BurmaNet News, December 22, 2006-January 2, 2007
editor at burmanet.org
Tue Jan 2 14:10:58 EST 2007
December 22-January 2, 2006 Issue # 3112
The Burmese people deserve our unequivocal support and effective action,
which has been postponed far too long.
- Nobel Laureates Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Amartya Sen, from a December
22, 2006 op-ed published in the International Herald Tribune
Mizzima News: Than Shwe in hospital
Reuters: Army-ruled Myanmar adjourns constitution talks
Deutsche Presse-Agentur: Myanmar opposition hosts political art exhibition
Xinhua: Myanmar, China ink hydropower deal
ON THE BORDER
Inter Press Service: Karen rebel leader dead, but his struggle lives on
AFP: Myanmar cracks down against northeastern Indian rebels
BUSINESS / TRADE
AFP: More gas discovered in impoverished Myanmar: report
Times of India: GAIL buys 30% in Myanmar block
Irrawaddy: India woos Burma with weapons for gas
AFP: US vows to press on with UN resolution on Myanmar repression
Xinhua: EU to provide more humanitarian aid to Myanmar
Toronto Star: Lawyers plan controversial Burmese visit
OPINION / OTHER
IHT: The Burmese people deserve our support - Desmond M. Tutu and Amartya Sen
January 2, Mizzima News
Than Shwe in hospital
The new year has not begun auspiciously for Senior General Than Shwe,
aging military junta leader of Burma. His heart problem, currently being
treated at a Singapore specialist medical centre, may prevent him from
attending the ceremonial Burmese Independence day dinner party scheduled
for Jan 4.
The official quarterly military meeting, normally held in the second week
of January, may have to be postponed too, according to sources.
The general has been admitted to Singapore General Hospital at Outram Park
for treatment of a coronary artery blockage.
The 73 year old General is accompanied by his wife Kyaing Kyaing , his
daughters Kyi Kyi Shwe, Dewar Shwe, and Aye Aye Thit Shwe, while his other
relatives are in Burma. They were scheduled to return to Burma on Monday.
Analysts believe that his condition is not serious, although the blockage
problem, has persisted for some months now.
The Burmese official media has remained quiet about his treatment. His
customary message on Burmese Armed Forces Day has been carried in the New
Light of Myanmar.
Today is Hari Raya Haji day, a holiday in Singapore. However, Burmese
embassy staff have been put on high alert on account of the General's
treatment. They have been instructed not to speak or respond to the
media, according to foreign ministry sources.
Gen Than Shwe took over as chief of the army junta in 1992, when Gen Saw
Maung was forced to retire on "health grounds." During the massive
crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations earlier, he was the deputy head
of the army.
About a couple of months ago, he instructed Gen Maung Aye, who turned 69
recently, to take care of day to day running of the administration.
Speculation has also been rife in Burma that General Than would ask Gen
Thura Shwe Mann to take over from him.
December 29, Reuters
Army-ruled Myanmar adjourns constitution talks
Yangon: Myanmar's military rulers adjourned a constitution-drafting
convention on Friday which is expected to reconvene for its final session
next May, delegates said.
Convention convener Lieutenant-General Thein Sein told the 1,000-plus
delegates, most of them handpicked by the junta, they would resume their
work at "a time convenient for all," one delegate said.
"Although he did not say exactly when, it is understood that the
convention will resume in May next year for the last session," the
delegate told Reuters.
The junta, which has run the former Burma under various guises since 1962,
says the convention is key to a seven-stage "roadmap to democracy" laid
out in 2003 by former Prime Minister Khin Nyunt, who was ousted in October
Western governments, analysts and diplomats say it is nothing but a
smokescreen to preserve the generals' grip on power, especially while
opposition figures such as Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi remain under
Critics point to a key objective of the convention which ensures a
"leadership role" for the army in politics.
The military started the national convention process in early 1993 but
never committed to a schedule to conclude the exercise boycotted by major
opposition parties, including Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy.
The United States said on Thursday it would renew efforts early next year
to pass a U.N. Security Council resolution to prod the junta to allow
greater freedom and improve human rights.
"We remain concerned about the deteriorating humanitarian and political
situation in Burma, which poses a threat to stability in the region,"
State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said in Washington.
The United States has repeatedly pledged to ask the Security Council to
take action on Myanmar, but has not yet introduced a promised draft
Russia, a permanent member of the 15-nation council with veto power, and
others on the council have argued that Myanmar did not constitute an
international threat to peace and security, which is the council's mandate
under the U.N. Charter.
January 2, Deutsche Presse-Agentur
Myanmar opposition hosts political art exhibition
Yangon: In a rare show of defiance, Myanmar's opposition party on Tuesday
opened an art exhibition at their headquarters featuring paintings with
political messages for the ruling military junta.
The 51 paintings, all contributed by well known Myanmar artists and
political sympathizers of the National League for Democracy led by Nobel
laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, bore titles such as Do It Now, Stop It Now,
Freedom and Never Surrender.
The exhibition, held to commemorate Independence Day on Thursday, was a
rare show of defiance against Myanmar's ruling junta by the NLD, which has
been somewhat inactive since the arrest of its leader Suu Kyi in May 2003.
Proceeds from sales of the paintings will be donated to the NLD's Central
Humanitarian Assistance Committee, to assist political prisoners and their
The contributing artists, while fearless in their subject matter, opted to
use pseudonyms for fear of reprisals, NLD sources said.
The NLD won Myanmar's general election of 1990 by a landslide but has been
blocked from claiming power by the country's military establishment for
the past 16 years. Suu Kyi, the NLD's secretary general, has been under
house arrest for 11 of the past 17 years.
January 1, Agence France Presse
Myanmar, China ink hydropower deal
Yangon: China has agreed to help build a new hydro-electric dam on the
Shweli River in central Myanmar, the latest in a series of dam projects in
the military-ruled state, official media said Monday.
The dam will produce a maximum of 600 megawatts of power, the official New
Light of Myanmar newspaper said.
The agreement was signed Saturday in Myanmar's new administrative capital
Naypyidaw by the head of Myanmar's hydropower department, Aung Koe Shwe
and the chairman of the Yunnan United Power Development Co., Huang
Guangming, it said.
Myanmar's government has recently signed a slate of agreements with
neighbours China and Thailand to build hydro-electric dams that would
generate energy to power their own growing economies.
The biggest of the projects is a six-billion-dollar deal with Thailand
signed in April to build a dam on the Salween River, the longest undammed
river in Southeast Asia.
The dam would be the biggest in Myanmar with a 7,000-megawatt capacity but
it has raised the ire of environmental groups and rights activists who
fear it will destroy habitats and uproot villages.
The official newspaper said the much smaller Shweli River dam would
generate power mainly for use in Myanmar.
ON THE BORDER
December 29, Inter Press Service
Karen rebel leader dead, but his struggle lives on - Marwaan Macan-markar
Bangkok: The death of a long-time adversary of Burma's military regime --
one they have called a "murderer" and a "village burner" -- will not slow
the rebel movement he led, his followers said.
"There will not be any change till we achieve our goal," David Htaw,
foreign affairs spokesman for the Karen National Union (KNU), said in a
telephone interview from the Thai-Burma border. "We want equal
opportunities and rights for the Karen people."
His comments came amid speculation that Rangoon was hoping to use the
death on Sunday of KNU leader Bo Mya to engage the rebels in
reconciliation talks. The rare presence of a colonel from the Burmese army
at Bo Mya's funeral Tuesday at a KNU stronghold along Burma's eastern
border fed the speculation.
"There are some kind of moves for talks with the help of Thailand," added
Htaw. "The presence of a Burmese military representative at the funeral
was also rare. This has never happened in the past."
Yet Burma watchers say that Rangoon's junta should also stop its
continuing assault on villages in the country's Karen state, home to the
Karen ethnic community, if such gestures are to be meaningful. In the
current phase, which began after the rainy season ended in November, the
Burmese military has been trying to isolate KNU fighters from the mostly
impoverished Karen communities.
A late December report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused the Burmese
army of using landmines to "terrorize" civilians as part of this military
strategy. "Since the start of the harvest season in November, Burmese army
soldiers have been laying increasing number of antipersonnel landmines in
front of houses, around rice fields, and along trails leading to fields in
order to deter civilians from harvesting their crops," the New York-based
rights lobby revealed.
Adds Brad Adams, HRW's Asia director: "This is a concerted policy aimed at
denying people their livelihoods and food or forcing them to risk losing
limbs and lives."
Similar attacks on Karen civilians during past years have created a
humanitarian crisis, forcing tens of thousands to flee their villages and
seek refuge in forests or in camps across the Thai border. Civilians who
have been caught by the advancing Burmese troops have been shot at,
tortured, raped and even compelled into forced labor.
Such violence against Karen civilians is what kept Bo Mya committed to
leading the Karen rebels, say Burma specialists who have been reflecting
on his contribution in shaping and sustaining the KNU until his death at
the age of 79. "In the eyes of his people, General Bo Mya is still the
most renowned, respected and strongest symbol of their struggle for
freedom," writes Phil Thornton, an Australian who has authored books about
life on the Thai-Burma border, in a commentary in Friday's edition of The
Nation newspaper. "His death leaves a void that will be hard to fill."
In an interview he had given to The Irrawaddy, a current affairs magazine
produced by Burmese journalists living in exile in Thailand, Bo Mya had
said, "I understand that a revolution means opposing the wrong and
constructing the right thing. Our revolution is one that must fight
against evil and all wrongs."
He had put those words into practice early in his life, when at the age of
21, he joined the Karen fighters who challenged the Burmese government's
authority over them, triggering Asia's oldest ethnic conflict, now in its
57th year. Bo Mya's spirit of resistance and fighting record -- first
burnished against the Japanese army during World War II - led him to the
During his nearly 25 years as the KNU's leader, Bo Mya, frequently
photographed wearing a beret and battle fatigues, also gained a reputation
as a tough-talking strategist who was averse to criticism and openness
within his organization, the largest ethnic rebel group in Burma. "With
nearly half a century of battle and revolutionary experience, Bo Mya won
the respect of many exiled leaders and dissidents," The Irrawaddy noted
this week. "His straightforward and often ruthless leadership was also
respected by his troops."
The Karen uprising, which began in 1949, sparked a similar reaction among
Burma's other ethnic groups, also unhappy at moves by the country's new
government since independence from the British, in 1948, to cater to the
interests of the majority Burman ethnic community.
By the mid-1990s, however, the Karens, who make up an estimated 7 million
people in a country of some 50.5 million, were among the few who had a
rebel movement still refusing to obey Rangoon's commands. Seventeen other
ethnic rebel groups signed ceasefire agreements with the Burmese junta,
with then failed to meet its side of the deal.
The State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), as the Burmese military
regime is formally known, also attempted to bully the ceasefire groups
into accepting the country's ongoing constitutional drafting process.
Burma has more than 130 ethnic communities, with the largest of them being
the Chin, Kachin, Karen, Karenni, Mon, Rakhine and Shan, all of whom live
along this Southeast Asian country's borders.
But it was Bo Mya who stood out among the rebel group leaders, leaving
Rangoon unable to be in complete control of the country. "He led the
strongest ethnic armed movement and Rangoon considered him a fierce
fighter," Soe Aung, foreign affairs spokesman for the National Council for
the Union of Burma (NCUB), an umbrella body of Burmese political and human
rights groups in exile, told IPS.
December 29, Agence France Presse
Myanmar cracks down against northeastern Indian rebels
Guwahati: Myanmar has launched a military crackdown against an Indian
tribal separatist group camped in the country, with heavy fighting
reported between Myanmarese troops and guerrillas, a rebel leader said
Rebels and the Myanmarese soldiers were fighting pitched battles in Hkmati
district in Myanmar's northern Sagaing Division, a spokesman for the S.S.
Khaplang faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-K)
"A brigade of the Myanmarese army with heavy weapons launched the assault
targeting our cadres for the past three days although there have been no
reports of any casualties on our side so far," Kughalo Mulatonu, a senior
NSCN-K leader told AFP by telephone from an undisclosed location.
There was no immediate confirmation of the military offensive from
Myanmar, with which India shares a 1,640-kilometre (1,000-mile) unfenced
Myanmar has repeatedly assured New Delhi that it will not let Indian
rebels operate from its soil. The last crackdown on Indian rebel camps was
Indian officials say the porous frontier allows the rebels to escape into
Myanmar after attacking Indian troops.
The NSCN-K, fighting for an independent homeland for the Naga tribe in
northeastern India, has at least 50 camps with a total of around 5,000
guerrilla fighters in Sagaing, according to Indian estimates.
The group has been observing a ceasefire with New Delhi since 2001, though
formal peace talks are yet to start.
The rebels say they are protecting their ethnic identity and accuse New
Delhi of exploiting the tea, timber and oil-rich region.
Indian intelligence officials say at least five militant groups including
the NSCN-K, operating in India's northeast, have their training camps in
northern Myanmar's thick jungles.
"The offensive by the military junta has the backing of the Indian
government with most of the weapons used in the operation supplied by New
Delhi," said Mulatonu.
"All our top leaders are safe," he said.
More than 50,000 people have been killed in violence in India's
insurgency-racked northeast since 1947.
BUSINESS / TRADE
December 31, Agence France Presse
More gas discovered in impoverished Myanmar: report
Yangon: Impoverished Myanmar, working with Thailand's state oil firm, has
discovered more potentially rich offshore gas deposits in the southwestern
Gulf of Martaban, official media reported Sunday.
The New Light of Myanmar newspaper said that Myanmar Oil and Gas
Enterprise and Thailand's PTT Exploration and Production (PTTEP) had
discovered an estimated 2.5 trillion cubic feet (75 billion square metres)
of natural gas in block M-9.
Myanmar, one of the world's poorest countries and under US and European
economic sanctions over human rights abuses and suppression of democracy,
is increasingly reliant on revenue from its oil and gas deposits.
Energy minister Lun Thi called for the speedy launch of commercial
production of the gas, the New Light of Myanmar reported, adding that
plans were underway to drill six more wells in block M-9 in 2007.
With the new discovery, block M-9 is estimated to contain 8.0 trillion
cubic feet of gas, the newspaper said.
Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise and PTTEP, Thailand's largest exploration
firm, began drilling in early December in block M-9 in the Gulf of
Martaban, which opens out into the Andaman Sea.
Despite international condemnation and growing frustration at Myanmar's
military regime, its neighbors have been jostling to take advantage of the
country's abundant natural resources.
Natural gas from Myanmar currently accounts for some 20 percent of
That gas comes mainly from the Yetagun field -- operated by Malaysia's
Petronas, Japan's Nippon Oil and PTTEP -- and the Yadana field run by
France's Total, US firm Unocal and PTTEP. Both fields are in the Gulf of
Myanmar's oil and gas production has become the largest source of foreign
currency earning, according to official figures.
December 26, The Times of India
GAIL buys 30% in Myanmar block
New Delhi: State-owned gas utility GAIL has acquired stake in Block A-7 in
Myanmar. The company, as consortium partner along with Silver Wave Energy,
has signed the production sharing contract with Myanmar Oil and Gas
Enterprise on December 6 for the block located in Rakhine offshore area of
GAIL will hold 30 percent participating interest, the remaining 70 percent
will be with Silver Wave Energy. GAIL now holds a participating interest
in 17 exploration blocks, along with national and international consortium
partners. Of these, seven are onland blocks and 10 are offshore blocks.
GAIL has also got stake in the A-1 and A-3 blocks in Myanmar and Block 56
in Oman. It is now in talks with the Myanmar government to figure out a
way of bringing gas from the existing fields in Myanmar to India. There
are two options being examined.
The first option is a pipeline through the northeast and the second is as
LNG (liquefied natural gas). In India, there are 13 blocks which are in
basins such as Mahanadi, Bengal, Gujarat Saurashtra, Mumbai, Cambay,
Assam-Akaran and Cauvery. GAIL consortium has also won three blocks in the
latest round of bidding for CBM blocks in the country.
January 2, Irrawaddy
India woos Burma with weapons for gas - Aung Lwin Oo
New Delhis eagerness to supply Burma with weapons highlights new quid pro
Increased contacts between senior military chiefs on both sides of the
Burma-India border, involving Indian weapons sales, are believed by
analysts to have two primary objectives: to help flush out Burma-based
Indian insurgents and to counter growing Chinese influence in Naypyidaw.
But the sale of arms and related technical equipment is also likely to be
linked to New Delhis Look East economic policy, including ambitions to
buy huge quantities of Burmas offshore gas in the Bay of Bengal. If the
gas bidagainst rivals China and Thailandis successful, it will also
involve building a costly pipeline through rebel-infested areas of
northwest Burma and northeast India.
During a visit to Burma in November, Indias Air Marshal S P Tyagi offered
a multimillion dollar sale of military hardware to Naypyidaw. The package
includes helicopters, technical upgrades of Burmas Russian and
Chinese-made fighter planes, naval surveillance aircraft and radar
manufactured by Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited, of New Delhi.
Military sources said the Burma junta has shown interest in acquiring
Bangalore-based Hindustan Aeronautics Limited-made helicopters. The air
marshals offer includes Indian-made advanced light helicopters useful for
combating insurgent groups and for rapid response military movements.
The visit of Gen Shwe Mann, the juntas joint chief of staff, in December
was expected to expand the arms sales talks.
Prior to the air force chiefs visit, Indian army chief Gen J J Sing
offered, during a visit he made to Burma, to provide training in
counterinsurgency campaigns for Burmese special forces.
Earlier in 2006, Indian Navy chief admiral Arun Prakash also visited Burma
to negotiate the sale of two British-made BN-2 Islander maritime
surveillance aircraft. This was followed by the sale of an unspecified
number of T-55 tanks and 105mm light artillery guns.
That deal was confirmed by the Indian Army deputy chief, Lt-Gen S
Pattabhiraman, to the Indian magazine Force in September. We have
recommended and started giving them [the Burmese military] 105mm field
guns, said Pattabhirama, adding that India had provided a few 75mm
howitzers to Burma in the past.
Since 1993, New Delhi has reversed its position on Burmas military
The Indian states of Assam, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland and Arunachal
Pradesh, bordering or close to remote and inaccessible regions of Burma,
have been plagued by insurgencies for decades. But an attack on a
military post in Assam last July by the United National Liberation Front,
one of the oldest armed groups defying New Delhi, seems to have
strengthened the Indian militarys resolve to deal with the rebels.
However, it is almost impossible for India to counter the insurgency along
Indias northeastern border without effective military cooperation from
Last September, a Burmese delegation led by Deputy Minister for Home
Affairs Brig-Gen Phone Swe, and Indian officials led by Home Secretary
Vinod Kumar Duggal, held talks in New Delhi to consider ways of securing
their troubled border. The Indian delegation reportedly submitted a list
of 15 India-related insurgent bases they believe are operating inside
The Naypyidaw regime has pledged to root out any insurgents who are
troubling neighbors and taking sanctuary on Burmese territory. However,
the junta says poor access to border areas due to lack of roads has
hindered action. The junta has therefore also sought road-building
equipment and expertise from India.
Chinas influence in Burmaeconomically and politicallyis also viewed by
analysts as a major reason for New Delhis attempt to develop closer ties
with the Burmese regime. India is now Burmas fourth largest trading
partnerits investment reached US $35.08 million last year.
Now that India hopes to pipe natural gas from Burma through its unstable
northeastern states, including Mizoram and Assam, New Delhi clearly feels
the time has come to rid itself of insurgents and cozy up to the Burmese
December 28, Agence France Presse
US vows to press on with UN resolution on Myanmar repression
Washington: The United States vowed Thursday to press ahead with efforts
to push a resolution through the UN Security Council condemning political
repression in Myanmar, despite the reluctance of council heavyweights
China and Russia.
"We remain concerned about the deteriorating humanitarian and political
situation in Burma, which poses a threat to stability in the region,"
State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said, using the former name
"We believe the time has come for the Security Council to take action to
express its deep concern about Burma," he said, referring to a US-drafted
Security Council resolution demanding Myanmar's ruling military release
political prisoners and end operations against restive ethnic minorities.
The United States introduced the resolution on December 13, but the
measure faced opposition from China and was expected to make little
immediate progress in the new year when Russia takes over the presidency
of the Security Council for January.
Casey said Washington "remains committed to pursuing this resolution as
soon as possible in the new year" -- setting up a possible confrontation
with Moscow shortly after the two sides ended a hard-fought battle over
another resolution imposing sanctions on Iran for its illicit nuclear
"The situation in Burma remains bleak," Casey said, citing violence
against ethnic minorities, forced labor, narcotics smuggling and the
detention of more than 1,100 political prisoners by the Myanmar junta.
The US-sponsored resolution does not call for sanctions against Myanmar,
but said the situation in the country "poses serious risks to peace and
security in the region" -- language which could foreshadow future punitive
December 28, Xinhua General News Service
EU to provide more humanitarian aid to Myanmar
Yangon: The European Union (EU) has pledged another humanitarian aid of 2
million U.S. dollars to Myanmar through the World Bank, a local weekly
The EU aid, pledged by EU Minister Counselor (Health and Food Safety)
Patrick Deboyser during a recent visit to Myanmar, will be used for health
and livestock-related projects in the country, the Khit Myanmar quoted
Minister of Livestock and Fisheries Brigadier- General Maung Maung Thein
According to the Yangon-based European Commission, EU extended 8 million
euros or 10.48 million dollars' humanitarian aid to Myanmar in 2006 and
has drawn an aid program to Myanmar for 2007 with regard to the social
Earlier reports said that the EU has allotted 40 million euros' aid to
Myanmar for use in the latter's education and health sectors for a period
of seven years between 2007 and 2013.
As of the end of 2004, the EU had extended 11.65 million euros to the
country, according to the European Commission.
December 31, The Toronto Star
Lawyers plan controversial Burmese visit - Leslie Scrivener
Although Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi has urged tourists not
to visit her homeland, lawyers and judges from the Ontario Bar Association
are planning a spring trip to Southeast Asia that includes nine days in
Burma, renamed Myanmar by the military junta that took power in 1988.
The trip is not sanctioned by the military dictatorship, says Doug
Grenkie, the Morrisburg lawyer who is organizing the March visit. He says
the primary purpose is educational.
"We're just going as a group of tourists ... It's not official because
we'd have to register with judicial officers in the capital and we'd have
to get permission to have meetings with lawyers and they would send
representatives to attend the meetings and monitor everything that is
Grenkie, who has arranged four social meetings with Burmese lawyers, says
tourism puts money directly in the hands of craftspeople and those who
work in the tourism industry.
But critics question the ethics of travelling to a country that has become
notorious for flagrantly violating human rights.
Suu Kyi, 61, is under house arrest, as she has been for nearly 11 of the
past 17 years. She is head of the National League for Democracy, which won
a landslide victory in 1990 elections that the military refused to
Burmese people "want democracy," she said in a 1999 interview, "and many
have died for it. To suggest that there's anything new that tourists can
teach the people of Burma about their own situation is not simply
patronizing, it's also racist."
The Ontario lawyers' itinerary includes visits to monasteries, shopping
trips for Burmese lacquerware and rubies, tours of the temples in the
ancient city of Bagan and a starlight cruise on the Ayeyarwaddy River.
Several evenings are set aside for possible legal meetings.
The trip is troubling to Toronto lawyer Paul Copeland, who has been a
Burma advocate for several years. In a letter to the Ontario Bar
Association, Copeland wrote: "I still hope the OBA will call off the trip
and honour the request of Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for
Democracy that tourists not come to Burma until the people there are free
and have achieved democracy."
Canada's former secretary of state for the Asia-Pacific region, David
Kilgour, says the lawyers should not go.
"It's obscene a group of lawyers from any province should choose to go to
Burma," says Kilgour. "The only people they'll be able to meet are people
who been vetted and re-vetted to make sure they say nothing to them."
But, notes Dying Alive author Guy Horton, a British academic who spent
five years documenting atrocities against Burmese ethnic minorities: "If
this is a genuine fact-finding trip, it would probably be justified.
"However, the junta has almost completely destroyed free speech in Burma
and anyone who does talk to this group of lawyers is likely to be very
severely victimized afterward."
Horton says the Ontario visitors should make every effort to meet
political opponents, including former prisoners and rights workers from
the ethnic minorities targeted by the junta.
"Otherwise, the group runs the risk of just having the wool pulled over
its eyes, withdrawing in bewilderment, or being gulled into believing that
all is not as bad as it seems.
"The gullibility of Westerners, wilful or not, and the deception of the
junta are past belief."
The Canadian Friends of Burma also argue against the lawyers' visit.
"The tourists' money will go directly to the military junta," says Tin
Maung Htoo, a spokesperson for the Ottawa-based group.
"The military always says there are millions of foreign visitors coming to
Burma, the country is peaceful, stable and beautiful, and no- body cares
about the political situation. In a way, they are trying to say they are a
The bar association has asked Burma advocate Copeland to speak to its
group of 60, which includes spouses, before the March 15 departure. Other
OBA trips to non-democratic countries, including Syria and apartheid-era
South Africa, have also been controversial.
"You learn about the problems that face lawyers and judges in those
jurisdictions," says Grenkie, past-president of the OBA. "We don't
particularly like the (Burmese) regime, yet there are lawyers practising
there and people who need our support."
OPINION / OTHER
December 22, International Herald Tribune
The Burmese people deserve our support - Desmond M. Tutu and Amartya Sen
Myanmar is the best example of what can go wrong when authoritarian
leaders spearhead economic development. For decades, a brutal military
junta has created a modern-day national nightmare, locking up more than
1,100 political prisoners, virtually destroying the country's education
system, crushing any independent media, and carrying out a brutal pogrom
against ethnic groups in which more than 3,000 of their villages have been
destroyed. Not only are villages wiped out, but these areas are mined to
prevent anyone from returning.
The Burmese people have firmly rejected authoritarian rule in their
country at every possible opportunity. In their last election, the
National League for Democracy, or NLD, the political party of Aung San Suu
Kyi, the world's only imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize recipient, won 82
percent of the seats in Parliament. In the face of this overwhelming vote
for change, the military annulled the results.
In 2003, during one of the brief times when she was not under arrest, Suu
Kyi toured the country and spoke of freedom and democracy to huge crowds.
The regime, feeling threatened, unleashed their thugs. In what has become
known as the May 30th massacre, more than 100 NLD members were murdered
and scores of others were brutally beaten.
Over the past 15 years, the United Nations has been ineffective in dealing
with Myanmar's regime despite its efforts. The UN General Assembly has
passed 16 consecutive resolutions calling for change in Myanmar; all have
been ignored by the regime. The UN Commission on Human Rights passed 13
consecutive resolutions, similarly ignored.
In order to engage with the regime, the Commission on Human Rights
appointed four representatives to Myanmar. Each has made many trips to
meet with the regime. The UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, appointed two
special envoys to negotiate political change in Myanmar, who have made
repeated visits to the country only to be dismissed by the junta.
The slew of diplomats has been expertly managed by the regime. They used
the meetings to curry international favor for "engaging" with the UN while
tightening their grip on power and refusing to make any real concessions.
The latest UN envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, Annan's political chief, was given
the same treatment when he recently traveled to Myanmar. Like previous UN
envoys, he came away empty handed. Indeed, at the very time he was meeting
with Myanmar's generals, the military was engaged in fresh attacks against
ethnic minorities and sentenced two NLD supporters to 14 years in prison.
Just weeks after Gambari's departure, the International Committee of the
Red Cross's Myanmar operations remain severely restricted; the
International Labor Organization referred Myanmar to the UN Security
Council and the International Criminal Court for malfeasance in respect to
forced labor matters.
The twin failures of authoritarian-led development and traditional
diplomacy over the past 16 years must be acknowledged before progress can
be made. Myanmar has not only failed to develop, it is in the grip of a
gigantic humanitarian crisis, because of its governance.
Myanmar has at last been put on the permanent agenda of the Security
Council. This has to be followed up. The council has previously acted in
situations less severe than Myanmar's.
The junta is wreaking havoc not only within Myanmar but throughout the
region, by causing massive refugee flows, by acquiescing to the trade in
methamphetamines and heroin that is spilling across neighbors' borders,
and by its pernicious (some would say deliberate) lack of attention to
dealing with the AIDS crisis that has made Myanmar ground zero for new,
resistant strains of this horrible disease. These threats were outlined in
a report presented to the Security Council in September of last year.
Now that Myanmar is on the council's agenda, we urge the passage of a
nonpunitive resolution that will serve as a baseline for freeing political
prisoners, ceasing attacks against Myanmar's ethnic minorities, and
promoting a political dialogue that will lead to the peace and freedom the
overwhelming majority of the Burmese people have demanded. The Burmese
people deserve our unequivocal support and effective action, which has
been postponed far too long.
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