BurmaNet News, January 9 - 11, 2010
editor at burmanet.org
Mon Jan 11 14:42:38 EST 2010
January 9 11, 2010, Issue #3873
Irrawaddy: NLD elects 9 new CEC Members
Irrawaddy: New enemies of the state in Burma
DVB: Kachin students launch "anti-government" poster campaign in Burma's
Mizzima News: Burma looks to increased rice exports to combat poverty
ON THE BORDER
Hindustan Times: Myanmar okays reopening of Stilwell Road
Gulf News (United Arab Emirates): Myanmar, Bangladesh to settle dispute
BBC News: Burma's Karen refugees struggle in UK
OPINION / OTHER
IPS: BURMA: Junta turns to Draconian electronics law to silence critics
Irrawaddy: No turning back Yeni
VOA: Burma elections must be credible
January 11, Irrawaddy
NLD elects 9 new CEC Members Ba Kaung
No central executive committee (CEC) member of Burma's opposition National
League for Democracy (NLD) resigned or was forced to give up his position
at a CEC meeting at the party's Rangoon headquarters on Monday afternoon,
despite expectations that some aging NLD leaders would resign following
detained General Secretary Aung San Suu Kyi's call for a reorganization of
But although the 11 aging CEC members did not stand down, they elected
nine new parliamentarians to the committee, sources said. An official
statement is due to be released next week.
The CEC had been under pressure to introduce new blood into the party
leadership following criticisms from NLD youth members and Suu Kyi's
meeting with three elderly and ailing CEC members last month, Chairman
Aung Shwe, 91, Secretary U Lwin, 86, and Lun Tin, 88, who all retained
their positions on Monday.
No one is out, because the party needs to be unitedat least
symbolically, said senior member Win Tin, adding that he is unsure how
this expansion would make the party leadership more effective, but that
the new leaders would certainly be able to work more arduously than the
One activist in Burma said that the party's decision not to force out the
aging leaders was mainly to prevent a precedent of forcing elderly leaders
out of their positions.
There has been a dissatisfaction, particularly during the 2007 Saffron
Revolution, among the NLD party's youth members who view the party
leadership as being more focused on its mere existence than on
representing the Burmese public.
"If the party cannot represent the people now, then it never will, said
Aye Khine, an NLD member from Kyaukpadaung. Now we have to see how the
new leaders can improve the party.
Since the formation of the NLD in 1988, the generation gap within the
party leadership has steadily grown, adding to the difficulties it already
faces because of the regime's efforts to suppress its activities. Apart
from Suu Kyi, who is 64, and the party spokesman, Khin Maung Swe, who is
67, the other CEC members are in their 80s and 90s. Six of 11 committee
members are unwell, according to NLD sources.
The party has in the past punished its members who called for the
resignation of aging NLD members. Last year, Myat Hla, the NLD member of
parliament from Pegu, was suspended after alluding to this demand to the
January 10, Irrawaddy
New enemies of the state in Burma Wai Moe
In recent days, the Burmese military junta has imposed harsh sentences,
including the death penalty, on five citizens accused of leaking
information, demonstrating once again that it doesn't tolerate the free
flow of information.
For leaking information about military ties between Burma and North Korea,
a special court held in Rangoons notorious Insein Prison sentenced ex-Maj
Win Naing Kyaw and his associate, Thura Kyaw, to death.
Pyan Sein, another aide to Win Naing Kyawwho is the former personal
assistant of late Secretary 2 Lt-Gen Tin Ooreceived a 15-year prison
sentence. Both Thura Kyaw and Pyan Sein worked for the Ministry of Foreign
A few days before these sentences were handed down, two very different
figures received severe sentences for sharing sensitive information with
the outside world.
On Dec. 31, video journalist Hla Hla Win and her assistant Myint Naing
were sentenced to 26 years in prison for attempting to smuggle video
footage about the country to the Norway-based Democratic Voice of Burma.
According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma
(AAPP), a Burmese human rights group based in Thailand, more than 40
people are currently in jail for their work in media.
Bo Kyi, joint-secretary of the AAPP, said the number of media workers in
prison has dramatically increased since the juntas crackdown on monk-led
demonstrations in September 2007.
During the mass demonstrations, authorities were surprised by the
technologically sophisticated flow of information that allowed the
international media to publish and broadcast evidence of human rights
violations by security forces.
However, the case of Maj Win Naing Kyaw and his associates is quite
unusual. It is the first time since the current regime seized power 21
years ago that government officials with important positions have been
sentenced to death for leaking information, said Bo Kyi.
Anyone who goes to one of Burmas prisons will notice a sign at the
entrance which says: You must follow the State Secrets Act. Although the
sign doesn't provide any further explanation of what constitutes a
violation of this notorious law, Win Naing Kyaws case serves as a
powerful demonstration of just how jealously the state guards its secrets
Actually, however, Win Naing Kyaw and Thura Kyaw were sentenced to death
under Section 3 of the 1950 State Emergency Act, which has been used many
times over the past six decades to silence political dissidents.
Since the current regime seized power in 1988, however, it has not
executed any prisoners sentenced to death, saying that as a provisional
government, it would leave it to a future government to carry out
Anyone can be charged under the State Emergency Act, Section 3, if they
disturb state security forces such as armed forces personnel, said
veteran lawyer Thein Nyunt, of the opposition National League for
Democracy's legal committee.
Burmas State Emergency Act can be quite widely applied, allowing the
state to charge anyone accused of discussing confidential matters relating
to the state, he said.
Following the 1988 uprising, well-known dissidents, including monk leader
Kaviya and student leader Kyaw Min Yu were charged under Section 3 of the
State Emergency Act. Kaviya was sentenced to death by a military court,
while Kyaw Min Yu was sentenced to life imprisonment.
The State Emergency Act are quite old as they were started in 1950. They
don't fit with today, said Thein Nyunt. Using it could make many
judicial problems in the country.
Another infamous act used by the junta to punish dissidents is the
Electronics Act. In recent years, from the trials of members of the
prominent 88 Generation Students group to that of Win Naing Kyaw, dozens
of dissidents have charged under this law, receiving long prison
The act prohibits sending information, including photo and videos, which
the authorities think can be used to damage the states image.
Since the crackdown in September 2007, Internet users or anyone holding a
camera or audio recorder is regarded as a potential enemy of the state in
Burma, said the AAPP's Bo Kyi.
January 9, Democratic Voice of Burma
Kachin students launch "anti-government" poster campaign in Burma's Myitkyina
An anti-military government poster campaign was launched earlier this
morning in Sitapu where the traditional Manaw Festival is being held and
in several other wards of Myitkyina, Kachin State.
The posters, which read, "We don't want the military government!", "We
don't want Myitson Dam!" and "We don't want the elections in 2010!" were
pasted on the electric poles and shop stalls along the way leading to the
Manaw festival as well as inside the field where the Manaw festival is
being held and in Sitapu ward.
The campaign, which was initiated by the All-Kachin State Student Union,
was carried out by the students with the help of the local people who
assisted in putting up the posters and served as lookouts for the
students, according to a member of the student union.
The campaign, helped by the people, was initiated at a time when guests
from different regions were visiting the area to attend the Kachin State
Day commemorative event, said the student union member.
[Begin unidentified male recording] We timed our campaign with the Manaw
event to highlight the fact that there are difficulties in Kachin State
and our country and to show what the people were aspiring for. The local
people supported us because they respected what we were doing and because
we, as youths, were actively putting up posters against the government,
which is something that our elders should be doing. So, they commended and
praised us. [End recording]
The 62nd Kachin State Day, which falls on 10 January, is being
commemorated with the traditional Manaw Festival in the Sitapu grounds of
Myitkyina since 5 January.
Sports, music playing, beauty contest and other events are being held
during the festival. Kachin guests from China, Kachin nationals from
different parts of Burma, the local people, and government employees are
at the Manaw Festival.
Foreigners from diplomatic missions in Rangoon, the Kachin Independence
Organization, the Border Guard Forces from No 1 Kachin Special Region, and
people's militias are also there at the Manaw Festival.
No 3 Tactical Operations Command headed by Commander Col Myat Kyaw under
the Northern Command has opened a temporary office there to oversee
security for the festival while the 21st, 58th, and 260th Infantry
Regiments are providing security. Furthermore, about 300 members of the
Union Solidarity and Development Association, the Swan Arr Shin, and local
fire services are also there to secure the field.
The anti-government poster campaign was launched while the security was
ON THE BORDER
January 10, Hindustan Times
Myanmar okays reopening of Stilwell Road
Guwahati -- Myanmar has agreed to the Indian proposal of reopening the
Stilwell Road which is expected to boost business activities in the North
East, a press release stated. Nyan Win, the Foreign Minister of Myanmar
responding to the request of the Indian Chamber of Commerce (ICC) at the
5th North East Business Summit at Kolkata gave the assurance of reopening
the Stilwell Road.
Agreeing that the distance between India and China would be minimum
through the Stilwell Road, Nyan Win asked the Govt of India to take up the
road making exercise between Tanai of Myanmar to India. He said that China
has already constructed the road upto Tanai.
'There is a balance portion from Tanai to the Indian border which can now
be completed with the support of the Govt of India,' said Nyan Win.
Promising to make operational the Ledo Road with the balance portion to be
built up with Indian help, Nyan Win expressed that the shortest road to
China crossing Kachin State will considerably reduce transportation time
between India and China and will make transportation faster and
economical. Published by HT Syndication with permission from Assam
Tribune. For more information on news feed please contact Sarabjit
Jagirdar at htsyndication at hindustantimes.com
January 11, Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Myanmar, Bangladesh to settle dispute Anisur Rahman
Dhaka Bangladesh and Myanmar have agreed to settle the long-standing
maritime dispute following both the principles of "equidistance and equity
of resources", officials said Sunday.
Talks between the two sides concluded in the southeastern port city of
"Both sides decided to demarcate the maritime boundary...as guiding
principles," Foreign Secretary retired rear admiral Mohammad Khurshed Alam
told Gulf News after two days of talks.
Alam, who led Bangladesh in the talks, earlier told reporters briefly that
the meeting was "fruitful". He added that the most positive outcome of the
meeting was that for the first time Myanmar shifted from its "rigid"
position on "equidistance".
He said both sides decided to hold another round of meetings by April in
Myanmar to explore ways to implement the formula.
"We are very happy with the fruitful discussion. It was a very good
discussion [and] it will continue," Myanmar's envoy in Dhaka Phae Thann
Oo, who was also present at the meeting, told reporters.
Maung Myint, the deputy foreign minister of Myanmar, led his country's
delegation to the meeting.
In October Bangladesh decided to seek a resolution to its maritime
disputes with Myanmar as well as India in a United Nations tribunal. It
opted for arbitration saying the negotiations with the neighbours were
unlikely to settle the issue in the near future. Officials said under a UN
charter the principle of "equity" takes into account several issues.
BUSINESS / TRADE
January 11, Mizzima News
Burma looks to increased rice exports to combat poverty Moe Thu
Rangoon In order to tackle poverty among farmers, it is of the utmost
importance for Burmas rice industry to again become a major exporter
worldwide, according to an economist in Rangoon.
During a press conference held Saturday in Rangoon on the heels of last
months meeting between junta officials and Nobel Laureate economist
Joseph Stiglitz in Naypyitaw, Dr. U Myint quoted Stiglitz as affirming
Burma needs to make reforms in the agricultural sector to keep rural areas
free of poverty.U Myint
Rice is the mainstay of the agricultural economy and provides livelihood
for the majority of farm families, Dr. U Myint, a reputable economist,
With a total area of 676,500 square kilometres, Burma had been the world's
largest exporter of rice as recently as the 1930s, but rice exports fell
by two thirds in the 1940s, with the country never again reclaiming its
dominant status in the internatinal rice trade. Thailand and Vietnam now
lead the world in rice exports.
For fiscal year 1938/39, rice accounted for nearly 47 percent of Burmas
export receipts. However, by 2007/08 the corresponding figure had sunk to
less than two percent, with earnings totalling a mere 1.2 percent of the
global sum. Furthermore, the value of Burmese rice exports is even lower
in comparison with competing states, as Burma tends to export a low
quality of rice.
Meanwhile, though annual paddy production in Burma and neighboring
Thailand, according to official statistics, is statistically level at
approximately 35 million metric tons, the latter is able to export between
an estimated eight to ten times more than Burma.
The discrepancy is at least thought to partially stem from the difference
in average household economies. Whereas an average Burmese household can
be expected to spend 72 percent of its total consumption expenditure on
food, according to the Central Statistical Organization of the Ministry of
National Planning and Economic Development, the same figure drops to 32
percent for Thailand. Even other least developed countries see
corresponding food consumption numbers less than that of Burma, with
Bangladesh recording a figure of 52 percent, Cambodia 57 percent and Laos
61 percent. The United States, as a developed country, sees on average
only 14 percent of household consumption expenditure directed toward daily
Dr. U Myint, accordingly, said the reintegration of the rice industry into
the world market would provide incentives to increase both the quantity
and quality of rice and thereby lead to higher incomes and employment
opportunities for the rural population, who constitute 65 percent of the
population of 58 million. An estimated 31 million acres of land is
cultivated in Burma, of which more than 16 million acres are devoted to
During the meeting with Burmese authorities, the visiting scholar
highlighted restoring Burma as a major world rice exporter, a view
subsequently accorded high priority and support from Burmese officials.
U Myint acknowledged that liberalizing the rice industry and reintegrating
Burmas rice industry into the world market would result in increasing
international competition for local participants in the industry.
However, he said experienced rice dealers would survive while those
enjoying special privileges will suffer, as liberalizing the market will
level the playing field in the industry.
Presently, Burma produces some 18 million tons of rice a year, with about
one fifth being exported, according to a local rice exporter.
Higher productivity, output, incomes and employment in the rice farming
sector will contribute to alleviating rural poverty and providing greater
food security at home as well, said U Myint, adding that the rice
industry is unlike the oil and gas industry, the revenue of which mainly
goes to the military government.
He further encouraged the fighting of corruption and unnecessary
procedures that encourage bribery and diminish transparency. Transitional
costs due to red tape and corruption are said to mean farmers earn less
than they should, keeping the rural population in a vicious circle of
Meanwhile, he lashed out at criticism that Stiglitzs visit would fail to
bring any fruit and result in no new ideas for the country.
This [the meeting and visit] seems to bother some people. It does not
bother me, because I believe that we should have no difficulty or
reservation in repeating a useful idea that is good for the country
regardless of who may have said it before, U Myint argued. It has to do
with inadequacies in our society regarding conflict resolution and our
inability to satisfactorily deal with those who hold views and ideas and
who recommend courses of action that we disagree with.
Reflecting the controversial standing of the current military leadership,
U Myint said there are two groups in the military, hardliners and
softliners, and that it is not an easy job to bring about change in the
mindset of the leaders.
But I can assure you that there are many in the establishment, including
some holding responsible positions, that share our concern to focus on the
betterment of the country, he expounded.
January 11, BBC News
Burma's Karen refugees struggle in UK
In recent years, thousands of Burmese refugees living in camps in Thailand
have been resettled in countries such as the US, Canada, Sweden and the
The BBC's Vincent Dowd caught up with two ethnic Karen families who found
asylum in the UK and whose stories were documented in the film Moving to
Htoo Wah lives alone in Sheffield where he has just started a four-year
computing course at university.
By the time he gets his degree, he is counting on finding a well-paid job
in IT. The life he is leading is one he could only have dreamed of a
couple of years ago - and he loves it.
Until November 2007 Htoo Wah, now 21, lived in the huge Mae La camp just
inside Thailand - the largest of several camps housing tens of thousands
of refugees from nearby Burma.
Most, like him, are from the Karen ethnic group - and have fled from the
hard rule of Burma's military government.
Two years ago Htoo Wah and his parents boarded a bus at Mae La bound for
the Bangkok airport and a plane to their new lives in Britain - a moment
documented in the recently-released film Moving to Mars.
"Sitting on the bus I felt like I'd got freedom", says Htoo Wah. "I
thought, I can do whatever I want. I don't have to stay in the camp any
more - I'm going to the UK."
Moving to Mars is the work of producer Karen Katz and director Mat
Whitecross. The film follows two Karen refugee families as they make the
transition from the camp in Thailand to their new homes in northern
The two families were provided by the office of the UN High Commissioner
for Refugees and form a study in contrasts.
Htoo Wah's father, Thaw Htoo, is a former civil engineer and teacher: he
and his family speak good English and had some idea of what to expect in
The head of the other family, Jo Kae, was an illiterate farm labourer with
They ended up living as neighbours in Sheffield. The film does not portray
Sheffield as a paradise yet neither does it depict a Britain populated by
In fact Htoo Wah says he has encountered no problems with prejudice.
"But I had difficulty with the accent. I had to learn that wa'er means
He says he has found only friendly people, in contrast to Thailand where
the family could barely leave the camp. "If we did leave people would talk
down to us because of who we were."
The migration has proved harder for the parents of both families, however.
Htoo's parents, Thaw Htoo and Tutu Paw, started out full of optimism about
their 10,000 km ( 6,250 mile) journey to England but it was soon dented.
At the end of the documentary Thaw Htoo starts a new course in
engineering. But in the year since Moving to Mars was filmed, he has given
up because he felt he lacked the computer skills required.
His wife, Tutu Paw, still has not used her skills as a piano teacher in
In fact, none of the four parents has found employment.
Both Jo Kae and Daisi have learnt some English - but not enough to deal
confidently with shopping, say, or the arrival of an official letter.
But their three children - Di Di, Ei Ei and Seh Seh Lu - say they have
started to enjoy Sheffield. Like Htoo Wah, they relish the personal
freedom England offers them.
In both families it is clear the parents were happier with their old lives
What made them move was the desire which has long made parents uproot
their lives - to give their children the economic chances they did not
Yet that same decision comes to threaten the family ties they treasure
above all else.
Late in the film Htoo Wah announces he is leaving home to set up alone
elsewhere in Sheffield. His parents are hurt and baffled at a decision
which would never have been made in Burma.
"Yes my parents were shocked when I told them," said Htoo Wah. "But in the
UK most teenagers leave home at 18. Now I'm studying at university and
they're proud of me."
The two families' experiences show that migrants are not always victims.
But it seems that often older migrants can only look on as the benefits of
moving to a wealthy country go to their sons and daughters.
OPINION / OTHER
January 11, Inter Press Service
BURMA: Junta turns to Draconian electronics law to silence critics
Bangkok A court ruling in military-ruled Burma has brought into sharp
focus a law the junta widely uses to go after civilians it wants to
On Jan. 7 a court found Win Naing Kyaw, a former military officer, guilty
of violating the Electronics Act, a law controlling Internet usage, and
condemned him to a 20-year sentence. He was linked to photos of a ranking
junta officials visit to North Korea that had appeared on a news website
run by Burmese journalists living in exile.
This came just a week after a 25-year-old teacher, Hla Hla Win, was given
a 20-year prison sentence on Dec. 31 for violating the same law. Her
"crime" was the work she did as a member of the South-east Asian countrys
growing network of "undercover journalists" for the Democratic Voice of
Burma (DVB), an Oslo-based news organisation of exiled Burmese
The Electronics Law bans Burmese citizens from using the Internet to send
information, photos or videos critical of the junta to foreign audiences.
The sentence for the freelance video reporter comes on top of another six-
year prison term that was handed down last October for having a motorcycle
that had been "illegally imported." Myint Naing, who helped the freelance
reporter, was condemned to 26 years in prison.
"Hla Hla Win has been working with us for a few years. And she did so
knowing the danger of getting caught with video clips or being seen on the
street with a video camera," said Toe Zaw Latt, DVBs bureau chief in
Thailand. "She was driven to get images of what was happening inside Burma
and get them out to the world."
"Most undercover journalists like her do not work for the sake of
money," he added during a telephone interview from Chiang Mai, a northern
Thai city. "They are committed to tell the stories and are willing to take
great risks to do so."
DVB has over 100 such freelance journalists armed with video cameras to
document the abuse and oppression unfolding in Burma. It shot to
international prominence in September 2007, when the junta mounted a harsh
crackdown on thousands of anti-government protesters, led by Buddhist
Its video clips supplied by its network of citizen journalists including
Hla Hla Win offered graphic details of the soldiers attacking the
unarmed monks. An estimated 30 to 40 monks and between 50 and 70 civilians
were killed during the crushing of the Saffron Revolution three years
ago. Close to 6,000 monks and civilians were also arrested at the height
of this clash in Rangoon, Mandalay and other Burmese cities.
The period since the Saffron Revolution has seen Burmas notorious network
of prisons and labour camps swell with jailed political activists. Some of
these critics of the junta have been given harsh prison terms, including a
65-year- sentence for Min Ko Naing, a former student leader and highly
regarded pro- democracy activist. There are currently over 2,200 political
prisoners, up from the 1,200 imprisoned political activists in mid-2007.
That number, until Hla Hla Wins sentencing, included 13 journalists and
"The number of reporters and journalists imprisoned has gone up because
the junta is using the Electronics Act to target them," said Bo Kyi, a
ranking member of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners
(AAPP), a group of former Burmese political prisoners championing the
rights of prisoners. "The jail term is longer than the law used before, in
the 1990s, to silence reporters, which was seven-year maximum sentence."
Most of the pro-democracy activists that have been jailed since the
Saffron Revolution were also accused of violating the Electronics Act,
added Bo Kyi during an interview from Mae Sot, a town on the Thai-Burma
border, where AAPP is based. "Activists like Min Ko Naing were arrested
and then sentenced under this act."
So was Zarganar, one of Burmas best-known comedians. He was given a 45-
year prison sentence in November 2008, which included 15 years for
violating the Electronics Act. He was accused of sharing information with
foreign media that had included criticism of the regimes handling of the
humanitarian crisis following the powerful Cyclone Nargis, which flattened
the Irrawaddy Delta in May 2008, killing over 150,000 people.
The Electronics Act is one of a litany of repressive laws that are
enforced to crush freedom of expression. The 2000 Internet law bans any
information posted on the Internet that in the juntas view may undermine
the interests and security of the country. The 1996 Television and Video
Act has penalties of up to three years jail term for "copying,
distributing, hiring or exhibiting video tape that has no video censor
Internet café owners in Rangoon, the former capital, are expected to
follow strict guidelines to monitor users. It extends to keeping tabs on
the identity of the user, the duration of Internet usage and the list of
websites visited. Access to such websites like YouTube and e-mail services
like Gmail, Yahoo and Hotmail has been blocked.
No wonder the Electronics Act has been singled out by the exiled Burmese
media as a major threat ahead of and during the general elections the
junta has pledged to conduct this year. "It will be hard for the citizen
journalists and other reporters inside Burma to work ahead of the polls,"
said Aung Zaw, editor of The Irrawaddy, a current affairs magazine
published by Burmese journalists exiled in Thailand. "The bloggers and
citizen journalists will have a big role to play as they did during the
But the junta, it appears, is steeling itself to avoid a repeat of the
video clips and blogs that flowed out of Burma when the September 2007
pro- democracy protest was crushed. "The sentencing of Hla Hla Win is all
part of the regimes preparations to impose more media controls ahead of
the elections," Aung Zaw told IPS.
January 11, Irrawaddy
No turning back Yeni
In his message on Burma's Independence Day on Jan. 4, junta supremo
Snr-Gen Than Shwe promised elections would be held this year as planned.
Plans are underway to hold elections in a systematic way, he firmly
Although no dates have been set, a Japanese newspaper, the Asahi Shimbun,
quoted a military regime source as saying that the election would be held
on Oct. 10. Prior to this, many incumbent ministers plan to resign their
posts and announce their candidacy by April, giving them around six months
to campaign, the report said.
Other issues, such as how the regime intends to carry out the electiona
subject that many in the international community, including UN Secretary
General Ban Ki-moon, have expressed a strong interest in knowingremain
There is no reason to doubt, however, that Than Shwe will keep his word
about holding the election. But far from demonstrating his sincerity, this
just shows how determined he is to go ahead with his plans without regard
for the concerns of others. He is clearly intent on ignoring calls for a
meaningful political dialogue with the democratic opposition and ethnic
minority leaders, without which there can be no realistic chance of
achieving national reconciliation or genuine political reform.
Whether the opposition, led by detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu
Kyi, boycotts the election or not, the junta's handpicked candidates will
be ready to enter the race when Than Shwe announces the date of the
Needless to say, the regime will be equally selective about which
foreigners it allows to be in the country during the election. The
contracts that international humanitarian and relief organizations have
with the regime will end in June this year. Renewal of these contracts is
If all goes according to plan, a new government will be formed in accord
with the 2008 Constitution, which reserves 25 percent of the seats in
parliament for the military and allows the commander-in-chief to assume
full legislative, executive and judicial powers in the event of a state
Than Shwe's plan to transform Burma does not stop at politics; it also
includes major changes that will ensure his clique maintains its grip on
the country's economy.
In the past few years, Than Shwe has turned increasingly to crony
capitalismrewarding personal friends and family members of his military
administration with preferential treatmentas a means of strengthening his
hold on power. According to business sources, certain companies owned by
close associatessuch as Tay Za, Burma's richest businessmanhave been
given special import permits, preferential lending and ownership of state
firms in the name of privatization.
Recently, Tay Za won a major contract for construction of two hydro-power
Privatization of Burma's natural resources will help to ensure that those
close to Than Shwe's family are able to retain control of key sectors of
the economy after the election, when, under the new Constitution, some
state enterprises will come under the partial management of elected local
By transferring ownership of key state enterprises to Tay Za, Than Shwe is
trying to make sure that they are firmly in his grip before and after the
election. As one Rangoon-based businessman put it: Than Shwe is the
invisible hand that controls Htoo Company. Tay Za is just serving as a
representative of Than Shwe's family.
Than Shwe intends to proceed with his seven-step road map to democracy,
which he calls the sole process for transition, because it is the only
way he can retain the enormous wealth and political influence he has
accumulated while in power. But he also knows that there are many,
including some within the military, who do not like him. That is why he
always fears that even a modest devolution of his powers could make him
Than Shwe has instructed the entire population to make the correct
choices in the coming election. As if to warn everyone of the
consequences of defying his will, a young video reporter was recently
sentenced to 20 years in prison for sending information to the exiled
media, and a retired military officer and a Foreign Ministry official were
given death sentences for leaking details of a secret trip to North Korea.
January 9, Voice of America
Burma elections must be credible
The military regime in Burma has not taken any meaningful steps that would
lend credibility to general elections proposed for later in 2010. U.S.
State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said that "much of the opposition
remains in prison, there is no space for political dissent or debate and
no freedom of the press."
Mr. Kelly called for Burma to engage pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi
and ethnic leaders "in a comprehensive dialogue on democratic reform.
This," he said, "would be a first step towards inclusive elections."
The U.S., said spokesman Kelly, "will continue to take a measured approach
to the 2010 elections until we can assess the electoral conditions and
know whether opposition and ethnic groups will participate."
These elections would be Burma's first since 1990. Aung San Suu Kyi's
National League for Democracy party won the last election by a landslide,
but was never allowed to take office. Instead, Nobel Prize laureate Aung
San Suu Kyi has spent most of the past twenty years under house arrest,
along with National League for Democracy Vice-Chairman U Tin Oo.
In a break with past policies, the Barack Obama administration has
attempted to engage with Burma's military rulers, along with maintaining
continued pressure on the regime through economic sanctions. In meetings
with representatives of Burma's military leaders in 2009, U.S. officials,
said Mr. Kelly, reaffirmed "unwavering support for an independent,
peaceful, and prosperous and democratic Burma." The U.S. remains ready to
improve bilateral relations based on reciprocal and meaningful efforts by
the Burmese government to fulfill the Burmese peoples' democratic
The United States looks forward to a day when Burmese citizens can freely
exercise their universal human rights. "We hope," said Mr. Kelly, "that
day will come soon."
More information about the BurmaNet