BurmaNet News, July 12, 2007
editor at burmanet.org
Thu Jul 12 16:19:34 EDT 2007
July 12, 2007 Issue # 3245
Irrawaddy: Fundamental democratic principles needed in constitution,
ethnic leaders say
DVB: Military builds Karen new bases with forced labour
DVB: Former teacher jailed for discussing human rights
ON THE BORDER
Irrawaddy: Strong baht hits Burmese migrant workers
Reuters: Bangladesh troops fight Myanmar rebels, take weapons
BUSINESS / TRADE
Xinhua: Myanmar to allow national entrepreneurs to open account in foreign
Reuters: U.N. sees Myanmar making progress towards democracy
Irrawaddy: Amnesty urges release of popular writer from Burma prison
DPA: Myanmar slams Taiwan's move to join UN
Irrawaddy: USAID lifts restrictions on Burma health grantee spending
OPINION / OTHER
Mizzima News: Burma under Beijing shield - Larry Jagan
UPI: Burma's long and steady downward slide - Awzar Thi
July 12, Irrawaddy
Fundamental democratic principles needed in constitution, ethnic leaders
say - Khun Sam
Leaders of 12 ethnic political parties in Burma have urged the military
regime to draft a true constitution that creates a union, following the
junta's announcement that amendments and clarifications can be offered in
the final session.
In a joint statement, ethnic leaders of the 12 parties, which were banned
in 1991, called the National Convention undemocratic, saying the juntas
seven steps roadmap to democracy lacks effective guiding principles.
In the statement, they urged the government to conduct dialogue with all
political groups and release all political prisoners, including democracy
leaders Aung San Suu Kyi, Tin Oo and ethnic Shan leader Hkun Htun Oo.
Aye Thar Aung, chairman of the Arakan League for Democracy and secretary
of the Committee Representing the Peoples Parliament, said he doubted the
junta would make any amendments that established fundamental democratic
principles in the constitution.
The constitution they are drafting is not in accordance with what Burmese
citizens and ethnic groups want," he said. "The result will not be good.
What they should do is call for all political leaders in the country to
lay down fundamental principles for a federal union before they lay down
their road map.
His party and the other 11 ethnic parties are ready to make proposals if
the government wants to know what ethnic people want, Aye Thar Aung said.
Cin Sian Thang, the chairman of the Zomi National Congress, told The
Irrawaddy on Thursday that genuine ethnic input was the only way to draw
up a constitution that serves both Burmese and ethnic groups.
The joint statement was made in response to a recent announcement by
Burmas acting premier and chair of the National Convention, Lt-Gen Thein
Sein, who said amendments, nullifications and a review of fundamental
principles would be part of the final session of the constitution-drafting
Ethnic political leaders have doubted the sincerity of Thein Seins speech
and urged the military government to truly respect and listen to ethnic
leaders proposals in the assembly.
We want to see if they truly mean it, or if it's just words, said Cin
Sian Thang. If they really meant it, we want to know how they will
respond to ethnic ceasefire groups demands to lay out fundamental
principles for a genuine federation.
In previous sessions of the National Convention, several ethnic ceasefire
groups have complained that their proposals have been ignored by the
convention, which recessed last December.
The convention is supposed to lead to a referendum vote on the proposed
constitution and free elections. The military junta handpicked most of
1,000 convention delegates.
Opposition parties, including the National League for Democracy, have
boycotted the convention, calling it undemocratic.
July 12, Democratic Voice of Burma
Military builds Karen new bases with forced labour
Burma Army battalions under the second commands headquarters have
reportedly forced villagers to build more than five new military camps in
Karen States Taung-ngu district.
Residents told DVB that Burmese troops had forced them to help build the
outposts and had ordered them to act as porters during the construction.
Also the villagers were forced to collect wood for them, work on the camp
construction and clear mines, one villager, Saw Taw Oo, said.
Now, even though the construction is finished, they are still demanding
ten villagers to work at the camps everyday.
Most of the civilians recruited for the forced labour by the military were
reportedly from the Tate Phu area, where six villages house about 500
Saw Taw Oo also said that several villagers had been shot by the Burmese
militarys light infantry battalion 30 and that four other civilians,
including two seventeen-year-old girls had been kidnapped by the troops.
They opened fire in Htantabin township and killed 60-year-old Saw Pho
Thee from Kyauk Sin Taung on the spot and they injured a man who was 25,
July 12, Democratic Voice of Burma
Former teacher jailed for discussing human rights
Ko Min Min, a former tutor from Prome, Bago Division, was arrested on
Tuesday after conducting a human rights workshop in a classroom the day
before, his friends and family told DVB.
We held a human rights workshopnot for his students, just in his
classroomon July 9, where he discussed the articles of the human rights
conventions, a friend of Ko Min Min said on condition of anonymity.
He was arrested the next day from a tuition school where his friend
worked. He was sent to Prome prison on remand for two weeks on Wednesday,
High-profile rights activists Ko Maung Maung Lay and Ko Aung Kyaw Soe
reportedly attended the workshop, which may have attracted the local
authorities attention to the event.
Ko Min Mins mother said that he had officially been arrested for
operating as a private tutor without a license. But his friends said that
he had not tutored for some time, alleging that his arrest was politically
When they arrested him on the evening of July 10, they said he would be
released on a bail by the afternoon of the 11. But on the next day, he was
given two weeks remand instead, Ko Min Mins friend said.
Officers at the Prome police station and Prome prison were unavailable for
ON THE BORDER
July 12, Irrawaddy
Strong baht hits Burmese migrant workers - Sai Silp
The increasing strength of Thailands currency, the baht, is threatening
the jobs of Burmese migrant workers employed by export-oriented factories
in the border town of Mae Sot and the industrial center Samut Sakorn, near
Bangkok, officials warned on Thursday.
Amnart Nantaharn, chairman of the Federation of Industries in the border
province of Tak, said some factories in Mae Sot had cut working hours
because of declining orders from abroad. Layoffs could follow and
factories could even shut down, he warned.
More than 70 per cent of the workers in Mae Sot are migrants from Burma,
mostly employed in about 100 garment factories dependent on orders from
Sompong Srakaew, of the Labor Rights Promotion Network, said Burmese
migrant workers in Samut Sakorn factories also faced an uncertain future
because of declining export orders.
The steady rise in the value of the baht is making Thai products ever more
expensive in a highly competitive Asian market.
Santi Wilatsakdanont, chairman of the board of Thailands Federation of
Industries, told the Thai newspaper Manager that the strong baht and the
competition posed by China were of particular concern to producers of
textiles, garments, electronic devices and food processing factories. The
costs of raw materials and labor were lower in China than in Thailand, he
Santi called on Thailands interim government and the Bank of Thailand to
find a solution to a situation that he said would otherwise affect the
The closure of one factory in Samut Prakan province brought workers out
on the streets in protest on Wednesday. About 5,000 workers of Thai Silp
South East Asia Import Export Co, which produced shoes for export, blocked
a road in a mass demonstration demanding adequate compensation.
Thailands Garment Labor Federation accused the firm of relocating to a
neighboring country to cut production costs.
Currently, more than 500,000 migrant workers from Burma, Lao and Cambodia
are registered with Thailands Department of Employment, most of them
employed in export-dependent industries.
July 12, Reuters
Bangladesh troops fight Myanmar rebels, take weapons
Bangladesh troops fought a gunbattle with suspected rebels from Myanmar
and destroyed a hideout in forests between the two countries on Thursday,
The rebels fled across the border leaving behind several weapons and some
ammunition at the hideout at Naikhongchari, 450 km (281 miles) southeast
of the capital Dhaka.
"None of our troops was injured, but blood spots at the hideout suggest
that some of the rebels were wounded. However, they managed to flee," a
senior officer of the paramilitary Bangladesh Rifles said.
The gunfight erupted as the unit's troops raided the hideout following an
Several Buddhist and Muslim rebel groups, fighting against military rule
in Myanmar's western state of Rakhaine (Arakan), often intrude into
Bangladesh forests and set up temporary camps when pursued by Myanmar
forces, another security official said.
Bangladesh troops have raided several camps, captured some 50 rebels, and
seized substantial amounts of weapons and ammunition in the border forests
over the past two years.
BUSINESS / TRADE
July 12, Xinhua General News Service
Myanmar to allow national entrepreneurs to open account in foreign banks
Myanmar will allow private businesses to open account at banks in foreign
countries through legal channels to encourage engagement in foreign trade,
the local Myanmar Times reported Thursday.
The green light was given at a recent meeting between the Ministry of
Finance and Revenue and domestic businessmen in Nay Pyi Taw.
Since adoption of a market-oriented economic system in 1989, private
businesses have been allowed to freely engage in foreign trade and make
investment as well as to open foreign currency accounts in state-owned
foreign exchange banks such as the Myanmar Foreign Trade Bank (MFTB) and
the Myanmar Investment and Commercial Bank (MICB) for the undertakings,
the report noted.
The MFTB generally and mainly handles foreign currency transactions along
with some private banks authorized for such transactions, while the MICB
deals with foreign investment in the country.
Meanwhile, Myanmar has sought for transforming a public bank into an
export-import bank to facilitate exporters and importers in the country in
carrying out their international trading activities.
The public bank, which is being sought for such transformation, is the
Myanmar Citizen Bank, in which the Ministry of Commerce holds a stake of
There are 15 private banks in the country at present.
There has also been Myanmar Livestock Breeding and Fishery Development
Bank, Myanmar Agricultural Development Bank and Myanmar Industrial
Development Bank for respective entrepreneurs, but there has been no bank
yet for traders engaged in international trading business.
The Myanmar commerce authorities have urged over 10,000 registered private
trading companies in the country to function fully to boost foreign trade.
Myanmar's foreign trade hit nearly 8 billion U.S. dollars in the fiscal
year 2006-07 which ended in March, a new record high in 18 years since
1989, according to figures of the Ministry of Commerce.
Of the foreign trade during the year, which was up 42.9 percent from 5.54
billion dollars in 2005-06, exports took 5 billion dollars, up 40 percent
from 3.554 billion dollars in the previous year, while imports accounted
for 2.92 billion dollars, a rise of 47.5 percent from 1.979 billion
A trade surplus of 2.08 billion dollars was registered for the year which
is a continuation of the status from the previous year which stood at 1.6
July 12, Reuters
U.N. sees Myanmar making progress towards democracy - Y.P. Rajesh
Myanmar's military junta is taking slow but positive steps towards
democracy and development and an Asian consensus is building to push
Yangon further in that direction, a top U.N. envoy said on Thursday.
Ibrahim Gambari, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's Special Adviser on
Myanmar, was speaking during a two-day visit to India, his second stop on
a three-nation tour aimed at bolstering that consensus.
He also plans to visit the Southeast Asian nation in September to
encourage the new "openness and cooperation" of the military regime.
The military, which has ruled the impoverished country in some form or
other since 1962, had agreed to reconvene a National Convention for the
last time next week to finish drafting a new constitution as part of a
seven-stage roadmap to democracy, he said.
Yangon had also received several international representatives to help
tackle diseases, humanitarian crises, and armed conflict and reached
agreement with the International Labour Organization to fight child
"The best approach ... is to combine, to recognise progress where it has
been made and to encourage them to move further along the lines of
democratisation and respect for human rights," Gambari told Reuters in an
Asian giants China and India, as two neighbours who have close links with
Myanmar, have a key role to play in this effort, he said.
"I don't know whether pressure is the right word, but certainly to
encourage," Gambari said after talks with Indian Foreign Secretary
"We urge them to encourage the authorities in Myanmar to build on the
positive steps they are making ... send positive messages to reinforce
those tentative steps."
Western capitals, led by Washington, have consistently pressured Myanmar,
formerly Burma, on political reform and to release political prisoners,
including democracy icon and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.
Critics call the plan of the generals to draft a new constitution and
eventually hold elections a sham aimed at entrenching military control
over Myanmar's 54 million people.
Sanctions imposed by the West have had little effect, with some
pro-democracy activists blaming China and India for the failure of efforts
to isolate the military regime.
Beijing has been a long-time supporter of Yangon, selling it arms worth
millions of dollars, helping it upgrade its naval facilities, buying large
amounts of timber and minerals and exploring energy projects there.
New Delhi has been a late entrant into the regional diplomatic game.
It initially supported Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy in the
early 1990s, but changed strategy to court the military regime in what
some analysts say was an attempt to counter China.
It has invested in developing ports, building roads and railways and is
also competing with Beijing for Myanmar's oil and gas reserves. Besides,
Yangon is also helping New Delhi fight militants across the border in
India's troubled northeast.
Gambari arrived in New Delhi after talks in Beijing. He flies next to Japan.
In the wake of his China visit, Beijing said Myanmar was not a threat to
regional security and should be allowed to solve its own problems. But
Gambari said it would be wrong to suggest his trip had not been useful.
"They see some synergy in terms of our approach, strategies ... so we
intend to build on that," he said.
India's Menon was also "very, very constructive, very free, very open,
very candid", he added.
"I don't see any discrepancy in terms of our approach and theirs. On the
contrary, I really am encouraged by the level of understanding between
July 12, Irrawaddy
Amnesty urges release of popular writer from Burma prison - Saw Yan Naing
London-based Amnesty International called on Burmas military government
to release political prisoner and researcher Aung Htun from Insein Prison
in Rangoon in a letter sent to Burmese authorities on Thursday.
The writer is known to be suffering from asthma, and the letter said the
groups plea for release was motivated by humanitarian considerations
rather than politics.
Aung Htun is currently suffering from asthma, hemorrhoids and arthritis
in all four limbs, but he hasnt received any effective medical treatment
in the prison, said Tin Hlaing, a spokesperson for the Thailand-based
Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma) in Mae Sot. But
authorities have allowed his family to visit him in prison.
About 50 members of Amnesty International collaborated on the letter to
alert Burma to the fact that Aung Htun was detained only because of his
nonviolent political activism, according to the letter.
We are particularly concerned about his health, as he is suffering as a
result of being tortured in 1998, the letter said.
Aung Htun was arrested February 1998 and sentenced to 17 years for
distributing his book in Burmese, 88 Years History of Burmese Students
The book includes historical details of the Rangoon University Students
Union constitution, the All Burma Federation of Student Unions
constitution and information on the relationships between the groups,
with both inter- and intra- organizational documents in Burmese and
According to AAPP, six political prisoners died in the last year, while 80
are currently suffering form serious disease. Many prisoners with health
conditions receive inadequate or no medical care, according to the group.
There are over 1,100 political prisoners currently in detention in Burma.
Aung Tun was awarded a Hellman/Hammett grant in 1999 and was made an
honorary member of the PEN centers in Norway, Australia and Canada.
July 12, Deutsche Presse-Agentur
Myanmar slams Taiwan's move to join UN
Myanmar Diplomacy China Myanmar slams Taiwan's move to join UN Yangon
In a show of solidarity with mainland China, Myanmar's military regime on
Thursday used the state-run media to criticize Taiwan's efforts to join
the United Nations as a separate country.
"The Union of Myanmar is of the view that Taiwan's push for referendum on
joining UN would raise tension in Taiwan cross-Straits relations and
jeopardize the peace and stability in the region," said the foreign
ministry in a statement published in The New Light of Myanmar, a
"Myanmar, therefore, opposes the Taiwan's UN membership bid under any
appellation," it added.
Myanmar's reiteration of its firm support for the "One China Policy,"
which denies Taiwan's separate sovereignty, follows in the footsteps of
Beijing's recent backing for the military-run regime in the face of
growing pressures from the United Nations to introduce political reforms
to the country.
China on Tuesday told UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's Special Adviser
on Myanmar, Ibrahim Gambari, who was on a visit to Beijing, that Myanmar's
"issues" should be solved by the Myanmar people themselves.
Gambari was reportedly hoping to persuade Beijing, deemed Myanmar's most
powerful ally, to "promote positive changes" in the country.
Myanmar has been under military rule since 1962, and under the equivalent
of martial law since 1988 in the aftermath of a brutal crackdown on a
pro-democracy movement that surpassed China's "Tiananmin" incident in
terms of bloodshed.
The ruling junta has kept opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi under house
arrest since May 2003.
July 12, Irrawaddy
USAID lifts restrictions on Burma health grantee spending - Violet Cho
The US Agency for International Development announced in a press release
on Thursday that funds granted to Burmese health organizations operating
on the Thailand-Burma border can now be used to procure previously
restricted anti-malaria prevention and diagnostic materials.
USAID, through its partner the International Rescue Committee, will
provide funding to health agencies working on the border to procure over
12,000 long-lasting, insecticide-treated bed nets and 53,000
rapid-diagnostic testing kits for malaria, the press release said.
The announcement followed complaints by several Burmese health grantees
last month that previous USAID restrictions prevented them from using
donor money to purchase such supplies, as well as anti-malarial drugs.
Three Burmese health groupsthe Burmese Medical Association, the Back Pack
Health Worker Teams, and the Mae Tao Clinic run by Dr. Cynthia Maunghave
relied on USAID funds, administered through the IRC, to combat malaria
among increasingly vulnerable communities along the border.
The press release does not address the restriction on donor funds being
used for anti-malaria medicinesomething that health groups say is a vital
component of their efforts to stop the spread of the disease.
Health groups say they have never been approved to purchase drugs with
USAID money, though the donor organization disagrees.
If our grantees request approval for USAID funds to be used for
anti-malaria drugs, we will give that approval, Olivier Carduner, the
groups mission director for the Regional Development Mission for Asia,
told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday.
We have doubts about this because international aid agencies, especially
the IRCfunded by USAIDhas always prohibited the use of grant money for
buying drugs, said Aye Lwin, the secretary of the Burma Medical
Association. The IRC says that this is the policy of the US government.
Health groups in the past have been able to purchase anti-malaria drugs
with funds from European donors, which the groups say impose far fewer
restrictions on the use of funds.
Carduner told The Irrawaddy that if this was the case, [Burmese health
groups] do not need to use our money for this now. But down the road if
they do need to use our funding for this, we would be happy to approve
Aid from European countries, including Norway, has no restrictions like
USAID, said Aye Lwin. Of course, we can buy anti-malarial drugs with
Norwegian aid, but the amount is not adequate for us to do the prevention
Burmese health groups say they have worked under restrictions by the IRC
for years, but they dont know why they have been prohibited from buy
We have good connections with Thai generic drug companies, Mahn Mahn,
the director of Back Pack Health Workers Team, told The Irrawaddy. We
consult with the drug companies and ask for documentation and approval
from the government. We do not buy from companies that cannot provide this
The restriction of drug purchases, according to the IRC, stems in part
from questions about their reliability.
A lot of it has to do with
counterfeit drugs, said Timothy Swett, IRC
director for Thailand. Recently, weve seen particularly China importing
a lot of chemicals to other countries saying they are pharmaceutical
grade. I think if USAID started lifting those restrictions, it would
probably increase the number of cases [of malaria].
USAID provided a total of US $1.86 million in the fiscal year 2006 for
anti-malaria efforts along the Thai-Burmese border.
OPINION / OTHER
July 12, Mizzima News
Burma under Beijing shield - Larry Jagan
Beijing and Rangoon have long been the best of friends. Ever since the
military seized power nearly 19 years ago, China has offered Burma a
protective umbrella against international pressure. In the past two
decades, China has been Burma's most important source of military
hardware, during a period in which the West has effectively banned sale of
armaments to the junta. Economic ties between the two countries have also
burgeoned over the years to the point where China is by far Burma's most
import trading partner.
This relationship has been further strengthened over the last few months
as Beijing now sees the military junta as its most rock solid ally in
Asia. Almost ever week there are exchanges of high level visits, including
diplomats, political leaders, government officials, businessmen and high
ranking military officers. The most important of these were the secret
mission of the Army Chief, General Thura Shwe Mann to Beijing in May and
the acting Prime Minister, General Thein Sein, the following month. The
key message in all these visits is the growing importance both governments
place on their special relationship.
In the face of US-led international sanctions, Burma has also begun to
rely heavily on China for trade and investment. "Each time an important
visitor comes from Beijing, they literally bring suit-cases of money with
them for the regime," according to a Japanese diplomat who regularly deals
with Burma, but declined to be identified.
Burma's military leaders know that they have no other option now than to
accept Beijing's friendship and money, despite some fears that it might in
the longer-term endanger their independence and autonomy. "You have heard
of globalisation," the former military intelligence spokesman, Colonel Hla
Min told me a few years ago. "Well the flood of Chinese people and goods
into our country is our globalisation," he said giggling.
In true Chinese-style, this friendship comes with huge strings attached.
The terms of trade are vastly in China's favour. But this relationship is
not without its tensions. For Beijing is also increasingly aware that
being close to Rangoon poses its own dilemmas for them. International
criticism and pressure is mounting on Beijing to help the international
community encourage Burma's military rulers to introduced political and
The UN Secretary General's special representative for Burma, Gambari has
just been in Beijing trying to enlist their help to bring about political
change in Burma, the first stop on his international mission to garner
regional backing for the UN's renewed efforts to intercede with the
As a result of China taking a more pro-active, behind the scenes measures,
Beijing sponsored the recent talks between the US and the Burmese
government in the Chinese capital. China's leaders had been pressing their
American counterparts to talk directly to Rangoon about political reform
for several months. The US negotiator involved in the North Korean nuclear
talks, Christopher Hill was convinced by Beijing's concerted efforts to
bring Pyongyang back to the negotiating table which eventually resulted in
a deal that Washington owed the Chinese the same courtesy in relationship
The US is understandably coy about the talks we used them as an
opportunity to press for the release of the pro-democracy leader Aung San
Suu Kyi is their public position. But the two days of talks albeit both
sides stating their position were fruitful, according to a US diplomat
involved in the process.
While there is as yet no sign that there will be further meetings, Beijing
is hopeful that this initial contact may lead to proximity talks along the
lines of the process which eventually yielded fruit on the Korean
peninsular. These talks would involve Rangoon and Washington, with China
and ASEAN also participating, according to Chinese diplomats. Although
Beijing would never contemplate allowing India to be involved, they may
consider giving Tokyo a role, because that would bring substantial sums of
development aid, said an Asian diplomat close to the Chinese.
China is anxious to see Burma's international isolation reduced -- and if
possible sanctions lifted with foreign trade and investment encouraged.
They know this can only happen with a change in US policy towards Burma.
So they are keen on a multilateral process -- perhaps with the UN involved
as they understand that this is the only way to seriously engage the
Burmese military regime and provide the international environment to
guarantee any concrete results that may emerge from the process.
But Beijing is aware that it still has to provide Rangoon with concrete
support, even while it tries to temper their intransigence as the same
time. For several years now senior ethnic and pro-democracy leaders have
met Chinese government officials in the southern Chinese provincial
capital of Kunming.
Last month there was another meeting, but this time with the leaders and
representatives of the ethnic rebel groups that have cease-fire agreements
with Rangoon. During their talks, the Chinese pressed the rebel groups to
surrender their arms in accordance with the Burmese military junta's
plans, according to a senior ethic leader who attended the meeting. They
were encouraged to lay down their weapons after the National Convention
had concluded drawing up a new constitution which has just reconvened
for the last time and is expected to complete its work in the next few
China's political leaders, according to Chinese political experts in
Beijing, are ambivalent towards Aung Sann Suu Kyi. There are some that
fear she is a puppet of the Americans and that if she assumed power in
Burma, it would merely add to the growing US influence in the region
something Beijing really finds abhorrent. Others feel that if she is the
key to real political reform in Burma that would ensure lasting stability,
then that was a small price to pay for China's central concern a stable
and secure Burma that does not pose a regional threat of any kind.
While China understands that the US influence especially in Asia is
something that is not in their interests, they also know that Washington's
support is necessary for any international initiative in relation to Burma
to have a chance of success.
Behind the scenes the Chinese have been quietly lending their voice to the
international demand for Aung San Suu Kyi's release though they may have
backed away from this when Thura Shwe Mann told them earlier this year
that she could not be released any time soon because she remained a
However the Chinese understand that she and her National League for
Democracy (NLD) must be involved if the international community is to back
Burma's political reforms. While Beijing may not be directly pushing for
her immediate release, they are advising the regime that they should ease
restrictions on her. China wants a second round of talks between the US
and the junta possibly in Burma and would include the US
representative being allowed to visit the detained opposition leader in
her lakeside residence in Rangoon.
While China is quietly active behind the scenes on the political front,
their main concerns are economic and strategic. China may say political
reform is an internal matter for the Burmese regime, but the reality is
that they fear excessive delays in the national reconciliation process are
only likely to increase instability in Burma.
China's leaders fear that social unrest in Burma would dramatically affect
their southern provinces. More than a million Chinese migrants have
crossed into Burma in the past decade, according to senior Chinese
Most of them are there unofficially. They are running small businesses
throughout northern Burma, Mandalay and even Rangoon. Technical experts,
workers and even farmers have migrated across the border in search of
work. Many of the market sellers in the border region, especially in the
border towns, like Mongla are also Chinese.
China's main strategic concerns are to see Burma introduce some measure of
political reform and boost economic development. "The last thing Beijing
needs is thousands of Chinese migrants flooding back across the border,
increasing the number of restless, unemployed Chinese peasants looking for
work in the country's main urban centres and adding to China's growing
social and rural unrest," according to the independent Burmese analyst in
Chiang Mai university, Win Min.
A senior Chinese official told Mizzima recently that "China's leaders
understand that the Burmese military regime is illegitimate and lacks the
support of the majority of the people".
Two decades ago, China's leaders and economists saw that the development
of their relatively backward south-western provinces would rely on
expanding bilateral trade with its southern neighbours, particularly
Burma. So far Burma has not fulfilled the early promise.
Now the Chinese authorities realise Burma could become a strategic transit
point for goods produced in southern-China. They want to transport these
by road to the Rangoon port for shipment to India, the Middle East and
eventually Europe. Repair work is underway on Burma's antiquated internal
road system that links southern China, through Mandalay to Rangoon.
Now there are plans to rebuild the road through northern Burma to
NorthEast India. The Chinese have agreed to finance the construction of
this highway using 40,000 Chinese construction workers, according to Asian
diplomatic sources in Rangoon. Some 20,000 would remain after the work is
completed to do maintenance work on the road.
"When this happens the northern region of Burma will be swamped by the
Chinese government officials, workers, lorry drivers and businessmen
it will no longer be Burma," according to a senior western diplomat-based
in Bangkok who has followed Burmese affairs for more than a decade.
The Chinese authorities are planning to use Burma as a crucial transit
point, not just for the products grown or manufactured in south-west
China, but as a means of transporting goods from the country's economic
power-houses along the eastern seaboard. "By shifting the transit route
away from the South-China sea and the Malacca straits to using Burma's
port facilities to reach South Asia, the Middle East and Europe they hope
to avoid the dangers of crowded shipping lanes and pirates the Malacca
dilemma as Beijing calls it," a senior Chinese analyst told Mizzima on
condition of anonymity.
Last year the Chinese authorities decided that the only way to ensure
their existing investment in Burma, is to strengthen it. "More than six
months ago, China's leaders sanctioned increased economic and business
ties with Burma," according to a Chinese government official. "This will
be in all areas, but especially the energy sector," he added
China already has major oil and gas concessions in western Burma, and is
planning overland pipelines to bring it to southern China. The Chinese
have also agreed to finance and build several major hydro-electric power
stations in northern Burma.
But Beijing is also well aware that the junta's failure to implement
political reform may back fire, not only on Rangoon, but on China as well.
Already under increased international criticism for its unswerving support
for what the international community regards as pariah states especially
Burma, North Korea, Sudan, and Zimbabwe Beijing has begun to distance
itself and take a more active role in trying to influence its allies to be
This though does not mean that Beijing will falter in backing Rangoon to
the hilt if in the end Burma's military leaders opt to shun all
international efforts to encourage it to introduce political reform.
(Larry Jagan is a freelance journalist and Burma specialist based in
Bangkok. He was formerly the News and Current Affairs editor for Asia and
the Pacific at the BBC World Service.)
July 12, United Press International
Burma's long and steady downward slide - Awzar Thi
The International Committee of the Red Cross two weeks ago issued a
remarkable press release on Burma (Myanmar). Remarkable, because in
contrast to the committee's usually circumspect approach in discussing
problems of government in countries where it operates, it now damns the
regime there for its continued gross violations of human rights and
international humanitarian law.
The committee's president, Jakob Kellenberger, is quoted in the release
as describing Burma's authorities as being directly responsible for
"immense suffering for thousands of people in conflict-affected areas."
The committee lambastes the army for "the large-scale destruction of food
supplies and of means of production" and restrictions that make it
"impossible for many villagers to work in their fields."
The statement, which comes at a time that the committee is dramatically
scaling down its operations in Burma after repeated failed attempts at
getting the freedom it needs to work according to its mandate, coincided
with the leaking of an internal report by the U.N.
Humanitarian Coordinator to Burma, Charles Petrie, which characterizes the
poverty weighing down millions throughout the country as a consequence of
"ill-informed and outdated socio economic policies." It refers to the U.N.
strategy for intervention in the country as premised on "the belief that
the downward slide could still be checked." But today even many optimists
would question that assessment, and it is doubtful that the coordinator
believes it himself.
Burma's downward slide has been long and steady. Since two decades back,
when its superficially socialist economy collapsed, precipitating a
nationwide uprising in 1988, living standards of most people have gone
from bad to worse. A period of business optimism ended with the 1997 fall
in Asian markets. Recent years had seen some opening of space for
international organizations and even a few semi-independent local
partners, but this too is now being lost.
The downward slide also has been no secret. By 1997, when concerned
eminent persons from neighboring countries set up a special people's
tribunal to probe the links between food scarcity and military rule in
Burma, the general features and scope of human rights abuse there were
already on record. Thus, the tribunal did not seek simply to document,
decry and condemn, but also to investigate and to explain how a country
that should be able to feed its people seemed unable to do so. Its members
were shocked by what they heard; this from a young landless farmer living
in the lowlands:
"Taxes and oppression are starving the village. There's no time to work,
only to pay taxes and do forced labor; many villagers have little food.
Some must eat porridge; some only water skimmed off boiled rice, and
others only sweet potatoes. To feed the children some adults go without
food for one or two days at a time. Even so, children increasingly suffer
diarrhea, sore stomachs and death."
In 1999, the tribunal concluded that hunger in Burma was the result of a
common cause, which by all accounts "is social rather than natural,
rooted in the structure and actions of the state rather than vagaries of
land and climate." Thus, "Militarization does not simply implicate the
Burma army (its part in creating food scarcity is obvious), but more
importantly, suggests that authoritarianism, oppression and violence have
become ingrained in routine government business."
The tribunal did not give any cause for encouragement. It did not see any
reason to believe that military rule and concomitant hunger in Burma would
end any time soon; on the contrary, its findings suggested the opposite.
Regrettably, they proved correct. The farmer describing conditions in his
village ten years ago could just as easily have been speaking yesterday.
Having reached the end of its tether, the International Committee of the
Red Cross has come out to state the obvious: that Burma's government is
the preeminent cause of the country's degradation. But in this also there
is little room for reassurance. Indeed, it brings the committee no further
forward than the tribunal was years ago, in part because of the
unavoidable contradiction facing all those doing humanitarian work under
authoritarian states: the cause of the problems is in the government; but
the solution to the problems must also be through the government. The
question then arises, where in the cause of the problems can ways be found
toward solutions? Eight years after the people's tribunal presented its
findings, the answer remains elusive. Perhaps we need some new questions.
(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.)
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