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Why is Singapore responsible for continued dictatorship, prolong suffering and the repeated bloodshed in Burma!
U.S. Congress urges ASEAN to suspend Burma/Myanmar
Singapore bans Myanmar protest at ASEAN summit
International students to attend forum to explain protest action
Admin the peoples' uprising Singapore ship a weapons factory to Burma's Junta to seek economic favor
Singapore PM Keep denying.....Singapore’s arms sales to Myanmar not substantial
Reuters: Singapore under pressure to get tough with Myanmar
Reuters: Singapore denies money laundering Myanmar leaders-AFP
Asia Times: Singapore squirms as Burmese protest
Senate unanimous vote was outstanding urging ASEAN to suspend Myanmar. But Singapore will not even allow oppotion to protest against Myanmar at the summit, let along Burmese there. We will protest here for all of them Tuesday Nov 20, 12-1 pm in San Francisco. Please join in and also help spread the invites, http://www.badasf.org/2007
Here are the suggested slogans for sings, chanting:
SHAME SHAME ON SINGAPORE
SINGAPORE POLICY, BURMESE MISERY
SINGAPORE GAIN, BURMA'S PAIN
SINGAPORE, COME CLEAN, COME CLEAN
SINGAPORE, NO ARMS TO BURMA
SINGAPORE, EXPELS SPDC'S CRONIES
SINGAPORE, SAY NO TO BURMA'S DICTATORSHIP
U.S. Congress urges ASEAN to suspend Burma/Myanmar
Paul Eckert & Philip Barbara
17 Nov 07
The U.S. Senate voted unanimously on Friday to urge the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to suspend Myanmar until the military rulers there show respect for human rights.
The Senate resolution, approved concurrently by the House of Representatives, came days before the leaders of ASEAN meet in Singapore next week for their annual summit.
The resolution urged the grouping "to review Burma's membership in ASEAN and to consider appropriate disciplinary measures, including suspension, until such time as the Government of Burma has demonstrated an improved respect for and commitment to human rights."
The military government of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, was quoted by U.N. human rights envoy Paulo Sergio Pinheiro on Friday as acknowledging that at least 15 people were killed in September's crackdown on the biggest democracy protests in nearly 20 years.
Friday's nonbinding resolution was sponsored by Senator Barbara Boxer, chairwoman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs.
In a statement published on her Web site, the California Democrat called on ASEAN to follow up its condemnation of Myanmar's crackdown with concrete punitive steps.
"I appreciate the strong comments from ASEAN member nations condemning the junta's violent suppression of peaceful protesters in Burma. It is now time for ASEAN to back its words with actions," Boxer said.
ASEAN groups Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Brunei, Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos.
Singapore bans Myanmar protest at ASEAN summit
Koh Gui Qing
18 Nov 07
Singapore has banned all outdoor protest at a summit of Southeast Asian nations and rejected an opposition party's request to stage a Myanmar pro-democracy protest, police and activists said on Saturday.
Leaders of the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) are set to sign a common charter that would turn the 40-year-old group into a legal entity. Myanmar prime minister Thein Sein is expected to come, which would mark the first appearance of a top junta member at an international forum since the regime's bloody crackdown on protesters in September.
About 2,500 police have been mobilized for the event and roadblocks have been set up in streets around the venue, where ASEAN will meet other Asian leaders, including Chinese prime minister Wen Jiabao and Japan's Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda.
A police official told Reuters that two applications for an outdoor protest had been rejected, but one for an indoor protest had been approved. He declined to say who the applicants were or where the indoor protest would be held.
The opposition Singapore Democratic Party said on its Web site the government had rejected its application for a protest to "call on ASEAN member states to take concrete measures to promote democracy in the region rather than just make empty promises."
Under Singapore laws, any public gathering of more than four people requires a police permit.
"The Charter states that ASEAN would promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms of the people in the region. How does ASEAN intend to do this if its chair bans outright any form of political activity?" the SDP said.
An SDP member told Reuters the party had not decided if it will stage a protest anyway.
In September 2006, during the IMF-World Bank meetings in Singapore, SDP leader Chee Soon Juan ignored a police ban on outdoor protest and made headlines worldwide with a dramatic standoff with police, which formed a human barricade around the handful of SDP activists, blocking them in a city park for four days and nights to stop them from holding a democracy march.
Police said that for the duration of the ASEAN summit, four areas, including the summit venue and the president's palace, had been marked as "protected areas." This means that police can search or detain anyone in the area or ask them to leave.
A group of international students from the National University of Singapore plans a Burmese democracy demonstration outside the summit venue, a statement on the SDP Web site said.
"The students will wear red t-shirts and stand in groups of four to remain within Singapore's stringent laws against the freedom of assembly," it said.
Diplomats expect that the annual ASEAN summit will be dominated by the Myanmar issue.
Human Rights Watch has urged ASEAN to establish deadlines to implement a binding regional human rights mechanism.
On Friday, the U.S. Senate voted to urge ASEAN to suspend Myanmar until the military regime shows respect for human rights.
The charter that ASEAN is set to sign on Tuesday does not include provisions for suspension or exclusion of members, one of the committee members who drafted the text told Reuters on Friday.
Singapore and other ASEAN members have said that keeping Myanmar inside ASEAN offers better chances of putting the country on the road to democracy.
[Reuters]: Reporting by Koh Gui Qing; writing by Geert De Clercq; Editing by Bill Tarrant
Singapore Feels Heat of
Financial Times (UK)
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
By John Burton in Singapore and Amy Kazmin in Bangkok
With Burma's state-controlled banking system crippled by stifling regulations, Burmese business people and others with access to hard currency have for yearslooked to Singaporean banks to hold their assets.
Singapore has a much more developed financial services sector than other south-east Asian countries.
The city-state, as an international finance centre, is relatively open to deposits from overseas, and its banks have an enviable reputation for service and efficiency. "Leading entrepreneurs in Burma regard Singapore as their refuge from the chaos of Burma's monetary and financial system," says Sean Turnell, a professor at Australia's Macquarie University and Burma specialist.
But as the US leads efforts to increase the financial pressure on Burma's ruling military junta and its supporters, that practice has put Singapore in an uncomfortable spotlight.
Visiting the region last week, a senior US official called on Singapore and its south-east Asian neighbours to crack down on Burmese funds parked in their banks.
"We believe that there are [Burmese] regime officials with accounts in Singapore and other countries and we hope that governments will ensure that their financial institutions are not being used as sanctuary," said Kristen Silverberg, the assistant secretary of state in charge of co-ordinating US diplomatic policy with the UN and other international organisations.
The statement was one of the most explicit the US has made about the possible role of Singapore, its closest ally in south-east Asia, in sheltering the assets of Burma's military leadership.
Bank secrecy laws prevent the Monetary Authority of Singapore from commenting on whether Burmese officials have accounts in the city-state, but it has said that any suggestion that junta leaders may be using it as a "financial haven" are "completely baseless".
It says it acts strictly against money-laundering of illicit funds, such as earnings from "criminal conduct", and funds linked to terrorist groups or regimes targeted by UN sanctions which Burma has not been.
But Prof Turnell says the source of the generals' money if not actually illegal according to Singaporean law is still of questionable legitimacy. For years Burma's generals have been accused by opposition groups of exploiting a monopoly on profits from Burma's extensive natural resources.
"If anyone looks at any of the entrepreneurs, or any business in Burma that makes any money at all, it makes money in rent-seeking on the state in various forms," Prof Turnell says. "Thus, one might regard any of the money of the regime as somewhat ill-gotten".
The US request for Singapore to restrict its banking ties with Burma comes as Singapore promotes itself as a regional offshore banking centre with some of the world's strictest bank secrecy laws.
Singapore has quietly co-operated with the US previously on similar issues. When the US imposed tougher financial sanctions on North Korea in 2005, funds deposited by the Pyongyang government in Singapore were removed under US pressure, according to an intelligence official with knowledge of the issue.
Rangoon-based diplomats say the example of US financial pressure against North Korea has rattled the junta, already shaken by recent financial sanctions imposed by the US and Australia.
Banks in Singapore are required to identify "politically exposed persons", defined as senior officials from foreign governments, who might deposit funds in the city-state, according to MAS guidelines.
Singapore, which currently chairs the Association of South-East Asian Nations and is host of next week's annual gathering of the group, has argued that formal economic sanctions could backfire on efforts to push the military junta into talks with the democratic opposition, though George Yeo, the foreign minister, has promised the city-state would comply with any UN-mandated sanctions.
Irrespective of government policy, Prof Turnell says Singaporean banks may be quietly re-evaluating or cutting their ties with Burmese elites.
"They are extremely jealous of their squeaky clean image and the idea that they uphold more internationally accepted norms than other place," he says. "This has the potential to embarrass Singapore and tarnish that competitive edge."
South China Morning Post
Wednesday July 22 1998
Singapore weapons factory for junta
WILLIAM BARNES in Bangkok
Singapore has supplied Burma's military regime with an arms factory that was designed and prefabricated by the island state's own weapons maker.
The weapons made in the factory - thought to be EMERK-1 assault rifles with a bull-pup configuration, which shortens their length, had already started to be issued to soldiers guarding the controversial Yadana gas pipeline, according to the latest issue of the authoritative magazine Jane's Defence Weekly.
Singapore has previously supplied the regime with weapons at a critical time and has also built a cyber-war centre in Rangoon capable of telephone, fax and satellite communications.
The purpose-built arms factory was created by Chartered Industries of Singapore, with the help of Israeli consultants.
Although no official announcement has been made, the plant is understood to have arrived in Rangoon in 40 containers aboard the Singapore-registered vessel Sin Ho in February.
A decade ago - near the height of nationwide pro-democracy protests led by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi - Singapore shipped tonnes of ammunition, mortars and other war material to Burma.
The shipments were marked as coming from a subsidiary of Chartered Industries of Singapore - Allied Ordinance, Singapore.
Chartered Industries is the weapons arm of Singapore Technologies which supplied the regime with its highly efficient cyber-war centre.
The supplies were sent only weeks after the junta emerged following the retirement of the old dictator, Ne Win.
They included rockets manufacturered under license in Singapore, but exported without authorisation from Sweden.
Only China is more important to the dictatorial military regime than Singapore, which has frequently defended not only its links to Rangoon, but the junta itself.
Last November, Singapore tried to water down a United Nations General Assembly resolution critical of the regime's refusal to recognise the overwhelming victory of Ms Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy in 1990 elections and widespread human rights abuses.
"Our position is different. We have concrete and immediate stakes," argued the Singapore representative, Bilahari Kausikan, in a letter to the Swedish mission which drafted the resolution.
Singapore had used weapons sales, military training and intelligence co-operation to "win a sympathetic hearing at the very heart of Burma's official councils", said Jane's Intelligence Review in March.
At about the time the small arms factory was arriving in Rangoon, Burma's intelligence chief, General Khin Nyunt, told a co-ordinating board for the Myanmar-Singapore Joint Ministerial Working Committee that his officials should "give priority to projects arranged by Singapore".
By vusi | October 24, 2007
The Straits Times (Singapore): Singapore’s military sales and economic links with Myanmar were in the spotlight as MPs yesterday pressed for details and asked for tougher action, including sanctions against the junta.But Foreign Minister George Yeo, responding in Parliament, cautioned against applying more pressure, saying that sanctions or expelling Myanmar from Asean would make national reconciliation there harder to achieve.
The Myanmar issue dominated the question-and-answer session at Parliament’s sitting, with Mr Yeo responding to questions from seven MPs and a slew of follow-ups that came thick and fast.
Speaking in calm and measured tones, Mr Yeo told Ms Irene Ng (Tampines GRC), Nominated MP Siew Kum Hong and Non-Constituency MP Sylvia Lim that Singapore had few defence interactions with Myanmar.
Links had to be maintained with the military as it was a key institution there. But these were limited to a multilateral level, such as international meetings.
And while Singapore’s established policy has been not to divulge details of defence sales, he said that over the years, defence sales to Myanmar had not been substantial.
These had always ‘been carefully limited to items that are not suitable for countering civilian unrest’, he said.
‘There have not been any defence sales to Myanmar in recent years and, going forward, we will continue to behave in a responsible manner.’
There is no arms embargo against Myanmar, but Mr Yeo said Singapore would comply should there be one sanctioned by the United Nations.
There was also ‘no truth’ to claims that Singapore helped set up a listening facility to monitor civil dissidents.
The Government had replied to The Age newspaper, and made repeated clarifications to Australian newspapers, but these were ignored.
Economic links with Myanmar were also limited. Trade last year amounted to $1 billion, or 0.1 per cent of Singapore’s total trade.
Myanmar was 50th among trading partners, and cumulative total direct investments by Singapore firms at the end of 2005 was just $742 million.
‘Our policy on Myanmar does not hinge on this,’ he said, referring to trade and economic links. ‘Instead, our actions are guided by what is best for the long-term interests of Asean.’
Mr Yeo also reminded the House that the Monetary Authority of Singapore operated a strict regime against money laundering and procedures were in place to deal with suspicious transactions.
Regional and global attention has focused on developments in Myanmar after the junta’s recent crackdown on peaceful demonstrators and MPs wanted to how Singapore and Asean were responding.
His key point to MPs on dealing with the Myanmar situation was to underscore the importance of staying engaged - even as Singapore and Asean register their strong concerns to the government.
The priority must be to support UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari’s efforts, and ‘it is important that whatever actions we take strengthen his hand and not make his already complicated task more difficult’, he said.
Cutting links with Myanmar would only give short-term satisfaction.
‘If we in Asean boycott Myanmar, we would lose our moral influence which is not insignificant. Such an approach would only worsen the long-term position for us,’ he said.
‘In any case, the preference of all the Asean
countries is to continue to engage Myanmar, and keeping it in the family. This
is certainly Singapore’s position.
Singapore under pressure to get tough with Myanmar
10 Oct 07
Singapore, one of Myanmar's biggest investors, is under pressure from rights groups to use its economic clout to push the generals down along a more democratic path.
According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, Singapore was Myanmar's largest source of foreign funding last year with US$47.5 million in investments, followed by Russia and Britain.
Singapore is a key investor in Myanmar's tourism sector, provides medical care for the regime's generals and is seen as a financial centre for the Myanmar elite.
"There are not many countries that the military regime can rely on today, and Singapore is one of them," Sann Aung, a Bangkok-based leader of the government-in-exile set up after the junta ignored the 1990 election results, told Reuters.
The city-state's links with the junta have come under fire from rights groups and led to calls to take a tougher stance.
European Union parliamentarians visiting the island last week called on Singapore to ease bank secrecy laws and seize assets of Myanmar's generals, or risk a proposed pact with the EU.
Burma activist groups last week urged the U.S. Senate foreign relations committee to compel Singapore banks to freeze the accounts of junta leaders, and prohibit U.S. institutions from dealing with those that refuse.
Freezing the overseas assets of Myanmar's generals "would at least deprive the regime of the means to buy more weapons, and put pressure on it to carry out reforms," said Debbie Stothard of the Bangkok-based Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma.
But Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong denies the generals are using Singapore as a money-laundering centre.
"We don't play dirty money, we don't condone money laundering. Our rules against that are as strict as any other financial centre - London, Hong Kong, New York," Lee told CNN.
Singapore's three banks - all of which operate offices in Myanmar - have declined comment, citing banking secrecy laws.
Analysts say that without Singapore's expertise in areas such as airline, airport, and hotel management, Myanmar would be a much less comfortable place for its ruling elite.
Myanmar's top international airline, Myanmar Airways International, is a joint venture between the Myanmar government and Region Air, a company owned by hotel and property tycoon Ong Beng Seng, one of Singapore's best-connected businessmen.
Activist group Burma Campaign UK lists 10 Singapore firms on its "Dirty List" of companies for their involvement in Myanmar, including banks DBS, UOB and OCBC, and conglomerate Keppel Corp.
Yangon's The Strand Hotel, Myanmar's top hotel and sister to Singapore's Raffles Hotel, is jointly owned by Myanmar's tourism authorities and Singapore-based General Hotel Management.
The Singapore bourse is also host to the only Myanmar listed firm -- Yoma, a real estate firm with close junta links.
Myanmar, too, has come to the aid of a friend in need. When Indonesia banned sand exports that feed the construction sector, general Than Shwe was quick to offer his sand and granite.
Singapore also gives the ageing generals access to top hospitals, where security guards shield them from the press.
Senior General Than Shwe, 73, visits Singapore for regular medical checks. Myanmar prime minister General Soe Win, 59, was treated for cancer at Singapore's General Hospital for months before he reportedly died on Oct. 2. Lee says denying them medical treatment would be inhumane.
"I mean, somebody is sick, he wants to come to Singapore, he needs treatment and you're telling me that I shouldn't treat him because he's not a good man?" he told CNN.
Myanmar expert David Steinberg of Georgetown University told Reuters that Singapore could play a big role to end the crisis. "Consults with Singapore leaders," said Steinberg, adding he favoured a "quiet" approach. "I think a strong stand by Singapore will be helpful. But a strong stand has to be a quiet stand. The private advice is absolutely critical."
Lee's father, Singapore's first prime minister and now "Minister Mentor", said in unusually blunt remarks that Myanmar's leaders had pushed a "hungry and impoverished people to revolt".
"These are rather dumb generals when it comes to the economy," Lee, 84, said in an interview, adding a political solution has to include the military who alone have the ability to hold the country together.
Singapore denies money laundering Myanmar leaders-AFP
Fri Oct 5, 11:43 PM ET
SINGAPORE (Reuters ) - Singapore's prime minister has defended the country against accusations that it is a money-laundering centre for members of Myanmar's military regime in a AFP interview reported by local media on Saturday.
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also said the country could not deny Myanmar leaders who travel to the wealthy island republic for medical treatment as this would be inhumane.
"We don't play dirty money, we don't condone money laundering. Our rules against that are as strict as any other financial centre - London, Hong Kong, New York," Lee said in the AFP interview broadcast late on Friday.
European Union parliamentarians on Tuesday urged the city-state to ease strict bank secrecy laws to avoid becoming a financial haven for organised crime. It also urged Singapore to punish the Myanmar generals that ordered the bloody crackdown on anti-government protests by seizing their assets in Singapore.
"The European Union parliamentarians were in Singapore. They wanted us to open up to them so that they can collect tax for Europeans who have invested in Singapore. That's a different matter altogether, nothing to do with Myanmar," Lee said.
Singapore is one of Myanmar's biggest foreign investors and its trade with the country formerly known as Burma was worth S$1 billion ($680 million) last year.
Lee said denying Burmese leaders medical treatment in Singapore would go "against human nature".
"I mean, somebody is sick, he wants to come to Singapore, he needs treatment and you're telling me that I shouldn't treat him because he's not a good man? It goes against the Hippocratic Oath of doctors," he said.
Myanmar junta leader Tan Shwe, 74, stayed in a Singapore hospital in January amid tight security for an undisclosed ailment. Myanmar Prime Minister Soe Win, 55, was in Singapore at least twice this year to treat an illness reported to be leukemia
Singapore squirms as Burmese protest
By Alex Au
"Police take a stern view against those who organize and
participate in illegal assemblies or processions. It is an offense to do so
without a permit." This sharp warning was carried in the country's national
daily on September 27, 2007 in an attempt to warn off anyone intending to
organize marches. The country was not Burma, but Singapore.
A month earlier, on August 25, 2007, 30 to 40 Burmese residents
in Singapore had marched two kilometers down Orchard Road, the main shopping street, to a point near the City Hall. They did so to show solidarity with the then-nascent protests in Rangoon over the recent fuel-price hikes. "They just wore ordinary white T-shirts, carried no placards, and no one shouted slogans," reported an observer. "It was entirely peaceful." The point was to send pictures back to Burma to encourage their compatriots.
Barely 20 steps from the starting point, the group was intercepted by a police inspector and four or five officers videotaping the participants. The inspector "advised" the participants not to proceed, or else they might face charges. To underline the seriousness of the warning, ID particulars of 23 of the participants were recorded. Despite this, the march continued, only to encounter the same police officers about one kilometer further on, near the presidential palace. Another warning was given.
A week later, at the end of August, the 23 participants received letters from the police requiring them attend police interrogation over this "illegal procession". They had to make signed statements, and were issued a warning not to participate in any such activities again. Said one of those who was called up, whose name has to be withheld for her own safety, "the police told us: 'If you do it again, you will be deported immediately'."
As protests intensified in Burma, with monks joining in and being beaten and arrested for their trouble, Singaporeans too were increasingly moved by events over there. University students began to organize, choosing October 4 to hold a mass event across four campuses.
The police were not far behind. At the Singapore Management University, a 7.30pm peace vigil was set to take place in the open deck on the ground floor of the library building. "At mid-afternoon, the police contacted the Dean of Students telling him that unless we had a permit, the Peace Vigil would be an illegal assembly," said Mark Myo, one of the organizers. The event thus had to be moved indoors into the library.
Something similar happened at the Kent Ridge campus of the National University of Singapore. The campus newspaper, The Ridge, reported that "appeals were made to hold outdoor vigils", but the proposal was rejected, "as it is not in keeping with the university culture and may not serve an academic purpose". In the end, at Kent Ridge, the vigil didn't take place at all.
The most contentious case could be the battle of wills that took place at the end of September between the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) and the police. The SDP had set up a petition table outside the Myanmar embassy and invited people to come sign two petitions - one to Singapore's prime minister, the other to the Myanmar ambassador. At one point over 200 people, Singaporeans and Burmese, showed up. They lit candles, stuck messages onto the embassy gates and stayed on peacefully as a gesture of solidarity.
Throughout, the police tried to tell people to leave, videotaping faces in an attempt to scare individuals off. "We advise you to leave; we are investigating this case," repeated the officer-in-charge ad nauseum. Some left; others moved a little, but still hung around.
At the entrance to St Martin's Drive, where the embassy was located, more policemen were deployed to prevent people from walking up the narrow road towards the embassy and the petition-signing area. A man named Wunna was among those who tried to enter. "The plainclothes policemen stationed there warned me not to proceed into the road, or else they would investigate," he said. He decided not to risk it, and turned back.
By then, Singapore's foreign minister, George Yeo, had already issued a statement on behalf of Asean "demand[ing] that the Myanmar government immediately desist from the use of violence against demonstrators."
It would hardly do for the Singapore government to engage in similar behaviour. Even short of violence, prosecution and deportation would put them in the same moral basket as the Myanmar military junta.
It is an open secret that the Singapore government and many companies here happily do business with the Myanmar generals. As reported in the newspaper Today, on October 5, "Myanmar's official data reports Singapore as its second-largest investor with over US$1.57 billion, mostly in the services sector." Flowing in the other direction are funds connected with the regime, substantial amounts of which are believed to be parked in Singapore banks.
Moreover, the Myanmar generals regularly come to Singapore for medical treatment.
This cozy relationship may explain the fact that police surveillance of the 30,000 - 60,000 strong Burmese community in
Singapore has been going on for a long time. Said Aung Naing: "Sometimes, we feel that they are tapping our phones. During one recent conversation with my husband, we heard a woman's voice in the background."
Aye Aye, a petite young woman with Burmese activist Aung San Suu Kyi's face emblazoned on her T-shirt, recalled a police officer
telling her once, "We keep records on you."
Wunna added: "At events such as prayer sessions, birthday celebrations, and the annual water festival, we see police vans nearby."
Intelligence officers regularly contact organizers of events to find out what they are up to. "Just before the birthday celebrations for Aung San Suu Kyi in June this year," Wunna recalled, "the intelligence officer contacted one of the organizers with detailed questions about the agenda, what kinds of documents they were going to distribute, and so on."
That reminded Aung Naing, an engineer with a master's degree, "The same thing happened just prior to the water festival in April."
The Burmese community uses a small street beside a Buddhist temple for this festival. Different groups park vehicles along this street, decorated as focal points for their celebrations.
"In 2006, our lorry had a big poster, four feet x six ft, of Aung San Suu Kyi on it. But this year, the police contacted us and told us not to put up her picture," he said.
His wife chipped in: "We negotiated and thought we could to put up a smaller picture, three ft x five ft."
But on that day itself, a monk from the temple told them the police had called with a warning that the picture had to be taken down within 30 minutes. "If not, they would come and arrest us," she recalled the monk saying.
That was April, before the crisis in Burma broke out. Now, with the world's attention focused on the plight of Burmese deprived of liberties, arresting them in Singapore may prove rather hard to do.
The Singapore government is caught in an acute dilemma. On the one hand, they have to make suitably outraged remarks about the crackdown against demonstrators in Burma; on the other hand, they do not want the Burmese community in Singapore to protest and inspire Singaporeans to take to the streets too. The Lee government's draconian ban on any kind of street march or protest rally is central to its grip on power.
Another dilemma has to do with the transition that sooner or later will happen in Myanmar. Memories of what happened after the fall of Indonesia's Suharto, with whom Singapore had been very cozy for decades, are still fresh. Singapore continues to suffer suspicion from the new democratic polity in Jakarta nine years after the dictator's fall in 1998.
With the rapidly changing situation in Myanmar, Singapore has to walk a fine line between the generals and those arrayed against them.
The SDP's agility in seizing the issue and championing the cause of the protestors presented another headache. The government would be aghast at the prospect of an opposition party burnishing its credentials as a result of its timely outspokenness.
The government's response may well be Machiavellian. A few days after the standoff at the embassy, many in the Burmese community received a mysterious sms that warned them not to go to the Myanmar embassy to sign petitions but instead sign petitions at Peninsula Plaza where it was "more effective and safe". Peninsula Plaza is the shopping mall that serves as the hub of social life for the Burmese community.
Thiha recalled, "We could not recognize the number. We don't know who sent it."
In his opinion, "the undercover police approached active members of the community to do a parallel petition."
Despite that, Thiha said, "I appreciate that the Singapore police, at least, is corruption-free. But I want to suggest that they in turn should appreciate the situation in Burma, and our movement."
Kyaw Swar, a geologist, thought Singapore should lighten up more. "There should be freedom of expression. Even if a country is small, rights should not be alienated from human beings."
"They should not deal with the generals," stressed Thiha, bringing up the subject of medical treatment for them. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was recently on CNN saying that offering the junta leaders medical treatment was only being humanitarian, in keeping with the Hippocratic oath.
"If Osama bin Laden needed medical treatment," Thiha asked, "will Singapore allow him to come or not?"
Alex Au is an independent social and political commentator, freelance writer and blogger based in Singapore. He often speaks at public forums on politics, culture and gay issues.
(Copyright 2007 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)
Australian Broadcasting Corporation
TV PROGRAM TRANSCRIPT
Reporter: Tom Iggulden
MAXINE McKEW: As with the vast majority of the heroin
smuggled in our region, the drugs Van Nguyen was caught with are believed to
have originated in Burma, also known as Myanmar. And that's refocused attention
on the links between Burma and Singapore. Some accuse the island state of being
tough on couriers while protecting those who manufactured the drugs he was
Tom Iggulden reports.
TOM IGGULDEN: Allegations that Singapore protects Burma's drug barons have been circulating for a decade or more.
DR CHEE SOON JUAN, SINGAPORE OPPOSITION LEADER: It was the Australian SBS Television itself that actually did a documentary showing the link between Singapore Government's investments in Burma that are tied in together with Asia World, a company that's owned and run by the notorious Lo Hsing Han.
TOM IGGULDEN: And tonight there are new claims that Singaporean banks are helping Burmese drug lords process profits from the heroin trade.
DR SEAN TURNELL, BURMA ECONOMIC WATCH: Singapore's banks, in conjunction with some other overseas banks, help the Burmese Government evade US sanctions.
TOM IGGULDEN: Economics professor Sean Turnell gained deep knowledge of the Burmese economic system as an analyst for the Reserve Bank of Australia. Now at Macquarie University's Economics and Finance Department, he's a world authority on Burma's secretive economy.
DR SEAN TURNELL: Where the Singapore banks are rumoured to come in is to allow the Burmese regime and the drugs traffickers in Burma to earn other than US dollars - to convert US dollar earnings into other currencies - and in so, doing avert some of the sanctions imposed by the US.
TOM IGGULDEN: That would undermine the determined efforts by the US to throttle South-East Asia's biggest narcotics producer.
DR SEAN TURNELL: The extent to which Singapore's financial sector could do that without the knowledge of the Singapore Government I think is very remote.
TOM IGGULDEN: And money flows from Singapore to Burma in other ways too. After being the first country to invest in Burma's economy in the mid-'90s, Singapore remains Burma's biggest foreign investor, despite recent inflows from neighbours such as China and India.
DR SEAN TURNELL: There's no direct evidence linking Singapore investments to the narcotics trade, but there is substantial Singaporean investment in real estate, in hotels, in tourism and other areas of Burma's economy, which don't seem to make sense on economic grounds.
TOM IGGULDEN: Today, the Singaporean High Commission in Canberra issued a statement responding to the persistent claims of a close relationship between the Asian economic powerhouse and Burma.
EXCERPT SINGAPORE HIGH COMMISSION STATEMENT: It is absurd to suggest that the Singapore Government is covertly collaborating with major drug producers and traffickers in Myanmar to help them launder drug money. Our tough laws against drug trafficking are well known, and they include provisions for the seizure of assets of those convicted of drug trafficking. This is an old allegation, which had been discredited as early as 1996."
TOM IGGULDEN: And the Australian Government agrees. A spokesman for Foreign Minister Alexander Downer told Lateline: "No-one can be in any doubt about the Singapore Government's commitment to stamping out the drug trade. We support them in that, but we don't support capital punishment."
But that's not good enough for the Greens.
KERRY NETTLE, GREENS SENATOR: I think there's an element of hypocrisy in the way in which the Singaporean Government is saying we want to be tough on drugs by killing a first-time drug offender, but we're not prepared to take the steps that others in our region need to take with us to ensure that we reduce the opium trade in the region. Rather they're investing in a country that's one of the significant opium-producing countries in the word.
TOM IGGULDEN: The Singapore Government has reiterated today all its investments in Burma are above board.
Singapore's blood money
Hanging drug couriers but investing with their suppliers
Singapore - a tiny island nation of 3 million perched at the southern tip of the Asian continent - prides itself on its strict drug laws, which include a mandatory death sentence for anyone caught with as little as half an ounce of heroin.
"It's heartbreaking sometimes," said Fernando during a recent interview from his office in Singapore. "If you are an addict, and you are simply sitting at home with more than 15 grams of heroin and you cannot prove with scientific accuracy that a portion of the drugs are for personal use, you will hang."
The fiercely authoritarian government micro-manages all aspects of the secretive hangings, as it does everything else in this country. This efficiency allows for the possibility of multiple executions when drug offenders swell the prison. On September 27, 1996, six people were hanged in one morning. Four had been hanged the previous Friday, all for drug trafficking. According to Amnesty International, 1995 - the year Navarat was executed - was a busy year at the gallows in Singapore, when more than fifty people were hanged, the majority for drug offenses.
In its March 1997 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, the US State Department said that "the number of drug traffickers hanged in Singapore increased dramatically in the last two years." Amnesty International, also describing a "sharp increase in the number of executions" in a 1997 report, states that those executed are most often small-time addicts and couriers, usually poorly educated and economically vulnerable, "while those who organise and profit from the crimes frequently escape capture and prosecution."
But that does not describe the worst of it. The Nation has learned that the highest levels of the Singaporean government, using the New York-based Morgan Guaranty Trust Company, a subsidiary of J.P. Morgan, as a custodial operative, are engaging in joint business ventures with one of the world's most notorious drug lords and with the drug-backed military dictatorship of Burma (Myanmar). This has been confirmed by corporate, government and legal documents from four countries and was contended by high-ranking US narcotics and government officials in private interviews.
ACCORDING to interviews with Singaporean lawyers and US narcotics officials, the heroin found in Singapore comes mostly from Burma, one of the world's largest exporters of the highly profitable drug, with 1996 exports estimated at $1 billion. Since the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) takeover of Burma in 1988, illicit drug exports have more than doubled; French and US satellite surveys have shown an explosion of poppy-growing in areas under the SLORC's direct control. In 1995 the Australian Parliament heard testimony on SLORC protection of the narcotics trade as a matter of policy, "in order to raise government revenue." And a report last year by the US embassy in Rangoon, based on the SLORC's economic data, concluded that exports of opiates "appear to be worth about as much as all legal exports" and that investments in infrastructure and hotels are coming from major opiate-growing and opiate-exporting organisations [see Bernstein and Kean, "People of the Opiate," December 16, 1996].
"Drug traffickers who once spent their days leading mule trains down jungle tracks are now leading lights in Burma's new market economy," said Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in a statement this past July. "We are increasingly concerned that Burma's drug traffickers, with official encouragement, are laundering their profits through Burmese banks and companies - some of which are joint ventures with foreign businesses," she said. It is with the SLORC, and allied organizations, that Singapore's hang-'em-high government is investing so heavily - in such ventures as hotels and infrastructure.
This dual-track policy is condoned and encouraged at top levels of the Singaporean regime, including by Lee Kuan Yew, the country's undisputed strongman. Lee, whose antidrug policies are among the strictest in the world, is participating in the country's deepening business relationships with renowned heroin trafficker Lo Hsing Han of Burma and his son and business partner, Steven Law. Their operations in Burma, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and the United States are now the focus of an ongoing U.S. government narcotics and money-laundering investigation, The Nation has learned.
Lo Hsing Han, a Kokang Chinese from the opium-producing region of Burma's Golden Triangle, was convicted and sentenced to death in 1973 - not for drug trafficking, which had been carried out with the tacit agreement of the state, but for treason. After being released in a 1980 government amnesty, he returned to the Kokang region. As of 1994, Lo controlled the most heavily armed drug-trafficking organization in Southeast Asia. Today he rules with godfather status over a clan of traffickers, and his organisation controls a substantial amount of the world's opium production, according to US narcotics officials. A memo from the Thai government's Office of Narcotics Control Board states that Lo's trafficking activities are augmented through his link to Burma's military intelligence chief, Lieut Gen Khin Nyunt, described as Lo's "supporter." It says that in 1993 Lo was granted the "privilege from Lieut. Gen Khin Nyunt to smuggle heroin from the Kokang Group to Tachilek [on the Thai border] without interception."
Lo is chairman of Burma's Asia World Company Limited, managed by his son Law, who has achieved unprecedented success under the current dictatorship. "Law's power and connections are unparalleled," comments one US official. "No other domestic investor in Burma can get an audience with a cabinet member with one phone call. When Law got married, eight cabinet members showed up." Law's multimillion-dollar business ventures seem to win all bidding wars in Burma's development race. (Law was denied a visa to the United States last year. "We have information that leads us to believe he is a trafficker in illicit substances," a US government official told The Nation in explanation.)
Business is business
WALL Street Journal editors, in the 1997 Index of Economic Freedom, rated Singapore as the most business-friendly country in the world. Unfortunately, that friendliness has been extended to Lo Hsing Han, Steven Law and the narco-dictatorship of Burma.
As Tay Thiam Peng, director of foreign operations at Singapore's Trade Development Board, bluntly put it in 1996, when it comes to business, morality takes a back seat to profits. "While the other countries are ignoring Myanmar (Burma), it's a good time for us to go in," Tay stated. "You get better deals, and you're more appreciated... Singapore's position is not to judge them and take a judgmental moral high ground." As Burma's number-one business partner, Singapore now has 53 projects in Burma, which as of January totaled nearly $1.2 billion.
"Since 1988...over half of [the investments from] Singapore have been tied to the family of narco-trafficker Lo Hsing Han,'' says Robert Gelbard, former US Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. Most of these investments are in joint projects with Lo's family-controlled Asia World Company. Asia World includes a host of subsidiaries and three overseas branches in Singapore. US narcotics officials say that these "overseas branches" are part of the ongoing money-laundering investigation.
Asia World's 1996 company profile states that it began as a trader in agricultural and animal feed products but today "has emerged as one of Myanmar's (Burma's) fastest growing and most diversified conglomerates." Burma's largest private-sector enterprise, it has interests in trading, manufacturing, real estate, industrial investment, development, construction, transportation, imports and distribution. Asia World's operations now include the running of a deep-water port in Rangoon, the bus company Leo Express into northern Burma, and a $33 million toll highway from Burma's poppy-growing region to the Chinese border.
The combination of the Burmese military's ability to protect shipments and production in the country and Asia World's ability to move product over land and sea completes a perfect marriage of convenience. In addition to these operations, US narcotics officials say that Lo Hsing Han also runs a container business, shipping cargo out of Rangoon from a nondescript container yard the size of a city block. They suspect it of being a drug-shipping operation. Although it is a subsidiary of Asia World, the containerized cargo processing facility has no name, no sign and is not mentioned in Asia World's business profile. According to one official, some of the several hundred containers that have left this yard have gone to Singapore and the United States.
In a June telephone interview from his headquarters in Rangoon, Law denied all allegations of drug trafficking. He laughed and said that Asia World operates under government regulations, "so if we do anything against government policy, we cannot do our business," Law said. "That's why concerning your point of any drugs in our city, I can say we haven't [been] involved."
The money trail: the Myanmar Fund
THE Singapore government, in cooperation with Morgan Guaranty Trust Company, is directly connected to key business ventures of drug kingpin Lo through an investment group called the Myanmar Fund. The fund, which provides investors "with long term capital appreciation from direct or indirect investments in Myanmar (Burma)," is registered as a tax-free fund in Jersey, Channel Islands, according to documents provided to the Irish Stock Exchange.
Singapore's largest government-controlled financial institution - the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC) - is listed in the documents along with Morgan Guaranty Trust Bank (a J.P. Morgan subsidiary separate from the Trust Company) as a core shareholder in the Myanmar Fund. A September 1996 GIC business profile from the Registry of Companies and Businesses in Singapore shows that high-level
Singaporean politicians are officers and directors of the GIC, including senior minister Lee Kuan Yew; his son, deputy prime minister Brig Gen Lee Hsien Loong; and finance minister Dr Richard Hu. As a core shareholder, the GIC helps determine how the fund's money is invested in Burma. Jean Tan, a spokesperson for the Singaporean embassy in Washington, confirmed in a June interview that the GIC holds a 21.5 percent share of the Myanmar Fund. As of last November, this investment was worth $10 million, according to the Singaporean government.
The Myanmar Fund owns 25 percent of an Asia World subsidiary, Asia World Industries. In fact, the Myanmar Fund's 1997 first-quarter report features two pictures of Asia World factories on its cover. The Myanmar Fund has also heavily invested in a number of luxury hotels in Burma, including Rangoon's Traders and Shangri-La. The Asia World business profile describes the Traders and Shangri-La hotels as major investment projects for Lo Hsing Han's company. It says that the Shangri-La Hotel (and surrounding apartments and offices) will be "the biggest of all" Asia World's investments, with "$200 million...in appropriation of the project."
In an official press release last November, the Singapore government stated that its investments in the Myanmar Fund were "completely open and above board" and that its investments in both the two luxury hotels and Asia World were "straightforward investments in bona fide commercial projects." However, the fund's operations are hardly straightforward and open. The operations of the GIC itself are effectively a state secret. The government company is not required to file annual reports or report to parliament. It has no public accountability, even though it uses public moneys for its investments. Furthermore, according to fund documents, in late 1994 - only weeks after being listed on the Irish Stock Exchange - the GIC's shares disappeared from the stock exchange register and were re-registered under the name of Ince & Co. The Singaporean government acknowledged in November that Morgan Guaranty Trust Company is the custodian for the GIC securities, and that Ince & Co. was set up by Morgan to hold the shares in its custody.
Morgan Guaranty Trust Bank, investing yet other funds on behalf of clients, is the largest core shareholder (followed by the GIC) of the Myanmar Fund at 42 percent, according to a fund report. This means that together, the Singaporean regime's GIC and Morgan Guaranty Trust Bank have been in control of 63 percent of the Myanmar Fund and its co-investments with the corporation chaired by drug baron Lo Hsing Han. (The GIC shares re-listed as Ince & Co have shifted hands once again. In a February document obtained by The Nation, the fund reported transfer of the Ince & Co. shares to another company, Hare & Co. In telephone interviews, spokesmen for the Myanmar Fund, the GIC and Morgan Guaranty refused to provide information about the identity or purpose of the new custodial company.)
Dining with the devil
SINGAPORE'S dealings with Lo Hsing Han and Steven Law continue to expand unabated. Singapore's GIC investment in the Myanmar Fund increased by 4.3 percent in 1996. In Rangoon, the Traders Hotel celebrated its official opening last November. At the opening ceremony, attended by Singapore's Ambassador and graced with an ap-pearance by Lo himself, the presiding SLORC minister publicly thanked both Steven Law and the government of Singapore for paving the road for a smooth business partnership. "I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to the government of Singapore," he said, "without whose support and encouragement there would be very few Singaporean businessmen in our country."
Since then, ground has been broken on the construction of Sinmardev, a new, $207 million industrial park and port on the outskirts of Rangoon. A Singaporean consortium is the leader in a joint venture with the SLORC, the Myanmar Fund, Lo's family company and a slew of international shareholders. The Myanmar Fund holds a 10 percent interest in Sinmardev. Singaporean entrepreneur Albert Hong, head of Sinmardev, described the project as the largest foreign investment in Burma outside the energy field.
"Singapore is more involved with Lo than any other country, because that's basically where Steven Law is functioning out of when he's not in Burma," observes a US narcotics official.
Singapore's rulers continue to deny any wrongdoing in connection with their relationship to Asia World. "It is fairly far-fetched, trying to link the Singaporean government and drug traffickers," said embassy spokesperson Jean Tan.
"Nonsense," says Singapore's former solicitor general Francis Seow, now a research fellow at the East Asian Legal Studies Program of Harvard Law School. The former close associate of Lee Kuan Yew says he knows "through personal experience" that Lee micro-manages every aspect of Singaporean political, economic and social policy.
Dr Chee Soon Juan, secretary general of the Singapore Democratic Party and a leader of Singapore's political opposition, was labeled a traitor for raising the drug issue in Singapore. "Drug peddlers are routinely hanged in Singapore for carrying heroin," wrote Chee, in a rare and courageous act of public protest in response to a documentary that aired on Australian television last year, Singapore Sling. "And where are all these drugs coming from? Drug lords like Lo Hsing Han are the big-time pushers aided by the SLORC generals." "Is this not hypocrisy at its worst?" he asked.
"The Singapore government knows it's having dinner with the devil, and sharing a very short spoon," says Seow. "And it is a terrible double standard. Drug moneys are being laundered apparently by the same drug lords who supply the heroin for which small-time drug dealers are hanged. We are reaping profits as Burma's biggest investor, but we're being paid with blood money."