BurmaNet News, February 13 - 16, 2010
editor at burmanet.org
Tue Feb 16 16:59:16 EST 2010
February 13 16, 2010, Issue #3897
VOA: Burma sentences 4 activists to hard labor as UN Human Rights envoy
AP: Half a million still homeless in Delta: IOM
Irrawaddy: Burmese officials celebrate Kim Jong Il's birthday
Mizzima News: Burmese-American activist transferred to Prome prison
DVB: NLD vice-chairman Tin Oo released
SHAN: Junta supremos Union Day speech scorns Panglong and Aung San
ON THE BORDER
Bangkok Post: Hospitals along Burmese border appeal for more funding
AFP: Bangladesh cracking down on Myanmar migrants: lobby group
Narinjara: European Parliament delegation visits Burmese refugee camp in
Mizzima News: Nine hundred Karen refugees return to Burma
AFP: Bangladesh detains suspected junta spies
OPINION / OTHER
Irrawaddy: Burmas election: Credibility at stake Htet Aung
Guardian (UK): Should tourists return to Burma? Jonathan Steele
Politics Daily (US): From Burma to Zimbabwe, it was one rotten week Alex
Amnesty International: Myanmar urged to end repression of ethnic
minorities before elections
UNISON (UK): Appeal for UN Commission of Inquiry on crimes against the
February 16, Voice of America
Burma sentences 4 activists to hard labor as UN Human Rights envoy visits
The Burmese opposition says military authorities sentenced four activists
to prison terms with hard labor on the same day that a U.N. human rights
expert began a mission to Burma.
Opposition members say a Burmese court sentenced the four women to two
years in prison Monday as U.N. special rapporteur Tomas Ojea Quintana
arrived in Rangoon.
Defense lawyers say the women were arrested last October for donating
religious literature to a Buddhist monastery in the eastern town of Dagon.
Burma's military rulers charged the activists with disturbing the peace.
The four women also had been holding regular prayers at Rangoon's
Shwedagon pagoda for the release of Burma's detained opposition leader
Aung San Suu Kyi.
U.N. human rights expert Quintana met with the defense lawyers in Rangoon
Monday. The lawyers say they briefed him on what they consider to be
military abuses of the country's legal system.
Defense lawyer Kyaw Hoe says the opposition will appeal the court's
conviction of the female activists - Naw Ohn Hla, Myint Myint San, Cho Cho
Lwin and Cho Cho Aye.
Quintana continued his mission Tuesday by traveling to western Burma's
Rakhine state, home to the country's Rakhine minority. He also is expected
to visit a prison in the state.
Human rights group Amnesty International says it fears Burma's military
will intensify repression of ethnic minority activists in the run-up to
elections this year.
In a report released Tuesday, the group says it gathered accounts of such
repression from more than 700 activists from Burma's seven largest ethnic
minorities - including the Rakhine, Shan, Kachin and Chin - covering a
two-year period from August of 2007.
Amnesty says Burmese authorities have arrested, imprisoned, and in some
cases tortured or killed ethnic minority activists. The report says
minority groups also have faced extensive surveillance, harassment and
discrimination when trying to carry out legitimate activities.
Burma's military has said it will hold the country's first national and
local elections in two decades later this year, but has not set a date.
Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been under some form of
detention for 14 of the last 20 years.
February 16, Associated Press
Half a million still homeless in Delta: IOM
GENEVAThe International Organization for Migration (IOM) says 500,000
people in Burma are still homeless after a devastating cyclone swept
across the southwest of the country nearly two years ago.
IOM spokesman Chris Lom says the affected people have not been able to buy
supplies to rebuild their houses because they need to spend the money on
A man carries jerrycans in April 2009 toward a recently-built housing
estate for survivors of Cyclone Nargis in Pyinsalu town in the Irrawaddy
delta. (PHOTO: Getty Images)
He says the agency's reconstruction program in the Irrawaddy delta is
running out of money.
Lom said on Tuesday the agency is appealing for US $17 million to give
basic shelter to about 250,000 people in the region. He said other aid
agencies are trying to set up shelter for the rest of the homeless.
Cyclone Nargis killed nearly 140,000 people in the South Asian nation in
May 2008 and left some 2.4 million without a home.
February 15, Irrawaddy
Burmese officials celebrate Kim Jong Il's birthday Lawi Weng
High-ranking Burmese military officials joined a ceremony to mark the 68th
birthday of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, according to Burma's
Lt-Gen Tin Aye, ranked No 5 in the Tatmadaw (Burmese armed forces)
hierarchy, attended a ceremony at the Chartrium Hotel in Rangoon on Sunday
to mark the birthday of the North Korean leader.
The state-run The New Light of Myanmar on Monday ran a front-page story
with a photograph of Lt-Gen Tin Aye and North Korean Ambassador H.E. Kim
Sok Chol holding hands together at a welcome reception. Kim Jong Il's
birthday will be on Tuesday.
Senior ministers including Nyan Win, the minister of foreign affairs;
Maj-Gen Htay Oo, the minister of agriculture and irrigation and Maj
Brig-Gen Aung Thein Lin, the chairman of the Yangon City Development
Committee also attended the ceremony.
Analysts said the presence of Tin Aye signified a warmer relationship
between the two countries.
A graduate of Defense Services Academy-9, 64-year-old Tin Aye has made
official visits to various countries, including China, North Korea, Russia
and Ukraine to procure arms and military equipment. He chairs the Union of
Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd (UMEHL), often regarded as the armed forces'
business arm in handling trade.
Analysts say Burma's military leaders see a kindred spirit in Kim Jong Il
as a politician who dares to confront the United States and the West.
A full-page birthday tribute to the North Korean leader was approved by
Burma's censorship board, and the Burmese language Popular Journal
published a full-page story last week.
The article is expected to be carried by other journals when they appear
In the privately run journal, the author, Maung Wint Htun, described Kim
as a wise and patriotic leader who has created nuclear and guided
missile programs, and other industries. The article praised Kim for
sacrificing his life for the future of North Korea.
Burma and North Korea have developed a military relationship since the two
countries restored diplomatic ties in 2007. Analysts believe that
clandestine military ties between the two countries may have been
reestablished as early as 1999, when junta officials paid a low-profile
visit to North Korea.
Gen Shwe Mann, the regime's No 3 man, made a secret visit to Pyongyang in
November 2008, according to a secret report leaked by Burmese officials in
During the visit, Shwe Mann signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU)
with North Korea for military cooperation between the two countries.
In the MOU, North Korea would build or supervise the construction of
special Burmese military facilities, including tunnels and caves in which
missiles, aircraft and even naval ships could be hidden. Burma would also
receive expert training for its special forces, air defense training, plus
a language training program between personnel in the two armed forces.
In July 2009, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed concern over
military links between North Korea and Burma, after evidence emerged that
the Burmese junta may be trying to acquire nuclear technology from
We know that there are also growing concerns about military co-operation
between North Korea and Burma, which we take very seriously, Clinton told
journalists in Bangkok during a visit to Southeast Asia. It would be
destabilizing for the region. It would pose a direct threat to Burma's
Military analysts say the North Korean regime has provided Burma with
weapons, military technology transfers and expertise in underground
tunneling used for concealing secret military installations and since
2002, dozens of North Korean technicians have assisted the Burmese armed
February 14, Mizzima News
Burmese-American activist transferred to Prome prison Phanida
Chiang Mai Nyi Nyi Aung, alias Kyaw Zaw Lwin, the American recently
sentenced to three years imprisonment, was transferred to Prome prison
from Insein prison on the 11th of this month, according to his aunt Suu
The Rangoon southern district court sentenced American citizen Nyi Nyi
Aung on the 10th of February after hearing his case inside Insein prison,
transferring him to Prome the following day.
The prison said that he was transferred to Prome when I visited and asked
at Insein prison today, Suu Suu Kyi told Mizzima.
Nyi Nyi Aung was handed a three-year prison term under section 468
(forgery) for altering a national ID card with his photo. He was also
given one-year prison terms each for holding foreign currency in excess of
the authorized amount under section 24(1) of the Foreign Exchange
Regulation Act as well as violating section 6(3) of the Residents in Burma
Registration Act. However, the trial court judge ordered all sentences
The junta also gave Nyi Nyi Aungs mother Daw San San Tin five years for
assisting democracy activists and politicians. She is currently serving
her sentence in Meiktila prison, Mandalay Division.
Additionally, a cousin sister, 88 Generation member Thet Thet Aung, is
serving 65 years in Myingyan prison with her husband Chit Ko Lin also
serving seven years in Pakokku prison. Meanwhile, another cousin sister,
Noe Noe, is serving a seven-year prison term in Maupin prison, Irrawaddy
February 14, Democratic Voice of Burma
NLD vice-chairman Tin Oo released
Burmas main opposition party National League for Democracys
vice-chairman Tin Oo was released Saturday night at the end of his
six-year house arrest.
He was freed around 8.30 p.m. after a government officer entered his home
at Thanlwin road in Rangoon and read a release order.
The 83-year-old, looking thin but energetic, told reporters waiting
outside his home that he would return to work as early as Monday and carry
out his duties in accordance with the NLDs policies.
Before his release, Tin Oo was allowed to undergo eye surgery at the
American Eye Vision Hospital in Rangoon.
Retired Commander-in-Chief Tin Oo was arrested and imprisoned after he was
attacked by a pro-junta mob near the town of Depayin in upper Burmas
Sagaing Division, as he and colleagues including Aung San Suu Kyi were
travelling in a motorcade on an organizational tour on May 30th 2003.
He has been under house arrest since February 2004, serving a sentence
under the law Safeguarding the State from the Danger of Subversive
February 12, Shan Herald Agency for News
Junta supremos Union Day speech scorns Panglong and Aung San
The prepared speech commemorating the 63rd anniversary of the Union Day,12
February 2010, the day leaders of Burma, Shan, Chin and Kachin concluded
an alliance pact in 1947, pointedly ignore Panglong where the conference
took place, and Aung San, the co-author of the agreement and the father of
democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, according to sources from Shan State
North and South.
He spoke instead of Pondaung Ponnya, where the first human beings were
supposed to have originated and the united struggle against colonialism
that had brought Independence to the country, said a source from
Panglong, the town made famous by the Panglong Agreement.
The message was read out by local officials in each township. He also
mentioned the 2008 constitution and exhorted the people to exercise their
rights in the upcoming elections, said a resident of Muse, who had
attended the ceremony in the morning presided over by U Tun Min Zaw,
Chairman of the Muse District Peace and Development Council.
The Union Day, a major event during the days of Senior General Than Shwes
late boss Gen Ne Win, when it was celebrated day and right is now a
largely forgotten day for many, least of all Panglong. Instead we are
having a gambling festival, a two week event, that began on 2 February,
the source from Panglong said.
The age of Panglong is over, Maj Gen Soe Win, the Burma Armys Kachin
State commander, was reported by Kachin News Group as telling the Kachin
Independence Organization, one of the major ceasefire groups that had
promised to surrender if the Panglong spirit: Equality, autonomy,
democracy and human rights for all states was continued to be upheld by
Had Aung San not promised political equality and autonomy to the Frontier
Areas (as the non-Burman areas were then known), the Union of Burma might
never have been born, wrote Nehginpao Kipgen, a researcher on the rise of
political conflicts in Burma, in yesterdays Korea Times.
Meanwhile, the United Nationalities Alliance, the umbrella organization of
ethnic parties that had won in the 1990 elections, call for the release of
all political prisoners including Aung San Suu Kyi and the Shan leader
Khun Tun Oo, an end to the offensives in the ethnic areas and the holding
of a tripartite dialogue between the junta, the National League for
Democracy and the ethnic forces.
ON THE BORDER
February 16, Bangkok Post
Hospitals along Burmese border appeal for more funding
It was almost noon when Lae Lae Oo took his medication, donned a face mask
and prepared to leave the in-patient unit after undergoing several weeks
of tuberculosis treatment at Sangkhla Buri District Hospital.
His wife and two children were waiting to take him home to Burma.
The 34-year-old is an ethnic Mon who once worked as a clerk for the
Burmese government. He had to quit after being diagnosed with
tuberculosis. He went to the hospital in Sangkhla Buri for treatment.
The Thai hospital treated Lae Lae Oo for six months before his discharge
Tribal people often seek treatment at state hospitals along the
Thai-Burmese border, from Mae Hong Son in the North to Ranong in the
These hospitals treat a large number of stateless people living in
Thailand, including ethnic minorities, long-term migrants and those born
on Thai soil but still waiting for verification of their citizenship.
Records show there are about 500,000 stateless people living in Thailand.
In the western-most district of Sangkhla Buri, 21,634 of the region's
total population of 58,466 do not have health care coverage.
Sangkhla Buri Hospital director Kritsada Wuttayakorn said the Thai
hospitals treat ethnic minorities for free due to humanitarian
Health care costs for tribal peoples jumped from 3.77 million baht in 2008
to 8.24 million baht last year.
Although the expenditure is modest, Dr Kritsada said it had affected the
financial situation of the small-scale district hospital, which is already
struggling with debt.
"It's quite tough and challenging for us to get by with the financial
situation that we're facing," he added. "I still believe the government
won't let state hospitals go bankrupt because helping these patients is
what we have to do."
According to Dr Kritsada, the hospital was 10 million baht in debt as of
Feb 8. Recent drugs and equipment purchases were responsible for the cost
overruns, he said.
A total budget of 16 million baht was allocated to the hospital under the
universal healthcare scheme. However, more than 14 million baht was spent
on administrative costs and the salaries of doctors, nurses and other
healthcare staff. Only 2 million baht was left for treatment, which is
sufficient for only about a month.
The hospital director said he had to divert 4 million baht in building
funds to cover hospital treatment costs as a short-term solution.
The financial situation at nearby Thong Pha Phum District Hospital is
similar. The 90-bed hospital received 37.59 million baht in funds but had
up to 64.53 million baht in expenditure last year, hospital director
Nuanchan Vejsuwanmanee said.
Doctors at border hospitals have called for health care funding for the
stateless and ethnic minorities. The patients suffer from diseases such as
diarrhoea, malaria, tuberculosis, measles and HIV/Aids.
Ms Mya, a Burmese migrant and a hospital volunteer, worries that the
spread of HIV/Aids, caused by the lack of condom use among sex workers,
was "a time bomb" could cause even more financial strife for health care
providers along the border.
Prateep Dhanakijcharoen, National Health Security Office (NHSO) deputy
secretary, said the agency has joined forces with the Stateless Watch for
Research and Development Institute of Thailand and the Health Insurance
System Research Office to push for an extension of state-funded care for
The NHSO had previously prepared a proposal calling for 1.3 billion baht
to expand access to medical treatment for ethnic minorities and relieve
the burden on border-area hospitals.
But the plan was rejected before it could be introduced to the cabinet,
mainly because of national security concerns, he said.
Dr Prateep said the NHSO will ask that its proposal to provide health care
for stateless people be included in the 2011 budget.
"The issue of health care for stateless people needs serious attention
from the government," he said. "The health security of these people also
means our national security."
February 16, Agence France Presse
Bangladesh cracking down on Myanmar migrants: lobby group
Dhaka A crackdown by Bangladeshi authorities has triggered a
"humanitarian catastrophe" for the country's unregistered population of
Rohingya refugees, according to a report released Tuesday.
The authorities launched an "unprecedented" campaign against the ethnic
Muslims from Myanmar on January 2, pushing thousands into an unofficial
refugee camp, a report by the Arakan Project lobby group said.
In the makeshift camp in Kutuplaong on the Myanmar border, "food
insecurity and hunger is spreading rapidly and a serious humanitarian
crisis is looming," the report by the Bangkok-based group said.
"A major humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding for the unprotected
Rohingya in Bangladesh," the report added.
"This will deteriorate if the Bangladesh authorities do not immediately
put an end to this massive crackdown and continue to deny access to food
and livelihood to the unregistered Rohingya refugees."
Police round-ups, leading to arrest or illegal forced deportation, are
common and the local media has launched a "xenophobic campaign" against
the Rohingya, stirring up local resentment, the report added.
It also claimed instances of theft, rape and assaults against unregistered
Rohingya soared last month.
Described by the United Nations as one of the most persecuted minorities
on earth, thousands of Rohingyas from Myanmar's northern Rakhaine state
stream across the border every year. They are now estimated to number
Around 8,000 are believed to have fled in 2009.
There are an estimated 700,000 Rohingya in Myanmar, where they are not
recognised as citizens and have no right to own land and are forbidden
from marrying or travelling without permission.
Police on the border with Myanmar told AFP Tuesday that they had arrested
nearly 149 Rohingas last month as they tried to enter Bangladesh and had
pushed back 112. The report claims the repatriation policy is illegal.
"This month, we have arrested over 50 and pushed all of them back into
Myanmar. It is an ongoing operation," said Rafiqul Islam, chief of the
local police in Kutuplaong on the Myanmar border.
Islam said the crackdown, prompted by a rise in the number of Rohingya
asylum seekers who were clearing forest and building shanty towns around
the Kutuplaong camp, was an attempt to stop further migration.
"If we don't stop them, the floodgates will open," he said.
February 16, Narinjara
European Parliament delegation visits Burmese refugee camp in Bangladesh
Dhaka: A 12-member delegation from the European parliament visited two
Burmese Muslim refugee camps in southern Bangladesh on Monday to witness
the current situation of refugees in the camps, said an official from
"A 12-member delegation from the European parliament visited Rohingya
refugee camps in Cox's Bazar on Monday. It is a regular tour of the
European parliament to the refugee camps in the early period every year. I
do not think their visit to the refugee camps is related to Quintana's
tour of Burma," he said.
Quintana, the UN Human Rights Envoy to Burma, started a five-day visit to
Burma on Monday and he is now visiting Arakan State to see about the
situation of the Muslim community there.
The European delegation arrived at Kutupalong refugee camp around 10 am
and met many refugees in the camp.
A teacher from the camp said, "They came to our camp in the morning and
asked us many questions about the situation of refugees in the camp. They
promised us they would do improvements for Muslim refugees in the camp in
Most of the Burmese Muslim refugees in the camps requested the delegation
bring them to third countries under the European resettlement program to
improve their lives.
"The refugees' situation is very bad in the refugee camps at present and
we do not want to live here. We have no chance to visit outside of the
camp. It is like a prison. At the same time we are unable to return to
Burma. So we requested them to bring us to third countries," the teacher
The resettlement program for Burmese Muslims in the camps is still
operating and many refugees have left for Canada, UK, Australia, and a few
other European countries in the last year.
In Kutupalong and Nayapara refugee camps there are over 25,000 UN
registered refugees, while nearly 40,000 unregistered refugees are living
outside the camps.
According to refugee sources, one refugee named Sonshu Arlong, ID number
6610 from B Block of Kutupalong camp, was detained and beaten by
Bangladesh camp authorities for revealing the situation in the camp to the
delegation, after camp authorities prohibited the refugees from disclosing
February 15, Mizzima News
Nine hundred Karen refugees return to Burma Kyaw Kha
Chiang Mai Over 900 Karen refugees from a camp on the Thai- Burma border
returned to Burma since early February after Thai authorities proposed to
repatriate Karen refugees from border camps.
Those that have returned are from Oo Thu Hta temporary refugee camp in
Thasaungyan Township, Tak Province on the Thai-Burma border.
Plans were in place by Thai authorities to repatriate the Karen refugees
from Oo Thu Hta and Noe Boe refugee camps early this month. However,
protests from rights groups, forced it to stall the operation.
But the Thai Army clamped down and tightened camp regulations in Oo Thu
Hta and pressurized the refugees to return home to Burma. They went back
in ones and twos.
"They told us this is not your country and there are no more clashes in
your villages. The refugees in the camp are not even being allowed to find
wild vegetables nearby. Over 40 security men are deployed in the camp," a
refugee told Mizzima.
There were 304 refugee households and 1998 refugees in Oo Thu Hta refugee
camp but as on February 12, only 1070 refugees remain.
On 8 February, 29 families left the camp. Most were from Wawmeekalar,
Taookayhtay, Pophawlay, Panwepu in Pa-an District. Over 400 refugees from
Wameekalar village alone returned home.
Thai authorities of Tak province, UNHCR officials, NGOs, Karen National
Union (KNU) and Democratic Karen Buddhist Association (DKBA) officers, met
at the Noe Boe camp on January 26 and discussed repatriation of Karen
refugees sheltered in Tharsaung Yang Township.
At the meeting, KNU and DKBA officials expressed concern over landmines
planted in the villages to which the refugees belong.
"We told them we and the KNU have planted landmines in the area for
securing our territory. We cannot see and locate where the landmines are
laid," an officer from the 7th Battalion, 999th Brigade of the DKBA told
The Karen refugees from Mae Lar Ar Khee, Mae Lar Ah Htar, Waw Mee Kalar,
Htee Ka Haw villages in Hlaing Bwe Township, Pa-an district and Pai Kyone
under the control of KNU 7th Brigade fled to the Thai-Burma border in June
last year following joint operations by Burmese Army troops and DKBA in
They are now sheltered in temporary refugee camps in Mae Tharee, Tha Lay
Htaw, Oo Thu Hta and Noe Boe in Thar Saung Yan Township.
February 15, Agence France Presse
Bangladesh detains suspected junta spies
Bangladesh coast guards have arrested eight citizens of Burma on suspicion
of spying for the military-ruled country, police said on Saturday.
The suspects were picked up from a boat docked at Shah Parir island near
the Burma border late on Thursday and photos of Bangladesh Navy warships
and security installations were seized, local police chief Shakhawat
All eight are Myanmar [Burmese] citizens and have been detained on
suspected spying charges. Coast guards also found a sensitive letter in
the boat, he told AFP. He said the eight were being questioned by police,
navy and coast guard officers.
OPINION / OTHER
February 16, Irrawaddy
Burmas election: Credibility at stake Htet Aung
By repeating promises to hold a free and fair election in Burma this year,
Snr-Gen Than Shwe has been playing a time game by delaying the formation
of an election commission in accordance to the 2008 Constitution, the
promulgation of an election law and the registration of political parties.
Now, according to the states seven-step roadmap, a free and fair
election will take place soon, said Snr-Gen Than Shwe in a Feb. 12
statement released on the 63rd anniversary of Union Day. But he again
failed to mention the time frame for the election process.
The existing electoral law, formulated in 1989, will be canceled when the
new law is promulgated, which will lead to the automatic repeal of the
1990 election results.
For the past 20 years, the 1990 election results has been a thorny
political issue which gave a popular mandate to the National League for
Democracy (NLD) and challenged the legitimacy of the ruling junta, but the
controversy will soon end, unresolved, and remain an ugly mark on the
The NLD will soon face this reality, and the election will no doubt be
held with the international community observing the credibility of the
election, with a goal to ensure that it's inclusive, free and fair.
For a credible election, the new election law must embrace the following
1: The law must include and uphold the principles of impartiality,
independence, non-partisanship, accountability and transparency and must
be free from the influence of the ruling junta.
Theoretically, there are three models for election management bodies: the
independent model, the governmental model and a mixed model (a combination
of the former two models). According to the existing election commission
law, Burmas election commission is based on the governmental model.
The existing Election Commission Law No. 1/88, issued on Sept. 21, 1988,
is still in effect. Article 3 of Chapter 2, titled Formation, reads:
The State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) [now State Peace and
Development Council] can expand the number of the EC members or replace
vacant EC members.
Article 4 (b) of the Chapter 3 Responsibility and Rights reads: The
commission shall draw the necessary laws and regulations, and submit them
to the SLORC. Therefore, the law does not really grant the EC a legal
concept and framework to uphold the principles to be free from the control
of the junta.
2: The political party registration law must guarantee all ethnic
nationalities the right to form political parties and to contest in
The EC is responsible for registering and recognizing the formation of
political parties in accord with the law. On this point, the issue of
cease-fire ethnic groups becomes critical in terms of the right to form
political parties that represent their interests.
The existing registration law prohibits groups that form armed forces to
fight against the ruling government from forming political parties and
contesting an election.
Article 3 (B) of the law reads: The insurgent organizations which hold
arms to go against the state are not allowed to apply for the formation of
The junta has removed ethnic cease-fire groups from the list of unlawful
organizations, but it would be expected that, under the new law, the junta
will not grant cease-fire groups the right to form political parties
without first transforming their armed forces into a Border Guard Force
under the regime.
Consequently, the BGF issue is likely to prevent the junta from holding
elections in constituencies controlled by some ethnic cease-fire groups,
which would affect the inclusiveness of the election by leaving large
numbers of people out of the process.
3: The election commission must be transparent in all the procedures of
collecting and issuing voter lists and the number of ballot papers printed
in order to prevent from misusing or exploiting the voter list and the
ballots, leading to undermining a free and fair election.
In the 1990 election, Burma had 492 constituencies, but the EC held
elections in 485 constituencies, leaving seven constituencies in which no
election was held. The EC opened 15,154 polling stations across the
country. There were 20.8 million eligible voters of which 15.1 million
In many past elections, there have been allegations of multiple
registration of the same voter in different constituencies and the
manipulation of ballot tabulations.
For the list of eligible voters in Burma, the EC relies on the juntas
administrative mechanism even though the electoral law grants it that
Article 12 (A and B) of Chapter 6 titled Collection of Eligible Voters
in the existing Pyithu Hluttaw Electoral Law issued on May 31, reads: The
Commission will collect the list of eligible voters to elect Hluttaw
Burma has not conducted a systemic population census nationwide since 1983
and the country has no capacity to introduce a computerized voter list to
prevent multiple registrations.
A number of factors can lead to manipulating a voter list, if the process
is not transparent. There has been a dramatic increase in population
movement in the past 20 years. Burma is now a country with millions of
emigrants, including more than 150,000 refugees in Thailand and
In addition, there are perhaps a half million internally displaced
persons, stateless persons, and a significant number of Royhingja in the
western areas of the country without permanent homes.
Article 13 (B) of the law reads: The Ward or Village Election Commissions
must include in the voter list the armed forces personnel, Burmese
diplomats and their families living outside the country, the scholars and
their families studying [in foreign universities] and those who the
government officially allowed to go abroad.
Most Burmese emigrants outside the country usually maintain their name on
their family registration papers and the majority are eligible voters.
Therefore, there are likely to be millions of blank ballots in polling
stations on the day of the election set aside for those eligible voters,
but who in many cases will not be able to return and cast their votes.
These ballots are vulnerable to misuse by officials.
Another issue is that election commissions around the world usually print
from 2 to 5 percent more ballots than are actually needed, in order to
cover emergency situations. The EC must be transparent in this area to
maintain public credibility.
If the past is guide, the 2008 referendum on the current Constitution
should serve as a warming to those who will monitor the election. The
referendum convening commission announced that 92 percent of the 98
percent of eligible voters cast a YES vote, leading to widespread
disbelief based on the public protests of irregularities during the
If the junta fails to conduct a transparent and fair election in these
three key areas, the upcoming election will lack credibility in the eyes
of the people and the international community.
February 16, Guardian (UK)
Should tourists return to Burma? Jonathan Steele
Ruled by the world's last military junta, Burma is shunned by both
governments and tourists. Yet its people are crying out for contact. So
what's the ethical traveller to do?
On the boat to Mandalay the same thoughts kept turning in my mind. The red
orb of a full moon appeared, casting streaks of gold across the placid
water of the Irrawaddy river, but even this beauty failed to displace the
questions that haunted our two-week stay earlier this month. Why were we
in Burma? Was our trip giving comfort to the country's military
dictatorship, by common consent one of the world's worst regimes?
Burma never has been a popular destination, and after the bloody
suppression of the monks' protests in September 2007 and the government's
delay in helping hundreds of thousands who lost everything in Cyclone
Nargis the following May, the tourist trickle almost dried up. Only 47,161
people came from Europe last year, mainly from France and Germany, making
Burma the country least visited by British people anywhere in Asia (with
the exception of North Korea).
So was our party of visitors wrong to buck the trend? Not if you go by the
number of people who eagerly approached us to practise their English and,
after a tentative start, wanted to say what they thought of their rulers.
"They're mad," one driver told us as he steered his creaking banger past a
crush of Chinese bicycles and motorbikes, the commonest form of transport
on Burma's rutted roads.
In decades of reporting I have generally stuck to journalism's rule
number one: don't quote taxi drivers. But in a few places (Manhattan,
Havana, and now Burma) you meet such a variety of characters forced to
earn a living behind the wheel that their opinions offer a broad range of
views. This driver had trained as a computer engineer before serving in a
Burmese embassy in a western country. "Life is not improving here," he
said. "Most people don't like the government. We have no legislative body.
We have no democracy." (Apologies for breaking journalism's rule number
two: don't use anonymous quotes if they are pejorative. In Burma,
critical sources deserve protection.)
Another driver was making political comments within five minutes of our
hiring him from Rangoon airport into town. Asked if it was our first trip
to Burma, I said yes, and then added, "I see you call it Burma." "Burma
good name, Myanmar new name," he replied mischievously. When we inquired
what the attractive gardens were behind locked gates on the left, "That
was the university. Now closed," he commented. "Because of the
demonstrations, when we had demonstrations. They moved all the
universities out of Rangoon. Now it's quiet," he added, before smiling
sarcastically: "Good idea."
An intelligence officer, I wondered fleetingly, working at the airport to
test arriving foreigners? If so, he wasn't much of an expert, since his
only question, apart from whether it was our first trip, was where we
came from. The one good thing he found to say of the regime was that it
had allowed English to be taught again in primary schools. "For a time
they stopped it. The army doesn't like English but now it's OK again."
That certainly seemed to be true. Rangoon's main shopping street is
brimming with cramped bookshops, full of English grammar and vocabulary
manuals. Similar titles were laid out on the pavements alongside food
stalls and fruit-drink stands.
In contrast to Thailand, where linguistic communication is a struggle and
faces in public transport are blank and unwelcoming, Burmese friendliness
is a delight. Burma is multi-ethnic and, until the military coup of 1962,
was open to the world. For decades its elite spoke good English and even
today most people in Rangoon and Mandalay have a smattering. Keenness for
contact with foreigners is strong, for its own sake and as resistance to
Of course, some friendliness is commercially driven. Vendors with bright
smiles and the chat-up line "Where are you from?" can turn into leeches at
some sites. But genuine curiosity is more common. In the hour before
sunset, when tourists routinely climb the thousand or more steps to
Mandalay Hill, young monks emerge to engage in conversation, especially
delighted to meet someone who speaks "real English".
The regime itself uses English for a few publications. Who buys them is
hard to say, except perhaps the diplomatic community. They offer a dreary
diet of ministerial visits to new hydroelectric projects, with the one
benefit of reminding you that Burma is the last country in the world ruled
by a military junta: the minister for information is a brigadier-general;
the minister for construction is a major-general. More bizarrely, so too
is the minister for culture.
One copy of the government-owned newspaper New Light of Myanmar that I
picked up showed the ministers of culture of Cambodia, Laos, Burma and
Vietnam at a recent conference. In full military dress and medals, Burma's
minister looked eccentric beside his three conventionally suited
The junta wants to shed its anachronistic image. Elections announced for
this year are intended to give the regime a civilian face, of a sort
anyway. The new constitution provides for a presidential system with 14
regional governments. Sizeable blocks of seats will be reserved for the
army, and the commander-in-chief will have extraordinary powers. Aung San
Suu Kyi, the icon of the opposition National League for Democracy which
won the last elections in 1990 but was prevented from taking office is
of course still under house arrest. But even if she were not, this new
constitution bars her from standing for president. The poll will be
tightly controlled in other ways and opposition groups are unlikely to
have much room to campaign, although election regulations have not yet
While people's willingness to give foreigners their opinions was the
biggest surprise of our trip, the amount of access people have to
dissenting views also ran counter to our preconceived picture. The BBC's
Burmese radio service is widely heard. An Oslo-based exile TV station,
the Democratic Voice of Burma, can be picked up by satellites that are
easily available. Rangoon and Mandalay have numerous internet cafes,
which are invariably full. When I clicked on the BBC website in Burmese it
came up promptly.
To resist this, the regime makes the feeblest of propaganda efforts. For a
flavour, take the instructions that appear under the bizarre headline The
People's Desire in newspapers and on occasional roadside hoardings: 1.
Oppose those relying on External Elements, acting as stooges, holding
negative views; 2. Oppose those trying to jeopardise the stability of the
state and national progress; 3. Oppose foreign nations interfering in the
internal affairs of the state; 4. Crush all internal and external
destructive elements as the common enemy.
The fourth of these points encapsulates the junta's preferred strategy for
handling criticism repression. The country has around 2,100 political
prisoners, including many of the monks who led the 2007 street protests
from Rangoon's majestic Shwedagon Pagoda. Dozens were shot and killed
during those protests, and public assembly is still severely restricted.
The authorities are so determined to prevent crowds gathering that they
have even fenced off a corner of the vast concourse, full of minor temples
and Buddha statues, that surrounds the Shwedagon's golden stupa in
Rangoon. This corner contains a monument to student demonstrators killed
by the British in 1920, and the regime wants no parallels drawn or flowers
placed in memory of more recent deaths.
For British visitors, the monument is a useful reminder of Britain's long
occupation of Burma, the most graphic account of which can be found in
George Orwell's Burmese Days, a fictionalised memoir of the odious
colleagues he worked with as an imperial policeman in northern Burma in
the 1920s. The book is certainly an essential text if you want to
understand the racism, brutality and violence which the British empire
entailed, and another key text for any visitor to Burma is Amitav Ghosh's
epic, The Glass Palace, covering three generations of two Burmese and
Indian families. One of its most powerful sections covers the dilemma
confronting Burmese nationalists during the second world war whether to
support the Japanese against the British Raj, or defend the very empire
they had long sought to overthrow. The most prominent leader to face this
agonising choice was Aung San Suu Kyi's father, General Aung San, who
first joined the Japanese but came back to the British side.
One morning in Rangoon we tracked down his house, a rambling wooden
building with delicately carved gables on a hillock in a northern suburb.
It has long been closed to Burmese but, according to the guidebooks,
foreigners could wander in and admire family photographs, some showing the
young Aung San Suu Kyi. Not any more. "Only on 19 July," a gardener told
us through the locked railings. That is the anniversary of the day Aung
San, by then Burma's prime minister, was murdered by a political rival on
the eve of independence.
Where there are faint signs of hope for Burma is in the aid field. Thanks
to an international boycott, Burma receives less help than any other
country in the world. This is one reason for the catastrophic rates of
infant mortality and child malnutrition. But in recent months western
governments have started to think again, since the denial of assistance
hits only Burma's poorest. Foreign donors are stepping up development aid
on top of the emergency grants supplied after Cyclone Nargis, which left
an estimated 140,000 dead or missing.
The junta's initial reaction to the cyclone was to refuse international
help. It carried on with a referendum on the new constitution, as though
Nargis had not happened. This further blackened its image. But under
pressure from governments in the Association of South-Eastern Asian
Nations (Asean), the junta changed its line and international aid agency
officials now say the regime has been working well with the UN and Asean
in agreeing programmes, priorities and relief projects, and allowing donor
money to reach people. Foreign aid workers get permits to enter the
affected areas in the Irrawaddy delta. Big western non-governmental
organisations such as Oxfam and Save the Children are well-established in
Burma, with a network of local staff.
As tourists, we were allowed to spend a day in Twante, one
cyclone-affected area about 20 miles out of Rangoon. A driver whom we
found independently invited us home to lunch where his wife and other
women relatives were feeding two dozen monks, a gesture the family makes
about twice a year, he said. The temples played a key role in collecting
clothes, food and money for cyclone victims. Private companies funded the
rebuilding of many houses and schools.
After the disaster, Burmese students and other young people poured into
the area to help. Some were so moved that they later set up aid projects
and small NGOs without government obstruction, we were told. As a result,
according to a western aid worker who travels regularly to Burma, Cyclone
Nargis has resulted in a broadening of independent civil society activity.
Suspend travel bans
Optimists argue that the institutional changes enshrined in the new
constitution will also enlarge the space for progress. There may be a
clampdown in advance of the poll, one observer said, but the fact that
Burma will have legislative bodies at national and local levels for the
first time in more than a generation gives scope for wider debate. The
International Crisis Group, which often reflects the views of the liberal
wing of the western diplomatic elite, takes a similar line. "Even assuming
that the intention of the regime is to consolidate military rule rather
than begin a transition away from it, such processes often lead in
unexpected directions," it wrote in an analysis of the pre-election
The group suggests western governments suspend their travel bans on junta
members, resume normal contact and push the message that political
prisoners must be released and election campaigning be allowed to go ahead
freely. The Obama administration has also announced a shift in US policy
on Burma towards engagement rather than isolation, though without
specifying any concrete steps.
According to articles on the online opposition website Irrawaddy, Aung San
Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy, is involved in a tough
internal debate over whether to take part in the elections. It might back
certain candidates even if, as is assumed, it is barred from competing in
its own right. Taking part would allow the party's supporters to revive
their networks and contacts.
Meanwhile, the western investment boycott has left the field open to
Chinese companies. They are especially visible in Mandalay, which has a
large mall called the Great Wall Shopping Centre. "People respect the
Chinese they think they're cleverer than Burmese," said a young man who
studied briefly in another Asean country. "They don't like Indians
because Indians were the main agents of the British occupation. But the
Chinese are taking over. They're close to the regime. Each side helps the
other. It's like a mafia," he added.
Back, then, to the nagging question: should we have toured a country with
so bad a regime and such little prospect of improvement? This young man
had no doubt. "Bring in tourists who can spread the word from the outside
world and also tell people in their own countries about Burma," he said.
In Britain, the Burma Campaign UK criticises tourism and investment and
publishes a "dirty list" of firms that do business with Burma. This
includes travel companies as well as the Lonely Planet guidebooks. The
campaign's website contains a December 2002 quote from Aung San Suu Kyi:
"We have not yet come to the point where we encourage people to come to
Burma as tourists."
Two other exile lobbies, Voices for Burma and Free Burma Coalition, which
used to support a tourism boycott now take the opposite view. Voices for
Burma also enlists Aung San Suu Kyi, though its sourcing is flimsy. Its
website says: "According to a close acquaintance, not yet identified but
reportedly from her party, the National League of Democracy, Daw Aung San
Suu Kyi has been quoted as saying that travel to her country can now be
encouraged, provided arrangements are made through private organisations.
She now believes that tourism might be beneficial, should the result of
the visit draw attention to the oppression of the people by the military
While favouring engagement, Voices for Burma and the Free Burma Coalition
urge tourists to do as much as possible to help private Burmese citizens
and not put money in the government's pocket, and in fact it is possible
to do so now as a tourist. Some fees, such as the entrance ticket for the
ruined city of Bagan, the visa charge and airport departure tax, cannot be
escaped. But in 2003 the government dropped the requirement that every
tourist change $200 at an official exchange place. Instead of going on a
package or using a UK- or Bangkok-based tour company that inevitably has
contacts with the Burmese government, visitors can travel on their own by
picking one of the many family-owned Burmese travel agents that work from
tiny offices in Rangoon. You make your arrangements either on the spot
or by email in advance. There are also numerous family-owned guesthouses
and restaurants and thousands of private souvenir-makers and sellers.
Thanks to the web, details of how to plan your trip are readily available.
The big decision is whether to go at all. No one should imagine tourism is
automatically going to make Burma a better place. But can anyone credibly
argue the tourism boycott has made it better either?
Jonathan Steele is a regular Guardian columnist and roving foreign
correspondent. He has written several books on international affairs,
including books on South Africa, Germany, eastern Europe and Russia.
February 13, Politics Daily (US)
>From Burma to Zimbabwe, it was one rotten week Alex Wagner
It was a week that made 50-inch snowdrifts in Washington look like a
cakewalk. While parts of the U.S. grappled with Mother Nature's
unforgiving hand, citizens elsewhere in the world dealt with far crueler
forces. In Iran, President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad triumphantly proclaimed
that his country had produced its first batch of highly enriched uranium,
and that Iran was now "a nuclear state." He added: "The Iranian nation is
brave enough that if one day we wanted to build nuclear bombs, we would
announce it publicly without being afraid of you."
Presumably, "you" meant the international community, and specifically the
U.S. government, which is working on targeted sanctions against Iran's
Revolutionary Guard Corps in an effort to put the stops on the country's
nuclear ambitions. On Thursday, the 31st anniversary of the Islamic
Revolution, there were widespread reports of harsh police crackdowns on
"anti-government" forces, including the use of tear gas and pepper spray,
and attacks on a senior opposition leader. With an eye toward last year's
opposition campaigns run largely through e-mail and social networks,
Internet service was significantly slowed and sites like Gmail were
inaccessible inside the country.
Perhaps even more disturbing, in the weeks preceding Thursday's
anniversary, Iran's government made an extraordinary number of arrests
targeting hundreds of opposition voices. The definition of what
constitutes an "opposition voice," not surprisingly, has grown
disconcertingly broad: The New York Times reported that "the ranks of
those imprisoned now include artists, photographers, children's rights
advocates, women's rights activists, students and scores of journalists."
Iran now has more reporters in prison than any other country in the world.
Across the globe, the equally iron-fisted Burmese military regime made a
mockery of justice. On Wednesday, a judge in Rangoon announced the verdict
in the hugely underreported (and widely acknowledged sham) trial of
Burmese-born American citizen Kyaw Zaw Lwin aka Nyi Nyi Aung. A prominent
human rights activist, Aung was arrested in September 2009 upon arrival at
the Rangoon airport on trumped-up charges of forgery, possession of
undeclared foreign currency, and failure to renounce his Burmese
citizenship when he became an American citizen. He is serving three years
in prison and hard labor. Despite reports that Aung was tortured while in
detention -- as well as the broadly held view that he is innocent -- there
has been remarkably little outcry or diplomatic maneuvering on the part of
the U.S. government, which is currently pursuing a new policy of
engagement with the Burmese regime, after nearly 20 years of stalemate.
In the meantime, Reuters reported on Thursday that economic instability in
Burma has reached such epic levels that citizens have begun bartering for
goods. A combination of rampant inflation and the regime's questionable
monetary policies has forced residents to exchange goods, including
cigarettes, candy and shampoo, in lieu of currency. This bears a gloomy
resemblance to the financial crisis in Zimbabwe, circa 2008, when
inflation reached a mind-blowing 231 million percent.
And while things in Harare have stabilized since Zimbabwe's meltdown last
year, actual progress has been elusive. Though there have been marginal
signs of economic recovery, this week Zimbabwe's civil servants went on
strike in protest over government salaries that pay them a paltry $170 per
month. And, continuing with his disastrous agricultural policies of the
last decade, President Mugabe on Tuesday announced that all businesses
making more than $500,000 a year in profits must hand over ownership to
black partners in the next five years or face jail time.
This week also marked the one year anniversary of the awkward "coalition
government" featuring arch enemies Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan
Tsvangirai, now installed as Prime Minister. One year later, a mere 12
percent of the stipulations in the agreement that established the
coalition government have been put into effect, and one of Tsvangirai's
top ministers, Roy Bennett, remains on trial for trumped-up charges of
terrorism. Putting it bluntly, a senior member of Tsvangirai's party said
on Friday that the coalition government is "becoming a joke."
There is, of course, no emergency management program we might call on to
resolve these hugely messy problems, and I don't think they build
snowplows big enough to clear entire government offices. The best hope for
these troubled spots may rest with coordinated international efforts,
including global sanctions on Iran, and working with regional players,
including the Association of South East Asian Nations and the African
Union on Burma and Zimbabwe, respectively. But those actions alone likely
won't rescue the people of Iran, Burma and Zimbabwe. Like a ferocious
winter blizzard, disastrous situations require victims to endure and press
forward with the long, hard slog of tackling a mess that, sadly, isn't
even one of their own making. Whether they can dig themselves out is
ultimately a question only they can answer.
February 16, Amnesty International
Myanmar urged to end repression of ethnic minorities before elections
Myanmar's government must halt its repression of ethnic minority activists
before forthcoming national and local elections, Amnesty International
warned in a major report released on Tuesday.
The 58-page report, The Repression of ethnic minority activists in
Myanmar, draws on accounts from more than 700 activists from the seven
largest ethnic minorities, including the Rakhine, Shan, Kachin, and Chin,
covering a two-year period from August 2007.
The authorities have arrested, imprisoned, and in some cases tortured or
even killed ethnic minority activists. Minority groups have also faced
extensive surveillance, harassment and discrimination when trying to carry
out their legitimate activities.
"Ethnic minorities play an important but seldom acknowledged role in
Myanmar's political opposition," said Benjamin Zawacki, Amnesty
International's Myanmar expert. "The government has responded to this
activism in a heavy-handed manner, raising fears that repression will
intensify before the elections."
Many activists told Amnesty International that they faced repression as
part of a larger movement, as in Rakhine and Kachin States during the 2007
Buddhist monk-led "Saffron Revolution". Witnesses described the killings
and torture of monks and others by the security forces during its violent
suppression of peaceful demonstrations in those states.
Others said they were pursued for specific actions, such as organizing an
anti-dam signature campaign in Kachin State.
Even relatively simple expressions of political dissent were met with
punishment as when Karenni youths were detained for floating small boats
on a river with "No" (to the 2008 draft Constitution) written on them.
"Activism in Myanmar is not confined to the central regions and urban
centres. Any resolution of the country's deeply troubling human rights
record has to take into account the rights and aspirations of the
country's large population of ethnic minorities," said Benjamin Zawacki.
More than 2,100 political prisoners, including many from ethnic
minorities, languish in Myanmar's jails in deplorable conditions. Most are
prisoners of conscience who have expressed their beliefs peacefully.
Amnesty International urged the government to lift restrictions on freedom
of association, assembly, and religion in the run-up to the elections; to
release immediately and unconditionally all prisoners of conscience and to
remove restrictions on independent media to cover the campaigning and
Amnesty International called on Myanmar's neighbours in the Association of
South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), as well as China, Myanmar's biggest
international supporter, to push the government to ensure that the people
of Myanmar will be able to freely express their opinions, gather
peacefully, and participate openly in the political process.
"The government of Myanmar should use the elections as an opportunity to
improve its human rights record, not as a spur to increase repression of
dissenting voices, especially those from the ethnic minorities," said
This year, Myanmar will hold its first national and local elections in two
In 1990, two years after mostly peaceful anti-government protests resulted
in the deaths of at least 3,000 demonstrators, the National League for
Democracy (NLD) and a coalition of ethnic minority parties resoundingly
won national elections.
The military government ignored the results, however, and continued their
long-standing campaign against the political opposition.
Myanmar's most well-known human rights activist, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi,
leader of the NLD, has been under some form of detention for over 15 of
the last 20 years.
In 2007, monks from ethnic minority Rakhine State initiated country-wide
demonstrations against the government's economic and political policies,
in what has become known as the Saffron Revolution.
In May 2008, a week after Cyclone Nargis devastated the country, the
government insisted on holding a referendum on the draft constitution. The
official results were that 99 percent of the electorate had gone to the
polls, 92.4 percent of whom had voted in favour. While the 2008
Constitution potentially allows for greater representation in local
government, it ensures that the military will continue to dominate the
Ethnic minorities constitute some 35-40 percent of the country's
population, and form the majority in the seven ethnic minority states.
Each of the country's largest seven ethnic minorities has engaged in armed
insurgencies against the government, some of which continue to date.
Amnesty International has documented serious human rights violations and
crimes against humanity by the government in the context of the Myanmar
armys campaigns against ethnic minority insurgent groups and civilians.
February 15, UNISON
UNISON appeal for UN Commission of Inquiry on crimes against the Burmese
UNISON, the UKs leading public sector trade union, has written to MPs,
asking them to support an Early Day Motion calling for a UN Commission of
Inquiry to be set up into crimes committed by the Burmese Government,
against its own people.
The union, a long time supporter of Aung San Suu Kyi, an honorary member
of UNISON, supports trade union activists who are among Burmas 2000
Dave Prentis, UNISON General Secretary, said:
The Burmese government has no respect for democracy and basic human
rights. The only way to force the dictatorship to stop committing crimes
against humanity, is to impose strict economic sanctions, and for the UN
to take a tougher stance.
A Commission of Inquiry, looking into crimes the Burmese government have
committed against its own people is a vital first step. UNISON is
appealing to MPs to show their support for the people of Burma, and for
Aung San Suu Kyi, by signing the Early Day Motion and setting up the
For a copy of the Early Day motion, please call UNISON Press Office on
0207 551 1555.
More information about the BurmaNet