, 2007. Increasingly, dissidents are questioning the utility of direct confrontation with the government. Photograph by Christian Holst.

Soldiers about to close off access to Rangoon’s Sule Pagoda, during the protests of September, 2007. Increasingly, dissidents are questioning the utility of direct confrontation with the government. Photograph by Christian Holst.

When night falls in Rangoon, the city’s spectacular decay—patches of black mold devouring the yellowed walls of colonial buildings, trees growing wildly into crumbling third-story terraces—nearly disappears from view. The tea shops fill up, locals crowd the bookstalls on Pansodan Road, and the city, which seems furtive and depressed by day, becomes a communal stage. In the Chinatown district, two men in an alley crank out schoolbooks with a hand-operated printing press. At a sidewalk fish market, women sell shrimp, scallops, and squid by candlelight, while two teen-agers nearby strum guitars. Further east, along the Rangoon River, in the old residential quarter of Pazundaung, the wooden houses are open to the street, like storefronts, revealing an old woman sitting on a couch, a living-room shrine strewn with votive candles, and two men laughing as they listen to a radio.

One such evening in June, I had dinner at an outdoor restaurant north of downtown with a young man I’ll call Myat Min. He grew up in a working-class township on the outskirts of Rangoon, the son of a mechanic and a woman who sold spices from Thailand. His father had been trained by British Air Force officers, and in the years after the 1962 coup, which gave control of the country to the Burmese military, he kept the family radio tuned to the BBC. Each evening, he ate fried noodles, listened to the news in English, and cursed the dictatorship.

Over the decades, the Burmese government has subjected its citizens to epic misrule, systematically destroying every institution of society except the Army, whose leaders have made staying in power their overriding goal. The streets of Rangoon and Mandalay are monitored by the secret police and by a group of armed thugs known as Swan Arr Shin—the Masters of Force. Dissidents are routinely tortured. The generals’ irrational economic policies have reduced one of Asia’s richest countries, once the world’s leading exporter of rice, to penury. Burma’s gross domestic product per capita is now less than half that of its neighbor Cambodia. Economic sanctions—a form of protest against the government’s human-rights abuses—have made the country even poorer.

Myat Min was not quite thirty when we met, with a dark, high-cheekboned face, but he had the manner of a much older, eccentric man who had seen too much of life and was too vital to be self-effacing, even if his repressive society demanded it. He had an unusually loud voice by Burmese standards, which drew looks in public, and a laugh that often couldn’t stop. The American expatriates in Rangoon called him Mr. Intensity. He wore only longyis, the Burmese sarong; he didn’t own any pants. “I hate modern life,” he said.

In 1995, when he was sixteen, Myat Min noticed a collection of stories by W. Somerset Maugham in a bookstall on Pansodan Road. He rented it (few Burmese can afford to buy books) and read the stories with such strong identification that he began calling himself Somerset. He moved on to Dickens, learning not just to read English but to speak it, sometimes with oddly Victorian cadences. I asked him why these British writers appealed to him. “All of the characters are me,” he said, with a boisterous laugh. “Neither a British nor an American young man living in the twenty-first century can understand a Dickens as well as I can! I am living in a Dickensian atmosphere. Our country is at least one or two centuries behind the Western world. My neighborhood—bleak, poor, with small domestic industries, children playing in the street, parents fighting with each other, some with great debt, everyone dirty—that is Dickens. I am more equipped to understand Dickens than modern novels. I don’t know what is air-conditioning, what is subway, what is fingerprint exam.”

In 1988, when Myat Min was ten, Rangoon and other Burmese cities filled with millions of demonstrators calling for an end to military rule. It was a revolutionary moment, and by far the most serious challenge to the reign of the generals; the protest led by monks last September is the only event that comes close. Myat Min’s older brothers disappeared from home for several months to join the uprising, and his father went looking for them every day. At the height of the demonstrations, Myat Min sneaked out of his house. He saw a mob of people, some of whom were carrying spikes on which the severed heads of informers—burned charcoal black—had been impaled. “Democracy!” the people shouted.

“I became interested in politics because of those scenes,” Myat Min told me. At home, his father said, “Aung San Suu Kyi is the new leader of our country. American troops will come liberate us.” But Suu Kyi—the daughter of the general who led Burma to independence, in 1948, and who became an accidental heroine to the protesters in 1988—was soon placed under house arrest, on the shore of Inya Lake, in the middle of the city. She has for the most part remained there ever since, in an isolation as profound as her country’s.

Myat Min decided to pursue his passion for English literature at Rangoon University; he dreamed of a life immersed in ideas, “like walking through the forest in the dead of night.” But by 1996, the year he enrolled, the university had almost ceased to exist. To prevent students from gathering in protest, the government repeatedly closed the main campus and began busing undergraduates to makeshift campuses outside the capital. The semester dwindled to ten days in the classroom, with assignments and exams handled through the mail. In order to maintain the illusion of a successful system, the government continued to pass large numbers of students, even though their base of knowledge was shrinking precipitately. Higher education in Burma, once the training ground of a skilled civil service, was destroyed.



In Broken Economy, Burmese Improvise or Flee

People file in and out of the downtown passport office in Rangoon. Stalls outside offer passport candidates some of the more than 15 forms required for their applications.
People file in and out of the downtown passport office in Rangoon. Stalls outside offer passport candidates some of the more than 15 forms required for their applications. (The Washington Post)
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In Broken Economy, Burmese Improvise or Flee
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, August 16, 2008; A08

RANGOON, Burma -- For the crowds of young Burmese outside the Immigration and Customs Office here, the commodity of choice is a shiny, tomato-red, cardboard-stiff new passport.

One recent morning, hundreds of men and women flooded in and out of the office, located on a rickshaw-crammed boulevard, or camped under umbrellas along the sidewalk to wait for their passport applications to be processed. Some scoured billboards that listed openings in garment factories, shipyards and other workplaces in Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia.

A pair of 22-year-olds took turns using each other's backs to fill out forms. Both said they hoped to go to Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, to find jobs as hotel waiters for a year, maybe two.

"It's like the collapse of the Berlin Wall," said a passing 29-year-old man, meaning the pent-up outflow of people. Unemployed for three years, he has yet to hear back about a passport application he filed last year.

The run on the passport office reflects a social crisis at the heart of an economy in free fall.

Sixty years ago, Burma, also known as Myanmar, was among the wealthiest countries in Southeast Asia, outshining its neighbors with higher standards of living and greater social mobility. Its universities attracted students from across the region, and its rich stock of natural resources promised steady growth.

But decades of mismanagement by military rulers who have kept as tight a grip on the economy as on their political power have sent the country to the bottom of regional and global rankings -- among the worst for poverty, health care and corruption. The education system has been deliberately weakened in response to students' anti-government organizing, and virtually all avenues to prosperity are controlled by senior generals.

When the military seized power in 1962, it set the country on what it called the "Burmese Road to Socialism," confiscating private property and curtailing free enterprise. After a failed street uprising in 1988, there were limited moves toward liberalization. But today the government remains heavily involved in the economy, with military officers heading most state enterprises, often as a reward for political loyalty. A handful of enterprises known as "crony" companies for their closeness to the junta benefit from policies that promote monopoly.

"Our view is that Burma is an accident waiting to happen," said Mark Canning, Britain's ambassador to the country.

Diplomats and analysts say that economic grievances could at any moment trigger another street revolt akin to the two major ones of the past twenty years. Both began among disaffected youth.

A student-led response to the overnight demonetization of small bank notes in 1988 evolved into a massive pro-democracy protest. And last August, a sharp rise in fuel prices and bus fares prompted thousands to take to the streets, including a young generation of Buddhists monks, who often are keenly aware of lay folk's financial difficulties because daily donations in their alms bowls decrease.

Today, more than a third of children are malnourished, the average household spends up to 70 percent of its budget on food, and more than 30 percent of the population lives under the poverty line, according to United Nations estimates.

At tea shops or grocery stalls, people pull out bricks of local bills to pay for basics in an economy that the International Monetary Fund estimates suffered inflation of 40 percent in 2007.

Fuel rationing and price controls have insulated the country from much of the recent shocks to the world economy. Nonetheless, black market prices for gasoline and diesel fuel have continued to spiral upward in recent months, residents say. A cyclone three months ago that wrought havoc on the country's rice production areas has pushed the economy further toward desperation.

So far, the generals have been able to largely shrug off Western sanctions, by dealing instead with India, China and Thailand, to which they funnel vast stores of natural gas.

Revenue from energy sales is set to increase significantly once production begins at the offshore Shwe and Shwe Phyu fields, which are estimated to hold up to 10 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. South Korea's Daewoo International Corp. is partnering with Burma to develop the fields, and Chinese firms, including Sinopec and China National Petroleum Corp., have exploration projects underway in the country.

Even without the new fields, sales of oil and gas topped $3.3 billion last year, with $2 billion in sales of gas to Thailand alone, according to Sean Turnell, a professor at Macquarie University in Sydney.

Those funds largely disappeared into the military's parallel universe of separate schools and hospitals, subsidized housing and the multimillion-dollar construction of a remote new capital, Naypyitaw, whose name roughly translates as "abode of the kings." It reportedly includes an artificial beach resort, golf courses and an air-conditioned zoo.

But 250 miles south of the junta's fantasyland, in the former capital, Rangoon, electricity functions erratically and abandoned government offices and colonial-era edifices molder and blacken in a peculiar form of urban leprosy. Decades-old cars sputter along with wires poking out and monsoon waters sloshing around below the passenger seats.

The junta sharply restricts car imports, which means that a 1988 Toyota Camry can sell for upwards of $20,000, according to local residents. A memory card needed to make a cellphone function costs anywhere from $2,000 to $3,000.

Official statistics on employment, and most other economic indicators, are notoriously unreliable, but analysts and Burmese residents say unemployment -- and underemployment -- is on the rise. Salaries that were already inadequate have failed to keep pace with inflation.

To make up the shortfall, professionals such as government geologists double as taxi drivers, professors sell exam scores, civil servants demand bribes to process paperwork and prison guards run elaborate operations allowing the smuggling of money to inmates, in return for a 20 percent cut, local residents and former detainees said.

Teachers sometimes sell lunch to their students. "Can you imagine asking your students for money? I couldn't do it," said a 26-year-old former elementary school teacher who switched to being a tour guide.

So many people engage in corruption that the Berlin-based watchdog group Transparency International rated Burma in 2007 as tied with Somalia as the most corrupt country in the world.

For many people in the business community, the line between the licit and the illicit is a blur.

As he weighed a handful of knuckle-size green gems in his Rangoon shop, a jeweler said he regularly bribes a customs official so that he can smuggle rubies and jade to sellers in Hong Kong and Bangkok.

Sales of diamonds are less problematic. For those, he said with a grin, there is no need to travel because diamonds are the gems of choice of senior generals. A broker coming directly from Naypyitaw visits regularly, he said.

The junta's penchant for diamonds hasn't gone unnoticed. In 2006, outraged Rangoon residents circulated a bootleg DVD of Senior Gen. Than Shwe's daughter at her wedding, showing her covered with diamond-encrusted jewelry.

Meanwhile, the climate of nepotism and capricious junta policies means that uncertainty pervades even among the most seemingly successful.

In his sparsely furnished living room, an avowed former "crony" of senior generals recounted how he grew a small logging firm that traded rosewood and teak to China into a sprawling foreign investment firm that eventually bankrolled three ministers and a mayor, all of them senior military officers. In return for supplying licenses and contracts, the four received large deposits in private Singapore bank accounts, he said.

Profits, however, one day started to slip, the deposits to those bank accounts slimmed, and the businessman was thrown in jail, charged with the very thing that swelled the officers' accounts, he said -- using a local company as a front for illicit foreign dealings.

But nearly eight years behind bars hasn't dissuaded him from attempting another trek down Burma's twisted path to prosperity. Only six months since he was released, gray-haired and frail, from Insein prison, he says he searches the Internet daily for information on how to tap the booming emigrant industry -- funneling unskilled Burmese workers to jobs outside the country. "This is not a legal way. It is a form of trafficking," he said.

For help, he said, he would be turning to old friends in the Home Ministry. As for his clients, he added, they don't really know what they're getting into. But "if they have a chance to go abroad, they can make money."

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Lifting the Bamboo Curtain
September 2008 Atlantic Monthly

As China and India vie for power and influence, Burma has become a strategic battleground. Four Americans with deep ties to this fractured, resource-rich country illuminate its current troubles, and what the U.S. should do to shape its future.

by Robert D. Kaplan

A SHAN REBEL on the Burma-Thailand border. (Photo by NIC Dunlop/Panos Pictures)

Monsoon clouds crushed the dark, seaweed-green landscape of eastern Burma. Steep hillsides glistened with teak trees, coconut palms, black and ocher mud from the heavy rains, and tall, chaotic grasses. As night came, the buzz saw of cicadas and the pestering croaks of geckos rose through the downpour. Guided by an ethnic Karen rebel with a torchlight attached by bare copper wires to an ancient six-volt battery slung around his neck, I stumbled across three bamboo planks over a fast-moving stream from Thailand into Burma. Any danger came less from Burmese government troops than from those of its democratic neighbor, whose commercial interests have made it a close friend of Burma’s military regime. Said Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej recently: the ruling Burmese generals are “good Buddhists” who like to meditate, and Burma is a country that “lives in peace.” The Thai military has been on the lookout for Karen soldiers, who have been fighting the Burmese government since 1948.

Read more:


Leading insurers Chubb and XL Capital quit Burma

By Jamie Dunkley
Last Updated: 4:51pm BST 19/08/2008

Two leading insurance companies are pulling out of the Burmese market in response to human rights offences being committed by the country's military dictatorship.

The insurers, Chubb and XL Capital, announced their withdrawals in separate statements today.

It comes just three weeks after a Burma Campaign UK report, Insuring Repression, which highlighted the flow of billions of dollars from insurance companies to the Burmese regime.

US insurer Chubb, which has a UK operation, said it now "bars its member companies from maintaining an office in Burma, from directly writing insurance in Burma or providing insurance into Burma from outside the country" after conducting a review.

XL, which owns reinsurer XL Re and Lloyd's of London syndicate XL London Market, said its new policy mean it no longer "seeks to insure Burmese companies or operations of companies in Burma".

Johnny Chatterton, campaign officer at the Burma Campaign UK group, said the withdrawals were a "major embarrassment" to Lloyd's of London, which it accused of "failing to take the issue seriously" and not seeing "any problem with helping to finance Burma's brutal dictatorship".

The group's report claimed Lloyd's operators were helping to insure the military junta's state-owned airline Myanma Airways earlier this year and sharing the risk of its shipping interests.

A spokeswoman from Lloyd's of London said: "Unless there are relevant or appropriate sanctions in place, we cannot tell these companies where they can or cannot trade. As far as we are aware, there are no UK, European Union or United Nations sanctions in place."

The Association of British Insurers said it had no members operating in Burma and had written to its them seeking clarification earlier this year.

Maung Maung, general secretary of the Federation of Trade Unions Burma, said insurance companies were indirectly supporting the Burmese regime.

He said: "We welcome the news that XL and Chubb have pulled out, and will no longer help to fund the regime, but we strongly condemn all insurers that remain involved in our military junta run country."

"They help keep the generals in power, and condemn Burma's 50 million people to lives of poverty and fear. There is no excuse for the likes of Lloyd's of London being involved, they are helping to fund a brutal dictatorship."

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In pictures: Sketching Burma's cyclone
BBC News - UK

Art therapy
In the weeks following Cyclone Nargis, Burma's military rulers refused to let foreigners into the devastated Irrawaddy Delta.

As a result much of the initial relief effort was left to smaller groups with a permanent presence there. One such organisation - the Foundation for the People of Burma - managed to mobilise about 300 people. The workers noticed the children were "listless and in need of playful outlets" - so they gave them crayons and pencils and encouraged them to draw.

See cartoons here:

Burma's ‘Blood Jade' Used in Olympic Medals?

By Neil Campbell
Epoch Times Staff
Aug 17, 2008
A Burmese woman deals her Jade stones with a shopkeeper at the Jade market June 15, 2003 in Mandalay, Myanmar. The country generates a considerable income from the mining of precious stones mostly from the northern part of Myanmar. It's a government run monopoly and all visitors must buy stones from licensed retail shops. (Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)
Burmese democracy activists are imploring visitors to the Olympics to boycott merchandise made from “Blood Jade,” a name given to high-quality jade mined under oppressive and dangerous conditions in Burma and sold for export by the country's military Junta.

In a report entitled, “Blood Jade: Burmese Gemstones and the Beijing Games,” released by the All Kachin Students and Youth Union (AKSYU), as much as 90 per cent of jadeite (a variety of jade) sold in China comes from mines in Kachin State along the Burma-China border.

"In addition to being a major source of foreign currency, the military-controlled industry is plagued with deplorable working conditions, an HIV/AIDS epidemic and environmental destruction," said the report. "Thousands have lost their land due to the expansion of mining areas. Deaths from pit collapses and company vigilantism are commonplace."

Although both European countries and the United States have placed severe restrictions on the import of gems from Burma (also called Myanmar), China is currently the largest importer of the precious stone.

Used as a war commodity for years in Burma, today jade generates money for the military Junta. Official export figures place it as the third highest foreign exchange after natural gas and agriculture products, valued at roughly $647 million USD in the 2007-2008 fiscal year. This is up more than 200 per cent from 2006-2007 when exports were valued at $297 million.

Nearly a third of those exports go to China.

Earlier this year, Inter Press Service (IPS) interviewed an Asian jade buyer who was visiting Burma and was shocked at the Chinese dominance of the market.

“Almost all the buyers of some 300 people were Chinese. Most of them were from the mainland, with a few from Hong Kong and Taiwan…This was for two hours, towards the end of a day’s auction."

Describing the jade, the buyer said that "one was the size of a car and another the size of a big table and these were what the Chinese buyers were attracted to. The initial auction price for a chunk of rough jade the size of a chair was one million Euros (approximately 1.5 million USD). The average price of the smaller pieces was about 300,000 to 500,000 Euros."

The jade the Chinese buyers are reported as favouring is a white-colored, transparent variety sometimes called “bra-fleshed jade” or "Maw Seezar Jade" as opposed to colored jadeites. Experts suspect this is the same white jade used as a backing for the 2008 Beijing Olympics gold medals.

The Chinese regime claims that the jade is from China’s Qinghai province. However, the Jade from Burma's Phakant jade mines is said to be of a much higher quality than the nephrite jade from Qinghai. Burma’s jade is also considered the most sought after in the Chinese jewelery industry.

Workers in Burma's open-pit jade mines are often paid as little as $1 USD per day while forced to work 12 hour shifts or longer, sometimes at night and with little or no breaks.

"The mining companies belong to cronies of the junta. They care little about abusing the people, their rights, and even destroying the environment," said Naw Law, a researcher with AKSYU, in an interview with IPS.
Last Updated
Aug 18, 2008

President Bush's Pre-Olympics Speech in Thailand
By President George W. Bush
Reviewed by David T. Jones, co-author of Uneasy Neighbo(u)rs, a book on U.S.-Canada relations
Text and video:

On August 7, during an official visit to Thailand, President Bush delivered what could be called a "State of Asia" speech.  In his 3,000 word address, Bush concentrated on our relations with nations of East and Southeast Asia (including an occasional mention of India, but not of Pakistan/Afghanistan). 

Noting that this was his last trip to the region as president, unsurprisingly Bush did a bit of self-congratulatory legacy burnishing.  Thus, he reviewed his administration's longstanding objectives:  reinvigorating alliances; creating new democratic partnerships; deepening economic ties; and cooperating on shared challenges.  With these objectives as the framework, he placed foreign policy accomplishments (and continuing action) in context. 

In the process, he noted U.S. trade with Pacific states had reached $1 trillion – and now was greater than trade across the Atlantic – and that trade agreements were expanding;  the United States had strengthened each of its five treaty alliances (Australia, Philippines, South Korea, Japan, and Thailand); and the region was cooperating against terrorism.  He recalled responses to natural disasters such as the 2004 tsunami and the recent cyclone in Burma.

Bush examined, but not in depth, the ongoing political issues with Burma and North Korea.  Predictably, he called for an end to "tyranny" in Burma and the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners.  He examined the threat from North Korean nuclear weapons, taking credit for creating the six-power talks with Pyongyang and the pledge by the North to dismantle its nuclear facilities and "give up its nuclear weapons," but noted that this declaration required verification.

Appropriately, Bush devoted more attention (27 percent of the speech) to China, its politico-economic circumstances, and human rights problems than to any other topic. (His host Thailand, including introductory and concluding pleasantries, got only 19 percent.)  Equally appropriately, his criticism was delivered prior to arrival in Beijing – public criticism of your hosts at their international "coming out" Olympics party would simply have been gratuitously insulting. 

Even so, the sour medicine of specific criticism of Chinese detention of political and human rights activists and Beijing's violations of human rights, notably freedom of religion, free press, freedom of assembly, and labor rights, was somewhat buffered by rhetorical sweeteners.  Bush recognized Chinese free market economic reforms; he noted the continuation of the "one China" policy; he praised Beijing's cooperation on the six- power talks with North Korea; and commended joint efforts to prevent proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.  He did not mention Tibet, the Dali Lama, the Falun Gong, or any specific political prisoners.  (For its part, Beijing immediately rejected the president's critique – elements of which he repeated following attending church services on August 10.)

In short, the president delivered a solid "summing up" of our circumstances in East Asia.  It was largely ignored by the media; the Washington Post,which had editorially called for the president to address Chinese human rights abuses, ran its account on page A-15.

1. AP: Devastation in Burma is far starker than portrayed
Agony of Burma’s dumped children
3. The National: Bush reiterates position on Myanmar by Larry Jagan
4. AFP, The Times: Comic who gave out cyclone aid charged
5. MySinchew: Burma In The Shadow Of The Olympics
6. IPS:
BURMA: Expats Keep Democracy Hopes Alive
7. Cape Argus: Burmese imports horrify customer
Devastation in Burma is far starker than portrayed

Thousands get very little aid

RANGOON, Burma - A rare bird's-eye look at Burma's Irrawaddy delta shows the devastation still left from Cyclone Nargis - broken levies, flooded farm roads, the shattered remains of bamboo huts, and trees strewn like matchsticks along the coast.

Conditions are far starker than reflected in assessments from Burma's government and in the optimism of some UN officials, the Associated Press has concluded from a review of data, a private flight over the delta, and interviews with victims and aid workers.

Three months after a disaster that claimed nearly 140,000 lives, thousands of villagers are still getting little or nothing from their government or foreign aid groups.

"We lost everything - our house, our rice, our clothes. We were given just a little rice by a private aid group from Rangoon. I don't know where the government or foreign organizations are helping people, but not here," said Khin Maung Kyi, 60, a farmer who lost six children to the storm.

Some areas have received help in the delta, Burma's rice bowl set amid a lacework of waterways. During a flyover, brand new metal roofs atop reconstructed homes glittered in the tropical sunlight, farmers in cone-shaped hats worked in green rice paddies, and gangs of workers struggled to remove debris from canals and repair broken embankments.

But progress is slow and behind where it should be.

"The situation in Myanmar remains dire," said Chris Kaye, who heads relief operations for the UN World Food Program in Burma, which the military junta refers to as Myanmar. "The vast majority of families simply don't have enough to eat."

Some grim recent statistics from foreign aid agencies working in the delta:

  • A survey of families in 291 villages indicated that 55 percent had less than one day of food left and no stocks to fall back on. About 924,000 people will need food assistance until the November rice harvest, while about 300,000 will need relief until April 2009.
  • The fishing industry, the delta's second most important source of income and food, remains devastated. More than 40 percent of fishing boats and 70 percent of fishing gear were destroyed and very little has been replaced.
  • More than 360,000 children will not be able to go to elementary school in coming months because at least 2,000 schools were so badly damaged they cannot reopen soon.

    "The vast majority of people have received some assistance. But very few people have received enough assistance to get them through the next three months, and almost no one has received enough assistance to enable them to rebuild their lives," said Andrew Kirkwood, who heads the aid agency Save the Children in Burma.

    Kirkwood said three months after such a disaster, aid agencies would normally be rebuilding schools, health clinics, and other facilities. But in Burma, he said, the first phase of emergency distribution of food and basics is likely to continue for another three months.

    More upbeat assessments have come from other quarters. Some have noted that a second wave of death from disease and starvation anticipated by some relief agencies never occurred.

    "It has gone much better than anyone expected," said Ashley Clements, a spokesman for World Vision, an international Christian relief and development agency, citing the resilience of the victims and the speed of the aid response.

    "The message I want the world to know is that the government, UN agencies, and other organizations . . . are making good progress," said Ramesh Shrestha, a UN representative in Rangoon.

    Almost at the same time the UN humanitarian news service, IRIN, published a report about conditions in the delta titled "Life is totally bleak." Chronicling the plight of several families, it noted that many people lack food and shelter. Some foreign aid workers caution that their agencies refrain from exposing problems for fear the government will curb or halt their access to victims.

    "Our operations are contingent on having a positive relationship with the government," Kaye said. "So we have to work out a fine balance, so that the difficult issues are dealt with, but in a spirit of cooperation." 

  • ---------------------------------------------------


    August 10, 2008

    Agony of Burma’s dumped children

    IN a filthy destitute village, half an hour outside Rangoon, three-year-old Than Than Nues was dumped days after Cyclone Nargis had ravaged her home in Burma’s Irrawaddy delta and made her an orphan.

    The toddler, who lost both her parents when 12ft waves swept through their home in Bogalay, a coastal township, was carted off in a government lorry and handed over to strangers. Villagers, who struggled to feed their own families from their meagre rice paddies or from working in a factory on a daily wage of just 75p, were forced to provide for the extra mouths.

    Last week underfed children played in the mud-filled main street, still trying to forget the traumatic night in May when they saw their closest relatives swept to their deaths.

    “If she stays here her future is bleak. She’d be much better off with her older brother,” said U Saw Hein, the village leader, as his daughter bounced the child on her knee.

    “We discovered that he’s 18 and working near Mandalay. He doesn’t know she’s alive. We really want to get them back together, but we barely have enough to survive on and the bus fare to Mandalay is £5. We just can’t afford it,” he said.

    With the delta infrastructure destroyed there are no telephones - even if the desperately poor farmers could afford to call. The only way to reach people is to go and meet them.

    Than Than Nues was one of several children found by The Sunday Times who had been displaced close to the devastated delta region. They had become separated from their families first by the force of nature, then by the price of a bus fare, and had little chance of being reunited.

    In another bleak village half an hour from Bogalay, which Burma’s paranoid government keeps hidden behind military checkpoints, four-year-old twins Ma Nu Nu and Ma Su Su took shelter from a torrential downpour with other severely undernourished children.

    There was no way to tell what memories the quiet little girls had of their mother who was wrenched from them during the cyclone, or of their father who was working near the Thai border, unaware that his daughters had survived.

    Although the villagers knew where to find him, the cost of the three-day journey to the border was beyond their means. The best they could do was to care for the girls as if they were their own.

    About 54% of the 138,000 cyclone victims were children. Aid agencies such as Save the Children and Unicef believe there could be as many as 2,000 children still separated from their families. In an effort to save them from being forced into crammed orphanages, the charities are setting up a tracing system to help to reunite them.

    Out of 800 children officially registered by international agencies as “separated and unaccompanied”, 45 have been reunited with close relatives. The process could take up to two years.

    “Entire families were swept away and it impacted on children more than anybody,” said Guy Cave, head of child protection at Save the Children in Rangoon. The tracing system, which was used after the Asian tsunami in 2004, registers lost children on a database and sends local workers to remote villages to track down surviving relatives.

    The system has saved two sisters, Ma Thin Thin, 13, and Ma Lin Lin, 15, from being dumped in a grim state-run orphanage. They were an hour from home in Laputta township when the cyclone struck. They survived by clinging onto hay bales throughout the night, finding themselves stranded on a small patch of dry land the next day.

    A boat took them to the Wakema shelter, where the girls were immediately registered as orphans.

    Save the Children workers tracked down their parents in a village 1½ hours away, prompting their father to try to travel to the camp to collect them. He was stopped from travelling by the authorities and the girls were moved yet again to a shelter in Myaung Mya, four hours’ drive away. “We cried a lot when we were sent to Myaung Mya and separated from our father,” said Ma Lin Lin.

    Meanwhile, Daw Su Myat, 38, their mother, had been mourning the loss of her children. “Around 20 of my close relatives died in the storm. I thought my two daughters were also dead,” she said.

    “About six days after the cyclone we got news that they were alive and in a shelter. But we weren’t allowed to take them back and I was afraid that someone else would adopt them.”

    After Save the Children intervened, the authorities relented and allowed the girls to return to their parents.

    Tracking scattered families is further complicated by large population movements and unpredictable government decisions that force the closure of refugee camps or relocate people at random. Some villages remain flattened and young children often have no idea where they come from. Villages have not been identified by The Sunday Times for fear of government interference.

    The charities say their main aim is to keep children out of the harsh, institutional life found in state-run or monastic institutions where children are crammed together on bamboo mats and forced to rise at dawn and beg on the street.

    They face a race against time after a government decision to build six more orphanages in the delta region. In one institution in Rangoon, more than 20 children had arrived since the cyclone struck. Only two girls, aged 12 and 13, were orphans. The others have at least one surviving parent. A sad four-year-old boy sat in the corner. His mother had died and his father could not afford to keep him.

    Aid workers described howa young girl was sent to an orphanage in the north of the country just a day before her parents discovered the village where she was taking refuge. It is not known whether they found her.

    Aid agencies say they want to support families to allow them to keep their children at home. “I can’t stress enough that institutions should be a last resort,” said Christina Torsein, a child protection specialist with Unicef.

    Bush reiterates position on Myanmar

    Larry Jagan, Foreign Correspondent

    BANGKOK // In Beijing, George W Bush managed to raise the issue of Myanmar with Hu Jintao, his Chinese counterpart, at their dinner on Friday evening, according to Chinese government officials. It seems the Chinese leader rebuffed Washington’s efforts to get Beijing to step up pressure on its neighbour’s military junta.

    The Chinese position is clear – democracy and freedom in Myanmar, often referred to by its former name, Burma, are an internal matter – and they believe the generals are progressing on their own “road map to democracy”, having recently adopted a new constitution, with elections scheduled for 2010.

    For most analysts, Beijing holds the only possible key to encouraging the military regime to make the transitional process towards democracy transparent, including holding free and fair elections. “We don’t trust the junta,” said Zin Linn, a leading spokesman for exiled dissidents.

    “See what happened when the National League for Democracy [led by Aung San Suu Kyi] convincingly won the last elections in 1990 – they simply ignored the result and refused to hand over power,” he said. “The only way to avoid a repeat of that is for the international community, especially China, to play a critical role in supporting genuine democracy in Burma.”

    Mr Bush is reported to have reiterated the US position in his short discussion with the Chinese president – including the immediate release of Ms Suu Kyi and eligibility for her party, the NLD, to run unhindered in free and fair elections in two years.

    In a presidential election year, few will heed Mr Bush’s position on longer-term international issues. In deference to his hosts, the US president tried to make his clarion call for democracy and freedom before his visit to China. He did this in what was billed his last major policy speech on Asia, when he addressed diplomats, politicians and students in Bangkok last week, en route to Beijing.

    “Tyranny in Burma must be brought to an end,” he told his audience. Then in a strongly symbolic gesture, he had lunch with a small group of Myanmar activists at the residence of the US ambassador to Thailand. “The American people care deeply about the people of Burma and dream for the day the people will be free,” he told them.

    The dissidents who met the president were impressed. “It was great; he was relaxed and joked with us,” Win Min, an independent academic from Myanmar, now at Chiang Mai University in northern Thailand, said after the meeting. “He seemed to know a lot about Burma.”

    Nevertheless, Mr Bush still cannot pronounce the detained opposition leader’s name and he has not mastered the name of Senior Gen Than Shwe, the military leader.

    He never once mentioned him by name during the lunch discussions, according to the dissidents. “You notice I’m saying ‘general’ because it’s generally viewed as a one-man regime,” he told a group of Myanmar journalists that interviewed him after the lunch. But diplomats and observers are concerned that Mr Bush is blowing in the wind and will not have any effect – either in Beijing or Myanmar. “The cause of Burma’s freedom, democracy and human rights was poignantly served, but whether Mr Bush and his wife’s gestures will make any difference on the ground is doubtful,” according to Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a senior political analyst at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.

    “With six months to go, he’s a lame-duck president and cannot hope to affect things in Burma,” said Derek Tonkin, a political commentator and former British ambassador to Thailand and Vietnam. “As for the generals … things are going along quite well for them; there are no signs of serious opposition, and as military men, they have successfully completed the first four stages of their road map. They see absolutely no reason to change course.”

    Some of the dissidents, who met Mr Bush in Bangkok, urged him to consider changing policies towards the junta.

    “The US government should engage the Burmese generals for the long-term strategy of democracy and development on the country,” Aung Naing Oo, an independent analyst based in Thailand, told the president.

    Mr Bush apparently remains convinced that US sanctions are working. “I think our strategy is the right strategy … I am trying to convince others to join us on the strategy. In other words, it would be better if we could all speak with one voice,” he told the journalists. Over lunch he was more considered: he told the activists that a change in policy now would reward the generals for having done nothing, according to Win Min.

    Mr Bush acknowledged that what was needed was an international united front on Myanmar that included the US, Europe and Myanmar’s Asian neighbours. So far that has been virtually impossible, he conceded. “But it’s been difficult with some of the countries in the neighbourhood here, because we don’t share the same goals. My goal is democracy. Their goal is stability,” he said.

    Mr Bush is certainly in the right place to start quiet diplomacy. China remains the key to future international efforts to mediate in Myanmar. Although China still supports the junta, Chinese leaders are worried about the future stability of the regime, according to Chinese diplomats.

    Wen Jiabao, the Chinese premier, met Thein Sein, Myanmar’s prime minister, in Beijing before the Games. China hoped Myanmar could sort out its problems “through democratic negotiation”, he said after the meeting.

    “China will continue to follow a good-neighbourly policy towards Myanmar, and work with the international community to help Myanmar overcome its difficulties,” Mr Wen was reported to have said.

    This may not be as blunt as Mr Bush’s approach, but clearly the Chinese leaders are concerned about Myanmar’s economic woes and its political impasse.

    After the Olympics, they may just heed international concern and even consider other strategic options to encourage change in Myanmar.


    Burma In The Shadow Of The Olympics

    In less than an hour, the 8th of August, 2008, will dawn.

    This is the day when the People's Republic of China will host the Olympic Games – a carnival for amateur sportsmen who gather together to create harmony and goodwill in sports and for universal peace.

    These are worthy pursuits for the amateurs – a word that significantly comes from the Latin word for love.

    The PRC and its leaders must be congratulated for leaving no stone unturned in hosting this carnival for humanitarian love. It was only in 1972 when the PRC was admitted as a member of the family of nations and took its rightful place in the United Nations that was formed after World War II.

    From its inception in 1949, its fortunes were dogged by the Korean War in 1950 that resulted in the country claiming about a quarter of the world's population being ostracized by almost all nation-states. This means that the PRC has come a long way since the days of its victory over the Koumintang-led Republic of China in October 1949.

    On the same day that we celebrate this PRC outburst for love in hosting the Olympics, we must also be mindful that the day marks the 20th year of Myanmar (or Burma) rule by military junta.

    It has been 20 years since they seized power in a coup d'etat on 8 Aug. 1988, after the National League for Democracy led by the then 43-year-old Aung San Suu Kyi won democratic elections in that normally sedate country.

    Calls from all over the world, including ASEAN, for the release of 63-year-old Nobel Peace laureate daughter of Burmese freedom fighter General Aung San, have gone unheeded.

    General Aung San, the son of a lawyer, who left his own law studies for a political career, was assassinated by his political rivals on July 19, 1947, at the age of 32.

    General Aung San is still loved and revered in Burma, as can be seen from the use of his photographs when the Burmese monks staged their public demonstrations some months back.

    The Burmese love for General Aung San, more than 60 years after his untimely demise, is as great as, if not greater than the love that the Olympics Torch signifies.

    It is this love, this pursuit of harmony and goodwill in sports and this "amateurish" quest for universal peace that was disrupted when certain Frenchmen disrupted the torch run that foreshadowed the Olympics today.

    Ironically, it was a Frenchman called Pierre de Courbertin, who was born as heir to Baron Charles Louis Fredy de Courbertin on Jan 1, 1863, who re-ignited the modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896. Pierre, a one-time law student, was a product of the School of Liberal and Political Sciences.

    Pierre saw the benefit in building a robust and rugged people through the emphasis on sports rather than in the military barracks. That is probably why, the Olympics Games, which is today held every four years, emphasizes the importance of taking part rather than winning. It emphasizes on the "how" of taking part rather than the "what" of winning laurels.

    All this is so very applicable in the Myanmar of today. Members of the Burmese junta could not have acted out of love when they used naked force to smash the public demonstration of the Buddhist monks, many of whom my Burmese friends say are still incarcerated and tortured.

    Many of these Burmese monks have paid with their lives for leading the public demonstration. Assuming that the members of the Burmese junta know what the Olympian spirit is, by using force and coercion against the very people who they are supposed to protect against foreign invasion, they have emphasised the victory more than the participation.

    Viewed in whichever way, this use of naked military force upon an unarmed and peaceful public demonstration led by the Buddhist monks certainly runs counter to the spirit of the Olympics. The Olympics celebrates life. The Burmese junta demands death to perpetuate itself. (By STEPHEN TAN BAN CHENG/ MySinchew)

    ( The opinions expressed by the writer do not necessarily reflect those of MySinchew )
    MySinchew 2008.08.08


    Comic who gave out cyclone aid charged

    From correspondents in Rangoon

    August 09, 2008 03:23am

    Article from: The Australian

    Burma's most famous comedian has been charged in a secret court, along with a sports writer and two activists, for delivering aid to survivors of deadly Cyclone Nargis, according to their lawyer.

    The four were indicted in the tribunal inside Insein Prison and were allowed no legal representation during the hearing, lawyer Aung Thein said.

    "Only family members were allowed to see them, as the lawyers have no power to make arguments during the hearing," he said.

    The comedian, Zarganar, and sports writer Zaw Thet Htwe had been distributing aid before their arrests, but authorities still have not revealed why they were arrested, The Australian reports.

    Zarganar was charged with five crimes, including inciting public unrest and communicating with unlawful organisations. But the most serious charge against him and Zaw Thet Htwe accuses them of violating Burma's electronics act, a crime punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

    The generals seem to have been particularly incensed by videos of the destruction filmed by the group and widely circulated in Burma by email and DVD. These gave the lie to the Government's claim that the disaster was under control.

    Zarganar was also fearless in talking to foreign journalists, a rare and courageous act in Burma where the media is heavily censored.

    A 23-year-old activist, Tin Maung Aye, was charged with helping Zarganar, but the charges against the fourth activist, Thant Zain Aung, remained unclear, the lawyer said.

    All four were arrested in June, when authorities seized computer or video equipment from them.

    Cyclone Nargis left 138,000 people dead or missing in early May. After the storm, Burma's military regime was criticised for blocking foreign relief supplies to about 2.4million affected people.

    AFP, The Times


    Expats Keep Democracy Hopes Alive

    By Marwaan Macan-Markar

    BANGKOK, Aug 8 (IPS) - Aung Moe Zaw still lives in the hope that democracy will take root in Burma, 20 years after hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in Rangoon to oppose that country’s military dictatorship. ‘’More people have joined our democracy movement. We are very optimistic about it,’’ the 41-year-old said in an interview on the eve of that anniversary better known in Burma as ‘8-8-88’, the day when this spirit of democracy flowered, Aug. 8, 1988.

    It happened 26 years after the military had grabbed power in a coup, in March 1962, and ruled the country with an iron grip and a policy of isolationism.

    ‘’The momentum is still with us, if you look at what has happened since then. The international community is with us and is better aware than it was in August 1988,’’ added the leader of the Democratic Party for a New Society (DPNS), the second largest political party in the country.

    Yet against such feelings of hope for a moment that has been pivotal in this South-east Asian nation’s struggle to become a democracy is the brutality and the bloodshed that also marked those heady days. The military dictatorship at the time crushed the pro-democracy uprising with force, troops firing into unarmed crowd, leaving over 3,000 protesters dead.

    But that is not all. That brazen attack on unarmed citizens has hardly diminished, taking other oppressive forms in the ensuing years. It has consequently undermined the pro-democracy leaders that emerged out of the 8-8-88 protests to build a country that celebrates political and civil liberties.

    Aung Moe Zaw typifies this predicament of Burma’s pro-democracy leaders, men and women who have been denied a chance to shape their political vision. He cannot talk freely and champion democracy in his country. He has to do so as a political exile in Thailand.

    He is not an exception. Many Burmese who won seats at the 1990 parliamentary elections -- held due to the pressure of 8-8-88 -- have had to flee the country. The regime refused to recognise the results of the poll, where the National League for Democracy (NLD), an opposition party that was formed after the pro-democracy protests, won with a thumping majority. These elected Burmese arliamentarians who escaped set up the National Coalition Government for the Union of Burma (NCGUB) in exile.

    And for the country’s democracy leaders who chose to stay behind and fight, the regime responded with arrests and long periods in jail or under house arrest. The most famous among them are Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace laureate who leads the NLD, and has spent over 12 of her last 18 years under house arrest. The other is Min Ko Naing, a leader of the ’88 Generation’ university students who spearheaded the 8-8-88 protests, currently in jail for the third time in the past two decades.

    The junta’s repression of democracy is best captured in Burma’s notorious prisons, where over 10,000 political activists have been jailed since the protests of August 1988, of which 2,000 still remain behind bars. And during the two decades, 137 political activists have died in Burmese jails or while being interrogated.

    ‘’The ’88 demonstrations produced many new leaders for Burma’s democracy movement but they were denied the freedom to build a new culture. They have been jailed or kept under house arrest,’’ says Bo Kyi, a former political prisoner and leading member of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), a group based on the Thai-Burma border championing the rights of the imprisoned activists.

    ‘’Those who have been freed and have not stopped working for democracy, like Min Ko Naing and the other leaders of the ’88 Generation,’’ he said during a telephone interview from Mae Sot. ‘’It is a very difficult decision they make being politically active. They know they can be sent back to prison. And they know the suffering there.’’

    The junta’s use of Burmese jails to crush the hint of democracy since 1988 has been amplified by the longer prison sentences jailed political activists have been given than during the years before the pro-democracy uprising. ‘’Previously, a prison sentence for political activity would last seven years or a little more. But since a-8-88, political activists have been given 20 year sentences to even over 50 years,’’ says Win Min, a Burmese national security expert teaching at a Thai university in Chiang Mai.

    ‘’The jail has been one method the military regime has used to crush the political space for democratic activity. There is less space today than during the period shortly before the ’88 uprising,’’ he said during a telephone interview from Chiang Mai. ‘’The military has used more coercive power to control the political process and they appear relatively stronger than opposition groups.’’

    The junta’s new found friends since 1988, such as China, India, Russia and the governments from a 10-member regional bloc, the Association of South-east Asian Nations (ASEAN), have also contributed to its staying power at the expense of a healthy Burmese democracy. This international protective net came to the regime’s rescue last September after it was condemned for the brutal crackdown of peaceful pro-democracy protests led by tens of thousands of Buddhist monks.

    It may be a daunting political landscape, but Burma’s young political leaders like Aung Moe Zaw are far from conceding defeat. They want to keep the legacy of 8-8-88 alive, a reminder of a country in need of political reform. ‘’We have to use every possible means to convince the regime that democracy is good,’’ he says. ‘’We are not going to give up no matter how more restricted and controlled Burma is today than 20 years ago.’’



    Burmese imports horrify customer

    By Zara Nicholson

    A leading supermarket chain will continue to sell reasonably priced clothes imported from Burma for the next six months, despite that country's human rights record.

    This week a Rondebosch resident, Margie Johnson, said she was "horrified" to find Burma-made clothing being sold by Pick n Pay.

    She said she had understood local stores had agreed to stop importing from Burma.

    In December Weekend Argus ran an article about goods pouring into the country from Burma.

    The country, also known as Myanmar, has been slammed for gross human rights violations.

    Johnson said a pair of cargo pants she bought at a Pick n Pay clothing store in George last week was made in Burma.

    "I was horrified. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw 'Made in Myanmar'.

    "It just shows how people will act immorally if there's money to be made."

    Pick n Pay clothing general manager Michael Coles said in December the chain was putting pressure on its suppliers to stop imports from Burma.

    Last week he told Weekend Argus it had received its last order of summer stock from Burma and that its winter range was still "working its way off the shelves".

    Coles said: "We gave our supplier notice two months ago, and he was only to complete work already in progress in the factory.

    "All new orders have been routed through factories in other countries."

    Earlier, Mr Price said it had cancelled orders from Burma, while Woolworths, Foschini and Edgars said they did not import clothing from the country.
    • This article was originally published on page 6 of The Cape Argus on August 10, 2008

    --------------------------------- " ----------------------------------------

    1. Congress Bows to Big Oil in Burma: Chevron Can Continue to Drill Offshore
    US removes oil giant from Burma sanctions
    Burma aid lost to regime By Harvey Morris at the United Nations
    4. UN Security Council to Discuss Burma

    5. Mia Farrow Calls for Global Pressure at Olympics for Burma


    Congress Bows to Big Oil in Burma:  
    Chevron Can Continue to Drill Offshore

    Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) (WDCpix)
    Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) (WDCpix)
    By Mike Lillis 07/23/2008

    Caving to big oil demands, the Senate on Tuesday approved a plan that intensifies trade sanctions against Burma's military regime but abandons an earlier push to penalize Chevron, the last major U.S. company propping up the repressive junta.

    The move marks a departure from an earlier House-passed proposal that would have eliminated a large tax break for Chevron, potentially prodding the company to divest its share in a controversial natural gas field off the coast of Burma. Supporters of the House bill had said it would help destabilize Burma's corrupt military leaders by slashing a vital source of their income.

    "When the generals run out of cash," said Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Cal.), who sponsored the House bill before he succumbed to cancer in February, "change will come to Burma."

    (Matt Mahurin)

    Yet despite wide bipartisan support, the bill hit a stumbling block in the Senate, where several lawmakers objected to the Chevron provision. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Cal.) was one such voice. She told Politico last month that forcing Chevron out of Burma would be "counterproductive," because "other countries are going to take it over and, most particularly, the Burmese government will take it over. So what is gained by doing this"

    Many human-rights advocates say there is much to be gained, arguing that Chevron's presence in Burma has a symbolic value that leaves Washington no moral suasion in convincing foreign investors to quit supporting the junta. "Unless Chevron is out of there, the United States doesn't have the moral authority to tell other countries to get out," said Nyunt Than, president of the Burmese American Democratic Alliance, a non-profit group.

    Faced with election-year time restraints, however, House and Senate negotiators removed the Lantos Chevron provision. In its place is language urging the oil giant to get out of Burma voluntarily -- something the company has said it will not do.

    The House passed the compromise bill last week, and President George W. Bush, a vocal critic of Burma's regime, is expected to sign it into law shortly.

    The international outrage over the Burmese junta has intensified over the last year following several high-profile episodes. Last fall, the junta orchestrated a violent crackdown on thousands of monks and other pro-democracy protesters. More recently, the junta barred most international aid in the wake of Cyclone Nargis, which struck Burma's Irrawaddy Delta in May. Estimates place the number of dead at more than 130,000. These actions pushed Congress to install stronger sanctions.

    With several proposals floating around Capitol Hill, the major sticking point became how to approach Chevron, grandfathered to operate in Burma under current sanctions. The debate set Feinstein and other Chevron supporters against some House Democrats, who were fighting to preserve the Lantos bill as a memorial to their deceased colleague. Lantos had been a fierce advocate for human rights and was the only Holocaust survivor to serve in Congress. He died of esophageal cancer in February, after nearly 28 years in the House.

    The debate has also carried a hint of election year politics. Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the likely GOP presidential nominee, sponsored a bill last year that would have required Chevron to sell its share in Burma's gas field, called the Yadana project. That position turned political convention on its head, with the Democratic Feinstein supporting the oil industry and the Republican McCain siding with human-rights advocates. McCain's office did not respond to several calls and emails requesting comment.

    Feinstein, a member of the same state delegation as Lantos, had long been one of Washington's most vocal critics of Burma's repressive regime. In February, for example, she joined Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in sponsoring legislation to award the Congressional Gold Medal to Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese Nobel Peace Prize laureate who's been under house arrest for much of the last two decades. Yet, on the topic of Chevron, Feinstein has aligned herself squarely behind the San Ramon, Cal.-based company.

    Her support has not gone unnoticed. During her last reelection cycle in 2006, Feinstein took in $11,200 from the company -- the third highest tally of all 535 members of Congress, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a campaign watchdog group.

    Feinstein spokesman Scott Gerber -- pointing out that the California senator was not directly involved the House/Senate negotiations -- referred questions to those who were.

    Instead of targeting Burma's gas and oil industry, the compromise bill goes after revenues derived from gem sales. A 2003 law banned direct gem imports from Burma, where more than 90 percent of the world's rubies originate. But a loophole allows those imports to continue if the stones were processed elsewhere. The compromise bill would close the loophole.

    The bill also requires the Treasury Dept. to submit a report detailing which international banks are harboring the assets of the regime's leaders. Additionally, the bill creates a special envoy charged with aligning Burmese sanction policies between the United States and other countries. For some human-rights groups, the absence of the Chevron provision is a minor defeat.

    "For us, the meat of the bill is still there," said Jennifer Quigley, the advocacy coordinator for the U.S. Campaign for Burma.

    Chevron, which owns 28 percent of the Yadana project, currently receives a large tax break for money it pays to the Burmese government. Marco Simons, the legal director of EarthRights International, estimated that the company takes in $100 million annually from the project, with roughly $30 million of that going to the Burmese junta. Simons said that eliminating Chevron's tax break might be an appropriate penalty for a company propping up one of the world's most abusive governments. But because another international company would likely swoop in to fill the void, he said, such a move would have little immediate effect on Burma's political situation.

    "It wouldn't have affected the regime's bottom line whatsoever," Simons said.

    But a number of human-rights advocates rejected that claim. Betsy Apple, director of the Crimes Against Humanity Program at Human Rights First, pointed to the sanctions targeting South Africa during the apartheid era, wondering what might have happened had the United States hinged its policies on those of other countries.

    "It's a cop out," Apple said. "I think it's a pretext for taking no action at all."

    US removes oil giant from Burma sanctions

    The US oil giant Chevron will continue to do business in Burma after a provision to stop it operating there was removed from the latest round of US sanctions on the country.

    The new sanctions plan, approved yesterday by Congress and expected to receive quick approval from the White House, prevents the sale of Burmese gems and timber in the US via third parties – bringing the US into line with EU and Canadian policy. Profits from those products have enriched Burma's oppressive military regime.

    But Congress chose not to sanction Chevron, the largest US business still operating in Burma. An early version of the plan would have forced the company to give up its 28% stake in the Yadana natural gas field, which the regime considers a crucial political priority.

    Human rights advocates have linked the Yadana project to ongoing abuses by the regime, including forced labour, rapes and land confiscation to make room for the natural gas pipeline which is slated to run from Burma to Thailand.

    The requirement that Chevron leaves Burma was softened to a non-binding recommendation for divestment after the company protested. The US stake in Yadana would be handed over to Chinese or Indian companies if Chevron was forced to sell, the company argued.

    The Burma sanctions plan was proposed in Congress last year in response to the regime's bloody quashing of peaceful protests by Buddhist monks and other pro-democracy activists. Not until Cyclone Nargis caused widespread devastation in Burma in May, however, did the legislation move forward.

    Howard Berman, the Democratic chairman of the foreign affairs committee in the House of Representatives, lamented that the regime is morally bankrupt "but unfortunately is far from financially bankrupt".

    "While the Burmese people live in abject poverty, Burma's military leaders continue to take Burma's vast natural resources as their own," Berman added

    Burma aid lost to regime

    By Harvey Morris at the United Nations

    Published: July 25 2008 16:04 | Last updated: July 25 2008 18:47

    International aid money sent to Burma’s cyclone victims is being lost as a result of the junta’s foreign exchange regulations, according to United Nations officials.

    They quoted John Holmes, the UN’s humanitarian affairs chief, as describing the loss as “a serious problem” that he had raised with Burmese leaders during a visit this week, who had promised to address the issue.

    The UN’s first acknowledgement of the gravity of the problem followed claims by Burmese political exiles that the regime was using exchange controls to pocket a proportion of donor funds destined for the more than 2m survivors of Cyclone Nargis that killed 140,000 in May.

    While UN officials could put no figure on the losses, the exiles claimed they might amount to 20 per cent of the tens of millions of dollars so far spent.

    The losses stem from Burma’s requirement that foreign exchange brought into the country must be changed into government-issued foreign exchange certificates. The FECs are officially at parity with the dollar but in practice trade in the local market at a discount when converted into Burmese kyat to buy local goods and services.

    “FECs trade currently at about 80 cents for every $1 they supposedly represent,” said Sean Turnell, an Australian economist who monitors the Burmese economy from Sydney’s Macquarie University.

    “This means that for every $1 supplied by the international agencies, 20 per cent is automatically unavailable for redemption into goods and services. Shorn of technicalities, a cut of 20 per cent to the regime is built in.”

    Mr Turnell said it was difficult to quantify the actual losses as much of the aid to Burma was supplied in kind rather than in cash. Claims of an overall loss of 20 percent were probably overstated, he said.

    A spokeswoman for Mr Holmes office said the “vast majority” of aid to Burma was purchased outside the country and was not subject to the exchange control anomaly. Any losses would principally be related to salaries and expenses of local aid personnel.

    Mr Holmes this month more than doubled the target of an international disaster appeal for Burma to $482m (£242m, €307m). Some $190m has so far been pledged to support the work of UN agencies and international charities working in Burma.

    Michele Montas, spokeswoman for Ban-Ki-Moon, UN secretary-general, said this week: “There are losses which are implicit in the gap between the street rate and the official foreign exchange certificate rate. Aid agencies and donors alike are concerned about this issue because fewer services then can be purchased.”

    Concerns come when the international community is resuming political pressure on the Burma regime.

    UN Security Council to Discuss Burma

    By LALIT K JHA / UNITED NATIONS Wednesday, July 23, 2008

    NEW YORK — As the United Nations plans to send special envoy Ibrahim Gambari to Burma in September and the Security Council prepares to discuss Burma on Thursday, the US says it will push for a “focused” political approach on Burma.

    "The political track needs to be focused on now, front and center, with regard to Burma," said US Ambassador to the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad.

    Khalilzad stressed the "process" adopted by the military junta to get a new constitution approved was "very much flawed." A group of five Burmese parliamentarians on Monday sent a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the five Permanent Representatives on the Security Council urging the UN to declare Burma’s new constitution illegitimate.

    A UN spokesperson said that Gambari intends to discuss such concerns during his visit to Burma next month.

    Khalilzad said the referendum on the draft constitution did not meet the standards of the Security Council and its presidential statement which the council outlined before the referendum.

    The council’s UN presidential statement asked for the release of all political prisoners including Aung San Suu Kyi, and for a free, fair and transparent process surrounding the referendum. The Burmese junta went ahead with a referendum in the immediate aftermath of Cyclone Nargis that killed more than 130,000 people. Led by the US, the international community called it a sham referendum.

    "That's why we have been of the view that the international system and the UN needs to focus on the political track once again in Burma," Khalilzad said.

    "Because of the terrible humanitarian situation in the aftermath of the cyclone, there was less attention paid to the political process," Khalilzad said. "We think that's vital, and that's why we have been urging the secretary-general to send his special envoy back and to achieve specific progress." 

    Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes arrived in Burma on Tuesday for a three-day visit to assess progress in the aid relief and recovery operations. 

    Holmes visited several affected communities in the Irrawaddy delta on Tuesday during a helicopter tour.

    "He noted that significant progress has been made since his last visit (in May),” said a UN spokesperson. “The focus now needs to be on reaching the most vulnerable communities in remote areas."

    Holmes planned to meet the humanitarian community and donors in Rangoon on Wednesday. He also planned to travel to Naypyidaw, the capital, on Friday for consultations with Burmese officials.


    Mia Farrow Calls for Global Pressure at Olympics for Burma

    By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Friday, July 25, 2008

    BANGKOK — American actress Mia Farrow said Friday the world should use the upcoming Beijing Olympics as a platform for demanding that China end its support for Burma's military junta.

    Farrow also said US President George W Bush missed an opportunity to take a strong stand against China's ties with Burma by agreeing to attend the opening ceremonies of the August 8-24 games.

    American activist and actress Mia Farrow, right, looks on as Noble Peace Laureate Jody Williams speaks as during a news conference at Foreign Correspondents' Club in Bangkok, on Friday. (Photo: AP)
    "If there is enough international pressure and if voices are raised loud enough, we can push China to change its position on Burma," Farrow told The Associated Press in Bangkok. "Using the Olympics Games as tool to effect change is important."

    Bush, who plans to stay in Beijing for the first few days of the Olympics, said earlier this week he was "fired up" to watch some of the competition.

    "I wish that (Bush) had not agreed to attend the Olympics, because that represents a missed opportunity for the United States to stand strong by its own principles," Farrow said. "A statement could have been made by skipping the opening ceremonies."

    China is Burma's most important ally, providing economic, military and other assistance while Western nations shun the military-ruled country because of its poor human rights record and failure to restore democracy. China objects to Western criticisms of Burma's junta, saying conditions in the Southeast Asian country have improved since its violent crackdown on peaceful protests last September.

    "China must use its unique position with Burma—its business alliance, its seat on the (UN) Security Council—not to protect Burma and its own interests, but to effect change and to improve human rights in Burma," Farrow said.

    Farrow has campaigned around the world to urge China to help stop killings in Sudan's western Darfur region. China has been one of Sudan's biggest trading partners, buying oil from the African nation and selling it weapons.

    Farrow held a news conference in Bangkok after visiting the Burma-Thailand border with a delegation from the Nobel Women's Initiative, a group founded by female recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize.

    The actress urged the United Nations and the international community to take action to protect women in Burma from sexual exploitation and abuse in areas hit by a devastating cyclone in May, which killed more than 84,500 people and left 54,000 missing, according to the junta.

    1. Reuter: Myanmar junta gang hits Suu Kyi birthday rally
    2. The Nation: Who will save Burma's women and children? ( by Nilar Thein)
    3. NY Times: The End of Intervention (by MADELEINE K. ALBRIGHT)
    4. The Irrawaddy: Burma’s Bureaucratic Abyss (by YeNi)
    5. UPI Aisa Online: No show trials for Burma’s protestors
    6. Telegraph: Plague of rats devastates Burma villages
    7. NY Times: Burmese Endure in Spite of Junta, Aid Workers Say
    8. The Scotsman: Burmese saved by survival instincts
    9. Washington Post: Frustrated Burmese Organize Aid Forays
    10. ABC News: 'Everything Is Gone, We Have Nothing'

    11. Burma's Elected Representatives want Military Junta before the International Court of Justice
    Myanmar junta gang hits Suu Kyi birthday rally

    By Aung Hla Tun

    Thursday, June 19, 2008; 4:47 AM

    YANGON (Reuters) - Pro-junta thugs broke up a rally by supporters of Myanmar democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi on Thursday, detaining three people among a crowd chanting for her release on her 63rd birthday, a senior opposition member said.

    At least six truckloads of Swan-Arr-Shin, or "Masters of Force," gang members waded into the crowd outside the dilapidated headquarters of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) in the former capital, Yangon, one witness said.

    "We saw some of them slapping and beating NLD members," the witness said. Senior NLD official Win Naing later told Reuters three people had been taken away.

    Police cordoned off roads leading to the rally where the NLD members had shouted slogans demanding freedom for Suu Kyi and more than 1,300 political prisoners believed to be behind bars in the former Burma.

    Suu Kyi's confinement in her lakeside home in Yangon was extended in May despite international pleas to the generals to end her latest stretch of detention, which began in May 2003.

    The Nobel peace laureate has now been confined for nearly 13 of the past 19 years, with her telephone line cut and all visitors barred apart from her cook and occasionally her doctor.


    Her birthday has become an annual ritual inside and outside Myanmar for campaigners seeking an end to the 46 years of military rule that have reduced a once-promising economy and country to an impoverished international pariah.

    Every year, the NLD's ageing leadership releases birds and statements calling for Suu Kyi's freedom and a meaningful transition to democracy.

    Every year, the junta ignores them -- as it does the protests and all-too-familiar statements of outrage and frustration that mark the day outside the country.

    After Cyclone Nargis, which left 134,000 people dead or missing and 2.4 million destitute, campaigners are worried about the international community quietly shelving their icon's plight in a bid to get the junta to open up to outside aid.

    "The U.N. is crawling on its knees before the regime, afraid to speak the truth in case it affects aid access deals which the regime is already breaking," Mark Farmaner of the Burma Campaign UK said last month.

    Washington has imposed ever-tighter sanctions on the generals in a bid to force them into political rapprochement with the NLD, which won a 1990 election landslide only to be denied power.

    The strategy appears merely to have driven the regime further into isolation, as shown by its complete distrust of U.S. offers of ships and military helicopters to ferry aid to Nargis victims in the worst-hit Irrawaddy delta.

    Dozens of people protested outside the Myanmar embassies in Bangkok and Manila, where they carried roses, gift-wrapped boxes and placards.

    In the Indian capital, where Suu Kyi went to school in the early 1960s while her mother was ambassador to New Delhi, police briefly detained more than 50 demonstrators who marched through the streets wearing black "Free Suu Kyi" bandanas.

    (Additional reporting by Manila bureau)

    (Editing by Ed Cropley and Sanjeev Miglani)

    Who will save Burma's women and children?

    We were playing hide and seek. I was looking at her from behind a tree. She was so beautiful, with the prettiest smile on her face, looking for me happily. I couldn't hide anymore. I wanted her to find me. I wanted to hold her in my arms and kiss her face gently. I started to show myself to her, but, suddenly I saw three men -with black coats and ugly faces - watching from the shadows near my daughter. I stepped back. I wanted to be found by my daughter, not by them. I still saw my daughter, still looking for me with her innocent smile. I didn't want to hide anymore. I wanted her to find me, but these men would take me away and put me in hell. Then I woke up, with tears on my cheeks.

    I have been separated from my daughter for nearly ten months. A midnight knock at our door in August last year changed our lives dramatically. The military junta's security forces took my husband Kyaw Min Yu (also known as Jimmy) on the night of August 21, 2007. He is a leader of the prominent dissident group, the 88 Generation Students, comprising former student leaders and former political prisoners. He and other leaders were taken from their homes that night by the authorities. As a former student activist and a former political prisoner myself, I knew very well how my husband and friends would be treated in the junta's interrogation cells. Therefore, when they came back to arrest me, I went into hiding.

    But I must continue to lead the 88 Generation Students with my other colleagues, so that Burma may realise its freedom, and find justice and democracy someday. I must avoid being arrested. However, there are so many difficulties and hardships in moving secretly from one hiding place to another, and I didn't want my daughter to share these hardships. Therefore, I decided to send my three-month-old baby to my parents. Now, I miss her so much.

    My mind wanders to University Avenue, where "the Lady", Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, has been detained under house arrest for so many years. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the world's only imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize recipient, will have to spend her 63rd birthday today alone in detention. She will be missing her two sons, too. Her strength and determination helps me and many women in Burma stand up for justice. I thank her for being with us and leading our movement. She is a great reminder to the world that the military junta that rules our country forcibly separates mothers and children.

    Coincidentally, the UN Security Council will hold a debate in New York today on "Women, Peace and Security". This debate is a discussion of UNSC Resolution 1325, which was passed unanimously in October, 2000. Resolution 1325 "Calls on all parties to armed conflict to take special measures to protect women and girls from gender-based violence, particularly rape and other forms of sexual abuse, and all other forms of violence in situations of armed conflict." It also "Emphasises the responsibility of all States to put an end to impunity and to prosecute those responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes including those relating to sexual violence against women and girls, and in this regard, stresses the need to exclude these crimes, where feasible from amnesty provisions."

    US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice is expected to chair the debate, with many world leaders discussing the development of women, peace and security. Will they discuss Burma? Will they remember Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the women of Burma who are suffering all forms of abuse by the military junta?

    Burma is now in the midst of two conflicts. One is the 50-year-old civil war, raging between the Burmese military and the minority resistance forces, predominately in the eastern part of the country. Burmese troops are raping with impunity tribal women and girls, some as young as eight years old. Burmese soldiers use women in conflict areas as porters to carry their military equipment and supplies during the day, and use them as sex slaves at night. Many women have been brutally killed to erase the evidence of these crimes.

    The other conflict is a 20-year old war, waged by the Burmese junta against its own unarmed citizens, who are calling for freedom, justice and democracy. Women activists are beaten, arrested, tortured and then put in prison for many years. Many female activists are mistreated and sexually assaulted by their interrogators and jailers. Children are used as bait by the authorities to get their mothers arrested. Of the 2.5 million people severely affected by Cyclone Nargis - many of whom the military junta simply left to die through starvation and disease - at least a million are women and girls. Recently, a UN expert said that up to 35,000 pregnant women, all cyclone survivors, are at extreme risk of death. However, they will never receive any care from the military.

    I hope that Secretary of State Rice and other leaders at the UN Security Council will give consideration to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the women of Burma during their debate. Resolution 1325 is a great development, but implementation and enforcement is still in question. When the government itself is the abuser of human rights and the perpetrator of rape and other forms of gender-based violence, who will protect the victims? Who will end their tragedy? Who will secure the joyful reunion of mothers with their children?

    The appeasement policy of some bureaucrats is shameful. Effective and urgent action from the UN Security Council is necessary to help the women in Burma. No more debate. Take action. Please let me be happily reunited with my daughter.

    nilar thein is a former student leader in the 1988 democracy uprising in Burma and spent more than nine years in prison.

    Burma’s Bureaucratic Abyss

    By YENI

    Saturday, June 21, 2008

    The Burmese military government’s recent moves to seal off access to the cyclone survivors in the Irrawaddy delta has proved, once again, how far Burma continues to sink into the sad image of a failed state.
    On June 9 the Burmese generals imposed higher bureaucratic hurdles to prevent aid reaching cyclone victims, issuing strict new guidelines that instruct UN agencies and all other relief groups to first seek permission for travel and aid distribution from three separate government offices.
    Foreigners working with relief agencies must now acquire official permits from each of the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Social Welfare.
    Burmese groups must also deal with local authorities, police and army checkpoints, and frequent requests for backhanded payments.
    The Light Infantry Division 66 and Southwest Command have been handed the task of enforcing regulations and movement at ground level in the delta.
    Meanwhile, soldiers continue to detain individuals "without permits" who brave taking aid to survivors of the May 2-3 storm. Prominent entertainer and political activist Zarganar, who became personally involved in leading relief operations in the delta, was arrested and imprisoned on June 4.
    Likewise, Zaw Thet Hwe, a former sports journal editor, who was distributing aid to cyclone survivors, was arrested on June 14 and, on the same day, seven volunteer aid workers, members of a team known as “The Group that Buries the Dead,” were also arrested after being caught burying victims of Cyclone Nargis.
    To date, the Burmese authorities have not confirmed where the detainees are being held and their respective families have expressed concern about their disappearances. 
    Observers have suggested that their arrests are linked to a continuing trend by overseas Burmese and international supporters to send their donations to grassroots organizations led by respected, trusted persons inside Burma, such as Zarganar, and not to state-run charities.
    The government mouthpiece New Light of Myanmar announced on June 16 that all local donations should be made through the Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Subcommittee of the National Disaster Preparedness Central Committee and its district and township offices.
    Many private donors said they are now discouraged from being involved in relief efforts due to the obstacles created by the military authorities.
    As a result, Buddhist monks again find themselves playing a key role in civil society¬by acting as a conduit between private donors and those in need. Buddhist monasteries have been serving as places of refuge and care ever since the cyclone struck on May 2-3. Neglected by state agencies, cyclone survivors were usually able to find shelter, food, medical care and compassion in local monasteries.
    As a further concern, it is widely feared that Burma's food security will be at risk if farmers in the delta can’t resume growing rice this year. The rice-planting season should have started by early June, when farmers in Burma typically plow their fields with water buffalo and prepare to plant new seeds for the October harvest. But time is running out, experts warn.
    The Burmese regime’s incessant foot-dragging and bureaucratic obstacles are blocking the capacity for people in the delta to recover. Now there are real fears that a fresh stream of refugees will start seeking a better life in Thailand in the near future.
    The regime's imprudent actions are leading an already impoverished country downhill into a socio-economic abyss.

    June 11, 2008
    Op-Ed Contributor

    The End of Intervention


    THE Burmese government’s criminally neglectful response to last month’s cyclone, and the world’s response to that response, illustrate three grim realities today: totalitarian governments are alive and well; their neighbors are reluctant to pressure them to change; and the notion of national sovereignty as sacred is gaining ground, helped in no small part by the disastrous results of the American invasion of Iraq. Indeed, many of the world’s necessary interventions in the decade before the invasion — in places like Haiti and the Balkans — would seem impossible in today’s climate.

    The first and most obvious reality is the survival of totalitarian government in an age of global communications and democratic progress. Myanmar’s military junta employs the same set of tools used by the likes of Stalin to crush dissent and monitor the lives of citizens. The needs of the victims of Cyclone Nargis mean nothing to a regime focused solely on preserving its own authority.

    Second is the unwillingness of Myanmar’s neighbors to use their collective leverage on behalf of change. A decade ago, when Myanmar was allowed to join the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, I was assured by leaders in the region that they would push the junta to open its economy and move in the direction of democracy. With a few honorable exceptions, this hasn’t happened.

    A third reality is that the concept of national sovereignty as an inviolable and overriding principle of global law is once again gaining ground. Many diplomats and foreign policy experts had hoped that the fall of the Berlin Wall would lead to the creation of an integrated world system free from spheres of influence, in which the wounds created by colonial and cold war empires would heal.

    In such a world, the international community would recognize a responsibility to override sovereignty in emergency situations — to prevent ethnic cleansing or genocide, arrest war criminals, restore democracy or provide disaster relief when national governments were either unable or unwilling to do so.

    During the 1990s, certain precedents were created. The administration of George H. W. Bush intervened to prevent famine in Somalia and to aid Kurds in northern Iraq; the Clinton administration returned an elected leader to power in Haiti; NATO ended the war in Bosnia and stopped Slobodan Milosevic’s campaign of terror in Kosovo; the British halted a civil war in Sierra Leone; and the United Nations authorized life-saving missions in East Timor and elsewhere.

    These actions were not steps toward a world government. They did reflect the view that the international system exists to advance certain core values, including development, justice and respect for human rights. In this view, sovereignty is still a central consideration, but cases may arise in which there is a responsibility to intervene — through sanctions or, in extreme cases, by force — to save lives.

    The Bush administration’s decision to fight in Afghanistan after 9/11 did nothing to weaken this view because it was clearly motivated by self-defense. The invasion of Iraq, with the administration’s grandiose rhetoric about pre-emption, was another matter, however. It generated a negative reaction that has weakened support for cross-border interventions even for worthy purposes. Governments, especially in the developing world, are now determined to preserve the principle of sovereignty, even when the human costs of doing so are high.

    Thus, Myanmar’s leaders have been shielded from the repercussions of their outrageous actions. Sudan has been able to dictate the terms of multinational operations inside Darfur. The government of Zimbabwe may yet succeed in stealing a presidential election.

    Political leaders in Pakistan have told the Bush administration to back off, despite the growth of Al Qaeda and Taliban cells in the country’s wild northwest. African leaders (understandably perhaps) have said no to the creation of a regional American military command. And despite recent efforts to enshrine the doctrine of a “responsibility to protect” in international law, the concept of humanitarian intervention has lost momentum.

    The global conscience is not asleep, but after the turbulence of recent years, it is profoundly confused. Some governments will oppose any exceptions to the principle of sovereignty because they fear criticism of their own policies. Others will defend the sanctity of sovereignty unless and until they again have confidence in the judgment of those proposing exceptions.

    At the heart of the debate is the question of what the international system is. Is it just a collection of legal nuts and bolts cobbled together by governments to protect governments? Or is it a living framework of rules intended to make the world a more humane place?

    We know how the government of Myanmar would answer that question, but what we need to listen to is the voice — and cry — of the Burmese people.

    Madeleine K. Albright was the United States secretary of state from 1997 to 2001.

    Plague of rats devastates Burma villages

    After the fury of Cyclone Nargis, a new disaster looms in Burma: packs of rats that swarm through the hills once every 50 years have consumed everything in their path, reducing thousands of poor farmers to the verge of starvation.

    Plagues of rats are decimating crops in remote areas of Burma, already suffering from the effects of cyclone Nargis
    The rat plague strikes twice a century, when the bamboo forests flower
    The bamboo, which flowers once every 48 years, causes a surge in the Burmese rat population
    Villagers believe the bamboo seeds are a rodent aphrodisiac
    Burma's latest human disaster is unfolding almost unseen by the outside world in the jungle-covered mountains of Chin State, far to the north of the Irrawaddy Delta where 134,000 people died last month.

    The plague of rats happens twice a century when bamboo forests produce flowers and seeds, then wither and die for five years in a phenomenom locally known as mautam or bamboo death. Villagers believe the bamboo seeds are a kind of aphrodisiac for the rodents, whose numbers explode until all the seeds have been eaten. Then they turn on villagers' rice stocks, stripping ripening corn and paddy in the fields and even digging up seeds at night after farmers plant them.

    The regime's generals will permit no food aid or humanitarian workers into affected areas of the strategically important region in a repeat of their callous refusal last month to permit emergency aid sitting in foreign ships off Burma's coast to be distributed to cyclone survivors.

    Exiled Chin leaders say that villagers who are too weak to flee over the border with India have already begun to die. They fear that thousands more now face a lingering death in the deep bamboo forests where most of the state's million-strong population of Christian tribal people live far from roads or towns.

    The Chin, one of Burma's many minority ethnic groups, are under the brutal rule of occupying soldiers from the Burma Army who terrorise civilians and sporadically fight Chin guerrillas. The soldiers have made the food shortage worse by stealing rice and forcing villagers to work as conscripted labourers. Cheery Zahau, 27, from the Women's League of Chinland, met William Hague and Gordon Brown in London this week to ask for British help.

    She said: "The reports that are trickling out to India are heartbreaking. They tell of dehydrated children dying of diarrhoea and the poorest and weakest being left behind as stronger villagers start to escape over the border to where there is food. We don't really know what is happening deep inside Chin State where there are no telephones or roads. We fear that thousands will die if no help is made available."

    Villagers roast rats they catch on sticks, but that food source rapidly disappears when the rodents have eaten everything in the village and move on.

    In Mizoram State in India and the Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh, similar rat plagues in the last few months have also stripped fields bare after the flowering of the Melocanna Baccifera bamboo. Unlike Burma those governments have put work and food programmes in place to aid villagers.

    Benny Manser, 24, a photographer from Aylesbury, slipped across the international border from Mizoram State last month to visit affected villages.

    He said: "We saw stick-thin children and old women who hardly had the strength left to dig up roots to eat. Villagers were telling of vast packs of rats, thousands strong, which would turn up overnight out of the bamboo thickets and eat everything in sight."

    Burmese Endure in Spite of Junta, Aid Workers Say

    Rapport, for The New York Times

    Kyi Kyi Aye, 51, pumped water late last month from one of the few remaining wells in her town near Yangon, Myanmar, after a cyclone devastated the country.

    Published: June 18, 2008

    YANGON, Myanmar — More than six weeks have passed since Cyclone Nargis swept through the Irrawaddy Delta in southern Myanmar, leaving a trail of flattened villages and broken lives and arousing international sympathy that turned to anguish as the military government obstructed foreign aid.

    Burmese saved by survival instincts


    SEVEN weeks have passed since Cyclone Nargis swept through the Irrawaddy Delta in southern Burma, leaving a trail of flattened villages and broken lives and arousing international sympathy that turned to anguish as the military government obstructed foreign aid.
    While it is estimated that the cyclone may have killed 130,000 people, the number of lives lost subsequently is much lower than at first feared, in part because of the resilience of villagers used to coping with a brutal junta.

    Reports from Burma,ADVERTISEMENTobtained despite heavy media restrictions which don't allow this journalist to give their name, find relief workers continuing to criticise the government's secretive posture. They say the main problems include an obsession with security, restrictions on foreign aid experts, and weeks of dawdling that has left bloated bodies befouling waterways and survivors marooned with little food. But the specific character of the cyclone, the hardiness of villagers and aid efforts by private citizens have helped prevent further death and sickness, according to aid workers.

    Most of the people killed by the cyclone, which struck on May 2-3, drowned. But those who survived were not likely to need urgent medical attention, doctors have said.

    "We saw very, very few serious injuries," said Frank Smithuis, manager of the mission of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Burma. "You were dead or you were in OK shape."

    The cyclone swept away bamboo huts throughout the delta; in the hardest hit villages, it left almost no trace of habitation. Some survivors carried away by floods found themselves many miles from home when the waters receded. But those who survived were not likely to be injured in the aftermath by falling rocks or collapsing buildings, as often happens during natural disasters, like the recent earthquake in China.

    That appears to be the primary reason villagers were able to stay alive for weeks without aid. As they waited, the survivors, most of whom were fishermen and farmers, lived off of coconuts, rotten rice and fish. "The Burmese people are used to getting nothing," said Shari Villarosa, the highest-ranking US diplomat in Burma. "I'm not getting the sense that there have been a lot of deaths as a result of the delay."

    The United States has accused the military government of "criminal neglect" in its handling of the disaster caused by the cyclone. Privately, many aid workers have, too.

    But relief workers say the debate over access for foreigners and the refusal of the government to allow in military helicopters and ships from the US, France and Britain overshadowed a substantial relief operation carried out mainly by Burmese citizens and monks. They organised convoys of trucks filled with drinking water, clothing, food and construction materials that poured into the delta.

    "It's been overwhelmingly impressive what local organisations, medical groups and some businessmen have done," said Ruth Bradley Jones, second secretary in the British Embassy in Rangoon, Burma's largest city. "They are the true heroes of the relief effort."

    Aid workers emphasise that of the estimated 2.4 million Burmese seriously affected by the storm, thousands remain vulnerable to sickness and many are still without adequate food, shelter and supplies.

    But their ailments are, for now, minor. Medical logs from MSF show that of the 30,000 people the group's workers treated in the six weeks after the cyclone, most had flesh wounds, diarrhoea or respiratory infections.

    For several weeks after the disaster, the government prevented all but a small number of foreigners from entering the delta. Now a more comprehensive picture of the damage is being assembled by a team of 250 officials led by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The officials plan to release their findings this week.

    The number of people killed in the storm may never be known. The government has not updated its toll since May 16, when it said 77,738 people were killed and 55,917 were missing.

    In a country that has not had a full census in decades, it is not even certain how many people had been living in the area before the storm. Itinerant people who worked in the salt marshes and shrimp farms were probably not counted among the dead, aid workers say.

    But it is clear that in many villages, women and children died in disproportionate numbers, said Osamu Kunii, chief of the health and nutrition section of Unicef in Burma.

    "Only people who could endure the tidal surge and high winds could survive," Kunii said. In one village of 700, all children under the age of seven died, he said.

    With only minimal food supplies in villages, aid workers say, delta residents will require aid until at least the end of the year. The United Nations, after weeks of haggling with Burma's government for permission to provide assistance, is now using 10 helicopters to deliver supplies to hard-to-reach places and alerting relief experts at the earliest sign of disease outbreaks.

    Still, the military government continues to make it difficult for aid agencies to operate. Earlier this month, the government issued a directive that accused foreign aid agencies and the United Nations of having "deviated from the normal procedures". The government imposed an extra layer of approvals for travel into the delta, effectively requiring that all foreigners be accompanied by government officials.


    Frustrated Burmese Organize Aid Forays
    Ad Hoc Groups Formed In Cyclone's Aftermath, But Causes May Widen

    Washington Post Foreign Service
    Saturday, June 21, 2008; A01

    RANGOON -- Seven weeks after huge swaths of Burma were savaged by a cyclone and tidal wave, a new and remarkable citizen movement is delivering emergency supplies to survivors neglected by the military government's haphazard relief effort.

    The scores of ad hoc Burmese groups, many of them based here in the country's largest city, are not overtly political. But they are reviving a kind of social activism that has been largely repressed by successive military rulers here.

    Defying roadblocks and bureaucratic obstruction, volunteers have reached devastated villages in many parts of the Irrawaddy Delta, dropping off food, drinking water and other essentials and bringing back photos that contradict claims in the state media that life is returning to normal.

    Some members of the groups say they hope to keep working together when the cyclone damage is finally repaired and turn toward other activities that carry shades of political activism in this tightly controlled state.

    With residents' frustration over the official relief effort mounting, pledges of support and donations to the National League for Democracy, the main opposition group in Burma, also called Myanmar, have doubled since the cyclone, according to a student leader of the league.

    The storm, which came ashore on the night of May 2-3, killed an estimated 134,000 people and created severe hardship for 2.4 million more. The country's deeply xenophobic junta turned aside many offers of foreign help, agreeing to let in substantial numbers of international aid workers only after U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon flew to the country May 22 with a personal appeal.

    By then, however, homegrown groups were already mobilized, working to offset the tragic shortcomings of the government operation.

    Down a street lined with gold and ruby merchants, where dealers charm clients over tiny tables set with tea and chess, employees in the back room of a gem shop one recent morning were swapping evidence: photos of rotten government food handouts.

    A week earlier, people in the shops said, more than a dozen local jewelers had loaded 100 bags of rice, 20 bags of beans, tarpaulins and blankets onto a truck donated by a supplier and set off at midnight for the storm-ravaged town of Labutta.

    They returned with photos of homeless villagers lining up for tins of food at a makeshift camp, a tear-stained boy who, they said, had lost his entire family to the storm's fierce tidal surge, and rotten rice -- yellow, fist-size chunks of it, piled like rocks in bags donated by the government-affiliated Myanmar Red Cross.

    "When I saw what they were being fed, I was shaking I was so angry," said a shop assistant, 26, narrating each photo as she passed it to a customer.

    The informal organizations are often based on occupation. Artists, doctors, students and the gem dealers have formed separate groups. In other cases, the groups are made up of friends coming together to help.

    A 27-year-old lawyer trainee said he and five friends were furious when they tried to distribute supplies around the ruined town of Bogalay about a week after the cyclone but were turned away by local authorities who told them they needed a permit.

    "They say they are giving these things to the people, but we know they aren't," he said, pointing at a photo in the state daily newspaper, the Mirror, that showed a relief camp with neat rows of tents and tables laden with food. "We know not to believe them."

    In the weeks immediately after the cyclone, a doctor recounted, he closed his private medical clinic for twice-weekly trips to the delta with others. There, they noticed local officials shooing away desperate children, many of them orphaned or suffering storm-related trauma.

    So the doctors, four of whom are pediatricians, tried to entertain the children to keep their minds occupied. They held a sanitation workshop after noticing that there were no visible efforts to instruct people in basic hygiene.

    "The Ministry of Health is trying, but they're not effective, not organized," the physician said.

    Like many other residents, the doctor can't afford to take many more days off work, but he still meets with the group every week. He said he hopes to translate the momentum of its cyclone relief work into other efforts, operating under cover of medicine.

    "I'm not political; I'm a community-based activist," the doctor said, when asked how his group could keep working and turn from cyclone relief to other activities, such as organizing debates on health care.

    "Now we're seeing the time of civil society. Now thousands of small groups are helping any way they can," said a magazine editor, who pooled funds with other journalists and artists in the hope of purchasing 1,000 shortwave radios so delta survivors could receive uncensored foreign news broadcasts. In the end, the group could afford only 50 but managed to distribute them in villages.

    The back page of the Mirror and the New Light of Myanmar daily tells readers that "everybody may make donations freely . . . to any person or any area." But nearly a dozen people interviewed offered firsthand or secondhand tales of confiscation or obstruction by local authorities.

    A surgeon said he and his group of medical and psychology students were prevented from handing out food at a monastery near the town of Dedaye to about 1,000 refugees who had been sheltering inside. A general there wanted to be seen to hand out the food first, the surgeon said.

    A lawyer said he had set out on a relief trip to the delta town of Kyunpangong with five friends, but every box of goods they brought was opened and searched in front of them.

    "If I had the chance, I'd occupy the whole delta and put up a sign to the authorities that reads 'Don't come here,' " said a Rangoon monk who is active in medical work. "So many people are waiting to get aid from the government, but they're having to rely instead on private donors."

    In five relief expeditions to the delta or ravaged areas around Rangoon, he said, he saw military troops and police patrolling roads or monitoring checkpoints but not once helping survivors.

    Since the cyclone, three people have been arrested on charges of taking photographs of the cyclone-ravaged areas and sending them to foreign news sites, and one person for marching to the offices of the U.N. Development Program to complain about government neglect, according to a lawyer monitoring their cases.

    Though some private groups are keeping up their relief efforts, others are running out of steam -- and money.

    Under monsoon skies one recent afternoon, porters loaded a boat berthed in Rangoon with rattan baskets of cloth, children's pajamas and bags of rice. It was sailing to the delta under the auspices of a prominent Buddhist abbot. On its previous trip, the owners had offered the boat for free. This time, said a monk directing the loading, the owner was charging.

    Nearby, in a single-room apartment, 16 current and former university students crowded around a surgeon who was writing notes on a blackboard in preparation for another crack-of-dawn trip to the delta.

    Later the surgeon remarked: "I think the government made a huge mistake. If they were seen to care, people would have forgiven them for the past 20 years."

    U Ohn Than holds a solitary protest in front of the U.S. Embassy in Rangoon, Burma, on Aug. 23, 2007. His sign calls for U.N. intervention in Burma, among other things.
    Hong Kong, China — Nearly a week ago, the Asian Human Rights Commission issued an appeal on behalf of U Ohn Than, who is imprisoned in Kanti in upper Burma. The 60-year-old was among the few who protested last August against the government’s unannounced dramatic increase in fuel prices, precipitating the historic monk-led revolt in September.

    Ohn Than went out alone, standing opposite the U.S. Embassy in the center of Rangoon with a placard that called for United Nations’ intervention and pleaded for the armed forces and police to join in efforts to topple the junta.

    His protest did not last long. Within a few minutes an unidentified vehicle pulled up and a group of men threw him inside and drove away. For the public, that was it. For Ohn Than, it was only the beginning.

    Ohn Than was not taken to a police station, as required by Burma’s penal code, but to a special army barracks that was used to house thousands, similarly detained without charge or procedure, in the coming days and weeks. He was kept there, a non-detainee in a non-prison.

    Several months later, at the end of January, Ohn Than was finally charged with sedition, which requires that the prosecutor prove that Ohn Than had provoked “hatred or contempt” for the government, or had attempted to “excite disaffection” toward it.

    Under other circumstances, this may be a difficult task, but Ohn Than was tried in a closed court, unable to present witnesses, and was denied a lawyer, making the prosecutor’s job less onerous.

    Still, Ohn Than did his best to argue a case, cross-examining nine witnesses, all of them state officials and government thugs, and asking questions that were consequently struck from the record when the judge found them impertinent.

    In his defense, Ohn Than said that he had not intended to incite hatred toward the state and pointed out that the wording of his silently-held placard was simply calling for democracy instead of dictatorship, and for the armed forces to uphold their dignity by siding with the people.

    He also noted that a government-backed group had held a rally near the same spot in February. None of the hundred or so that had gathered had been charged with any offence. He had assumed that he had the right to do as they did.

    In the end, it seemed Ohn Than’s words were of no import. The judge skipped lightly over the facts and handed down the required sentence.

    Dictators have long relied upon pliable judiciaries to deal with political opponents or former allies, and in this respect Burmese courts are unremarkable. Still, whereas in many countries the courts have been used for rehearsed public performances of justice, it is not the case in Burma.

    In Moscow, show trials under Stalin were highly scripted; in Beijing, the Gang of Four trial was an important part of a public and political catharsis. In each case, the performances were paramount. The law mattered little.

    What is striking about the trials in Burma today is that neither the performance nor the law matters. They go on without fanfare or outside interest for no purpose other than the illegal imprisonment of persons who were already illegally imprisoned, without anyone to witness their parodies of justice other than the performers themselves.

    Ultimately, it is this lack of audience that makes these trials particularly disturbing. Unable to operate with integrity, Burma’s courts do not even serve as a locale shaping and exhibiting state propaganda. Their judgments, having been stripped of both coherence and relevance, are disinterested in the police’s attention to the law, the presence of the prosecutor’s evidence, or the defendant’s defense. There is no sound, no fury, and no significance.

    The significance of U Ohn Than’s case, then, is its absence. For a few fleeting moments, Ohn Than was visible on the streets outside the embassy. There was no other opportunity: no television camera recorded his testimony to the court; no newspaper declared in print the passing of his life sentence. His was the role of an actor in an uncelebrated farce, a farce repeated daily.


    (Awzar Thi is the pen name of a member of the Asian Human Rights Commission with over 15 years of experience as an advocate of human rights and the rule of law in Thailand and Burma. His Rule of Lords blog can be read at


    'Everything Is Gone, We Have Nothing'

    Five Weeks After Cyclone Nargis Struck Myanmar, a Reporter Finds the Burmese Still Desperate for Help

    The following dispatch was written for ABC News by a journalist who has been inside Myanmar. Out of concern for the reporter's safety, we are not revealing the author's name.

    This photo taken on May 25, 2008 shows a cyclone-affected family living in temporary accommodation sheltering from the rain in the Shwepoukkan area of Yangon.
    (Khin Muang Win, AFP/Getty Images)

    Downed trees line the streets, their massive roots shooting into the air and their trunks blocking traffic. Repair crews trim large branches that have fallen into the streets. Piles of refuse sit untouched in front of dilapidated commercial buildings. And the city's proud pagodas show damage from the storm, their golden spires bent toward the earth, snapped in half by powerful winds.

    Indeed, the deadly effects of cyclone Nargis, which tore through Myanmar more than a month ago, are clearly on display here in Yangon, the country's largest city. More than 134,000 people are estimated to have died in Myanmar, also known as Burma, and more than a million survivors remain, many of whom still lack proper food, water and shelter.

    Foreign journalists are prohibited from entering this repressive country, which is ruled by a hardline military regime. But I'm posing as a tourist, reporting surreptitiously on the state of the country in the wake of the world's worst natural disaster since the 2004 Asian tsunami.

    But unlike the tsunami, when the world saw the damage thanks to open media coverage -- and when governments throughout the region allowed relief groups to provide aid unfettered -- Myanmar's junta has allowed only limited access to the hardest-hit areas. Some say the government is blocking aid outright -- or simply confiscating it.

    The isolated leadership, fearful and paranoid of outside influences, has been reluctant to allow access. That's why today, more than a month after the disaster, people here -- people who had little to begin with -- now have nothing at all.

    I've made my way to the outskirts of Yangon, to a region in the northeast called Dagon Myothit. As my taxi driver and I bounce along the rutted road in his ancient sedan, I begin to see lines of wooden shacks that were pummeled by Nargis.

    Some dwellings lack roofs altogether. Others have walls that have crumbled under the weight of the storm. Some houses are flooded and muddy water laps through the single-room dwellings.

    All around, residents simply mill about. The ones who are lucky enough to have funds to purchase supplies have patched up their roofs with blue tarpaulins. But many houses remain as damaged as they were when the storm first hit.

    We come to a particularly hard-hit area: the road is pure mud, and most of the homes are either washed away entirely or are barely standing. "Hello, welcome, would you like to interview me?" a man says. A hunched fellow with white hair, perhaps 60 or 65 years old, approaches me. "Look, everything is gone," he says. "We have nothing. Come talk to us."

    He leads me to an open-air building where people have gathered to escape the sprinkling rain. He is a former English teacher.

    People gather and begin telling me their stories. One woman says her house is gone. Children stare at me, expressionless. A man with spiky black hair shows me his shirt, which is soaking wet. "He says he's wet from the rain, since he has no roof," the old man says.

    We walk toward the man's house -- or what's left of it. It's simply a tiny wooden frame. The floor is wood. The man gestures toward it, "I have nothing," he says. "I have nothing." Another man tells me that his house has similarly been destroyed, and that two of his four sisters have perished in another part of the country.

    Many of the villagers sleep in a nearby school at night. The woman who runs the school says they shelter some 980 people every evening.

    The villagers say an international aid group gave them the equivalent of $50 per household to rebuild, but they've used that money for food and water. Other people in Yangon tell me that the government refuses to give them donated aid, or makes villages buy it.

    Dagon Myothit isn't even the hardest-hit area of Myanmar. The delta, in the south, has been ravaged, with more casualties and more damage.

    Back in the taxi, on the way back into the city, my driver tells me that ever since the harrowing night of the cyclone, he's afraid to go to bed. "There was water up to my chest, but I lived," he says. "Now I can't sleep at night."


    1. NLD: Special Statement
    2. HRW: Concerned Governments Should Press for Zargana's Release
    3. Mizzima News: Junta shuts down pro-opposition monastery
    4. Washington Post: Burma Gives 'Cronies' Slice of Storm Relief
    5. Burma cyclone impacting world food supply; forced evictions make post-cyclone hell worse
    REUTERS: Cyclone raises tuberculosis risks in Myanmar: WHO
    7. AFP: Cyclone dead' wash ashore on distant Burma beach

    National League for Democracy
    No. 97 (b), West Shwegondine Street
    Bahan Township, Yangon

    10 June 2008

    Special Statement 13/06/08
    (Unofficial Translation)

    1.      In accordance with the Pyithu Hluttaw Election Law and the authorities’ promises after the 1990 General Election in Burma, “the Union of Myanmar Draft Constitution,” for which a referendum was conducted in Burma on 10 and 24 May 2008, was drafted illegally.   As per the Pyithu Hluttaw Election Law, the Members of Parliament elected in the 1990 General Election by the people of Burma were legally responsible for drafting the constitution.   Instead, “the Union of Myanmar Draft Constitution” was written solely by handpicked representatives and associates of the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC).  Officially and legally elected Members of Parliament, let alone citizens, were prohibited from reviewing or discussing the content of this constitution.  The drafting process did not provide any opportunities for political parties, ethnic nationality groups, or democratic organizations to review or critique the constitution.

    2.      The above mentioned facts directly contradict the following laws and statements issued by the authorities:

    a)      Section 3 of the Pyithu Hluttaw Election Law, issued with the Law Number 14/89 by the authorities on 31 May 1989, states that: “Hluttaw [Assembly] must be formed with the Hluttaw representatives who have been elected.

    b)      Paragraph 12 of Statement 1/90, issued by the authorities on 27 July 1990, states that: “Section 3 of the Pyithu Hluttaw Election Law requires Hluttaw to be formed with the elected representatives of the Hluttaw from the respective constituencies.  According to this provision, the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) will be held responsible for convening the Hluttaw.”

    c)      Paragraph 20 of Statement 1/90, issued by the authorities on 27 July 1990, states that: “under the present circumstances, the representatives elected by the people are those who have the responsibility to draft the constitution for the future democratic state.”

    3.      Prior to the referendum, the draft constitution’s content was not explained to or discussed with voters through State media sources, such as the daily newspaper or radio and television programming.  The draft constitution was not for sale or available for people to read and study it throughout many State and Division townships.  The draft constitution was issued without collecting or incorporating people's recommendations and requests and solely for approval. More importantly, the authorities held the referendum one month after releasing the draft constitution, which provided an extremely short timeframe for people to study the entire constitution.  Authorities systematically managed this process so that they could gain support for the draft constitution through injustice force.  

    4.      During the fourteen (14) year National Convention period, the Chairman of the Working Committee of the National Convention determined and detailed the principles for the constitution.  This same person then became the Chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee and drafted the constitution based on the principles he established.  This same person then became the Chairman of the Referendum Convening Commission, allowing him to commit unjust and biased acts.  Other members of the Referendum Convening Commission had also participated in the National Convention or in the constitution drafting. This process was not fair or acceptable for the people.  The Referendum Convening Commission was not an independent organization but instead was completely influenced by the SPDC.

    5.      Authorities violated their own Referendum Law and Technical Law by using blackmail, threats, cheating, misinformation, coercion, and persuasion to obtain votes supporting the constitution.  Authorities also disregarded the principle rule of a referendum: a secret voting system.  According to reports and documents submitted to the headquarters by State, Division, Township, and Ward/Village Organizational Committees, important facts are as follows:

    a)      Authorities at all administrative levels as well as their supporting organizations had the right to organize people and propagate information freely.  However, NLD members were restricted and harassed.  NLD pamphlets and statements were seized, and NLD members were interrogated, threatened, and arrested using Law Number 5/96 and Referendum Law.

    b)      Advanced voting ballots were distributed by each polling station, and the results were fixed and controlled to secure supporting votes.  Advanced voting ballots were collected from civil servants, workers, civilians and Cyclone Nargis victims, which violated the provision in the Referendum Law that only granted advanced voting privileges to people who had to travel, were sick, were disabled, or were elderly.

    c)      People who wanted to vote against the constitution faced many threats from authorities including but not limited to: a three year prison sentence and a 300,000 kyat fine, trial, confiscation of their farms and their businesses, being fired from their jobs, being expelled from school, and being required to report how other people voted.

    d)      Police officers in uniform and members of organizations supported by authorities were present at various polling stations.

    e)      Police officers permitted voters who wanted to cast “Yes” votes and prevented voting by people who wanted to cast “No” votes.

    f)        Voters were forced to vote using pre-marked “Yes” ballots.

    g)      One family/household member was required to cast votes on behalf of the entire family/household

    h)      One person representing the authorities cast votes on behalf of a large group of people formed by the authorities.

    i)        Polling station and Referendum Commission staff cast “Yes” votes for some voters.

    j)        Commission members cast additional “Yes” votes in the ballot boxes.

    k)      Some polling stations closed early and prior to 4:00pm, which was prohibited by the Referendum Law.

    l)        The people were prevented from seeing the counting of “Yes” votes, “No” votes, and invalid votes at all levels of the commissions.

    m)    At some polling stations, “No” votes were burned or destroyed

    6.      Section 23 of Chapter 9 of the Referendum Law states that: “after the Referendum, the Commission must announce the Referendum result by combining and accounting for votes by all eligible votes at all locations.”  However, the Referendum Commission declared the result on 15 May 2008 by issuing Statement Number 10/2008, which stated that: “The result of the previous referendum was 92.4 percent supportive votes.”  This statement disregarded the Referendum Law, as it was announced before the referendum was held for the people living in the forty-seven (47) Townships affected by Cyclone Nargis. 

    7.      The record and list of eligible voters was collected before Cyclone Nargis.  However, that list was no longer valid after the storm devastated the seven (7) Irrawaddy Division Townships on 2 and 3 May 2008 and left thousands of people dead and missing.  The Cyclone also destroyed many national identity cards.  The authorities did not revise their list of eligible voters; thus, the “Yes” votes in Irrawaddy Division cannot be vindicated.

    8.      The referendum does not represent the real will of the people, as it was neither free nor fair.  A constitution is a contract between the ruler and the ruled.  In this respect, because the referendum is not representative of the people’s free will, its results are automatically nullified according to international law and standards.  A contract cannot be ratified based on unlawful acts.

    9.      The Referendum Convening Commission issued Statement 12/2008 on 26 May 2008 and declared the referendum’s result approving ‘the Union of Myanmar Draft Constitution.’  The State Peace and Development Council issued Statement 7/2008 on 29 May 2008 declaring that ‘the Union of Myanmar Constitution’ was approved.  However, these declarations were not legal or lawful, as the referendum violated provisions in the above mentioned laws and statements.  The National League for Democracy, mandated by the people during the free and fair 1990 General Election in accordance with the Pyithu Hluttaw Election Law, does not accept ‘the Union of Myanmar Constitution.’ 

    As per the decision in the meeting of the Central Executive Committee held on 6 June 2008.

    Central Executive Committee
    National League for Democracy

    (Unofficial Translation)

    Human Rights Watch

    Burma: Free Celebrity Activist Critical of Aid Response

    Concerned Governments Should Press for Zargana's Release

    (New York, June 13, 2008) – Burma’s military government should immediately free detained activist Zargana and permit him to continue distributing aid unhindered to communities affected by Cyclone Nargis, Human Rights Watch said today.

    To arrest one of Burma’s most famous public figures for talking to the media at the time he was distributing aid shows the Burmese government is more concerned with controlling its citizens than assisting them.
    Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch

    Zargana, a famous comedian and social activist in Burma, was arrested on June 4 after giving interviews to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and the exile magazine The Irrawaddy about shortcomings in the government’s aid efforts and the slow response by United Nations agencies.

    “To arrest one of Burma’s most famous public figures for talking to the media at the time he was distributing aid shows the Burmese government is more concerned with controlling its citizens than assisting them,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Countries genuinely concerned about Burma should be pressing the government for Zargana’s immediate release.”

    During his arrest, officials searched Zargana’s house, seizing foreign currency and videos of the cyclone and the September 2007 protests in Rangoon. He is reportedly being held and questioned at an interrogation center in downtown Rangoon. Zargana’s network of more than 400 volunteers had reached some villages affected by the cyclone and had been distributing urgently needed food aid.

    Zargana, the performing name of Maung Thura, was previously detained for a year following the 1988 pro-democracy demonstrations in Burma. In 1990, the authorities jailed him for four years for making political speeches, and they have routinely harassed him by banning some of his movies and performances. For instance, the health ministry stopped a planned public health benefit involving Zargana and others on World AIDS Day on December 1, 2006 at a clinic for people living with HIV.

    Police arrested Zargana again in September 2007 for publicly supporting the protests by monks, and detained him for 20 days. During his detention in 2007, Zargana was initially detained at the City Hall, but authorities subsequently moved him to Thanlyin, the Government Technical Institute, and then Insein Prison. Upon his release, Zargana told Human Rights Watch about the experience. He believed he was moved frequently to keep him out of contact with other prisoners. In Insein Prison, Zargana was held in solitary confinement in the so-called “War Dog” compound. The compound, which has nine cells, has been used for holding other prominent political prisoners such as activist from the ’88 Generation student movement, Than Tin, and National League for Democracy member, Myint Soe.

    Zargana’s cell in 2007 was cramped (7 feet by 7 feet), poorly ventilated, isolated and guarded by some 30 dogs. Zargana slept on a thin mat on the floor. The iron bar door was covered with a large steel plate with only a small opening at the bottom of the cell. Zargana could not see or hear anything. A 40-watt light bulb in the room came on infrequently throughout the night, attracting mosquitoes. Burmese authorities held Zargana there for eight days, and did not permit him to bathe until the fourth day of his detention. There was no toilet or water – Zargana had to relieve himself on a tray. When it became full, he tried to urinate under the door, but the dogs tried to bite him.

    Upon his release, Zargana spoke with foreign journalists and was subsequently re-detained for several days.

    On October 28, 2007, the authorities compelled him to sign a pledge stating he would not talk to the media as a condition of his release. It is widely believed that authorities are holding Zargana for breaking this pledge in speaking to the BBC. Human Rights Watch expressed concern that Zargana could be subjected to the same deplorable prison conditions now, and urged governments to press the Burmese authorities to immediately release him. Zargana’s family has been unable to visit him since his arrest. It is unclear if the authorities have filed any charges against him.

    In 1991, Zargana received the Hellman/Hammett Prize, given by the Fund for Free Expression, a committee organized by Human Rights Watch.

    Since the visit of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the international pledging conference on May 25 in Rangoon, the Burmese government has eased visa restrictions for personnel from UN agencies and international humanitarian agencies to permit them to enter Rangoon. However the government has been inconsistent in its approach to aid, allowing some aid and workers into the Irrawaddy Delta region while blocking others, including some Burmese individuals and groups (

    “The outrageous arrest of Zargana, for speaking the truth about government hindrance of aid to cyclone victims, makes a mockery of the claim that handing out of a few visas is a ‘breakthrough,’” said Adams.

    Junta shuts down pro-opposition monastery

    Mizzima News
    Saturday, 14 June 2008 18:05

    The Burmese military junta authorities sealed a pro-opposition Buddhist monastery in Rangoon yesterday.

    The township chairman and security forces arrived at the Sasana Theikpan monastery compound of Chauk Htut Gyi pagoda, Bahan Township on Friday morning and told monks they would close the monastery until an official announcement by the new head of monastery was made.

    Security forces told the monks that they had come with an order from the Rangoon military commander Brigadier General Hla Htay Win.

    "They locked the door of the monastery with a lock they brought with them at 5 p.m. yesterday," a monk from Sasana Theikpan told Mizzima.

    The monk believed that it was a ruse and he did not expect the monastery to be reopened. Three monks of Sansana Theikpan are taking temporary shelter in two nearby monasteries.

    The former head of the Sasana Theikpan monastery died recently and dozens of pro-democracy opposition activists attended the funeral service on June 7 even as the authorities monitored the funeral service.

    About a hundred pro-government civil militia of the Swan Arr Shin and members of Union Solidarity Development Association were standing by to crackdown, activists told Mizzima.

    Buddhist monasteries were raided and some were sealed during and after monks led a mass uprising against the government in September 2007.

    Sasana Theikpan and Sasana Gonye were among the monasteries raided by security forces in Bahan Township. The latter has been shut down since the raid.

    Burma Gives 'Cronies' Slice of Storm Relief
    On Magazine's List of Junta's Chosen Tycoons Are Some Facing U.S. Sanctions

    By Glenn Kessler
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Friday, June 13, 2008; A16

    Just seven days after Cyclone Nargis devastated Burma last month, the ruling military junta parceled out key sections of the affected Irrawaddy Delta to favored tycoons and companies, including several facing sanctions from the U.S. Treasury, according to a Burmese magazine with close ties to the government.

    Some of the most notorious business executives in Burma, including Tay Za and Steven Law, also known as Tun Myint Naing, were given control of "reconstruction and relief" in critical townships, under the leadership of top generals. Tay Za was identified by Treasury as a "regime henchman" this year when it slapped economic sanctions on hotel enterprises and other businesses he owns.

    All told, more than 30 companies and 30 executives are to divide up the business in 11 townships in areas affected by Nargis, according to the report.

    The document in the magazine is dated May 9, a time when the United Nations, aid groups and many countries were pleading with the Burmese government to allow access to affected areas in the aftermath of the storm, which killed as many as 130,000 people and left 2.5 million without homes. Despite promises of greater openness, the Burmese rulers have continued to impose restrictions on aid relief, including new and onerous identification requirements for aid workers, according to reports from the region.

    The document, which includes the cellphone numbers for many of the executives, was published in the Voice, a weekly journal published by Nay Win Maung. A translation was provided by BIT Team, a group of India-based Burmese who try to promote information technology in the xenophobic country.

    Nay Win Maung is a son of a military officer and was brought up among Burma's military elites, giving him good connections to military insiders. His magazines can access government-related news and exclusive information.

    "The Treasury is targeting the regime's cronies, and the regime wants its cronies to get the money," said Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. "They see it as an opportunity to profit from the international community's compassion. But these are not experts in providing relief; they are experts in running guns and drugs and making a lot of money."

    Efforts to reach Burmese representatives in Washington last night were unsuccessful. The cellphone number listed for Steven Law in the Voice was answered by an associate who said he was not available.

    While some of the executives awarded contracts are well known to human rights activists and financial-crime experts, others are less prominent, potentially making the document a guide to the individuals currently in favor with the military leadership.

    The government estimated it needed more than $11 billion in reconstruction aid shortly after the May 2-3 cyclone, a figure that met with a cool reception at an international donors conference in Rangoon three weeks ago. Burma, also known as Myanmar, is rich in natural resources, but much of the country is desperately poor. The junta has enriched itself with natural gas fields that bring in about $2 billion in annual revenue, as well as trade in jewels, heroin, amphetamines, timber and small arms.

    Some of the conglomerates given business in the delta, such as Law's Asia World and Tay Za's Htoo Trading, were also tasked with building the country's new capital at Naypyidaw, more than 200 miles from the old capital of Rangoon. With little notice three years ago, the junta uprooted the capital to a remote area, requiring massive construction of new government buildings, hotels and housing for civil servants.

    Much of the country, in fact, is a forced labor camp, with more than 60 prisons, labor camps and detention centers, according to a report this year by the Burma Fund, an anti-government activist group. People forced into construction are paid minimal wages, if at all.

    Hlaing Sein, an officer with the London-based Burma Campaign UK, said that Htoo Trading, which was given control of Heingigyum and Ngaopudaw townships, forced cyclone victims to work for 800 kyat a day, roughly 70 cents, in order to meet a government order to reopen schools by June 2. But a quart of water in the delta now costs the equivalent of $1.50, she said.

    The Treasury sanctions against Tay Za, Law and other junta cronies -- and some of their companies -- freezes their assets and prohibits all financial and commercial transactions by U.S. entities with the designated companies and individuals, as part of an effort to break up their financial networks. The Treasury has released detailed charts about the financial links among the junta and Tay Za, Law and related associates.

    Tay Za, whose businesses include timber, palm oil and aviation, is said to be close to Senior Gen. Than Shwe, the junta leader, in part because of his habit of hiring the children of powerful generals. The Bangkok Post recently reported that though no public warnings were made about the approaching cyclone, air force fighters and private passenger planes from Bagan Air -- believed to be a joint venture between Tay Za and Than Shwe's family -- were moved the evening before the storm from Rangoon airport to Mandalay, which was not in its path.

    Friday, June 13, 2008
    Burma cyclone impacting world food supply; forced evictions make post-cyclone hell worse

    The military officers who have run the Burmese (Myanmar) economy for the past half century has little to show for their efforts. Endowed with vast raw materials and agricultural resources — the latter made Burma in colonial times the world’s No. 1 rice exporter — the economy has fallen to almost subsistence levels.

    The effects of Cyclone Nargis in early May have not only added new misery for the country’s 50 million people but have negated rice exports needed by neighboring countries and contributing to the global food crisis. The storm hit hardest in Burma’s main rice-growing region in the isolated Irrawaddy Delta, where some 2 million people were driven from their homes and farmland.

    Locals gather in front of a damaged monastery in Laputta, Burma, on June 9, 2008. AP

    Now comes word from human rights organizations that the military is driving displaced villagers from temporary camps set up in the continuing heavy monsoon rains, and is attempting to get them back on their salt water-logged fields to begin the recuperation of the paddy.

    Human rights groups say that forced evictions — involving churches, monasteries, schools and other public buildings — are putting lives at risk and flouting international principles of humanitarian relief. Amnesty International reports 30 cases since May 19 of forcible removals of thousands of people who sought temporary shelter.

    The force of the storm was so great that local stocks of food were destroyed. The few foreign refugee workers the regime has permitted to enter have described heart-rending stories of many displaced villagers trying to capture a few grains of rice out of inundated areas filled with decaying human corpses and animal carcasses.

    The regime has permitted only minimal outside aid. And much of that, apparently, has been diverted to the military itself. Four American naval vessels that happened to be in the region on exercises when the storm struck waited for several weeks before gaining permission to enter the Delta area with small boats carrying water, emergency food and emergency items. The generals apparently fear exposure to foreign aid would strengthen opposition forces and their leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, daughter of a founding father of the post-colonial nation and political prisoner for more than a decade.
    Humanitarian organizations, including the UN World Food Program, were operating in Burma before the cyclone struck, providing food aid to half a million people in the country where one in three children are chronically malnourished. The fear now is that the damage to the area known as the country's "rice bowl" will make a bad situation a lot worse.

    Burma’s plight is already impacting world food supplies. The World Food program said that it was not yet known whether Burma would be able to meet its commitments to supply Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. If Burmese exports disappear — as now seems possible — the domino effect on Asia neighbors would be fierce. The International Rice Research Institute warned that, with the year’s second harvest imminent, weather patterns in Asia would come under unprecedented scrutiny: the freak damage caused by the cyclone will now exacerbate that.

    The price of rice had already trebled across Asia this year, hitting a record $25.07 per 100 pounds on April 24. Some local market prices have risen tenfold in the past year. Several governments — including those of China and India — responded by imposing export bans. Rice is currently trading around $20.96 per 100 pounds.

    If the worst conditions prevail, Burma, with a rickety food economy and impoverished population, could become a net importer of rice.

    Cyclone raises tuberculosis risks in Myanmar: WHO
    A family look for traces of their house, on a marooned embankment, in the village of Pay Kunhnasay in the Kawhmu township May 30, 2008.
    A family look for traces of their house, on a marooned embankment, in the village of Pay Kunhnasay in the Kawhmu township May 30, 2008. (REUTERS/Aung Hla Tung)
    Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Laura MacInnis
    June 10, 2008
    GENEVA (Reuters) - The cyclone that devastated Myanmar last month forced many tuberculosis sufferers to stop their treatment, triggering fears of drug-resistant strains spreading, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday.

    more stories like this

    Myanmar had 83,000 cases of the highly contagious disease in 2006 causing 6,000 deaths, according to the WHO's most recent figures for the diplomatically isolated country whose army rulers were initially reluctant to let in foreign aid workers after Cyclone Nargis hit on May 2.

    The storm killed up to 134,000 people, left 2.4 million destitute, and destroyed many of the health centers which handed out antibiotics.

    WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib said experts from the United Nations agency would travel to cyclone-affected areas this week to track down tuberculosis patients who lost access to their drugs since the May 2 storm.

    "They will go to the hospitals and health centers, look at the records, look how many people were on treatment, and then try to trace them in villages and camps," Chaib said, calling the hiatus resulting from the storm "a serious issue."

    "Tuberculosis is a life-threatening disease. Interrupting a course of six-month treatment can have an effect on creating resistance to tuberculosis drugs," she said.

    Any pause in a course of antibiotics can give the bacterium causing tuberculosis a chance to mutate and build up immunity to standard medicines. Drug-resistant strains can require patients to take an expensive and arduous course of pills and injections, and some types are virtually untreatable.

    Even before the cyclone, the weak health system and pervasiveness of fake drugs in Myanmar were seen as potential triggers for drug-resistant tuberculosis.

    While no cases of "extensively drug-resistant" or "XDR" tuberculosis have been confirmed by the WHO in Myanmar, aid workers from Medicins Sans Frontieres last year reported cases among migrants from Myanmar in neighboring Thailand, raising concerns that it may already exist in the secretive state.

    Chaib said authorities in Myanmar had worked hard with the WHO in recent years to fight the respiratory disease, which spreads through the air and kills about 1.5 million people worldwide every year.

    In addition to tracking patients and helping them resume treatment, WHO staff deployed to Myanmar's cyclone-affected region will also seek to bolster general health services for those displaced by the storm.

    The WHO is appealing for clean water and sanitation supplies to help reduce the risks of water-borne diseases among cyclone survivors. With the monsoon season coming, the U.N. agency said it was also critical for Myanmar to take steps to prevent malaria and other diseases spread by mosquitoes.

    (Editing by Caroline Drees)


    'Cyclone dead' wash ashore on distant Burma beach

    Posted Sat Jun 14, 2008 8:27pm AEST

    About 300 bloated and decaying corpses, apparently victims of Cyclone Nargis, have washed up on a beach in eastern Burma more than one month after the storm, a local official said.

    The bodies had been found in the last week on the beach near Mawlamyine, across the Gulf of Martaban, more than 160 kilometres east of the devastated Irrawaddy delta, the official said.

    More than 133,000 people were killed or are missing after the cyclone struck six weeks ago. Many were washed out to sea as a tidal surge wiped out their villages.

    "About 300 dead bodies have been cremated in the last week, after they floated into Kyaikkhami and Setse beaches. They were all decomposing. Most of them appeared to be women," the official said.

    "Some fishermen saw these dead bodies on the beaches and informed the authorities.

    "We decided to cremate them for the sake of the environment."

    Residents said that many people had moved away to avoid the grim scenes of bodies washing onto the beaches.

    The descriptions recalled the devastation in the delta last month, when victims' bodies were left rotting on roadsides and floating in rice fields, where in many cases they laid for weeks.

    - AFP


    TimesOnline: Burma: Than Shwe 'ordered troops to execute villagers'
    BOSTON GLOBE: Cruelty and silence in Burma
    VOA News: Amnesty Accuses Burma of Human Rights Abuses Since Cyclone Nargis
    IPC News: BURMA: Nargis Victims Forced From Camps
    FoxNews: U.N. Says Burma Forcing Cyclone Victims From Camps With No Aid
    Irrawaddy: Massive Forced Evictions in Refugee Camps

    ABC News: UN rights envoy pushes Burma on prison killings

    June 7, 2008

    Burma: Than Shwe 'ordered troops to execute villagers'

    The leader of the Burmese junta, Than Shwe, personally ordered the murder of scores of unarmed villagers and Thai fishermen, according to a senior diplomat and military intelligence officer who defected to America.

    Aung Lin Htut, formerly the deputy chief of mission at the Burmese Embassy in Washington, described to a radio station how 81 people, including women and children, were shot and buried on an isolated island after straying into a remote military zone in the southeast of the country in 1998.

    After one general hesitated to kill the civilians, fearing that the commander who had given the order was drunk, he was informed that it came from “Aba Gyi” or “Great Father” – the term used to refer to Senior General Than Shwe, the head of the junta.

    A few days later troops from the same military base captured a Thai fishing boat that had strayed close to Christie Island in the Mergui Archipelago. The 22 fishermen on board were also shot and buried on the island. “I was a witness to the two incidents in which a total of about 81 people were killed,” Mr Aung Lin Htut, formerly a major in military intelligence, told the Burmese language service of Voice of America. “All of them were unarmed civilians.” In 46 years of military rule in Burma, there have been numerous reports of grave human rights violations but few have been attested by so well placed a source as Mr Aung Lin Htut. They come at a time when General Than Shwe and his regime are coming under scrutiny, after their refusal to allow a full scale relief operation for the victims of Cyclone Nargis.

    The French Government has said that it comes close to being a “crime against humanity”, and last week Robert Gates, the US Defence Secretary, called it “criminal neglect”. If a tribunal like the ones established for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia is ever created for Burma, then Mr Aung Lin Htut will doubtless be called to give evidence.

    He sought asylum in the US in 2005, along with six members of his family, after a purge against the country’s prime minister and intelligence chief of the time by General Than Shwe destroyed the careers of a generation of intelligence officers. Given the control of information in Burma, his account is impossible to verify. But it has credibility because it is the first time since his defection that Mr Aung Lin Htut has made any public comment on his former masters.

    In May 1998 he was stationed on Zadetkyi island, a frontline base close to Burma’s maritime border with Thailand. The commander of the base was Colonel Zaw Min, who is now Minister for Electric Power and general secretary of the Union Solidarity and Development Association, the junta’s grassroots organisation.

    A unit led by the colonel landed on Christie Island and found 59 people living there to gather wood and bamboo, in violation of Burmese law. The order came back from headquarters that they were to be “eliminated”.

    Myint Swe, an air force general, said that he was a religious person, and that the matter should be handled delicately. He said that he was very concerned by the timing of the elimination order – just after lunch, a time when General Maung Aye, now the number two in the junta, was usually drunk.


    Cruelty and silence in Burma

    MORE THAN a million victims of the May 2 cyclone in Burma are still without food, water, shelter, and medicine. Yet the ruling junta refused 15 requests to let the USS Essex and three support ships in the Bay of Bengal deliver aid to uprooted villagers. Finally, tragically, the four ships steamed away from Burma on Thursday, along with 22 helicopters and four amphibious landing craft that are ideally suited to bring relief supplies directly to stranded survivors. "Should the Burmese rulers have a change of heart and request our full assistance for their suffering people," Admiral Timothy Keating said, "we are prepared to help."

    Keating and his 5,000 sailors were eager to take on a mission of mercy, one that the American public would be sure to support and all of Asia would appreciate. What the admiral has learned - and what the rest of the world has witnessed in the past five weeks - is that the Burmese generals who deny life-saving succor to their people can have no change of heart. They are heartless.

    This is the gist of a report this week from Amnesty International decrying the junta's forcible evictions of cyclone survivors from schools and monasteries where they had taken shelter. It is the basic message of a United Nations report lamenting "a serious lack of sufficient and sustained humanitarian assistance for the affected populations."

    The crucial lesson of these alarms is that today a million people in Burma are endangered not by the vagaries of nature but by the cruelty of a military dictatorship. In other words, the cause of all that unnecessary suffering is political. Nobody should know this better than the other nine countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Yet ASEAN officials speak blithely about issuing a report on relief and recovery - at a meeting more than two weeks from now. Enough dithering. ASEAN should use its influence to push the junta to stop letting Burma's people die. 

    Amnesty Accuses Burma of Human Rights Abuses Since Cyclone Nargis

    Amnesty International says Burma's military government has been forcibly moving people out of the temporary shelters they moved into after Cyclone Nargis. As Ron Corben reports from Bangkok, Amnesty also raise doubts that Burma's military is standing by agreements with the United Nations to allow more international assistance into the country.

    People affected by cyclone Nargis wait to board boats prior to travel back to their devastated villages in Labutta, in the southwest Irrawaddy Delta, Burma, 03 Jun 2008
    People affected by cyclone Nargis wait to board boats prior to travel back to their devastated villages in Labutta, in the southwest Irrawaddy Delta, Burma, 03 Jun 2008
    A new Amnesty International report says that since May 20, Burma's military government has stepped up efforts to remove cyclone survivors from temporary shelters such as schools and monasteries. The report says the survivors are forcibly returned to their homes, even if those homes no longer are standing.

    The United Nations says 550,000 people had been living in temporary shelters since the storm. The Amnesty report specifies at least 30 cases of forcible displacement but Amnesty officials say the actual figure could be higher.

    The cyclone that came ashore on May 2 killed 78,000 people and left 56,0000 missing. More than two million survivors need aid, but the United Nations estimates at least a million have received none at all.

    Benjamin Zawacki is a researcher with Amnesty International. He said Thursday that Burma's government failed to assist cyclone victims in part because it focused on holding a constitutional referendum.

    "It's refusal to deploy resources toward the victims of the cyclone and rather deploy toward holding a constitutional referendum - as well as its refusal to accept international aid and assistance - this is the pre-eminent human rights concern in the context of the cyclone - it continues to be so today," said Zawacki.

    The international community has condemned Burma's failure to provide aid to the storm's victims and its decision to block international relief supplies and disaster workers.

    After meetings with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Burma has agreed to allow in more aid workers. On Thursday, a team of 200 relief workers from ASEAN nations began arriving.

    USS Essex and the Essex Amphibious Ready Group steam in formation in the Andaman Sea, 23 May 2008
    USS Essex and the Essex Amphibious Ready Group steam in formation in the Andaman Sea, 23 May 2008
    However, it has rejected aid from other sources, including the U.S. and French navies. Four U.S. ships have sailed away from Burma's coast after the government refused their help for three weeks.

    Zawacki says Burma's government, known as the State Peace and Development Council, continues to obstruct aid.

    "Amnesty certainly doesn't see the situation as one in which a bridge was crossed and then burned behind them and suddenly things have changed exponentially," he said. "No. I think things have indeed changed - things have indeed opened up but the obstruction and the negligence on the part of the SPDC has in fact continued one month on into June. It's simply taking different forms."

    Amnesty called on the international community to address the human rights dimensions of the disaster.

    Media reports Thursday confirmed the arrest of a popular Burmese comedian, Maung Thura, better known as Zarganar, soon after he had returned from distributing aid in the storm area. Other Burmese report having been detained by soldiers, and their goods taken away, when they tried to take private donations to the cyclone's victims.

    BURMA: Nargis Victims Forced From Camps
    By Marwaan Macan-Markar

    BANGKOK, Jun 6 (IPS) - A global human rights lobby slammed Burma’s military regime for driving survivors who have endured untold hardship since last month’s powerful cyclone into further misery.

    The junta in Burma, or Myanmar, has forced cyclone victims out of temporary shelters, confiscated aid, and come in the way of assistance to the victims from local community groups and Burmese citizens, revealed Amnesty International (AI) in a report released this week in the Thai capital.

    "We are talking of thousands of people who have been forcibly displaced," Benjamin Zawacki, AI’s Burma researcher, told IPS. "They [the junta] have been targeting monasteries and schools. Most of the people forcibly displaced came from monasteries and schools."

    The orders to evict the victims from the cyclone shelters have come from the military regime and the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), a civilian body created by the military to enforce its policies, even by force. "Both have been giving out orders; in some cases with 48 hours notice, some, 24 hours, some were asked to move immediately," Zawacki added.

    The over all trend is that the people have been pushed "further and further south, into the delta," Zawacki said during a press conference to launch the report. "But there is no distinct pattern."

    Cyclone Nargis struck Burma’s populous Irrawaddy Delta in the early hours of May 3, killing between 130,000 to possibly 300,000 people, and affecting between 2.5 million to 5.5 million people. The country’s worst natural disaster hit an 82,000 square km area that has the highest population density in the South-east Asian nation.

    On May 11, "cyclone survivors staying in four monasteries in Bogale, Irrawaddy Division, were made to leave by the authorities and the USDA. Many of them were forced into military trucks to Maubin, while others were simply told to go back to their villages on their own," AI’s report reveals.

    On May 19, in Labutta -- also one of the worst hit townships like Bogale – "local authorities forced large numbers of people aboard boats in an effort to return them to their villages in Myaungmya and Maubin townships and elsewhere," according to AI. "Beginning on or just after 19 May, authorities forcibly relocated people out of Myaungmya, Maubin, Pyapon, and Labutta, where they had been originally relocated, further south back to their original villages."

    "Amnesty International has been able to confirm over 30 instances and accounts of forcible displacement by the [military regime] in the aftermath of the cyclone, but anecdotal evidence from numerous sources strongly suggests a much higher number," the report adds.

    A similar heavy-handed approach by the junta has been on display in the distribution of aid. "Until 26 May, the [military regime] blocked all international assistance to the delta," the report notes. "Amnesty International has confirmed over 40 reports or accounts of soldiers or local government officials confiscating, diverting or otherwise misusing aid intended for cyclone victims."

    AI’s revelations have raised questions about the effectiveness of U.N. agencies working in a country that has been under an oppressive military grip since a 1962 coup. After all, the forced displacement of cyclone victims by the junta violates the U.N. guiding principles on internal displacement.

    But the world body has not ignored the concerns about forced displacement of survivors in the cyclone-affected areas, says Richard Horsey, spokesman for the U.N. Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). "The U.N., including OCHA, has said that any forced removal of people is a clear violation of international law and is unacceptable."

    "We are aware of reports of forced movement of people to camps and away from camps. We are also aware of camp closures," Horsey told IPS. "But these movements of people need to be verified. The important question is where they are being moved to."

    And given the occasion to do so, the U.N. has raised its concerns with senior officials in the regime. "There have been discussions with the authorities about the forced movement of people," Horsey added. "It was also discussed twice on May 31 and Jun. 2 during meetings [involving representatives from the regime, the U.N. and a 10-member regional bloc -- the Association of South-east Asian Nations].’’

    AI’s revelations confirm the new wave of troubles that have struck the area since the cyclone -- much of it triggered by the junta’s disregard for the victims or its reluctance to ease its totalitarian grip on the country. This week, the U.N. revealed that only half of the victims have received aid a month after the disaster.

    And efforts by U.N. agencies and international humanitarian groups to get experts familiar with post-disaster needs into the delta have also been met with resistance from the regime. Only 20 U.N. and other foreign aid workers have been given permission to enter the delta since U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon got a commitment from the junta during meetings in late May for greater access.

    In fact, one international agency that appears to have overcome some of the hurdles, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF, Doctors Without Borders), confirmed that the worst was far from over for the cyclone survivors in the delta.

    "Till now, the support is inadequate… The emergency phase is not over," says Michel Permans, of MSF International. "There are a lot of small [cyclone-hit] villages that are almost forgotten."

    U.N. Says Burma Forcing Cyclone Victims From Camps With No Aid

    Friday , May 30, 2008

    RANGOON, Myanmar  — 

    The military government in Burma, also known as Myanmar, is removing cyclone victims from refugee camps and dumping them near their devastated villages with virtually no aid supplies, the United Nations said Friday.

    In an aid agency meeting, the U.N. Children's Fund said eight camps earlier set up by the government to receive homeless victims in the Irrawaddy delta town of Bogalay had emptied as the mass clear-out of victims was stepped up.

    "The government is moving people unannounced," said Teh Tai Ring, a UNICEF official, adding that authorities were "dumping people in the approximate location of the villages, basically with nothing."

    Camps were also being closed in Labutta, another town in the delta, a low-lying area which took the brunt of Cyclone Nargis nearly a month ago.

    About 2.4 million are homeless and hungry after the May 2-3 cyclone hit Burma, also known as Burma.

    Click here for photos.

    Centralizing the stricken people in the centers made it easier for aid agencies to deliver emergency relief since many villages in the delta can only be reached by boat or very rough roads.

    Aid workers who have reached some of the remote villages say little remains that could sustain their former residents: houses are destroyed, livestock has perished and food stocks have virtually run out. Medicines are nonexistent.

    The UNICEF official said that some of the refugees are "being given rations and then they are forced to move." But others were being denied such aid because they had lost their government identity cards.

    A senior U.N. official in Bangkok, Thailand, said he could not confirm the camp closures but added that any such forced movement was "completely unacceptable."

    "People need to be assisted in the settlements and satisfactory conditions need to created before they can return to their place of origins," Terje Skavdal, head of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told reporters. "Any forced or coerced movement of people is completely unacceptable."

    There had been previous reports of forced removals, but on a scattered basis. In some cases, people were reportedly sent away ahead of visits by foreign dignitaries, and in others people were sent from schools that were to be used as voting places during a recent national referendum on a new constitution. People were also cleared out of some Buddhist temples where they had taken shelter, but in those cases apparently had been transferred to official refugee camps.

    Human rights and aid groups also complained Friday that Burma's military government was still hindering the free flow of international help for victims.

    Some foreign aid staff were still waiting for permission to enter the Irrawaddy delta while the regime continues to review entry requests for 48 hours, the groups said.

    One foreign aid worker attending Friday's meeting said that in practice it took at least four days to obtain permission from the Ministry of Social Welfare to travel to the delta.

    "The longer you want to stay, the longer it takes," he said, declining to give his name for fear of government reprisals.

    "The Burmese government is still using red tape to obstruct some relief efforts when it should accept all aid immediately and unconditionally," the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

    The International Red Cross was waiting for permission to send 30 of its foreign staffers into the delta.

    The regime has also barred naval vessels from the United States, France and Great Britain from entering Burma's waters, leaving them to wait offshore with their loads of humanitarian supplies. The French have been forced to dock in Thailand and turn over the relief goods to the United Nations for onward shipment into Burma.

    "By still delaying and hampering aid efforts ... the generals are showing that, even during a disaster, oppression rules," Human Rights Watch said.

    While welcoming millions of dollars from the international community for cyclone relief, Burma lashed out at donors for not pledging enough. State-run media decried donors on Thursday for only pledging up to $150 million — a far cry from the $11 billion the junta said it needed to rebuild.

    The isolationist government agreed to allow foreign aid workers in after U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met with leader Senior Gen. Than Shwe last weekend.

    But delays continue, Human Rights Watch said.

    Burma's government says the cyclone killed 78,000 people and left another 56,000 missing.

    The country's xenophobic leaders are leery of foreign aid workers and international agencies, worrying they could weaken the junta's powerful grip. The generals also don't want their people to see aid coming directly from countries like the U.S., which the regime has long treated as a hostile power.

    In Singapore on Friday, Sen. Joseph Lieberman said regional superpowers India and China should exert their influence over Burma's military junta to push it toward democracy. Lieberman, who is in Singapore to attend a security conference, said he and other senators have met with the ambassadors of the two countries in Washington to convey this message.

    Massive Forced Evictions in Refugee Camps
    By AUNG THET WINE / RANGOON Thursday, May 29, 2008

    Burma’s military government has been forcibly evicting tens of thousands of refugees who lost family members, houses and property during Cyclone Nargis, which struck Burma on May 2-3.

    Most of the evictions have occurred in temporary shelters in Rangoon and Irrawaddy divisions. 

    This photo taken on May 25 shows cyclone-affected families sheltered from the rain, living in temporary accommodation along a road in the Shwe Pauk Kan area of Rangoon. (Photo: AFP)
    Authorities closed down several temporary camps in Rangoon on May 23, including a camps in Shwe Pauk Kan in North Okkalapa Township where 3,000 refugees were staying in temporary blue tents; tent camp No 16 Quarter of North Dagon Myo Thit at the junction of the township Peace and Development Council PDC office and Nat Sin Road bus-stop; and a camp at State High School No 2 of Dala Township.

    "They closed the Shwe Pauk Kan refugee camp during the evening,” said a resident of No 16 Quarter at Shwe Pauk Kan. “They forced the people to return to their homes and gave them 10 pyis of rice and 7,000 kyats (US $6.5) to each refugee. The authorities took the tents." A pyi is close to 0.25 liter.

    The Rangoon Division PDC issued an order that all refugee camps in Rangoon division be closed prior to May 24, said one source, who asked to remain anonymous.

    "They also shut down the camp in Dagon North No 16 Quarter by this order,” he said. “The authorities are also planning to shut down small temporary shelters in schools and monasteries."

    Authorities reportedly told refugees at No 2 State High School in Dala Township they had to leave because the school would reopen June 2.

    "I went there to donate some snacks to children, and they were not there anymore,” said a volunteer donor. “The neighbors said they were forcibly evicted.”

    Local authorities at Dala Township reportedly told refugees the emergency has now ended, and refugees must return to their villages where they should wait for assistance from the government.

    Refugee sources said the Padan Camp in Hlaing Thar Yar Township, a site visited by Srn-Gen Than Shwe, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and other diplomats, would be closed in the near future.

    "There are about 10,000 refugees in the camp at inner Padan village. I have heard the camp will be demolished soon," said a refugee from inner Padan village, living at State Middle School No 7 in Hlaing Thar Yar Township.

    He said refugees haven't received enough food and are still waiting for outside contributions of rice.

    "A family is provided with two sacks of rice, two tins of cooking oil and a set of pots and pans. However, they are told not to touch the rice, oil and cooking utensils. It is for show when the authorities come and visit the site. We have to wait for other contributions for our daily food."

    A refugee in his 30s said most people had no where to go when they were evicted.

    "It is impossible to go back to inner Padan village, since the land owner would not hire us to work the land,” he said. “The land is close to the river and the flood hasn't drained yet since the cyclone hit. Water is still 2 to 3-feet deep in our village."

    Sources in the Irrawaddy delta said thousands of refugees from Phyapon, Myaung Mya, Bogalay and Laputta townships also have been evicted from shelters.

    "There were 45 camps in Pyapon Township previously but now only three remain, said a source familiar with the relief effort.

    Starting on May 21, refugees were told they should wait in their villages for the government's reconstruction plan and were provided with small portions of rice and 10,000 kyats ($ 8).

    The remaining refugees at Myaung Mya camps lack sufficient food and water, the source said. .

    "Most of the refugees are sheltering at the No 933 Rice Mill compound, and there are almost 3,000 refugees,” said a resident of Myaung Mya.  “These people are waiting daily for outside donors to give them rice. This camp will be closed soon."

    The camp at No 16 High School in Myaung Mya has been closed and authorities sent the refugees back to their villages in Laputta by trucks and boats.

    "It is inhumane and cruel, forcing the refugees to leave without proper assistance, just saying the relief period has ended and promising reconstruction efforts,” said one relief worker. “It is like sending people to their death."

    Copyright © 2008 Irrawaddy Publishing Group |

    UN rights envoy pushes Burma on prison killings
    Updated June 7, 2008 13:36:35

    Burma has denied reports that its soldiers shot dead a number of prison inmates during last month's cyclone.

    In his report to the U.N. Human Rights Council, Burma expert Tomas Ojea Quintana says soldiers had killed some inmates of Insein prison.

    The killings allegedly happened when the soldiers were called in to control some 1000 inmates who had been forced inside a hall after ithe prison's zinc roofs were torn off by cyclone Nargis.

    A Thailand-based rights group said at the time soldiers and police had killed 36 prisoners to quell a riot at the notorious facility.

    While not citing any death figures, Mr Ojea Quintana is calling on the authorities to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into the allegations.

    June 4 News

    Dear All,

    Now that the US Navy ships have left the area while the regime continues to impede aid to the survivors despite its promises. As the world's pressure on the regime eases, the regime has arrested the leading social activists Zarbanar last night (Read his very reveling interview on June 2nd about his experience in the delta and the situation below). This is a sign that the regime is attempting to tightening the screws against little aid operations it allows due to pressure in Burma. Soon, it will most likely go after the monks who have been praised greatly for pulling off very effective relief efforts while the regime falters.

    As the experts are saying the survivors will need help up to a year, the regime has already forced many out of the shelters back to their villages where there is no food, water and shelter. Even after a month has passed, many villages have received little or no help.  

    The brutality of the regime and the hardship that the survivors are going through is unimaginable. Now, the world has witnessed enough of the regime's tactic and attitude. It goes like this: When the pressure mounts, the regime is always quick to make promises, but they are only skin deep and only to be broken as soon as the pressure eases. We must therefore keep the pressure on the regime to save many lives in Burma.

    Nyunt Than

    Irrawaddy: Zarganar's Relief Role  (June 2)
    VOA News: International Agencies Regret US Decision to Abort Burma Mercy Mission
    NY Times:     Myanmar Rulers Still Impeding Access  (June 3)
    Irrawaddy Special Report: One Month after Cyclone Nargis (June 4)
    NY Times:    Monks Succeed in Cyclone Relief as Junta Falters  (May 31)
    Irrawaddy:  Monks Stepped In Where the Authorities Failed  (June 4)


    The regime arrested Zarganar last night. Below is his interview on June 2nd.

    Zarganar's Relief Role

    Monday, June 2, 2008

    Zarganar, a popular Burmese comedian and social activist, has been heavily involved in volunteer disaster relief aid in the cyclone-damaged areas. An estimated 400 Burmese involved in the entertainment world joined together to do volunteer work in the delta.

    Question: Can you talk about the situation on the ground since the cyclone struck Rangoon and the Irrawaddy delta?

    Answer: We started our [volunteer] emergency relief work on May 7, and we are still working. I have been to all the townships struck by the disaster, except Nga Pu Taw.

    There are 420 volunteers in our group. We divided our volunteers in groups to work more effectively. The places we go to are usually places nobody has been to yet. We have been to 42 such villages, most under the administrative area of Dedaye Township. Three of these villages are large village tracts where the paddy [rice] purchasing center was located.

    We went to three large village tracts in Bogalay Township. They hadn't received aid not only from the government, but also from UN agencies. No NGOs had reached there yet.

    Q: What did you see there? What do they need at this moment?

    A: I can give you an example. There was a large village tract called Ma Ngay Gyi, where 1,000 families used to live and 700 houses were demolished totally. The other 300 houses left remnants of house-poles and floors. In total, 221 people died in the village and 300 are missing. Nobody knows where they are.

    We arrived there on May 22 and until that day, and we saw bodies floating in streams. Survivors there received 7 tins (measurement with condensed-milk-tin) of rice from authorities and an instant noodle pack from some independent donors. Apart from that, they received nothing else. That was the scene we saw 20 days after the cyclone.

    On May 28, we went from Bogalay to Tin Maung Chaung, Kyein Su, Hteik Chaung Kyi, Kan Su and Shwe Bo Su villages. The villagers there had received no assistance as well. They had almost no clothing and almost all the children were virtually naked.

    In numbers, there were 542 households there and all the houses were heavily damaged. There was a small pagoda left on high-ground. The villagers gathered themselves on the platform of the pagoda and sleep together. There were no UN or NGOs there yet, and they had received nothing. Our private group gave them what we had. The most horrible thing was that they had no water to drink and collected water when it rained. We gave them 10,000 bottles of drinking water.

    Q: Has any of the international aid that the regime received reached those areas?

    A: There are temporary shelters in Laputta and Bogalay Townships. Some people can stay in tents in those shelters with four or five people to a tent. The people staying there eat rice and rice gruel. Those people receive some assistance, but they are few in number. The people in the villages get no assistance.

    Q: The UN said only 25 percent of the storm survivors have received assistance up to last week; do you think that estimate is correct?

    A: It's fairly correct. Only a few people can access these shelters. The other survivors are stranded on islands and in distant villages with hardly accessible roads. They usually rely on boats for transportation.

    I would like to share a sad story with you. I met an old lady who had 11 family members and 10 of them died in the storm. I saw many people like her. I saw many traumatized people on the delta islands. Only boats can get in there.

    Q: You saw many people suffering trauma and depression?

    A: I see three types of people suffering trauma. One type is very violent, and sensitive. They are angry, and I can't say anything to them. They are aggressive all the time.

    The second type is people crying and moaning all the time. They think about what happened again and again, and they repeat what happened over and over.

    The third type is silent—no talking, very little movement.

    We gave people yellow beans and lablab, along with a blanket and mosquito net. We gave a pack of these things to each survivor, and many didn't even appear to acknowledge it. They showed little interest, as if they thought it would be better to die.

    Q: How was your experience with the local authorities? Any problems?

    A: At the beginning, we took risks, and we had to move forward on our own. Sometime we had confrontations with the authorities.

    For example, they asked us why we were going on our own without consulting them and wanted us to negotiation with them. They said they couldn't guarantee our lives.

    We said we'd take our chances on our own. Later after the Natural Disaster Prevention and Protection Committee (NDPPC) said private donors could contribute, we faced fewer problems.

    After that announcement, well-off traders from Chinatown and gold traders from Mogul Street joined the relief work. It is better now since the survivors can receive more assistance. These rich traders can't go to remote areas, and we try to help them deliver aid to remote villages. For instance, they can drop the assistance in Bogalay and our actors' group takes it to villages.

    Q: The Myanmar Alin newspaper said survivors in the delta don't need foreign ai. They can survive on locally grown vegetables and edible fish and frogs. It says the Irrawaddy delta can prosper again next year with vast golden fields of paddy.

    A: I have no idea whether they can catch edible fish and frogs. We renamed the Irrawaddy River and Bogalay River by the color of the water. The rivers are a chalky white color. We call it the Nargis color. There are many dead bodies and cadavers of cattle floating in the rivers. We call that the Nargis odor.

    The odor sticks with us when we come back from the villages. Nobody can stand it, and causes some people to vomit. How could people find edible fish and frogs in that environment?

    Q: Have many of the bodies have been properly buried?

    A: I returned returned from five villages in the Bogalay area on May 28. I couldn't take videos and photos in those villages because there were so many bodies, at least 40 bodies. That was after about 1,000 corpses were burned, I think. I believe some NGOs like AZG and some Christian organizations helped cremate bodies.

    Q: Most of the people in the delta are Karens. How is their situation?

    A: In Bogalay and Dedaye districts there are Karen villages and most of them are Christians. I like these Karen. When I arrived in their villages, I saw some organizations were already there. They appointed some local Karen leaders to go to Rangoon, and they organized meetings with doctors and other professionals. They are taking a part in their reconstruction effort.

    They came back to some villages with relief items like material for shelters, food and utensils. I believe they have already been given some vegetable seeds like morning glory, amaranth, rosells and fertilizers that can be used on any kind of soil.

    Q: When do you think the area can start to recover its agricultural potential?

    A: In many areas, I think rice will be unworkable for a long time, but vegetables can grow. We need to start working with the people on how to recover the land and work their crops.

    There are only 15 days left in the rice planting season. We have talked to private companies and Thai professionals about how to resume the agricultural works with small machinery.

    A small mechanical plow, called Shwe Kywe, costs 1.4 million kyat. We have selected the Kyun Nyo Gyi village tract for a pilot project. About 5,514 people live there. Thai professionals said the agricultural work could be resumed. We will try to start the work with 18 small plows. We've received 10 plows from donation.

    Q: Is any assistance coming from northern and central Burma?

    A: Of course, many people come to assist. For example, 10-wheel trucks from Namti, Myit Kyi Na and Lashio arrived with aid. They brought 200 tanks of cooking oil and other supplies. The Christian group from Lashio came with 10 trucks. They are Shan.

    Q: How is Rangoon now?

    A: We are also reaching out in Rangoon as well.
    Our group left this morning to Dala, Kwan Chan Kone, Kyi Myin Daing and Nyaung Wine on the other side of the river. The situation there is not as bad as in delta. However, the houses were damaged, and we do need to assist them as well. Psychologically, they are not as traumatized as the people in the delta.

    Q: What do you want to say people living outside of Burma?

    A: There are many things we can't do alone. People can help us a great deal. For instance after the tsunami in Thailand, professionals arrived immediately and built houses for the survivors in a short time. We can't afford such assistance, and it is a very vast area. It would be better if international assistance could help with this.

    Q: What is the UN able to do?

    A: I am not happy with the UN. It doesn't seem able to reach many of our people. The UN and NGO staff must work under the eye of the regime. That's a problem. Why are they so concerned with the government's endorsement of their relief work? They should have taken more risks.

    Even if they can't go without permission, they could assist volunteers like us who are willing to go to the villages. There are a lot of groups like us assisting refugees. Many people have received nothing from the UN and NGOs. The UN and a lot of professional organizations send their aid to the compounds of the local township authorities.

    Q: What happens with the people who are waiting for food on the roads?

    A: Actually, they have to beg as they are starving. The authorities said don't give out food to people on the roads, but they are starving. The scenes are not that chaotic. I didn't see people robbing each other for food.

    Q: The US says some relief work could be done with their amphibious boats. They are willing to help. Do you think they are still needed a month after the cyclone?

    A: I believe they are necessary. We provided some survivors with radios and asked them to listen to the news, to keep in contact with the world. They were happy with that news, but now they feel sad and desperate because the ships aren't allowed to come. They feel alone and abandoned.

    International Agencies Regret US Decision to Abort Burma Mercy Mission

    By Ron Corben
    04 June 2008

    Corben report - Download (MP3)

    United States naval ships with relief supplies for cyclone victims in Burma are leaving the area, because the Burmese government refused their help. As Ron Corben reports from Bangkok, international agencies trying to help more than two million storm survivors regret the loss of the navy's resources.

    The USS Essex , center, and the Essex Amphibious Ready Group steam in formation, in the Andaman Sea, 23 May 2008 (photo released by U.S. Navy)
    The USS Essex and several support vessels are leaving the seas near Burma after spending three weeks trying to deliver aid to the survivors of Cyclone Nargis.

    The French navy also has given up efforts to send in aid and is heading away from the Bay of Bengal.

    Burma's government has rejected offers to use other country's military helicopters to carry relief supplies.

    Instead, in the past week the World Food Program received two helicopters from Africa, but aid experts say that is not enough.

    WFP spokesman Paul Risley says it is unfortunate that U.S. Navy helicopters will not be available to bring aid across the Irrawaddy Delta.

    "And this is truly unfortunate because these helicopters represented immediate heavy lift capacity in the area and would have been a standard operating procedure for the U.N. for relief agencies in responding," he said.

    Military helicopters from several nations played a vital role in relief efforts in Indonesia after the 2004 tsunami. They also helped in the aftermath of a cyclone that hit Bangladesh last year.

    Burma's state media say the government rejected the U.S. military aircraft because it feared an invasion, despite U.S. assurances that wanted only to provide aid.

    This aerial view shows a devastated town, with many roofs missing, in the Irrawaddy Delta region, Burma, 06 May 2008
    The cyclone that hit a month ago left more than two million people in need of food, shelter and medical care. The storm killed 78,000 and left 56,000 missing.

    International donors have condemned the Burmese government's roadblocks to relief efforts. U.S. officials say the delays may have cost "tens of thousands of lives."

    The United Nations and ASEAN recent reached an agreement with Burma to allow international aid workers more access to the areas worst hit by the storm.

    But U.N. officials said Wednesday relief efforts need to expand rapidly, since just one point three million people had gotten any sort of assistance.

    The Irrawaddy Delta is Burma's main rice-growing region, but U.N. officials said Wednesday that 60 percent of the paddy fields were damaged in the storm. About 16 percent are too badly damaged for the next planting season, in July.

    The WFP's Risley says international food aid to the hardest-hit areas could last a year.

    "In a situation such as this it would be very typical for the World Food Program to continue providing food rations through general deliveries for families and farmers in the delta area, certainly through the next six months, certainly through the next harvest. It is likely that harvest will not be able to take place for an entire year," he said.

    U.N. officials say few farmers have returned to their land because they have no food, shelter or farm tools. In addition, roads throughout the region remain unusable.

     Myanmar Rulers Still Impeding Access

    Atlas Press, for The New York Times

    Burmese displaced by the cyclone meeting with a monk last week at a monastery where they had taken refuge in Bogale.

    Published: June 3, 2008
    BANGKOK — One month after a powerful cyclone struck Myanmar and 10 days after the ruling junta’s leader promised full access to the hardest-hit areas, relief agencies said on Monday that they were still having difficulty reaching hundreds of thousands of survivors in urgent need of assistance.

    Over the past week, they said, the door has opened slightly and a number of foreign experts have been allowed to travel to the Irrawaddy Delta, which bore the brunt of the May 3 storm. A modest flow of food, medicine and other supplies has begun to enter the delta by truck and barge.

    But the agencies said that travel permits for international experts were limited and irregular and that dozens of relief workers remained stranded in the country’s main city, Yangon.

    “Several have been able to make essentially day trips to work with our field staff there,” Paul Risley, a spokesman for the United Nations World Food Program, said. “But access remains a continuing challenge.”

    A spokesman for the United Nations disaster relief agency said on Monday that as of two days before, 15 foreign experts representing United Nations agencies were in the delta.

    Analysts of Myanmar, formerly Burma, said they feared that the junta was playing a game of hints, promises and deception, which it has used over the years to deflect criticism from abroad.

    “In all these crises that the Burmese face, there always is the teaser to take the pressure off the government,” said Josef Silverstein, an expert on Myanmar at Rutgers University.

    “They seem like they are going to cooperate, and just as soon as comment dies down, anything that is going to be useful dies with it,” he said. “Look back at the ‘saffron revolution,’ when they made all kinds of promises about what they were going to do and nothing happened.”

    He was referring to a peaceful uprising, led by monks, that was crushed in September. The junta’s promises included a dialogue with the democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, but Myanmar’s rulers dropped the idea after international attention had moved on, and last Tuesday it extended her house arrest for a year.

    In Geneva, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Louise Arbour, who is leaving her position, said the world’s failure to press Myanmar more strongly on human rights issues made it easier for the junta to keep out cyclone relief.

    “The obstruction to the deployment of such assistance illustrates the invidious effects of longstanding international tolerance for human rights violations,” she said.

    The United Nations estimates that 2.4 million people were severely affected by the cyclone and said last week that 1.4 million of those remained in desperate need of food, clean water, shelter and medical care. The government says 134,000 people died or are missing.

    International relief agencies have complained strenuously that the junta is barring foreign aid and foreign relief workers from the worst-affected areas and that it is endangering survivors.

    After a 10-day delay, the junta allowed the first of 10 helicopters from the World Food Program to carry supplies from Yangon into the delta. The other nine were en route to Myanmar, Mr. Risley said.

    He also said barges and smaller craft were delivering supplies to hard-hit areas.

    The government has allowed American aircraft to land with relief materials but has barred American workers from leaving Yangon Airport to deliver them. It has turned away American, French and British ships loaded with supplies.

    Some news reports from Myanmar have said the junta was beginning to force survivors out of shelters and back to the devastated countryside.

    According to the independent group Human Rights Watch, thousands of displaced people have been evicted from schools, monasteries and public buildings.

    “The forced evictions are part of government efforts to demonstrate that the emergency relief period is over and that the affected population is capable of rebuilding their lives without foreign assistance,” the organization said on Saturday.

    Anupama Rao Singh, regional director of Unicef, warned after a visit to the Irrawaddy Delta that any resettlement would be premature, even if it was voluntary.

    “Many of the villages remain inundated with water, making it difficult to rebuild,” she said. “There is also a real risk that once they are resettled, they will be invisible to aid workers. Without support and continued service to those affected, there is a risk of a second wave of disease and devastation.”

    The government of Myanmar also said it would reopen schools with the start of the new term this week, though many school buildings were destroyed and many teachers were swept to their deaths. Unicef said that more than 4,000 schools serving 1.1 million children were damaged or destroyed by the storm and that more than 100 teachers were killed.

    “I think the generals are doing what they do best, taking charge of everything, trying to keep themselves in complete control,” said U Aung Naing Oo, a Burmese political analyst who lives in Thailand.

    Trucks of rice, beans, onions, clothes, tarpaulins and cooking utensils, donated from all over Myanmar, pulled into his International Buddhist Missionary Center in Yangon from early morning on. Each day, shortly after dawn, a convoy of trucks or a barge on the Yangon River departs for the delta, loaded with relief supplies and volunteers.

    Sitagu Sayadaw sat on a wooden bench in his field headquarters as people lined up to pay their respects. Villagers came to present lists of their most urgent needs. Monks from outlying villages came asking for help to repair their temples. Wealthy families from towns knelt before him and donated bundles of cash.

    However, like other senior monks here, he must strike a careful balance. He has the moral duty to speak out on behalf of his suffering people, but in order to protect his social programs and hospitals, which provide free medical care to the destitute, he must try not to anger the government, which views such private undertakings as a reproof.

    Nonetheless, speaking at his shelter as an afternoon monsoon rain drummed against the roof, Sitagu Sayadaw sounded frustrated with the government.

    “In my country, I cannot see a real political leader,” he said.

    “Gen. Than Shwe’s ‘Burmese way to democracy?’ ” he said, referring to the junta’s top leader. “What is it?”

    He defended the monks’ uprising last September, saying the government’s failure to provide “material stability” for the people undermined the monks’ ability to provide “spiritual stability.”

    Among monks interviewed in the delta and Yangon, there was no sign of imminent protests.

    Still, a 40-year-old monk at Sitagu Sayadaw’s camp who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of official retribution said that “monks are very angry” about the government’s recent move to evict refugees from monasteries, roadside huts and other temporary shelters, even while the state-run media are filled with stories of government relief efforts. “The government doesn’t want to show the truth.”

    A young monk in the Chaukhtatgyi Paya monastery district in Yangon predicted trouble ahead. “You will see it again because everyone is angry and everyone is jobless,” said the monk, who said he joined the September “saffron revolution” and had a large gash over his right eye from a soldier’s beating to show for it.

    A monk from Mon State in southern Myanmar, who was visiting the delta to assess the damage and arrange an aid shipment, said, “For the government, these people are no more than dead animals in the fields.”

    The simmering confrontation between the pillars of Myanmar life was evident at the village level after the cyclone.

    Shortly after the storm, a monk in Myo Thit, a village 20 miles from Yangon, walked around with a loudspeaker inviting victims to his monastery and asking people to donate. The monk had to stop, villagers said, after a township leader affiliated with the government threatened to confiscate the loudspeaker.

    Irrawaddy Special Report
    One Month after Cyclone Nargis

    By AUNG THET WINE / LAPUTTA Wednesday, June 4, 2008

    Just as relief efforts were beginning to take hold in Laputta—although serious problems still exist—the Burmese authorities have forced tens of thousands of refugees to return to their home villages.

    Based on numbers provided by local officials, as many as 30,000 refugees were sent back to the area of their homes during the past week. Of the estimated 40,000 refugees that lived in Laputta previously, only about 10,000 remain.

    Multimedia (View)
    They are living in better established camps on the outskirts of the city, where they receive shelter, sufficient drinking water, food and other relief supplies on a daily basis.

    Reports also indicate that drinking water, food and other relief material are beginning to reach some refugees who have been sent back to their villages.

    Many refugees are now returning to Laputta to pick up food and other relief aid from international agencies located there. Many refugees also are receiving diesel fuel to power vehicles or boats. However, many refugees lack transportation to return for relief supplies.

    Serious logistical problems remain in terms of distribution drinking water, food and survival material to refugees in more rural areas. Local doctors report many people are suffering from diseases such as diarrhea and malaria, and many others have psychological problems.

    Medical doctors in Laputta said sending the refugees back to their home villages so quickly was a misguided policy, denying them badly needed relief supplies and medical services.

    Local Laputta authorities ordered about 40,000 refugees living in 49 temporary shelters, including camps at Thakya Mara Zein Pagoda, No 1 and No 2 State High Schools, and other temporary shelter sites, to move to shelter camps on the outskirts of town, called Three-mile camp on Laputta-Myaung Mya Road, locally known as the golf course; Five-mile camp and the Yantana Dipa Sport Ground camp.

    During the past week, Laputta, authorities transported tens of thousands of refugees back to their home villages, most of which are destroyed or badly damaged. The refugees were transported on a daily basis by private companies that have been awarded reconstruction contracts. The companies include Ayer Shwe Wah, Max Myanmar, War War Win and Zay Kabar companies.

    "Until May 18, there were about 40,000 refugees in total in camps in Laputta. Starting on May 20, they were sent to camps situated out of town and since then most refugees have been returned to their home areas," said an officer of the Laputta Township PDC, who asked that his name not be disclosed.

    “There are now about 650 families from 22 cyclone-affected villages living at the Yadanar Dipa Sport Ground,” he said. “The camp population is 2,609. The camp population at Three-mile and Five-mile camps now totals about 10,000. The figures are not constant, and the refugees are being sent back daily."

    Refugees in the camps on the outskirts of Laputta are provided with tents and other shelter material donated by the governments of Britain, Japan and international aid agencies. They have access to safe drinking water from distilling machines. Food is distributed by the UN World Food Program (WFP), UNICEF, and nongovernmental organizations, including the Adventist Development and Relief Agency Myanmar [Burma] (Adra-Myanmar) and other organizations.

    "For rice, we receive a sack of rice for four families for three days, which is from the WFP,” said a refugee at Three-mile Camp. “The rice is good to eat. The government also provides some rice. One person receives two tins (measured in a condensed milk tin) of rice for three days. We also receive cooking oil, salt and beans from other organizations. For drinking water and water for other use, we can collect it from the distilling machines set up at the front of the camp."

    Camp refugees now have regular access to health care at medical clinics operated by Holland-MSF, Marlin, Malteser International, UN agencies, the Myanmar Medical Association and the Burmese Ministry of Health. Diarrhea and other diseases are minimal in the camps, sources said.

    However, many refugees already sent back to their villages are living under very different and difficult conditions.

    “They don't get proper assistance for food, drinking water and shelter and no health care is available to them,” said a doctor with an international health agency in Laputta.

    “Many of them are suffering from diseases such as diarrheas, malaria, typhoid, hepatitis, plus psychological distress and depression.”

    "When I went out to villages, I found some cases of diarrhea and typhoid. I see six or seven patients out of maybe 60 villagers. Some suffer from hepatitis, jaundice, pneumonia and malaria. Most of these diseases are caused by lack of safe water."

    Many refugees are suffering from depression, he said, and mental health specialists have yet to arrive in Laputta.

    He criticized the forced return of refugees to their villages.

    "It is certain these refugees will contract some diseases by sending them back without proper preparation,” he said. “It’s also impossible for health services to access all these villages. What we can try to do is just contain diseases to prevent an epidemic."

    When the refugees were returned to their villages, the authorities provided them with a sack of rice, a tin of cooking oil and 20,000 kyats ($16).

    A family of refugees at the jetty in Laputta who were on their way back to Gway Chaung village in the Yway village tract said they were required to sign a consent form saying they were voluntarily repatriated.

    "They asked us repeatedly to go back,” said the man. “They told us repeatedly to work our way out of a beggar-like life by relying on donations and food from others.”

    A refugee living at the Yadanar Dipa Sport Ground said they were told that if they returned home they would not be accepted back in a shelter camp. He said he was returning to his village, Thin Gan Gyi.

    A 60-year-old man at Three-mile Camp said he wanted to return home, but he worried about how he would eat. He had no other option if the authorities forcibly evicted him, he said. 

    A UNICEF officer in Laputta said repatriated refugees face renewed problems of safe drinking water and adequate food and other supplies. They are told to return to contact UN organizations and other relief agencies for assistance, he said.

    "We are receiving representatives from villages,” he said. “They tell us their needs and problems such as lack of drinking water, lack of rice, and ask us to provide pumps to take the salt water from the drinking ponds. They need to make the ponds ready to receive fresh rain water.

    A WFP supervisor said, “We are now getting more than 20 representatives a day from various villages. They get some drinking water, rice sacks and diesel for boats, as much as they can carry when they go back. Some villagers are coming to us almost daily."

    Staff with the UN and international organizations worry that only a limited number of returned refugees are making contact with relief agencies, since many don’t have adequate transportation. Likewise, relief organizations don’t have adequate transportation to reach the villagers.

    Compounding the problem is the monsoon season, which begins this month.

    Sources note that villagers reach out to UN agencies and international organizations, and they hardly share their needs or complaints with local Burmese authorities.

    For example, a representative from the Pyin Salu Sub-township was in Laputta specifically to ask for a water-pump from the Adra-Myanmar [Burma] agency to reconstruct a water reservoir pond for drinking water. His village received just enough drinking water and people relied on seawater for cooking and other purposes.

    A village representative from Hlwa Sar village who was receiving relief supplies from the WFP in Laputta on May 31, told The Irrawaddy, "Almost all of the storm survivors believe in the UN and other international agencies. They don't go to our authorities. The main reason is we don’t trust them."

    Monks Succeed in Cyclone Relief as Junta Falters
    Published: May 31, 2008

    KUN WAN, Myanmar — They paddle for hours on the stormy river, or carry their sick parents on their backs through the mud and rain, traveling for miles to reach the one source of help they can rely on: Buddhist monks.

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    With little help from the government, refugees were fed by a monastery near Yangon.

    Associated Press

    A monk organized relief donations this week for people left homeless by the cyclone. This monastery, outside of Yangon, has become a temporary shelter.

    At a makeshift clinic in this village near Bogale, an Irrawaddy Delta town 75 miles southwest of Yangon, hundreds of villagers left destitute by Cyclone Nargis arrive each day seeking the assistance they have not received from the government or international aid workers.

    Since the cyclone, the Burmese have been growing even closer to the monks while their alienation from the junta grows. This development bodes ill for the government, which brutally cracked down on thousands of monks who took to the streets last September appealing to the ruling generals to improve conditions for the people.

    The May 3 cyclone left more than 134,000 dead or missing and 2.4 million survivors grappling with hunger and homelessness. This week, some of them who had taken shelter at monasteries or gathered on roadsides were being displaced again, this time by the junta, which wants them to stop being an embarrassment to the government and return to their villages “for reconstruction.” On Friday, United Nations officials said that refugees were also being evicted from government-run camps.

    The survivors have little left of their homes and find themselves almost as exposed to the elements as their mud-coated water buffaloes. Meanwhile, outside aid is slow to arrive, with foreign aid agencies gaining only incremental access to the hard-hit Irrawaddy Delta and the government impounding cars of some private Burmese donors.

    In a scene the ruling generals are unlikely to see played out for themselves, a convoy of trucks carrying relief supplies, led by Buddhist monks, passed through storm-devastated villages in the delta this week. Hungry children and homeless mothers bowed in supplication and respect.

    “When I see those people, I want to cry,” said Sitagu Sayadaw, 71, one of Myanmar’s most respected senior monks.

    Village after storm-hit village, it is clear who has won people’s hearts. Monks were among those who died in the storm. Now, others console the survivors while sharing their muddy squalor.

    With tears welling in her eyes, Thi Dar, 45, pressed her hands together in respect before the first monk she saw at the clinic here and told her story. The eight other members of her family were killed in the cyclone. She no longer had anyone to talk with and felt suicidal. The other day, word reached her village that a monk had opened a clinic six miles upriver. So on Thursday, she got up early and caught the first boat.

    “In my entire life, I have never seen a hospital,” she said. “So I came to the monk. I don’t know where the government office is. I can’t buy anything in the market because I lost everything to the cyclone.”

    Nay Lin, 36, a volunteer doctor at the clinic, one of the six emergency clinic shelters Sitagu Sayadaw has opened in the delta, said: “Our patients suffer from infected wounds, abdominal pains and vomiting. They also need counseling for mental trauma, anxiety and depression.”

    While the government has been criticized for obstructing the relief effort, the Buddhist monastery, the traditional center of moral authority in most villages here, proved to be the one institution people could rely on for help.

    The monasteries in the delta that are still standing have been clogged with refugees. People who could help went there with donations or as volunteers. Monasteries that served as religious centers, orphanages and homes for the elderly have also become shelters for the homeless.

    The interdependence between monks and laypeople is age-old. Monks receive alms from the laity and offer spiritual comfort in return. In villages without government schools, a monastic education is often the only option.

    “The monks’ role is more important than ever,” said Ar Sein Na, 46, a monk in the delta village of That Kyar. “In a time of immense suffering like this, people have nowhere to go except to monks.”

    Kyi Than, 38, said she traveled 15 miles by boat to Sitagu Sayadaw’s camp.

    “Our village monk died during the storm,” she said. “Monks are like parents to us. The government wants us to shut up, but monks listen to us.”

    Faced with the deadliest cyclone to hit Asia in 38 years, senior monks have organized their own relief campaigns.

    Every day, their convoys head down delta roads. A leading figure in these efforts is Sitagu Sayadaw, whose name invariably draws a thumbs-up sign here.

    “Meditation cannot remove this disaster,” he said. “Material support is very important now. Now in our country, spiritual and material support are unbalanced.”
    Monks Stepped In Where the Authorities Failed

    By SAW YAN NAING Wednesday, June 4, 2008

    More than 800 monks prayed for the victims of Cyclone Nargis on Tuesday at a Rangoon ceremony in which one senior cleric criticized the regime’s response to the catastrophe.

    Pyinya Thiha, a senior monk at Thardu monastery in Rangoon’s Kyeemyindine Township, accused the junta of exacerbating the plight of the cyclone survivors by thinking only of its own interests and placing restrictions on the delivery of aid. He called on the regime to allow international aid workers access to the cyclone-devastated areas.


    Buddhist monks walk to a monastery to have lunch in Twantay, 30 miles southwest of Rangoon. More than 800 monks prayed for the victims of Cyclone Nargis on Tuesday at a Rangoon ceremony. (Photo: AFP)
    About 100 nuns and more than 500 members of the general public attended the prayer ceremony, in Thardu monastery.  

    Pyinya Thiha said the junta was guilty of a “double injustice” in its approach to the catastrophe. “The current situation is not important for them [but] it is very important for the survival of the people now in trouble.

    “It is necessary to see human beings with the eyes of a human being. They [the junta] should not see human beings as animals.”

    Aid for the cyclone survivors should take priority over everything else, Pyinya Thiha told The Irrawaddy.

    Monks would do “whatever we can for the victims,” he promised. The monks of the Thardu monastery distributed relief supplies daily in Rangoon Division’s Hlaing Tharyar and Kyeemyindine Townships, and prayed every evening for the cyclone victims.

    Monks had already delivered relief supplies—from food to mosquito nets—to about 200 villages in the Irrawaddy delta, he said.

    Monasteries throughout the Irrawaddy delta and Rangoon division had taken in refugees from cyclone-hit areas. Monks had also helped clear up the cyclone damage.

    One Hlaing Tharyar Township resident, Tin Yu, said the authorities didn’t dare prevent the monks from helping cyclone survivors, some of whom were still sheltering in monasteries, despite official pressure to leave. The assistance provided by the monks had been “very encouraging.”

    Join May 23 Action against ASEAN/Singapore in San Francisco; 11:30 to 1:30 pm


    1. Boston Globe: Burma's next wave of dying
    2. Burma's Woes: A Threat to the Junta
    3. ic Wales - UK: Call to boost aid effort to cyclone-stricken Burma
    4. VOA: Burma Says No to Aid Deliveries from US Naval Warships
    5. ABC News:
    Children 'dying of starvation' in Burma

    Burma's next wave of dying

    THE UNITED NATIONS estimates that more than 100,000 people may have been killed in the devastating cyclone in Burma and that some 220,000 are reported missing. But approaching three weeks after the storm, some 75 percent of the 3 million or more severely affected have yet to receive any food, water, shelter, medication for the sick, or means of escape from flooded regions. The Burmese junta has denied access for the delivery of humanitarian aid to all but a handful of outsiders.

    The next wave of dying is already underway, from thirst, starvation, untreated injuries, and infectious diseases. Major health threats for survivors include water-borne diseases such as typhoid, dysentery, cholera, and e. coli; food-borne diseases from eating poor or rotten food, compounded by the lack of cooking fuel and equipment; and the mosquito-borne diseases malaria and dengue fever, now compounded by the huge numbers of people sleeping outside and surrounded by water.

    The international community is at a crucial moment of choice: Should the sovereignty of a regime bent on self-preservation trump the lives of those hundreds of thousands of civilians who are in serious peril because of its life-threatening actions?

    Under the new doctrine of the "responsibility to protect," unanimously adopted by the General Assembly and Security Council, inherent in each state's sovereignty is a corresponding duty to protect one's own citizens from the most serious of human-rights abuses, including crimes against humanity. If a state is either unwilling or unable to protect its own citizens, the international community has an obligation to step in.

    By its policy choices, the Burmese junta is magnifying the extent of the tragedy in a manner that is designed to sacrifice its own people on the altar of its very survival. Such conduct presents a prima facie case of crimes against humanity, under the category of so-called "other inhumane acts" intentionally causing great suffering or death. So far, Burma's allies on the Security Council, including China, Russia, and South Africa, have protected the junta from a robust international response.

    UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon travels to Burma tomorrow to press the regime for greater access. Nevertheless, he has yet to receive any response from General Than Shwe to his calls and letters. ASEAN foreign ministers met Monday and issued a statement claiming that Burma agreed to allow swift access. But the international community should not be fooled by symbolic gestures from the junta such as approving nine helicopters from the World Food Program to fly in relief or granting visas to dozens of aid workers from surrounding countries. Progress is being made at a snail's pace in comparison to the massive need. What is required now is both a massive inflow of supplies and the expert aid workers needed to deliver relief on the scale this storm demands.

    While these political discussions drag on and millions suffer, the junta is using the tragedy to its every advantage. ASEAN is now hosting what the Burmese have described as a "reconstruction" conference in Rangoon on Sunday. Yet how can one talk about reconstruction before the most basic needs of the people have yet to be met? And holding this conference on the same day that the house arrest of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi must be extended will no doubt be spun in junta propaganda as expressions of international approval for their policies.

    If Ban and ASEAN cannot persuade the junta to yield in swift and meaningful ways then the United States, United Kingdom, and France need to press for a multilateral intervention supporting countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore in delivering massive quantities of aid, which Burma has purportedly agreed to allow. Such an Asian intervention should be less threatening than a Western one. But an intervention with or without the support of the junta is desperately needed.

    While the Burmese junta has no qualms about sacrificing its own people, to stand idly by as thousands suffer and die would leave all of us with blood on our hands.

    Chris Beyrer, a medical epidemiologist, directs the Center for Public Health and Human Rights at Johns Hopkins University. Jared Genser is president of Freedom Now and attorney for Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who remains under house arrest in Burma. 


    Burma's Woes: A Threat to the Junta

    People wait for humanitarian help along the road to Bogalay in the Irrawady Delta, Burma.
    Jules Motte / Abaca

    I spent a week reporting from remote towns in the cyclone-ravaged Irrawaddy delta before the Burmese junta began its crackdown. Foreign aid workers, diplomats and undercover journalists were expelled from the disaster area or barred entry at police or military checkpoints. Beyond those checkpoints, Burmese were suffering and dying — 2.4 million people urgently need help, says the United Nations. But the junta's restrictions made it almost impossible for outsiders to witness it.

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    Within days, a British colleague and I were deported for secretly reporting on the disaster. I wondered: why hadn't we been kicked out the previous September, when we had covered the junta's violent suppression of street protests led by Buddhist monks? Answer: because the generals are far more worried by the political implications of the cyclone — and they should be. The combination of popular anger and the junta's reluctant but necessary acceptance of foreign assistance may yet combine to unseat a seemingly unshakeable regime.

    First, the popular anger. "Chinese hearts beat as one," went the national slogan after the Sichuan earthquake. But Burmese hearts ache for millions of cyclone victims neglected by a regime with no heart at all. Countless private citizens are driving trucks loaded with food, water and clothes into the delta. Monks are heading there too, in what could become their biggest mobilization since last September's protests. The regime's expulsion of foreigners has meant that international aid agencies in the area are staffed almost entirely by Burmese, many from other parts of the country. News of the extent of the suffering is spreading by word of mouth, paralleling the Chinese media's unprecedented coverage of the earthquake. Thousands more are watching a Burmese-made documentary circulating secretly in Rangoon containing searing testimony from survivors of the cyclone. Few people remained untouched.

    The government claims it is doing its part. "We have already finished our first phase of emergency relief. We are going on to the second phase, the rebuilding stage," announced Burmese Prime Minister Thein Sein. But with so many Burmese witnessing first-hand the suffering of their compatriots — and passing the word on — never has state propaganda been less convincing.

    The Burmese populace is also seeing how effectively the Chinese authorities dealt with catastrophe in Sichuan, with People's Liberation Army soldiers digging through the rubble and President Hu Jintao meeting survivors. "I'm surprised the Burmese [military] didn't take the opportunity to show they are a people's army too," says a veteran Western aid worker in Rangoon. Instead, Gen. Than Shwe, Burma's head of state, stayed put in the junta's half-built new capital of Naypyidaw, which was unaffected by the cyclone. Only on Sunday did he finally venture into the Irrawaddy delta to meet some of its more presentable survivors. Then — apparently following China's lead — the junta announced three days of national mourning beginning Tuesday. These are the first signs that the junta is beginning to realize both the scale of the disaster and its emotional impact on millions of Burmese.

    Gen. Than Shwe won't be dislodged by post-cyclone anger alone. Zaganar, a Burmese comedian and democratic activist who was briefly jailed for his role in last September's protests, believes the cyclone might have even strengthened the military's hand. Before Cyclone Nargis, people were "ready to rise up" over rising prices and the regime's obsession with holding its rigged referendum, says Zaganar. "But this is the luck of the generals. Nargis helped them because people are shocked, afraid. No one can concentrate on politics."

    But the generals cannot rest easy. The Irrawaddy region accounts for perhaps a quarter of Burma's rice-growing area. Nargis devastated one harvest and made the next crop nearly impossible to plant. "A town is well-fed only when the countryside prospers," runs an old Burmese saying. And when the countryside is devastated? Already the cost of rice in Rangoon is rising and many stores are informally rationing it. Add to this soaring global food prices and the junta's post-Nargis vow to continue its ambitious rice-exporting program, and Burma faces a looming crisis. The rising cost of basic commodities has triggered unrest before — and will do so again.

    And let's not forget: Burma had a humanitarian crisis well before Nargis struck. Malnutrition is widespread. So are malaria and tuberculosis. The healthcare system barely functions. This was exacerbated not only by the junta's refusal to accept foreign aid but by another factor. For too long, influential lobbies in Washington and elsewhere have essentially argued that depriving Burma of humanitarian aid will hasten the junta's demise. Now, the opposite could prove true. The influx of foreign aid and foreign experts will force Burma to engage with the world as never before. A donor conference on Saturday will bring scores more foreign delegates to Rangoon. The junta's agreement to accept more help from its Asian neighbors is a small concession. But it is still one more concession than the world got after the intense diplomatic pressure brought to bear after last September's protests.

    The day I was expelled from Burma, The New Light of Myanmar,* a state-run newspaper, had a small story buried at the foot of page six. It announced a doubling of the estimated numbers of dead and missing to more than 130,000. The final death toll could top 200,000, said a British government report last week. Save the Children are warning that thousands of children could starve. If there is a scrap of solace in all this, here it is: the junta's pitiless response to the cyclone is alienating the very people it depends upon for its own survival. One young Special Branch officer at the airport seemed embarrassed to be expelling a foreign journalist whose only crime was trying to publicize the plight of Burmese disaster victims. "Please forgive me," he kept telling me. "Please forgive me." I now realize he wasn't embarrassed at all. He was ashamed.

    *The junta that rules the country unilaterally decreed changes in place names, including Myanmar for Burma and Yangon for the former capital Rangoon. The U.S. State Department has not recognized these changes. TIME has chosen to retain the name Burma.


    Call to boost aid effort to Burma

    CYNON Valley MP Ann Clwyd is calling for Britain to do more to help the people of Burma, writes MIKE PROSSER.

    Many thousands of people lost their lives in the recent cyclone that swept the country, with many others losing their homes and now at threat from disease.

    Speaking in the Commons, Ms Clwyd said: “Foreign Secretary David Miliband has used strong words on the subject of Burma and the responsibilities of other countries, such as China, to assist in getting humanitarian aid instantly – not in a few days – to Burma.

    “The United Nations has established the principles of the right to intervene and the responsibility to protect.

    “We chair the UN Security Council – surely we can do more than we are now?”

    Meg Munn, parliamentary under-secretary at the Foreign Office, told Ms Clwyd: “We will support any and all activities that will take the matter forward and get that aid into Burma.

    “It is clear that the US and the European countries on the Security Council are ready to move the issues forward.

    “We are pressing to get that aid in,” she said.

    “What is important is not just the physical aid, which is already under great pressure, but the need for people who can distribute it.

    “There are development workers on the ground, but they are not disaster relief experts.

    “We need disaster relief experts there – Burma needs to let those people in now.”


    Burma Says No to Aid Deliveries from US Naval Warships

    21 May 2008
    Burma says it will not allow U.S. naval ships to deliver emergency aid to victims of Cyclone Nargis, which devastated the country's Irrawaddy delta earlier this month. 

    The official New Light of Myanmar newspaper says aid from the United States would come with "strings attached."

    However, the official newspaper did express gratitude for supplies already airlifted into Burma by U.S. military aircraft.

    United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will arrive in Burma Thursday in an effort to boost relief efforts.

    The U.N.'s top relief official, John Holmes, says he met with Burmese Prime Minister Thein Sein on Tuesday about the relief efforts.

    The world body says it has received permission from Burma to deploy nine helicopters to deliver emergency aid.

    A group of homeless Myanmar cyclone survivors take refuge at a monastery, being used as a temporary shelter, on the outskirts of Rangoon, Burma, 21 May 2008
    A group of homeless Myanmar cyclone survivors take refuge at a monastery, being used as a temporary shelter, on the outskirts of Rangoon, Burma, 21 May 2008
    Mr. Ban told reporters in New York Tuesday he hopes to meet with Burmese officials and press them to allow more international relief into the country. 

    Mr. Ban also said he wants to see for himself the situation on the ground, where the May 3 cyclone left 78,000 people dead and another 56,000 missing. Another 2.5 million survivors are vulnerable to famine and disease.

    The Burmese government on Tuesday began three days of official mourning for the dead and missing.

    Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.

    Children 'dying of starvation' in Burma

    Posted Sun May 18, 2008 3:10pm AEST
    Updated Sun May 18, 2008 3:39pm AEST

    There are fears children are dying in Burma because not enough aid is getting through. (File photo)

    There are fears children are dying in Burma because not enough aid is getting through. (File photo) (Getty Images)

    A British-based charity says young children in Burma may already be dying of starvation in the Irrawaddy delta, which was hit hard by cyclone Nargis two weeks ago.

    Save the Children says even before the cyclone, it had identified about 30,000 children under five years old suffering from malnutrition in the region.

    Save the Children now believes that some youngsters in the areas devastated by the cyclone could starve to death within days and says they urgently need foods rich in energy.

    It claims to have already helped more than 140,000 people and needs to reach many more before it is too late.

    But like everyone else, its efforts are being hampered by the Burmese junta. Their officials say 78,000 people have been killed by the cyclone and 56,000 others are still missing.


    Meanwhile, Burma's state press has painted a picture of a country swiftly recovering from cyclone Nargis, despite an outcry from foreign nations which have branded the regime's response "inhuman".

    The state-run New Light of Burma (Burma) newspaper carried more than two dozen items extolling the relief effort of Government agencies after the cyclone.

    "Rescue and relief works can be expedited effectively thanks to the measures the Government has taken to materialise the relief undertakings as scheduled," the official mouthpiece said.

    Aid agencies and foreign governments have become increasingly angered by the regime's insistence that it can supervise the relief effort, even as up to 2.5 million survivors languish without food, medicine and clean water.

    People are still emerging from the Irrawaddy region with tales of desperation and misery. Bodies remain rotting in rice paddies, and many say they have still not received Government help since the May 2-3 storm.

    The English-language daily insisted it was accepting foreign aid, and listed various shipments that have arrived.

    "However, some foreign news agencies broadcast false information, and thus some international and regional organisations are assuming that the Government has been rejecting and preventing aids for storm victims," it said.

    "Those who have been to [Burma] understand the actual fact."

    Wary of any foreign influence that could weaken its 46 years of iron rule in Burma, the military has insisted on managing the relief operation itself and kept most international disaster experts away.

    But aid groups say the Government cannot possibly handle the tragedy by itself, with hundreds of tonnes of supplies and high-tech equipment piling up in warehouses, bottle-necked by logistics and other problems.

    British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has denounced the junta's reaction as "inhuman", while Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu has accused the regime of crimes against humanity.

    - AFP

    Don't Let ASEAN Cover Up the Crisis in Burma;
    Burma Needs Massive Aid Now!
    Join May 23 March and Meditative Protest at Singapore Consulate:


    1. NY Times Editorial: More Shame on the Junta
    2. LA Times: In Myanmar, cyclone survivors live with the dead
    U.N. Leader Aims to Get More Aid in Myanmar

    NY Times Editorial

    More Shame on the Junta

    Published: May 21, 2008

    There is no end to the criminal behavior of Myanmar’s generals. Nearly three weeks after Cyclone Nargis killed more than 100,000 people, the junta’s refusal to open the country to international help is condemning many more thousands to malnutrition, disease and, unless something is done quickly, death.

    The generals have now grudgingly agreed to allow their Asian neighbors to oversee distribution of foreign relief and granted the United Nations World Food Program permission to fly nine helicopters. Given the horrifying size and complexity of the disaster, that’s not nearly enough.

    Most international disaster specialists are still banned from the storm-devastated area. So, largely, are the United States and France, which have ships loaded with heavy-lift helicopters, food, water, medicine, field hospitals and other supplies waiting in nearby waters.

    The generals are similarly determined to subvert a donors conference set for this weekend in Yangon. State-run media claimed that the government has already met victims’ immediate needs and would now be moving into the reconstruction phase. Diplomats who attend the conference must make clear that until the junta opens up the country to a full relief effort, there will be no reconstruction help — and even after that, any rebuilding projects must be controlled by international organizations not the corrupt regime.

    The international community has been walking a fine line, trying to cajole the generals, who only care about staying in power, into cooperating. That hasn’t worked, and more lives are lost every day. If the junta does not quickly open up its ports and airports, the United States and France must begin airdropping aid to victims. No one wants a confrontation, but the world cannot sit by while tens of thousands more people die.

    We hope that the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, delivers that tough message when he visits Myanmar this week. That is assuming the junta’s leader, Senior Gen. Than Shwe, agrees to meet with him. So far, he has refused to accept Mr. Ban’s telephone calls.
    From the Los Angeles Times


    In Myanmar, cyclone survivors live with the dead

    Decomposing bodies remain in the southern delta system, fouling the water survivors have to rely on for washing. Villagers lack the tools to remove the corpses, or to resume farming.
    From a Times Staff Writer

    May 20, 2008

    WAT MYON, MYANMAR — They are living with the dead.

    More than two weeks after Tropical Cyclone Nargis wiped away all but one of this village's houses, decomposing corpses still lie on muddy pathways, or are trapped in eddies along the shore of the broad Pyamaia River nearby.

    The stench overpowers every corner of U Thon Tun's badly damaged home, where 25 survivors have taken refuge beneath a leaky roof patched with tarp. The wind and the rain, which pours down on them every day, cannot erase the sickly smell.

    The villagers, all tenant farmers, want to get past their loss, go back to work and earn money again before another rice crop is lost. But their paddies are ruined, they have no seeds to plant, and there are no tools to work soil flooded by the sea.

    Without any tools, the villagers say, they can't solve another pressing problem: the corpses that are fouling the river where they wash themselves each day.

    Soldiers sent in to gather the corpses suddenly disappeared Sunday, and villagers say they heard that the troops were refusing to dispose of any more bodies, leaving survivors no choice but to live with them.

    "It's not 10, it's not 100, it's thousands of bodies," said Thon Tun. "We gave up collecting corpses around here. It's impossible to bury them properly."

    Local authorities have provided small rations of food, but not the seeds, equipment and water buffalo that villagers say they need to start planting by the end of June. The water buffalo died in the storm that thrashed the village and flooded the paddies that now cannot be planted without the help of the buffalo.

    Meanwhile, saltwater is poisoning the soil and fresh water reserves. Yet villagers have no salt, which is essential to a healthy diet, for their meager meals. The Irrawaddy River delta produces most of the country's salt, but the factories were destroyed in the storm.

    So Thon Tun, 56, and the refugees who depend on him have a lot of time to sit and think, to breathe in the inescapable smell, and to worry what fate they may be condemned to suffer because they survived, only to face an agonizing wait for help.

    "I didn't die, but I feel dead," said Hla Ye, 70, staring blankly. "The people killed by the cyclone are lucky because they don't know anything about what came next. I wish I could join them."

    She turned, placed her withered hands together and bowed her head in prayer to a small statue of Buddha, surrounded by bouquets of plastic flowers in a sitting room shrine. She struck a triangular bronze gong, suspended by string from the ceiling, ringing it the traditional three times to share her merit with the world.

    Then she sought solace in a deep puff on a long cheroot, rolled in an old scrap of newspaper. As she brooded, the sky over the delta darkened.

    Lightning strikes and booming thunderclaps shook the wooden walls as rain and wind thrashed the region for several hours Monday.

    "What we really want is to go back to work in the fields, but we can't do that," said Zaw Zaw, 28, whose only clothes are a pair of camouflaged shorts and a dirty T-shirt with the slogan "Keepin' It Real."

    "We have to worry about where we'll get food, and clothes, and water. We're farmers. We know that next year is going to be worse if we don't start planting soon."

    The seawater that washed away most of the village, killing 25 of its 45 residents, also soaked more than 900 pounds of rice seed. It's now worthless.

    Local officials have provided small rations of rice, chicken-flavored instant noodles and cookies that don't provide the nutrition that the United Nations and other agencies say as many as 2.5 million survivors need for a long struggle ahead.

    The steady rainfall provides drinking water, and the villagers saved 10 gallons of diesel from the storm to power a small pump, which they hope will drain their reservoir of seawater enough for them to fill it with fresh water again.

    Save the Children, one of the most experienced foreign aid agencies in Myanmar, estimates that 30,000 children in the delta region were malnourished before the cyclone hit and could be starving in two to three weeks if adequate help doesn't arrive.

    The military regime that rules Myanmar, also known as Burma, says that at least 78,000 people have died and that 56,000 others are missing since the storm's 120- to 150-mph winds ravaged the country's south in early May.

    Ignoring intense pressure, the regime has refused to open the disaster zone to a massive international relief effort supervised by foreign aid workers. Officials here remain suspicious that foreigners would serve as spies. As a result, the military government has allowed only a limited number of relief flights, including several carrying U.S. aid. Most of the supplies are being distributed by the Myanmar authorities.

    The government has closed the hardest-hit Irrawaddy Delta area to foreigners, except for about 160 Asian aid workers. The few foreign journalists that are here must work undercover, and the regime has ordered partially independent news media to report only official details of the relief effort.

    Tight censorship has spawned a new industry: cyclone DVDs, which show the corpses, suffering survivors, and other realities of the storm's aftermath that the regime doesn't want its people to see.

    The videos are selling well in urban markets, and people with access to the Internet and shortwave radio broadcasts are also hearing how hard the generals have resisted offers of foreign aid.

    That includes 1,000 tons of food and shelters for 15,000 people sitting on a French naval vessel, waiting off the country's southern shore. The regime refuses to let the ship enter Myanmar territory because France won't hand the supplies to the Asian nation's military to distribute.

    The resulting anger is growing in a sensitive year for the regime. This summer marks the 20th anniversary of a student-led uprising that the regime crushed, killing thousands of protesters.

    The generals are used to shrugging off foreign criticism, and despite the scope of the current disaster, they have provided a tepid response to U.N. pleas for a full-scale relief operation. Military ruler Senior Gen. Than Shwe has refused to take U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's phone calls, or reply to two letters from him.

    Ban plans to leave for Myanmar today, and the government says he will be given a tour of the delta region. Foreign diplomats were taken on a similar tour over the weekend, and they said they were shown model camps to support the regime's claim that it has the situation under control.

    Survivors who went to collect their food rations near here Monday said local officials told them they would only be fed for two more months, and then they would be on their own. It's a warning in keeping with recent government speeches insisting that people must be self-sufficient.

    But even if aid deliveries suddenly improved, and farmers got the seeds and equipment they needed, the first harvest wouldn't come until six months after they start preparing the fields and seedlings, they said.

    As survivors here continue to wait for help, one of the few things that makes them smile is the name of what was once their village: It means "the pig gone with the water." Legend has it, villagers say, that the fast-moving creek next to their homes has washed away a lot of pork over the generations.

    Nargis' storm surge was so powerful, said one man, that a wave at least 10 feet tall swept him five miles from home. It killed so much livestock that survivors are thinking of renaming the village Koway Myon: "the water buffalo gone with the water."

    The joke ends there.

    May 22, 2008

    U.N. Leader Aims to Get More Aid in Myanmar

    BANGKOK — The United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, flew on Thursday to Myanmar, where he hoped to pry open the door to more international aid at what he called a “critical moment” in the country’s slow recovery from the cyclone that left at least 100,000 people dead or missing.

    “Aid in Myanmar should not be politicized,” said Mr. Ban, as he stopped in Bangkok on Wednesday. “Our focus now is on saving lives.”

    But the opening offered by Myanmar appeared to be a narrow one. Some analysts said the ruling generals were conceding only enough to defuse international pressure in the wake of the May 3 cyclone.

    Suspicious of foreigners bearing relief supplies, the government has so far barred any major flow of aid from the United Nations and Western donors.

    On Wednesday it said it would not allow delivery of aid from United States Navy vessels waiting offshore.

    Mr. Ban is scheduled to meet the leader of the military junta, Senior Gen. Than Shwe. General Shwe had previously not responded to Mr. Ban’s messages or taken his telephone calls.

    Mr. Ban was also scheduled to attend a meeting on Sunday of international donors in Yangon, where he hoped to help coordinate aid, along with Myanmar’s neighbors in the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or Asean.

    Myanmar agreed this week to let Asean to coordinate a relief program and send in medical workers.

    That opening falls far short of the huge relief operation that the United Nations says is needed to help an estimated 2.5 million victims who face shortages of food and water and a growing threat of disease.

    The official government newspaper, The New Light of Myanmar, said Wednesday that the country would not accept relief supplies carried by the American vessels that are waiting, along with French and British vessels, outside its territorial waters.

    “The strings attached to the relief supplies carried by warships and military helicopters are not acceptable to the Myanmarese people,” it said. “We can manage by ourselves. Myanmar has many good neighborly countries.”

    The United States has insisted that it has no ulterior motive in offering disaster relief and has promised to withdraw its helicopters and personnel after deliveries have been made.

    “They are really fearful that the United States is involved in regime change as it has said from 1990 on,” David Steinberg, an expert on Myanmar at George Washington University in Washington, said of the junta. “As a member of Asean, they feel they can control the situation.”

    He said the motives and methods of the junta have not changed over the years. When it is under pressure, the junta offers promises and calibrated concessions, but holds its ground.

    “The overwhelming motive is to keep power,” Mr. Steinberg said, “and in order to do that you take off bits and pieces of pressure as you see the need. But you don’t help people if you are going to jeopardize your superior role.”

    A Burmese exile magazine, The Irrawaddy, which is based in Thailand, took the analysis a step further on Tuesday, saying: “The Burmese junta is still in the driver’s seat. Asean, the U.N. and the rest of the world are — again — being manipulated by the oppressive generals.”

    In Washington, the United States ambassador to Asean, Scot Marciel, said at a Congressional hearing on Tuesday that “the door must be opened far wider and rapidly to prevent a second catastrophe” of further death.

    Myanmar has set the death toll in Cyclone Nargis at about 78,000, with nearly 56,000 missing, but the United Nations and relief donors believe that at least 100,000 have died.

    “Without an adequate and independent assessment of the situation and current needs, as well as a commitment by the regime to provide the necessary access, a pledging conference is unlikely to produce the results we seek,” Mr. Marciel said.

    Speaking in New York before his departure, Mr. Ban said that he hoped to set up a “logistics hub” in Myanmar or nearby, and that the United Nations and Asean could join in coordinating relief efforts.

    He said the government had given permission for nine helicopters from the World Food Program to ferry aid to survivors, a significant softening of its blanket rejection of United Nations aid workers.

    “Further similar moves will follow — including expediting the visas of relief workers seeking to enter the country,” Mr. Ban said. “I am confident that emergency relief efforts can be scaled up quickly.”

    He said a major increase in aid was urgent. “This is a critical moment for Myanmar,” he said. “We have a functioning relief program in place, but so far we have been able to reach only about 25 percent of Myanmar’s people in need.”

    In its commentary rejecting American aid, The New Light of Myanmar vented its concerns about foreign donors, saying they were a greater threat than the cyclone.

    “Our country is going through a variety of stormlike plots and intrigues that are much severer than Nargis, and they are endless,” it said.

    “They are none other than envy storms, criticism storms and rumor storms created by certain Western countries and national traitors at home and abroad who are showing negative attitudes toward our nation and our people.”