BurmaNet News, October 23, 2008
editor at burmanet.org
Thu Oct 23 14:20:59 EDT 2008
October 23, 2008, Issue # 3583
Narinjara: Monks in Sittwe lose freedom
Mizzima News: NLD chairman stable
AP: Myanmar police free local magazine journalist
Kaladan News: Over 365 acres of farmlands confiscated in Rathedaung
ON THE BORDER
DVB: Monk activist flees to Thai-Burma border
Mizzima News: Army operations force closure of schools, clinics
DPA: 'Up to ASEM' to pressure Myanmar, says Human Rights Watch
PNA (Thailand): Philippines house panel adopts resolution denouncing
pro-democracy crackdown in Burma
AP: Amnesty urges EU to denounce Myanmar rights abuses
OPINION / OTHER
The Nation (Thailand): Long battle for Suu Kyi Editorial
IPS: Cyclone relief - distrust of junta deters donors Marwaan Macan-Markar
Asia Times: Myanmar's failed non-violent opposition Norman Robespierre
Mizzima News: Burmese Americans ponder their presidential choice Myat
Soe, May Ng
The Age (Australia): Free Aung San Suu Kyi Sein Win and Jared Genser
October 23, Narinjara
Monks in Sittwe lose freedom
Monks in Sittwe are suffering from a loss of freedom as authorities are
watching them closely whenever they move about the city, said one monk
The monk said, "Since many intelligence officials and informers are
closely watching us in Sittwe we have lost all of our freedom here. We
have no chance right now to go anywhere freely."
The monks in Sittwe are impacted most during the time of food offerings,
when intelligence officers follow behind them on motorbikes.
"In Sittwe, monks usually walk on the streets in groups of 10 or 20 from a
monastery to get food offerings. At those times, the officials follow us
on motorbikes to see what we do," he said.
The government began the surveillance after monks staged a demonstration
against the Burmese military government in Sittwe during their traditional
food offering procession on 27 September, 2008.
"The authority is now taking care during the food offering time of the
monks in Sittwe and is worried that another demonstration will emerge. So
authorities are following monks on motorbikes during the food offering
times," the monk said.
Security has been tightened in general in Sittwe, but security forces have
been dressing in plain clothes in an attempt to operate clandestinely
among the public in the city.
According to a local witness, many officials from the police, military
intelligence, or Sarafa, and the army are wearing plainclothes while
patrolling Sittwe on motorbikes to prevent any further monk
Monks in Sittwe declared publicly in September that they would stage
anti-government demonstrations to continue the Saffron Revolution in
Sittwe for the people of Burma. It is because of this declaration that the
authorities continue to carefully watch the monks' activities.
October 23, Mizzima News
NLD chairman stable - Than Htike Oo
The Chairman of the National League for Democracy, Aung Shwe, who is over
91 years old, has recovered following treatment for poor health.
He has been ailing in his house since the ceremony to mark the 20th
anniversary of his party on September 27.
"It was just an ordinary flu, now he is in good health. He is better. He
is taking rest in his house," Nyan Win, the NLD spokesperson told Mizzima.
When Mizzima telephoned Aung Shwe's residence and inquired about his
health a family member said he had recovered.
Meanwhile, U Lwin, the NLD Secretary, who is 84 years old, had requested
the party for leave about two months ago because of failing health.
"I had paralysis about 17 years ago. I won't get any better as I am
getting older. I can't even walk properly and I can't go to the office
(NLD)," said U Lwin.
Aung Shwe was Chairman of the NLD's ally the Patriotic Old Comrade League
(POCL) during the 1990 general elections. He became President of the NLD
after the Deputy President Tin Oo and Secretary Aung San Su Kyi were
detained and placed under house arrest.
The socialist minded soldier was made to retire from the Burmese Army on
the accusation of being biased during the election while he was the Chief
Commander of the Southern Command and was appointed Military Councilor.
Secretary U Lwin was a member of the State Council and the Deputy Prime
Minister of the State during the days of the Burma Socialist Programme
Party and served from 1942 to 1945 in the Burmese Army called the BIA, BDA
and PBF at different times and founded during and after the struggle for
Besides, he passed his officers training from the Japan Royal Defence
Academy. He was also in the British Royal Defence Academy from 1945 to
October 23, Associated Press
Myanmar police free local magazine journalist
Police in Myanmar have released a magazine journalist detained for almost
two months on suspicion of providing news to an exile-run Web site known
for its sometimes critical coverage of the country's ruling military
junta, the freed man's colleagues said Wednesday.
All daily newspapers and electronic media inside Myanmar are state-run,
and privately owned magazines are subject to tight censorship. Many people
depend on getting uncensored news from abroad, from Web sites, satellite
television and shortwave radio.
Colleagues of Saw Myint Than, chief reporter at the Flower News journal,
said he was freed Monday after police determined he had not provided
information to The Irrawaddy, a Thailand-based Web site run by Myanmar
Saw Myint Than was arrested on Sept. 1 on a charge of violating the
Electronics Law, which regulates all forms of electronic communication and
carries a maximum five-year prison term.
One colleague, who insisted on anonymity to avoid attracting the attention
of the authorities, said that Saw Myint Than had lost weight during his
detention but was determined to continue work with the magazine.
Police with responsibility for commenting on the case could not
immediately be contacted.
"He was questioned if he has contacts with The Irrawaddy and how he had
been reporting to the exile media," said his colleague.
The police apparently were suspicious because details about a murder
investigation Saw Myint Than was reporting on appeared on The Irrawaddy
shortly afterward. They concluded after an investigation that he had not
provided the information to the publication.
Saw Myint Than was first held in a police detention center and was later
moved to the notorious Insein Prison on the outskirts of Yangon, the
country's biggest city. Most prominent political prisoners are held there.
The Paris-based press freedom group Reporters Without Borders said in a
statement that it welcomed Saw Myint Than's release, but noted that
journalists continue to be arrested in the military-ruled country.
October 23, Kaladan News
Over 365 acres of farmlands confiscated in Rathedaung
The Burmese military junta authorities confiscated 365 acres of farmland
from the Rohingya community in Razabil (Auk Nan Yar) village in Rathedaung
Township recently without citing any reason, said a school teacher from
The farmlands are owned by 65 families in Razabil, who eke out a living
The seizure was ordered by the Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) number 538.
Military officers told village authorities that anybody wishing to
cultivate their land must give nine tins of paddy per acre as ration for
the Burmese Army, he added.
"We are working in our land, but, we have to give paddy to the army. We
will starve, if the weather destroys our crops. We have to give paddy at
any cost to the army," said a farmer from Rathedaung.
"After our land was confiscated we are unable to look after our families
as the authorities have restricted our movement. So, we are unable to go
to Akyab or other towns to find jobs and here we are unable to procure
food for our families. When I return home, the kids cry for food. What
shall I do?" asked Ali Ahmed, a farmer who lost his land recently.
Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims live in Rathedaung Township ,
whereas 2,485 Rohingya families live in Razabil village.
ON THE BORDER
October 23, Democratic Voice of Burma
Monk activist flees to Thai-Burma border Khin Hnin Htet
A monk who played a leading role in last years Saffron Revolution in
Burma has fled the country for Thailand due to fear of arrest for his
U Eitthariya, a member of the All Burmese Monks Alliance from Mandalay,
reached Thailand on 21 October, he told DVB.
"I came out of Burma because it was not safe for me. I was involved with
the young people of Generation Wave and other political groups, U
Eitthariya said. We distributed leaflets and gave training and when the
eight people in Nyein Chan's group were arrested, the situation became
worse for me, he said.
They found out where I was and shadowed all the places I frequented. I
came here because I had nowhere to hide."
U Eitthariya said the majority of monks in Burma were continuing with
their boycott of the regime.
"[The boycott] will only be withdrawn with the consent of all monks in
Burma, he said. This is a very serious matter as it was taught by the
Buddha himself and the monks who try to undermine this are also traitors
to the monkshood, he went on. Only when the SPDC apologises to the monks
and all the monks agree will we be able to overturn this.
But U Eitthariya said the government had so far not only refused to
apologise, but had stepped up its harassment of monks.
"They are asking their thugs to watch the monks, he explained.
These people send anonymous letters to monks to intimidate them and are
making lists of monks to make the monks feel uncomfortable.
U Eitthariya said spies had been placed in the monasteries and monks had
been told not to harbour any politically active monks.
"They send letters to monks and tell them to report monks who are
politically active, he said.
If they refuse, they hint that even the abbots will be imprisoned when
monasteries are raided."
The Burmese authorities have kept a close watch on monasteries since the
monk-led demonstrations in September last year.
Monasteries were targeted for raids in the aftermath of the protests and
many monks were arrested.
A directive was issued to monks in Magwe last month in the lead-up to the
one-year anniversary of the protests warning them to avoid political
October 23, Mizzima News
Army operations force closure of schools, clinics Than Htike Oo
Schools and clinics in villages of Kawkareik Township were forced to close
following operations launched by the Burmese Army and the Democratic Karen
Buddhist Army (DKBA), an NGO assisting these said.
Italy based 'Help without Frontiers Refugees for Burma' said that five
schools and two clinics were opened in Phawbulahta and Hawphokee villages
in Kawkareik Township after clashes occurred in late September.
"These areas are under the control of the DKBA and the Burmese Army. So,
we have to move from the villages. We are not sure if we can reopen the
schools and clinics as long as the soldiers from the two sides are
present. We are in a wait and watch mode," Benno Röggla, the Chairman of
the NGO official told Mizzima.
Teachers and students dare not come to the schools. To make matters worse
the joint forces of the DKBA and the Burmese Army looted medicines and
other items from the clinics. So the clinics had to be closed too, he
The villages are on Thai-Burma border, 45 kilometres south of Mae Sod.
The NGO is currently running about 30 schools and three clinics along the
Thai-Burma border. It started the charity work in 2002.
The Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA, which is waging war against the
junta, said that Infantry Battalion (IB) 401, 407 of the Burmese Army and
IB 907, 906, 33 of the DKBA entered these areas after September 24.
October 23, Deutsche Presse Agentur
'Up to ASEM' to pressure Myanmar, says Human Rights Watch
The upcoming Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) Summit in Beijing provides an
ideal opportunity for Asian and European leaders to pressure Myanmar to
improve it's poor human rights record, New York-based Human Rights Watch
stated Thursday. "Since Burma's [Myanmar's] rulers have stonewalled on the
efforts by the UN to bring about real change, its up to ASEM ministers to
send a message that sham political reforms are unacceptable," said Brad
Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch (HRW).
The seventh ASEM Summit, being held in Beijing on Friday and Saturday, is
expected to draw 45 leaders from Europe and Asia.
Myanmar's Prime Minister Thein Sein was also scheduled to attend.
Myanmar's ruling junta has been in the spotlight again this year for its
inhumane handling of the Cyclone Nargis tragedy, that left an estimated
138,000 people dead or missing after smashing into the country's southern
Irrawaddy delta region on May 2-3.
Despite the natural catastrophe, deemed the worst in Myanmar's recent
history, the regime insisted on holding a national referendum in May to
approve a new constitution designed to cement the military's dominant role
in politics, even under an elected government.
The referendum, held without international monitoring, was blamed for the
junta's reluctance to allow in emergency aid and relief workers during the
first dire weeks after the cyclone, which left some 2.3 million people in
desperate need of food, water, shelter and medical relief.
Although the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), as Myanmar's
military rulers style themselves, streamlined cooperation with the
international aid community after holding the referendum, they have
demonstrated no interest in heeding international calls for political
reforms and protection of human rights.
In August, senior SPDC leaders refused to meet with Ibrahim Gambari, the
UN secretary general's special adviser on Myanmar, who had travelled to
the country to push for political progress, including the freeing of
opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi who has been under house arrest since
"ASEM members have a chance to challenge Burma to make political reforms
and start respecting basic freedoms," said Adams, in a statement issued by
HRW from New York on the eve of the ASEM Summit. "Silence over the human
rights abuses in today's Burma isn't an option anymore for ASEM leaders."
October 23, Popular News Agency (Thailand)
Philippines house panel adopts resolution denouncing pro-democracy
crackdown in Burma
The committee on foreign affairs of the House of Representatives has
endorsed for plenary adoption a resolution urging the Philippines and
other countries to denounce the violent crackdown of pro-democracy protest
actions in Burma.
House Resolution No. 816 states that the Philippines, as a member of the
United Nations (UN) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations
(ASEAN), affirms its conviction "in the strict observance of fundamental
human rights" and has determined to promote social progress.
As such, the Philippine government is urging the military government in
Burma to come up with a time frame for democratic reforms, which should
include a genuine tripartite dialogue among the State Peace and
Development Council (SPDC), the National League for Democracy (NLD), and
This is to ensure equal representations of the stakeholders that could
lead to an inclusive nationwide convention to draft a Constitution
reflective of the needs of the Burmese people, the resolution said.
"The Philippines, as a member of the ASEAN, has the prime obligation to
take an active role in the democratization process in Burma by joining the
international community in exerting pressure to compel the military
government in Burma to institute genuine and substantial political
reforms," it added.
HR 816 further states that as a UN member, the Philippines believes in the
importance of the rule of law in the maintenance of international peace
and security, the components of which would include, among others, the
establishment of institutions to ensure safety and order in post-conflict
societies, prevention of impunity by violators of human rights and
international humanitarian law, and protection of civilians, their rights
Proponents of the House resolution underscored that all member states of
the UN have an obligation to promote and protect human rights and
fundamental freedoms as stated in the UN Charter, and as elaborated in the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the International
Conventions on Human Rights, and other applicable human rights
They noted that being a member of the ASEAN since 1997, Burma should
ensure that all member states are observing the regional body's existing
democratic principles and that all international covenants and binding
treaties that the ASEAN has unanimously ratified should be strictly
The resolution cited that last Sept. 26, 2008, the people of Burma marked
its first anniversary of the "Saffron Revolution" calling to mind the
events of September 2007, which saw heightened military crackdown on the
biggest pro-democracy demonstration in 20 years by firing shots and tear
gas over the heads of large crowds in the main city of Burma and arresting
a great number of protesters and Buddhist monks.
The protests, initiated primarily on account of the sudden oil hike,
snowballed into demonstrations, calling for the end to military
dictatorship, for democratic reforms and for the release of political
"The Burmese people have long endured the excesses of military rule,
littered with human rights violations that include the commission of rape,
forcible relocation of people, forced labor and conscription of child
soldiers, among others," it said.
HR 816, which is in substitution of HRs 260, 262, 265 and 279, is authored
by Reps. Antonio Cuenco, chairman of the foreign affairs committee; Ana
Theresia Hontiveros-Baraquel (PL-Akbayan), Lorenzo Tanada III (4th
District, Quezon), Satur Ocampo (PL-Bayan Muna), Teodoro Casino (PL-Bayan
Muna), Jose Solis (2nd District, Sorsogon), Maria Isabelle Climaco (1st
District, Zamboanga City), Liza Maza (PL-Gabriela), Luzviminda Ilagan
(PL-Gabriela), and the late Crispin Beltran (PL-Anakpawis).
October 23, Associated Press
Amnesty urges EU to denounce Myanmar rights abuses
Amnesty International urged European leaders Thursday to take up human
rights issues with Myanmar at this week's Europe-Asia summit.
Myanmar's military government, which has violently suppressed
pro-democracy protests, will be represented at the summit in Beijing on
Friday and Saturday.
"This is a rare opportunity to engage in direct dialogue with the
authorities of Myanmar, which should not be missed" said Nicolas Beger,
director of the human rights organization's EU office in Brussels.
"As co-chair, the French presidency can ensure that the serious human
rights situation in Myanmar is given the attention it deserves," he added.
France holds the EU's rotating presidency.
Myanmar's military, which seized power in 1988, refuses to recognize the
results of a 1990 election that gave a landslide victory to the party led
by Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. She has been in detention for
about 13 of the past 19 years and is one of a reported 2,000 political
The Asia-Europe Meeting, held every two years, was established in 1996,
and currently has 45 members, including Asian and European countries, the
European Commission and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Myanmar joined in 2004 despite reservations of the EU, which has imposed
diplomatic and economic sanctions on the government of Myanmar, also known
as Burma. The human rights issue was raised at the 2006 summit in
OPINION / OTHER
October 23, The Nation (Thailand)
Long battle for Suu Kyi Editorial
Today, Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi will have been
incarcerated for 13 years. The more the appeals for her release - from the
United Nations, Asean and numerous world leaders - the more the Rangoon
junta leaders harden their resolve not to let her free.
Why? They have learned that in the real world, nobody really cares about
others. They do so for a period of time, but not all the time. It has been
extremely unfortunate for the people of Burma and Suu Kyi since 1988.
Whenever the international community came together, something happened
that diverted attention away from Burma.
When Cyclone Nargis hit Burma in early May, the world's sympathy
immediately and readily poured into Burma to help the people. Suddenly,
the atrocities of the armed soldiers against protesting monks and the
ordinary people were pushed to the back burner. Of course, the junta
leaders have benefited from the influx of financial aid as never before
seen. They have not changed a thing and seriously they do not need to.
Obviously, international humanitarian organisations have used the Burmese
crisis for their own benefit.
The Western world and international organisations automatically dropped
their hardline criteria because they wanted to help the cyclone-affected
Burmese people. Earlier Burma's recalcitrance to allow foreign relief and
rescue teams caused additional deaths. Now, nobody is talking about
political reforms and ongoing political suppression. International
organisations are happy because they have earned a name for themselves by
helping the poor Burmese. They said more aid should be channelled to the
junta leaders and their organisations because they will learn how to deal
with foreign assistance. Never mind if they have benefited from all the
assistance. After all, the Burmese people will get direct help. The
problem is, the junta has not given anything away that could facilitate
national reconciliation and dialogue.
Apparently, the junta leaders are very confident that their sevenpoint
road map will serve as the main instrument to eventually establish their
legitimacy. Come 2010, it will be a fait accompli. The ongoing global
financial crisis will take the focus away from Burma. UN Secretary-General
Ban Kimoon believes that he can influence junta leader General Than Shwe
to free Suu Kyi because he has made a good impression on the general. He
is scheduled to visit Rangoon on December 19 after the AseanUN summit in
Bangkok. Ban should not risk his reputation and that of the UN by such an
endeavour. The UN's special envoy on Burma, Ismail Gambari, needs to
improve his performance. He has yet to facilitate or bridge the gap
between the junta and the opposition.
>From the regional point of view, it is a win-win strategy for Burma. Just
look at Thailand, which is in the political doldrums. As long as the Asean
chair is in perpetual chaos, it cannot raise the Burma issue because it
would be a case of the pot calling the kettle black. Indeed, it was
fortunate that Singapore was the Asean chair last year during the Saffron
Revolution because the island republic could issue a strong statement
condemning the junta's heavy use of arms against protesters.
At this juncture, it seems that Western countries as well as Asean are
sharing similar assessments - that the Burmese regime is very strong and
its grip on power and the people is absolute. Nothing can be done about
it. The best way is to work with the junta and take part in its political
schemes. Conventional wisdom believes this is the best way because the
regime might crack. Refusing to take part in the political process would
immediately cut off future bargaining chips that the opposition or
democracyloving people have.
It is heartrending to look into the future of Burma, knowing full well the
political hypocrisy and vanity surrounding this issue. One can only hope
that Suu Kyi will remain strong and robust and in good spirit. This is
going to be a long battle.
October 23, Inter Press Service
Cyclone relief - distrust of junta deters donors Marwaan Macan-Markar
Burmas military regime is struggling to attract international aid nearly
six months after the powerful Cyclone Nargis tore through the countrys
Irrawaddy Delta. The financial shortfall has more to do with distrust of
the junta than donor fatigue.
Currently, only 50 percent of the 482 million US dollars that had been
sought in a U.N. flash appeal has come in, the world body states in its
assessment of pledges for the natural disaster in Myanmar, as the country
is also known.
The lack of funding is expected to hamper plans to meet the humanitarian
needs of millions of victims and help in the early recovery programmes.
Some 13 U.N. agencies and 23 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) were
due to dip into these funds for critically-needed assistance that was
to last through April 2009.
According to a July report by a tripartite body that includes U.N.
officials and representatives of the junta, the total damage caused by
Nargis, which struck in the early hours of May 3, was put at four billion
U.S. dollars. The official death toll, according to the Post-Nargis Joint
Assessment (PONJA), was 84,537 with 53,836 people missing and 19,359
Data shows that some 2.4 million people were severely affected by the
cyclone, out of an estimated 7.35 million people living in the affected
townships, added PONJA, which has the Association of South-east Asian
Nations (ASEAN), a 10-member regional bloc where Burma is a member, as its
Yet other estimates have put the human toll much higher, with possibly
close to 300,000 people being killed and some 5.5 million people affected.
Critics of the regime are hardly surprised by the funding shortfall since
the disaster, remarking that it is a vote of no confidence by the donor
community against military leaders notorious for their history of
oppression, corruption and the destruction of what had once been a
The international community has not forgotten Burma. The money has not
come in because of a lack of transparency, accountability and because the
military regime has come in the way of aid, says Sann Aung, a cabinet
minister in the last elected Burmese government, now living in exile.
The people are suffering as a result of the regimes terrible
It is not too late for the regime to allow independent monitoring of aid
and support a system of accountability to make sure that the cyclone
victims benefit from the aid, Sann Aung added during an interview.
There are still many restrictions that prevent NGOs and the U.N. having
proper access to the people in the delta.
But not everyone agrees with such an assessment. The International Crisis
Group (ICG), a Brussels-based think tank, is calling for the international
community, particularly the Western nations, led by the U.S. government,
to re-examine their aid policies to Burma in the wake of Nargis.
The international community should build on the unprecedented
cooperation between the Mayanmar government and humanitarian agencies
following cyclone Nargis and reverse longstanding, counter productive
policies, the ICG argues in a new report released this week.
Holding back aid to pressure the junta into pursuing genuine political
reform that ushers an open, vibrant democracy has not worked, reveals the
33-page Burma/Myanmar After Nargis: Time to Normalise Aid Relations.
Twenty years of aid restrictions -- which see Myanmar receiving 20 times
less assistance per capita than other least-developed countries -- have
weakened, not strengthened, the forces for change.
Aid is valuable in its own right for alleviating suffering, as well as a
potential means of opening up a closed country, improving governance and
empowering people to take control of their own lives, says John Virgoe,
ICGs South-east Asia project director.
The report is as critical of the Western governments failure to fund the
482-million-dollar flash appeal. This is regrettable, not only from the
perspective of the cyclone survivors, it notes.
Many (donors) have been reluctant to extend their otherwise generous
support for the affected communities into the recovery and rehabilitation
work, raising doubts about how much international agencies will be able to
do in this area,'' ICG said.
In fact, the ICG implies that the international community has been
unfairly harsh in its aid policies towards Burma when set against
international assistance to other repressive countries.
While the overseas development assistance in 2006 was 2.88 U.S. dollars
per person in Burma, the average assistance for the other 50 poorest
countries was over 58 U.S. dollars per person, it reveals in a footnote.
Other countries with similarly repressive governments receive much more
aid: Sudan (55 dollars per person); Zimbabwe (21 dollars per person); Laos
(63 dollars per person).
The misery caused by Nargis added to the woes of a country where over a
third of its 57 million people live in absolute poverty and where along
the borders -- home to the countrys discriminated ethnic communities --
poverty rates are far higher, reaching over 50 percent in some areas.
Child malnutrition affects over a third of the under five population,
states a U.N. report.
The tough sanctions and aid restrictions imposed on Burma followed a
brutal crackdown of a pro-democracy uprising in 1988, where thousands of
protesters were killed by troops.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), for instance, has had its
hands tied by a 1992 U.S. law that threatens funding cuts if the U.N.
agency has any programmes linked to a Burmese government agency.
But even if this appeal to normalise aid relations prompts a change
attitude among the donors, it will amount to little for the victims unless
the military regime agrees to abide by prevailing humanitarian aid
principles and practices.
These principles are not new, but the regime is refusing to recognise
and implement these international norms, Khin Ohmar, coordinator of the
Burma Partnership, a network of Burmese and regional NGOs, told IPS.
The international community should understand that the Burmese in the
delta survived with nothing before the cyclone, and it has continued even
after the disaster, she added. We want the people to benefit from the
aid, not the military regime.
October 23, Asia Times
Myanmar's failed non-violent opposition - Norman Robespierre
The one-year anniversary of Myanmar's military crackdown on non-violent
protests in Yangon and several other cities calling for political change
came and went without incident.
While the Buddhist monk-led demonstrations briefly raised global awareness
of the Burmese people's plight, it also highlighted the failure of the
opposition's long-held non-violence strategy as the best means to bring
change to the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) regime
that views the failure to use violence as a sign of weakness.
While outwardly a spontaneous gesture in reaction to economic woes, the
demonstrations were the culmination of years of planning by opposition
forces inside and abroad for non-violent action to confront the regime.
Opposition to the ruling regime is figuratively headed by Aung San Suu
Kyi, the daughter of General Aung San, the founding father of Burmese
independence. Her commitment to non-violent struggle for political change
has earned her the Nobel Peace Prize and global admiration, but two
decades since soldiers opened fire on unarmed pro-democracy demonstrators,
there is little else to show for her two decades of non-violent struggle.
The resounding victory of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD)
party in the 1990 elections was the political high-water mark for the
opposition. While the regime refused to honor the poll's results, the
election provided political legitimacy to the NLD and a handful of
opposition activists. Many of those elected still cling to demands that
the election's results be honored, but with each passing year those claims
to legitimacy become less germane. Close to 40% of the elected members of
parliament have been dismissed or resigned and a full 20% have died.
The opposition defined broadly is comprised of a plethora of political
organizations. Among the best known are the National Coalition Government
for the Union of Burma, headed by Dr Sein Win, Suu Kyi's cousin, the
All-Burma Student's Democratic Front (ABSDF), Democratic Alliance for
Burma, National League for Democracy-(Liberated Areas).
Additionally, there are several umbrella organizations such as the
democratic Alliance for Burma (DAB) and the National Council of the Union
of Burma (NCUB), which count membership from various political groups and
ethnic insurgent armies. These organizations receive substantial backing
from Western organizations, such as the Open Society Institute and
National Endowment for Democracy.
The vast majority of the opposition follows Suu Kyi's guidance that
political change can and should be achieved through non-violence. That
doctrine was further promulgated by the Albert Einstein Institute of
Geneva and New York. In 1994, it sponsored a consultation on political
defiance for Burmese democracy leaders. Included in the audience were
representatives of ABSDF, NLD-LA, DAB, and the NCGUB, represented by Dr
Sein Win. A key speaker at the pivotal event was the institute's founder,
Sharp's involvement with the Burmese opposition was specifically mentioned
in a June 1997 press conference condemning foreign support to terrorists
by then Secretary-1of the SPDC, Lieutenant General Khin Nyunt. In
hindsight, rather than condemnation, Khin Nyunt should have heaped laurels
on Sharp for promoting non-violence.
The opposition's adherence to non-violence has given the regime a monopoly
on fear that allowed it to solidify its position, condemning generations
of Burmese to life (and in some cases, death) under the military regime.
Additionally, limiting the prospect of violent consequences removed one
aspect which may have motivated the regime to negotiate change.
Further, the promotion of non-violence undermined the united opposition
against the regime. Under the tutelage of Khin Nyunt, the regime succeeded
in enticing numerous armed ethnic opposition groups to surrender their
arms and "enter the light" - or at least accept a ceasefire. Khin Nyunt
used a variety of incentives to the groups and particularly their leaders
to gain their cooperation. The elevated principle of non-violence made it
easier for group leaders to accept the bribery.
The success of the regime's effort to pursue ceasefire deals continues to
haunt the opposition with fragmentation and conflicting interests. Ethnic
armies whose cooperation could have tilted the "Saffron" revolution to
effect real change, sat and watched, perhaps out of concern that armed
rebellion would jeopardize their lucrative mining or other concessions. As
a result, the regime was able to focus its military might on the unarmed
protesters and monks.
Incentives and self-interest affect not only limited ceasefires and peace
groups, but also some ethnic armies that continue to put forces in the
field against the Myanmar military, or Tatmadaw. According to a senior
Thai military officer, the SPDC is able to continue to benefit from the
vulnerable Yadana-Yetagun gas pipelines because the Mon insurgents in the
area are receiving payoffs from both the regime and the Thai authorities.
Construction of a third foreign exchange earning pipeline in the same area
is reportedly slated for this dry season.
A valuable experience
The Einstein Institute's website comments that while the non-violent
struggles in Myanmar, China and Tibet "have not brought an end to the
ruling dictatorships or occupations, they have exposed the brutal nature
of those repressive regimes to the world community and have provided the
populations with valuable experience with this form of struggle".
How 20 years of mostly ineffectual resistance can be summed up as a
"valuable experience" is a mystery. One wonders to what valuable
experience those sitting comfortably in their ideological ivory towers
refer: languishing in a Myanmar prison, being knocked senseless by a
police truncheon, having family members disappear, torture, death? How
much longer before the Burmese people realize the opposition's strategy of
non-violence is ineffective against those who have the means and
determination to kill to maintain control and decide to pursue a
different, more assertive course?
Opposition optimists say that the regime was weakened by last year's
crackdown, arguing that the violence police and soldiers perpetrated
against Buddhist monks irked the populace and many military officers, the
majority of them Buddhist. Further, they cite perennial rumors of
infighting among the generals and lower ranks that could lead to fractures
in the leadership and eventually a democracy-promoting mutiny.
However, earlier leadership struggles in which top generals fell from
grace - including Tun Kyi, Saw Maung, Ne Win and Khin Nyunt - only brought
changes in military personalities, not a transformation of the
military-dominated system. Indeed, the system is highly resilient and
endures with a new crop of military officers entering the top ranks of the
Tatmadaw each year. Although many of the officers are not enthusiastic
that monks were beaten, most believe that the majority of the protesters
were recent novices who had donned monk's robes expressly to carry out
illegal political demonstrations.
The optimists also claim that the regime's inadequate response to Cyclone
Nargis, which killed over 80,000 people and adversely affected the
livelihoods of over 2 million, also weakened the SPDC. As evidence, they
mention that many military personnel and government workers had relatives
in the worst-hit Ayeyawady Division and were upset at the delayed
response. The actual intensity of disenchantment caused by the slow
reaction to the killer storm, of course, is hard to quantify without
public opinion polls.
However, the fact that Burmese people are used to being self-sufficient
and not in the habit of relying on the government for anything likely
means the fallout from such a callous official response was less severe
than it would have been in other countries. Whatever disenchantment the
government's limp response to Nargis and the September 2007 crackdown may
have sown, to date it has not been exploited to cause the Tatmadaw to
split or the military government to fall.
>From another perspective, it could just as easily be argued that Cyclone
Nargis made the regime stronger by opening up a new tap of foreign aid.
Millions of dollars of humanitarian aid poured into the economy as foreign
nations rallied to assist the storm's survivors. The regime's multi-tiered
foreign exchange system allowed them to extract an estimated 20% to 25%
from all foreign exchange certificates converted into the local kyat
The diversion of United Nations (UN) funds alone resulted in at least
US$1.5 million (some estimates are as high as $10 million) of humanitarian
aid being delivered straight into the regime's coffers. The tilted
exchange system also affected non-UN aid agencies for an undetermined
amount of donations. Hard currency intended to relieve the suffering of
cyclone survivors instead directly benefited the regime.
Nargis also brought a recent call from the International Crisis Group
(ICG) to repeal sanctions and provide more aid than beyond what is
necessary to recover from Nargis to develop the impoverished country.
While few share the ICG's sentiment, which in the past was criticized by
the Open Society Institute for its unscholarly approach with respect to
Myanmar, its call would allow the regime to reap even more foreign money
to consolidate its position.
Nargis brought not only financial benefit, but also is believed to have
increased the regime's confidence. Certainly, the regime's confidence
soared when French and US warships withdrew from waters off Myanmar's
coast in the aftermath of the killer storm. While the vessels were sent to
deliver humanitarian aid, antagonistic rhetoric about the humanitarian
"right to protect" Myanmar's citizens by Western diplomats preceded the
vessels' arrivals, raising the regime's suspicions about their mission.
Rather than appear to submit to Western threats, and fearful of a possible
uprising by opposition activists should foreign forces land on Myanmar
soil, the regime barred the aid from being delivered by other than their
own naval personnel. Eventually the vessels withdrew without a shot being
fired and much of the aid went undelivered. The regime's ability to
diplomatically ward off the perceived threat posed by French and American
warships is believed to have boosted the regime's confidence in its
ability to stand up to neo-colonialist adversaries.
Confidence in the regime's decision-making, often portrayed as daft or
worse in the international media, has recently reportedly grown among the
rank and file. In particular, the decision to move the political capital
to Naypyitaw from Yangon is - after the cyclone which hit the old capital
- viewed in a favorable new light. Prior to Nargis, the abrupt move in
late 2005 was widely criticized for its exorbitant expense and ridiculed
for its reliance on astrology. It is now looked at by many Burmese as
cosmic confirmation of the wisdom and even prescience of the senior
leadership - or at least that of their astrologers.
More important is the regime's growing confidence in the reliability of
government forces to deploy as instruments of control. The ability to
successfully extinguish the pro-democracy protests in September 2007,
without notable dissension within the ranks of the police and military,
left the Tatmadaw stronger and the regime more self-assured. According to
several foreign diplomats based in Yangon, the regime is now reportedly
more confident in the loyalty of its forces and its ability to control
On the other hand, the position of the political opposition is decidedly
weaker. More opposition members are in prison than before, while countless
others have fled the country due to very real concerns for their personal
security. An untold number have perished. Despite the overwhelming support
of the populace, the opposition was unable to capitalize on social
discontent in 2007, when the junta removed fuel price subsidies and fuel
costs shot up 500% overnight. Nor have they been able to leverage the
chaos and suffering brought on by the junta's inept handling of the
cyclone disaster this year into a renewed call for political change.
Instead of maintaining offensive pressure and preparing adequate defensive
measures to protect their supporters, they have blindly clung to the
gospel of non-violence in the hope that international pressure would
eventually lead to democratic change. As many Saffron Revolution
demonstrators can attest, hope is a weak defensive shield against a police
baton, a charging truck, or the ammunition of soldiers trained to kill.
October 23, Mizzima News
Burmese Americans ponder their presidential choice - Myat Soe, May Ng
Since both the Republican and Democratic parties support the Burmese
democracy cause, whether John McCain or Barack Obama becomes the next
president is not a major issue with Burmese citizens in the United States.
But among Burmese American voters there is a visible loyalty to John
McCain and the Republican Party for having been vocal supporters of the
struggle for democracy inside Burma.
However as the current financial crisis escalates, Burmese are beginning
to think more about U.S. politics and the presidential election. Opinions
among Burmese voters in the United States are as diverse as among any
other group of Americans. But one thing is for certain, the focus of the
debate is now squarely on the economy.
In the state of Indiana, home to a sizable Burmese population, Burmese
workers have experienced a direct impact from globalization. Manufacturing
jobs in the state have moved to third world countries with lower safety
standards and, most importantly, to countries with much lower corporate
taxes. Therefore even a Clinton Democrat in Indiana recently lamented that
Obama's tax plan will continue to drive manufacturing industries and the
Obama's plan to retool American factories and also to reduce dependence on
foreign oil sounds good, but similar rhetoric in the past has not met with
results, as the powerful interests of major oil companies continue to
dominate American politics.
Because of the severity of the financial crisis in the U.S. and the world,
it is unlikely that either McCain or Obama will be able to fix the economy
in less than four years. Further, neither candidate has been able to
clarify the mystery surrounding the complexity of the credit meltdown. In
short, a cogent plan to solve the most pressing economic problem since the
Great Depression of the 1930's seems nowhere on the horizon.
Another question for a Burmese voter is the racial issue. Most Burmese
have lived under a regime in Burma that continuously exploits the racial
advantage of military leaders, and these voters are wary of any candidate
with racial distinction. However, this is not necessarily an advantage for
Obama since Burmese voters do not feel that McCain benefits from the race
card as much as Obama.
But in terms of the race issue it also depends on the state in which the
voter resides. A Clinton Democrat in New York reported that during the
early primary season even African American women in New York viewed Hilary
Clinton quite favorably compared to Obama. And some young black Americans
even remarked that Obama is not really black. But those people have now
solidly moved to Obama's side. Even Former Secretary of State General
Colin Powell, an important Republican, now endorses Mr. Obama.
Burmese voters in New York, with Hillary Clinton as their senator, like to
argue that eight years ago the U.S. was enjoying a fiscal surplus unlike
the present devastating fiscal disaster. But Burmese voters in New York
also remember Republican leaders like First Lady Laura Bush and John
Bolton speaking up for them at the United Nations and only wish that
Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer from New York would do the same. They
also worry that the soft approach of Mr. Obama might not work well when up
against the Burmese military junta, while concerned that an Obama
administration may de-prioritize the issue of Burma altogether.
With the presidential contest expected to become tighter as Election Day
approaches, Burmese voters will have to start making up their mind in
places like Indiana. It will be interesting to see if they vote for the
winner or if they vote for the one they feel the most loyalty to; for
loyalty means a lot to Burmese voters. However, ironically, Obama can only
prove to the Burmese voters that he is the right candidate for them by
getting elected and doing the things that he so eloquently proposes during
Will voters, including Burmese, give him a chance to prove himself? It is
a good question.
October 23, The Age (Australia)
Free Aung San Suu Kyi - Sein Win and Jared Genser
Today marks 13 years that the world's only imprisoned Nobel peace prize
laureate, and Burma's democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has spent under
house arrest in her country.
Stoically battling ill health and relentless in her pursuit of freedom for
her people, The Lady's unjust imprisonment is a powerful reminder of a
brief moment of freedom realised by Burma's people and the dream that
While some governments find it convenient to treat the symptoms of this
regime's malfeasance the terrible humanitarian challenges facing its
people the root cause of these problems is the fundamental lack of
accountability from a military dictatorship ruling with an iron fist.
Burma's recent engagement with the international community in the wake of
cyclone Nargis is yet another skilfully deployed smokescreen by the
regime, designed to postpone any meaningful discussion of political
Nevertheless, the release of Suu Kyi and that of other political prisoners
in Burma remains the only true bellwether to measure whether Burma is
serious about political reform.
Suu Kyi led her National League for Democracy to an overwhelming victory
in 1990. The NLD and its allies gained 82% of the total vote in what was
the last free and fair election in Burma. The military, in power since a
coup in 1962, refused to recognise the result and annulled the parliament.
The National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma is comprised of
those elected officials, never allowed to take office, who remain in
Suu Kyi has been in and out of house arrest for most of the past 19 years,
even since before those elections. She has been there non-stop since 2003,
following a rally in Depayin, where regime thugs murdered more than 70
democracy activists in an attempt on her life. She escaped with minor
Suu Kyi's release has been called for by sources as diverse as US first
lady Laura Bush, financier and philanthropist George Soros, Nobel peace
prize laureates Desmond Tutu and Lech Walesa and entertainers Bono and Jim
In May last year, 59 former presidents and prime ministers, including
Margaret Thatcher, Bill Clinton, Vaclav Havel, George Bush snr and Benazir
Bhutto, signed a letter urging her release. All recognise that democracy
in Burma will remain a distant dream until Suu Kyi, along with about 2000
other political prisoners, is released and an inclusive and time-bound
three-party dialogue between the NLD, ethnic groups, and the junta
achieves a restoration of democracy to Burma.
This much was confirmed again in a recent report by UN Secretary-General
Ban Ki-moon. He noted his frustration with the junta's unwillingness to
agree to talks with Suu Kyi.
"Now is the time," he said, "for the military and the NLD to find ways to
talk to each other and work together in the interest of the nation."
The fact that one of our generation's bravest and most enduring servants
of human rights and justice remains in detention diminishes us all and
mocks our notion of a global community.
That all the weight behind the campaign to release her has failed to move
the junta stands as a victory for oppression and a distinct failure of the
international political system.
Yet the shallow realities ruling the Burmese regime expose an intrinsic
weakness in its administration. This is emphasised in Suu Kyi's famous
"Freedom from Fear" speech, delivered in absentia in Strasbourg in 1991,
when she was awarded the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize.
In her speech, Suu Kyi said that "within a system which denies the
existence of basic human rights, fear tends to be the order of the day
most insidious form of fear is that which masquerades as common sense or
She said: "Fear is not the natural state of civilised man." In Burma, as
elsewhere, dictatorship is against nature.
As such, in the name of a generation, we call for the immediate release of
Suu Kyi and her fellow political prisoners. We urge the international
community, and especially Ban and the UN Security Council, to end one of
the most sustained, corrosive, and damaging regimes of our era and to push
for the beginning of the end of Burma's decades-long oppression.
In doing so, we call for the restoration of democracy to Burma and for the
natural state of Burma, of a peace-loving, tolerant and prosperous
society, to once again flourish.
All must know that this will not occur while Suu Kyi and her colleagues
- Sein Win is prime minister of the National Coalition Government of the
Union of Burma. Jared Genser is president of Freedom Now and counsel to
Aung San Suu Kyi.
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