BurmaNet News, July 28, 2010
editor at burmanet.org
Wed Jul 28 13:59:33 EDT 2010
July 28, 2010 Issue #4008
DVB: PMs party eyes 50% of voters
ON THE BORDER
Mizzima: 700 Karen refugees from junta attacks need emergency aid
Irrawaddy: DKBA battalions defect to KNLA
BUSINESS / TRADE
AFP: India pledges millions in credit to Myanmar regime
DVB: Burma slashes tax on alcohol and tobacco
Pittsburgh Examiner (US): Burmese writer-in-exile speaks in Pittsburgh
Sampsonia Way (US): The monks exodus
OPINION / OTHER
Irrawaddy: With neighbors like these... Dr. Zarni
DVB: Retaking power in Burma (pt. 3) Elliott Prasse-Freeman
July 28, Democratic Voice of Burma
PMs party eyes 50% of voters Aye Nai
The party headed by Burmese prime minister Thein Sein is looking to
recruit half of Burmas eligible voters to its membership, which would
swell its support base and elections war chest.
Around 15 million people would be recruited by the end of August,
according to Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) directives, a
source close to the party told DVB. Burmas Election Commission (EC) has
said that the country holds 30 million eligible voters.
The [USDP] leadership ordered that if there are 20,000 voters in a
township, 10,000 of them must be on the [party's] member list, the source
said. This is mainly to build up the member strength. [USDP officials]
were told to submit the list of members, which would amount to 50 percent
of the voters, by the end of August.
The party has allegedly been offering incentives to members, who are
required to pay 1000 kyat (US$1) to join. If it fulfils its quota, then
the USDP could have a campaign war chest of some US$15 million.
Furthermore, this figure doesnt take into account money it will receive
from its low-interest loan programme being use to lure new recruits.
It is the attraction of such incentives that has pushed vast numbers of
people to join the party, despite acknowledging that they are ignorant of
its policies. Thein Sein appears to be capitalising on the economic
hardships that have been brought about by military rule, with average
annual wages estimated to be around US$200 a year.
All this comes on top of complaints by competing parties that the USDP,
which includes a number of current government ministers, has been given
preferential treatment by the EC.
However some USDP campaign officials have reportedly told their seniors of
difficulties in recruiting new members, and have had to seek assistance
from local government authorities. The source said that resentment of the
party among Burmese people was widespread, but implied that coercive
recruitment of members was underway with the help of local authorities.
This is despite USDP members being instructed to maintain a low profile
around local Ward Peace and Development Council (WPDC) offices so that no
impression is given of a relationship between the government and the party
widely tipped to win elections this year.
The party has been distributing an 81-page manifesto detailing policies
and party structure among township-level USDP leaders, which can be used
in recruiting new members.
ON THE BORDER
July 28, Mizzima News
700 Karen refugees from junta attacks need emergency aid Myint Maung
New Delhi More than 700 war refugees in Karen State who fled into the
forest towards the Thai border after junta army units shelled and burned
down their villages, one of them a Christian centre, now need emergency
food and medical aid, a Karen leader has said.
The Burmese Armys Light Infantry Battalions 370 and 361 bombarded a
Christian village with about 40 mortar shells on July 23, damaging at
least 50 homes, a church and a middle school, the Karen National Union
(KNU), which is waging armed struggle against the military regime, said.
We had no engagement or clashes with them. They shot and bombarded only
this village. The villagers had to hide in the forest. According to the
latest fugures we received, there are more than 700 refugees who have
taken flight from their villages, KNU vice-chairman David Tharkapaw said.
They had to flee with no spare clothes and food. Especially in this
monsoon season, the fever and common cold is endemic and the shortage of
food is serious. We cant as yet provide with them with emergency food and
medical aid, he added.
A report yesterday on the website of the Independent Catholic News
service, which has correspondents on the Thailand-Burma border, supported
Tharkapaws assessment, including the numbers of homes shelled and burned,
and named the bombed village, Thadahder.
It is the rainy season in Eastern Burma and those in hiding are in
desperate need of shelter, food, medicine and security. Lack of clean
water and the prevalence of disease-carrying insects in the jungle are of
particular concern, the report said.
A local former military officer said this village was regarded as one
hidden in a black area, though the attack could not yet been independently
verified, apart from the ICN report.
Black area means all the persons found in this area will be assumed [by
junta troops] as friend or foe only, no neutral people, he added. They
can burn all the houses found in the black area. They can kill anyone
found in this area.
They can also plant landmines
These activities will not get them in any
trouble. They can be even promoted for
strictly obeying orders given by
higher authorities, he added.
The juntas Chief of Staff office had standing orders for all its forces
to destroy all hidden villages found in such black areas by burning
them down, he said.
The Burmese Army is infamous for such blatant violations of human rights
against ethnic nationalities.
With news of impending Burmese Army offensives in Karen State, the
Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), which has been operating under a
ceasefire agreement with the junta, has been under increasing pressure to
bring its troops under the juntas Border Guard Force (BGF), an offer
some DKBA factions have rejected.
The KNU however had recently stepped in to offer Colonel Saw Lar Pei, a
prominent leader of one such faction, armed support when the junta
attacks, Tharkapaw said.
He doesnt want to join the BGF so SPDC [junta] forces have been putting
pressure on his force. When their pressure tactic doesnt work, they [SPDC
troops] plan to launch an attack
in co-operation with some pro-junta
DKBA factions, Tharkapaw said.
We plan to give military support to Colonel Saw Lar Pei when the junta
attacks his force, he said, adding that we will receive him back if he
[chooses to] rejoin his mother organisation, the KNU.
July 28, Irrawaddy
DKBA battalions defect to KNLA Lawi Weng
Five battalions from the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) will join
the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) to fight Burmese junta's troops
after the DKBA troops refused to join the Border Guard Force (BGF),
according to Karen sources.
The Five DKBA's battalions include about 500 troops from Battalions 901,
902, 906, 907, and 908 in DKBA's Brigade 5, which is led by Col Saw Lah
Pwe, who is better known as Mr. Beard, the commander who is against
joining the BGF.
DKBA soldiers line up for a ceremony in 2008 (PHOTO: The Irrawaddy)
Speaking to the Irrawaddy on Wednesday, Captain Htat Nay of KNLA Brigade
6, based near Three Pagodas Pass, said, They told us officially they will
join the KNLA on July 26.
If there is fighting in the future, they (DKBA) will join KNLA Battalion
201. Battalion 201 is controlled by KNLA headquarters and consists of
specially-picked troops for fighting on the front line.
The DKBA's five battalions are based near the Three Pagodas Pass, Kyar
Inn Seik Gyi and Kawkareik Townships in Karen State. They intend to use
their new base at KNLA area brigade 6 if there is fighting with junta
troops in the future.
The Burmese junta has put pressure on all ethnic cease-fire groups to
transform their army into a BGF for more than one year. The last deadline
was April 22, but many ethnic groups remain defiant and refuse to accept
The regime has set a final deadline of Aug 10 for the DKBA to transform
its troops into a BGF, threatening force if they do not comply.
New Mon State Party (NMSP) sources said the Burmese regime deployed 400
troops near Kyar Inn Seik Gyi Township last week. The troops, which are
from Brigade Command 77 based in Pegu Township are to be used in a
military offensive in the KNLA brigade 6 area.
Burmese military officials told NMSP leaders not to help the KNLA when
they launch their military offensive against Brigade 6.
The DKBA leaders are divided over the BGF issue, meanwhile. Some DKBA
leaders say they want to keep their organization independent upon the
urging of the influential abbot, Ashin Thuzana.
Some Karen sources said they believed Col Chit Thu, the powerful commander
of DKBA Brigade 999, and Gen Kyaw Than, the DKBA commander in chief, may
join the BGF as they have many business interests in the Burmese border
town of Myawaddy, which has a trade link with the Thai border town of Mae
Thu Rain, who is close to the DKBA in the Three Pagodas Pass area, said
that DKBA members who have decided to fight have already moved their
families and heavy weapons to KNLA brigade 6 in preparation for future
Col Lah Pwe has ordered all troops from his five battalions to fight back
if they are attacked by government forces after rejecting the the most
recent July 21 offer by Lt-Gen Ye Myint, the regime's chief of Military
Affairs Security, to meet and discuss the BGF plan.
According to Karen sources, most of the DKBA Brigade 5 have refused the
BGF plan and will join the KNLA. DKBA Brigades 7 and 9, however, appear to
be accepting the junta's BGF order.
The DKBA claims to have 6,000 troops and plans to enlarge its army to
9,000, making it Burma's second largest non-state armed group. Due to the
split among its forces over the BGF issue, however, it is uncertain how
many troops will continue to fight alongside junta troops in the future.
The DKBA is a Buddhist militia group that broke away from the Karen
National Union (KNU), which is mostly Christian, and its KNLA military
wing in 1995. The group joined forces with Burmese military troops to
fight against the KNU after it split from the KNU.
The DKBA, which was formed 15 years ago, now controls most of the
Thai-Burmese border area previously controlled by the KNU. It has been
accused of human rights abuses in its clashes with KNU forces and also of
involvement in human trafficking along Thai-Burmese border.
Last week, over 700 Karen refugees fled to the Thai border, fearing that
rising tensions with the junta over the BGF issue will lead to fighting.
BUSINESS / TRADE
July 28, Agence France Presse
India pledges millions in credit to Myanmar regime
New Delhi Myanmar's military ruler Than Shwe flew to Hyderabad Wednesday
on the latest leg of a controversial state visit to India that has
garnered millions of dollars in grants for infrastructure projects.
The general left New Delhi having received a full, red-carpet welcome
Tuesday and held talks with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Human rights groups have severely criticised India for bestowing a formal
state visit on Than Shwe, arguing that it helps legitimise a military
regime that has been widely condemned for systematic rights abuses.
The two countries signed a series of pacts Tuesday including one to
strengthen security along their common border, where India is struggling
to curb ethnic separatists.
India also offered a grant of 60 million dollars to build a road
connecting Myanmar with the northeast Indian state of Mizoram.
India's EXIM bank agreed to provide a 60-million-dollar line of credit to
fund various railway projects, and New Delhi also pledged 10 million
dollars for the purchase of modern agricultural equipment.
Once a staunch supporter of Myanmar's democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi,
India began engaging the junta in the mid-1990s as security, energy and
strategic priorities came to the fore.
As well as needing the military regime's help to counter the separatists
along the common border, India is eyeing oil and gas fields in Myanmar --
formerly Burma -- and is eager to counter China's growing influence there.
China is the junta's key ally and trading partner, and an eager investor
in the isolated state's sizeable natural resources.
The Myanmar junta, which has ruled with an iron fist for nearly 50 years,
has promised to hold the first elections since 1990 later this year, and
Singh had been urged by rights groups and some Western countries to
pressure Than Shwe on the need for a free and fair ballot.
A joint statement said the prime minister had simply "emphasized the
importance of comprehensively broad-basing the national reconciliation
process and democratic changes being introduced in Myanmar."
Western nations have dismissed the proposed election as a sham, and Aung
San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy is boycotting the ballot.
Than Shwe was due to meet Indian business leaders in Hyderabad on
Wednesday. He flies to the eastern city of Kolkata the next day before
July 28, Democratic Voice of Burma
Burma slashes tax on alcohol and tobacco Joseph Allchin
The Burmese government has slashed duty tax on locally-produced alcohol
and tobacco by a third in a move likely to raise eyebrows among health
professionals and planners.
The tax was cut from 75 percent of the product value to 50 percent, a
sharp fall considering the comparatively cheap prices already awarded to
such products. In Thailand a packet of locally-produced Crown Tip
cigarettes costs 56 baht (US$1.70) while its equivalent in Burma, Red
Ruby, costs 650 kyat (US$0.65), and Thai shoppers flock to border towns
for bargains on products such as alcohol, tobacco, Viagra and fake DVDs.
The Burmese government has also raised duty on imported tobacco and
alcohol to 100 percent. The changes in taxation took place on the 1 June.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) noted in a 2009 report that there was
a global tobacco epidemic fuelled by big tobacco companies pressuring
governments to reduce taxes and regulations that prevent people from
In the context of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN),
Burmas pending implementation of the blocs Free Trade Area tariff
policies may be behind the move, which could in effect be to bolster the
domestic producers and brands before Burma is required to reduce tariffs.
Burma became an ASEAN member in 1997 thus joined the 1992 ASEAN Free Trade
Area (AFTA), but membership does not require immediate accession to the
blocs policies. For example, Burma may not have to implement a reduction
in tariffs until 2015.
According to the WHO, the birth of the AFTA caused a sharp rise in
cigarette consumption in Thailand: foreign brands were imported with lower
duty from signatory nations, primarily the Philippines, where
multinational tobacco companies manufactured their goods.
Most of the growth in the tobacco market is in the Third World. Foreign
tobacco companies have lessened their presence in Burma, ever aware
perhaps of the damaging PR they have received over the harm of their
products, while British American Tobacco (BAT) pulled out of Burma because
of concerns about the human rights record of the junta.
The government meanwhile is believed to have vested interests in the
tobacco sector. The Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (UMEHL) is
a parastatal company run by the militarys quarter-master general. They
have undertaken joint projects with multinationals, including tobacco
company Rothmans, in the 1990s before being subsequently brought by BAT,
who later withdrew. BAT used to produce in collaboration with the
government the London brand, Burmas most popular cigarette.
Despite suggestions that BAT still operates in the country, a 6 November
2003 press release from the company noted they sold their 60 percent share
in Rothmans Pall Mall Myanmar company to an unnamed Singaporean investment
There are at least two major state-owned cigarette factories, one in
Rangoon the other in Pakokku. These held a near-monopoly on the cigarette
market until around 1996-97, when private factories and brands started to
penetrate the market, even though state factory production continued to
Burmas junta chief, Than Shwe, is however rumoured to be against smoking
and is said to have been a driving force behind a move to ban smoking in
public spaces. The enforcement of this rule is negligible however, with an
estimated 50 percent of Burmas adult population thought to smoke.
The latest move will no doubt be viewed as questionable by health
professionals. The WHOs Nyo Nyo Kyaing noted in a 2003 report that, far
from reducing taxation, the government should increase taxation of tobacco
by 5 percent above inflation year-on-year. The WHO officicial also said in
the report that real prices of all tobacco products have declined since
However the largest sector within the tobacco industry remains the cottage
industry cheroot manufacturing. Production of the cigar-like device
employs thousands of mainly female labourers who bring in a small, yet
vital, income to rural families, which could be threatened by greater
penetration of the Burmese market by multinational companies.
July 28, Pittsburgh Examiner
Burmese writer-in-exile speaks in Pittsburgh Seth Rosenberg
Khet Mar does not look like a revolutionary. She is demure, soft-spoken,
unassuming. She appears to be as delicate and fragile as a butterfly, but
that appearance belies great strength and resolve. She was only 22 years
old in 1991 when sentenced to ten years in a Burma prison. Her crime:
speaking out publicly for human rights. Her world has changed dramatically
since then. Last Tuesday night, she spoke about her life and her country
to a packed house at the Shadow Lounge in Pittsburghs East End.
Khet Mar is a renowned journalist and writer from Rangoon, Burma. In 1991,
when the repressive military junta controlling Burma placed democracy
leader Aung Sun Suu Kyi under house arrest and refused to allow her to
travel to Norway to receive her Nobel Peace Prize, Khet Mar was one of
hundreds of university students arrested for publicly protesting.
Sentenced to ten years in prison, she was fortunate to be released after
only a year beneficiary of a national amnesty extended by General Than
Shwe upon replacing General Saw Maung as military commander in April 1992.
Thereupon, Khet Mar returned to university, her writing and working for
In 2006, Khet Mar started doing social work as a volunteer teacher and
organizer for several orphanage schools. When Cyclone Nargis devastated
her country on May 3, 2008 killing an estimated 130,000 people she
began doing relief work for victims. In March 2009, when her activities
threatened to return her to prison, Khet Mar left Burma and relocated to
Pittsburgh with her husband, Than Htay Maung, and their two young sons.
Since then she has been the Writer-In-Residence at City of
Asylum/Pittsburgh, located in Pittsburghs Mexican War Streets.
City of Asylum/Pittsburgh provides safe haven for writers-in-exile where
they may practice their craft without fear of censorship or political
repression. For two-year periods, writers are provided a furnished home, a
living stipend, medical coverage and assistance in transitioning to a new
life. Similar programs can be found in Las Vegas, Ithaca, Miami and
throughout Europe. Originally, asylum cities operated under the auspices
of the International Parliament of Writers established in 1994 in Paris by
Salman Rushdie and others. Upon the dissolution in 2004 of the IPW, two
new organizations were formed. The International Cities of Refuge Network
was created to serve as an umbrella organization and information
clearinghouse for local asylum programs in Europe. The North American
Network of Cities of Asylum was created to serve the same purpose in North
America. NANCA was part of the University of Nevada Las Vegas and
subsequently became independent and changed its name to Cities of Refuge
North America. CORNA dissolved and folded into ICORN in 2009. There is
currently no formal affiliation of U.S. Cities of Asylum with any umbrella
organization with the exception of Miami, which is a member of ICORN.
In her appearance at the Shadow Lounge last Tuesday, Khet Mar discussed
current human rights conditions in Burma and the repression of journalists
after Cyclone Nargis. She also read from her writings, in Burmese and
English, about being interrogated prior to and during her incarceration.
Her moving talk was preceded by clips from two short films: Burma Land
of Fear and Eyes of the Storm. The event was sponsored by Amnesty
International with the support of the Pittsburgh Human Rights Network.
Amnesty International is a worldwide organization of people campaigning
for human rights. Their members exert influence on governments, political
bodies, companies and intergovernmental groups through mass
demonstrations, vigils, direct lobbying and both on-line and off-line
campaigning. The Pittsburgh chapter hosts frequent events and organizes
multiple letter writing campaigns throughout the year. The Pittsburgh
Amnesty International Film Group screens films focused on human rights
issues, followed by discussions, at the Shadow Lounge on a quarterly
The Pittsburgh Human Rights Network was developed by Global Solutions
Pittsburgh in May of 2009 as an on-line interface designed to enable
individuals and groups of all types in the Pittsburgh area to easily
communicate and coordinate with one another in order to more effectively
promote international human rights.
Please visit the Amnesty International and Pittsburgh Human Rights Network
web sites frequently to learn of the wide variety of opportunities
available for you to make a real difference in the lives of oppressed
people around the world.
July 28, Sampsonia Way (US)
The monks exodus Silvia Duarte
Last September, 15 exiled Burmese monks came from all over the United
States to walk in a line through Pittsburgh streets. They started on the
Northside, made their way past PNC Park, the Pirates baseball stadium,
and ended up among downtowns rows of skyscrapers. They chanted the sutra
of loving kindness in front of curious passers-by.
It was the G-20 summit and the monks and their supporters walked
peacefully through throngs of uniforms of security forces. They hoped the
march would catch the attention of the international community. They
expected the presidents of the most powerful countriesthen gathered in
Pittsburghwould consider intervening. It has been 47 years since the
dictatorship came to power in Burma and changed everything, even the name
of their country, which the military junta insists is Myanmar.
The final monk was 25-year-old Venerable U Ashin Kovida. From the back,
his relaxed gait made him seem like a teenager without worries. However, U
Kovida cracked his knuckles nervously as he remembered the Saffron
The Saffron Revolution was a series of anti-government demonstrations in
Burma that took place during the month of September 2007 and was named for
the color of the monks robes. On September 27, U Kovida and thousands of
monks were marching in Rangoon, the former Burmese capital. Security
forces sprayed bullets into the crowd, killing an unknown number of
Today I was thinking of the people desperately running and thinking of
the friends we lost trying to save the country, U Kovida said walking
back to the Pittsburghs Northside from downtown.
The Saffron Revolution
The event that stretched the Burmese populations patience to their
limitand triggered the Saffron Revolutionwas an increase of fuel prices:
the price of diesel was doubled, the cost of petrol was increased by over
60 percent, and the price of compressed natural gas went up by a
staggering 500 percent.
This lead to increases in the prices of other basic products in a country
where the average income has been $50 per month since the middle of 2006,
according to the United Nations. People were starving and demanded better
In order to stop the governments actions, thousands of monkslead by the
All Burma Monks Alliancemarched for 10 consecutive days. Approximately a
hundred thousand people followed them through the streets of cities across
U Kovida was one of the leaders of that march. With a megaphone in his
hands, he exhorted people to take part of the demonstration. I really
thought that we could defeat the government. I never thought they would
dare to shoot; but they did, he said, crossing the Roberto Clemente
Bridge in Pittsburgh two years later.
While the Burmese government said that 30 people died during the Saffron
Revolution, human rights groups claim the number of killings was more than
200. The photos and TV images of the September 27 stampede are terrifying.
One picture only shows sandals: sandals of those who rushed away in
terror; sandals of those who were caught by the police; sandals sprinkled
by blood; sandals of those who stopped breathing at that moment.
Venerable U Ashin Nayaka who fled Burma in 2002 before the Saffron
Revolution, led the Pittsburgh march. He said by email in May 2010: There
are many things we still dont know after the militarys crackdown. Three
years ago there were over 30,000 monks in Rangoon and now there are only
U Nayaka said that he and other leaders of monks organizations know for
certain that some of the monks are in prison or in forced labor camps, and
that many others were compelled to disrobe and give up their vows for
their own and their families safety. But are all of the rest of monks
alive? Where are the monks? he asked.
The Saffron Revolution was not the first time that the monks were at the
forefront of major anti-government demonstrations. In 1974 and 1988 they
demonstrated in support of students movements.
U Nayaka explains why the monks have gotten involved in these acts during
the military regime: Monks uprisings are not struggles for political
power. They are revolutions of spirit that aim to change Burma. With
loving kindness we intended to change minds and hearts of Burmas
generals. Struggle against peoples suffering is a teaching inherited from
Because they shared U Nayakas philosophy, monks were killed and jailed
during the Saffron Revolution. Nayaka estimates there are 248 monks
currently in jail in Burma, almost all of whom were arrested after the
Fled Burma for their lives
Hundreds of monks fled Burma to avoid being the target of the merciless
Burmese police. The following storyU Kovidas storyillustrates some of
the adversities they faced to disguise themselves from the Burmese armed
forces and the difficulties of being a monk in a Western culture.
U Kovida got a fake passport in October 2007. He changed his robe for
jeans and dyed his hair, which was slowly growing in after years of being
shaved in the traditional monks manner. The day he crossed the Thailand
border, the official newspaper The New Light of Myanmar accused him of
having explosives in his monastery. He was the fifth name on a list of
twenty people for whose arrest the dictatorship offered a reward.
They said that we were terrorists, laughed the monk. Thats the height
The United Nations Refugee Agency contacted U Kovida in Thailand and
arranged his trip to the United States. In March 2008, the monk landed in
Oakland, California. U Kovidas story went round the world. The New York
Times published an article about him; a Burmese online publication called
him a revolution hero; the House of Representatives Human Rights Caucus
heard his testimony; and George and Laura Bush talked with him in a
democracy leaders lunch.
However, the cameras disappeared fast and U Kovida faced new challenges.
He had to rent an apartment, survived an attempted mugging at gunpoint,
and withstood crude jokes from teenagers on the streets.
He has worked in a thrift store and ridden a bike. These are unthinkable
activities for the 400 thousand monks who still live in Burma and survive
thanks to community alms.
In Burma, where more than 90 percent of people practice Theravada
Buddhism, monks depended on community support for their day-to-day
survival. Part of Theravada philosophy is that monks should not work
outside the monastery.
Living in exile
A Burmese monks life in exile differs depending on the country where they
land. They find the most support in Thailand, because it shares Theravada
Buddhisms customs. There monks can find monasteries to live in and people
dont hesitate to give funds to help the clergy.
Nevertheless, many monks have to adapt to a culture that doesnt recognize
them as spiritual leaders or share their beliefs. That is the case of
those living in other Asian countries such as India, Malaysia, and
Bangladesh, or those like U Kovida who live in the West.
In the United States there are over 70 Burmese monasteries and about 160
monks, U Nayaka said. Most of them live in Los Angeles, Fort Wayne,
Indiana, and New York statewhere Burmese immigrants are concentrated.
The Burmese monks in exile run three organizations: International Burmese
Monks Organization (IBMO), All Burma Monks Alliance, and All Burma Young
Monks Union. They focus on promoting peace, freedom and justice in Burma.
The three organizations are walking in the same direction. We cooperate
with monks inside and outside the country to tell the world about the
crisis in Burma, said U Nayaka, who is also the leader of IBMO.
U Nayaka added that these three organizations share another concern: the
situation of the monks who fled Burma after the Saffron Revolution and
face the greatest challenges in this country.
They receive financial assistances from NGOs for three months, but after
that they cant survive without work. Most of these monks have disrobed.
They have faced a cultural shock, said U Nayaka, who also was a visiting
scholar at Columbia University.
Nayaka explains that 70 monks came to the United States after the Saffron
Revolution. According to the press agency Reuters, some 38 monks were
granted asylum in America after the 2007 crackdown. Today, just eight of
them remain monks, the article emphasizes.
These eight monks are spread over four states. Kovidawho remains a monk
and studies at the College of Alameda sponsored by the California
governmentis still living in Oakland; two others are in Texas; one is in
Georgia, and the other four are clinging to their vocation in Uticasome
240 miles north of New York City.
27-year-old Venerable U Agga Nya Na lives in Utica. He also experienced
the Saffron Revolution first hand. After being hidden for one month, he
escaped to Thailand, where he testified to a delegation from the United
States Congress and the ambassador from the U.S. Embassy. He has seen how
his friends have been forced to swap their robes for workers uniforms and
abandon their monkhood to survive. Some are now working in chicken
factories, and in glove factories. Its so sad, because they didnt want
to quit their vows, they had to do it, U Agga Nya Na said by phone in
In the United States two factors make it hard for Burmese monks. One is
that the majority of Buddhists in America arent Theravada so they dont
follow the same traditions such as financially supporting the monks. The
second is the small number of strong Burmese communities. The community
in Utica, for example, could help some monks, but not all of them, U Agga
Nya Na added.
U Kovida explained that some Burmese people in the United States are
reluctant to feed monks who fled the country for political reasons. These
people still have family in Burma and they are afraid of the governments
reprisals, he said.
Monks who have the support of the community face their own challenges; the
cause of democracy consumes their time and energy. U Nayaka, for example,
has testified at the United States Commission of International Religious
Freedom, the Japanese Senate, the Brazilian Senate, the Indonesian House,
and the Human Right Council in Geneva. He also has lectured at colleges
and universities in United States to raise international awareness of
humanitarian crisis in Burma. But traditionally a Buddhist monk has to
take a leadership role in providing spiritual guidance to Buddhists,
particularly Burmese people, said the monk.
The adversities for Burmese monks in exile differ from person to person,
but they exist in every place the monks landed. And our only crime was to
ask for respect for basic human rights, U Nayaka said.
Almost one year has passed since the fifteen monks walked through the
Pittsburgh streets. All of them agreed with the same idea: the future of
Burma will be determined not only by karma but also by the courage, faith,
and determination of Burmas people.
Nothing has changed since then in their country. Their prayer is the same:
to see the end of the repression of Burma. They dont know when that is
going to occur, they just trust the Buddhist principle: everything
changes, nothing last forever.
OPINION / OTHER
July 28, Irrawaddy
With neighbors like these... Dr. Zarni
Once again India has rolled out the red carpet for Burma's aging despot
Than Shwe, whose sleep has reportedly been disrupted by his deep seated
fears of being hauled to The Hague for his alleged crimes against
And yet leading Indian newspapers such as The Hindu and the Times of India
have come out in full support of the New Delhi ruling elite's pathetic
embrace of a prospective war criminal, rationalizing and popularizing
India's uncivilized Burma policy, devoid of both modern humanism and
Dr Zarni (m.zarni at lse.ac.uk) is research fellow on Burma at the LSE Global
Governance, the London School of Economics and visiting senior fellow at
the Institute of Security and International Studies, Chulalongkorn
Gandhi once famouslyor infamouslyremarked that western civilization
would be "a nice idea" (in response to a Western fans question "What do
you think of Western civilization?")
Were a similar question posed about today's Indian civilization, the
Burmese public would be likely to come up with the same response: "Indian
civilization would be a nice idea." They will indeed look west and
witness that India has reached a new civilizational low with its greedy
resources grab in Burma and ugly realpolitik.
Despite India's anglophone elite of around 200 millionmany of whom are
Oxbridge and Ivy League alumnithe India of today embodies neither the
liberal ideals of the European Enlightenment nor the Spiritual
Enlightenment of Gotama Buddha or Gotama the Enlightened.
The fanciful label the world's largest democracy which Indian elites
often tout when it suits them means little for the Burmese. India behaves
no different from today's authoritarian states in Asia or Africa.
(Regarding India's eputation of being the world's largest democracy, it
would be intriguing to survey the opinions of the two thirds of the
country's 1 billion population who have been eternally condemned to abject
poverty and social and political exclusion, thanks to Indian State
policies and practices.)
To belabor the obvious, India as a nation-state is as greedy, exploitative
and destructive (towards other societies as well as its own laboring
classes) in its pursuit of its internal elite's interests as, say, China
or Russianeither of which pretends to be other than authoritarian.
Indeed when it comes to narrowly defined national commercial and strategic
interests, no differences can be detected between Oxbridge-educated
political leaders such as Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Chinese
politburo members and former Soviet KGB operatives.
Some Burmese who regard India as the cradle of the world's Buddhist
civilization may find it utterly revolting that while wearing democracy
on their sleeves, present-day India's ruling elites show no sense of
personal shame, global responsibility or civilizational conscience in
conducting their foreign policy (be it on Burma or other resource-rich,
god-forsaken places in Africa and Latin America). It runs its foreign
policy as if governing a nation-state were no
different from managing a brothela purely business transaction
(euphemistically referred to in political discourse as "realpolitik"),
without any human value or vision worthy of a civilization.
India's conduct today reminds me of the
"politics-is-not-about-ethics-or-compassion" reply I received from the
President of Singapore S. R. Nathan, when he was Singapore's ambassador to
Washington almost two decades ago. As Nathan bluntly put it, "running a
country is not like running a church," implying that ethics, compassion
and values don't belong to statecraft.
Nathan was responding to a question I posed during a questions and
answers session after a lecture he delivered at the University of
Wisconsin in Madison: How can your Singaporean government justify selling
the Burmese military junta an unknown quantity of arms immediately after
the massacre of several thousand unarmed Burmese protesters, including
university students, monks, schoolchildren, housewives and even civil
servants in 1988?
It hardly surprised the audience in the room that the then Singaporean
ambassador to Washington would be so forthcoming about his government's
world-famous immorality. For the highly polished Cambridge- and
Harvard-schooled ruling elite of this city-state neither practices nor
believes in any ideal other than the profit-motive.
Casinos, amusement parks, strip-malls, money-laundering and arms deals
seem to mean a great deal more to them than such "alien" ideals as "a
But the world's "largest democracy" pimping its civilizational wisdom for
gas and oil, as well as out of its fear and loathing of China?
With neighbors like these the Burmese public can only expect their hell
on earth to get worse and worse in the years to come.
July 28, Democratic Voice of Burma
Retaking power in Burma (pt. 3) Elliott Prasse-Freeman
The first two parts of this article suggested that an alternative politics
could be fashioned in Burma by focusing on socioeconomic idioms. But it
remained vague on exactly what this alternative politics would look and
feel like in practice. Part three turns to an example from Burmas own
recent past, exploring in more detail the actions of the 88 Generation
Student (88GS) group, arguing that it operates as a model of this kind of
alternative politics that can coax ordinary Burmese to become re-engaged
with the political realm. Its remarkable Open Heart Campaign portrayed the
values and desires of average Burmese people providing a set of key data
points that reflected the daily realities to which any future political
projects must be accountable and resonant.
Part two suggested a model for change: alternative politics impels civil
society demands, and the state reforms, at which point the cycle begins
again or settles into a new equilibrium. And here is the big question:
what keeps the cycle going, what allows it to stop?
The problem with focusing only on socio-economic indicators is that
political voice itself is not a goal, only a way of getting some improved
material outcome. The risk then is that new equlibria will be found once
the material outcome improves marginally, and then silence will descend
again. Or worse: episodic flare-ups will emerge and then dissipate when
palliatives are delivered from the government. A good example are the
small 2009 protests in Mon state over an absence of electricity during
school exam time. The protests were successful in attaining their short
term goals (electricity), an impressive feat in itself. But a year later,
according to informal reports, electricity is again absent, and so are the
protests. In other words, there was a point where people could not take it
anymore and they demanded change. They got what they asked for, and so
they stopped. When the same conditions emerged again, for whatever reason
it was not enough this time to motivate collective action.
How to escape this trap? Politics must tap into the normative groundings
a communitys collective values to insist that citizens go beyond
bargains with the state. As collective values (of justice, fairness,
decency, the proper relationship between society and state) are put into
politics, they become the interests themselves: instead of just militating
for socioeconomic benefits, the politics transforms the socioeconomic
claims into the basis for the values. So it is not simply We need
electricity. It is We need electricity
because we are a member of this
country and the role of the government is to provide it!
Here is where politics can be truly transformative: the project of
evincing these values may create the values themselves. Or, rather, a
commitment to the values can crystallize through the process of asking
constituents to reflect on their situations. There is thus a pedagogy to
politics: by asking people what they value, the political subject can come
to value the values even more, and be willing to then go the next step and
The 88GS did just that. Led by former political prisoners, many of whom
were released in 2005 after the ousting of Prime Minister Khin Nyunt, the
group of about 40 core member began to engage the citizenry with small
campaigns that slowly worked to build both a political consciousness and
habituate defiant actions. Its respective and progressing Signature,
White, Prayer, and Open Heart campaigns of 2006-07 began to demonstrate
how a movement can be built through coaxing involvement of ordinary
people, sustaining that involvement, and increasingly motivating them to
Knowing that it was too much to request that people immediately take
explicit risks, 88GS members consciously worked to gradually build from
small actions that were both non-threatening and anonymous. As
interviewees in the 88GS put it, the group built upon the confidence and
momentum in the successes of early conservative activities, eventually
introducing bolder campaigns which would compel citizens to show their
First we tried the Signature Campaign, to get the [political] prisoners
released. And people could do it because there was no risk to them: there
was no document with their personal information, just their signature.
Next was the White Campaign, which allowed people to be involved with
little risk they could tell the authorities, We are just wearing a
shirt [it happens to be white]. But people were still afraid, because
they were in public. But when they did not get arrested, this built their
The strategy of plausible deniability emerges: those participating in
these activities could always feign ignorance if accosted by authorities.
The colour of a shirt, the act of praying; these are not explicitly
political actions, and could be painted as coincidences. In Burma, where
law is utilized as a tool of oppression, these kinds of political actions
demonstrated a sophisticated politico-legal shrewdness on the part of the
In so doing, rather than giving the authorities the pretence to destroy
the nascent movement at the outset, the 88GS devised ways to gradually
build momentum by remaining legal. Moreover, by making its actions
explicitly non-political, the 88GS utilized symbolic repertoires to
deliver messages to the broader public: both everyone knew what they
were really doing, and yet no one was sure. The ambiguity in this space
is a strategy outlined in Part Two in regards to the civil society realm,
here turned to politics.
Evidence of the efficacy of this approach was born out by the responses:
the 88GS claimed 200,000 signatures, and incited the formation of other
independent groups. But it was the Open Heart Campaign (OH) that
constituted a truly noteworthy political action, both in regards to its
socioeconomic focus, and regarding the type of engagement requested of
The OH encouraged people to write letters to Than Shwe to share their
hearts to let the leading general know how difficult living conditions
were, how the government could help, and how the state often chose to
exacerbate the hardships. The fact that 2689 letters made it to the 88GS
(many more are assumed confiscated by authorities) shows a willingness to
engage in politics when the political idioms are grounded in everyday
life. They wanted to speak out [locally], but they could not. The people
knew they might get in trouble, but because they knew they had done
nothing wrong [they felt that writing the letters was worth the risk].
This was an opportunity. There is significant political nuance here: not
able to speak up locally (as there was no tradition of raising demands),
people saw OH as a less confrontational politics that could reach the
central state and cascade back down to their own realities.
The OH did not have an opportunity to be taken further than this. Some
88GS members with whom I spoke actually lamented the 2007 fuel
de-subsidization, given it came just when they were starting to build
something. The irony was that the 88GS had created the very political
consciousness that precipitated the protests, actions that in turn
eventually undermined the 88GS. Though consistently excluded from
breathless Western media accounts of the Saffron Revolution, evidence
shows that it was 88GS members who led the first walking protests after
the desubsidization (even these first protests were brilliant politics:
they took the quotidian act of walking to work and made it a political
commentary on a callous regimes neglect of peoples livelihoods).
However, if the 88GS had devised a way to communicate the messages more
broadly (to people across the entire country), and strategically (through
civil society organizations), we can see here the potential creation of a
political consciousness operating both about local issues, but also
transcending the local allowing Burmese to see their struggles as
But the lessons of the 88GS do not stop here. Rather, the letters
themselves constitute a window into state-society relations that usually
remain opaque. First, certain state-society relations that other
socio-legal systems would declare abusive, are in Burma seen as natural
(and even legitimate) under the correct circumstances. Take forced labour,
which is mentioned directly in 95 of the letters. While unequivocally a
crime under international law, if one reads each letter, it becomes clear
that Burmese do not always share this understanding. It is typically not
forced labour in itself to which the letter-writers are objecting: only 24
percent of the letters mentioned forced labour as abusive, objectionable,
or illegitimate by definition. 71 percent of the letters, on the other
hand, expressed forced labour as just one symptom of a larger
socio-economic problem, while the remaining 5 percent made both arguments
simultaneously. Case 10 outlines this succinctly:
I run a shop. When the shop is usually opened, the customers come.
However, now, I am forced to labour, so I cannot always open my shop. I
also was forced to give the money for that. These hinder my works. The
present situation is bad for the poor. There is no job for the one who
want to work.
Forced labour here is embedded in a larger struggle to manage
socioeconomic realities. Strikingly, the act was only mentioned explicitly
as a human rights violation in a single letter; moreover, many subjects
seem to present forced labour as better than nothing, provided the state
does its part by supplying resources, ending wasteful schemes (like the
planting of jatropha), and respecting peoples dignity.
This example illuminates how an un-contextualized political agenda (based
on external norms of law or human rights, for instance) may fail to
connect with Burmese people. A campaign to end forced labour might mean an
end to social services like critical infrastructure. As such, most
peasants would oppose it, ignore it, and/or might feel they are being
manipulated by it. This may be why many average citizens have rejected the
traditional politics based on human rights, procedural democracy, and
rule of law. They do not reflect the precarious life led by many at the
margins, they do not tap into collective values and daily concerns.
Yet these letters on forced labour are also not simply socioeconomic
demands. They are linked with a broader sense of justice there are
certain things that the state should not do, certain things it should do
that it currently is not doing. Political messages that understand this
nuance can compel recursive, dynamic cycles of challenge that build on one
another, slowly compelling the state to do more, even as what people can
expect from the state expands. But much depends on the initial set of
demands. We can learn a great deal from the 88GS in this regard, and a
great deal about Burmese people by reading their own words in the OH
Elliott Prasse-Freeman is currently an MPA-ID student at the Harvard
Kennedy School, and is leading a number of research projects through the
universitys Human Rights and Social Movements Program. He spent five
years working in international development for various agenciesfrom the
UN to international NGOswhere he directed projects in Burma, India,
Thailand, and other countries in Southeast Asia.
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