Back to BADA
Abandoned, not Forgotten”:
www.itfglobal.org/fisheries/film.cfm or on YouTube
2. Burma's constitution in PDF:
3. Letters from Burma by Daw Augn San Suu Kyi: Death in the
custody 1 2
4. Chronology of Political Prisoner in Burma for
Thoughts and News highlights
stop the Burmese regime before 2010-elections in
Post Editorial: The Freedom Challenge
3. NY Times
Myanmar Gives Comedian 45-Year Sentence
for Cyclone Comments
4. LA Times: Chevron's hype
5. Irrawaddy: Sickening’ Film on Plight of Burmese Migrant Fishermen
6. AI: Death in custody of Leo
will stop the Burmese regime before 2010-elections in
you may be aware, harsh sentences are currently being given
to activists in
Burma: a 68 year sentence
for Monk Leader U Gambia, 65 years for Min Ko Naing and 88
generation students, 45 years for Comedian Zagana; 20 years
Phone Latt; and
years for Hip-hop
singer Zeyar Thaw. The punishments to activists
may seem too harsh, but they are not unusual. There are
currently more than 2000 political prisoners in
Burma, and they come from
all walks of life: monks, members of parliament, teachers,
students, lawyers, women, NLD members, Nargis volunteers,
human rights promoters and ethnic nationalities. There are
some who have received life sentences or death penalties. Ma
Khin Khin Leh, a young mother and teacher from Bago, is
still serving a life sentence given in 1999 for organizing a
protest. Even more disturbing, she is believed to be held in
Myanmar's notorious Insein
Prison, where she reportedly suffers from an unspecified
lung problem, rheumatoid arthritis and dysentery.
could have been much worse for the activists if the world
had not been watching
Burma. In 1976, the General
Secretary of the Chin Student Association Ko Tin Maung Oo, a
student leader from Rangoon Arts & Science University (RASU)
was given a death sentence; he was hanged in Insein Prison
on June 26, 1976. There was no trial, no defense, just a
judge, a sentence, and an execution.
"Raising awareness and creating pressure has at least
fostered the situation where the prisoners are given
sentences, however harsh, rather than summary executions, as
was the case in 1976 .Protests from outside
do mitigate conditions for
However, some are not so fortunate. There have already been
over 130 deaths while in custody -- punishment a bit short
of physical hanging. Such deaths are often due to severe
torture and/or denial of medical attention. Leo Nichols, the
Honorable Consul for Scandinavian Countries in
(his story below) died in custody in 1996, two
months after being arrested for owning a fax machine.
Requests by foreign governments for an independent autopsy
and enquiry were refused. He was buried the next day, and
the family members were reportedly warned not to attend the
funeral. In 2006, Ko Thet Win Aung also died in prison after
his serious illness was ignored. (Before his death, his
sentences was increased by seven years, from 52 years to 59
Burma," published in 1997,
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi wrote about three cases of death while
in custody: the demise of MP U Hla Than, Writer Hsaya Maung
Thaw Ka and NLD pioneer member U Maung Ko.
fact, the regime's harsh punishments are
business as usual, and are seen as preventive
measures in order to win the upcoming 2010 elections. The
regime will silence any threats standing in its way to
affect a complete victory in the elections. To that end, all
leaders such as Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, U Gambia, Zargana, and
Min Ko Naing are now imprisoned.
Under the current circumstances, it will be miraculous if
the regime fails to steal the elections in 2010, as it did
with the national convention, the constitution drafting and
the referendum. These completed steps are part of its
process known as the seven-step "Roadmap to Democracy",
adopted in 1993. It has executed all
these steps forcibly and single-handedly. The party that won
the election with an overwhelming majority, the National
League for Democracy (NLD), has been completely silenced and
sidelined. The victory in the next elections will be the
regime's final milestone in achieving its true mission: to
erase the 1990 election results and legalize its rule in
Burma. By then, the mandate
that the people of
gave to the NLD in the 1990 elections will become history.
will be another miracle if the regime, which has been waging
a vicious war against its own people for seeking democracy,
could successfully establish a true transition to democracy.
The change that may come with the elections would be only
skin-deep. After the election, the government may look like
a civilian one, but would, in fact, duplicate the current
regime, just as it did in 1974 when the dictator General Ne
Win magically turned himself into the civilian president U
Ne Win through a sham constitution adoption. To that end,
the regime has already crafted a constitution that places
its Army Chief above the law --- it can seize power at will
and can, by its own law, fill 25% of the seats in both
houses of parliament with Defense Services Personnel.
challenges of historic proportion: the Saffron Revolution
and the cyclone Nargis, the regime is more emboldened.
It has realized that it can do anything
it wants in
with little or no resistance, even under the world's
watchful eyes. It will not likely stop at holding 25% of the
parliament seats but will try to fill the remaining 75% with
its cronies and allies. To that end, the regime has
reportedly ordered arrays of army officers to resign to take
up positions in the new administration as civilians. People
are already sensing which general will become
Burma's next president,
prime minister and so on. To sum it all up, in 2010, the
regime will complete its “democratic” transition by
fulfilling the task of power transfer -- back to itself.
lingering questions are “who will stop the regime?” and “how
can it be done before it is too late for 2010?” We must
however believe in the people of
Burma and that what goes up
must come down. We must keep working to accelerate the
change by speaking out, raising awareness, and generating
pressure. There is no doubt that our efforts save lives in
and will eventually lead to a real change there.
the news below, there is a Washington Post editorial on new
Burma, a story on how
Chevron is trying to fool you on its efforts on green energy
and a sickening film about the Plight of Burmese Migrant
Post Editorial: The Freedom Challenge
2. NY Times
Myanmar Gives Comedian 45-Year Sentence
for Cyclone Comments
3. LA Times: Chevron's hype
4. Irrawaddy: Sickening’ Film on Plight of Burmese Migrant Fishermen
5. AI: Death in custody of Leo
The Freedom Challenge
In Burma, a test of
Barack Obama's attitude toward promoting democracy
Monday, November 24, 2008; Page A16
BARBARITY IN Burma last week served as a reminder
that, with or without President-elect
Barack Obama, the global struggle for liberty
will rage on long after
George W. Bush takes his "freedom agenda" home
Some of Mr. Obama's foreign policy advisers are
nearly as impatient to deep-six that policy as
they are to bid farewell to its author. They
believe that Mr. Bush's extravagant rhetoric
overpromised and underperformed. Dissidents were
encouraged and then abandoned.
Abu Ghraib and
Guantanamo Bay mocked Washington's
pretensions to lead or lecture.
The critics are right on all counts. If Mr.
Obama intends to govern with more humility,
caution and realism, we say, bring it on. U.S.
foreign policy could use a healthy dose of all
But abandoning the promotion and support of
democracy as core American goals would be a
terrible mistake. Mr. Bush was right to see
freedom as integral to all other foreign policy
objectives. The stifling of democratic
alternatives in Arab countries fuels terrorism.
China's succor of dictators in Africa impedes
healthy development in poor countries.
Democracies are more likely, over time, to
cooperate honestly with each other on global
challenges such as climate change and disease
control. And the United States can regain and
retain the stature to lead in the world, on any
issue, only if it is using its power on behalf
of universal ideals.
No doubt these principles will feature
somewhere in the new administration's rhetoric.
But because other, seemingly more hardheaded
considerations will always compete, the rhetoric
will not mean much unless democracy promotion is
baked into the administration's structure,
budget and personnel.
The need is especially urgent when global
recession could undermine democracy and stoke
bellicose nationalism. It's urgent, too, because
in the past decade, dictators and authoritarian
ruling parties have learned to fight back. When
Vladimir Putin seeks to extend Russia's
influence, he doesn't just want more people
watching Russian movies or buying Russian MiGs.
He wants to replicate among his neighbors the
kind of one-party rule he has imposed on his own
country. His efforts will continue whether or
not the Obama administration chooses to push
back on behalf of the budding democracies Mr.
Putin would target.
The spasm of repression in Burma last week
similarly is not just about one country. In
secret trials hidden away in fetid prisons, the
ruling junta of that Southeast Asian nation of
50 million people sentenced more than 150
activists, Buddhist monks, bloggers, students
and others to decades and decades in prison.
U Maung Thura, a comedian better known by his
stage name of
Zarganar, was sentenced to 45 years, with
several charges still pending. His crime:
attempting to deliver aid to victims of
Cyclone Nargis last spring, when the regime
did not want reminders of its own failure to
U Gambira, a monk who helped lead peaceful
demonstrations against the regime 14 months ago,
was sentenced to 68 years. A journalist was
sentenced to 14 years for taking photographs
during a sham referendum last spring. Lawyers
have been sentenced for seeking to defend these
activists and for resigning from cases when they
were not permitted to mount serious defenses.
As news of these sentences spread from
anguished relatives to supporters across the
border and so around the world, another
development was more openly announced: China's
plans to proceed with a $2.5 billion pipeline to
bring Burma's oil and gas to its Yunnan
China's Communist Party, repression in Burma
is not an obstacle but a convenience, enabling
the exploitation of natural resources with a
minimum of well-targeted corruption.
The regime's ferocity last week, unexpected
even by its dismal standards, came as something
of an embarrassment to Western humanitarian
groups, which have been revving up a campaign to
convince the Obama administration that Burma's
regime is moderating and that engagement, rather
than isolation, is the right policy. Supporters
of engagement argue that it helps neither the
United States nor the long-suffering people of
Burma to leave the field to the Chinese.
This may be true. But public opinion and, we
trust, a sense of self-respect will never permit
the United States to outbid China for the
junta's affections. And in Burma, unlike in many
dictatorships, there is a clear alternative
National League for Democracy, which
overwhelmingly won an election two decades ago.
The regime negated the results, and the league's
Aung San Suu Kyi, has been under house
arrest for most of the time since. Like
Nelson Mandela in his long years of
imprisonment, she remains the legitimate leader
of her people. Like South Africans, Burmese will
remember who sided with her during their years
of oppression and who sided with the oppressor.
And as the world watched and measured America's
shifting stance on apartheid, so it will measure
the next administration's commitment to
democracy in Burma and beyond.
Myanmar Gives Comedian 45-Year
Sentence for Cyclone Comments
A secret court run by
Myanmar’s military leadership on Friday sentenced a
prominent Burmese comedian and activist to 45 years in
prison, continuing a recent crackdown on dissidents.
The comedian, U Maung Thura,
47, better known by his stage name Zarganar, or the
detained in June after he organized a private
assistance effort to help victims of the May
cyclone, which killed more than 130,000 Burmese.
With aid organizations and Western governments, he
criticized Myanmar’s handling of the disaster.
Mr. Maung Thura’s
conviction was handed down by a court in Insein prison
in Yangon, where many political prisoners are held. He
was found guilty of violating several statutes,
including the Electronic Act, which regulates all forms
of electronic communication in the country. The act has
increasingly been used by the ruling junta to justify
long prison sentences against democracy advocates and
His prison term may be
further lengthened Monday when the court considers
additional charges against him.
“He got 45 years for only
three charges. More sentences will be passed on four
remaining charges on Monday,” his sister-in-law, Ma
Nyein, told Reuters.
In a government raid last
June, authorities seized Mr. Maung Thura’s computer and
CD’s containing video that the military government would
prefer the world not see: images of the devastation
wrought by the May 3 cyclone, as well as the opulent
wedding of the youngest daughter of the junta’s leader,
Senior Gen. Than Shwe.
After the cyclone, Mr.
Maung Thura coordinated an effort to deliver thousands
of dollars in aid to remote villages in the Irrawaddy
River delta. In an interview on May 19, he said he would
continue his work despite government threats.
“These are my people,” he
said. “I want to save my own people. But the government
doesn’t like our work. It is not interested in helping
people. It just wants to tell the world and the rest of
the country that everything is under control and that it
has already saved its people.”
Mr. Maung Thura has been
jailed at least three times in the past two decades for
his outspokenness and antigovernment satire, but for
limited terms. His stage name refers to a Burmese call
to audacity made popular during the nation’s
anti-colonial struggle: “If you have hairs that stand up
at times of fear, pull them out with the tweezers.”
Some 150 critics of the
received prison sentences of from 2 to 65 years in
the past three weeks. On Thursday alone, 35 critics were
sentenced to long prison terms, including Ashin Gambira,
a Buddhist monk and a leader of the September 2007
antigovernment protests, who was sentenced to a total of
68 years, the Web site
Those sentenced have
included some 70 members of the opposition National
League for Democracy, the party of
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the detained Nobel laureate.
Some of the most severe sentences were handed out to 23
members of the 88 Generation Students group who had been
spearheading nonviolent protests for the past several
Bloggers, musicians and
poets have also been sent to prison.
On Thursday, a hip-hop
singer, Zeyar Thaw, was jailed for six years, and 14
members of Ms. Suu Kyi’s party were sentenced to two and
a half years each for calling for her release on her
birthday in June, said a party spokesman, Nyan Win.
» Discuss Article
Chevron's "human energy"
advertisements are everywhere: TV, magazines, bus
stops and newspapers. The commercials -- which end
with the words "oil," "geothermal," "solar," "wind,"
"hydrogen" and "conservation" flashing one at a time
between the three bars of Chevron's logo --
encourage us to believe that the company is equal
parts clean energy, conservation and oil. But is it
really, as the commercials claim, "part of the
solution" to the world's climate crises, rather than
at the heart of the problem?
You'd think the company would be eager to
demonstrate its commitment to alternative energy
with accessible, easy to understand financial
figures. In fact, the details are all but impossible
to come by.
If you go to the company's website,
you'll find cheery reports on various alternative fuels
that state: "Chevron has invested more than $2 billion
in renewable and alternative energy services since 2002.
We expect to invest more than $2.5 billion from 2007
through 2009." But you will not find more detailed
breakdowns that attach actual dollar amounts to specific
investments in specific years.
If you call, you'll be told the same PR message: Some
$4.5 billion in once and future green expenditures. And
you may also get referred to other postings on the
website, which include the company's "corporate
responsibility report," annual shareholder reports and
10-K tax filings with the Securities and Exchange
Commission.But you won't get specific numbers -- as the
company's spokesman told me, Chevron does not "break
down spending for individual businesses" or "disclose
more than has been disclosed in the 10-K."
So what is in the 10-K? I looked at the latest
complete filing, which included 2006 and 2007, when
Chevron's record-breaking profits, its net income after
expenses, were $17 billion and $18.7 billion,
respectively. I found page after page of financial
information but no charts or chapters that make it
possible to document, in any complete way, the company's
yearly expenditures on "renewable and alternative energy
There was, however, an interesting
chart to consider -- Chevron's "capital and exploratory"
expenditures. It covered a great deal of the company's
operations, from oil exploration, refining and marketing
to its chemical business and beyond.
In 2006, Chevron spent $16.6 billion, and in 2007, $20
billion in this category. Of that, $13 billion and $15.5
billion, respectively -- nearly 80% -- went to searching
for, developing and producing crude oil and natural gas.
Not exactly green "services."
The chart also lists "all other" expenditures, which
does include green enterprises: power-generating plants
(four are "clean" geothermal operations); "alternative
fuels" (the filing isn't more specific); and technology
companies, which turn out to include Chevron Energy
Solutions, which helps businesses increase energy
efficiency and use renewable and alternative power; and
Chevron Technology Ventures, which manages investments
in emerging energy technology and its integration into
Chevron's core businesses.
This "all other" category allows us to get a sense of
the company's dollar commitment to alternative and
renewable energy. Let's be extremely generous
(because "all other" also includes dirty businesses too,
like coal mining and traditional power plants, and
apparently neutral expenditures such as "worldwide cash
management") and credit the entire category to the green
column: $417 million in 2006 and $774 million in 2007.
That's 2.4% and 3.8% of Chevron's total capital and
exploratory expenditures. Not even a measly 4%.
Another way to look at it? In 2006, Chevron purchased
the most expensive offshore oil-drilling rig in history
for $600 million -- nearly 1 1/2 times its entire "all
other" capital and exploratory expenditure that year.
And this is really the crux of the problem. Compared
with what it spends producing oil and other
environmentally catastrophic fuels in increasingly
environmentally catastrophic ways -- scraping through
tar sands, burrowing under mountains for oil shale and
barreling into the depths of the ocean -- Chevron is
spending minuscule amounts on clean alternatives.
The "human energy" ads are designed to get us to believe
that when we fill up our tanks at a Chevron station,
we're supporting clean energy, an assumption that might
discourage us from advocating for new taxes on the oil
industry or for cuts in its subsidies -- money that
could be used for government investments in alternative
The ads look nice, and to see Chevron's logo decorated
with the words "solar" and "wind" is reassuring. But
year in and year out, the energy giant's record-breaking
profits don't go to renewable energy, they go to oil.
Don't believe Chevron's hype.
Antonia Juhasz is the author of "The Tyranny of Oil: The
World's Most Powerful Industry -- And What We Must Do to
‘Sickening’ Film on Plight
of Burmese Migrant Fishermen
NOVEMBER, 2008 - VOLUME 16 NO.11
By THE IRRAWADDY
A documentary film
showing how Burmese seamen aboard Thai fishing boats are
abused, beaten and even murdered is now available for
viewing on the Internet.
The 10-minute film, titled “Abandoned,
not Forgotten,” was released on the official Web
site of the International Transport Workers’ Federation
(ITWF), whose General Secretary, David Cockcroft,
described it as “a sometimes sickening but very
necessary addition to the evidence that many Burmese
citizens forced to flee their country are being
In one scene, an
ex-fisherman describes how a cook beat a young Burmese
crew member with an iron bar. “The skipper asked if the
guy was dead or not. I told him: ‘He hasn’t died yet,
leave him alone, I’ll look after him.’ The guy was hit
again on the back of his head and his brains spilled
out. He took an hour to die.”
fishermen dock in Ranong, Thailand.
(Photo: The Irrawaddy)
The ex-fisherman concluded: “I think our Burmese
boatman die like dogs and pigs.”
Cockroft said: “This is a 21st century scandal, and
everyone involved—including those who wittingly or not
buy or sell fish products tainted by this horrible
exploitation—must examine their consciences and act.”
According to the London-based ITWF, 250,000 Burmese
migrant fishermen and women work in Thailand’s fishing
industry, at sea and in fish-processing factories. Only
70,000 are legally registered. With little or no legal
status or protection, many face brutality and near
“Abandoned, not Forgotten” can be viewed on the Web
www.itfglobal.org/fisheries/film.cfm or on YouTube
AI Index: ASA 16/34/96MEDICAL
Date: 16 July 1996
Death in custody of Leo
Amnesty International is concerned about the death in
custody of James Leander Nichols, commonly known as Leo
Nichols, who died on 22 June 1996 two months after his
arrest. Leo Nichols was aged 65 and suffered from
diabetes, hypertension and heart problems. Amnesty
International is seeking clarification from the
authorities in Myanmar about whether he was receiving
routine medication and medical attention while he was
imprisoned. Of mixed Burmese and European origin, Leo
Nichols was former honorary consul in Myanmar for
Norway, Denmark, Finland and Switzerland. He was a very
close friend of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of
Myanmar's main opposition party who was held under house
arrest for almost six years until her release in July
1995. Many believe his arrest was prompted by the close
links he had with her.
A successful businessman, Leo Nichols raised and donated
money to a number of charities, including Burmese
orphanages, and is reported to have paid for a number of
material items in Aung San Suu Kyi's household,
strengthening the likelihood that the authorities
suspected him of close involvement with the opposition
National League for Democracy. The NLD won a clear
victory in elections in 1990, but the military
government has failed to relinquish power and has
imprisoned many NLD leaders and supporters. Leo Nichols
was charged with operating unregistered phone and fax
lines from his home and sentenced to three years'
Immediately following his death, Denmark asked to be
allowed to send a forensic expert to perform an autopsy
to determine the exact cause of death. This request was
not permitted, although authorities in other countries
which he had represented in a diplomatic capacity also
joined the call for an independent inquiry. All four
countries wrote to the ruling military government
demanding a full explanation of his death. An autopsy
was allegedly performed by government doctors which is
said to have found that Leo Nichols was suffering from
massive left coronary atherosclerosis and died of heart
failure. He was buried the day after his death and the
authorities are reported to have warned his family not
to attend the funeral. By contrast, several military
officers were present. A memorial service was held for
him some days later and was attended by ambassadorial
representatives from those countries he had represented.
Following the news of Leo Nichols' arrest, the Danish
government is reported to have repeatedly asked for his
prison conditions to be improved, fearing that harsh
prison conditions could place him in danger given his
age and state of health.
Amnesty International is concerned that Leo Nichols'
death may have been preventable. In addition to wishing
to clarify what medical care he received in prison, it
is also concerned by reports that he was subjected to
sleep deprivation during long periods of interrogation.
AI is seriously concerned by these reports, given his
history of medical problems which were known to the
authorities and to the prison administration.
Furthermore, conditions at Insein prison where he was
held are harsh and prisoners have been subjected to
ill-treatment in punishment for infractions of the
strict and often arbitrary prison rules. Such
ill-treatment has included beatings, deprivation of
family visits and the holding of prisoners in very
cramped and cold conditions. In mid-November 1995, for
example, the authorities began to hold a group of almost
30 political prisoners in tiny "cells" built to house
military dogs. This was in punishment for sending a
letter about prison conditions to the UN, for the
possession of thr
ee radio sets and for the circulation of a newspaper
inside the prison. Within these cramped quarters, they
were made to sleep on cold concrete floors without
bedding and they were also deprived of family visits.
Amnesty International is renewing its calls to the
authorities in Myanmar to provide a detailed explanation
of how Leo Nichols was treated while in detention, what
medical attention he received, the exact cause of death,
the circumstances surrounding his death and whether - in
the opinion of doctors - his death could have been
prevented. The official account is that he was found
unconscious in his cell and transferred to hospital
where he died one hour later. Some believe he died in
Amnesty International is also calling on the authorities
to ensure that conditions in the prison conform to
proper standards and to provide an undertaking that the
ill-treatment of prisoners will cease.
Subject: NCGUB Statement on Death in Custody
Date: Mon, 24 Jun 1996 08:53:00
NATIONAL COALITION GOVERNMENT OF THE UNION OF BURMA
815 Fifteenth Street NW, Suite 910, Washington, DC 20005
DEATH IN CUSTODY - LEO NICHOLS
Leo Nichols, 65, who served as honourary consul for
Norway and contact person for Denmark and Sweden, died
on 22 June at 11 a.m. at the Rangoon General Hospital.
He was buried on 23 Jnne at 2 p.m. at Saw Ba Gyi
Christian cemetery near Insein Prison. Friends and
family were told not to attend the funeral, About 40
persons, mostly military intelligence agents, were
present at the cemetery.
Friends are planning to hold a Roman Catholic
memorial service for 'Uncle Leo' next Saturday but have
not yet received permission to do so from the State Law
and Order Restoration Council.
Cause of death according to a SLORC ordered autopsy
was cerebral haemorrhage. 'Uncle Leo', a prominent
businessman was arrested in early April for allegedly
using telephones and fax machines without the permission
of authorities. He was sentenced to 3 years imprisonment
on 18 May. It is known that 'Uncle Leo' was kept in
solitary confinement from the time of his arrest.
Although he suffered from a heart condition, he was
denied his medication all the time he was in custody.
Leo Nichols was transferred from solitary confinement to
an ordinary cell on 20 June. He was transferred to the
prison hospital on 21 June and the next day to Rangoon
General Hospital where he died 1 hour after his arrival
'Uncle Leo' was a close friend of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's
family but had no formal ties with the NLD. According to
NLD sources, 'Uncle Leo', on occasion lent Daw Aung San
Suu Kyi the use of his car.
SLORC cannot deny responsibility for the death in
custody of Leo Nichols. Whatever the cause of his death,
SLORC is responsible. SLORC has no excuse for denying a
65-year old man medical attention while in custody,
whatever his alleged crime.
Leo Nichols' arrest for using 'illegal fax machines'
for his business, his solitary confinement, his denial
of medical attention while in custody, his 3-year prison
sentence, his death and burial without benefit of
friends and family, all serve to underline the essential
lawlessness of the military regime that is currently
ruling Burma against the expressed wish of her people.
The National Coalition Government once again calls on
the international community to step up action against
SLORC before the lawless situation in Burma deteriorates
For more information, Telephone:
Click the the links to visit theses
Stop Underwriting The Junta
1. My Post-Elections Thoughts
2. Times: Burma Crackdown Reflects Junta's
3. Amazon Defense Coalition:
Whitewashes Its Website of Burma
1. My Post-Elections Thoughts
Now that the US elections were
over, and one might wonder what the results might
mean to the Burma cause. Below are my thoughts to
One thing that would never
change is that Burma needs support from all of you:
independents, republicans and democrats. Therefore,
as always, any one that you are close to at any
level of the government, please make sure he or she
is aware of the Burma's long and hard struggle for
freedom and her needs of his or her support.
The current administration has
been the strongest one ever in pressuring the
Burma’s military regime. It has tightened sanctions,
imposed visa bans to regime officials and its
cronies. However, it struggles greatly in persuading
the regime's enablers, Burma's neighbors: China,
ASEAN nations, and India, and Russia, to follow
suit. Their continued support for the regime by
military, economic and diplomatic means has hugely
undercut the US efforts, and helped sustain the
With China and Russia firmly in
the regime’s corner, despite the US efforts, the UN
Security Council continues to drag its feet in
dealing with Burma while the regime completely
ignores its special envoy Gambari who has failed to
make any meaningful progress despite repeated visits
to Burma. On the other hand, the European Union (EU),
which is based on consensus among its members in
making decisions, has never been outstanding in
pressuring the regime. The EU countries are often at
odds with each other on how to take on the regime.
The lack of collective efforts
and consistent policies towards Burma’s military in
the past 20 years has proven to be very costly for
the people. The result was that the people sink
deeper into the poverty and misery while the regime
and its cronies have consolidated their grip on the
power and the wealth. Far from being able to stop
the brutal regime, the US and the international
community miserably fails even to secure the release
of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house
arrest since May of 2003. The number of political
prisoners in Burma now readily exceeds 2000.
The regime is now firmly in
control after overcoming the recent challenges,
which are of historic proportion: saffron revolution
and Cyclone Nargis. It is now set to hold the 2010
sham election that would erase the Burma’s historic
1990 elections results that it has ignored.
Currently reported imposing of harsh sentences on
the activists are part of the regime’s efforts to
scare people off not to stand in the way of its 2010
election. We all have seen the regime holding the
referendum to force the approval of its ridiculous
constitution while the country was under water and
the people were dying. So they will do anything to
realize the 2010 elections and establish the faked
civilian government to ease the western pressure.
What is needed now is
collective, consistent and firm policies towards
Burma, and a global leadership to get there.
Therefore, we would like the new administration to
keep the strongest pressure on the regime while
being more active and creative in providing
leadership to the international community in
engaging with Burma. VP-elect Joe Biden has been
known as one of the strong supports of Burma and was
the author of the most recent Senate Bill that was
signed into a law by President Bush last July. We
must not forget what the First Lady Laura Bush has
done for Burma. She has been praised often for going
out of her way and speaking out about Burma. To this
end, we wish soon-to-be First Lady Michelle Obama to
do the same (or even more) for Burma.
As many in the US are being
acknowledged, this is the time of historic moment
and opportunity, and with this new momentum and
hope, we wish you all a new and better America. In
fact, this historic election and the great gathering
at the Mr. Obama’s election night victory speech
reminded me of the events in 1988 and 1990 in which
we all had high hope of a change towards better
Burma. Even under the threats and possibility of
crack downs, several hounded thousands people (some
estimates were even higher) attended the Daw Aung
San Suu Kyi’s speech at the Western entrance of the
Shwe Dagon Pagoda on August 26, 1988. Similarly, in
the 1990 historic election, the people of Burma has
overwhelmingly voted for the Suu Kyi's NLD party
despite her being under the house arrest by the
regime. Sadly, the dictators did not allow the
people to follow their beloved leader nor the leader
to lead her beloved people. Besides, the
international community has been unable to stop the
cruel regime from its destructive course of actions
Therefore, we all need to step
up in helping Burma and regardless of who you are or
which candidate or party you support, the people of
Burma needs you.
Times: Burma Crackdown Reflects Junta's
Monks protected by a 'human fence' of
citizens holding hands walk in protest
against the Burma's military regime on
Sept. 25, 2007, in Rangoon
Christian Holst / Getty Images
The years piled up fast. Sixty-five years in
prison each for 14 former student activists.
Twenty-and-a-half years for a blogger.
Twelve-and-a-half years for a labor leader.
Six-and-a-half years for five Buddhist monks.
Two years for a poet. In the space of just three
days this week, more than 30 Burmese were
sentenced to prison or hard labor by the
country's ruling junta, a chilling legal
onslaught that sent a clear message to other
potential dissidents: speak out, and get used to
life in a prison cell.
Even for a notoriously
repressive regime, the jail sentences were
unusually harsh. Last year, the generals who
control Burma, also known as Myanmar, violently
crushed a peaceful, monk-led protest movement
calling for economic and political reforms.
Hopes that an influx of foreign aid — dispersed
Cyclone Nargis devastated the Irrawaddy Delta
last spring — would
convince the junta to take a softer approach
were dashed by the rash of detentions that
accelerated in late October. Last week, two
journalists were jailed, while three lawyers
representing political activists have also been
sentenced to prison. "These last few weeks show
a more concentrated crackdown on dissent clearly
aimed at intimidating the population," said
Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human
Rights Watch, in a statement from the New
York-based rights group. "These peaceful
activists should not be on trial in the first
place, let alone thrown in prison for years
after unfair trials."
Burma has scheduled multi-party elections in
2010. The polls are considered a charade by many
international observers, who note that the
leader of the main opposition party, Nobel Peace
Aung San Suu Kyi, is under house arrest and
is barred from participating. But even after
locking up a woman whose National League for
Democracy won the 1990 elections that the junta
then ignored, Burma's ruling brass still appears
spooked by the power of the people. "Burma's
leaders are clearing the decks of political
activists," says Pearson, "before they announce
the next round of sham political reforms."
Overall, one Burmese exile group based in
Thailand estimates that 2,120 Burmese now
languish in jail for their political activism,
nearly double the number who were in prison
before last year's anti-government
Despite the predictable expressions of
condemnation issued this week by countries like
U.S. and Britain, there's little that the
West appears able to do to convince the junta,
which has ruled since 1962, to treat its
citizens more humanely. Economic sanctions by
the U.S. and the European Union are
undercut by the eagerness with which China and
other Asian countries do business with Burma's
generals. Although one of Asia's poorest
nations, Burma holds a wealth of natural
resources like timber, natural gas and precious
The country's leaders have grown rich from
the land's bounty, even as most Burmese struggle
just to feed themselves. Roughly one-third of
civilians live below the poverty line. Last
month, many Burmese, who get their news from
clandestine radio broadcasts, were shocked by a
BBC Burmese service report that claimed a
daughter of junta leader Than Shwe had spent
more than $80,000 on a gold shopping spree in
the city of Mandalay. Than Shwe himself brooks
no dissent. The offense of Saw Wai, the poet who
was sentenced to two years in prison? Writing a
love poem published in a weekly magazine in
which the first words of each line spelled out a
brazen message: "Power Crazed Senior General
pictures of Cyclone Nargis' devastation in Burma
Defense Coalition: Chevron Whitewashes Its
Website of Burma
Charges of Rape and
Murder Prompt Disappearance of Entire Country
from Corporate Website
WIRE)--Chevron has quietly removed from its website
any reference to its operations in Burma, a country
where the oil giant has been implicated in allegations
of rape and murder connected to a lucrative pipeline
project that generates up to $1 billion annually for the
country’s brutal military
regime, the Amazon Defense Coalition said today.
The company has replaced the majority of substantive
information on its website with a short page glossing
over their role in the country.
Chevron removed the references to Burma while it has
been embroiled in high-stakes legal case charging it
helped orchestrate the deaths of two Nigerian villagers
operational practices in the African country. The trial
on those charges began Tuesday in federal court in San
Earth Rights International, a legal organization
based in Washington, D.C., has leveled withering
criticism at Chevron for jointly operating a natural gas
pipeline with the Burmese military. Just in the last
year, the Burmese army has violently suppressed
protesting monks and diverted international relief aid
after a devastating hurricane, and the country’s
government is considered an international pariah.
The pipeline generates an estimated $1 billion per
year in hard currency for the clique of generals who
rule Burma. Chevron has defended the project on the
grounds it exercises a liberalizing influence on the
Just two years ago, Chevron’s
Burmese operations were featured prominently on the
company’s website. This week,
one could not find a single reference to Burma on the
website where Chevron boasts of its worldwide operations
and lists the dozens of countries where it has
The earlier website is archived at
In a recent report, lawyers for ERI concluded that
Chevron faces liability for being complicit in murder,
rape, and slave labor committed by the Burmese Army in
for the pipeline. ERI is most known for having settled a
legal case against Unocal over the same charges before
Chevron bought Unocal in 2005 and inherited the pipeline
As ERI noted in their report “The
Human Cost of Energy: Chevron’s
Continuing Role in Financing Oppression and Profiting
From Human Rights Abuse in Military-Ruled Burma
“Chevron and its consortium
partners continue to rely on the Burmese army for
pipeline security, and those forces continue to
conscript thousands of villagers for forced labor, and
to commit torture, rape, murder and other serious abuses
in the course of their operations. Due to its
involvement in the Yadana Project, Chevron remains
vulnerable to liability in U.S. courts for the abuses
committed by these security forces.”
The full report is available at
The removal of any mention of Burma is the latest in
a long series of controversial moves by Charles S.
James, Chevron’s General
Counsel, to hide or divert attention from Chevron’s
growing human rights problems.
“James has shown a
repeated willingness to tolerate unethical practices by
Chevron to hide its growing reputation as a global human
rights violator,” said Jeremy
Low, who monitors the company’s
human rights record for the Amazon Defense Coalition,
which has sued Chevron for environmental damage in
seeing is hard information replaced by absolute fluff or
just blank space,” he added.
Just last week, Chevron was accused by the
environmental group Amazon Watch of paying journalists
to write favorable editorial content without disclosing
their financial relationship to the company. One of the
journalists, San Francisco writer Pat Murphy, has not
denied he accepts fees from Chevron to write one-sided
articles in his online newspaper that mysteriously get
to the top of search engines.
Undisclosed payments to journalists for favorable
coverage are considered highly unethical, yet James has
not denied that the company engages in the practice.
The Nigeria case, being tried before Judge Susan
Illston, has created a lengthy record of charges that
Chevron paid Nigerian military officers to shoot local
villagers who had staged a peaceful protest on one of
the company’s oil platforms.
The trial, expected to last five weeks, began on
In the Amazon region of Ecuador, where Chevron faces
a potential $16.3 billion liability for dumping more
than 18 billion gallons of toxic waste, local lawyers
have long accused the company of paying uniformed
Ecuadorian army officers to provide “security” designed to
intimidate members of indigenous groups.
“I am sure James wishes
Chevron could erase its human rights problems as easily
as it can erase mention of Burma from its website,”
said Low. “But as the company
is now finding out, that’s
not so easy.”
To view the former websites, Archive.org maintains an
Long URLs in this release may need to be
copied/pasted into your Internet browser's address
field. Remove the extra space if one exists.
About the Amazon Defense Coalition
The Amazon Defense Coalition represents dozens of
rainforest communities and five indigenous groups that
inhabit Ecuador’s Northern
Amazon region. The mission of the Coalition is to
protect the environment and secure social justice
through grass roots organizing, political advocacy, and
VOA News: New International Pressure
on Burmese Regime to Reform
The Sunday Times: New hopes for democracy in Burma?
Human Rights Watch: Burma: One Year After Violent Crackdown,
NY Times: Myanmar Writhes in the Grip of Its Junta
Boston Glove Editorial: Burma's unfinished revolution
Mizzama News: Monks protest in Sittwe, western Burma
Bangkok Post Breaking News: Burma arrests three on NLD
The Ithaca Journal: Exiled Burmese freedom fighter dies in
New International Pressure on Burmese
Regime to Reform
27 September 2008
Renewed international pressure is being put on Burma's
military regime to release political prisoners, end
oppression of minorities and institute democratic reforms.
From United Nation's headquarters in New York, VOA's
Margaret Besheer reports on Saturday's high-level meeting on
Burma called by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
The U.N. secretary-general convened the first ministerial
level meeting of the so-called "Friends of Myanmar" - the
other name by which Burma is known.
|Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon,
23 Sep 2008
Representatives of the five permanent Security Council
members, as well as several Asian nations, the European
Union, India and Norway attended the meeting, held in the
margins of the General Assembly's annual debate.
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband told reporters that
the Security Council has spoken clearly in demanding the
Burmese regime release political prisoners and initiate an
all-inclusive dialogue between the government and the
opposition National League for Democracy (NLD). "That degree
of cooperation has not been forthcoming from the Burmese
regime and it remains the fundamental tenet of the Friends
of the Secretary-General that the regime must work with the
secretary-general and his representative Ambassador Gambari
to achieve political and economic progress," he said.
The secretary-general's special envoy on Burma, Ibrahim
Gambari, has made four visits to that country in the last
year. His most recent has been widely criticized for not
achieving any gains. During that trip, opposition leader
Aung San Suu Kyi who is under house arrest, did not turn up
for a meeting with him, in an apparent show of frustration
with U.N. efforts to move the political process forward in
Burma experienced a devastating cyclone in May of this year.
Just days later the regime held a constitutional referendum
that was widely derided as neither free nor fair. But the
regime has countered that the new constitution has paved the
way for multi-party elections in 2010.
Singapore's foreign minister, George Yeo, expressed concern
about the form those elections might take. "The dice will be
loaded in favor of the military, but I believe from a
certain viewpoint that some progress is better than no
progress. The problem is that the NLD [opposition] has not
been part of the process, they may not participate in it,
and if they do not the country will remain divided and the
problem will remain unsolved," he said.
Secretary-General Ban visited Burma after Cyclone Nargis and
met with top leaders. He is widely expected to return to the
country at the end of this year. But some observers
questioned under what circumstances he should go back.
Minister Yeo said such a visit is a "move not to be lightly
taken." "When he goes back, it has to be very carefully
timed, because expectations must be calibrated. He should
not go back unless there are clear signs of progress, but
his intervention at an appropriate time can be critical," he
Mr. Ban did not stop to speak with reporters following the
closed-door meeting. But in a statement, his spokesperson
said the high-level participation at the meeting is a clear
signal of the importance that the international community
attaches to the situation in Burma, and encouraged the
Burmese government to work more closely with the United
Nations to address issues of key concern.
The Sunday Times
Sunday, September 28, 2008
New hopes for
democracy in Burma?
News from Agence France-Presse says ministers of UN Security
Council permanent member states together with many Asian
nations were scheduled to hold their first meeting Saturday
to advance democratic reforms in Burma.
That country, now officially known as
Myanmar, has been ruled by the military since 1962. Since
the time of General Ne Win, the military men have ruled
tyrannically. They have also often idiotically subordinated
the Burmese people’s wellbeing to the military’s obsession
with control. This was most recently manifested in the
junta’s refusal to let foreign aid and rescue missions to
give food, supplies and medicine to hundreds of thousands of
victims of natural calamities rendered sick, starving and
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called
for the informal talks, on the sidelines of the UN General
Assembly, in response to the scantiest signs that the
military rulers might be willing to embrace political
A year ago, in September, the military
junta responded to pro-democracy demonstrators with an
excess of brutality. The UN Secretary General apparently
thinks now is a good time to nudge the ruling generals into
becoming less inhuman.
Since last September, the generals’ acts
of cruelty against pro-democracy Burmese have increased, the
independent US-based Human Rights Watch states in a report.
In addition, HRW says, “the military government has failed
to deliver on promises it made a year ago, despite
international efforts at mediation.”
The United Nations itself says that the
September 2007 crackdown left 31 people dead, including a
Japanese journalist who was shot at close range.
Seventy-four Burmese are still missing. Thousands more were
arrested and kept in the junta’s prisons.
Ministerial level meeting
Agence France-Presse’s P. Parameswaran
reports that the first ministerial meeting on Myanmar of
Ban’s “so-called group of friends” would raise the profile
of the longstanding international demand for the junta to
hold a dialogue with the democratic opposition.
“The fact that these countries are
attending at the ministerial level and have agreed to this
meeting shows that they are putting up the Myanmar issue as
a high concern,” Parameswaran quotes Ban’s spokeswoman Choi
Soung Ah as saying. The group’s ambassadors at the UN
headquarters in New York had met several times since its
first meeting in December last year.
It is made up of permanent Security
Council members United States, Britain, France, Russia and
China as well as Australia, European Union, India,
Indonesia, Japan, Norway, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand
and Vietnam. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean)
will have a representative.
Ban’s special envoy Ibrahim Gambari has
made four visits to the country since the September 2007
crackdown. But he failed to restart a dialogue between
detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the generals.
Gambari’s four trips to Burma have, in other words, not
achieved much. He did learn that Ms. Suu Kyi is more or less
Impatient prodemocracy dissident groups
have become critical of Gambari and even the UN itself. But,
Parameswaran once more quotes Choi issuing the caution that
Gambari’s visits are “the only window we have and let’s not
shoot the messenger.”
The Security Council, as usual, is
divided on the issue. China, very close to Burma as a
trading partner, investor, aidgiver and moral supporter even
during the years when Maoism was the PRC’s ideology, and
Russia, which is also has good commercial relations with the
military junta, have been vetoing previous Security Council
moves to urge Myanmar to return to democracy and free all
But there was some good news last week.
On Tuesday, the junta released seven political prisoners,
members of prodemocracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi’s National
League of Democracy. Among those freed was the famous
journalist Win Tin. Seventy-nine years old, he had been in
the junta’s prison since 1989.
As if they want to remind their
oppressed people that they can, like God, give and take
away, the generals rearrested one newly freed activist the
This August and September, Human Rights
Watch says, 39 prodemocracy activists were arrested. That
raises the total of political prisoners in the generals’
hands to 2,100.
Laughable referendum on constitution
In a move that the whole world found
laughable, the generals did not postpone a scheduled
referendum on a new Burmese constitution in May, despite the
devastation and deaths from a killer cyclone being still not
yet counted. Most of the families who fled their flooded
villages had not yet come back to their homes when the
referendum was held. The junta officially later said there
were about 138,000 and missing. Foreign aid workers estimate
much more than that figure.
The vote, pro-democracy activists
complained, was as usual, unfree and controlled to favor the
military’s desired result. The junta claimed it to be
absolutely clean. And soon the military rulers proclaimed a
new constitution under which multiparty elections can be
held in 2010. But the rules promulgated under their new
constitution bars Aung San Suu Kyi from running.
In 1990, the military junta called a
general election, which Suu Kyi and her National League for
Democracy won decisively. She should have assumed the office
of prime minister. But the junta nullified the election
results and placed her under arrest.
As a prisoner, she won the Sakharov
Prize for Freedom of Thought in 1990 and the Nobel Peace
Prize in 1991.
Human Rights Watch Press Release
Burma: One Year After Violent Crackdown,
UN Should Press Military Leaders to Keep Their
(New York, September 26, 2008) – The international community
should demand accountability from the Burmese military
government for the brutal crackdown in September 2007 on
monks, activists, and other civilians, Human Rights Watch
said today. Repression in Burma has increased and the
military government has failed to deliver on promises it
made a year ago, despite international efforts at mediation.
" Last September, the Burmese people courageously challenged
their military rulers, and they were answered with violence
and contempt. The repression continues. While a handful of
political activists have been released, more are being
arrested and thousands remain in prison. "
Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
The crackdown that began on September 26, 2007, was a brutal
response to growing protests initially triggered in part by
the doubling of fuel prices in mid-August 2007. In the
following weeks, Buddhist monks in Rangoon, Mandalay, and
other towns across Burma staged peaceful marches to protest
government policies and poor living standards. Lay
supporters gradually joined the marches, swelling to tens of
thousands of people calling for political, economic and
“Last September, the Burmese people courageously challenged
their military rulers, and they were answered with violence
and contempt,” said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at
Human Rights Watch. “The repression continues. While a
handful of political activists have been released, more are
being arrested and thousands remain in prison.”
On September 23, 2008, the ruling State Peace and
Development Council (SPDC) announced the release of 9,002
prisoners from Burma’s jails, among them seven political
activists, including 78-year-old U Win Tin, a prominent
activist and journalist imprisoned since 1989.
But in August and September 2008 alone, the Burmese
authorities arrested an estimated 39 political activists and
sentenced 21 to prison terms. On September 16, Burmese
authorities arrested Nilar Thein, a prominent activist in
hiding since the 2007 protests. Zargana, a famous activist
and comedian, has remained in prison since July 2008 for
publicly criticizing the SPDC’s slow response to aid
following Cyclone Nargis. The SPDC currently holds more than
2,100 political prisoners, including more than 800 arrested
following the 2007 protests.
In the crackdown a year ago, Burmese security forces beat,
arrested, detained and shot monks and other protesters in
the streets of Rangoon. Police and plain-clothes
paramilitary members arrested thousands of peaceful
participants in the protests in nighttime raids on
monasteries and their homes. In the following days, hundreds
more were beaten, arrested and detained at makeshift
detention facilities, police stations and jails.
In the most extensive documentation of the crackdown to
date, Human Rights Watch documented at least 20 cases of
extrajudicial killings, and dozens of beatings and arrests
by riot police and army soldiers, assisted by local
paramilitaries of the pro-government Union Solidarity and
The true number of people killed may never be known, since
there has been no investigation by Burmese authorities or UN
investigators. The UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights
situation in Burma, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, made a report
after his November 2007 visit, but acknowledged it was not a
full investigation and recommended that the UN Human Rights
Council call for investigations into the circumstances of
“It’s a failure of the Burmese government and the
international community that the perpetrators of killing,
arbitrary arrests and torture during the September 2007
crackdown have not been brought to justice,” Pearson said.
Instead, the SPDC has continued with its plans of
pseudo-political reforms, conducting a constitutional
referendum in May. The military government claims that there
was a voter turnout of over 98 percent of eligible voters
and that 92 percent of them endorsed a constitution that
cements military rule. Human Rights Watch has reported on
the human rights problems surrounding the referendum,
including sharp restrictions on freedom of assembly,
association, and tight controls on the media.
Since the September 2007 crackdown, the United Nations
Secretary General’s Special Advisor on Burma, Ibrahim
Gambari, has made four visits to Burma. The SPDC made
numerous promises to Gambari that is has failed to keep:
* Dialogue with the detained democracy leader Aung San Suu
Kyi did briefly resume but broke down;
* The constitutional referendum was not free and fair;
* Not all political parties are able to participate in the
electoral process; and,
* The roadmap to democracy is neither credible nor
“Despite an array of promises to the United Nations, the
Burmese military government has not made good on any of
them,” Pearson said. “Rather than let Burma’s rulers
continue to engage in fruitless dialogue, the international
community should demand real action.”
Myanmar Writhes in the Grip of Its Junta
— A year ago, Myanmar’s police and military
stormed the streets of this moldy, crumbling city and
began a deadly crackdown on thousands of Buddhist monks
protesting sharp rises in the price of food and fuel.
Now the country’s ruling generals are steeling
themselves for a reprise.
As the anniversary
approached, the police erected checkpoints on the
outskirts of Yangon, formerly Rangoon, and conducted
nightly house-to-house searches, usually just after
midnight, hunting for dissidents or critics of their
rule — anyone who might want to commemorate the
After an explosion on Thursday near Sule Pagoda and
City Hall, the focal point of demonstrations last year,
heavily armed police officers cordoned off the area, and
men in green uniforms patrolled the streets carrying
crowbars. A local shopkeeper said four people had been
wounded in the blast.
The generals’ domination in Myanmar, formerly Burma,
has been tested repeatedly over the past two decades —
by the monks last September, by
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the democracy leader under
house arrest, and by a powerful
cyclone earlier this year that brought the generals
into confrontation with an outside world confounded by
their resistance to accepting help.
Yet today, with their principal rivals sidelined,
exiled or imprisoned, the generals appear to be at the
apex of their power.
“This isn’t a regime on the run or about to fall,”
said Charles Petrie, who until last year coordinated the
United Nations’ operations here. The generals may
seem oblivious to the outside world or out of touch with
people’s economic hardships here, Mr. Petrie said. “But
in military and security terms,” he added, “they
definitely know what’s going on.”
Burmese dissident groups nurture a long-held hope
that some sort of regime change will bring greater
prosperity to an impoverished population living amid
remarkably fertile lands, abundant tropical hardwoods,
ample natural gas reserves and many other riches.
But the only foreseeable change is a lot less
grandiose: Than Shwe, the senior general who has been in
charge since 1992, is now in his mid-70s. Questions
about who and what will follow lead to endless and
intense speculation here.
Asia has had its share of military dictators in
recent decades, but few have been as secretive and
all-powerful as Senior Gen. Than Shwe. When the
secretary general of the United Nations,
Ban Ki-moon, tried to reach him in May to discuss
assistance for the victims of Cyclone Nargis, the
general neither took nor returned his calls. (After
repeatedly trying over several days, Mr. Ban gave up and
sent letters instead.)
General Than Shwe has been the key to the resilience
of the military government through his masterful but
Machiavellian control over fellow officers. In many ways
General Than Shwe — singularly — is the government.
“It was one of the strangest things,” said Priscilla
A. Clapp, the chief of mission at the American Embassy
from 1999 to 2002. “When I would talk to generals who
were very high up, they said, ‘Even people at the top
don’t know what’s going on.’ No one knows all the things
that Than Shwe is doing except Than Shwe himself.”
That utter centrality — reminiscent of the status of
the North Korean leader,
Kim Jong-il — has led to a fair amount of
uncertainty over what kind of leader or political system
General Than Shwe will leave behind.
Among his most important powers is controlling the
billions of dollars from natural gas sales to Thailand,
Ms. Clapp said. The amount will total at least $3.5
billion this year, according to Thailand’s central bank
data, and there is no oversight of this money but his
The line between government service and personal
business is also often blurred. The families of the top
generals are involved in many of the country’s largest
businesses. In the same vein, Myanmar’s health minister,
Kyaw Myint, is also General Than Shwe’s personal
The senior general has managed to stay on top through
a series of purges and forced retirements, including a
drastic dismissals in 2004 that sidelined Khin Nyunt, a
relatively liberal-minded prime minister, and the
estimated 1,000 to 2,000 military intelligence officers
under the prime minister’s command.
The purges have eliminated many possible successors
and created an intellectual vacuum at the highest levels
of government. This has also led to a large generational
gap between General Than Shwe and his likely successors.
Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, the United Nations’ special
envoy to Myanmar for human rights from 2000 until last
year, said there was an obvious lack of international
experience at the top echelons.
“They are one of the most ill-prepared elites in
terms of dictatorships that you can find in the world,”
Mr. Pinheiro said. “They are very isolated.”
Until the 1990s, when President Clinton put into
place tough sanctions against Myanmar, military officers
trained or participated in exchange programs with the
Pentagon. Today, most of the top leadership is barred
from entering the United States, Europe and Australia.
In an era when basic information about most world
leaders is just a Google search away, Myanmar’s
government has not put forward any personal information
about General Than Shwe. There are no biographies —
official or not — in bookshops here, and the general is
never known to have given an interview to a journalist,
local or foreign. Unlike the Kim dynasty in North Korea,
General Than Shwe is not celebrated in a cult of
Perhaps the most detailed information on him was
published 27 years ago, when Myanmar’s military was
marginally more accessible. It fits on one sheet, half
the size of a piece of photocopy paper, and is the most
complete résumé available of Myanmar’s ruler: Than Shwe
was born near Mandalay in 1933 in the rural heartland of
what was then British-administered colonial Burma, it
says. He completed secondary school but never attended
college. He worked as a postal clerk before joining the
army, where he was trained in psychological warfare and
fought in numerous battles against insurgents.
More than anything else, the years as a field
commander appear to have forged his image of himself.
“He believes he’s a true nationalist,” said
Razali Ismail, the United Nations special envoy from
2000 until 2004. “The first time I met him he said:
‘People think we are doing this for power. No, this is
for the sake the nation. I have fought for the country.
I have scars on my body’ — he pointed to himself —
‘bullet wounds.’ ”
For decades after its independence from Britain in
1948, Myanmar was badly fractured along ethnic lines.
The military battled Chinese-backed Communist insurgents
who, at one point, controlled large swaths of the
country. Some ethnic groups remain armed today, but
cease-fire agreements with them and the withdrawal of
support for rebels by China and Thailand has brought a
period of relative security.
Political analysts here say that General Than Shwe
sees himself in the tradition of Burma’s ancient kings,
who unified the country through force and then built
dams, roads and bridges to cement the loyalty of
“You get the sense that Than Shwe believes he’ll go
down in history as one of the great leaders of the
country,” Mr. Petrie said.
For each of the past eight years, the government has
claimed that the economy has grown by more than 12
percent, faster than China or any other country in the
region. Yet its population is so poor that the
World Food Program estimates that five million
people lack sufficient food.
In recent months, cooperation between the generals
and the outside world has improved somewhat. The cyclone
in May, which initially caused great tension between
Myanmar and Western governments that offered aid, may
have created a small opening for better cooperation,
said Mark Canning, the British ambassador in Myanmar.
“The hope is that this is sustained and leads to some
wider benefit,” Mr. Canning said.
Refugees International, a Washington-based advocacy
group, recently published a memo saying that aid groups
were enjoying an “unprecedented level of access and
mobility” in the hard-hit Delta region. United Nations
officials and aid workers say the agriculture minister,
Maj. Gen. Htay Oo, has been particularly cooperative.
But therein lies another example of the vagaries of
Myanmar politics. General Htay Oo is also the head of a
large organization that serves as a sort of civilian
auxiliary force for the military, a group that is widely
believed to be the army’s future political party if the
country makes a transition to civilian rule.
By encouraging the distribution of foreign
assistance, General Htay Oo may be consolidating a
domestic power base in the Delta.
For its part, the junta has pushed a new
constitution, and in May the generals announced that
more than 90 percent of voters had ratified it.
But while the referendum was widely considered a sham
— the government arrested people who urged voters to
reject it — the new constitution may force the generals
into a new configuration of power.
If 1933 is indeed the year of General Than Shwe’s
birth, he will be 77 years old when the constitution
takes effect in 2010. Political analysts wonder whether
he will give up the day-to-day business of ruling the
It is also unclear what role his second in command,
Vice Senior Gen. Maung Aye, will have, or whether Gen.
Thura Shwe Mann, the joint chief of staff, who is often
described as a potential successor to General Than Shwe,
will live up to that billing.
The only thing that appears fairly certain is the
survival of the army, said Ms. Clapp, the former top
American official here.
“The military is not going to be overthrown in the
near future,” she said. “It’s too powerful, it’s too
cohesive. No matter what kind of rivalries may be going
on inside they will stick together in the end.”
Boston Glove Editorial
Burma's unfinished revolution
September 26, 2008
A YEAR AGO, Buddhist monks, students, democracy activists,
and fed-up citizens in Burma were shot, beaten, and jailed
for expressing their grievances peacefully. The brutality of
the ruling junta provoked a brief flurry of outrage around
the world, but China, India, and Thailand, the current chair
of ASEAN, went right on currying favor with the junta, and
all too soon the indignation subsided - at least until the
Burmese generals withheld humanitarian relief from victims
of Cyclone Nargis last May.
But some voices of conscience have not forgotten Burma. On
what they call the "dark anniversary" of last year's Saffron
Revolution, eight Nobel Peace Prize laureates, including
Desmond Tutu of South Africa and the Dalai Lama, have called
for "true democracy" in Burma, appealing for the release of
their sister laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and expressing
solidarity with all people "yearning for freedom in a nation
that has itself become a prison."
The generals have set in motion their own sham roadmap to
democracy. But this transparent scheme for perpetuating the
junta's hold on power satisfies only those commercial
clients and geopolitical advantage-seekers who have an
interest in being satisfied. The generals' regional partners
remain unflustered that Transparency International, the
organization that rates 180 countries for their relative
degree of corruption, has just reported that only Somalia
comes out worse on the list than Burma under the generals.
President Bush, encouraged by Laura Bush, who met recently
with refugees on the Thailand side of the Burmese border,
has said all the right things about Burma. The next
president will have to persuade China, India, and Thailand
to join in pressuring the junta to free Suu Kyi and permit a
genuine transition to democracy.
Monks protest in Sittwe, western Burma
Saturday, 27 September 2008 21:38
New Delhi - About 150 Buddhist monks in Sittwe town in
western Burma's Arakan state staged a protest march on
Saturday morning to observe the first anniversary of last
year's 'Saffron Revolution', eyewitness said.
Than Hlaing, a local resident of Sittwe town who witnessed
the protest march told Mizzima that about 150 monks began
marching from the Sittwe main road at about 10 a.m. (local
time). The demonstration was peaceful.
"The monks were marching silently. Police and other
officials in several cars and motorcycles followed them and
asked them why they were marching," Than Hlaing said.
"People on the road were bowing and paying obeisance to the
marching monks," he added.
The monks, he said, took the right side and continued
marching on to U Ottama till the end of the road. They
dispersed peacefully later.
"As soon as the first batch dispersed, another group of
about 100 followed them and dispersed at the same point,"
said Than Hlaing adding that the monks ended the march at
about 10:30 a.m. (local time).
While the authorities did not disrupt the procession,
officials, however, followed the monks, Than Hlaing said. He
was told that a monk, Shin Thawbanah, of the Ashokayone
Monastery was taken away by the police.
"I was told that he [Shin Thawbanah] was taken to the police
station for interrogation," said Than Hlaing, adding that he
was unaware of the details.
The monks, according to Than Hlaing, were marching along the
street in commemoration of the first anniversary of last
year's monk-led protests, that was brutally crushed by the
According to the UN, at least 31 people were killed while
thousands of monks and activists were arrested and detained.
But activists and opposition political groups said, the
number of deaths following the junta's brutal crackdown
could be hundreds if not thousands.
Burma arrests three on NLD anniversary
Bangkok Post Breaking News
Rangoon (dpa) - The military government arrested at least
three National League for Democracy (NLD) supporters
Saturday before the opposition party celebrated its 20-year
anniversary, witnesses said.
Police detained two men and one women near the NLD
headquarters before the anniversary ceremony to mark the
establishment of the party in 1988.
Before the ceremony about 10 people shouted slogans
including "Free Aung San Suu Kyi" and released birds from
cages in front of the NLD headquarters, but it was unclear
if those arrested were part of that group.
Journalist U Win Tin, 79, who was released from 19 years in
prison last Tuesday, attended the anniversary celebration
for his first time, having been in prison on all the
He said he would help NLD and its leader Suu Kyi in the
struggle for democracy.
The Nobel Peace Prize laureate Suu Kyi remained under house
arrest and could not attend the ceremony. She has been under
house arrest for 13 of the last 19 years.
Before U Win Tin was released last Tuesday, as part of a
broad amnesty that freed 9,002 prisoners, he was Burma's
longest-serving political prisoner.
Two NLD members who were also released on Tuesday, U Khin
Maung Swe and Dr Than Nyein, also Saturday's attended
Missing from the ceremony was NLD member Win Htien who was
one of the 9,002 released last Tuesday, but was arrested
again less than a day later.
Win Htien was a founding member of the NLD in 1988.
NLD chairman U Aung Shwe issued a statement calling for the
military junta to immediately release Suu Kyi and NLD vice
chairman U Tin Oo from detention "because of their
unrelenting efforts for the emergence of democracy and human
rights in the country."
U Aung Shwe also called for the release of all other
political prisoners. The United Nations puts that number at
While the junta holds absolute power in Burma, the
international community still supports Suu Kyi as the most
credible leader of the country. The NLD won the 1990
elections in a landslide, but the junta refused to recognize
Exiled Burmese freedom fighter dies in
The Ithaca Journal:
Han Lin, who helped bring attention to the fight for
democracy in his homeland of Burma to his adopted
hometown of Ithaca and internationally, died Friday of
cancer at Cayuga Medical Center at Ithaca.
diagnosed with cancer in January 2007 and was admitted
to the hospital Sept. 11, said Maura Stephens, an Ithaca
humanitarian and writer who worked with him. His death
came five days after his 57th birthday. He is survived
by his wife, Htay Htay Yee, and six children.
Han Lin — like many Burmese he didn't use first and
last names, and the two parts are his full name — was
born in southern Burma and grew up under military
In 1988, while working as a middle-school math
teacher, Han Lin led his village in a populist uprising,
which led to widespread killing by the regime and arrest
of many opposition leaders.
Among the leaders was Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the
party that won elections the regime refused to recognize
and who would later win the Nobel peace prize.
Han Lin fled into the jungles near the Thai border
and in 1996 crossed over to a refugee camp. He came to
Ithaca in 1997, where a colleague, Thun Gyaw, lived,
Stephens said. The Ithaca Burmese community came to
number about 100 families.
In 2005, Han Lin, fellow exiles and others working
with them persuaded Ithaca Common Council to pass the
country's first resolution declaring Aug. 8, a key date
in the 1988 uprising, Burmese Democracy Day. It was the
first such resolution in an American city calling
attention to the situation in Burma, which the regime
now prefers to be called Myanmar.
“We will never give up,” he said in a 2006 interview.
Han Lin began working as a facilities attendant at
Ithaca College and worked there until late 2006. While
living in Ithaca, he led demonstrations in Washington
seeking international intervention in Burma. Among his
efforts to draw attention to the plight of Burmese were
marches and hunger strikes. After one 260-mile march and
17-day fast, he was hospitalized in Brooklyn. “I was a
little tired,” he said, recalling it a year later.
Stephens said Han Lin's family is very grateful to
the staff at Cayuga Medical Center for the care given
him during his hospitalization. He never returned to
Burma, she said, but his friends and family members
still are active in fighting for the Burmese people.
Calling hours with Buddhist prayers are planned for
12:30-2:30 p.m. Sunday at Bangs Funeral Home, 209 W.
Clinton St., followed by a celebration of his life, open
to all, from 3-5 p.m. at the Women's Community Building,
100 W. Seneca St.
1. AI: Myanmar: Freedom for U Win Tin
but 2,100 political prisoners remain behind bars
2. Regime Frees Longest-serving Political Prisoner, Win Tin
3. NY Times: Myanmar Frees Political Prisoner
COMMENTARY: An Evil Game: Token
Release of Political Prisoners
5. BP Update: Six Political
Prisoners out of 9002 Freed
For immediate release: 23 September 2008
Myanmar: Freedom for U Win Tin but 2,100 political prisoners
remain behind bars
Amnesty International welcomes the release of at least seven
prisoners of conscience in Myanmar, including U Win Tin who
had been imprisoned for 19 years and was one of the
longest-serving prisoners of conscience in the country. The
fate of the other estimated 2,100 political prisoners who
are still behind bars in Myanmar remains, however, a cause
for concern, said Amnesty International today.
“While the release of U Win Tin and his fellow prisoners is
certainly the best news to come out of Myanmar for a long
time, unfortunately they don’t even represent one percent of
the political prisoners there,” said Benjamin Zawacki,
Amnesty International’s Myanmar researcher. “These seven
people should never have been imprisoned in the first place,
and there are many, many more who should also be released.”
Amnesty International notes unconfirmed reports that the
government of Myanmar may grant “amnesty” to as many as
9,000 prisoners in the run-up to planned elections in 2010.
However, it remains unclear whether this figure includes
U Win Tin refused to accept an amnesty by the government, as
to do so would have implied that the reason for his
imprisonment was legitimate. Reports indicate that there
were no conditions on his release.
“Prisoners of conscience, like those released today, are
exactly what the term says: people sent to prison simply
because of what they believe, and the peaceful actions they
take because of those beliefs,” added Benjamin Zawacki.
“They have done nothing wrong and we call for their
immediate and unconditional release.”
U Win Tin is a 78 year old journalist, prominent dissident
and senior official in the main opposition National League
for Democracy (NLD) party, led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
The other six prisoners of conscience released are also NLD
members and four are MPs-elect from the 1990 elections in
which the NLD was victorious.
* Dr. Daw May Win Myint (female), 58, an MP-elect, and Dr.
Than Nyein (male), also an MP-elect, 71, were imprisoned in
1997 for organizing an NLD meeting. Their original sentences
had been repeatedly extended since 2004 and they suffer from
* Win Htein (male), 66, a senior assistant to NLD leader Daw
Aung San Suu Kyi, was imprisoned in 1996 for, among other
offences, organizing farmers and NLD members to collect
agricultural statistics. He had been held in solitary
confinement and suffers from numerous health problems,
including hypertension and heart disease.
* Aung Soe Myint Oo (male), an NLD MP-elect, was sentenced
in August 2003 to seven years, for ‘having a motorcycle
without a license’ but was widely believed to have been
targeted for his political activities.
* U Khin Maung Swe, (male) 66, an NLD MP-elect, was
sentenced in August 1994 to seven years in prison.
* U Than Naing (male), a member of the NLD.
“The release of these seven political prisoners is most
welcome. But this is not -- and cannot be seen as -- an end
in itself, only the beginning,” said Benjamin Zawacki.
Amnesty International issued an Urgent Action to its
supporters about U Win Tin in July this year. He had been in
Yangon’s Insein Prison, often in solitary confinement, for
much of the past 19 years and had not received the medical
treatment he needed.
U Win Tin was arrested on 4 July 1989, during a crackdown on
opposition political party members. He was sentenced three
times to a total of 21 years' imprisonment. U Win Tin was
most recently sentenced in March 1996 to an additional seven
years' imprisonment for writing to the United Nations about
prison conditions and for writing and circulating
anti-government pamphlets/leaflets in prison. The
authorities characterized this as "secretly publishing
propaganda to incite riots in jail."
U Win Tin had written a document for the UN which he called
The testimonials of prisoners of conscience from Insein
Prison who have been unjustly imprisoned; demands and
requests regarding human hights violations in Burmain which
he described torture and lack of medical treatment in
prison. While the authorities were investigating the writing
of this letter, U Win Tin was held in a cell designed for
military dogs, without bedding. He was deprived of food and
water, and family visits, for long periods.
Regime Frees Longest-serving Political Prisoner, Win Tin
By SAW YAN NAING
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
political prisoner, 79-year-old journalist Win Tin, was
freed on Tuesday after 19 years behind bars.
Win Tin was among 9,002
prisoners released, only a handful of whom were political
The freed political prisoners
included another well-known writer, Aung Soe Myint, and four
members of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD)—Khin
Maung Swe, May Win Myint, Win Htein and Than Nyein.
A close friend of Win Tin, Maung
Maung Khin, told The Irrawaddy the long-serving
political prisoner had been released unconditionally and in
“He didn’t need to sign any
conditional agreement with the Burmese authorities,” Maung
Maung Khin said.
The state-run newspaper,
New Light of Myanmar, confirmed on Tuesday that 9,002
prisoners had been released.
Win Tin, formerly editor of
the influential newspaper Hanthawaddy,
vice-chairman of the Writers’ Union, and an active
participant in the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, was arrested
in 1989 and sentenced to 20 years on charges that included
Win Tin won international
recognition for his pro-democracy involvement, and in 2001
he was awarded the World Association of Newspapers Golden
Pen of Freedom and the UNESCO Guillermo Cano World Press
He suffered heart and
prostate problems during his imprisonment, and two rights
organizations, Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media
Association, charged that he had been denied “proper medical
treatment” and the opportunity to write.
Since 2006, he had been
denied visits by the International Committee of the Red
Around 2,000 political
prisoners are now believed to be detained in Burma’s
Tate Naing, secretary of the
Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political
Prisoners (Burma), called for the release of them all,
including Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been held under house
arrest for more than 13 of the past 19 years, and leading
members of the 88 Generation Students group.
Suu Kyi’s lawyer, Kyi Win,
said on Tuesday that a legal appeal against her continuing
house arrest would be lodged in Naypyidaw on Thursday.
At least 39 activists were arrested last month alone, and 21
of them were sentenced to terms of imprisonment, according
to the AAPP.
Burmese observers in exile
suggested Tuesday’s amnesty was linked to the start of the
63rd session of the UN General Assembly in New York. They
pointed out that prisoners had been released in the past in
times of growing pressure on the regime.
In a political development,
the NLD called on Monday for a review of the new
constitution by a committee formed of candidates elected in
the 1990 general election, representatives of the regime and
ethnic groups and constitutional experts.
Times: Myanmar Frees Political Prisoner
YANGON, Sept 23 (Reuters) -
Myanmar's longest-serving political
prisoner, journalist Win Tin, was
freed on Tuesday after 19 years in
jail and immediately vowed to
continue his struggle against 46
years of unbroken military rule.
will keep fighting until the
emergence of democracy in this
country," he told reporters outside
a friend's house in the former
Burma's main city, Yangon. He was
still wearing his light-blue prison
ailing 79-year old was arrested in
July 1989 and sentenced to jail for
giving shelter to a girl thought to
have received an illegal abortion.
inside, he received additional
punishment for agitating against the
military government and distributing
propaganda, bringing his total
sentence to 20 years.
was released on the same day that
9,002 prisoners were set free, but
said he had complained to prison
officials about being lumped in as
part of a nationwide amnesty for
mainly ordinary criminals getting
out on good behaviour.
protest, he refused to pick up his
personal belongings or change into
his civilian clothes.
did not accept their terms for the
amnesty. I refused to be one of
9,002," he said, adding that no
conditions had been attached to his
from it. They should have released
me five years ago. They owe me a few
years," he said.
also played down worries about his
health, cited as another reason for
quite OK. I am quite all right," he
human rights groups had feared his
health was in severe decline, and a
year ago, Win Tin himself was musing
about dying behind bars.
death be my release? As long as
democracy and human rights are not
within reach, I decline my release.
I am prepared to stay," he wrote in
a short poem handed to visiting
United Nations human rights envoy
Paulo Sergio Pinheiro.
Amnesty International said it was
"elated" by news of his release, but
that it was important not to forget
that more than 2,100 people remain
behind bars in Myanmar on account of
their political or religious
London-based Amnesty researcher
Benjamin Zawacki said the generals
may have decided to release Win Tin
for fear that his death in custody
could have stoked unrest only a year
after major anti-junta protests led
by the revered Buddhist monkhood.
"Maybe they thought it was better,
on balance, to have Win Tin on the
outside in case he passes away
rather than have him die on their
watch, so to speak," Zawacki said.
Tin was one of Myanmar's most
high-profile political prisoners
after opposition leader and Nobel
peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who
has been in prison or under house
arrest for 13 of the last 19 years,
and her deputy Tin Oo.
Kyi managed to wring small
concessions out of the junta earlier
this month by refusing deliveries of
fresh food to the Yangon home where
she has been under arrest for five
years. The refusal prompted
speculation she was on a hunger
An Evil Game: Token Release of
By KYAW ZWA MOE Tuesday, September 23, 2008
The release of Win Tin, a renowned 79-year-old journalist,
and other political prisoners is very good news. But wait.
Their amnesty is further proof that the junta is playing its
usual evil games.
Win Tin was released on Tuesday after serving more than 19
years in the notorious Insein Prison in Rangoon. Other
well-known politicians and political activists were also
released, but the exact number can’t be confirmed.
The military regime announced an amnesty for 9,002 prisoners
for good behavior, saying the amnesty was granted to help
build a new nation ahead of the 2010 general election.
Observers believe that only a small number of an estimated
2,000 political prisoners were among those freed.
Of course, political activists are happy that Win Tin, the
former editor of the respected newspaper, Hanthawaddy, and a
key adviser to pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, is
free. He was the longest serving political prisoner in Burma
and perhaps all of Southeast Asia. He is famous for his
unwavering political spirit.
Apart from Win Tin, at least seven other senior members of
the main opposition National League for Democracy were
released from Insein and other prisons.
Their release should not be viewed as a policy change by the
regime. The junta, as always, carefully calibrated its move
based on external events.
The amnesty follows the opening of the 63rd United Nations
General Assembly at UN Headquarters in New York, where the
United States will again raise the Burma issue. US President
George W Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will
make it a point to seek more cooperation from the
international community to help restore democracy in Burma
and protect human rights.
US Ambassador to the UN Zalmay Khalizad said, “We’ll
continue efforts to increase pressure on Burma, to make
progress on the political track. There has been no progress
on that.” Two other permanent members of the Security
Council, Britain and France, are expected to join the US in
taking a strong stand on Burma.
So, it was time for the regime to do something to counter
criticism in the UN assembly. The international community
will welcome the release of political prisoners, and the
junta can say it has complied with part of the UN’s demands.
Actually, it’s an old game—political prisoners have always
been pawns for the junta. In other words, they are hostages
to be released whenever the regime wants to ease mounting
Since the regime took power in 1988, the number of political
prisoners has always remained above 1,000. The junta,
according to Amnesty International, now has 2,000 political
prisoners. If the junta really wanted to change its policy,
it would release all political prisoners, including Suu Kyi,
prominent student leader Min Ko Naing and ethnic leaders
such as Hkun Htun Oo.
This latest release will undoubtedly draw praise from some
members of the international community. But we shouldn’t be
fooled. The release of all 2,000 political prisoners would
be the first step of genuine political reform.
Anything less means political prisoners are just pawns in an
BP Update: Six Political
Prisoners out of 9002 Freed
Burma's military junta has freed 9,002 prisoners for good
behavior so they can help build a new nation ahead of
elections planned for 2010, state media reported Tuesday.
The state-controlled Myanma Ahlin newspaper said that
freedom was granted to prisoners around the country who
exhibited good "moral behavior."
"The government is trying to transform these convicted
prisoners into citizens who can contribute to the building
of a new nation," the newspaper said, adding they were
released "so they could participate in the fair elections to
be held in 2010."
According to the Assistance Association for Political
Prisoners (Burma), there were six political prisoners
including four MP-elects among those freed. They are U Win
Tin, U Win Htein, Dr. Than Nyein (MP-elect), Dr. May Win
Myint (MP-elect), U Khin Maung Soe (MP-elect) and U Aung Soe
U Win Tin, 76, was the longest serving political prisoner in
Burma. He was arrested on July 4, 1989 and sentenced to
20-year imprisonment on charges including 'anti-government
propaganda.' In 2001, U Win Tin was awarded the
'UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize' for his
efforts to defend and promote and right to freedom of
expression. That year, he was also awarded the 'World
Association of Newspapers' Golden Pen of Freedom Award.'
1. On eve of
Saffron Revolution anniversary, Burma's exiled news
Burma’s Saffron Revolution
Exiled Burmese monks dream of new uprising
One year on…
6. India targeting China's oil supplies
7. What's changed in Burma in the past 20 years?
8. Singapore: Singapore Asks Burmese Activists To Leave
On eve of Saffron Revolution anniversary,
Burma's exiled news sites attacked
18 September 2008
Source: Mizzima News Agency
On the eve of the first
anniversary of the week-long Saffron Revolution, the
websites of three leading Burmese news agencies in exile
have come under attack, rendering them inaccessible
since the afternoon of September 17.
Distributed Denial of
Services (DdoS) attacks overwhelmed the websites of the
Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), "The Irrawaddy" and the
"New Era Journal". Under DDOS attacks, websites are
flooded with so much automated requests for data that
their respective systems effectively get jammed.
The websites of the
three Burmese news agencies have not been responding to
their requests since Wednesday afternoon.
"It is pretty certain
that we are under attack. We were attacked at about 11
a.m. today," Toe Zaw Latt, chief of DVB Thailand bureau
told Mizzima.com, an Alerts partner of the Southeast
Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA). Mizzima, which is also an
independent news service run by exiled Burmese in New
Delhi, India, itself experienced a similar DDOS attack
magazine, an independent news provider run by Burmese
journalists exiled in Chiang Mai, Thailand, said its
website has been facing problems since Tuesday evening.
"We can confirm today (18 September 2008) that we are
being attacked," Aung Zaw, editor-in-chief of "The
Irrawaddy" told Mizzima.
The Bangkok-based "New
Era Journal" also confirmed that its website is also
This is the second
attack against the Oslo-based DVB in the past three
The webmaster of the DVB
said it is difficult to determine the level of the
attack, adding that they could not predict when the
sites will be accessible again.
"We do not know who is
behind all this, but it is certain that these are
deliberate attacks," Toe Zaw Latt said.
meanwhile, that Internet speed has also been down in
Rangoon since Wednesday morning between 10 am to 3 pm.
As a result, several Internet cafes in downtown Yangon
reportedly had to close. Sources said Internet
connection only resumed at its regular speed at 6 pm.
September 18 marks the
anniversary of the start of street protests in Yangon
which built up to a violent military crackdown in Burma
last year. Burmese journalists—both inside and outside
the country—have been worried about how Burma's junta
might deal with the anniversary of what has come to be
known as the "Saffron Revolution".
Mizzima News (http://www.mizzima.com/) is a news
organization headquartered in New Delhi, India, run by
exiled Burmese journalists. A SEAPA partner, it aims to
promote awareness about the situation in Burma and
promote democracy and freedom of expression in the
Remembering Burma’s Saffron Revolution
A Burmese citizen remembers the September 2007
Following are excerpts from an interview with
a Burmese witness to the September 2007 Saffron
Revolution. He asked to be identified only as
On Sept. 5, at about 2 p.m., more
than 100 monks left the Western monastery and
went along Bogyoke Street heading east. When
they reached the Central monastery, the number
of monks increased to between 200 and 300. By
the time they reached the Eastern monastery
there were almost 500 monks and, from there, I
saw them proceed to the main pagoda saying
metta [loving kindness] prayers.
There may have been reports that this would
happen, but [the people of Pakokku] didn’t know
in advance. Only when the monks came out did the
people come out on the streets in throngs to
There were crowds all over the place, along
both sides of Bogyoke and Taung Taing Streets.
The streets were full of people. There must have
been hundreds of thousands of them. Some of them
were paying obeisance [with hands held together]
and some were clapping. But the monks told them
to stop clapping, so they all put their hands
together in the act of paying obeisance to the
I was on my way back from picking up my child
from nursery school, and as I got to the traffic
lights near the hospital in the center of the
city I saw about 20 armed soldiers, about the
size of a platoon, led by 101 Battalion G-1
[General Staff Officer grade one] Colonel Khin
Maung Htwe and Major Myo Thant Zin, waiting. I
was shocked and shaken by the sight.
So I ran toward the monks and reported this
to them. The monk who was leading the procession
told me that they were marching along with
metta and that if the military took action
against them without any mercy, to let them do
so because the monks would continue to spread
their metta. And the monks continued with
Tears of compassion
The public just waited with concern to see
what would happen. They were worried that the
military would resort to violence. Some were so
much in sympathy with the monks that we could
see tears in their eyes. Even I could not hold
back the tears of compassion for the monks.
At that time I had my child with me, so I
took him home. When I came back the monks had
started to disperse and run in the streets. I
could see a few slippers and robes of the monks
left behind. When I saw the monks run I shouted
at them not to do so. At that time there were
about 12 gunshots, and I was so affected that I
even shouted out at them to shoot at me instead.
Some monks ran into the Eastern monastery and
some into the hospital.
At that time, reports emerged that 10 monks
had been arrested. The roads were immediately
cordoned off. This is where the incident
occurred. Both ends of the road were closed off.
No one could enter. The people who were watching
were also ordered to leave—some even got hit on
their heads with batons. I saw this with my own
Some [of the spectators] got hurt and ran
with their hands covering their heads. I don’t
think anyone was critically hurt, as they were
hit on their heads with bamboo batons.
I just wanted to know what had happened to
the monks, so I went into the Eastern monastery
and stayed with them. No one could go back into
the street where the incident occurred. They
cordoned it off completely. In the Eastern
monastery, I asked the monks for details
of what had happened.
A life in hiding
After the incident on Sept. 6-7, the media
asked me a lot of questions…so I told them what
really happened. In the newspapers, like the
Myanmar Ahlin [New Light of Myanmar],
it was reported that political activists in
Pakokku and the media conspired and made up the
whole affair. This in effect made us look like
On Sept. 6, I had reported the news about how
the monks from Central monastery had burnt and
destroyed cars belonging to the authorities.
When [the authorities] realized that this was my
doing, from the early morning of Sept. 7, I
noticed that intelligence agents were following
me wherever I went. So I didn’t go home but went
into hiding in the afternoon.
It is sad to talk about [my family life].
Just because I got politically involved in a
small way, the people around me didn’t like it,
so my wife asked for a separation. Last year I
had to give her permission for a separation.
At that time more than 30 people [who had
spoken with the media or encouraged the monks]
were arrested. They were released after about a
week. Those who are still not released are
parliamentary member U Hlaing Aye and organizer
U San Pwint. Those two are National League for
Democracy (NLD) members. They are held in
Myingyan Prison and have been sentenced to
2-1/2-year prison terms.
In addition, there are four other civilians
who are not members of the NLD and are also not
related at all with the Pakokku incident who
were arrested. They are U Lay La, U Thant Shin,
U Tha Aung, and U Sein Lin. They have been held
in Thayet Prison since I left on the night of
Sept. 7, and no judgment or sentencing has been
made against them. They are still in Thayet
Prison. [Editor’s note: Sentences were handed
down Sept. 11]
They are normal citizens. It’s impossible for
the authorities to accuse them of supporting the
monks as practically everyone was doing it. I
have heard that they have been charged
under Penal Code 147 for inciting monks to
create disturbances. The authorities believed
that these people were inciting the monks to
burn down the electrical equipment shop of the
USDA secretary Hla Win Naing, who had been
instrumental in giving information to arrest the
monks. I heard that this is why these people
have been charged under Penal Code 147.
Although they are not NLD members, they are
seen as people who have a political agenda, so
the authorities have held grudges against them
in the past. So that is why they have conjured
up unfair charges and have arrested them.
A sense of unease
Not just the Pakokku monks, but all those who
are devout Buddhists will feel a sense of unease
and will never forget this incident.
I don’t think I am in a class where I can say
that I am politically active. But what people
who have been involved in politics feel is that
even your best friends want to
dissociate themselves from you if you are
political. At this moment not only will my close
friends not visit me, but even my wife has asked
for separation. And it’s really sad that even my
mother who used to visit me once a month now
won’t visit me at all.
Original reporting by RFA’s Burmese
service. Translated by Soe Thinn. Burmese
service director: Nancy Shwe. Executive
producer: Susan Lavery. Edited and produced in
English by Joshua Lipes and Sarah Jackson-Han.
Exiled Burmese monks dream of new uprising
their distinctive russet red robes, the two Burmese
monks sit cross-legged and meditate before sunrise
in front of an altar topped with candles, offerings
of fruit, water and flowers and a statue of Buddha.
It is a ritual played out each morning in
temples across Burma. But the two holy men are
conducting their worship 8,500 miles from home
in a highly improbable setting - a converted
bedroom in a run-down clapboard boarding house
in the upstate New York town of Utica.
U Gawsita, 28, and Abbot Pyinnya Jota, 48,
played key roles in the Saffron Revolution when
thousands of monks led mass peaceful
demonstrations against the brutal junta that
rules their homeland a year ago this week. But
they were forced to flee into exile after the
bloody suppression of the protests.
In scenes that captivated the world, ranks of
shaven-headed barefoot young men turned their
alms bowls upside down in a symbol of defiance
then marched through the streets at the head of
crowds that grew from hundreds into hundreds of
The generals who have run the country since
1962 originally appeared stunned by the
remarkable displays of civil disobedience that
began on September 18. But after eight days,
they retaliated with characteristic viciousness,
quashing the dreams of democratic change.
The monks, considered sacrosanct across the
Buddhist world, bore the brunt of the regime's
fury - hundreds were beaten, rounded up and
detained and monasteries were raided and closed.
"Raiding monasteries is like raping
Buddhism," said Pyinnya Jota, a veteran regime
critic and founder of the All Burma Monks'
Alliance who spent 11 years in jail and
co-drafted the list of reform demands that fired
the protests. "It is an unspeakable offence."
And U Gawsita became one of the most familiar
faces of the protests when he was pictured in
foreign news reports - on video footage smuggled
out of the country - rousing the crowds with
The scar on the top of head is testimony to
the harshness of the crackdown - the result of a
baton smashed across his skull as, microphone in
hand, he led a demonstration at Rangoon's
Shwedagon Pagoda, the most sacred site in Burma.
In Utica, a depressed former textile mill
town which has recently seen a large influx of
Bosnian and Burmese exiles arranged by a local
Lutheran refugee centre, preparations are
underway for a rally today celebrating the
anniversary of the Saffron Revolution.
But in Burma, alarming news is emerging of a
fresh round of arrests of monks and raids on
monasteries by a regime fearful of new protests
marking the date.
There are also unconfirmed reports that Aung
San Suu Kyi, the pro-democracy leader and Nobel
peace prize winner who has spent much of the
past 20 years under house arrest, is conducting
a hunger strike.
A year after Pyinnya Jota and U Gawsita took
incredible risks in the hope of inspiring a
revolution in the former British colony, it is
their own lives that have been turned upside
Both fled, separately and in disguise,
through the jungle to seek sanctuary first in
monasteries on the Thai border before being
granted refugee status by the United States,
where First Lady Laura Bush's personal interest
in Burma has ensured that the country's plight
is a White House priority.
Pyinnya Joya arrived just 10 days ago and in
Utica last week he was being given an
introduction to the complexities of the US
banking system by a Burmese student who has also
been granted asylum.
U Gawsita has been here since March and
proudly shows visitors a signed photograph of
President George W Bush with him in the White
House, a memento of a recent trip there as part
of delegation of Burmese exiles. "It was an
honour to meet Mr Bush," he said proudly. "He is
very committed to the freedom of the Burmese
But while he admires and praises American
principles of democracy and freedom, he often
strikes the melancholic note of an émigré robbed
of his roots and culture.
"Burma is a country where you can be detained
for one day or 10 years. People just disappear.
There is no freedom," he said.
"That's the big difference with America. You
can feel the freedom. You can see it in people
in the street. But still I can't say that I'm
happy here. I was born in Burma, I miss Burma, I
belong in Burma."
He is still struggling with the culture shock
of his new surroundings. He has learned little
English and rarely leaves the house - when he
does, his monk's robes draw curious stares,
although he says people have been friendly. "And
everyone here is always rushing. They are in a
rush to be somewhere or do something. That's
very different from Burma," he says with a sigh.
Both men talk with particular dread about the
prospect of their first Utica winter, where
heavy snows draw skiers to the town slope.
Pyinnya Jota is already bemoaning the autumnal
weather - temperatures dropped below 10C at
night last week - but his new friends have
warned him to expect much worse.
Before he was forced to flee, Pyinnya Jota
was deputy abbot of Rangoon's Maggin monastery,
renowned for providing hospice care for Aids
patients. The monastery remains shuttered after
a series of raids by the authorities. He was
forced into hiding because of his high profile.
He knew from painful first-hand experience
the fate of those arrested by the regime after
he was beaten and tortured during previous terms
of imprisonment. So reluctantly he opted for
exile when word came that his safe house was
about to be raided. He took a circuitous route
to Thailand to avoid the security checkpoints
set up to catch dissident monks, and a network
of sympathisers hid him in towns along the way.
U Gawsita had also required subterfuge to get
him through the road checks - he pretended to be
a mechanic working on a bus driven by a friend
and hence was not required to show his identity
papers to the police.
The dejection as they fled was a bitter
contrast to the incredible sense of exuberance
and hope at the height of the protests.
"Everyone was so happy and cheerful and
hopeful," said U Gawsita. "The people finally
felt the time had come and they could be free of
the junta after all the years of discontent. I
couldn't stand the oppression and injustice
anymore. This was the time."
And he is bitter at the failure of the United
Nations or the "international community' to come
to their help. "The Burmese people will go back
on the streets. They must do that to change
things. But they will need support too," he
Pyinnya Jota is also in reflective mood after
his recent arrival in the US. "We truly believed
we could bring democracy to Burma. We knew that
we couldn't rely on other countries or the
United Nations to force change so we pushed it
ourselves. But we also needed some outside
help," he said.
"We thought we would win but then it all
changed when the junta staged the crackdown.
They sent spies into the monasteries, rounded up
the monks and put the army on the streets.
Nobody thought they would attack the monks. Then
it was over."
He rejects the regime's accusation that the
monks were playing politics. "Our actions were
not about politics, they were about compassion
and care for our fellow humans," he said,
speaking in gentle but firm tones. "We often
talk about metta (the Buddhist tenet of 'loving
kindness') but this principle also needs to be
practised. That is what we were doing."
From their unlikely new base Utica's Elm
Street, the two monks defiantly insist that they
will return home when the junta falls. But given
the depressing durability of the dictatorship,
propped up financially by China in return for
allowing Red Army-owned companies to exploit
Burma's lucrative supplies of timber and jade,
it seems certain that U Gawsita and Pyinnya Jota
will have plenty of time to get used to the
Sep 17th, 2008
By Tai Samyone
Remember the rush of euphoria when the people of
Burma began a protest, the monks took to the streets
in support, 100,000 monks protested against the evil
SPDC regime and their incompetent, uncaring despotic
dictates? We actually thought that this was the
beginning of the downfall of the corrupt degenerate
tyranny that has plagued and ruined Burma since
Remember the gunfire, the screaming, running
terrified crowds, the menacing soldiers and armed
police, the SPDC thugs roaming the streets, hunting
those who stand for liberty and freedom, the deaths,
the videos, photos, testimonies; testimonies that
would shame anyone with a conscience; the end of a
short-lived dream of change.
Remember the outcry from around the world, the
pleas for dialogue, or restraint, for peace. The
protests and the suppression flashed across our TV
screens and newspapers for weeks. The follow-up
reports in newspapers and minority TV channels that
remember where Burma is. The reporting has now
tailed off, a forgotten crisis; the world has moved
on; Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea, Tibet, Darfur,
Zimbabwe, Georgia, oil prices, financial market
Remember the UN, the UNSC in all its
deliberations; deliberations that rumble on like a
thunderstorm moving away into the far distance. The
envoys, entreaties, resolutions, threats, debates,
Remember the SPDC bully boys rebuffing any
criticism, calling on the friendly powers for
protection, lying to Gambari; lambasting him with
propaganda, feeding him the official line on
road-maps and elections. Ignoring calls for
independent monitoring and rigging the results. Keep
blasting Gambari with insults and lies,
misinformation and half-truths.
Remember Nargis; Burma’s word natural disaster in
living memory; the SPDC’s callous brutal handling of
aid and the international community who could have
done so much more.
Remember DASSK and the NLD; calling for dialogue
and peaceful transition; one of the few voices of
reason and integrity in a sea of utter hatred and
divisiveness, ignorance and repression.
The international community voices concern,
sanctions the regime, sends envoys, and continues
dialogue. But with what result? Nothing changes; the
regime stands fast. Burma isn’t really at the top of
the list of what’s important; each super-power has
its own self-interest that comes first; saving the
people of Burma isn’t a national priority.
I was reminded of a phrase in Laurie’s 1879 tome
‘Our Burmese wars’, a jingoistic imperialist view of
the first two Anglo-Burmese wars; in which the
question of further annexation of upper Burma is
blithely discussed, despite opposition from
politicians, peace parties and others concerned with
the cost of such an adventure. Laurie claims that if
the British did wish to take upper Burma from the
despotic tyrant, King Thibaw, then all the peoples
of Burma; Burmans, Talaings, Karens, Peguese (Mons)
and Shans would rise up and join them to rid
themselves of such a terrible ruler. He could as
well have been writing today about the wishes of the
peoples of Burma to rid themselves of the SPDC.
But Afghanistan, Iraq, Georgia weren’t invaded
because the people of those countries were calling
for intervention; they are invaded because it was in
the best interests of the invaders, not the invaded.
What more can the people of Burma expect from any
If the junta’s road-map is the only game in town,
then what will the NLD and others do? Join in the
farce of a rigged election with a predictable
outcome; submit to a ‘civilian’ government of SPDC-appointed
USDA thugs. Whatever the election process is
supposed to be, the junta will use its usual tricks
– coercion, bullying, threats, bribes, vote-rigging,
miscounting, etc., etc., - to ensure that its chosen
goons are elected by a massive and impossible
majority. Will the NLD or any other truly
representative political party get the chance of
standing for election without being thrown in jail
and vilified in the press?
The mockery of justice continues, peaceful
demonstrators imprisoned for years on trumped up
charges from stupid repressive laws. Slaughter of
the innocents in villages far from the prying eyes
of journalists and outsiders; rape, torture, ethnic
cleansing, destruction of villages, brutally
terrorizing the civilian population. So, business as
usual for everyone in Burma.
If the Saffron Revolution stands for anything,
then it is for the determination and perseverance of
the people of Burma (monks and laity) who continue
to demand freedom from oppression and
self-determination in a free and fairly contested
parliamentary democracy. Their voice has not been
squashed with their fragile bodies, it still rings
out loud and clear. Let us all remember their
sacrifice and honour the fact that they gave
everything for the future of us all.
Quiet Boston Scholar Inspires
Rebels Around the World
BOSTON -- In February, the Iranian government
showed a fictionalized video on the dangers of
foreign plots against the state. One of its
stars: a mysterious American named Gene Sharp.
In June 2007, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez
publicly accused Mr. Sharp of stirring unrest in
Venezuela. Last year in Vietnam, authorities
arrested several opposition activists who were
distributing a book written by Mr. Sharp. In
2005, fires destroyed two Moscow bookstores
selling Russian translations of the same book.
The target of all this intrigue and animosity
is 80 years old and slightly stooped. He walks
with a cane.
Working from a modest house in East Boston,
Mr. Sharp is nearly unknown to the U.S. public.
But he is despised by many authoritarian regimes
and respected by opposition activists around the
globe. Mr. Sharp has had broad influence on
international events over the past two decades,
helping to advance a global democratic
An aging academic, Mr. Sharp says he has no
links with the government or any intelligence
agency. He responded to Mr. Chavez's speech with
an open letter suggesting that if the president
is concerned about being overthrown, he should
read "The Anti-Coup," a booklet Mr. Sharp
Spread via the Internet, word-of-mouth and
seminars, Mr. Sharp's writings on nonviolent
resistance have been studied by opposition
activists in Zimbabwe, Burma, Russia, Venezuela
and Iran, among others. His 1993 guide to
unseating despots, "From Dictatorship to
Democracy," has been translated into at least 28
languages and was used by movements that toppled
governments in Serbia, Ukraine, Georgia and
Several years ago, a funding cut drastically
curtailed the operations of Mr. Sharp's Albert
Einstein Institution, which is devoted to
research and promotion of peaceful resistance to
dictatorships. He dismissed most of his staff,
closed his office in a Boston business district
and retreated to his personal digs.
Since then, Mr. Sharp has worked from a brick
townhouse near Logan Airport. Shy, never married
and childless, Mr. Sharp spends most of his days
in the company of a young assistant and a
massive black dog named Caesar. To unwind, he
tends orchids in a greenhouse on the top floor.
"You see how rich we are," says Mr. Sharp,
dressed in wrinkled black pants, as he motions
at his cluttered office. Books are everywhere,
even on shelves in the bathroom. A bulletin
board boasts stickers for a student movement
that brought down Serbian strongman Slobodan
Milosevic ("He is finished") and for a Tibetan
student group ("Game over. Free Tibet").
Mr. Sharp never expected his work would find
adherents in so many countries. "I'm still a
little stunned by that," he says.
Although nonviolent struggle has played a
major role throughout history, Mr. Sharp was
among the first modern scholars to take a
comprehensive look at all the various movements,
from the civil-rights struggle in the U.S. to
uprisings in Eastern Europe.
"You had to do a lot of work to get all you
need," says Ivan Marovic, one of the founders of
the Serbian youth movement that helped depose
former leader Mr. Milosevic. "Gene Sharp put it
In his writings, Mr. Sharp teased out common
principles that make nonviolent resistance
successful, creating a broad road map for
activists looking to destabilize authoritarian
regimes. Mr. Sharp's magnum opus, the 902-page
"Politics of Nonviolent Action," was published
in 1973. But the main source of his success is
his 90-page "From Dictatorship to Democracy."
This slim volume offers concise advice on how
to plan a successful opposition campaign, along
with a list of historically tested tactics for
rattling a dictatorial regime. Aimed at no
particular country, and easily downloadable from
the Internet, the booklet has found universal
appeal among opposition activists around the
Though he warns readers that resistance may
provoke violent crackdowns and will take careful
planning to succeed, Mr. Sharp writes that any
dictatorship will eventually collapse if its
subjects refuse to obey.
He offers a list of 198 methods of nonviolent
action, like the staging of mock elections to
poke fun at problems like vote-rigging, using
funerals to make political statements and
adopting symbolic colors, a la Orange Revolution
in the Ukraine. Less conventional tactics
include skywriting political messages and
In Zimbabwe, opposition activist Magodonga
Mahlangu has organized the tract's translation
into two main local languages. In Russia,
opposition activist Oleg Kozlovsky estimates he
and his colleagues have used about 30 of 198
protest methods listed in Mr. Sharp's booklet.
Venezuelan student leader Yon Goicoechea says
Mr. Sharp's work inspired him to think
creatively of ways to carry out antigovernment
protests: Activists once tied themselves to the
stairs of a government building and have staged
street theater to mock constitutional changes.
The son of an itinerant Protestant minister,
Mr. Sharp was born in 1928 in North Baltimore,
Ohio. The Sharps moved around a lot, and young
Gene often lost friendships and "had to start
all over again," he recalls. While still in high
school, Mr. Sharp began reading about Nazi
atrocities, which helped trigger his fascination
with the nature of totalitarian regimes and with
ways to resist them.
In 1951, Mr. Sharp received a master's degree
in sociology from Ohio State University. His
lifelong research interest has been Mohandas
Gandhi's Indian independence movement that shook
off British colonial rule largely by peaceful
means. In the 1950s, Mr. Sharp spent nine months
in jail for refusing conscription during the
Korean War. He later moved to England and then
Norway, where he studied how local
schoolteachers used nonviolent means to weaken
the country's pro-Nazi Quisling regime in World
In 1965, Mr. Sharp came to Harvard University
as a researcher in international studies, and in
1983 he founded the Albert Einstein Institution,
choosing the name because the renowned physicist
also had an interest in nonviolent resistance.
In 1987, when Mr. Sharp was teaching at
Harvard, a flier for his seminar on nonviolent
sanctions caught the eye of Robert Helvey, a
Vietnam veteran and a former defense attaché at
the U.S. embassy in Burma.
"I had an image of nonviolence as being a
bunch of long-haired hippies," recalls Mr.
Helvey, who was at Harvard on a year-long
fellowship from the Army. After he heard Mr.
Sharp talk about seizing power, he says he
realized the approach had "nothing to do with
pacifism" and invited the scholar to lunch. The
two men hit it off.
Around the same time, a military junta seized
power in Burma. Three years later, Mr. Helvey,
by then retired from the military, was in the
Burmese jungle imparting Mr. Sharp's teachings
of peaceful resistance to antigovernment
Although nonviolent opposition had a history
in Burma, the concept was a tough sell among the
more-militant dissidents. "We were very much
engaged in the armed struggle at the time,"
recalls Kyaw Kyaw, a Burmese opposition activist
who says he eventually embraced the idea of
In 1992, Mr. Sharp slipped into Burma on a
boat from Thailand and taught some seminars to
the guerrillas. A Burmese exile asked Mr. Sharp
to write a short primer on nonviolent struggle.
The result was "From Dictatorship to Democracy,"
which was initially intended only for Burmese
In 1997, Marek Zelazkiewicz, a
Polish-American peace activist involved in the
Balkans, picked up a photocopy in the U.S. and
took it to then-unraveling Yugoslavia. Mr.
Zelazkiewicz first preached nonviolent
resistance in Kosovo, where ethnic Albanians
were being persecuted by Mr. Milosevic's
Serb-dominated regime. That fight quickly got
too brutal for peaceful opposition.
So, the peace activist decided to work on
Serbian public opinion and headed to the
Yugoslav capital of Belgrade, hiding pictures of
alleged Serbian atrocities and a copy of Mr.
Sharp's booklet in his duffel bag. "If you take
out the ladies, it was nearly [like] James
Bond," Mr. Zelazkiewicz says of his
cloak-and-dagger movements. He hand-delivered a
copy to a local democracy-promotion group called
Civic Initiatives, which translated and
"It was interesting to hear that there was
this whole science behind what we were learning
the hard way," says Srdja Popovic, one of the
founders of Otpor, a youth opposition movement
that got the book from Civic Initiatives. Otpor
activists traveled to Budapest, where Mr. Helvey
gave them a workshop on nonviolent resistance.
Otpor's country-wide campaign of grassroots
activism and civil disobedience helped push Mr.
Milosevic out of power in 2000.
By then, Mr. Helvey, working closely with Mr.
Sharp, had written his own book examining how
best to undermine or co-opt a regime's "pillars
or support," such as the police, the military,
media and civil servants.
Heartened by their success in Serbia, Otpor
members gave seminars on nonviolent struggle to
Georgian and Ukrainian activists, relying in
part on Mr. Sharp's tract. Mass protests in
Georgia in 2003 and in Ukraine in late 2004 and
early 2005 forced incumbent regimes out of
office. "You cannot import social change," says
Mr. Popovic. "But the knowledge can be
Mr. Kozlovsky, a member of the Russian
opposition group Oborona, came across "From
Dictatorship to Democracy" on the Web in 2005
and immediately decided to have it translated
into Russian. The first printing house he
enlisted backed out of the deal, saying the book
was too sensitive, so he found another publisher
who printed 1,500 copies, Mr. Kozlovsky says.
In July and August of 2005, two small
bookstores where the book was sold burned down,
destroying some of the books, Mr. Kozlovsky
says. "I still keep a half-burned copy on a
shelf in my office," he says, adding that he's
trying to organize another printing. At one of
the stores, Mr. Kozlovsky says, an explosive
device thrown by unknown parties set off the
The cause of the other fire has been
officially ruled an accident. There's no
evidence of government involvement in the
incidents. Both shops carried other opposition
literature as well.
Thousands of miles away, in the United Arab
Emirates, Iranian oil and gas engineer Mehdi
Kalantarzadeh found "From Dictatorship to
Democracy" on the Internet, combined it with
Robert Helvey's book, and translated the mix
into Farsi last year. The Iranian activist
forwarded his translation to Shahla Lahiji, a
prominent Iranian publisher who often pushes the
limits of state censorship.
"I knew what I'm publishing," Ms. Lahiji
says. "I knew it wouldn't make the regime
happy." Ms. Lahiji says the book was selling
briskly at her stand in the book fair in Tehran
last year, and that a few months later a
pro-government Web site accused her of "teaching
velvet revolution to the people."
In the Iranian government's fictional video
that aired on Iranian television a few months
later, three Iranians receive cash to stir
unrest in exchange for a promise to "have a good
time in America." The scheme unravels after one
plotter's sister calls an Iranian government
hotline (the number is provided). A stern
voiceover introduces a computer-drawn likeness
of Mr. Sharp as "one of the CIA agents in charge
of America's infiltration into other countries,"
according to a translation by the Middle East
Research Institute, based in Washington, D.C.
For all his success, a few years ago Mr.
Sharp, who left Harvard in the 1990s to focus on
the institution, found himself confronted by a
coup of sorts -- this one at his doorstep. Since
its founding in 1983, the Albert Einstein
Institution had been funded by Peter Ackerman,
managing director of investment firm Rockport
Capital Inc. who had written his doctoral thesis
under Mr. Sharp's guidance before earning
millions working with financier Michael Milken
in the 1980s. Over the years, Mr. Ackerman
estimates he has given a sum in the "low eight
figures" to the institution.
But by 2004, Mr. Ackerman wanted the
institution to be more active in spreading
nonviolence research, he says. He was exploring
other means of promotion, such as video. Mr.
Sharp preferred keeping the institution smaller,
although he won't go into specifics. Mr. Sharp
says the dispute is "related to different views
of reality between Peter and myself."
Mr. Ackerman cut the funding of the Albert
Einstein Institution and turned to the
International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, or
ICNC, which he founded in Washington, D.C. in
2002. An annuity which Mr. Ackerman set up in
the 1980s still provides Mr. Sharp's personal
income. Mr. Sharp's institution still collects
some minor funding from other private sources.
Mr. Ackerman has underwritten production of
two documentaries, one on the downfall of Mr.
Milosevic and the other on the history of
He has also commissioned the creation of a
video game, "A Force More Powerful," in which
players can model nonviolent struggle in
fictional scenarios, such as a dictatorship in
the country of Infeliz. The game's chief
designer is Mr. Marovic, one of the founders of
Otpor, the Serbian opposition group.
The Otpor alumni now run the Belgrade-based
Center for Applied Nonviolent Action and
Strategies, or Canvas, which is funded by Mr.
Ackerman's ICNC. Canvas has trained activists
from Venezuela, Nigeria and the Palestinian
territories, among many others. A large part of
ICNC's and Canvas's theoretical arsenal is drawn
from Mr. Sharp's writings.
Mr. Ackerman points out that he still
supports Mr. Sharp financially and distributes
his books. "My center is a bigger compliment to
Gene than Gene is willing to make to himself,"
Write to Philip Shishkin at
India targeting China's oil supplies
Military planners in India are eyeing a
crucial junction of the world which serves as the conduit for 80
per cent of China's imported oil.
The Strait of Malacca, where the Indian Ocean joins the
Pacific, is seen as China's Achilles' heel. These shipping
lanes, vital for Beijing's energy supplies, could be the
setting for any future confrontation between India and
Analysis: India moves closer to US to balance China's rise
Analysis: US to court India to balance China
Analysis: European military budgets still far surpass China
India 'must not show weakness to China'
The two giant powers are long-standing rivals who share a
disputed 2,100-mile border and are waging a diplomatic
struggle for influence in Asia. They fought a border war in
1962, which ended in victory for China and left Beijing in
control of 16,500 square miles of territory claimed by
Both countries are increasing their defence budgets, with
India's military spending rising by an average of 18 per
cent in each of the past three years and now exceeding
If these tensions were ever to boil over into war, India
would probably exploit a crucial advantage. Its navy, which
eventually plans to deploy three aircraft carriers and two
nuclear-powered attack submarines, would probably seek to
close the Strait of Malacca to Chinese shipping through an
increased presence. By cutting off the supply of oil, this
could cripple China and prove the decisive move in any
"The most likely flashpoint would be along the border,
but ultimately the decision in any war would be on the
ocean," said Sheru Thapliyal, a retired Indian general in
New Delhi who once commanded a division on the frontier with
"The Indian Ocean is where we could use our advantage to
the maximum. If you want to choke China, the only way you
can choke China is by using naval power."
With China's key vulnerability in mind, India has
constructed a naval base within striking distance of the
Strait of Malacca at Port Blair on the Andaman Islands.
China has countered by installing military facilities of its
own, complete with electronic monitoring and eavesdropping
devices, on the nearby Coco Islands. These specks of land
belong to Burma, a long-standing ally of China.
Beijing is now taking other steps to address what
President Hu Jintao has called the country's "Malacca
dilemma". With hugely ambitious infrastructure projects,
China hopes to bypass the Strait of Malacca and eventually
end its dependence on this vulnerable waterway for energy
On India's western flank, China is helping to build a new
port in the Pakistani town of Gwadar. Thrust together by
their shared rivalry with India, Pakistan and China are old
Gwadar could eventually provide a base for Chinese
warships. Or it may be used as the starting point for a
pipeline travelling through Pakistan and carrying oil and
gas into China itself. If so, Beijing could import energy
from the Middle East using this route, bypassing the Strait
The same rationale may explain China's actions on India's
eastern flank. A new port and pipeline terminal are being
constructed at Kyauk Phyu on Burma's island of Ramree. This
will be the starting point for a 900-mile pipeline, able to
carry oil directly to Kunming, the capital of Yunnan
province in southern China.
"They know that we could attempt to choke them completely
and that's why they want these ports," said Vijay Kapoor, a
retired general in New Delhi and former commandant of the
Indian Army War College. "Their aim in all of this is to
prevent us from being able to choke them."
China's moves are being closely watched in India, where
the military establishment fears that Beijing's plans in
Pakistan and Burma amount to a deliberate strategy of
"encirclement". If China's navy acquires permanent bases in
the Indian Ocean, tension will grow.
But Indian diplomats tend to believe these fears are
exaggerated. They believe that China is motivated by nothing
more than securing its economic boom and taking normal
precautions against unforeseeable events.
What's changed in Burma in the past 20 years?
Htet Aung Kyaw
Sep 17, 2008 (DVB)�Tomorrow, 18 September, is the 20th anniversary of the
coup that ousted the socialist regime of U Ne Win and brought the State
Peace and Development Council to power following the junta's crackdown on
the "Four Eights" uprising.
But the question now is how much has changed in the 20 years since the 8888
uprising? Does Burma need a new approach?
Although there have been no tangible political improvements in the past
20 years, the way people think does seem to have changed. This shift in
mentality could be said to be the most significant sign of progress in the
past 20 years.
"All the changes are based on the 8888 uprising. A change in ideas is a very
important step towards real change," said Dr Aung Khin, a London-based
historian and prominent commentator on foreign-based Burmese language radio
stations. He pointed out that the willingness of many Burmese inside the
country to speak out to foreign radio stations is a significant change
compared with the 26 years of Ne Win's socialist era.
Ludu Sein Win, a veteran journalist in Rangoon who was jailed several
times during the Ne Win era for his critical writings, agrees with Aung Khin.
"Yes, we have more opportunity to speak out now. I had no opportunity to
talk to the media during U Ne Win's Masala era. But now, there are many
journals inside the country and you in the foreign media speak every day to
Thakhins [veterans of the independence war], politicians, lawyers,
activists, journalists � even farmers in the countryside," he said.
"Talking to foreign-based radio stations is the only way to take action
against local authorities who abuse their power and human rights," one of
Sein Win's fellow journalists in Mandalay told this correspondent. "I have
seen a lot of evidence of action being taken after you aired news stories
about their abuses. This is a good sign," he said.
But a lawyer in Rangoon who has been a strident critic of the military
regime says this is not enough. "Yes, people more criticise the government
now than ever before. But how many people is that? I don�t think it�s more
than 500 people, while there are another 50 million who are still afraid of
the military," the lawyer pointed out.
Aung Zaw, editor of the Irrawaddy
magazine in Chiang Mai, Thailand,
said this increased level of criticism should not only be directed against
the military government but should also focus on pro-democracy groups. "When
it comes to the culture of criticism towards each other, we are still weak
when it comes to using facts and figures and we lack the skills to make the
other side hear us out calmly," he said.
"But at the same time, if you look at bloggers, the internet, websites
and Irrawaddy publications, we have been looking at the weaknesses of the
opposition almost constantly."
But Khun Myint Tun, an MP in exile in Mae Sot, Thailand, worries about the
consequences of self-criticism. "In order to be open, we must be able to
criticise ourselves and our organisation. But this criticism has to be
constructive; we need to be disciplined and take care not to damage our
unity," he said.
However, activist-turned-political analyst Aung Naing Oo says the
opposition needs strong criticism. "We talk about the faults of the military
government while ignoring the faults of the opposition. At the 20-year
point, if we say the movement has not been successful for one year, two
years, three years, 20 years, we need to think why it has not been
successful," the former Student Army leader commented.
Obviously, many Burmese are now asking themselves why they have still not
achieved victory after 20 years, and why they were doomed to fail again in
last September's Saffron Revolution, despite their efforts in the 8888
There is no shortage of questions, but the answers are harder to come by.
No one can come up with a precise and commonly-agreed strategy for a final
push after 20 years of sitting and waiting for outside help.
But one thing that is now clear is that many activists have lost confidence
in the UN's negotiating role after special envoy Gambari's last mission.
They are also beginning to lose confidence in the 20-year-long push for
dialogue led by Aung San Suu Kyi.
"Metta [negotiation] is not enough, armed struggle is also needed," said
a Buddhist monk in Rangoon who was involved in last September�s Saffron
Revolution. "We do not doubt the Dhamma but the Dhamma is not as useful as a
bullet-proof vest when we are facing this brutal military," the monk added
with a pained expression.
These views are echoed by former military officials such as captain Sai Win
Kyaw, who joined protesters in the 8888 uprising, and major Aung Lin Htut, a
key member of former prime minister general Khin Nyunt's spy network and
former deputy ambassador in Washington.
"We know the soldiers' mindset well � they never consider dialogue, only
firepower," a former army official suggested. "Unless you have a strong,
well-armed force, the SPDC will not care about you."
But a rebel leader in Thai-Burma border sees things differently. "No one
supports armed struggle nowadays, only non-violent methods. If you find any
donors for armed struggle, please let me know," he said with a wry smile.
Of the many armed groups, including the All Burma Students� Democratic
Front which was founded after the 8888 uprising, not one was ready to come
to the aid of the monks during September's Saffron Revolution. "Armed
struggle is not easy," the rebel leader said, citing the list of nearly 1000
casualties among his comrades while thousands of others have now resettled
in Western countries.
However, a defence analyst based in Thailand said numbers were not the
issue. "You don't need thousands of regular troops as you did over the past
two decades, but dozens of elite special forces," he suggested.
"But I not sure who the donor would be for this project," he joked,
alluding to the dependence of many organisations, including armed groups, on
the donors' pocketbooks. "However, it would only be about five percent of
the budget of the whole exile movement," he estimated.
Whether you agree or disagree with his suggestion it is clear that we need
to seriously consider why we have not yet achieved our goal after 20 years.
What changes do we need to make to our policy and tactics?
Htet Aung Kyaw was one of the students involved in the 1988 uprising
and is a former Student Army rebel. He is now working for the Oslo-Based
Democratic Voice of Burma as a senior journalist.
Singapore: Singapore Asks Burmese
Activists To Leave The Country
SINGAPORE: Persistent defiance of
the laws, not political pressure from the Burmese government,
was the reason why a number of Burmese nationals working or
studying in Singapore were asked to leave when their immigration
Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng said this
in a written reply to a question tabled by nominated MP Eunice
Olsen at this week's sitting of Parliament.
She asked if Burma's military
rulers had pressured or requested the government to clamp down
on anti-junta activists and deny them residence in Singapore.
In his reply, released Wednesday
(17 Sept), Wong said the Burmese nationals disregarded Singapore
laws by staging illegal activities, like outdoor protests, to
pursue their political agenda.
This was despite repeated police
advice to stick to lawful avenues.
Three Burmese nationals left
Singapore for countries of their choice after their immigration
passes were not renewed by the Immigration and Checkpoints
When contacted for further
details, the Home Affairs Ministry identified the individuals as
being members of the Overseas Burmese Patriots (OBP).
An informal grouping of
activists, the OBP emerged in October last year to raise
awareness about the political situation in Burma.
Citing illegal activities that
the group staged, the ministry said: "The OBP is by no means the
only patriotic group in Singapore or the only group that has
organised activities to express their concern about the
situation in Myanmar (Burma). However, unlike other groups which
have conducted their activities in a lawful manner, the OBP has
chosen to do so in open and persistent defiance of our laws.'
One such activity was a street
protest on 20 Nov last year during the Asean Summit. Some 40
people, carrying banners, walked down a pavement outside the
Orchard Parade Hotel to voice their discontent with the junta.
Citing the incident, Wong said
the group intentionally protested near the summit's Shangri-La
Hotel venue to court public and media attention.
"Their unlawful behaviour was an
unnecessary distraction to our security forces and could have
compromised the security arrangements for the summit delegates,
some of whom were heads of Asean governments."
Police investigated the incident
and, after consulting the Attorney-General's Chambers,
"exercised leniency and administered stern warnings in lieu of
prosecuting the offenders in court", he said.
Reports said the three Burmese
activists who left Singapore took part in this protest.
Wong said that while a vast
majority of the 50,000-strong Burmese community had been
law-abiding and expressed views in a lawful manner, a small
group "chose to break the law and yet defiantly demand the right
to stay in Singapore as an entitlement".
"They have tried to politicise
the issue through the media and through uninformed foreign
groups, in the process distorting the actions to remove them
from Singapore as being politically motivated.
"They hope that political
pressure will force the authorities to accede to their demands
to continue staying in Singapore. The ICA has rightly decided
that such persons are undesirable, and that they should leave."
Foreigners are expected to
respect the laws and local sensitivities in the same way that
Singaporeans abroad are obliged to do so, he said.
"Some of these Myanmar (Burmese)
individuals have enjoyed education subsidies and other benefits
but have chosen to repay this with disrespect for our laws and
to defy the authorities," he added.
When told of the latest
government statements, OBP spokesman Myo Myint Maung, a
Singapore Management University third-year student, indicated
that there would be no change in his group's position: "We will
continue with our political agenda in the most appropriate way
that will serve justice and democracy without endangering
Singapore society." (By KOR KIAN BENG/ The Straits Times/
Burmese Junta Warns Monks of Crackdown as Protests Widen
BANGKOK, Sept. 24 —
Myanmar’s military junta issued its first warning on Monday after a
month of widening antigovernment demonstrations, saying it was prepared
to crack down on the Buddhist monks who are at the heart of the
Agence France-Presse —
monks, escorted on each side by hand-holding supporters,
protesting Sunday in the wet streets of Yangon, Myanmar.
The New York Times
A crowd of
10,000 protested in Mandalay on Saturday.
leaders spoke against Myanmar’s military rulers Sunday in
Yangon, the largest city. About 10,000 monks attended.
Speaking on state television, the
junta’s minister of religious affairs told senior Buddhist clerics to
rein in the tens of thousands of monks who have marched through several
cities in recent days.
If not, said the minister, Brig. Gen.
Thura Myint Maung, unspecified action would be taken against the monks
“according to the law.”
He said that the protests by the monks
had been instigated by the junta’s domestic and foreign enemies, the
same accusation that had previously been made against members of the
political opposition. Any action against the monks would be extremely
risky for the government because of the reverence in which they are held
in Myanmar, the Buddhist nation formerly known as Burma.
The country’s rulers are also coming
under increasing pressure from the United States, which has imposed
sanctions on Myanmar for years, including a ban on all Burmese products.
When President Bush, who has spoken out frequently on Myanmar, addresses
General Assembly on Tuesday, he will announce more sanctions,
including financial restrictions against Myanmar’s leaders and a ban on
visas for them and their families, said Stephen J. Hadley, the national
Mr. Hadley said Mr. Bush would use his
address to call on other nations to support the protests. “Our hope is
to marry that internal pressure with some external pressure coming from
the United States, the United Nations and really all countries committed
to freedom to try and force the regime into a change,” he said.
The junta’s warning to the monks came at
the end of a day when protesters filled the streets in greater numbers
than ever, pushing their confrontation with the military government
toward an unpredictable and possibly dangerous outcome.
In the main city of Yangon, formerly
Rangoon, the monks who have led the protests for the past week were
outnumbered by civilians, including prominent political dissidents and
well-known cultural figures.
Setting out in the morning from the
gold-spired Shwedagon Pagoda, a crowd estimated by The Associated Press
to be as large as 100,000 marched unopposed in separate columns through
the city. Other protests were reported in Mandalay, Sittwe and Bago.
Monks and their supporters have also marched in other cities in recent
Until now, the government remained
silent and mostly out of sight, giving over the streets to the
protesters with virtually no uniformed security presence in evidence.
For all the energy and jubilation of the
crowds, Myanmar seemed to be holding its breath. As the demonstrations
expanded from political dissidents a month ago to Buddhist monks last
week to the broad public, the government’s options seemed to be
The demonstrations proceeded under the
shadow of the last major nationwide convulsion, in 1988, when even
larger pro-democracy protests were crushed by the military at the cost
of some 3,000 lives.
“We are in uncharted territory,” said
the British ambassador to Myanmar, Mark Canning, speaking by telephone
from Yangon after observing the crowds.
“These demonstrations seem to be
steadily picking up momentum,” he said. “They are widely spread
geographically. They are quite well organized. They are stimulated by
genuine economic hardship, and they are being done in a peaceful but
very effective fashion.”
The government may have been hoping that
the demonstrations would simply run out of steam, but their rapid growth
and the pent-up grievances that are driving them make that seem
unlikely. With each day, the growing size of the crowds seems to attract
even more participants.
Another possibility is the opening of
some form of compromise or dialogue between the government and its
opponents. But that is an option the country’s military rulers have
never genuinely embraced.
Instead, they have jailed their
political opponents, held the pro-democracy leader
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest and rejected the demands of
the country’s marginalized ethnic minorities. When the challenges
against them have seemed threatening, they have used force, as in 1988
or in 2003, the year the government unleashed a band of thugs to attack
Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi when her popularity seemed to be getting out of
Myanmar was alive on Monday not only
with the heady energy of mass demonstrations, but also with rumors of an
impending military crackdown. Exile groups with contacts inside the
country have been reporting troop movements and warnings to hospitals to
prepare for many casualties.
But political analysts said a number of
factors that were not present in 1988 might now be constraining the
government. The first is that the world is watching. Since 1988, Myanmar
has become the focus of international condemnation for its abuses of
human and political rights and its treatment of Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi,
who has been under house arrest for 12 of the past 18 years.
It has become an embarrassment to its
nine partners in the
Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a regional political and
economic organization; some of the group’s meetings have been boycotted
by the United States because of the inclusion of Myanmar. Using economic
and political leverage, that association has been increasingly open in
calling for reform in Myanmar.
The most significant constraint on
Myanmar’s behavior may be China, its giant neighbor, which has supported
it with aid and commercial ties, undermining the economic penalties
imposed by Western nations.
“China wants stability here, and the way
things are going is not really consistent with that,” said a Western
diplomat reached by telephone in Myanmar.
Chinese businesses have invested heavily
in Myanmar, which is a major source of raw materials — particularly oil
and gas — and a potential link to seaports on the Andaman Sea.
China has said repeatedly that Myanmar’s
troubles are its own internal affair, and last year it blocked an
American move to place Myanmar’s violations of human rights on the
agenda of the
United Nations Security Council.
But it has recently taken small public
steps to press for democratic reform in Myanmar. In June, it arranged a
highly unusual meeting in Beijing between representatives of Myanmar and
the United States at which the Americans pressed for the release of Mrs.
Aung San Suu Kyi.
This month, as the demonstrations built
in Myanmar, a senior Chinese diplomat, Tang Jiaxuan, told the visiting
Myanmar foreign minister, Nyan Win, that “China wholeheartedly hopes
that Myanmar will push forward a democracy process that is appropriate
for the country.”
But with its population rising up
against it in the strongest challenge of the past two decades, some
analysts said, it may be too late to urge the generals to be calm.
“At this point, I think all bets are off
and the Chinese will have no real influence on what they do,” said Dave
Mathieson, an expert on Myanmar with the international rights group
Human Rights Watch.
Join Burma Supporters
at Solano Stroll to parade and raise awareness about Burma/Daw Aung San Suu
on Sunday Sept. 14, 9 am in Berkeley, CA. More info:
1. AFP: Suu Kyi refuses most food rations for three weeks: party
2. AP: Suu Kyi's party expresses concern for her health
3. Bangkok Post - EDITORIAL: No counting Suu Kyi out
4. The Nation - Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi refuses food for three weeks
5. Bangkok Post: Hunger strike
6. VOA: Burmese Regime Fails To Cooperate
7. BADA Statement of Support for Daw Aung
San Suu Kyi's Recent Actions
Suu Kyi refuses most food rations for three weeks: party
AFP - Saturday, September 6
YANGON (AFP) - Myanmar 's detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has
refused to accept food rations for three weeks, her party said Friday,
calling on the military regime to take steps to ensure her "survival."
Her National League for Democracy (NLD) party said the 63-year-old, who
has been under house arrest for most of the last 19 years, had
apparently stopped accepting most of her daily food rations.
Aung San Suu Kyi receives daily rations from the regime and has no other
source of food.
"We have heard that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi does not completely accept the
daily food supplies to her," NLD said in a statement, using an honorific
before her name.
"The authorities who unfairly detained her are responsible for Daw Aung
San Suu Kyi's security and survival," it said.
"Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's refusal of food supplies is to denounce her
continuing detention, which is unfair under the law," the party added,
without declaring her actions a hunger strike.
"The National League for Democracy party and the people are extremely
worried," it said.
Aung San Suu Kyi is allowed little contact with the outside world, but
in recent weeks has refused even the rare meetings that the junta has
She has met with her lawyer three times over the last month and had a
medical checkup in August, but refused to meet with the junta's liaison
officer this week.
She also refused to meet with visiting UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari last
month, fuelling speculation about her motives, with analysts saying she
was trying to express her frustration with the slow pace of the regime's
"dialogue" with her.
Aung San Suu Kyi's party won a landslide victory in a 1990 election but
the junta never allowed it to take office. Myanmar has been ruled by the
military since 1962.
Suu Kyi's party expresses concern for her health
Fri Sep 5, 6:07 AM ET
YANGON , Myanmar (AP) - The political party of detained opposition leader
Aung San Suu Kyi urged Myanmar 's military government Friday to ensure her
well-being as she continued to refuse food deliveries to protest her
The National League for Democracy "expressed concern" that Suu Kyi has not
accepted food delivered to her home for almost three weeks, the party said
in a statement.
It did not say whether she was on a hunger strike, a question that has
remained unanswered since the first mention of her refusal to accept food
over a week ago.
The 63-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate has been held in detention by the
ruling military junta for 13 of the past 19 years, mostly under house
arrest, and relies on food delivered by her party for sustenance.
Friday's statement called Suu Kyi's action a protest, which had only been
alluded to until now.
"She is refusing food supplies in protest against ... her unlawful detention
under the security law," the party said.
Suu Kyi also wants greater freedom of movement for two female companions who
live with her and help take care of the house, it said. They are currently
not allowed to leave the compound.
She is also protesting that authorities have not allowed her to receive a
monthly medical checkup by her physician as they earlier promised, it said.
A doctor visited Suu Kyi on Aug. 17, but her previous checkup was in
January, the party said.
"Her safety and well-being are the soul responsibility of the authorities
who have unlawfully detained her," it said.
Suu Kyi's lawyer, Kyi Win, was allowed to meet with her for 30 minutes on
Monday, and said she told him that "I am well but I have lost some weight."
Rumors of a possible hunger strike have circulated widely in Yangon , where
Suu Kyi's isolation has only increased the mystique that surrounds her.
Similar hunger strike rumors spread in 2003 and in 1989, but proved untrue.
Supporters have speculated that Suu Kyi is frustrated over the United
Nations' failure to bring about democratic reform in the country, which has
been ruled by the military since 1962.
Suu Kyi canceled meetings with U.N. special envoy Ibrahim Gambari during his
six-day visit to Myanmar last month, and he left without seeing her.
U.N. envoys and other senior officials have visited the country nearly 40
times since 1990, and the U.N. General Assembly has passed numerous
resolutions calling for change.
Bangkok Post - EDITORIAL: No counting Suu Kyi out
Friday September 05, 2008
Even though it is not yet clear whether Burma 's detained opposition
leader Aung San Suu Kyi has staged any form of strike against the
failure to bring change to the country's repressive regime, the
international community must take the signals sent so far seriously. And
it must try to act on it more thoughtfully than it has over the past
The Nobel Peace laureate sent her first signal - seen as a significant
shift from her usually cooperative dealings with the United Nations so
far - when she refused to meet with UN special envoy to Burma, Ibrahim
Gambari, during his latest six-day visit to Burma late last month.
During the past two decades, since the military junta usurped power
after Mrs Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy, achieved a
landslide victory in the 1990 elections, the dissident leader had always
welcomed the UN's diplomatic efforts, as she herself believes that only
a dialogue could lead Burma to democratic reform. The problem is that as
the junta pushes on with its so-called roadmap to "disciplined
democracy" which supposedly will culminate in a general election in
2010, it has also always tried to keep the Lady out of the scene.
With the UN special envoy being confined to the junta's schedule - where
he may go and with whom he may meet - the UN itself risks falling into
the junta's game plan. Burmese dissidents are worried that unless the UN
manages to send out a stronger, clearer message about the roadmap, it
may end up lending legitimacy to the process and obliterate the lawful
result of the 1990 elections altogether.
The viewpoint expressed to Mr Gambari by Thai Prime Minister Samak
Sundaravej is also worrisome. Basically, Mr Samak told the special envoy
that the international community might need to sacrifice Aung San Suu
Kyi if it wishes to see some measure of democracy being allowed to
develop in Burma . Critics are concerned that the Thai PM might raise
this idea at the United Nations General Assembly in New York this month.
As Thailand has assumed its turn as chairman of the Association of
Southeast Asian Nations, Mr Samak's take on the issue should be a point
to ponder, unless of course the Asean community takes charge of the
issue and finds some way for a more sensible and sympathetic approach to
With no details of Mrs Suu Kyi's latest condition and stance available
yet, the pressure is on Asean and the UN to find a new way to continue
the dialogue it has opened with all stake holders, especially the
opposition leader, whose legitimate voice must be heard.
If the special envoy's process has hit a dead end, then some new options
must be initiated which may include revitalising the process or starting
a whole new method that would include all stake holders, in particular
Mrs Suu Kyi, and help release the people of Burma from the repression
they have been suffering for such a long while.
The Nation - Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi refuses food for three
By Deutsche Presse Agenture
September 6, 2008 : Last updated 06:32 pm
Rangoon - Burma opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has for the past
three weeks refused food deliveries to her home-cum-jail in a hunger
strike against her detention, opposition sources confirmed Friday.
The National League for Democracy (NLD) said Suu Kyi had refused to
receive food packages from friends for the past three weeks to protest
her unlawful detention which has "exceeded the legal limit."
Suu Kyi has been under house detention in her family home in Rangoon
since May 2003, on charges of disturbing the peace.
The detention followed an attack by pro-military thugs on Suu Kyi's
convoy in Tepeyin, Sagaing division in northern Burma on May 30, 2003 .
Several of her followers were killed in the melee.
The Nobel Peace Prize laureate has been kept in near complete isolation,
allowed monthly visits by her doctor and occasional visits by UN special
Last month she refused to meet with UN special envoy to Burma Ibrahim
Gambari on the grounds that he had done nothing to secure her freedom.
Over the past two months Suu Kyi has been allowed three meetings with
her lawyer Kyi Win, which is unusual.
Under Burma emergency law political prisoners can only be kept under
detention for a maximum of five years on charges of disturbing the
peace, but Suu Kyi's detention was last May extended for another six
months, raising legal questions.
Burma 's ruling junta has been sending mixed signals about the duration
of Suu Kyi's incarceration.
There have been hints that she may be released within six months, but
many observers believe it is unlikely that she will be released before
the next general election slated for 2010.
Suu Kyi's NLD party won the 1990 polls by a landslide, but the party has
been denied power by the military for 18 years and she has been kept
under house arrest for around 13 of the past 18 years.
Burma has been under military rule since 1962. Ironically, it was Suu
Kyi's father, Aung San, who fathered the military establishment as part
of the country's independence movement from its former colonial master
Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, is deemed Burma 's
democracy icon, and one of the few opposition leaders with enough
popular and international support to undermine the military's monopoly
of political power in the south-east Asian nation.
Bangkok Post: Hunger strike
Rangoon - Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has refused food
deliveries to her home-cum-jail for the past three weeks in a fast to
protest her detention.
The National League for Democracy (NLD) confirmed that Suu Kyi had
refused to receive food packages from friends for the past three weeks
to protest her unlawful detention which has "exceeded the legal limit."
Suu Kyi has been under house detention in her family home in Rangoon
since May 2003, on charges of disturbing the peace.
The detention followed an attack by pro-military thugs on Suu Kyi's
convoy in Tepeyin, Sagaing division in northern Burma on May 30, 2003.
Several of her followers were killed in the melee.
The Nobel Peace Prize laureate has been kept in near complete isolation,
allowed monthly visits by her doctor and occasional visits by UN special
Last month she refused to meet with UN special envoy to Burma Ibrahim
Gambari on the grounds that he had done nothing to secure her freedom.
Over the past two months Suu Kyi has been allowed three meetings with
her lawyer Kyi Win, which is unusual.
Under Burmese emergency law political prisoners can only be kept under
detention for a maximum of five years on charges of disturbing the
peace, but Suu Kyi's detention was last May extended for another six
months, raising legal questions.
The Burmese ruling junta has been sending mixed signals about the
duration of Suu Kyi's incarceration.
There have been hints that she may be released within six months, but
many observers believe it is unlikely that she will be released before
the next general election slated for 2010.
Suu Kyi's NLD party won the 1990 polls by a landslide, but the party has
been denied power by the military for 18 years and she has been kept
under house arrest for around 13 of the past 18 years.
Burma has been under military rule since 1962. Ironically, it was Suu
Kyi's father, Aung San, who fathered the military establishment as part
of the country's independence movement from its former colonial master
Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, is deemed her country's
democracy icon, and one of the few opposition leaders with enough
popular and international support to undermine the military's monopoly
of political power in the south-east Asian nation.
VOA: Burmese Regime Fails To Cooperate
|04 September 2008
The Burmese military junta has again failed to cooperate with the United
Nations in an effort to promote democratic political progress in Burma.
Special Advisor Ibrahim Gambari recently completed a six-day visit to
Burma where he was unable to meet with junta leader General Than Shwe or
National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. It was Mr.
Gambari's fourth trip since widespread pro-democracy protests were
violently crushed by the military last September.
In a written statement, U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Robert
Wood said, "The United States is deeply disappointed" that the Burmese
regime has refused to work with the U.N. to bring about democratic
progress. The military junta has rejected calls by the U.N. Security
Council, the U.N. leadership, and the Association of South East Asian
Nations for the release of political prisoners. The Burmese government
has also refused to engage in a dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi and other
democratic and ethnic minority leaders.
It is difficult to imagine any real political progress in Burma until
the country's leading democracy advocate is released. Indeed, Aung San
Suu Kyi has spent more than thirteen years of the last nineteen years
under house arrest. And she is not alone. It is estimated that there may
be as many as two-thousand political prisoners in Burma.
And there seems to be no end to the arrests. Just prior to Mr. Gambari's
visit, the military regime in Burma jailed five activists for taking
part in a peaceful demonstration marking the 20th anniversary of a
pro-democracy uprising in 1988.
The United States calls on the Burmese regime to live up to the
agreements it made with U.N. representatives during prior trips.
Improved relations between Burma and the international community depend
on the Burmese regime taking concrete steps toward democracy.
American Democratic Alliance (BADA)
Statement of Support for
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's Recent Actions
Date: August 26, 2008
We absolutely support Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in making
a great stand even under detention; she has refused to meet with the UN
special envoy Ibrahim Gambari, as currently being reported. Her vision,
judgment, courage and leadership in highlighting the failed efforts of
the United Nations (UN) and the State Peace & Development Council's (SPDC)
one-sided position could not come sooner. We fully stand by her
We share the concern expressed by the spokesperson of
her party, National League for Democracy (NLD) over Mr. Gambari’s "yet
another failed visit to Burma". UN's 20 years long efforts to bring
peace, freedom and genuine democracy to the people of Burma has been
unsuccessful. The UN has allowed the military to strengthen and tighten
the power grip, while brutally crushing the dissidents and the people of
Burma, including the Buddhist monks.
The people of Burma have already paid a huge price
for the UN's inability to deter oppression and dictatorship, and solve
Burma's problems politically. As a result, the country and the people
have sunk much deeper into misery, poverty and chaos brought about by
the tyranny of the brutal regime. Precious time should no more be wasted
by using echelon diplomacy nor the military dictators be allowed to
continue one-sided policies and forceful establishment of their rule.
Time is running out for the UN to produce meaningful results and save
Burma and her people.
The one and only true will of the people of Burma is
to implement the results of the 1990 election in which NLD, led by Daw
Aung San Suu Kyi won a landslide victory. The regime continues to resist
the will of the people and of the international community by denying the
rightful leadership to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her NLD party. It is a
long overdue responsibility of the United Nations to bring about
effective political dialogue between all stake holding parties and the
We completely reject the regime's planned sham
election in 2010 to erase the 1990 election results and to formalize
military rule in Burma. It is a part of the process of so called road
map to democracy that is not only illegal, but also staged with
despicable acts such as holding the referendum while half of Burma's
population was devastated by the May 2008 Cyclone Nargis. The people of
Burma will once again be forced at gunpoint to participate in the fake
voting process of the planned 2010 elections.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has refused to accept food since
August 15, 2008. We want to express strong concern over her health
situation and continued detention. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was violently
attacked, captured and put under house arrest since May 30, 2003. Her
continued detention is unlawful and we fear for the safety of her life.
The regime must release Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and all
political prisoners including Buddhist monks and student leaders as a
first step towards peacefully resolving Burma's issues.
We call upon the United Nations Security Council and
the international community to do their utmost to:
1. Request UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon himself to go to Burma
and help start a meaningful and effective political dialogue.
2. To secure the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and all political
Contact: Anil Verma, Secretary, (510) 485-3751
Please join Protest Rally on the eve
of Olympic closing to highlight China's role in enabling the Burma's brutal
dictatorship in order to exploit Burma economically and militarily : Saturday, Aug 23, 2 pm at Chinese Consulate,
1450 Laguna St, San Francisco
The Boston Globe:
Commentary: Begging won't save Burma
Wall Street Journal:
Can the Burmese people
rescue themselves? (Letter
In Broken Economy, Burmese Improvise or FleeAtlantic Monthly:
Lifting the Bamboo Curtain
BBC: In pictures: Sketching Burma's
‘Blood Jade' Used in Olympic Medals?
insurers Chubb and XL Capital quit Burma
UNC Chapell Hill:
President Bush's Pre-Olympics Speech in
THE UNITED Nations can be an irreplaceable forum for diplomacy and a
provider of humanitarian assistance. But this parliament of Nations
has repeatedly failed to live up to its responsibility to protect
populations from criminal regimes. Nowhere has that failure been
more flagrant than in Burma, where a vicious military junta
continues to deceive and defy the world body.
disregard for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and his special envoy
for Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, will be at center stage this week, when
Gambari visits that sad land. As in his previous visits, Gambari can
be expected to implore the same generals who callously turned away
offers of relief for cyclone victims last spring to release
political prisoners and bring about a reconciliation with the
National League for Democracy, the overwhelming winner of the last
free elections held in Burma, in 1990.
But Gambari's mission is not merely to beg junta leaders for
goodwill gestures. His mandate from the UN General Assembly lists
two clear and measurable "indicators of achievement" for the year
2008. One is to obtain the release of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung
San Suu Kyi from house arrest - and of other political prisoners
from prison. The second is to bring about "reopening of the offices
of the National League for Democracy throughout the country."
If Gambari fails to fulfill this mandate, he should explain why.
The UN should then seek more effective means of protecting citizens
of Burma from a regime that murders and rapes its own people and
conscripts more child soldiers than any other country. In place of
fruitless dialogue, the UN will have to explore an arms embargo,
banking sanctions, and serious pressure from Burma's Asian
By BENEDICT ROGERS
FROM TODAY'S WALL STREET JOURNAL ASIA
August 15, 2008
The United Nations special envoy on Burma, Ibrahim Gambari,
is expected to arrive in Rangoon in the next few days for another round of
talks with the country's military regime. If his visit is to have any
meaning, he must move beyond the U.N.'s traditional diplomatic niceties and
make concrete demands for change.
Since 1990, U.N. envoys have made 37 visits to Burma. The
Human Rights Council and General Assembly between them have passed more than
30 resolutions, and the Security Council has made two Presidential
Statements. All of this has had little effect. Vague requests to the junta
to engage in dialogue with democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, made without
any deadline, have led nowhere. She remains under house arrest, just as she
has been for 12 years.
So rather than more of the same, the U.N. must present the
regime with specific benchmarks for progress, accompanied by deadlines. The
first benchmark should be the release of political prisoners, who currently
number over 2,000. Many are in extremely poor health due to bad prison
conditions, mistreatment, torture and the denial of medical care. Mr.
Gambari should insist that the junta release political prisoners before U.N.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's visit to Burma in December. And Mr. Ban
should be willing to cancel his trip if the junta doesn't comply.
Another important benchmark would be immediately ending the
military offensive against civilians in eastern Burma, which has destroyed
3,200 villages and displaced more than a million people since 1996. The
junta has destroyed twice as many ethnic villages as has the Sudanese regime
in Darfur. Burma has the highest number of forcibly conscripted child
soldiers in the world.
Setting such benchmarks with realistic deadlines would
enable Mr. Gambari to evaluate the progress he is or isn't making. If the
junta complies, so much the better. But if it misses the benchmarks, that
would clearly signal the need for international action.
The international community could impose several powerful
sanctions for failure to meet these benchmarks. One would be revoking the
junta's credentials to represent Burma in world bodies like the U.N. The
junta is an illegitimate government, having overwhelmingly lost elections in
1990 and proven itself negligent in its handling of Cyclone Nargis.
According to the U.N., more than a million cyclone victims have still not
received help. The U.N. also says the regime has been stealing millions of
dollars of aid money through its below-market fixed exchange rates. The
junta is unfit to govern, and there is a legitimate alternative in the form
of the leaders elected in 1990 now living as a government in exile.
Beyond that, a universal arms embargo should be imposed
through the Security Council -- and maximum pressure placed on China and
Russia not to use their veto. Major financial centers such as Tokyo, Hong
Kong and Singapore, as well as the European Union, should impose carefully
targeted financial sanctions against the ruling generals' personal assets.
And the international community should call the generals by name for what
they are: criminals. The prosecution of Sudan's leader Omar al-Bashir and
the capture of Radovan Karadzic have set a precedent. Burma's generals
should be brought to account in the International Criminal Court or through
The U.N.'s credibility is on the line to an unusual degree
in Burma, given the obvious illegitimacy of the regime and the obvious harm
it's doing to its people. Mr. Gambari owes it both to the Burmese people and
to the U.N. to try a different, and hopefully more productive, approach on
Mr. Rogers is advocacy officer for South Asia at
Christian Solidarity Worldwide and the author of "A Land Without Evil:
Stopping the Genocide of Burma's Karen People" (Monarch Books, 2004).
See all of today's editorials and op-eds, plus video
New Yorker - United
Letter from Rangoon
Can the Burmese people rescue themselves?
Soldiers about to close off
access to Rangoon’s Sule Pagoda, during the protests
of September, 2007. Increasingly, dissidents are
questioning the utility of direct confrontation with
the government. Photograph by Christian Holst.
When night falls in Rangoon, the city’s
spectacular decay—patches of black mold devouring the yellowed walls
of colonial buildings, trees growing wildly into crumbling
third-story terraces—nearly disappears from view. The tea shops fill
up, locals crowd the bookstalls on Pansodan Road, and the city,
which seems furtive and depressed by day, becomes a communal stage.
In the Chinatown district, two men in an alley crank out schoolbooks
with a hand-operated printing press. At a sidewalk fish market,
women sell shrimp, scallops, and squid by candlelight, while two
teen-agers nearby strum guitars. Further east, along the Rangoon
River, in the old residential quarter of Pazundaung, the wooden
houses are open to the street, like storefronts, revealing an old
woman sitting on a couch, a living-room shrine strewn with votive
candles, and two men laughing as they listen to a radio.
One such evening in June, I had dinner at an outdoor restaurant
north of downtown with a young man I’ll call Myat Min. He grew up in
a working-class township on the outskirts of Rangoon, the son of a
mechanic and a woman who sold spices from Thailand. His father had
been trained by British Air Force officers, and in the years after
the 1962 coup, which gave control of the country to the Burmese
military, he kept the family radio tuned to the BBC. Each evening,
he ate fried noodles, listened to the news in English, and cursed
Over the decades, the Burmese government has subjected its
citizens to epic misrule, systematically destroying every
institution of society except the Army, whose leaders have made
staying in power their overriding goal. The streets of Rangoon and
Mandalay are monitored by the secret police and by a group of armed
thugs known as Swan Arr Shin—the Masters of Force. Dissidents are
routinely tortured. The generals’ irrational economic policies have
reduced one of Asia’s richest countries, once the world’s leading
exporter of rice, to penury. Burma’s gross domestic product per
capita is now less than half that of its neighbor Cambodia. Economic
sanctions—a form of protest against the government’s human-rights
abuses—have made the country even poorer.
Myat Min was not quite thirty when we met, with a dark, high-cheekboned
face, but he had the manner of a much older, eccentric man who had
seen too much of life and was too vital to be self-effacing, even if
his repressive society demanded it. He had an unusually loud voice
by Burmese standards, which drew looks in public, and a laugh that
often couldn’t stop. The American expatriates in Rangoon called him
Mr. Intensity. He wore only longyis, the Burmese sarong; he
didn’t own any pants. “I hate modern life,” he said.
In 1995, when he was sixteen, Myat Min noticed a collection of
stories by W. Somerset Maugham in a bookstall on Pansodan Road. He
rented it (few Burmese can afford to buy books) and read the stories
with such strong identification that he began calling himself
Somerset. He moved on to Dickens, learning not just to read English
but to speak it, sometimes with oddly Victorian cadences. I asked
him why these British writers appealed to him. “All of the
characters are me,” he said, with a boisterous laugh. “Neither a
British nor an American young man living in the twenty-first century
can understand a Dickens as well as I can! I am living in a
Dickensian atmosphere. Our country is at least one or two centuries
behind the Western world. My neighborhood—bleak, poor, with small
domestic industries, children playing in the street, parents
fighting with each other, some with great debt, everyone dirty—that
is Dickens. I am more equipped to understand Dickens than modern
novels. I don’t know what is air-conditioning, what is subway, what
is fingerprint exam.”
In 1988, when Myat Min was ten, Rangoon and other Burmese cities
filled with millions of demonstrators calling for an end to military
rule. It was a revolutionary moment, and by far the most serious
challenge to the reign of the generals; the protest led by monks
last September is the only event that comes close. Myat Min’s older
brothers disappeared from home for several months to join the
uprising, and his father went looking for them every day. At the
height of the demonstrations, Myat Min sneaked out of his house. He
saw a mob of people, some of whom were carrying spikes on which the
severed heads of informers—burned charcoal black—had been impaled.
“Democracy!” the people shouted.
“I became interested in politics because of those scenes,” Myat
Min told me. At home, his father said, “Aung San Suu Kyi is the new
leader of our country. American troops will come liberate us.” But
Suu Kyi—the daughter of the general who led Burma to independence,
in 1948, and who became an accidental heroine to the protesters in
1988—was soon placed under house arrest, on the shore of Inya Lake,
in the middle of the city. She has for the most part remained there
ever since, in an isolation as profound as her country’s.
Myat Min decided to pursue his passion for English literature at
Rangoon University; he dreamed of a life immersed in ideas, “like
walking through the forest in the dead of night.” But by 1996, the
year he enrolled, the university had almost ceased to exist. To
prevent students from gathering in protest, the government
repeatedly closed the main campus and began busing undergraduates to
makeshift campuses outside the capital. The semester dwindled to ten
days in the classroom, with assignments and exams handled through
the mail. In order to maintain the illusion of a successful system,
the government continued to pass large numbers of students, even
though their base of knowledge was shrinking precipitately. Higher
education in Burma, once the training ground of a skilled civil
service, was destroyed.
REPORTAGE BY GETTY IMAGES
People file in and out of the downtown passport office in
Rangoon. Stalls outside offer passport candidates some of the
more than 15 forms required for their applications.
(The Washington Post)
In Broken Economy, Burmese Improvise or Flee
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, August 16, 2008; A08
RANGOON, Burma -- For the crowds
of young Burmese outside the Immigration and Customs Office here, the
commodity of choice is a shiny, tomato-red, cardboard-stiff new
One recent morning, hundreds of men and women flooded in and out of
the office, located on a rickshaw-crammed boulevard, or camped under
umbrellas along the sidewalk to wait for their passport applications to
be processed. Some scoured billboards that listed openings in garment
factories, shipyards and other workplaces in Singapore, Thailand and
A pair of 22-year-olds took turns using each other's backs to fill
out forms. Both said they hoped to go to Dubai, in the United Arab
Emirates, to find jobs as hotel waiters for a year, maybe two.
"It's like the collapse of the
Berlin Wall," said a passing 29-year-old man, meaning the pent-up
outflow of people. Unemployed for three years, he has yet to hear back
about a passport application he filed last year.
The run on the passport office reflects a social crisis at the heart
of an economy in free fall.
Sixty years ago, Burma, also known as Myanmar, was among the
wealthiest countries in Southeast Asia, outshining its neighbors with
higher standards of living and greater social mobility. Its universities
attracted students from across the region, and its rich stock of natural
resources promised steady growth.
But decades of mismanagement by military rulers who have kept as
tight a grip on the economy as on their political power have sent the
country to the bottom of regional and global rankings -- among the worst
for poverty, health care and corruption. The education system has been
deliberately weakened in response to students' anti-government
organizing, and virtually all avenues to prosperity are controlled by
When the military seized power in 1962, it set the country on what it
called the "Burmese Road to Socialism," confiscating private property
and curtailing free enterprise. After a failed street uprising in 1988,
there were limited moves toward liberalization. But today the government
remains heavily involved in the economy, with military officers heading
most state enterprises, often as a reward for political loyalty. A
handful of enterprises known as "crony" companies for their closeness to
the junta benefit from policies that promote monopoly.
"Our view is that Burma is an accident waiting to happen," said Mark
Britain's ambassador to the country.
Diplomats and analysts say that economic grievances could at any
moment trigger another street revolt akin to the two major ones of the
past twenty years. Both began among disaffected youth.
A student-led response to the overnight demonetization of small bank
notes in 1988 evolved into a massive pro-democracy protest. And last
August, a sharp rise in fuel prices and bus fares prompted thousands to
take to the streets, including a young generation of Buddhists monks,
who often are keenly aware of lay folk's financial difficulties because
daily donations in their alms bowls decrease.
Today, more than a third of children are malnourished, the average
household spends up to 70 percent of its budget on food, and more than
30 percent of the population lives under the poverty line, according to
United Nations estimates.
At tea shops or grocery stalls, people pull out bricks of local bills
to pay for basics in an economy that the
International Monetary Fund estimates suffered inflation of 40
percent in 2007.
Fuel rationing and price controls have insulated the country from
much of the recent shocks to the world economy. Nonetheless, black
market prices for gasoline and diesel fuel have continued to spiral
upward in recent months, residents say. A cyclone three months ago that
wrought havoc on the country's rice production areas has pushed the
economy further toward desperation.
So far, the generals have been able to largely shrug off Western
sanctions, by dealing instead with
China and Thailand, to which they funnel vast stores of natural gas.
Revenue from energy sales is set to increase significantly once
production begins at the offshore Shwe and Shwe Phyu fields, which are
estimated to hold up to 10 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
Daewoo International Corp. is partnering with Burma to develop the
fields, and Chinese firms, including Sinopec and China National
Petroleum Corp., have exploration projects underway in the country.
Even without the new fields, sales of oil and gas topped $3.3 billion
last year, with $2 billion in sales of gas to Thailand alone, according
to Sean Turnell, a professor at Macquarie University in Sydney.
Those funds largely disappeared into the military's parallel universe
of separate schools and hospitals, subsidized housing and the
multimillion-dollar construction of a remote new capital, Naypyitaw,
whose name roughly translates as "abode of the kings." It reportedly
includes an artificial beach resort, golf courses and an air-conditioned
But 250 miles south of the junta's fantasyland, in the former
capital, Rangoon, electricity functions erratically and abandoned
government offices and colonial-era edifices molder and blacken in a
peculiar form of urban leprosy. Decades-old cars sputter along with
wires poking out and monsoon waters sloshing around below the passenger
The junta sharply restricts car imports, which means that a 1988
Toyota Camry can sell for upwards of $20,000, according to local
residents. A memory card needed to make a cellphone function costs
anywhere from $2,000 to $3,000.
Official statistics on employment, and most other economic
indicators, are notoriously unreliable, but analysts and Burmese
residents say unemployment -- and underemployment -- is on the rise.
Salaries that were already inadequate have failed to keep pace with
To make up the shortfall, professionals such as government geologists
double as taxi drivers, professors sell exam scores, civil servants
demand bribes to process paperwork and prison guards run elaborate
operations allowing the smuggling of money to inmates, in return for a
20 percent cut, local residents and former detainees said.
Teachers sometimes sell lunch to their students. "Can you imagine
asking your students for money? I couldn't do it," said a 26-year-old
former elementary school teacher who switched to being a tour guide.
So many people engage in corruption that the Berlin-based watchdog
Transparency International rated Burma in 2007 as tied with Somalia
as the most corrupt country in the world.
For many people in the business community, the line between the licit
and the illicit is a blur.
As he weighed a handful of knuckle-size green gems in his Rangoon
shop, a jeweler said he regularly bribes a customs official so that he
can smuggle rubies and jade to sellers in Hong Kong and Bangkok.
Sales of diamonds are less problematic. For those, he said with a
grin, there is no need to travel because diamonds are the gems of choice
of senior generals. A broker coming directly from Naypyitaw visits
regularly, he said.
The junta's penchant for diamonds hasn't gone unnoticed. In 2006,
outraged Rangoon residents circulated a bootleg DVD of Senior Gen.
Than Shwe's daughter at her wedding, showing her covered with
Meanwhile, the climate of nepotism and capricious junta policies
means that uncertainty pervades even among the most seemingly
In his sparsely furnished living room, an avowed former "crony" of
senior generals recounted how he grew a small logging firm that traded
rosewood and teak to China into a sprawling foreign investment firm that
eventually bankrolled three ministers and a mayor, all of them senior
military officers. In return for supplying licenses and contracts, the
four received large deposits in private Singapore bank accounts, he
Profits, however, one day started to slip, the deposits to those bank
accounts slimmed, and the businessman was thrown in jail, charged with
the very thing that swelled the officers' accounts, he said -- using a
local company as a front for illicit foreign dealings.
But nearly eight years behind bars hasn't dissuaded him from
attempting another trek down Burma's twisted path to prosperity. Only
six months since he was released, gray-haired and frail, from Insein
prison, he says he searches the Internet daily for information on how to
tap the booming emigrant industry -- funneling unskilled Burmese workers
to jobs outside the country. "This is not a legal way. It is a form of
trafficking," he said.
For help, he said, he would be turning to old friends in the Home
Ministry. As for his clients, he added, they don't really know what
they're getting into. But "if they have a chance to go abroad, they can
View all comments that have been posted about this article.
Lifting the Bamboo Curtain
September 2008 Atlantic Monthly
As China and India vie for power and influence, Burma has
become a strategic battleground. Four Americans with deep ties to this
fractured, resource-rich country illuminate its current troubles, and
what the U.S. should do to shape its future.
Robert D. Kaplan
|A SHAN REBEL on the
Burma-Thailand border. (Photo by NIC Dunlop/Panos Pictures)
onsoon clouds crushed the dark, seaweed-green
landscape of eastern Burma. Steep hillsides glistened with teak trees,
coconut palms, black and ocher mud from the heavy rains, and tall,
chaotic grasses. As night came, the buzz saw of cicadas and the
pestering croaks of geckos rose through the downpour. Guided by an
ethnic Karen rebel with a torchlight attached by bare copper wires to an
ancient six-volt battery slung around his neck, I stumbled across three
bamboo planks over a fast-moving stream from Thailand into Burma. Any
danger came less from Burmese government troops than from those of its
democratic neighbor, whose commercial interests have made it a close
friend of Burma’s military regime. Said Thai Prime Minister Samak
Sundaravej recently: the ruling Burmese generals are “good Buddhists”
who like to meditate, and Burma is a country that “lives in peace.” The
Thai military has been on the lookout for Karen soldiers, who have been
fighting the Burmese government since 1948.
Leading insurers Chubb and XL Capital quit Burma
By Jamie Dunkley
4:51pm BST 19/08/2008
Two leading insurance companies are pulling out of the Burmese market in
response to human rights offences being committed by the country's military
The insurers, Chubb and XL Capital, announced
their withdrawals in separate statements today.
It comes just three weeks after a Burma Campaign UK report,
Insuring Repression, which highlighted the flow of billions of dollars from
insurance companies to the Burmese regime.
US insurer Chubb, which has a UK operation, said it now
"bars its member companies from maintaining an office in Burma, from
directly writing insurance in Burma or providing insurance into Burma from
outside the country" after conducting a review.
XL, which owns reinsurer XL Re and Lloyd's of London
syndicate XL London Market, said its new policy mean it no longer "seeks to
insure Burmese companies or operations of companies in Burma".
Johnny Chatterton, campaign officer at the Burma Campaign
UK group, said the withdrawals were a "major embarrassment" to Lloyd's of
London, which it accused of "failing to take the issue seriously" and not
seeing "any problem with helping to finance Burma's brutal dictatorship".
The group's report claimed Lloyd's operators were helping
to insure the military junta's state-owned airline Myanma Airways earlier
this year and sharing the risk of its shipping interests.
A spokeswoman from Lloyd's of London said: "Unless there
are relevant or appropriate sanctions in place, we cannot tell these
companies where they can or cannot trade. As far as we are aware, there are
no UK, European Union or United Nations sanctions in place."
The Association of British Insurers said it had no members
operating in Burma and had written to its them seeking clarification earlier
Maung Maung, general secretary of the Federation of Trade
Unions Burma, said insurance companies were indirectly supporting the
He said: "We welcome the news that XL and Chubb have pulled
out, and will no longer help to fund the regime, but we strongly condemn all
insurers that remain involved in our military junta run country."
"They help keep the generals in power, and condemn Burma's
50 million people to lives of poverty and fear. There is no excuse for the
likes of Lloyd's of London being involved, they are helping to fund a brutal
Information appearing on telegraph.co.uk is the copyright
of Telegraph Media Group Limited and must not be reproduced in any medium
without licence. For the full copyright statement see
In pictures: Sketching Burma's cyclone
BBC News - UK
In the weeks following Cyclone Nargis, Burma's military rulers
refused to let foreigners into the devastated Irrawaddy Delta.
a result much of the initial relief effort was left to smaller groups
with a permanent presence there. One such organisation - the Foundation
for the People of Burma - managed to mobilise about 300 people. The
workers noticed the children were "listless and in need of playful
outlets" - so they gave them crayons and pencils and encouraged them to
Burma's ‘Blood Jade' Used in Olympic Medals?
A Burmese woman deals her Jade stones with a shopkeeper
at the Jade market June 15, 2003 in Mandalay, Myanmar.
The country generates a considerable income from the
mining of precious stones mostly from the northern part
of Myanmar. It's a government run monopoly and all
visitors must buy stones from licensed retail shops.
(Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)
Burmese democracy activists are imploring visitors to the Olympics to
boycott merchandise made from “Blood Jade,” a name given to high-quality
jade mined under oppressive and dangerous conditions in Burma and sold
for export by the country's military Junta.
In a report entitled, “Blood Jade: Burmese Gemstones and the Beijing
Games,” released by the All Kachin Students and Youth Union (AKSYU), as
much as 90 per cent of jadeite (a variety of jade) sold in China comes
from mines in Kachin State along the Burma-China border.
"In addition to being a major source of foreign currency, the
military-controlled industry is plagued with deplorable working
conditions, an HIV/AIDS epidemic and environmental destruction," said
the report. "Thousands have lost their land due to the expansion of
mining areas. Deaths from pit collapses and company vigilantism are
Although both European countries and the United States have placed
severe restrictions on the import of gems from Burma (also called
Myanmar), China is currently the largest importer of the precious stone.
Used as a war commodity for years in Burma, today jade generates money
for the military Junta. Official export figures place it as the third
highest foreign exchange after natural gas and agriculture products,
valued at roughly $647 million USD in the 2007-2008 fiscal year. This is
up more than 200 per cent from 2006-2007 when exports were valued at
Nearly a third of those exports go to China.
Earlier this year, Inter Press Service (IPS) interviewed an Asian jade
buyer who was visiting Burma and was shocked at the Chinese dominance of
“Almost all the buyers of some 300 people were Chinese. Most of them
were from the mainland, with a few from Hong Kong and Taiwan…This was
for two hours, towards the end of a day’s auction."
Describing the jade, the buyer said that "one was the size of a car and
another the size of a big table and these were what the Chinese buyers
were attracted to. The initial auction price for a chunk of rough jade
the size of a chair was one million Euros (approximately 1.5 million USD).
The average price of the smaller pieces was about 300,000 to 500,000
The jade the Chinese buyers are reported as favouring is a
white-colored, transparent variety sometimes called “bra-fleshed jade”
or "Maw Seezar Jade" as opposed to colored jadeites. Experts suspect
this is the same white jade used as a backing for the 2008 Beijing
Olympics gold medals.
The Chinese regime claims that the jade is from China’s Qinghai
province. However, the Jade from Burma's Phakant jade mines is said to
be of a much higher quality than the nephrite jade from Qinghai. Burma’s
jade is also considered the most sought after in the Chinese jewelery
Workers in Burma's open-pit jade mines are often paid as little as $1
USD per day while forced to work 12 hour shifts or longer, sometimes at
night and with little or no breaks.
"The mining companies belong to cronies of the junta. They care little
about abusing the people, their rights, and even destroying the
environment," said Naw Law, a researcher with AKSYU, in an interview
Aug 18, 2008
Pre-Olympics Speech in Thailand
By President George W. Bush
Reviewed by David T. Jones, co-author of Uneasy Neighbo(u)rs,
a book on U.S.-Canada relations
Text and video:
On August 7, during
an official visit to Thailand, President Bush delivered what could be called
a "State of Asia" speech. In his 3,000 word address, Bush concentrated on
our relations with nations of East and Southeast Asia (including an
occasional mention of India, but not of Pakistan/Afghanistan).
Noting that this was
his last trip to the region as president, unsurprisingly Bush did a bit of
self-congratulatory legacy burnishing. Thus, he reviewed his
administration's longstanding objectives: reinvigorating alliances;
creating new democratic partnerships; deepening economic ties; and
cooperating on shared challenges. With these objectives as the framework,
he placed foreign policy accomplishments (and continuing action) in
In the process, he
noted U.S. trade with Pacific states had reached $1 trillion – and now was
greater than trade across the Atlantic – and that trade agreements were
expanding; the United States had strengthened each of its five treaty
alliances (Australia, Philippines, South Korea, Japan, and Thailand); and
the region was cooperating against terrorism. He recalled responses to
natural disasters such as the 2004 tsunami and the recent cyclone in Burma.
Bush examined, but
not in depth, the ongoing political issues with Burma and North Korea.
Predictably, he called for an end to "tyranny" in Burma and the release of
Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners. He examined the threat from
North Korean nuclear weapons, taking credit for creating the six-power talks
with Pyongyang and the pledge by the North to dismantle its nuclear
facilities and "give up its nuclear weapons," but noted that this
declaration required verification.
devoted more attention (27 percent of the speech) to China, its
politico-economic circumstances, and human rights problems than to any other
topic. (His host Thailand, including introductory and concluding
pleasantries, got only 19 percent.) Equally appropriately, his criticism
was delivered prior to arrival in Beijing – public criticism of your hosts
at their international "coming out" Olympics party would simply have been
Even so, the sour
medicine of specific criticism of Chinese detention of political and human
rights activists and Beijing's violations of human rights, notably freedom
of religion, free press, freedom of assembly, and labor rights, was somewhat
buffered by rhetorical sweeteners. Bush recognized Chinese free market
economic reforms; he noted the continuation of the "one China" policy; he
praised Beijing's cooperation on the six- power talks with North Korea; and
commended joint efforts to prevent proliferation of weapons of mass
destruction. He did not mention Tibet, the Dali Lama, the Falun Gong, or
any specific political prisoners. (For its part, Beijing immediately
rejected the president's critique – elements of which he repeated following
attending church services on August 10.)
In short, the
president delivered a solid "summing up" of our circumstances in East Asia.
It was largely ignored by the media; the Washington Post,which had
editorially called for the president to address Chinese human rights abuses,
ran its account on page A-15.
1. AP: Devastation in Burma is far
starker than portrayed
2. Agony of Burma’s dumped children
3. The National: Bush reiterates position on Myanmar by Larry Jagan
4. AFP, The Times: Comic who gave out cyclone aid charged
5. MySinchew: Burma In The Shadow Of The Olympics
Expats Keep Democracy Hopes
7. Cape Argus: Burmese imports horrify customer
Devastation in Burma is far starker than
Thousands get very little
RANGOON, Burma - A rare bird's-eye look at
Burma's Irrawaddy delta shows the devastation still left from Cyclone Nargis
- broken levies, flooded farm roads, the shattered remains of bamboo huts,
and trees strewn like matchsticks along the coast.
Conditions are far starker than reflected in
assessments from Burma's government and in the optimism of some UN
officials, the Associated Press has concluded from a review of data, a
private flight over the delta, and interviews with victims and aid workers.
Three months after a disaster that claimed
nearly 140,000 lives, thousands of villagers are still getting little or
nothing from their government or foreign aid groups.
"We lost everything - our house, our rice,
our clothes. We were given just a little rice by a private aid group from
Rangoon. I don't know where the government or foreign organizations are
helping people, but not here," said Khin Maung Kyi, 60, a farmer who lost
six children to the storm.
Some areas have received help in the delta,
Burma's rice bowl set amid a lacework of waterways. During a flyover, brand
new metal roofs atop reconstructed homes glittered in the tropical sunlight,
farmers in cone-shaped hats worked in green rice paddies, and gangs of
workers struggled to remove debris from canals and repair broken
But progress is slow and behind where it
"The situation in Myanmar remains dire,"
said Chris Kaye, who heads relief operations for the UN World Food Program
in Burma, which the military junta refers to as Myanmar. "The vast majority
of families simply don't have enough to eat."
Some grim recent statistics from foreign aid
agencies working in the delta:
A survey of families in 291 villages
indicated that 55 percent had less than one day of food left and no stocks
to fall back on. About 924,000 people will need food assistance until the
November rice harvest, while about 300,000 will need relief until April
The fishing industry, the delta's second
most important source of income and food, remains devastated. More than 40
percent of fishing boats and 70 percent of fishing gear were destroyed and
very little has been replaced.
More than 360,000 children will not be able
to go to elementary school in coming months because at least 2,000 schools
were so badly damaged they cannot reopen soon.
"The vast majority of people have received some
assistance. But very few people have received enough assistance to get them
through the next three months, and almost no one has received enough
assistance to enable them to rebuild their lives," said Andrew Kirkwood, who
heads the aid agency Save the Children in Burma.
Kirkwood said three months after such a
disaster, aid agencies would normally be rebuilding schools, health clinics,
and other facilities. But in Burma, he said, the first phase of emergency
distribution of food and basics is likely to continue for another three
More upbeat assessments have come from other
quarters. Some have noted that a second wave of death from disease and
starvation anticipated by some relief agencies never occurred.
"It has gone much better than anyone
expected," said Ashley Clements, a spokesman for World Vision, an
international Christian relief and development agency, citing the resilience
of the victims and the speed of the aid response.
"The message I want the world to know is
that the government, UN agencies, and other organizations . . . are making
good progress," said Ramesh Shrestha, a UN representative in Rangoon.
Almost at the same time the UN humanitarian
news service, IRIN, published a report about conditions in the delta titled
"Life is totally bleak." Chronicling the plight of several families, it
noted that many people lack food and shelter. Some foreign aid workers
caution that their agencies refrain from exposing problems for fear the
government will curb or halt their access to victims.
"Our operations are contingent on having a
positive relationship with the government," Kaye said. "So we have to work
out a fine balance, so that the difficult issues are dealt with, but in a
spirit of cooperation."
August 10, 2008
Agony of Burma’s dumped children
IN a filthy destitute village, half an hour outside Rangoon, three-year-old
Than Than Nues was dumped days after Cyclone Nargis had ravaged her home in
Burma’s Irrawaddy delta and made her an orphan.
The toddler, who lost both her parents when
12ft waves swept through their home in Bogalay, a coastal township, was
carted off in a government lorry and handed over to strangers. Villagers,
who struggled to feed their own families from their meagre rice paddies or
from working in a factory on a daily wage of just 75p, were forced to
provide for the extra mouths.
Last week underfed children played in the
mud-filled main street, still trying to forget the traumatic night in May
when they saw their closest relatives swept to their deaths.
“If she stays here her future is bleak.
She’d be much better off with her older brother,” said U Saw Hein, the
village leader, as his daughter bounced the child on her knee.
“We discovered that he’s 18 and working near Mandalay. He doesn’t know she’s
alive. We really want to get them back together, but we barely have enough
to survive on and the bus fare to Mandalay is £5. We just can’t afford it,”
With the delta infrastructure destroyed
there are no telephones - even if the desperately poor farmers could afford
to call. The only way to reach people is to go and meet them.
Than Than Nues was one of several children
found by The Sunday Times who had been displaced close to the devastated
delta region. They had become separated from their families first by the
force of nature, then by the price of a bus fare, and had little chance of
In another bleak village half an hour from
Bogalay, which Burma’s paranoid government keeps hidden behind military
checkpoints, four-year-old twins Ma Nu Nu and Ma Su Su took shelter from a
torrential downpour with other severely undernourished children.
There was no way to tell what memories the
quiet little girls had of their mother who was wrenched from them during the
cyclone, or of their father who was working near the Thai border, unaware
that his daughters had survived.
Although the villagers knew where to find
him, the cost of the three-day journey to the border was beyond their means.
The best they could do was to care for the girls as if they were their own.
About 54% of the 138,000 cyclone victims
were children. Aid agencies such as Save the Children and Unicef believe
there could be as many as 2,000 children still separated from their
families. In an effort to save them from being forced into crammed
orphanages, the charities are setting up a tracing system to help to reunite
Out of 800 children officially registered by
international agencies as “separated and unaccompanied”, 45 have been
reunited with close relatives. The process could take up to two years.
“Entire families were swept away and it
impacted on children more than anybody,” said Guy Cave, head of child
protection at Save the Children in Rangoon. The tracing system, which was
used after the Asian tsunami in 2004, registers lost children on a database
and sends local workers to remote villages to track down surviving
The system has saved two sisters, Ma Thin
Thin, 13, and Ma Lin Lin, 15, from being dumped in a grim state-run
orphanage. They were an hour from home in Laputta township when the cyclone
struck. They survived by clinging onto hay bales throughout the night,
finding themselves stranded on a small patch of dry land the next day.
A boat took them to the Wakema shelter,
where the girls were immediately registered as orphans.
Save the Children workers tracked down their
parents in a village 1½ hours away, prompting their father to try to travel
to the camp to collect them. He was stopped from travelling by the
authorities and the girls were moved yet again to a shelter in Myaung Mya,
four hours’ drive away. “We cried a lot when we were sent to Myaung Mya and
separated from our father,” said Ma Lin Lin.
Meanwhile, Daw Su Myat, 38, their mother,
had been mourning the loss of her children. “Around 20 of my close relatives
died in the storm. I thought my two daughters were also dead,” she said.
“About six days after the cyclone we got
news that they were alive and in a shelter. But we weren’t allowed to take
them back and I was afraid that someone else would adopt them.”
After Save the Children intervened, the
authorities relented and allowed the girls to return to their parents.
Tracking scattered families is further
complicated by large population movements and unpredictable government
decisions that force the closure of refugee camps or relocate people at
random. Some villages remain flattened and young children often have no idea
where they come from. Villages have not been identified by The Sunday Times
for fear of government interference.
The charities say their main aim is to keep
children out of the harsh, institutional life found in state-run or monastic
institutions where children are crammed together on bamboo mats and forced
to rise at dawn and beg on the street.
They face a race against time after a
government decision to build six more orphanages in the delta region. In one
institution in Rangoon, more than 20 children had arrived since the cyclone
struck. Only two girls, aged 12 and 13, were orphans. The others have at
least one surviving parent. A sad four-year-old boy sat in the corner. His
mother had died and his father could not afford to keep him.
Aid workers described howa young girl was
sent to an orphanage in the north of the country just a day before her
parents discovered the village where she was taking refuge. It is not known
whether they found her.
Aid agencies say they want to support
families to allow them to keep their children at home. “I can’t stress
enough that institutions should be a last resort,” said Christina Torsein, a
child protection specialist with Unicef.
Bush reiterates position on Myanmar
Larry Jagan, Foreign
- Last Updated: August 09. 2008 10:29PM
UAE / August 9. 2008 6:29PM GMT
BANGKOK // In Beijing, George W Bush managed
to raise the issue of Myanmar with Hu Jintao, his Chinese counterpart, at
their dinner on Friday evening, according to Chinese government officials.
It seems the Chinese leader rebuffed Washington’s efforts to get Beijing to
step up pressure on its neighbour’s military junta.
The Chinese position is clear – democracy
and freedom in Myanmar, often referred to by its former name, Burma, are an
internal matter – and they believe the generals are progressing on their own
“road map to democracy”, having recently adopted a new constitution, with
elections scheduled for 2010.
For most analysts, Beijing holds the only possible key to encouraging the
military regime to make the transitional process towards democracy
transparent, including holding free and fair elections. “We don’t trust the
junta,” said Zin Linn, a leading spokesman for exiled dissidents.
“See what happened when the National League
for Democracy [led by Aung San Suu Kyi] convincingly won the last elections
in 1990 – they simply ignored the result and refused to hand over power,” he
said. “The only way to avoid a repeat of that is for the international
community, especially China, to play a critical role in supporting genuine
democracy in Burma.”
Mr Bush is reported to have reiterated the US position in his short
discussion with the Chinese president – including the immediate release of
Ms Suu Kyi and eligibility for her party, the NLD, to run unhindered in free
and fair elections in two years.
In a presidential election year, few will
heed Mr Bush’s position on longer-term international issues. In deference to
his hosts, the US president tried to make his clarion call for democracy and
freedom before his visit to China. He did this in what was billed his last
major policy speech on Asia, when he addressed diplomats, politicians and
students in Bangkok last week, en route to Beijing.
“Tyranny in Burma must be brought to an end,” he told his audience. Then in
a strongly symbolic gesture, he had lunch with a small group of Myanmar
activists at the residence of the US ambassador to Thailand. “The American
people care deeply about the people of Burma and dream for the day the
people will be free,” he told them.
The dissidents who met the president were
impressed. “It was great; he was relaxed and joked with us,” Win Min, an
independent academic from Myanmar, now at Chiang Mai University in northern
Thailand, said after the meeting. “He seemed to know a lot about Burma.”
Nevertheless, Mr Bush still cannot pronounce the detained opposition
leader’s name and he has not mastered the name of Senior Gen Than Shwe, the
He never once mentioned him by name during
the lunch discussions, according to the dissidents. “You notice I’m saying
‘general’ because it’s generally viewed as a one-man regime,” he told a
group of Myanmar journalists that interviewed him after the lunch. But
diplomats and observers are concerned that Mr Bush is blowing in the wind
and will not have any effect – either in Beijing or Myanmar. “The cause of
Burma’s freedom, democracy and human rights was poignantly served, but
whether Mr Bush and his wife’s gestures will make any difference on the
ground is doubtful,” according to Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a senior political
analyst at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.
“With six months to go, he’s a lame-duck
president and cannot hope to affect things in Burma,” said Derek Tonkin, a
political commentator and former British ambassador to Thailand and Vietnam.
“As for the generals … things are going along quite well for them; there are
no signs of serious opposition, and as military men, they have successfully
completed the first four stages of their road map. They see absolutely no
reason to change course.”
Some of the dissidents, who met Mr Bush in
Bangkok, urged him to consider changing policies towards the junta.
“The US government should engage the Burmese generals for the long-term
strategy of democracy and development on the country,” Aung Naing Oo, an
independent analyst based in Thailand, told the president.
Mr Bush apparently remains convinced that US sanctions are working. “I think
our strategy is the right strategy … I am trying to convince others to join
us on the strategy. In other words, it would be better if we could all speak
with one voice,” he told the journalists. Over lunch he was more considered:
he told the activists that a change in policy now would reward the generals
for having done nothing, according to Win Min.
Mr Bush acknowledged that what was needed
was an international united front on Myanmar that included the US, Europe
and Myanmar’s Asian neighbours. So far that has been virtually impossible,
he conceded. “But it’s been difficult with some of the countries in the
neighbourhood here, because we don’t share the same goals. My goal is
democracy. Their goal is stability,” he said.
Mr Bush is certainly in the right place to start quiet diplomacy. China
remains the key to future international efforts to mediate in Myanmar.
Although China still supports the junta, Chinese leaders are worried about
the future stability of the regime, according to Chinese diplomats.
Wen Jiabao, the Chinese premier, met Thein
Sein, Myanmar’s prime minister, in Beijing before the Games. China hoped
Myanmar could sort out its problems “through democratic negotiation”, he
said after the meeting.
“China will continue to follow a good-neighbourly policy towards Myanmar,
and work with the international community to help Myanmar overcome its
difficulties,” Mr Wen was reported to have said.
This may not be as blunt as Mr Bush’s
approach, but clearly the Chinese leaders are concerned about Myanmar’s
economic woes and its political impasse.
After the Olympics, they may just heed international concern and even
consider other strategic options to encourage change in Myanmar.
Burma In The Shadow Of The Olympics
In less than an hour, the 8th of August, 2008, will dawn.
This is the day when the People's Republic of China will host
the Olympic Games – a carnival for amateur sportsmen who gather
together to create harmony and goodwill in sports and for
These are worthy pursuits for the amateurs – a word that
significantly comes from the Latin word for love.
The PRC and its leaders must be congratulated for leaving no
stone unturned in hosting this carnival for humanitarian love.
It was only in 1972 when the PRC was admitted as a member of the
family of nations and took its rightful place in the United
Nations that was formed after World War II.
From its inception in 1949, its fortunes were dogged by the
Korean War in 1950 that resulted in the country claiming about a
quarter of the world's population being ostracized by almost all
nation-states. This means that the PRC has come a long way since
the days of its victory over the Koumintang-led Republic of
China in October 1949.
On the same day that we celebrate this PRC outburst for love
in hosting the Olympics, we must also be mindful that the day
marks the 20th year of Myanmar (or Burma) rule by military
It has been 20 years since they seized power in a coup d'etat
on 8 Aug. 1988, after the National League for Democracy led by
the then 43-year-old Aung San Suu Kyi won democratic elections
in that normally sedate country.
Calls from all over the world, including ASEAN, for the
release of 63-year-old Nobel Peace laureate daughter of Burmese
freedom fighter General Aung San, have gone unheeded.
General Aung San, the son of a lawyer, who left his own law
studies for a political career, was assassinated by his
political rivals on July 19, 1947, at the age of 32.
General Aung San is still loved and revered in Burma, as can
be seen from the use of his photographs when the Burmese monks
staged their public demonstrations some months back.
The Burmese love for General Aung San, more than 60 years
after his untimely demise, is as great as, if not greater than
the love that the Olympics Torch signifies.
It is this love, this pursuit of harmony and goodwill in
sports and this "amateurish" quest for universal peace that was
disrupted when certain Frenchmen disrupted the torch run that
foreshadowed the Olympics today.
Ironically, it was a Frenchman called Pierre de Courbertin,
who was born as heir to Baron Charles Louis Fredy de Courbertin
on Jan 1, 1863, who re-ignited the modern Olympic Games in
Athens in 1896. Pierre, a one-time law student, was a product of
the School of Liberal and Political Sciences.
Pierre saw the benefit in building a robust and rugged people
through the emphasis on sports rather than in the military
barracks. That is probably why, the Olympics Games, which is
today held every four years, emphasizes the importance of taking
part rather than winning. It emphasizes on the "how" of taking
part rather than the "what" of winning laurels.
All this is so very applicable in the Myanmar of today.
Members of the Burmese junta could not have acted out of love
when they used naked force to smash the public demonstration of
the Buddhist monks, many of whom my Burmese friends say are
still incarcerated and tortured.
Many of these Burmese monks have paid with their lives for
leading the public demonstration. Assuming that the members of
the Burmese junta know what the Olympian spirit is, by using
force and coercion against the very people who they are supposed
to protect against foreign invasion, they have emphasised the
victory more than the participation.
Viewed in whichever way, this use of naked military force
upon an unarmed and peaceful public demonstration led by the
Buddhist monks certainly runs counter to the spirit of the
Olympics. The Olympics celebrates life. The Burmese junta
demands death to perpetuate itself. (By STEPHEN TAN BAN
Comic who gave out cyclone aid
The four were indicted in the tribunal
inside Insein Prison and were allowed no legal representation during the
hearing, lawyer Aung Thein said.
"Only family members were allowed to see
them, as the lawyers have no power to make arguments during the
hearing," he said.
The comedian, Zarganar, and sports
writer Zaw Thet Htwe had been distributing aid before their arrests, but
authorities still have not revealed why they were arrested,
Zarganar was charged with five crimes,
including inciting public unrest and communicating with unlawful
organisations. But the most serious charge against him and Zaw Thet Htwe
accuses them of violating Burma's electronics act, a crime punishable by
up to 15 years in prison.
The generals seem to have been
particularly incensed by videos of the destruction filmed by the group
and widely circulated in Burma by email and DVD. These gave the lie to
the Government's claim that the disaster was under control.
Zarganar was also fearless in talking to
foreign journalists, a rare and courageous act in Burma where the media
is heavily censored.
A 23-year-old activist, Tin Maung Aye,
was charged with helping Zarganar, but the charges against the fourth
activist, Thant Zain Aung, remained unclear, the lawyer said.
All four were arrested in June, when
authorities seized computer or video equipment from them.
Cyclone Nargis left 138,000 people dead
or missing in early May. After the storm, Burma's military regime was
criticised for blocking foreign relief supplies to about 2.4million
AFP, The Times
Democracy Hopes Alive
By Marwaan Macan-Markar
BANGKOK, Aug 8 (IPS) - Aung Moe Zaw still lives in the hope that
democracy will take root in Burma, 20 years after hundreds of thousands
of people took to the streets in Rangoon to oppose that country’s
military dictatorship. ‘’More people have joined our democracy movement.
We are very optimistic about it,’’ the 41-year-old said in an interview
on the eve of that anniversary better known in Burma as ‘8-8-88’, the
day when this spirit of democracy flowered, Aug. 8, 1988.
It happened 26 years after the military had grabbed power in a coup, in
March 1962, and ruled the country with an iron grip and a policy of
‘’The momentum is still with us, if you look at what has happened since
then. The international community is with us and is better aware than it
was in August 1988,’’ added the leader of the Democratic Party for a New
Society (DPNS), the second largest political party in the country.
Yet against such feelings of hope for a moment that has been pivotal in
this South-east Asian nation’s struggle to become a democracy is the
brutality and the bloodshed that also marked those heady days. The
military dictatorship at the time crushed the pro-democracy uprising
with force, troops firing into unarmed crowd, leaving over 3,000
But that is not all. That brazen attack on unarmed citizens has hardly
diminished, taking other oppressive forms in the ensuing years. It has
consequently undermined the pro-democracy leaders that emerged out of
the 8-8-88 protests to build a country that celebrates political and
Aung Moe Zaw typifies this predicament of Burma’s pro-democracy leaders,
men and women who have been denied a chance to shape their political
vision. He cannot talk freely and champion democracy in his country. He
has to do so as a political exile in Thailand.
He is not an exception. Many Burmese who won seats at the 1990
parliamentary elections -- held due to the pressure of 8-8-88 -- have
had to flee the country. The regime refused to recognise the results of
the poll, where the National League for Democracy (NLD), an opposition
party that was formed after the pro-democracy protests, won with a
thumping majority. These elected Burmese arliamentarians who escaped set
up the National Coalition Government for the Union of Burma (NCGUB) in
And for the country’s democracy leaders who chose to stay behind and
fight, the regime responded with arrests and long periods in jail or
under house arrest. The most famous among them are Aung San Suu Kyi, the
Nobel Peace laureate who leads the NLD, and has spent over 12 of her
last 18 years under house arrest. The other is Min Ko Naing, a leader of
the ’88 Generation’ university students who spearheaded the 8-8-88
protests, currently in jail for the third time in the past two decades.
The junta’s repression of democracy is best captured in Burma’s
notorious prisons, where over 10,000 political activists have been
jailed since the protests of August 1988, of which 2,000 still remain
behind bars. And during the two decades, 137 political activists have
died in Burmese jails or while being interrogated.
‘’The ’88 demonstrations produced many new leaders for Burma’s democracy
movement but they were denied the freedom to build a new culture. They
have been jailed or kept under house arrest,’’ says Bo Kyi, a former
political prisoner and leading member of the Assistance Association for
Political Prisoners (AAPP), a group based on the Thai-Burma border
championing the rights of the imprisoned activists.
‘’Those who have been freed and have not stopped working for democracy,
like Min Ko Naing and the other leaders of the ’88 Generation,’’ he said
during a telephone interview from Mae Sot. ‘’It is a very difficult
decision they make being politically active. They know they can be sent
back to prison. And they know the suffering there.’’
The junta’s use of Burmese jails to crush the hint of democracy since
1988 has been amplified by the longer prison sentences jailed political
activists have been given than during the years before the pro-democracy
uprising. ‘’Previously, a prison sentence for political activity would
last seven years or a little more. But since a-8-88, political activists
have been given 20 year sentences to even over 50 years,’’ says Win Min,
a Burmese national security expert teaching at a Thai university in
‘’The jail has been one method the military regime has used to crush the
political space for democratic activity. There is less space today than
during the period shortly before the ’88 uprising,’’ he said during a
telephone interview from Chiang Mai. ‘’The military has used more
coercive power to control the political process and they appear
relatively stronger than opposition groups.’’
The junta’s new found friends since 1988, such as China, India, Russia
and the governments from a 10-member regional bloc, the Association of
South-east Asian Nations (ASEAN), have also contributed to its staying
power at the expense of a healthy Burmese democracy. This international
protective net came to the regime’s rescue last September after it was
condemned for the brutal crackdown of peaceful pro-democracy protests
led by tens of thousands of Buddhist monks.
It may be a daunting political landscape, but Burma’s young political
leaders like Aung Moe Zaw are far from conceding defeat. They want to
keep the legacy of 8-8-88 alive, a reminder of a country in need of
political reform. ‘’We have to use every possible means to convince the
regime that democracy is good,’’ he says. ‘’We are not going to give up
no matter how more restricted and controlled Burma is today than 20
10 August 2008, 13:17
By Zara Nicholson
A leading supermarket chain will continue to sell reasonably priced
clothes imported from Burma for the next six months, despite that
country's human rights record.
This week a Rondebosch resident, Margie Johnson, said she was
"horrified" to find Burma-made clothing being sold by Pick n Pay.
She said she had understood local stores had agreed to stop
importing from Burma.
In December Weekend Argus ran an article about goods pouring into
the country from Burma.
The country, also known as Myanmar, has been slammed for gross human
Johnson said a pair of cargo pants she bought at a Pick n Pay
clothing store in George last week was made in Burma.
"I was horrified. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw 'Made in
"It just shows how people will act immorally if there's money to be
Pick n Pay clothing general manager Michael Coles said in December
the chain was putting pressure on its suppliers to stop imports from
Last week he told Weekend Argus it had received its last order of
summer stock from Burma and that its winter range was still "working
its way off the shelves".
Coles said: "We gave our supplier notice two months ago, and he was
only to complete work already in progress in the factory.
"All new orders have been routed through factories in other
Earlier, Mr Price said it had cancelled orders from Burma, while
Woolworths, Foschini and Edgars said they did not import clothing
from the country.
- This article was originally
published on page 6 of
The Cape Argus on August 10, 2008
Bows to Big Oil in Burma: Chevron Can Continue to Drill Offshore
2. US removes oil giant from
3. Burma aid lost to regime
By Harvey Morris at the United Nations
4. UN Security Council to Discuss Burma
5. Mia Farrow Calls for Global Pressure at Olympics for Burma
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) (WDCpix)
Caving to big oil demands, the Senate on
Tuesday approved a plan that intensifies trade sanctions against Burma's
military regime but abandons an earlier push to penalize Chevron, the last
major U.S. company propping up the repressive junta.
The move marks a departure from an earlier House-passed proposal that would
have eliminated a large tax break for Chevron, potentially prodding the
company to divest its share in a controversial natural gas field off the
coast of Burma. Supporters of the House bill had said it would help
destabilize Burma's corrupt military leaders by slashing a vital source of
"When the generals run out of cash," said Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Cal.), who
sponsored the House bill before he succumbed to cancer in February, "change
will come to Burma."
Yet despite wide bipartisan support, the bill
hit a stumbling block in the Senate, where several lawmakers objected to the
Chevron provision. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Cal.) was one such voice. She
told Politico last month that forcing Chevron out of Burma would be
"counterproductive," because "other countries are going to take it over and,
most particularly, the Burmese government will take it over. So what is
gained by doing this"
Many human-rights advocates say there is much to be gained, arguing that
Chevron's presence in Burma has a symbolic value that leaves Washington no
moral suasion in convincing foreign investors to quit supporting the junta.
"Unless Chevron is out of there, the United States doesn't have the moral
authority to tell other countries to get out," said Nyunt Than, president of
the Burmese American Democratic Alliance, a non-profit group.
Faced with election-year time restraints, however, House and Senate
negotiators removed the Lantos Chevron provision. In its place is language
urging the oil giant to get out of Burma voluntarily -- something the
company has said it will not do.
The House passed the compromise bill last week, and President George W.
Bush, a vocal critic of Burma's regime, is expected to sign it into law
The international outrage over the Burmese junta has intensified over the
last year following several high-profile episodes. Last fall, the junta
orchestrated a violent crackdown on thousands of monks and other
pro-democracy protesters. More recently, the junta barred most international
aid in the wake of Cyclone Nargis, which struck Burma's Irrawaddy Delta in
May. Estimates place the number of dead at more than 130,000. These actions
pushed Congress to install stronger sanctions.
With several proposals floating around Capitol Hill, the major sticking
point became how to approach Chevron, grandfathered to operate in Burma
under current sanctions. The debate set Feinstein and other Chevron
supporters against some House Democrats, who were fighting to preserve the
Lantos bill as a memorial to their deceased colleague. Lantos had been a
fierce advocate for human rights and was the only Holocaust survivor to
serve in Congress. He died of esophageal cancer in February, after nearly 28
years in the House.
The debate has also carried a hint of election year politics. Sen. John
McCain (Ariz.), the likely GOP presidential nominee, sponsored a bill last
year that would have required Chevron to sell its share in Burma's gas
field, called the Yadana project. That position turned political convention
on its head, with the Democratic Feinstein supporting the oil industry and
the Republican McCain siding with human-rights advocates. McCain's office
did not respond to several calls and emails requesting comment.
Feinstein, a member of the same state delegation as Lantos, had long been
one of Washington's most vocal critics of Burma's repressive regime. In
February, for example, she joined Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)
in sponsoring legislation to award the Congressional Gold Medal to Aung San
Suu Kyi, the Burmese Nobel Peace Prize laureate who's been under house
arrest for much of the last two decades. Yet, on the topic of Chevron,
Feinstein has aligned herself squarely behind the San Ramon, Cal.-based
Her support has not gone unnoticed. During her last reelection cycle in
2006, Feinstein took in $11,200 from the company -- the third highest tally
of all 535 members of Congress, according to the Center for Responsive
Politics, a campaign watchdog group.
Feinstein spokesman Scott Gerber -- pointing out that the California senator
was not directly involved the House/Senate negotiations -- referred
questions to those who were.
Instead of targeting Burma's gas and oil industry, the compromise bill goes
after revenues derived from gem sales. A 2003 law banned direct gem imports
from Burma, where more than 90 percent of the world's rubies originate. But
a loophole allows those imports to continue if the stones were processed
elsewhere. The compromise bill would close the loophole.
The bill also requires the Treasury Dept. to submit a report detailing which
international banks are harboring the assets of the regime's leaders.
Additionally, the bill creates a special envoy charged with aligning Burmese
sanction policies between the United States and other countries. For some
human-rights groups, the absence of the Chevron provision is a minor defeat.
"For us, the meat of the bill is still there," said Jennifer Quigley, the
advocacy coordinator for the U.S. Campaign for Burma.
Chevron, which owns 28 percent of the Yadana project, currently receives a
large tax break for money it pays to the Burmese government. Marco Simons,
the legal director of EarthRights International, estimated that the company
takes in $100 million annually from the project, with roughly $30 million of
that going to the Burmese junta. Simons said that eliminating Chevron's tax
break might be an appropriate penalty for a company propping up one of the
world's most abusive governments. But because another international company
would likely swoop in to fill the void, he said, such a move would have
little immediate effect on Burma's political situation.
"It wouldn't have affected the regime's bottom line whatsoever," Simons
But a number of human-rights advocates rejected that claim. Betsy Apple,
director of the Crimes Against Humanity Program at Human Rights First,
pointed to the sanctions targeting South Africa during the apartheid era,
wondering what might have happened had the United States hinged its policies
on those of other countries.
"It's a cop out," Apple said. "I think it's a pretext for taking no action
removes oil giant from Burma sanctions
The US oil giant Chevron will continue
to do business in Burma after a provision to stop it operating there
was removed from the latest round of US sanctions on the country.
The new sanctions plan, approved
yesterday by Congress and expected to receive quick approval from
the White House, prevents the sale of Burmese gems and timber in the
US via third parties – bringing the US into line with EU and
Canadian policy. Profits from those products have enriched Burma's
oppressive military regime.
But Congress chose not to sanction
Chevron, the largest US business still operating in Burma. An early
version of the plan would have forced the company to give up its 28%
stake in the Yadana natural gas field, which the regime considers a
crucial political priority.
Human rights advocates have linked
the Yadana project to ongoing abuses by the regime, including forced
labour, rapes and land confiscation to make room for the natural gas
pipeline which is slated to run from Burma to Thailand.
The requirement that Chevron leaves
Burma was softened to a non-binding recommendation for divestment
after the company protested. The US stake in Yadana would be handed
over to Chinese or Indian companies if Chevron was forced to sell,
the company argued.
The Burma sanctions plan was proposed
in Congress last year in response to the regime's bloody quashing of
peaceful protests by Buddhist monks and other pro-democracy
activists. Not until Cyclone Nargis caused widespread devastation in
Burma in May, however, did the legislation move forward.
Howard Berman, the Democratic
chairman of the foreign affairs committee in the House of
Representatives, lamented that the regime is morally bankrupt "but
unfortunately is far from financially bankrupt".
"While the Burmese people live in
abject poverty, Burma's military leaders continue to take Burma's
vast natural resources as their own," Berman added
International aid money sent to Burma’s
cyclone victims is being lost as a result of the junta’s foreign
exchange regulations, according to United Nations officials.
They quoted John Holmes, the UN’s
humanitarian affairs chief, as describing the loss as “a serious
problem” that he had raised with Burmese leaders during a visit this
week, who had promised to address the issue.
The UN’s first acknowledgement of the
gravity of the problem followed claims by Burmese political exiles that
the regime was using exchange controls to pocket a proportion of donor
funds destined for the more than 2m survivors of Cyclone Nargis that
killed 140,000 in May.
While UN officials could put no figure on
the losses, the exiles claimed they might amount to 20 per cent of the
tens of millions of dollars so far spent.
The losses stem from Burma’s requirement
that foreign exchange brought into the country must be changed into
government-issued foreign exchange certificates. The FECs are officially
at parity with the dollar but in practice trade in the local market at a
discount when converted into Burmese kyat to buy local goods and
“FECs trade currently at about 80 cents
for every $1 they supposedly represent,” said Sean Turnell, an
Australian economist who monitors the Burmese economy from Sydney’s
“This means that for every $1 supplied by
the international agencies, 20 per cent is automatically unavailable for
redemption into goods and services. Shorn of technicalities, a cut of 20
per cent to the regime is built in.”
Mr Turnell said it was difficult to
quantify the actual losses as much of the aid to Burma was supplied in
kind rather than in cash. Claims of an overall loss of 20 percent were
probably overstated, he said.
A spokeswoman for Mr Holmes office said
the “vast majority” of aid to Burma was purchased outside the country
and was not subject to the exchange control anomaly. Any losses would
principally be related to salaries and expenses of local aid personnel.
Mr Holmes this month more than doubled
the target of an international disaster appeal for Burma to $482m
(£242m, €307m). Some $190m has so far been pledged to support the work
of UN agencies and international charities working in Burma.
Michele Montas, spokeswoman for Ban-Ki-Moon,
UN secretary-general, said this week: “There are losses which are
implicit in the gap between the street rate and the official foreign
exchange certificate rate. Aid agencies and donors alike are concerned
about this issue because fewer services then can be purchased.”
Concerns come when the international
community is resuming political pressure on the Burma regime.
Financial Times Limited 2008
UN Security Council to Discuss Burma
|By LALIT K JHA /
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
NEW YORK — As the United Nations plans to send special envoy Ibrahim
Gambari to Burma in September and the Security Council prepares to
discuss Burma on Thursday, the US says it will push for a “focused”
political approach on Burma.
"The political track needs to be focused on now, front and center, with
regard to Burma," said US Ambassador to the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad.
Khalilzad stressed the "process" adopted by the military junta to get a
new constitution approved was "very much flawed." A group of five
Burmese parliamentarians on Monday sent a letter to UN Secretary-General
Ban Ki-moon and the five Permanent Representatives on the Security
Council urging the UN to declare Burma’s new constitution illegitimate.
A UN spokesperson said that Gambari intends to discuss such concerns
during his visit to Burma next month.
Khalilzad said the referendum on the draft constitution did not meet the
standards of the Security Council and its presidential statement which
the council outlined before the referendum.
The council’s UN presidential statement asked for the release of all
political prisoners including Aung San Suu Kyi, and for a free, fair and
transparent process surrounding the referendum. The Burmese junta went
ahead with a referendum in the immediate aftermath of Cyclone Nargis
that killed more than 130,000 people. Led by the US, the international
community called it a sham referendum.
"That's why we have been of the view that the international system and
the UN needs to focus on the political track once again in Burma,"
"Because of the terrible humanitarian situation in the aftermath of the
cyclone, there was less attention paid to the political process,"
Khalilzad said. "We think that's vital, and that's why we have been
urging the secretary-general to send his special envoy back and to
achieve specific progress."
Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief
Coordinator John Holmes arrived in Burma on Tuesday for a three-day
visit to assess progress in the aid relief and recovery operations.
Holmes visited several affected communities in the Irrawaddy delta on
Tuesday during a helicopter tour.
"He noted that significant progress has been made since his last visit
(in May),” said a UN spokesperson. “The focus now needs to be on
reaching the most vulnerable communities in remote areas."
Holmes planned to meet the humanitarian community and donors in Rangoon
on Wednesday. He also planned to travel to Naypyidaw, the capital, on
Friday for consultations with Burmese officials.
Mia Farrow Calls for Global Pressure at Olympics for
|By THE ASSOCIATED
July 25, 2008
BANGKOK — American actress Mia Farrow said Friday the world should use
the upcoming Beijing Olympics as a platform for demanding that China end its
support for Burma's military junta.
Farrow also said US President George W Bush missed an opportunity to take
a strong stand against China's ties with Burma by agreeing to attend the
opening ceremonies of the August 8-24 games.
"If there is
enough international pressure and if voices are raised loud enough, we can
push China to change its position on Burma," Farrow told The Associated
Press in Bangkok. "Using the Olympics Games as tool to effect change is
American activist and
actress Mia Farrow, right, looks on as Noble Peace Laureate Jody
Williams speaks as during a news conference at Foreign
Correspondents' Club in Bangkok, on Friday. (Photo: AP)
Bush, who plans to stay in Beijing for the first few days of the
Olympics, said earlier this week he was "fired up" to watch some of the
"I wish that (Bush) had not agreed to attend the Olympics, because that
represents a missed opportunity for the United States to stand strong by its
own principles," Farrow said. "A statement could have been made by skipping
the opening ceremonies."
China is Burma's most important ally, providing economic, military and other
assistance while Western nations shun the military-ruled country because of
its poor human rights record and failure to restore democracy. China objects
to Western criticisms of Burma's junta, saying conditions in the Southeast
Asian country have improved since its violent crackdown on peaceful protests
"China must use its unique position with Burma—its business alliance, its
seat on the (UN) Security Council—not to protect Burma and its own
interests, but to effect change and to improve human rights in Burma,"
Farrow has campaigned around the world to urge China to help stop
killings in Sudan's western Darfur region. China has been one of Sudan's
biggest trading partners, buying oil from the African nation and selling it
Farrow held a news conference in Bangkok after visiting the
Burma-Thailand border with a delegation from the Nobel Women's Initiative, a
group founded by female recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize.
The actress urged the United Nations and the international community to
take action to protect women in Burma from sexual exploitation and abuse in
areas hit by a devastating cyclone in May, which killed more than 84,500
people and left 54,000 missing, according to the junta.
Myanmar junta gang hits Suu Kyi
2. The Nation: Who will save Burma's women and children? ( by Nilar Thein)
3. NY Times: The End of Intervention (by MADELEINE K. ALBRIGHT)
4. The Irrawaddy: Burma’s Bureaucratic Abyss (by YeNi)
5. UPI Aisa Online: No show trials for Burma’s protestors
6. Telegraph: Plague of rats devastates Burma villages
7. NY Times: Burmese Endure in Spite of Junta, Aid Workers Say
8. The Scotsman: Burmese saved by survival instincts
9. Washington Post: Frustrated Burmese Organize Aid Forays
10. ABC News: 'Everything Is Gone, We Have Nothing'
11. Burma's Elected Representatives want Military Junta before the
International Court of Justice
Myanmar junta gang hits Suu Kyi birthday
By Aung Hla Tun
Thursday, June 19, 2008; 4:47 AM
(Reuters) - Pro-junta thugs broke up a rally
by supporters of Myanmar democracy icon Aung
San Suu Kyi on Thursday, detaining three
people among a crowd chanting for her
release on her 63rd birthday, a senior
opposition member said.
At least six truckloads of Swan-Arr-Shin,
or "Masters of Force," gang members waded
into the crowd outside the dilapidated
headquarters of Suu Kyi's National League
for Democracy (NLD) in the former capital,
Yangon, one witness said.
"We saw some of them slapping and beating
NLD members," the witness said. Senior NLD
official Win Naing later told Reuters three
people had been taken away.
Police cordoned off roads leading to the
rally where the NLD members had shouted
slogans demanding freedom for Suu Kyi and
more than 1,300 political prisoners believed
to be behind bars in the former Burma.
Suu Kyi's confinement in her lakeside
home in Yangon was extended in May despite
international pleas to the generals to end
her latest stretch of detention, which began
in May 2003.
The Nobel peace laureate has now been
confined for nearly 13 of the past 19 years,
with her telephone line cut and all visitors
barred apart from her cook and occasionally
Her birthday has become an annual ritual
inside and outside Myanmar for campaigners
seeking an end to the 46 years of military
rule that have reduced a once-promising
economy and country to an impoverished
Every year, the NLD's ageing leadership
releases birds and statements calling for
Suu Kyi's freedom and a meaningful
transition to democracy.
Every year, the junta ignores them -- as
it does the protests and all-too-familiar
statements of outrage and frustration that
mark the day outside the country.
After Cyclone Nargis, which left 134,000
people dead or missing and 2.4 million
destitute, campaigners are worried about the
international community quietly shelving
their icon's plight in a bid to get the
junta to open up to outside aid.
"The U.N. is crawling on its knees before
the regime, afraid to speak the truth in
case it affects aid access deals which the
regime is already breaking," Mark Farmaner
of the Burma Campaign UK said last month.
Washington has imposed ever-tighter
sanctions on the generals in a bid to force
them into political rapprochement with the
NLD, which won a 1990 election landslide
only to be denied power.
The strategy appears merely to have
driven the regime further into isolation, as
shown by its complete distrust of U.S.
offers of ships and military helicopters to
ferry aid to Nargis victims in the worst-hit
Dozens of people protested outside the
Myanmar embassies in Bangkok and Manila,
where they carried roses, gift-wrapped boxes
In the Indian capital, where Suu Kyi went
to school in the early 1960s while her
mother was ambassador to New Delhi, police
briefly detained more than 50 demonstrators
who marched through the streets wearing
black "Free Suu Kyi" bandanas.
(Additional reporting by Manila bureau)
(Editing by Ed Cropley and Sanjeev
Who will save Burma's women
We were playing hide and seek. I was looking at
her from behind a tree. She was so beautiful, with
the prettiest smile on her face, looking for me
happily. I couldn't hide anymore. I wanted her to
find me. I wanted to hold her in my arms and kiss
her face gently. I started to show myself to her,
but, suddenly I saw three men -with black coats and
ugly faces - watching from the shadows near my
daughter. I stepped back. I wanted to be found by my
daughter, not by them. I still saw my daughter,
still looking for me with her innocent smile. I
didn't want to hide anymore. I wanted her to find
me, but these men would take me away and put me in
hell. Then I woke up, with tears on my cheeks.
I have been separated from my daughter for nearly
ten months. A midnight knock at our door in August
last year changed our lives dramatically. The
military junta's security forces took my husband
Kyaw Min Yu (also known as Jimmy) on the night of
August 21, 2007. He is a leader of the prominent
dissident group, the 88 Generation Students,
comprising former student leaders and former
political prisoners. He and other leaders were taken
from their homes that night by the authorities. As a
former student activist and a former political
prisoner myself, I knew very well how my husband and
friends would be treated in the junta's
interrogation cells. Therefore, when they came back
to arrest me, I went into hiding.
But I must continue to lead the 88 Generation
Students with my other colleagues, so that Burma may
realise its freedom, and find justice and democracy
someday. I must avoid being arrested. However, there
are so many difficulties and hardships in moving
secretly from one hiding place to another, and I
didn't want my daughter to share these hardships.
Therefore, I decided to send my three-month-old baby
to my parents. Now, I miss her so much.
My mind wanders to University Avenue, where "the
Lady", Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, has been detained under
house arrest for so many years. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi,
the world's only imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize
recipient, will have to spend her 63rd birthday
today alone in detention. She will be missing her
two sons, too. Her strength and determination helps
me and many women in Burma stand up for justice. I
thank her for being with us and leading our
movement. She is a great reminder to the world that
the military junta that rules our country forcibly
separates mothers and children.
Coincidentally, the UN Security Council will hold
a debate in New York today on "Women, Peace and
Security". This debate is a discussion of UNSC
Resolution 1325, which was passed unanimously in
October, 2000. Resolution 1325 "Calls on all parties
to armed conflict to take special measures to
protect women and girls from gender-based violence,
particularly rape and other forms of sexual abuse,
and all other forms of violence in situations of
armed conflict." It also "Emphasises the
responsibility of all States to put an end to
impunity and to prosecute those responsible for
genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes
including those relating to sexual violence against
women and girls, and in this regard, stresses the
need to exclude these crimes, where feasible from
US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice is expected
to chair the debate, with many world leaders
discussing the development of women, peace and
security. Will they discuss Burma? Will they
remember Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the women of Burma
who are suffering all forms of abuse by the military
Burma is now in the midst of two conflicts. One
is the 50-year-old civil war, raging between the
Burmese military and the minority resistance forces,
predominately in the eastern part of the country.
Burmese troops are raping with impunity tribal women
and girls, some as young as eight years old. Burmese
soldiers use women in conflict areas as porters to
carry their military equipment and supplies during
the day, and use them as sex slaves at night. Many
women have been brutally killed to erase the
evidence of these crimes.
The other conflict is a 20-year old war, waged by
the Burmese junta against its own unarmed citizens,
who are calling for freedom, justice and democracy.
Women activists are beaten, arrested, tortured and
then put in prison for many years. Many female
activists are mistreated and sexually assaulted by
their interrogators and jailers. Children are used
as bait by the authorities to get their mothers
arrested. Of the 2.5 million people severely
affected by Cyclone Nargis - many of whom the
military junta simply left to die through starvation
and disease - at least a million are women and
girls. Recently, a UN expert said that up to 35,000
pregnant women, all cyclone survivors, are at
extreme risk of death. However, they will never
receive any care from the military.
I hope that Secretary of State Rice and other
leaders at the UN Security Council will give
consideration to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the women
of Burma during their debate. Resolution 1325 is a
great development, but implementation and
enforcement is still in question. When the
government itself is the abuser of human rights and
the perpetrator of rape and other forms of
gender-based violence, who will protect the victims?
Who will end their tragedy? Who will secure the
joyful reunion of mothers with their children?
The appeasement policy of some bureaucrats is
shameful. Effective and urgent action from the UN
Security Council is necessary to help the women in
Burma. No more debate. Take action. Please let me be
happily reunited with my daughter.
nilar thein is a former student leader in the
1988 democracy uprising in Burma and spent more than
nine years in prison.
Burma’s Bureaucratic Abyss
Saturday, June 21,
Burmese military government’s recent moves to
seal off access to the cyclone survivors in the
Irrawaddy delta has proved, once again, how far
Burma continues to sink into the sad image of a
On June 9 the Burmese generals imposed higher
bureaucratic hurdles to prevent aid reaching
cyclone victims, issuing strict new guidelines
that instruct UN agencies and all other relief
groups to first seek permission for travel and
aid distribution from three separate government
Foreigners working with relief agencies must now
acquire official permits from each of the
Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Foreign
Affairs and the Ministry of Social Welfare.
Burmese groups must also deal with local
authorities, police and army checkpoints, and
frequent requests for backhanded payments.
The Light Infantry Division 66 and Southwest
Command have been handed the task of enforcing
regulations and movement at ground level in the
Meanwhile, soldiers continue to detain
individuals "without permits" who brave taking
aid to survivors of the May 2-3 storm. Prominent
entertainer and political activist Zarganar, who
became personally involved in leading relief
operations in the delta, was arrested and
imprisoned on June 4.
Likewise, Zaw Thet Hwe, a former sports journal
editor, who was distributing aid to cyclone
survivors, was arrested on June 14 and, on the
same day, seven volunteer aid workers, members
of a team known as “The Group that Buries the
Dead,” were also arrested after being caught
burying victims of Cyclone Nargis.
To date, the Burmese authorities have not
confirmed where the detainees are being held and
their respective families have expressed concern
about their disappearances.
Observers have suggested that their arrests are
linked to a continuing trend by overseas Burmese
and international supporters to send their
donations to grassroots organizations led by
respected, trusted persons inside Burma, such as
Zarganar, and not to state-run charities.
The government mouthpiece New Light of
Myanmar announced on June 16 that all local
donations should be made through the
Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Subcommittee
of the National Disaster Preparedness Central
Committee and its district and township offices.
Many private donors said they are now
discouraged from being involved in relief
efforts due to the obstacles created by the
As a result, Buddhist monks again find
themselves playing a key role in civil
society¬by acting as a conduit between private
donors and those in need. Buddhist monasteries
have been serving as places of refuge and care
ever since the cyclone struck on May 2-3.
Neglected by state agencies, cyclone survivors
were usually able to find shelter, food, medical
care and compassion in local monasteries.
As a further concern, it is widely feared that
Burma's food security will be at risk if farmers
in the delta can’t resume growing rice this
year. The rice-planting season should have
started by early June, when farmers in Burma
typically plow their fields with water buffalo
and prepare to plant new seeds for the October
harvest. But time is running out, experts warn.
The Burmese regime’s incessant foot-dragging and
bureaucratic obstacles are blocking the capacity
for people in the delta to recover. Now there
are real fears that a fresh stream of refugees
will start seeking a better life in Thailand in
the near future.
The regime's imprudent actions are leading an
already impoverished country downhill into a
The End of Intervention
THE Burmese government’s criminally
neglectful response to last month’s cyclone, and
the world’s response to that response,
illustrate three grim realities today:
totalitarian governments are alive and well;
their neighbors are reluctant to pressure them
to change; and the notion of national
sovereignty as sacred is gaining ground, helped
in no small part by the disastrous results of
the American invasion of Iraq. Indeed, many of
the world’s necessary interventions in the
decade before the invasion — in places like
Haiti and the Balkans — would seem impossible in
The first and most obvious reality is the
survival of totalitarian government in an age of
global communications and democratic progress.
Myanmar’s military junta employs the same set of
tools used by the likes of Stalin to crush
dissent and monitor the lives of citizens. The
needs of the victims of Cyclone Nargis mean
nothing to a regime focused solely on preserving
its own authority.
Second is the unwillingness of Myanmar’s
neighbors to use their collective leverage on
behalf of change. A decade ago, when Myanmar was
allowed to join the Association of Southeast
Asian Nations, I was assured by leaders in the
region that they would push the junta to open
its economy and move in the direction of
democracy. With a few honorable exceptions, this
A third reality is that the concept of
national sovereignty as an inviolable and
overriding principle of global law is once again
gaining ground. Many diplomats and foreign
policy experts had hoped that the fall of the
Berlin Wall would lead to the creation of an
integrated world system free from spheres of
influence, in which the wounds created by
colonial and cold war empires would heal.
In such a world, the international community
would recognize a responsibility to override
sovereignty in emergency situations — to prevent
ethnic cleansing or genocide, arrest war
criminals, restore democracy or provide disaster
relief when national governments were either
unable or unwilling to do so.
During the 1990s, certain precedents were
created. The administration of George H. W. Bush
intervened to prevent famine in Somalia and to
aid Kurds in northern Iraq; the Clinton
administration returned an elected leader to
power in Haiti; NATO ended the war in Bosnia and
stopped Slobodan Milosevic’s campaign of terror
in Kosovo; the British halted a civil war in
Sierra Leone; and the United Nations authorized
life-saving missions in East Timor and
These actions were not steps toward a world
government. They did reflect the view that the
international system exists to advance certain
core values, including development, justice and
respect for human rights. In this view,
sovereignty is still a central consideration,
but cases may arise in which there is a
responsibility to intervene — through sanctions
or, in extreme cases, by force — to save lives.
The Bush administration’s decision to fight
in Afghanistan after 9/11 did nothing to weaken
this view because it was clearly motivated by
self-defense. The invasion of Iraq, with the
administration’s grandiose rhetoric about
pre-emption, was another matter, however. It
generated a negative reaction that has weakened
support for cross-border interventions even for
worthy purposes. Governments, especially in the
developing world, are now determined to preserve
the principle of sovereignty, even when the
human costs of doing so are high.
Thus, Myanmar’s leaders have been shielded
from the repercussions of their outrageous
actions. Sudan has been able to dictate the
terms of multinational operations inside Darfur.
The government of Zimbabwe may yet succeed in
stealing a presidential election.
Political leaders in Pakistan have told the
Bush administration to back off, despite the
growth of Al Qaeda and Taliban cells in the
country’s wild northwest. African leaders
(understandably perhaps) have said no to the
creation of a regional American military
command. And despite recent efforts to enshrine
the doctrine of a “responsibility to protect” in
international law, the concept of humanitarian
intervention has lost momentum.
The global conscience is not asleep, but
after the turbulence of recent years, it is
profoundly confused. Some governments will
oppose any exceptions to the principle of
sovereignty because they fear criticism of their
own policies. Others will defend the sanctity of
sovereignty unless and until they again have
confidence in the judgment of those proposing
At the heart of the debate is the question of
what the international system is. Is it just a
collection of legal nuts and bolts cobbled
together by governments to protect governments?
Or is it a living framework of rules intended to
make the world a more humane place?
We know how the government of Myanmar would
answer that question, but what we need to listen
to is the voice — and cry — of the Burmese
Plague of rats devastates Burma villages
Last Updated: 3:10PM BST 21/06/2008
After the fury of Cyclone Nargis,
a new disaster looms in Burma: packs of rats that
swarm through the hills once every 50 years have
consumed everything in their path, reducing
thousands of poor farmers to the verge of
The rat plague strikes twice a century,
when the bamboo forests flower
Villagers believe the bamboo seeds
are a rodent aphrodisiac
Burma's latest human disaster is unfolding
almost unseen by the outside world in the
jungle-covered mountains of Chin State, far to
the north of the Irrawaddy Delta where 134,000
people died last month.
The plague of rats happens twice a century
when bamboo forests produce flowers and seeds,
then wither and die for five years in a
phenomenom locally known as mautam or bamboo
death. Villagers believe the bamboo seeds are a
kind of aphrodisiac for the rodents, whose
numbers explode until all the seeds have been
eaten. Then they turn on villagers' rice stocks,
stripping ripening corn and paddy in the fields
and even digging up seeds at night after farmers
The regime's generals will permit no food aid
or humanitarian workers into affected areas of
the strategically important region in a repeat
of their callous refusal last month to permit
emergency aid sitting in foreign ships off
Burma's coast to be distributed to cyclone
Exiled Chin leaders say that villagers who
are too weak to flee over the border with India
have already begun to die. They fear that
thousands more now face a lingering death in the
deep bamboo forests where most of the state's
million-strong population of Christian tribal
people live far from roads or towns.
The Chin, one of Burma's many minority ethnic
groups, are under the brutal rule of occupying
soldiers from the Burma Army who terrorise
civilians and sporadically fight Chin
guerrillas. The soldiers have made the food
shortage worse by stealing rice and forcing
villagers to work as conscripted labourers.
Cheery Zahau, 27, from the Women's League of
Chinland, met William Hague and Gordon Brown in
London this week to ask for British help.
She said: "The reports that are trickling out
to India are heartbreaking. They tell of
dehydrated children dying of diarrhoea and the
poorest and weakest being left behind as
stronger villagers start to escape over the
border to where there is food. We don't really
know what is happening deep inside Chin State
where there are no telephones or roads. We fear
that thousands will die if no help is made
Villagers roast rats they catch on sticks,
but that food source rapidly disappears when the
rodents have eaten everything in the village and
In Mizoram State in India and the Chittagong
Hill Tracts in Bangladesh, similar rat plagues
in the last few months have also stripped fields
bare after the flowering of the Melocanna
Baccifera bamboo. Unlike Burma those governments
have put work and food programmes in place to
Benny Manser, 24, a photographer from
Aylesbury, slipped across the international
border from Mizoram State last month to visit
He said: "We saw stick-thin children and old
women who hardly had the strength left to dig up
roots to eat. Villagers were telling of vast
packs of rats, thousands strong, which would
turn up overnight out of the bamboo thickets and
eat everything in sight."
Rapport, for The New York Times
Kyi Kyi Aye, 51, pumped water
late last month from one of the few remaining wells
in her town near Yangon, Myanmar, after a cyclone
devastated the country.
Myanmar — More than six weeks have passed since
Cyclone Nargis swept through the Irrawaddy Delta
in southern Myanmar, leaving a trail of flattened
villages and broken lives and arousing international
sympathy that turned to anguish as the military
government obstructed foreign aid.
saved by survival instincts
SPECIAL REPORT FROM RANGOON
SEVEN weeks have passed since Cyclone Nargis swept through the Irrawaddy
Delta in southern Burma, leaving a trail of flattened villages and broken
lives and arousing international sympathy that turned to anguish as the
military government obstructed foreign aid.
While it is estimated that the cyclone may have killed 130,000 people, the
number of lives lost subsequently is much lower than at first feared, in
part because of the resilience of villagers used to coping with a brutal
Reports from Burma,ADVERTISEMENTobtained despite heavy media restrictions
which don't allow this journalist to give their name, find relief workers
continuing to criticise the government's secretive posture. They say the
main problems include an obsession with security, restrictions on foreign
aid experts, and weeks of dawdling that has left bloated bodies befouling
waterways and survivors marooned with little food. But the specific
character of the cyclone, the hardiness of villagers and aid efforts by
private citizens have helped prevent further death and sickness, according
to aid workers.
Most of the people killed by the cyclone, which struck on May 2-3, drowned.
But those who survived were not likely to need urgent medical attention,
doctors have said.
"We saw very, very few serious injuries," said Frank Smithuis, manager of
the mission of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Burma. "You were dead or
you were in OK shape."
The cyclone swept away bamboo huts throughout the delta; in the hardest hit
villages, it left almost no trace of habitation. Some survivors carried away
by floods found themselves many miles from home when the waters receded. But
those who survived were not likely to be injured in the aftermath by falling
rocks or collapsing buildings, as often happens during natural disasters,
like the recent earthquake in China.
That appears to be the primary reason villagers were able to stay alive for
weeks without aid. As they waited, the survivors, most of whom were
fishermen and farmers, lived off of coconuts, rotten rice and fish. "The
Burmese people are used to getting nothing," said Shari Villarosa, the
highest-ranking US diplomat in Burma. "I'm not getting the sense that there
have been a lot of deaths as a result of the delay."
The United States has accused the military government of "criminal neglect"
in its handling of the disaster caused by the cyclone. Privately, many aid
workers have, too.
But relief workers say the debate over access for foreigners and the refusal
of the government to allow in military helicopters and ships from the US,
France and Britain overshadowed a substantial relief operation carried out
mainly by Burmese citizens and monks. They organised convoys of trucks
filled with drinking water, clothing, food and construction materials that
poured into the delta.
"It's been overwhelmingly impressive what local organisations, medical
groups and some businessmen have done," said Ruth Bradley Jones, second
secretary in the British Embassy in Rangoon, Burma's largest city. "They are
the true heroes of the relief effort."
Aid workers emphasise that of the estimated 2.4 million Burmese seriously
affected by the storm, thousands remain vulnerable to sickness and many are
still without adequate food, shelter and supplies.
But their ailments are, for now, minor. Medical logs from MSF show that of
the 30,000 people the group's workers treated in the six weeks after the
cyclone, most had flesh wounds, diarrhoea or respiratory infections.
For several weeks after the disaster, the government prevented all but a
small number of foreigners from entering the delta. Now a more comprehensive
picture of the damage is being assembled by a team of 250 officials led by
the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The officials plan to release
their findings this week.
The number of people killed in the storm may never be known. The government
has not updated its toll since May 16, when it said 77,738 people were
killed and 55,917 were missing.
In a country that has not had a full census in decades, it is not even
certain how many people had been living in the area before the storm.
Itinerant people who worked in the salt marshes and shrimp farms were
probably not counted among the dead, aid workers say.
But it is clear that in many villages, women and children died in
disproportionate numbers, said Osamu Kunii, chief of the health and
nutrition section of Unicef in Burma.
"Only people who could endure the tidal surge and high winds could survive,"
Kunii said. In one village of 700, all children under the age of seven died,
With only minimal food supplies in villages, aid workers say, delta
residents will require aid until at least the end of the year. The United
Nations, after weeks of haggling with Burma's government for permission to
provide assistance, is now using 10 helicopters to deliver supplies to
hard-to-reach places and alerting relief experts at the earliest sign of
Still, the military government continues to make it difficult for aid
agencies to operate. Earlier this month, the government issued a directive
that accused foreign aid agencies and the United Nations of having "deviated
from the normal procedures". The government imposed an extra layer of
approvals for travel into the delta, effectively requiring that all
foreigners be accompanied by government officials.
Frustrated Burmese Organize Aid Forays
Ad Hoc Groups Formed In Cyclone's Aftermath, But Causes May Widen
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, June 21, 2008; A01
RANGOON -- Seven weeks after huge swaths of Burma were savaged by a
cyclone and tidal wave, a new and remarkable citizen movement is delivering
emergency supplies to survivors neglected by the military government's
haphazard relief effort.
The scores of ad hoc Burmese groups, many of them based here in the
country's largest city, are not overtly political. But they are reviving a
kind of social activism that has been largely repressed by successive
military rulers here.
Defying roadblocks and bureaucratic obstruction, volunteers have reached
devastated villages in many parts of the
Irrawaddy Delta, dropping off food, drinking water and other essentials
and bringing back photos that contradict claims in the state media that life
is returning to normal.
Some members of the groups say they hope to keep working together when
the cyclone damage is finally repaired and turn toward other activities that
carry shades of political activism in this tightly controlled state.
With residents' frustration over the official relief effort mounting,
pledges of support and donations to the
National League for Democracy, the main opposition group in Burma, also
called Myanmar, have doubled since the cyclone, according to a student
leader of the league.
The storm, which came ashore on the night of May 2-3, killed an estimated
134,000 people and created severe hardship for 2.4 million more. The
country's deeply xenophobic junta turned aside many offers of foreign help,
agreeing to let in substantial numbers of international aid workers only
after U.N. Secretary General
Ban Ki-moon flew to the country May 22 with a personal appeal.
By then, however, homegrown groups were already mobilized, working to
offset the tragic shortcomings of the government operation.
Down a street lined with gold and ruby merchants, where dealers charm
clients over tiny tables set with tea and chess, employees in the back room
of a gem shop one recent morning were swapping evidence: photos of rotten
government food handouts.
A week earlier, people in the shops said, more than a dozen local
jewelers had loaded 100 bags of rice, 20 bags of beans, tarpaulins and
blankets onto a truck donated by a supplier and set off at midnight for the
storm-ravaged town of Labutta.
They returned with photos of homeless villagers lining up for tins of
food at a makeshift camp, a tear-stained boy who, they said, had lost his
entire family to the storm's fierce tidal surge, and rotten rice -- yellow,
fist-size chunks of it, piled like rocks in bags donated by the
Myanmar Red Cross.
"When I saw what they were being fed, I was shaking I was so angry," said
a shop assistant, 26, narrating each photo as she passed it to a customer.
The informal organizations are often based on occupation. Artists,
doctors, students and the gem dealers have formed separate groups. In other
cases, the groups are made up of friends coming together to help.
A 27-year-old lawyer trainee said he and five friends were furious when
they tried to distribute supplies around the ruined town of Bogalay about a
week after the cyclone but were turned away by local authorities who told
them they needed a permit.
"They say they are giving these things to the people, but we know they
aren't," he said, pointing at a photo in the state daily newspaper, the
Mirror, that showed a relief camp with neat rows of tents and tables laden
with food. "We know not to believe them."
In the weeks immediately after the cyclone, a doctor recounted, he closed
his private medical clinic for twice-weekly trips to the delta with others.
There, they noticed local officials shooing away desperate children, many of
them orphaned or suffering storm-related trauma.
So the doctors, four of whom are pediatricians, tried to entertain the
children to keep their minds occupied. They held a sanitation workshop after
noticing that there were no visible efforts to instruct people in basic
"The Ministry of Health is trying, but they're not effective, not
organized," the physician said.
Like many other residents, the doctor can't afford to take many more days
off work, but he still meets with the group every week. He said he hopes to
translate the momentum of its cyclone relief work into other efforts,
operating under cover of medicine.
"I'm not political; I'm a community-based activist," the doctor said,
when asked how his group could keep working and turn from cyclone relief to
other activities, such as organizing debates on health care.
"Now we're seeing the time of civil society. Now thousands of small
groups are helping any way they can," said a magazine editor, who pooled
funds with other journalists and artists in the hope of purchasing 1,000
shortwave radios so delta survivors could receive uncensored foreign news
broadcasts. In the end, the group could afford only 50 but managed to
distribute them in villages.
The back page of the Mirror and the New Light of Myanmar daily tells
readers that "everybody may make donations freely . . . to any person or any
area." But nearly a dozen people interviewed offered firsthand or secondhand
tales of confiscation or obstruction by local authorities.
A surgeon said he and his group of medical and psychology students were
prevented from handing out food at a monastery near the town of Dedaye to
about 1,000 refugees who had been sheltering inside. A general there wanted
to be seen to hand out the food first, the surgeon said.
A lawyer said he had set out on a relief trip to the delta town of
Kyunpangong with five friends, but every box of goods they brought was
opened and searched in front of them.
"If I had the chance, I'd occupy the whole delta and put up a sign to the
authorities that reads 'Don't come here,' " said a Rangoon monk who is
active in medical work. "So many people are waiting to get aid from the
government, but they're having to rely instead on private donors."
In five relief expeditions to the delta or ravaged areas around Rangoon,
he said, he saw military troops and police patrolling roads or monitoring
checkpoints but not once helping survivors.
Since the cyclone, three people have been arrested on charges of taking
photographs of the cyclone-ravaged areas and sending them to foreign news
sites, and one person for marching to the offices of the
U.N. Development Program to complain about government neglect, according
to a lawyer monitoring their cases.
Though some private groups are keeping up their relief efforts, others
are running out of steam -- and money.
Under monsoon skies one recent afternoon, porters loaded a boat berthed
in Rangoon with rattan baskets of cloth, children's pajamas and bags of
rice. It was sailing to the delta under the auspices of a prominent Buddhist
abbot. On its previous trip, the owners had offered the boat for free. This
time, said a monk directing the loading, the owner was charging.
Nearby, in a single-room apartment, 16 current and former university
students crowded around a surgeon who was writing notes on a blackboard in
preparation for another crack-of-dawn trip to the delta.
Later the surgeon remarked: "I think the government made a huge mistake.
If they were seen to care, people would have forgiven them for the past 20
U Ohn Than holds a solitary protest in front of the U.S.
Embassy in Rangoon, Burma, on Aug. 23, 2007. His sign
calls for U.N. intervention in Burma, among other
Hong Kong, China — Nearly a week ago, the Asian
Human Rights Commission issued an appeal on behalf of U Ohn
Than, who is imprisoned in Kanti in upper Burma. The 60-year-old
was among the few who protested last August against the
government’s unannounced dramatic increase in fuel prices,
precipitating the historic monk-led revolt in September.
Than went out alone, standing opposite the U.S. Embassy in the
center of Rangoon with a placard that called for United Nations’
intervention and pleaded for the armed forces and police to join
in efforts to topple the junta.
His protest did not last long. Within a few minutes an
unidentified vehicle pulled up and a group of men threw him
inside and drove away. For the public, that was it. For Ohn
Than, it was only the beginning.
Ohn Than was not taken to a police station, as required by
Burma’s penal code, but to a special army barracks that was used
to house thousands, similarly detained without charge or
procedure, in the coming days and weeks. He was kept there, a
non-detainee in a non-prison.
Several months later, at the end of January, Ohn Than was
finally charged with sedition, which requires that the
prosecutor prove that Ohn Than had provoked “hatred or contempt”
for the government, or had attempted to “excite disaffection”
Under other circumstances, this may be a difficult task, but
Ohn Than was tried in a closed court, unable to present
witnesses, and was denied a lawyer, making the prosecutor’s job
Still, Ohn Than did his best to argue a case, cross-examining
nine witnesses, all of them state officials and government
thugs, and asking questions that were consequently struck from
the record when the judge found them impertinent.
In his defense, Ohn Than said that he had not intended to
incite hatred toward the state and pointed out that the wording
of his silently-held placard was simply calling for democracy
instead of dictatorship, and for the armed forces to uphold
their dignity by siding with the people.
He also noted that a government-backed group had held a rally
near the same spot in February. None of the hundred or so that
had gathered had been charged with any offence. He had assumed
that he had the right to do as they did.
In the end, it seemed Ohn Than’s words were of no import. The
judge skipped lightly over the facts and handed down the
Dictators have long relied upon pliable judiciaries to deal
with political opponents or former allies, and in this respect
Burmese courts are unremarkable. Still, whereas in many
countries the courts have been used for rehearsed public
performances of justice, it is not the case in Burma.
In Moscow, show trials under Stalin were highly scripted; in
Beijing, the Gang of Four trial was an important part of a
public and political catharsis. In each case, the performances
were paramount. The law mattered little.
What is striking about the trials in Burma today is that
neither the performance nor the law matters. They go on without
fanfare or outside interest for no purpose other than the
illegal imprisonment of persons who were already illegally
imprisoned, without anyone to witness their parodies of justice
other than the performers themselves.
Ultimately, it is this lack of audience that makes these
trials particularly disturbing. Unable to operate with
integrity, Burma’s courts do not even serve as a locale shaping
and exhibiting state propaganda. Their judgments, having been
stripped of both coherence and relevance, are disinterested in
the police’s attention to the law, the presence of the
prosecutor’s evidence, or the defendant’s defense. There is no
sound, no fury, and no significance.
The significance of U Ohn Than’s case, then, is its absence.
For a few fleeting moments, Ohn Than was visible on the streets
outside the embassy. There was no other opportunity: no
television camera recorded his testimony to the court; no
newspaper declared in print the passing of his life sentence.
His was the role of an actor in an uncelebrated farce, a farce
(Awzar Thi is the pen name of a member of the Asian Human
Rights Commission with over 15 years of experience as an
advocate of human rights and the rule of law in Thailand and
Burma. His Rule of Lords blog can be read at http://ratchasima.net)
'Everything Is Gone, We
Five Weeks After Cyclone
Nargis Struck Myanmar, a
Reporter Finds the Burmese
Still Desperate for Help
The following dispatch was written for ABC
News by a journalist who has been inside Myanmar.
Out of concern for the reporter's safety, we are not
revealing the author's name.
Downed trees line the streets, their massive
roots shooting into the air and their trunks
blocking traffic. Repair crews trim large branches
that have fallen into the streets. Piles of refuse
sit untouched in front of dilapidated commercial
buildings. And the city's proud pagodas show damage
from the storm, their golden spires bent toward the
earth, snapped in half by powerful winds.
Indeed, the deadly effects of cyclone Nargis,
which tore through Myanmar more than a month ago,
are clearly on display here in Yangon, the country's
largest city. More than 134,000 people are estimated
to have died in Myanmar, also known as Burma, and
more than a million survivors remain, many of whom
still lack proper food, water and shelter.
Foreign journalists are prohibited from
entering this repressive country, which is
ruled by a hardline military regime. But I'm
posing as a tourist, reporting
surreptitiously on the state of the country
in the wake of the world's worst natural
disaster since the 2004 Asian tsunami.
But unlike the tsunami, when the world
saw the damage thanks to open media coverage
-- and when governments throughout the
region allowed relief groups to provide aid
unfettered -- Myanmar's junta has allowed
only limited access to the hardest-hit
areas. Some say the government is blocking
aid outright -- or simply confiscating it.
The isolated leadership, fearful and
paranoid of outside influences, has been
reluctant to allow access. That's why today,
more than a month after the disaster, people
here -- people who had little to begin with
-- now have nothing at all.
I've made my way to the outskirts of
Yangon, to a region in the northeast called
Dagon Myothit. As my taxi driver and I
bounce along the rutted road in his ancient
sedan, I begin to see lines of wooden shacks
that were pummeled by Nargis.
Some dwellings lack roofs altogether.
Others have walls that have crumbled under
the weight of the storm. Some houses are
flooded and muddy water laps through the
All around, residents simply
mill about. The ones who are lucky enough to
have funds to purchase supplies have patched
up their roofs with blue tarpaulins. But
many houses remain as damaged as they were
when the storm first hit.
We come to a particularly hard-hit area:
the road is pure mud, and most of the homes
are either washed away entirely or are
barely standing. "Hello, welcome, would you
like to interview me?" a man says. A hunched
fellow with white hair, perhaps 60 or 65
years old, approaches me. "Look, everything
is gone," he says. "We have nothing. Come
talk to us."
He leads me to an open-air building where
people have gathered to escape the
sprinkling rain. He is a former English
People gather and begin telling me their
stories. One woman says her house is gone.
Children stare at me, expressionless. A man
with spiky black hair shows me his shirt,
which is soaking wet. "He says he's wet from
the rain, since he has no roof," the old man
We walk toward the man's house -- or
what's left of it. It's simply a tiny wooden
frame. The floor is wood. The man gestures
toward it, "I have nothing," he says. "I
have nothing." Another man tells me that his
house has similarly been destroyed, and that
two of his four sisters have perished in
another part of the country.
Many of the villagers sleep in a nearby
school at night. The woman who runs the
school says they shelter some 980 people
The villagers say an international aid
group gave them the equivalent of $50 per
household to rebuild, but they've used that
money for food and water. Other people in
Yangon tell me that the government refuses
to give them donated aid, or makes villages
Dagon Myothit isn't even the hardest-hit
area of Myanmar. The delta, in the south,
has been ravaged, with more casualties and
Back in the taxi, on the way back into
the city, my driver tells me that ever since
the harrowing night of the cyclone, he's
afraid to go to bed. "There was water up to
my chest, but I lived," he says. "Now I
can't sleep at night."
2. HRW: Concerned Governments Should Press for Zargana's Release
3. Mizzima News: Junta shuts down pro-opposition monastery
4. Washington Post: Burma Gives 'Cronies' Slice of Storm Relief
5. East-Asia-Intel.com: Burma cyclone impacting world food supply; forced
evictions make post-cyclone hell worse
6. REUTERS: Cyclone raises tuberculosis risks in Myanmar: WHO
7. AFP: Cyclone dead' wash ashore
on distant Burma beach
League for Democracy
No. 97 (b), West Shwegondine Street
Bahan Township, Yangon
10 June 2008
In accordance with the Pyithu Hluttaw Election Law and the
authorities’ promises after the 1990 General Election in Burma, “the Union
of Myanmar Draft Constitution,” for which a referendum was conducted in
Burma on 10 and 24 May 2008, was drafted illegally. As per the Pyithu
Hluttaw Election Law, the Members of Parliament elected in the 1990 General
Election by the people of Burma were legally responsible for drafting the
constitution. Instead, “the Union of Myanmar Draft Constitution” was
written solely by handpicked representatives and associates of the State
Peace and Development Council (SPDC). Officially and legally elected
Members of Parliament, let alone citizens, were prohibited from reviewing or
discussing the content of this constitution. The drafting process did not
provide any opportunities for political parties, ethnic nationality groups,
or democratic organizations to review or critique the constitution.
The above mentioned facts directly contradict the following laws and
statements issued by the authorities:
Section 3 of the Pyithu Hluttaw Election Law, issued with the Law
Number 14/89 by the authorities on 31 May 1989, states that: “Hluttaw
[Assembly] must be formed with the Hluttaw representatives who have been
Paragraph 12 of Statement 1/90, issued by the authorities on 27 July
1990, states that: “Section 3 of the Pyithu Hluttaw Election Law requires
Hluttaw to be formed with the elected representatives of the Hluttaw from
the respective constituencies. According to this provision, the State Law
and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) will be held responsible for convening
Paragraph 20 of Statement 1/90, issued by the authorities on 27 July
1990, states that: “under the present circumstances, the representatives
elected by the people are those who have the responsibility to draft the
constitution for the future democratic state.”
Prior to the referendum, the draft constitution’s content was not
explained to or discussed with voters through State media sources, such as
the daily newspaper or radio and television programming. The draft
constitution was not for sale or available for people to read and study it
throughout many State and Division townships. The draft constitution was
issued without collecting or incorporating people's recommendations and
requests and solely for approval. More importantly, the authorities held the
referendum one month after releasing the draft constitution, which provided
an extremely short timeframe for people to study the entire constitution.
Authorities systematically managed this process so that they could gain
support for the draft constitution through injustice force.
During the fourteen (14) year National Convention period, the
Chairman of the Working Committee of the National Convention determined and
detailed the principles for the constitution. This same person then became
the Chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee and drafted the
constitution based on the principles he established. This same person then
became the Chairman of the Referendum Convening Commission, allowing him to
commit unjust and biased acts. Other members of the Referendum Convening
Commission had also participated in the National Convention or in the
constitution drafting. This process was not fair or acceptable for the
people. The Referendum Convening Commission was not an independent
organization but instead was completely influenced by the SPDC.
Authorities violated their own Referendum Law and Technical Law by
using blackmail, threats, cheating, misinformation, coercion, and persuasion
to obtain votes supporting the constitution. Authorities also disregarded
the principle rule of a referendum: a secret voting system. According to
reports and documents submitted to the headquarters by State, Division,
Township, and Ward/Village Organizational Committees, important facts are as
Authorities at all administrative levels as well as their supporting
organizations had the right to organize people and propagate information
freely. However, NLD members were restricted and harassed. NLD pamphlets
and statements were seized, and NLD members were interrogated, threatened,
and arrested using Law Number 5/96 and Referendum Law.
Advanced voting ballots were distributed by each polling station, and
the results were fixed and controlled to secure supporting votes. Advanced
voting ballots were collected from civil servants, workers, civilians and
Cyclone Nargis victims, which violated the provision in the Referendum Law
that only granted advanced voting privileges to people who had to travel,
were sick, were disabled, or were elderly.
People who wanted to vote against the constitution faced many threats
from authorities including but not limited to: a three year prison sentence
and a 300,000 kyat fine, trial, confiscation of their farms and their
businesses, being fired from their jobs, being expelled from school, and
being required to report how other people voted.
Police officers in uniform and members of organizations supported by
authorities were present at various polling stations.
Police officers permitted voters who wanted to cast “Yes” votes and
prevented voting by people who wanted to cast “No” votes.
Voters were forced to vote using pre-marked “Yes” ballots.
One family/household member was required to cast votes on behalf of
the entire family/household
One person representing the authorities cast votes on behalf of a
large group of people formed by the authorities.
Polling station and Referendum Commission staff cast “Yes” votes for
Commission members cast additional “Yes” votes in the ballot boxes.
Some polling stations closed early and prior to 4:00pm, which was
prohibited by the Referendum Law.
The people were prevented from seeing the counting of “Yes” votes,
“No” votes, and invalid votes at all levels of the commissions.
At some polling stations, “No” votes were burned or destroyed
Section 23 of Chapter 9 of the Referendum Law states that: “after the
Referendum, the Commission must announce the Referendum result by combining
and accounting for votes by all eligible votes at all locations.” However,
the Referendum Commission declared the result on 15 May 2008 by issuing
Statement Number 10/2008, which stated that: “The result of the previous
referendum was 92.4 percent supportive votes.” This statement disregarded
the Referendum Law, as it was announced before the referendum was held for
the people living in the forty-seven (47) Townships affected by Cyclone
The record and list of eligible voters was collected before Cyclone
Nargis. However, that list was no longer valid after the storm devastated
the seven (7) Irrawaddy Division Townships on 2 and 3 May 2008 and left
thousands of people dead and missing. The Cyclone also destroyed many
national identity cards. The authorities did not revise their list of
eligible voters; thus, the “Yes” votes in Irrawaddy Division cannot be
The referendum does not represent the real will of the people, as it
was neither free nor fair. A constitution is a contract between the ruler
and the ruled. In this respect, because the referendum is not
representative of the people’s free will, its results are automatically
nullified according to international law and standards. A contract cannot
be ratified based on unlawful acts.
The Referendum Convening Commission issued Statement 12/2008 on 26
May 2008 and declared the referendum’s result approving ‘the Union of
Myanmar Draft Constitution.’ The State Peace and Development Council issued
Statement 7/2008 on 29 May 2008 declaring that ‘the Union of Myanmar
Constitution’ was approved. However, these declarations were not legal or
lawful, as the referendum violated provisions in the above mentioned laws
and statements. The National League for Democracy, mandated by the people
during the free and fair 1990 General Election in accordance with the Pyithu
Hluttaw Election Law, does not accept ‘the Union of Myanmar Constitution.’
As per the decision in the meeting of the Central
Executive Committee held on 6 June 2008.
Central Executive Committee
National League for Democracy
Human Rights Watch
Burma: Free Celebrity Activist Critical of Aid Response
Concerned Governments Should Press for Zargana's Release
(New York, June 13, 2008) – Burma’s military government should immediately
free detained activist Zargana and permit him to continue distributing aid
unhindered to communities affected by Cyclone Nargis, Human Rights Watch
To arrest one of Burma’s most famous public figures for talking to the media
at the time he was distributing aid shows the Burmese government is more
concerned with controlling its citizens than assisting them.
Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch
Zargana, a famous comedian and social activist in Burma, was arrested on
June 4 after giving interviews to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)
and the exile magazine The Irrawaddy about shortcomings in the government’s
aid efforts and the slow response by United Nations agencies.
“To arrest one of Burma’s most famous public figures for talking to the
media at the time he was distributing aid shows the Burmese government is
more concerned with controlling its citizens than assisting them,” said Brad
Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Countries genuinely concerned
about Burma should be pressing the government for Zargana’s immediate
During his arrest, officials searched Zargana’s house, seizing foreign
currency and videos of the cyclone and the September 2007 protests in
Rangoon. He is reportedly being held and questioned at an interrogation
center in downtown Rangoon. Zargana’s network of more than 400 volunteers
had reached some villages affected by the cyclone and had been distributing
urgently needed food aid.
Zargana, the performing name of Maung Thura, was previously detained for a
year following the 1988 pro-democracy demonstrations in Burma. In 1990, the
authorities jailed him for four years for making political speeches, and
they have routinely harassed him by banning some of his movies and
performances. For instance, the health ministry stopped a planned public
health benefit involving Zargana and others on World AIDS Day on December 1,
2006 at a clinic for people living with HIV.
Police arrested Zargana again in September 2007 for publicly supporting the
protests by monks, and detained him for 20 days. During his detention in
2007, Zargana was initially detained at the City Hall, but authorities
subsequently moved him to Thanlyin, the Government Technical Institute, and
then Insein Prison. Upon his release, Zargana told Human Rights Watch about
the experience. He believed he was moved frequently to keep him out of
contact with other prisoners. In Insein Prison, Zargana was held in solitary
confinement in the so-called “War Dog” compound. The compound, which has
nine cells, has been used for holding other prominent political prisoners
such as activist from the ’88 Generation student movement, Than Tin, and
National League for Democracy member, Myint Soe.
Zargana’s cell in 2007 was cramped (7 feet by 7 feet), poorly ventilated,
isolated and guarded by some 30 dogs. Zargana slept on a thin mat on the
floor. The iron bar door was covered with a large steel plate with only a
small opening at the bottom of the cell. Zargana could not see or hear
anything. A 40-watt light bulb in the room came on infrequently throughout
the night, attracting mosquitoes. Burmese authorities held Zargana there for
eight days, and did not permit him to bathe until the fourth day of his
detention. There was no toilet or water – Zargana had to relieve himself on
a tray. When it became full, he tried to urinate under the door, but the
dogs tried to bite him.
Upon his release, Zargana spoke with foreign journalists and was
subsequently re-detained for several days.
On October 28, 2007, the authorities compelled him to sign a pledge stating
he would not talk to the media as a condition of his release. It is widely
believed that authorities are holding Zargana for breaking this pledge in
speaking to the BBC. Human Rights Watch expressed concern that Zargana could
be subjected to the same deplorable prison conditions now, and urged
governments to press the Burmese authorities to immediately release him.
Zargana’s family has been unable to visit him since his arrest. It is
unclear if the authorities have filed any charges against him.
In 1991, Zargana received the Hellman/Hammett Prize, given by the Fund for
Free Expression, a committee organized by Human Rights Watch.
Since the visit of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the
international pledging conference on May 25 in Rangoon, the Burmese
government has eased visa restrictions for personnel from UN agencies and
international humanitarian agencies to permit them to enter Rangoon. However
the government has been inconsistent in its approach to aid, allowing some
aid and workers into the Irrawaddy Delta region while blocking others,
including some Burmese individuals and groups (http://www.hrw.org/english/docs/2008/06/12/burma19124.htm).
“The outrageous arrest of Zargana, for speaking the truth about government
hindrance of aid to cyclone victims, makes a mockery of the claim that
handing out of a few visas is a ‘breakthrough,’” said Adams.
Junta shuts down pro-opposition monastery
Saturday, 14 June 2008 18:05
The Burmese military junta authorities sealed a pro-opposition Buddhist
monastery in Rangoon yesterday.
The township chairman and security forces arrived at the Sasana Theikpan
monastery compound of Chauk Htut Gyi pagoda, Bahan Township on Friday
morning and told monks they would close the monastery until an official
announcement by the new head of monastery was made.
Security forces told the monks that they had come with an order from the
Rangoon military commander Brigadier General Hla Htay Win.
"They locked the door of the monastery with a lock they brought with them at
5 p.m. yesterday," a monk from Sasana Theikpan told Mizzima.
The monk believed that it was a ruse and he did not expect the monastery to
be reopened. Three monks of Sansana Theikpan are taking temporary shelter in
two nearby monasteries.
The former head of the Sasana Theikpan monastery died recently and dozens of
pro-democracy opposition activists attended the funeral service on June 7
even as the authorities monitored the funeral service.
About a hundred pro-government civil militia of the Swan Arr Shin and
members of Union Solidarity Development Association were standing by to
crackdown, activists told Mizzima.
Buddhist monasteries were raided and some were sealed during and after monks
led a mass uprising against the government in September 2007.
Sasana Theikpan and Sasana Gonye were among the monasteries raided by
security forces in Bahan Township. The latter has been shut down since the
Burma Gives 'Cronies' Slice of Storm
On Magazine's List of Junta's Chosen Tycoons Are Some Facing U.S.
By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 13, 2008; A16
Just seven days after
Cyclone Nargis devastated Burma last month, the ruling military
junta parceled out key sections of the affected Irrawaddy Delta to
favored tycoons and companies, including several facing sanctions
U.S. Treasury, according to a Burmese magazine with close ties
to the government.
Some of the most notorious business
executives in Burma, including Tay Za and Steven Law, also known as
Tun Myint Naing, were given control of "reconstruction and relief"
in critical townships, under the leadership of top generals. Tay Za
was identified by Treasury as a "regime henchman" this year when it
slapped economic sanctions on hotel enterprises and other businesses
All told, more than 30 companies and
30 executives are to divide up the business in 11 townships in areas
affected by Nargis, according to the report.
The document in the magazine is
dated May 9, a time when the
United Nations, aid groups and many countries were pleading with
the Burmese government to allow access to affected areas in the
aftermath of the storm, which killed as many as 130,000 people and
left 2.5 million without homes. Despite promises of greater
openness, the Burmese rulers have continued to impose restrictions
on aid relief, including new and onerous identification requirements
for aid workers, according to reports from the region.
The document, which includes the
cellphone numbers for many of the executives, was published in the
Voice, a weekly journal published by Nay Win Maung. A translation
was provided by BIT Team, a group of
India-based Burmese who try to promote information technology in
the xenophobic country.
Nay Win Maung is a son of a military
officer and was brought up among Burma's military elites, giving him
good connections to military insiders. His magazines can access
government-related news and exclusive information.
"The Treasury is targeting the
regime's cronies, and the regime wants its cronies to get the
money," said Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director for
Human Rights Watch. "They see it as an opportunity to profit
from the international community's compassion. But these are not
experts in providing relief; they are experts in running guns and
drugs and making a lot of money."
Efforts to reach Burmese
representatives in Washington last night were unsuccessful. The
cellphone number listed for Steven Law in the Voice was answered by
an associate who said he was not available.
While some of the executives awarded
contracts are well known to human rights activists and
financial-crime experts, others are less prominent, potentially
making the document a guide to the individuals currently in favor
with the military leadership.
The government estimated it needed
more than $11 billion in reconstruction aid shortly after the May
2-3 cyclone, a figure that met with a cool reception at an
international donors conference in Rangoon three weeks ago. Burma,
also known as Myanmar, is rich in natural resources, but much of the
country is desperately poor. The junta has enriched itself with
natural gas fields that bring in about $2 billion in annual revenue,
as well as trade in jewels, heroin, amphetamines, timber and small
Some of the conglomerates given
business in the delta, such as Law's Asia World and Tay Za's Htoo
Trading, were also tasked with building the country's new capital at
Naypyidaw, more than 200 miles from the old capital of Rangoon. With
little notice three years ago, the junta uprooted the capital to a
remote area, requiring massive construction of new government
buildings, hotels and housing for civil servants.
Much of the country, in fact, is a
forced labor camp, with more than 60 prisons, labor camps and
detention centers, according to a report this year by the Burma
Fund, an anti-government activist group. People forced into
construction are paid minimal wages, if at all.
Hlaing Sein, an officer with the
London-based Burma Campaign UK, said that Htoo Trading, which was
given control of Heingigyum and Ngaopudaw townships, forced cyclone
victims to work for 800 kyat a day, roughly 70 cents, in order to
meet a government order to reopen schools by June 2. But a quart of
water in the delta now costs the equivalent of $1.50, she said.
The Treasury sanctions against Tay
Za, Law and other junta cronies -- and some of their companies --
freezes their assets and prohibits all financial and commercial
transactions by U.S. entities with the designated companies and
individuals, as part of an effort to break up their financial
networks. The Treasury has released detailed charts about the
financial links among the junta and Tay Za, Law and related
Tay Za, whose businesses include
timber, palm oil and aviation, is said to be close to Senior Gen.
Than Shwe, the junta leader, in part because of his habit of
hiring the children of powerful generals. The Bangkok Post recently
reported that though no public warnings were made about the
approaching cyclone, air force fighters and private passenger planes
from Bagan Air -- believed to be a joint venture between Tay Za and
Than Shwe's family -- were moved the evening before the storm from
Rangoon airport to Mandalay, which was not in its path.
13, 2008 East-Asia-Intel.com
Burma cyclone impacting world food supply; forced evictions make
post-cyclone hell worse
officers who have run the Burmese (Myanmar) economy for the past half
century has little to show for their efforts. Endowed with vast raw
materials and agricultural resources — the latter made Burma in colonial
times the world’s No. 1 rice exporter — the economy has fallen to almost
The effects of
Cyclone Nargis in early May have not only added new misery for the country’s
50 million people but have negated rice exports needed by neighboring
countries and contributing to the global food crisis. The storm hit hardest
in Burma’s main rice-growing region in the isolated Irrawaddy Delta, where
some 2 million people were driven from their homes and farmland.
Locals gather in front of a damaged monastery in Laputta, Burma, on June 9,
Now comes word from human rights organizations that the military is driving
displaced villagers from temporary camps set up in the continuing heavy
monsoon rains, and is attempting to get them back on their salt water-logged
fields to begin the recuperation of the paddy.
groups say that forced evictions — involving churches, monasteries, schools
and other public buildings — are putting lives at risk and flouting
international principles of humanitarian relief. Amnesty International
reports 30 cases since May 19 of forcible removals of thousands of people
who sought temporary shelter.
The force of the storm was so great that local stocks of food were
destroyed. The few foreign refugee workers the regime has permitted to enter
have described heart-rending stories of many displaced villagers trying to
capture a few grains of rice out of inundated areas filled with decaying
human corpses and animal carcasses.
The regime has permitted only minimal outside aid. And much of that,
apparently, has been diverted to the military itself. Four American naval
vessels that happened to be in the region on exercises when the storm struck
waited for several weeks before gaining permission to enter the Delta area
with small boats carrying water, emergency food and emergency items. The
generals apparently fear exposure to foreign aid would strengthen opposition
forces and their leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, daughter of a founding father of
the post-colonial nation and political prisoner for more than a decade.
Humanitarian organizations, including the UN World Food Program, were
operating in Burma before the cyclone struck, providing food aid to half a
million people in the country where one in three children are chronically
malnourished. The fear now is that the damage to the area known as the
country's "rice bowl" will make a bad situation a lot worse.
Burma’s plight is already impacting world food supplies. The World Food
program said that it was not yet known whether Burma would be able to meet
its commitments to supply Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. If Burmese exports
disappear — as now seems possible — the domino effect on Asia neighbors
would be fierce. The International Rice Research Institute warned that, with
the year’s second harvest imminent, weather patterns in Asia would come
under unprecedented scrutiny: the freak damage caused by the cyclone will
now exacerbate that.
The price of rice had already trebled across Asia this year, hitting a
record $25.07 per 100 pounds on April 24. Some local market prices have
risen tenfold in the past year. Several governments — including those of
China and India — responded by imposing export bans. Rice is currently
trading around $20.96 per 100 pounds.
If the worst conditions prevail, Burma, with a rickety food economy and
impoverished population, could become a net importer of rice.
GENEVA (Reuters) - The cyclone that
devastated Myanmar last month forced many
tuberculosis sufferers to stop their
treatment, triggering fears of
drug-resistant strains spreading, the World
Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday.
Myanmar had 83,000 cases of the highly
contagious disease in 2006 causing 6,000
deaths, according to the WHO's most recent
figures for the diplomatically isolated
country whose army rulers were initially
reluctant to let in foreign aid workers
after Cyclone Nargis hit on May 2.
The storm killed up to 134,000 people,
left 2.4 million destitute, and destroyed
many of the health centers which handed out
WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib said experts
from the United Nations agency would travel
to cyclone-affected areas this week to track
down tuberculosis patients who lost access
to their drugs since the May 2 storm.
"They will go to the hospitals and health
centers, look at the records, look how many
people were on treatment, and then try to
trace them in villages and camps," Chaib
said, calling the hiatus resulting from the
storm "a serious issue."
"Tuberculosis is a life-threatening
disease. Interrupting a course of six-month
treatment can have an effect on creating
resistance to tuberculosis drugs," she said.
Any pause in a course of antibiotics can
give the bacterium causing tuberculosis a
chance to mutate and build up immunity to
standard medicines. Drug-resistant strains
can require patients to take an expensive
and arduous course of pills and injections,
and some types are virtually untreatable.
Even before the cyclone, the weak health
system and pervasiveness of fake drugs in
Myanmar were seen as potential triggers for
While no cases of "extensively
drug-resistant" or "XDR" tuberculosis have
been confirmed by the WHO in Myanmar, aid
workers from Medicins Sans Frontieres last
year reported cases among migrants from
Myanmar in neighboring Thailand, raising
concerns that it may already exist in the
Chaib said authorities in Myanmar had
worked hard with the WHO in recent years to
fight the respiratory disease, which spreads
through the air and kills about 1.5 million
people worldwide every year.
In addition to tracking patients and
helping them resume treatment, WHO staff
deployed to Myanmar's cyclone-affected
region will also seek to bolster general
health services for those displaced by the
The WHO is appealing for clean water and
sanitation supplies to help reduce the risks
of water-borne diseases among cyclone
survivors. With the monsoon season coming,
the U.N. agency said it was also critical
for Myanmar to take steps to prevent malaria
and other diseases spread by mosquitoes.
(Editing by Caroline Drees)
wash ashore on distant Burma beach
bloated and decaying corpses, apparently victims of
Cyclone Nargis, have washed up on a beach in eastern
Burma more than one month after the storm, a local
The bodies had been
found in the last week on the beach near Mawlamyine,
across the Gulf of Martaban, more than 160 kilometres
east of the devastated Irrawaddy delta, the official
More than 133,000 people
were killed or are missing after the cyclone struck six
weeks ago. Many were washed out to sea as a tidal surge
wiped out their villages.
"About 300 dead bodies
have been cremated in the last week, after they floated
into Kyaikkhami and Setse beaches. They were all
decomposing. Most of them appeared to be women," the
"Some fishermen saw
these dead bodies on the beaches and informed the
"We decided to cremate
them for the sake of the environment."
Residents said that many
people had moved away to avoid the grim scenes of bodies
washing onto the beaches.
recalled the devastation in the delta last month, when
victims' bodies were left rotting on roadsides and
floating in rice fields, where in many cases they laid
TimesOnline: Burma: Than Shwe
'ordered troops to execute villagers'
BOSTON GLOBE: Cruelty and silence in Burma
VOA News: Amnesty Accuses Burma of Human Rights Abuses Since Cyclone Nargis
IPC News: BURMA: Nargis Victims Forced From Camps
FoxNews: U.N. Says Burma Forcing Cyclone Victims From Camps With No Aid
Irrawaddy: Massive Forced Evictions in Refugee Camps
ABC News: UN rights
envoy pushes Burma on prison killings
June 7, 2008
Burma: Than Shwe 'ordered troops
to execute villagers'
silence in Burma
MORE THAN a million victims of the
May 2 cyclone in Burma are still without food, water,
shelter, and medicine. Yet the ruling junta refused 15
requests to let the USS Essex and three support ships in the
Bay of Bengal deliver aid to uprooted villagers. Finally,
tragically, the four ships steamed away from Burma on
Thursday, along with 22 helicopters and four amphibious
landing craft that are ideally suited to bring relief
supplies directly to stranded survivors. "Should the Burmese
rulers have a change of heart and request our full
assistance for their suffering people," Admiral Timothy
Keating said, "we are prepared to help."
Keating and his 5,000 sailors were
eager to take on a mission of mercy, one that the American
public would be sure to support and all of Asia would
appreciate. What the admiral has learned - and what the rest
of the world has witnessed in the past five weeks - is that
the Burmese generals who deny life-saving succor to their
people can have no change of heart. They are heartless.
This is the gist of a report this
week from Amnesty International decrying the junta's
forcible evictions of cyclone survivors from schools and
monasteries where they had taken shelter. It is the basic
message of a United Nations report lamenting "a serious lack
of sufficient and sustained humanitarian assistance for the
The crucial lesson of these alarms
is that today a million people in Burma are endangered not
by the vagaries of nature but by the cruelty of a military
dictatorship. In other words, the cause of all that
unnecessary suffering is political. Nobody should know this
better than the other nine countries in the Association of
Southeast Asian Nations. Yet ASEAN officials speak blithely
about issuing a report on relief and recovery - at a meeting
more than two weeks from now. Enough dithering. ASEAN should
use its influence to push the junta to stop letting Burma's
Amnesty Accuses Burma of Human Rights Abuses Since Cyclone
Amnesty International says
Burma's military government has been forcibly moving people
out of the temporary shelters they moved into after Cyclone
Nargis. As Ron Corben reports from Bangkok, Amnesty also
raise doubts that Burma's military is standing by agreements
with the United Nations to allow more international
assistance into the country.
A new Amnesty International report says
that since May 20, Burma's military government has stepped
up efforts to remove cyclone survivors from temporary
shelters such as schools and monasteries. The report says
the survivors are forcibly returned to their homes, even if
those homes no longer are standing.
affected by cyclone Nargis wait to board boats prior
to travel back to their devastated villages in
Labutta, in the southwest Irrawaddy Delta, Burma, 03
The United Nations says 550,000 people
had been living in temporary shelters since the storm. The
Amnesty report specifies at least 30 cases of forcible
displacement but Amnesty officials say the actual figure
could be higher.
The cyclone that came ashore on May
2 killed 78,000 people and left 56,0000 missing. More than
two million survivors need aid, but the United Nations
estimates at least a million have received none at all.
Benjamin Zawacki is a researcher
with Amnesty International. He said Thursday that Burma's
government failed to assist cyclone victims in part because
it focused on holding a constitutional referendum.
"It's refusal to deploy resources
toward the victims of the cyclone and rather deploy toward
holding a constitutional referendum - as well as its refusal
to accept international aid and assistance - this is the
pre-eminent human rights concern in the context of the
cyclone - it continues to be so today," said Zawacki.
The international community has
condemned Burma's failure to provide aid to the storm's
victims and its decision to block international relief
supplies and disaster workers.
After meetings with U.N.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Association of
Southeast Asian Nations, Burma has agreed to allow in more
aid workers. On Thursday, a team of 200 relief workers from
ASEAN nations began arriving.
However, it has rejected aid from other
sources, including the U.S. and French navies. Four U.S.
ships have sailed away from Burma's coast after the
government refused their help for three weeks.
USS Essex and the Essex Amphibious
Ready Group steam in formation in the Andaman Sea,
23 May 2008
Zawacki says Burma's government, known
as the State Peace and Development Council, continues to
"Amnesty certainly doesn't see the
situation as one in which a bridge was crossed and then
burned behind them and suddenly things have changed
exponentially," he said. "No. I think things have indeed
changed - things have indeed opened up but the obstruction
and the negligence on the part of the SPDC has in fact
continued one month on into June. It's simply taking
Amnesty called on the international
community to address the human rights dimensions of the
Media reports Thursday confirmed the
arrest of a popular Burmese comedian, Maung Thura, better
known as Zarganar, soon after he had returned from
distributing aid in the storm area. Other Burmese report
having been detained by soldiers, and their goods taken
away, when they tried to take private donations to the
Victims Forced From Camps
By Marwaan Macan-Markar
BANGKOK, Jun 6 (IPS) - A
global human rights lobby slammed Burma’s military regime
for driving survivors who have endured untold hardship since
last month’s powerful cyclone into further misery.
The junta in
Burma, or Myanmar, has forced cyclone victims out of
temporary shelters, confiscated aid, and come in the way of
assistance to the victims from local community groups and
Burmese citizens, revealed Amnesty International (AI) in a
report released this week in the Thai capital.
"We are talking of thousands of people who have been
forcibly displaced," Benjamin Zawacki, AI’s Burma
researcher, told IPS. "They [the junta] have been targeting
monasteries and schools. Most of the people forcibly
displaced came from monasteries and schools."
The orders to evict the victims from the cyclone shelters
have come from the military regime and the Union Solidarity
and Development Association (USDA), a civilian body created
by the military to enforce its policies, even by force.
"Both have been giving out orders; in some cases with 48
hours notice, some, 24 hours, some were asked to move
immediately," Zawacki added.
The over all trend is that the people have been pushed
"further and further south, into the delta," Zawacki said
during a press conference to launch the report. "But there
is no distinct pattern."
Cyclone Nargis struck Burma’s populous Irrawaddy Delta in
the early hours of May 3, killing between 130,000 to
possibly 300,000 people, and affecting between 2.5 million
to 5.5 million people. The country’s worst natural disaster
hit an 82,000 square km area that has the highest population
density in the South-east Asian nation.
On May 11, "cyclone survivors staying in four monasteries in
Bogale, Irrawaddy Division, were made to leave by the
authorities and the USDA. Many of them were forced into
military trucks to Maubin, while others were simply told to
go back to their villages on their own," AI’s report
On May 19, in Labutta -- also one of the worst hit townships
like Bogale – "local authorities forced large numbers of
people aboard boats in an effort to return them to their
villages in Myaungmya and Maubin townships and elsewhere,"
according to AI. "Beginning on or just after 19 May,
authorities forcibly relocated people out of Myaungmya,
Maubin, Pyapon, and Labutta, where they had been originally
relocated, further south back to their original villages."
"Amnesty International has been able to confirm over 30
instances and accounts of forcible displacement by the
[military regime] in the aftermath of the cyclone, but
anecdotal evidence from numerous sources strongly suggests a
much higher number," the report adds.
A similar heavy-handed approach by the junta has been on
display in the distribution of aid. "Until 26 May, the
[military regime] blocked all international assistance to
the delta," the report notes. "Amnesty International has
confirmed over 40 reports or accounts of soldiers or local
government officials confiscating, diverting or otherwise
misusing aid intended for cyclone victims."
AI’s revelations have raised questions about the
effectiveness of U.N. agencies working in a country that has
been under an oppressive military grip since a 1962 coup.
After all, the forced displacement of cyclone victims by the
junta violates the U.N. guiding principles on internal
But the world body has not ignored the concerns about forced
displacement of survivors in the cyclone-affected areas,
says Richard Horsey, spokesman for the U.N. Office of the
Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). "The U.N.,
including OCHA, has said that any forced removal of people
is a clear violation of international law and is
"We are aware of reports of forced movement of people to
camps and away from camps. We are also aware of camp
closures," Horsey told IPS. "But these movements of people
need to be verified. The important question is where they
are being moved to."
And given the occasion to do so, the U.N. has raised its
concerns with senior officials in the regime. "There have
been discussions with the authorities about the forced
movement of people," Horsey added. "It was also discussed
twice on May 31 and Jun. 2 during meetings [involving
representatives from the regime, the U.N. and a 10-member
regional bloc -- the Association of South-east Asian
AI’s revelations confirm the new wave of troubles that have
struck the area since the cyclone -- much of it triggered by
the junta’s disregard for the victims or its reluctance to
ease its totalitarian grip on the country. This week, the
U.N. revealed that only half of the victims have received
aid a month after the disaster.
And efforts by U.N. agencies and international humanitarian
groups to get experts familiar with post-disaster needs into
the delta have also been met with resistance from the
regime. Only 20 U.N. and other foreign aid workers have been
given permission to enter the delta since U.N.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon got a commitment from the
junta during meetings in late May for greater access.
In fact, one international agency that appears to have
overcome some of the hurdles, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF,
Doctors Without Borders), confirmed that the worst was far
from over for the cyclone survivors in the delta.
"Till now, the support is inadequate… The emergency phase is
not over," says Michel Permans, of MSF International. "There
are a lot of small [cyclone-hit] villages that are almost
U.N. Says Burma Forcing
Cyclone Victims From Camps With No Aid
Friday , May 30, 2008
RANGOON, Myanmar —
The military government in Burma, also known as Myanmar, is
removing cyclone victims from refugee camps and dumping them
near their devastated villages with virtually no aid
supplies, the United Nations said Friday.
In an aid agency meeting, the U.N. Children's Fund said
eight camps earlier set up by the government to receive
homeless victims in the Irrawaddy delta town of Bogalay had
emptied as the mass clear-out of victims was stepped up.
"The government is moving people unannounced," said Teh Tai
Ring, a UNICEF official, adding that authorities were
"dumping people in the approximate location of the villages,
basically with nothing."
Camps were also being closed in Labutta, another town in the
delta, a low-lying area which took the brunt of Cyclone
Nargis nearly a month ago.
About 2.4 million are homeless and
hungry after the May 2-3 cyclone hit Burma, also known as
Click here for photos.
Centralizing the stricken people in
the centers made it easier for aid agencies to deliver
emergency relief since many villages in the delta can only
be reached by boat or very rough roads.
Aid workers who have reached some of
the remote villages say little remains that could sustain
their former residents: houses are destroyed, livestock has
perished and food stocks have virtually run out. Medicines
The UNICEF official said that some
of the refugees are "being given rations and then they are
forced to move." But others were being denied such aid
because they had lost their government identity cards.
A senior U.N. official in Bangkok,
Thailand, said he could not confirm the camp closures but
added that any such forced movement was "completely
"People need to be assisted in the
settlements and satisfactory conditions need to created
before they can return to their place of origins," Terje
Skavdal, head of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of
Humanitarian Affairs, told reporters. "Any forced or coerced
movement of people is completely unacceptable."
There had been previous reports of
forced removals, but on a scattered basis. In some cases,
people were reportedly sent away ahead of visits by foreign
dignitaries, and in others people were sent from schools
that were to be used as voting places during a recent
national referendum on a new constitution. People were also
cleared out of some Buddhist temples where they had taken
shelter, but in those cases apparently had been transferred
to official refugee camps.
Human rights and aid groups also
complained Friday that Burma's military government was still
hindering the free flow of international help for victims.
Some foreign aid staff were still
waiting for permission to enter the Irrawaddy delta while
the regime continues to review entry requests for 48 hours,
the groups said.
One foreign aid worker attending
Friday's meeting said that in practice it took at least four
days to obtain permission from the Ministry of Social
Welfare to travel to the delta.
"The longer you want to stay, the
longer it takes," he said, declining to give his name for
fear of government reprisals.
"The Burmese government is still
using red tape to obstruct some relief efforts when it
should accept all aid immediately and unconditionally," the
U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement.
The International Red Cross was
waiting for permission to send 30 of its foreign staffers
into the delta.
The regime has also barred naval
vessels from the United States, France and Great Britain
from entering Burma's waters, leaving them to wait offshore
with their loads of humanitarian supplies. The French have
been forced to dock in Thailand and turn over the relief
goods to the United Nations for onward shipment into Burma.
"By still delaying and hampering aid
efforts ... the generals are showing that, even during a
disaster, oppression rules," Human Rights Watch said.
While welcoming millions of dollars
from the international community for cyclone relief, Burma
lashed out at donors for not pledging enough. State-run
media decried donors on Thursday for only pledging up to
$150 million — a far cry from the $11 billion the junta said
it needed to rebuild.
The isolationist government agreed
to allow foreign aid workers in after U.N. Secretary-General
Ban Ki-moon met with leader Senior Gen. Than Shwe last
But delays continue, Human Rights
Burma's government says the cyclone
killed 78,000 people and left another 56,000 missing.
The country's xenophobic leaders are
leery of foreign aid workers and international agencies,
worrying they could weaken the junta's powerful grip. The
generals also don't want their people to see aid coming
directly from countries like the U.S., which the regime has
long treated as a hostile power.
In Singapore on Friday, Sen. Joseph
Lieberman said regional superpowers India and China should
exert their influence over Burma's military junta to push it
toward democracy. Lieberman, who is in Singapore to attend a
security conference, said he and other senators have met
with the ambassadors of the two countries in Washington to
convey this message.
Evictions in Refugee Camps
By AUNG THET WINE / RANGOON
Thursday, May 29, 2008
Burma’s military government has been forcibly
evicting tens of thousands of refugees who lost
family members, houses and property during Cyclone
Nargis, which struck Burma on May 2-3.
Most of the evictions have occurred in temporary
shelters in Rangoon and Irrawaddy divisions.
Authorities closed down several temporary camps in
Rangoon on May 23, including a camps in Shwe Pauk
Kan in North Okkalapa Township where 3,000 refugees
were staying in temporary blue tents; tent camp No
16 Quarter of North Dagon Myo Thit at the junction
of the township Peace and Development Council PDC
office and Nat Sin Road bus-stop; and a camp at
State High School No 2 of Dala Township.
taken on May 25 shows cyclone-affected
families sheltered from the rain, living in
temporary accommodation along a road in the
Shwe Pauk Kan area of Rangoon. (Photo: AFP)
"They closed the Shwe Pauk Kan refugee camp during
the evening,” said a resident of No 16 Quarter at
Shwe Pauk Kan. “They forced the people to return to
their homes and gave them 10 pyis of rice and 7,000
kyats (US $6.5) to each refugee. The authorities
took the tents." A pyi is close to 0.25 liter.
The Rangoon Division PDC issued an order that all
refugee camps in Rangoon division be closed prior to
May 24, said one source, who asked to remain
"They also shut down the camp in Dagon North No 16
Quarter by this order,” he said. “The authorities
are also planning to shut down small temporary
shelters in schools and monasteries."
Authorities reportedly told refugees at No 2 State
High School in Dala Township they had to leave
because the school would reopen June 2.
"I went there to donate some snacks to children, and
they were not there anymore,” said a volunteer
donor. “The neighbors said they were forcibly
Local authorities at Dala Township
reportedly told refugees the emergency has now
ended, and refugees must return to their villages
where they should wait for assistance from the
Refugee sources said the Padan Camp in Hlaing Thar
Yar Township, a site visited by Srn-Gen Than Shwe,
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and other
diplomats, would be closed in the near future.
"There are about 10,000 refugees in the camp at
inner Padan village. I have heard the camp will be
demolished soon," said a refugee from inner Padan
village, living at State Middle School No 7 in
Hlaing Thar Yar Township.
He said refugees haven't received enough food and
are still waiting for outside contributions of rice.
"A family is provided with two sacks of rice, two
tins of cooking oil and a set of pots and pans.
However, they are told not to touch the rice, oil
and cooking utensils. It is for show when the
authorities come and visit the site. We have to wait
for other contributions for our daily food."
A refugee in his 30s said most people had no where
to go when they were evicted.
"It is impossible to go back to inner Padan village,
since the land owner would not hire us to work the
land,” he said. “The land is close to the river and
the flood hasn't drained yet since the cyclone hit.
Water is still 2 to 3-feet deep in our village."
Sources in the Irrawaddy delta said thousands of
refugees from Phyapon, Myaung Mya, Bogalay and
Laputta townships also have been evicted from
"There were 45 camps in Pyapon Township previously
but now only three remain, said a source familiar
with the relief effort.
Starting on May 21, refugees were told they should
wait in their villages for the government's
reconstruction plan and were provided with small
portions of rice and 10,000 kyats ($ 8).
The remaining refugees at Myaung Mya camps lack
sufficient food and water, the source said. .
"Most of the refugees are sheltering at the No 933
Rice Mill compound, and there are almost 3,000
refugees,” said a resident of Myaung Mya. “These
people are waiting daily for outside donors to give
them rice. This camp will be closed soon."
The camp at No 16 High School in Myaung Mya has been
closed and authorities sent the refugees back to
their villages in Laputta by trucks and boats.
"It is inhumane and cruel, forcing the refugees to
leave without proper assistance, just saying the
relief period has ended and promising reconstruction
efforts,” said one relief worker. “It is like
sending people to their death."
Copyright © 2008 Irrawaddy Publishing Group |
UN rights envoy
pushes Burma on prison killings
Updated June 7, 2008 13:36:35
Burma has denied reports that its soldiers shot dead a
number of prison inmates during last month's cyclone.
In his report to the U.N. Human Rights Council, Burma expert
Tomas Ojea Quintana says soldiers had killed some inmates of
The killings allegedly happened when the soldiers were
called in to control some 1000 inmates who had been forced
inside a hall after ithe prison's zinc roofs were torn off
by cyclone Nargis.
A Thailand-based rights group said at the time soldiers and
police had killed 36 prisoners to quell a riot at the
While not citing any death figures, Mr Ojea Quintana is
calling on the authorities to conduct a thorough and
transparent investigation into the allegations.
June 4 News
Now that the US Navy ships have left the area while the regime continues to
impede aid to the survivors despite its promises. As the world's pressure on
the regime eases, the regime has arrested the leading social activists
Zarbanar last night (Read his very reveling interview on June 2nd about his
experience in the delta and the situation below). This is a sign that the
regime is attempting to tightening the screws against little aid operations
it allows due to pressure in Burma. Soon, it will most likely go after the monks who have been praised
greatly for pulling off very effective relief efforts while the regime
As the experts are saying the survivors will need help up
to a year, the regime has already forced many out of the shelters back to
their villages where there is no food, water and shelter. Even after a month
has passed, many villages have received little or no help.
The brutality of the regime and the hardship that the survivors are going
through is unimaginable. Now, the world has witnessed enough of the regime's
tactic and attitude. It goes like this: When the pressure mounts, the regime is always
quick to make promises, but they are only skin deep and only to be broken as soon as the pressure eases. We must therefore keep the pressure on the regime to save many lives in
Irrawaddy: Zarganar's Relief Role (June 2)
VOA News: International Agencies Regret US Decision to Abort Burma Mercy
NY Times: Myanmar Rulers Still Impeding Access (June 3)
Irrawaddy Special Report: One Month after Cyclone Nargis (June 4)
NY Times: Monks Succeed in Cyclone Relief as Junta Falters (May 31)
Irrawaddy: Monks Stepped In Where the Authorities Failed (June 4)
The regime arrested Zarganar last night. Below is
his interview on June 2nd.
Monday, June 2, 2008
Zarganar, a popular Burmese comedian and social activist, has been heavily
involved in volunteer disaster relief aid in the cyclone-damaged areas. An
estimated 400 Burmese involved in the entertainment world joined together to
do volunteer work in the delta.
Question: Can you talk about the situation on the ground since the cyclone
struck Rangoon and the Irrawaddy delta?
Answer: We started our [volunteer] emergency relief work on May 7, and we
are still working. I have been to all the townships struck by the disaster,
except Nga Pu Taw.
There are 420 volunteers in our group. We divided our volunteers in groups
to work more effectively. The places we go to are usually places nobody has
been to yet. We have been to 42 such villages, most under the administrative
area of Dedaye Township. Three of these villages are large village tracts
where the paddy [rice] purchasing center was located.
We went to three large village tracts in Bogalay Township. They hadn't
received aid not only from the government, but also from UN agencies. No
NGOs had reached there yet.
What did you see there? What do they need at this moment?
A: I can give you an example. There was a large village tract called Ma Ngay
Gyi, where 1,000 families used to live and 700 houses were demolished
totally. The other 300 houses left remnants of house-poles and floors. In
total, 221 people died in the village and 300 are missing. Nobody knows
where they are.
We arrived there on May 22 and until that day, and we saw bodies floating in
streams. Survivors there received 7 tins (measurement with
condensed-milk-tin) of rice from authorities and an instant noodle pack from
some independent donors. Apart from that, they received nothing else. That
was the scene we saw 20 days after the cyclone.
On May 28, we went from Bogalay to Tin Maung Chaung, Kyein Su, Hteik Chaung
Kyi, Kan Su and Shwe Bo Su villages. The villagers there had received no
assistance as well. They had almost no clothing and almost all the children
were virtually naked.
In numbers, there were 542 households there and all the houses were heavily
damaged. There was a small pagoda left on high-ground. The villagers
gathered themselves on the platform of the pagoda and sleep together. There
were no UN or NGOs there yet, and they had received nothing. Our private
group gave them what we had. The most horrible thing was that they had no
water to drink and collected water when it rained. We gave them 10,000
bottles of drinking water.
Q: Has any of the international aid that the regime received reached those
A: There are temporary shelters in Laputta and Bogalay Townships. Some
people can stay in tents in those shelters with four or five people to a
tent. The people staying there eat rice and rice gruel. Those people receive
some assistance, but they are few in number. The people in the villages get
Q: The UN said only 25 percent of the storm survivors have received
assistance up to last week; do you think that estimate is correct?
A: It's fairly correct. Only a few people can access these shelters. The
other survivors are stranded on islands and in distant villages with hardly
accessible roads. They usually rely on boats for transportation.
I would like to share a sad story with you. I met an old lady who had 11
family members and 10 of them died in the storm. I saw many people like her.
I saw many traumatized people on the delta islands. Only boats can get in
Q: You saw many people suffering trauma and depression?
A: I see three types of people suffering trauma. One type is very violent,
and sensitive. They are angry, and I can't say anything to them. They are
aggressive all the time.
The second type is people crying and moaning all the time. They think about
what happened again and again, and they repeat what happened over and over.
The third type is silent—no talking, very little movement.
We gave people yellow beans and lablab, along with a blanket and mosquito
net. We gave a pack of these things to each survivor, and many didn't even
appear to acknowledge it. They showed little interest, as if they thought it
would be better to die.
Q: How was your experience with the local authorities? Any problems?
A: At the beginning, we took risks, and we had to move forward on our own.
Sometime we had confrontations with the authorities.
For example, they asked us why we were going on our own without consulting
them and wanted us to negotiation with them. They said they couldn't
guarantee our lives.
We said we'd take our chances on our own. Later after the Natural Disaster
Prevention and Protection Committee (NDPPC) said private donors could
contribute, we faced fewer problems.
After that announcement, well-off traders from Chinatown and gold traders
from Mogul Street joined the relief work. It is better now since the
survivors can receive more assistance. These rich traders can't go to remote
areas, and we try to help them deliver aid to remote villages. For instance,
they can drop the assistance in Bogalay and our actors' group takes it to
Q: The Myanmar Alin newspaper said survivors in the delta don't need foreign
ai. They can survive on locally grown vegetables and edible fish and frogs.
It says the Irrawaddy delta can prosper again next year with vast golden
fields of paddy.
A: I have no idea whether they can catch edible fish and frogs. We renamed
the Irrawaddy River and Bogalay River by the color of the water. The rivers
are a chalky white color. We call it the Nargis color. There are many dead
bodies and cadavers of cattle floating in the rivers. We call that the
The odor sticks with us when we come back from the villages. Nobody can
stand it, and causes some people to vomit. How could people find edible fish
and frogs in that environment?
Q: Have many of the bodies have been properly buried?
A: I returned returned from five villages in the Bogalay area on May 28. I
couldn't take videos and photos in those villages because there were so many
bodies, at least 40 bodies. That was after about 1,000 corpses were burned,
I think. I believe some NGOs like AZG and some Christian organizations
helped cremate bodies.
Q: Most of the people in the delta are Karens. How is their situation?
A: In Bogalay and Dedaye districts there are Karen villages and most of them
are Christians. I like these Karen. When I arrived in their villages, I saw
some organizations were already there. They appointed some local Karen
leaders to go to Rangoon, and they organized meetings with doctors and other
professionals. They are taking a part in their reconstruction effort.
They came back to some villages with relief items like material for
shelters, food and utensils. I believe they have already been given some
vegetable seeds like morning glory, amaranth, rosells and fertilizers that
can be used on any kind of soil.
Q: When do you think the area can start to recover its agricultural
A: In many areas, I think rice will be unworkable for a long time, but
vegetables can grow. We need to start working with the people on how to
recover the land and work their crops.
There are only 15 days left in the rice planting season. We have talked to
private companies and Thai professionals about how to resume the
agricultural works with small machinery.
A small mechanical plow, called Shwe Kywe, costs 1.4 million kyat. We have
selected the Kyun Nyo Gyi village tract for a pilot project. About 5,514
people live there. Thai professionals said the agricultural work could be
resumed. We will try to start the work with 18 small plows. We've received
10 plows from donation.
Q: Is any assistance coming from northern and central Burma?
A: Of course, many people come to assist. For example, 10-wheel trucks from
Namti, Myit Kyi Na and Lashio arrived with aid. They brought 200 tanks of
cooking oil and other supplies. The Christian group from Lashio came with 10
trucks. They are Shan.
Q: How is Rangoon now?
A: We are also reaching out in Rangoon as well.
Our group left this morning to Dala, Kwan Chan Kone, Kyi Myin Daing and
Nyaung Wine on the other side of the river. The situation there is not as
bad as in delta. However, the houses were damaged, and we do need to assist
them as well. Psychologically, they are not as traumatized as the people in
Q: What do you want to say people living outside of Burma?
A: There are many things we can't do alone. People can help us a great deal.
For instance after the tsunami in Thailand, professionals arrived
immediately and built houses for the survivors in a short time. We can't
afford such assistance, and it is a very vast area. It would be better if
international assistance could help with this.
Q: What is the UN able to do?
A: I am not happy with the UN. It doesn't seem able to reach many of our
people. The UN and NGO staff must work under the eye of the regime. That's a
problem. Why are they so concerned with the government's endorsement of
their relief work? They should have taken more risks.
Even if they can't go without permission, they could assist volunteers like
us who are willing to go to the villages. There are a lot of groups like us
assisting refugees. Many people have received nothing from the UN and NGOs.
The UN and a lot of professional organizations send their aid to the
compounds of the local township authorities.
Q: What happens with the people who are waiting for food on the roads?
A: Actually, they have to beg as they are starving. The authorities said
don't give out food to people on the roads, but they are starving. The
scenes are not that chaotic. I didn't see people robbing each other for
Q: The US says some relief work could be done with their amphibious boats.
They are willing to help. Do you think they are still needed a month after
A: I believe they are necessary. We provided some survivors with radios and
asked them to listen to the news, to keep in contact with the world. They
were happy with that news, but now they feel sad and desperate because the
ships aren't allowed to come. They feel alone and abandoned.
International Agencies Regret US Decision to Abort Burma
By Ron Corben
04 June 2008
Corben report - Download (MP3)
United States naval ships with relief supplies for cyclone victims in Burma
are leaving the area, because the Burmese government refused their help. As
Ron Corben reports from Bangkok, international agencies trying to help more
than two million storm survivors regret the loss of the navy's resources.
The USS Essex , center, and the Essex Amphibious Ready Group steam in
formation, in the Andaman Sea, 23 May 2008 (photo released by U.S. Navy)
The USS Essex and several support vessels are leaving the seas near Burma
after spending three weeks trying to deliver aid to the survivors of Cyclone
The French navy also has given up efforts to send in aid and is heading away
from the Bay of Bengal.
Burma's government has rejected offers to use other country's military
helicopters to carry relief supplies.
Instead, in the past week the World Food Program received two helicopters
from Africa, but aid experts say that is not enough.
WFP spokesman Paul Risley says it is unfortunate that U.S. Navy helicopters
will not be available to bring aid across the Irrawaddy Delta.
"And this is truly unfortunate because these helicopters represented
immediate heavy lift capacity in the area and would have been a standard
operating procedure for the U.N. for relief agencies in responding," he
Military helicopters from several nations played a vital role in relief
efforts in Indonesia after the 2004 tsunami. They also helped in the
aftermath of a cyclone that hit Bangladesh last year.
Burma's state media say the government rejected the U.S. military aircraft
because it feared an invasion, despite U.S. assurances that wanted only to
This aerial view shows a devastated town, with many roofs missing, in the
Irrawaddy Delta region, Burma, 06 May 2008
The cyclone that hit a month ago left more than two million people in need
of food, shelter and medical care. The storm killed 78,000 and left 56,000
International donors have condemned the Burmese government's roadblocks to
relief efforts. U.S. officials say the delays may have cost "tens of
thousands of lives."
The United Nations and ASEAN recent reached an agreement with Burma to allow
international aid workers more access to the areas worst hit by the storm.
But U.N. officials said Wednesday relief efforts need to expand rapidly,
since just one point three million people had gotten any sort of assistance.
The Irrawaddy Delta is Burma's main rice-growing region, but U.N. officials
said Wednesday that 60 percent of the paddy fields were damaged in the
storm. About 16 percent are too badly damaged for the next planting season,
The WFP's Risley says international food aid to the hardest-hit areas could
last a year.
"In a situation such as this it would be very typical for the World Food
Program to continue providing food rations through general deliveries for
families and farmers in the delta area, certainly through the next six
months, certainly through the next harvest. It is likely that harvest will
not be able to take place for an entire year," he said.
U.N. officials say few farmers have returned to their land because they have
no food, shelter or farm tools. In addition, roads throughout the region
Still Impeding Access
Atlas Press, for The New York Times
Burmese displaced by the cyclone meeting
with a monk last week at a monastery where they had taken refuge in Bogale.
BANGKOK — One month after a powerful
Myanmar and 10 days after the ruling
junta’s leader promised full access to the hardest-hit areas, relief
agencies said on Monday that they were still having difficulty reaching
hundreds of thousands of survivors in urgent need of assistance.
Over the past week, they said, the door has opened slightly and a number
of foreign experts have been allowed to travel to the Irrawaddy Delta, which
bore the brunt of the May 3 storm. A modest flow of food, medicine and other
supplies has begun to enter the delta by truck and barge.
But the agencies said that travel permits for international experts were
limited and irregular and that dozens of relief workers remained stranded in
the country’s main city, Yangon.
“Several have been able to make essentially day trips to work with our
field staff there,” Paul Risley, a spokesman for the
World Food Program, said. “But access
remains a continuing challenge.”
A spokesman for the United Nations disaster relief agency said on Monday
that as of two days before, 15 foreign experts representing United Nations
agencies were in the delta.
Analysts of Myanmar, formerly Burma, said they feared that the junta was
playing a game of hints, promises and deception, which it has used over the
years to deflect criticism from abroad.
“In all these crises that the Burmese face, there always is the teaser to
take the pressure off the government,” said Josef Silverstein, an expert on
“They seem like they are going to cooperate, and just as soon as comment
dies down, anything that is going to be useful dies with it,” he said. “Look
back at the ‘saffron revolution,’ when they made all kinds of promises about
what they were going to do and nothing happened.”
He was referring to a peaceful uprising, led by monks, that was crushed
in September. The junta’s promises included a dialogue with the democracy
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, but Myanmar’s rulers
dropped the idea after international attention had moved on, and last
Tuesday it extended her house arrest for a year.
In Geneva, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights,
Louise Arbour, who is leaving her position,
said the world’s failure to press Myanmar more strongly on human rights
issues made it easier for the junta to keep out cyclone relief.
“The obstruction to the deployment of such assistance illustrates the
invidious effects of longstanding international tolerance for human rights
violations,” she said.
The United Nations estimates that 2.4 million people were severely
affected by the cyclone and said last week that 1.4 million of those
remained in desperate need of food, clean water, shelter and medical care.
The government says 134,000 people died or are missing.
International relief agencies have complained strenuously that the junta
is barring foreign aid and foreign relief workers from the worst-affected
areas and that it is endangering survivors.
After a 10-day delay, the junta allowed the first of 10 helicopters from
the World Food Program to carry supplies from Yangon into the delta. The
other nine were en route to Myanmar, Mr. Risley said.
He also said barges and smaller craft were delivering supplies to
The government has allowed American aircraft to land with relief
materials but has barred American workers from leaving Yangon Airport to
deliver them. It has turned away American, French and British ships loaded
Some news reports from Myanmar have said the junta was beginning to force
survivors out of shelters and back to the devastated countryside.
According to the independent group
Human Rights Watch, thousands of displaced
people have been evicted from schools, monasteries and public buildings.
“The forced evictions are part of government efforts to demonstrate that
the emergency relief period is over and that the affected population is
capable of rebuilding their lives without foreign assistance,” the
organization said on Saturday.
Anupama Rao Singh, regional director of
Unicef, warned after a visit to the
Irrawaddy Delta that any resettlement would be premature, even if it was
“Many of the villages remain inundated with water, making it difficult to
rebuild,” she said. “There is also a real risk that once they are resettled,
they will be invisible to aid workers. Without support and continued service
to those affected, there is a risk of a second wave of disease and
The government of Myanmar also said it would reopen schools with the
start of the new term this week, though many school buildings were destroyed
and many teachers were swept to their deaths. Unicef said that more than
4,000 schools serving 1.1 million children were damaged or destroyed by the
storm and that more than 100 teachers were killed.
“I think the generals are doing what they do best, taking charge of
everything, trying to keep themselves in complete control,” said U Aung
Naing Oo, a Burmese political analyst who lives in Thailand.
Trucks of rice, beans, onions, clothes, tarpaulins and cooking utensils,
donated from all over Myanmar, pulled into his International Buddhist
Missionary Center in Yangon from early morning on. Each day, shortly after
dawn, a convoy of trucks or a barge on the Yangon River departs for the
delta, loaded with relief supplies and volunteers.
Sitagu Sayadaw sat on a wooden bench in his field headquarters as people
lined up to pay their respects. Villagers came to present lists of their
most urgent needs. Monks from outlying villages came asking for help to
repair their temples. Wealthy families from towns knelt before him and
donated bundles of cash.
However, like other senior monks here, he must strike a careful balance.
He has the moral duty to speak out on behalf of his suffering people, but in
order to protect his social programs and hospitals, which provide free
medical care to the destitute, he must try not to anger the government,
which views such private undertakings as a reproof.
Nonetheless, speaking at his shelter as an afternoon monsoon rain drummed
against the roof, Sitagu Sayadaw sounded frustrated with the government.
“In my country, I cannot see a real political leader,” he said.
“Gen. Than Shwe’s ‘Burmese way to democracy?’ ” he said, referring to the
junta’s top leader. “What is it?”
He defended the monks’ uprising last September, saying the government’s
failure to provide “material stability” for the people undermined the monks’
ability to provide “spiritual stability.”
Among monks interviewed in the delta and Yangon, there was no sign of
Still, a 40-year-old monk at Sitagu Sayadaw’s camp who spoke on condition
of anonymity for fear of official retribution said that “monks are very
angry” about the government’s recent move to evict refugees from
monasteries, roadside huts and other temporary shelters, even while the
state-run media are filled with stories of government relief efforts. “The
government doesn’t want to show the truth.”
A young monk in the Chaukhtatgyi Paya monastery district in Yangon
predicted trouble ahead. “You will see it again because everyone is angry
and everyone is jobless,” said the monk, who said he joined the September
“saffron revolution” and had a large gash over his right eye from a
soldier’s beating to show for it.
A monk from Mon State in southern Myanmar, who was visiting the delta to
assess the damage and arrange an aid shipment, said, “For the government,
these people are no more than dead animals in the fields.”
The simmering confrontation between the pillars of Myanmar life was
evident at the village level after the cyclone.
Shortly after the storm, a monk in Myo Thit, a village 20 miles from
Yangon, walked around with a loudspeaker inviting victims to his monastery
and asking people to donate. The monk had to stop, villagers said, after a
township leader affiliated with the government threatened to confiscate the
Irrawaddy Special Report
One Month after Cyclone Nargis
AUNG THET WINE / LAPUTTA
||Wednesday, June 4, 2008
Just as relief efforts were beginning to take hold in Laputta—although
serious problems still exist—the Burmese authorities have forced tens of
thousands of refugees to return to their home villages.
They are living in better established camps on the outskirts of the city,
where they receive shelter, sufficient drinking water, food and other relief
supplies on a daily basis.
Based on numbers provided by local officials, as many as 30,000 refugees
were sent back to the area of their homes during the past week. Of the
estimated 40,000 refugees that lived in Laputta previously, only about
Reports also indicate that drinking water, food and other relief material
are beginning to reach some refugees who have been sent back to their
Many refugees are now returning to Laputta to pick up food and other relief
aid from international agencies located there. Many refugees also are
receiving diesel fuel to power vehicles or boats. However, many refugees
lack transportation to return for relief supplies.
Serious logistical problems remain in terms of distribution drinking water,
food and survival material to refugees in more rural areas. Local doctors
report many people are suffering from diseases such as diarrhea and malaria,
and many others have psychological problems.
Medical doctors in Laputta said sending the refugees back to their home
villages so quickly was a misguided policy, denying them badly needed relief
supplies and medical services.
Local Laputta authorities ordered about 40,000 refugees living in 49
temporary shelters, including camps at Thakya Mara Zein Pagoda, No 1 and No
2 State High Schools, and other temporary shelter sites, to move to shelter
camps on the outskirts of town, called Three-mile camp on Laputta-Myaung Mya
Road, locally known as the golf course; Five-mile camp and the Yantana Dipa
Sport Ground camp.
During the past week, Laputta, authorities transported tens of thousands of
refugees back to their home villages, most of which are destroyed or badly
damaged. The refugees were transported on a daily basis by private companies
that have been awarded reconstruction contracts. The companies include Ayer
Shwe Wah, Max Myanmar, War War Win and Zay Kabar companies.
"Until May 18, there were about 40,000 refugees in total in camps in Laputta.
Starting on May 20, they were sent to camps situated out of town and since
then most refugees have been returned to their home areas," said an officer
of the Laputta Township PDC, who asked that his name not be disclosed.
“There are now about 650 families from 22 cyclone-affected villages living
at the Yadanar Dipa Sport Ground,” he said. “The camp population is 2,609.
The camp population at Three-mile and Five-mile camps now totals about
10,000. The figures are not constant, and the refugees are being sent back
Refugees in the camps on the outskirts of Laputta are provided with tents
and other shelter material donated by the governments of Britain, Japan and
international aid agencies. They have access to safe drinking water from
distilling machines. Food is distributed by the UN World Food Program (WFP),
UNICEF, and nongovernmental organizations, including the Adventist
Development and Relief Agency Myanmar [Burma] (Adra-Myanmar) and other
"For rice, we receive a sack of rice for four families for three days, which
is from the WFP,” said a refugee at Three-mile Camp. “The rice is good to
eat. The government also provides some rice. One person receives two tins
(measured in a condensed milk tin) of rice for three days. We also receive
cooking oil, salt and beans from other organizations. For drinking water and
water for other use, we can collect it from the distilling machines set up
at the front of the camp."
Camp refugees now have regular access to health care at medical clinics
operated by Holland-MSF, Marlin, Malteser International, UN agencies, the
Myanmar Medical Association and the Burmese Ministry of Health. Diarrhea and
other diseases are minimal in the camps, sources said.
However, many refugees already sent back to their villages are living under
very different and difficult conditions.
“They don't get proper assistance for food, drinking water and shelter and
no health care is available to them,” said a doctor with an international
health agency in Laputta.
“Many of them are suffering from diseases such as diarrheas, malaria,
typhoid, hepatitis, plus psychological distress and depression.”
"When I went out to villages, I found some cases of diarrhea and typhoid. I
see six or seven patients out of maybe 60 villagers. Some suffer from
hepatitis, jaundice, pneumonia and malaria. Most of these diseases are
caused by lack of safe water."
Many refugees are suffering from depression, he said, and mental health
specialists have yet to arrive in Laputta.
He criticized the forced return of refugees to their villages.
"It is certain these refugees will contract some diseases by sending them
back without proper preparation,” he said. “It’s also impossible for health
services to access all these villages. What we can try to do is just contain
diseases to prevent an epidemic."
When the refugees were returned to their villages, the authorities provided
them with a sack of rice, a tin of cooking oil and 20,000 kyats ($16).
A family of refugees at the jetty in Laputta who were on their way back to
Gway Chaung village in the Yway village tract said they were required to
sign a consent form saying they were voluntarily repatriated.
"They asked us repeatedly to go back,” said the man. “They told us
repeatedly to work our way out of a beggar-like life by relying on donations
and food from others.”
A refugee living at the Yadanar Dipa Sport Ground said they were told that
if they returned home they would not be accepted back in a shelter camp. He
said he was returning to his village, Thin Gan Gyi.
A 60-year-old man at Three-mile Camp said he wanted to return home, but he
worried about how he would eat. He had no other option if the authorities
forcibly evicted him, he said.
A UNICEF officer in Laputta said repatriated refugees face renewed problems
of safe drinking water and adequate food and other supplies. They are told
to return to contact UN organizations and other relief agencies for
assistance, he said.
"We are receiving representatives from villages,” he said. “They tell us
their needs and problems such as lack of drinking water, lack of rice, and
ask us to provide pumps to take the salt water from the drinking ponds. They
need to make the ponds ready to receive fresh rain water.
A WFP supervisor said, “We are now getting more than 20 representatives a
day from various villages. They get some drinking water, rice sacks and
diesel for boats, as much as they can carry when they go back. Some
villagers are coming to us almost daily."
Staff with the UN and international organizations worry that only a limited
number of returned refugees are making contact with relief agencies, since
many don’t have adequate transportation. Likewise, relief organizations
don’t have adequate transportation to reach the villagers.
Compounding the problem is the monsoon season, which begins this month.
Sources note that villagers reach out to UN agencies and international
organizations, and they hardly share their needs or complaints with local
For example, a representative from the Pyin Salu Sub-township was in Laputta
specifically to ask for a water-pump from the Adra-Myanmar [Burma] agency to
reconstruct a water reservoir pond for drinking water. His village received
just enough drinking water and people relied on seawater for cooking and
A village representative from Hlwa Sar village who was receiving relief
supplies from the WFP in Laputta on May 31, told The Irrawaddy,
"Almost all of the storm survivors believe in the UN and other international
agencies. They don't go to our authorities. The main reason is we don’t
Monks Succeed in Cyclone Relief as Junta Falters
Myanmar — They
paddle for hours on the stormy river, or carry their sick parents on
their backs through the mud and rain, traveling for miles to reach the
one source of help they can rely on: Buddhist monks.
Skip to next paragraph
With little help from the
government, refugees were fed by a monastery near Yangon.
A monk organized relief
donations this week for people left homeless by the cyclone.
This monastery, outside of Yangon, has become a temporary
At a makeshift clinic in this village near Bogale, an
Irrawaddy Delta town 75 miles southwest of Yangon, hundreds of villagers
left destitute by
arrive each day seeking the assistance they have not received from the
government or international aid workers.
Since the cyclone, the Burmese have been growing even
closer to the monks while their alienation from the junta grows. This
development bodes ill for the government, which brutally cracked down on
thousands of monks who took to the streets last September appealing to
the ruling generals to improve conditions for the people.
The May 3 cyclone left more than 134,000 dead or
missing and 2.4 million survivors grappling with hunger and
homelessness. This week, some of them who had taken shelter at
monasteries or gathered on roadsides were being displaced again, this
time by the junta, which wants them to stop being an embarrassment to
the government and return to their villages “for reconstruction.” On
officials said that refugees were also being evicted from government-run
The survivors have little left of their homes and find
themselves almost as exposed to the elements as their mud-coated water
buffaloes. Meanwhile, outside aid is slow to arrive, with foreign aid
agencies gaining only incremental access to the hard-hit Irrawaddy Delta
and the government impounding cars of some private Burmese donors.
In a scene the ruling generals are unlikely to see
played out for themselves, a convoy of trucks carrying relief supplies,
led by Buddhist monks, passed through storm-devastated villages in the
delta this week. Hungry children and homeless mothers bowed in
supplication and respect.
“When I see those people, I want to cry,” said Sitagu
Sayadaw, 71, one of Myanmar’s most respected senior monks.
Village after storm-hit village, it is clear who has
won people’s hearts. Monks were among those who died in the storm. Now,
others console the survivors while sharing their muddy squalor.
With tears welling in her eyes, Thi Dar, 45, pressed
her hands together in respect before the first monk she saw at the
clinic here and told her story. The eight other members of her family
were killed in the cyclone. She no longer had anyone to talk with and
felt suicidal. The other day, word reached her village that a monk had
opened a clinic six miles upriver. So on Thursday, she got up early and
caught the first boat.
“In my entire life, I have never seen a hospital,” she
said. “So I came to the monk. I don’t know where the government office
is. I can’t buy anything in the market because I lost everything to the
Nay Lin, 36, a volunteer doctor at the clinic, one of
the six emergency clinic shelters Sitagu Sayadaw has opened in the
delta, said: “Our patients suffer from infected wounds, abdominal pains
and vomiting. They also need counseling for mental trauma, anxiety and
While the government has been criticized for
obstructing the relief effort, the Buddhist monastery, the traditional
center of moral authority in most villages here, proved to be the one
institution people could rely on for help.
The monasteries in the delta that are still standing
have been clogged with refugees. People who could help went there with
donations or as volunteers. Monasteries that served as religious
centers, orphanages and homes for the elderly have also become shelters
for the homeless.
The interdependence between monks and laypeople is
age-old. Monks receive alms from the laity and offer spiritual comfort
in return. In villages without government schools, a monastic education
is often the only option.
“The monks’ role is more important than ever,” said Ar
Sein Na, 46, a monk in the delta village of That Kyar. “In a time of
immense suffering like this, people have nowhere to go except to monks.”
Kyi Than, 38, said she traveled 15 miles by boat to
Sitagu Sayadaw’s camp.
“Our village monk died during the storm,” she said.
“Monks are like parents to us. The government wants us to shut up, but
monks listen to us.”
Faced with the deadliest cyclone to hit Asia in 38
years, senior monks have organized their own relief campaigns.
Every day, their convoys head down delta roads. A
leading figure in these efforts is Sitagu Sayadaw, whose name invariably
draws a thumbs-up sign here.
“Meditation cannot remove this disaster,” he said.
“Material support is very important now. Now in our country, spiritual
and material support are unbalanced.”
|By SAW YAN NAING
||Wednesday, June 4, 2008
More than 800 monks prayed for the victims of Cyclone Nargis on Tuesday at a
Rangoon ceremony in which one senior cleric criticized the regime’s response
to the catastrophe.
Pyinya Thiha, a senior monk at Thardu monastery in
Rangoon’s Kyeemyindine Township, accused the junta of exacerbating the
plight of the cyclone survivors by thinking only of its own interests and
placing restrictions on the delivery of aid. He called on the regime to
allow international aid workers access to the cyclone-devastated areas.
Buddhist monks walk to
a monastery to have lunch in Twantay, 30 miles southwest of Rangoon.
More than 800 monks prayed for the victims of Cyclone Nargis on
Tuesday at a Rangoon ceremony. (Photo: AFP)
About 100 nuns and more than 500 members of the general public attended the
prayer ceremony, in Thardu monastery.
Pyinya Thiha said the junta was guilty of a “double injustice” in its
approach to the catastrophe. “The current situation is not important for
them [but] it is very important for the survival of the people now in
“It is necessary to see human beings with the eyes of a human being. They
[the junta] should not see human beings as animals.”
Aid for the cyclone survivors should take priority over everything else,
Pyinya Thiha told The Irrawaddy.
Monks would do “whatever we can for the victims,” he promised. The monks
of the Thardu monastery distributed relief supplies daily in Rangoon
Division’s Hlaing Tharyar and Kyeemyindine Townships, and prayed every
evening for the cyclone victims.
Monks had already delivered relief supplies—from food to mosquito nets—to
about 200 villages in the Irrawaddy delta, he said.
Monasteries throughout the Irrawaddy delta and Rangoon division had taken
in refugees from cyclone-hit areas. Monks had also helped clear up the
One Hlaing Tharyar Township resident, Tin Yu, said the authorities didn’t
dare prevent the monks from helping cyclone survivors, some of whom were
still sheltering in monasteries, despite official pressure to leave. The
assistance provided by the monks had been “very encouraging.”
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