Monday, November 30, 2009

Trespassing of forests in Burma from Thailand

by Usa Pichai
Sunday, 29 November 2009 01:06

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - Thai officials have seized illegal logs in the National Park on the Thailand-Burma border, even as local Burmese authorities lodged a protest with Thailand after they found about 2,000 acres of forests in Burma had been trespassed and cleared.

Thai senators, who are members of the military committee of Thailand’s Senate, led by Pol Gen Sonthaya Sangpao, used a helicopter to inspect the contentious National Park on the Thailand–Burma border in Chumporn Province, given the severe deforestation and poaching of wildlife. This has triggered conflict with local politicians.

Local authorities in Chumporn Province bordering Mon State of Burma have decided to step up restriction after it discovered deforestation of large areas of Krom Laung Chumporn National Park, which was being trespassed. A nexus between businessmen and local politicians is suspected.

The national park is in Tasae district of Chumporn Province in southern Thailand. The deforestation and trespassing was by businessmen who want to be into coffee or palm oil plantation by hiring local Thai and Burmese villagers to fell trees. Currently the destroyed area accounts for a total of about 20,000 rais or 8,000 acres.

Karan Supakijvilekakarn, Chumporn Governor reported to the senators that the officials found 500 illegal wood boards on Thursday hidden in the area and arrested eight loggers, according to a report by the Thai National News Bureau.

Col Pornsak Poonsawat, commander of the Thai Army’s 25th Infantry revealed that “there are about 8,000 rais (2,000 acres) of forests in Burmese territory, which has been destroyed and trespassed. The Burmese authorities have submitted a letter through the Thai Embassy in Rangoon demanding the Thai government expedite solving the problem.”

However, local politicians denied any nexus but the Senate Committee is investigating.

The Thai cabinet imposed martial law in 2008 in this area to protect the national park. The Thai military sent in troops to the area on 16 November 2009 because it is apprehensive that the problem would increase and affect bilateral relationships with neighbouring countries.

In addition, the local environmentalist Damnern Woraphan, a staff of the Wild Life Rescue Center Chumporn Province, and Wild Life Friend of Thailand Foundation said poaching of wild life is for commercial purposes meant for selling to tourists. This has increased particularly along the Thailand – Burma border in Tasae district. It goes up, particularly at the end of every year during the holiday season because roadside restaurants have a high demand for wildlife products.

South, Southeast Asian MPs unite on Burma

by Salai Pi Pi
Sunday, 29 November 2009 00:33

New Delhi (Mizzima) – Parliamentarians from South and Southeast Asia on Friday jointly urged Burma’s military junta to implement genuine democratic reforms, starting with re-drafting of a constitution where all stake holders should take part.

Parliamentarians from India, Nepal and Singapore agreed that changes in Burma are crucial for the region but admitted that it requires coordinated effort by all regional countries including India and China in pushing the Burmese generals to implement change.

They were meeting in New Delhi’s Constitution Club for the ‘Consultation meeting on Parliamentarians’ Solidarity for the Struggle of Democracy in Burma’ hosted by Indian Parliamentarians' Forum for Democracy in Burma (IPFDB) on Friday.

The meeting that brought together Indian MPs across party lines demanded the Burmese junta release political prisoners including Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and also condemned India for its lack of interest in Burma and its struggle for democracy.

Sharad Joshi, MP and Convener of IPFDB said both the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Burma is a member and South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), of which India is a leading member, should work together for the release of all political prisoners including Aung San Suu Kyi and for the restoration of democracy in Burma.

“Restoration of democracy in Burma is in our [India] interest,” Joshi said.

Brinda Karat, MP and Polit-bureau member of Communist Party of India (Marxist), sharing a similar view said Indian Parliament discussions on foreign policy rarely touches on Burma while it is mainly dominated by other neighbouring countries.

“We had debates (in Indian Parliament) on India’s foreign policy related to Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh, but no debates on Burma,” Karat said. “The issue of India’s policy and stand on Burma must be discussed when we discuss foreign policy.”

India, once a strong supporter of democratic changes in Burma, took a ‘U’ turn in its Burma policy in the early 1990s, saying it is in India’s national interest to engage the military rulers. India said it needed Burma’s support in cracking down on North-eastern rebels, and to counter the growing Chinese influence in the region by creating a foothold in Burma.

India also eyed Burma’s natural gas and oil reserves and began pursuing the generals in order to have stakes in the exploration, production and purchase of hydrocarbon reserves.

But China in September, announced that it has started constructing a dual gas and oil pipeline in Burma’s western state of Arakan to transport oil and gas from the offshore Shwe gas fields, which India was also in the race to obtain for purchase rights, to its South Western province of Yunnan.

Parliamentarians, during the meeting called on India to actively engage the ASEAN and the international community, including the United Nations in finding ways to urge Burma’s military rulers to implement genuine democratic changes in the country.

Charles Chong, who was representing the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC), said, ASEAN’s approach towards Burma has failed to bring any changes and that it requires a coordinated effort.

“ASEAN cannot do it on its own because the military generals have made it clear that western sanctions will not have any impact so long as the two largest neighbours India and China continue to do big business with Burma,” Chong, Vice-Chair of the AIPMC, said.

A former Member of Parliament (MP) from India’s main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Chandan Mitra, in his speech at the meeting, strongly condemned India’s policy of engaging the Burmese generals saying India has not been benefitted by engaging the junta.

“I don’t think we have influence on the [Burmese] military junta. We haven’t got any economic benefits from them. India needs energy but the energy goes to China. [Burmese] Military had sold it to China,” Mitra, who is also Editor In-Chief of The Pioneer, one of India's national newspapers said.

The Parliamentarians demanded that the Burmese military regime immediately halt hostilities against ethnic minorities and the political opposition, it called for the release of all political prisoners including Aung San Suu Kyi, and re-drafting of a constitution with the participation of all political stake holders and to conduct a general election based on the new constitution.

“Before the election [in 2010], the regime needs to release Aung San Suu Kyi and have a dialogue with her and the National League for Democracy. Then it also needs to talk with minority groups in Burma as the rights of ethnic groups are very crucial for unity in Burma,” Brinda Karat said.

Sharad Joshi, MP and convenor of the IPFDB, said while election in general is welcomed, it could not be held under a fraud constitution that does not reflect the peoples’ desire and aspirations.

Unless the constitution forcibly approved by the military junta in 2008 is revised and a new constitution re-drafted with the participation of all stake holders, Joshi said, “The 2010 election will be a farce and result in strengthening the military position.”

Edited by Mungpi
Saturday, November 28, 2009

Thailand surveys location for second bridge with Burma

by Usa Pichai
Saturday, 28 November 2009 13:46

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - Thailand has started searching for a suitable location to build the second Thailand-Burma Friendship Bridge on the Moei River even as the Thai Deputy Commerce Minister is slated to visit Burma to discuss border trade.

Tak provincial officials are surveying for a location to build a new bridge, which may be situated in Thasailoud village in Mae Sot district. Search is also on for another land about 1000 rais [250 acres] to build a ‘One Stop Service Center’ (OSS) and warehouses to support border trade and logistics on the Tak province border with Myawaddy township of Burma.

Weerachai Rakamthong, Director of Maesot’s Department of Highway said that the survey and designing of a new bridge would take about one year, as the department is seeking a consensus among local residents to widen the Tak-Maesot road which is 86 kilometres long, according to a report in a Thai news website Manager .

Meanwhile, an official from the Tak Provincial Department of Commerce revealed that Alongkorn Polbutra, Thailand’s Deputy Minister of Commerce is scheduled to visit Burma from December 8 to 13 for discussions on commerce and bilateral relationship in the border area with Burmese leaders and key ministers.

During the trip, the Thai Deputy Minister will propose to the Burmese government to open a tourism route from Maesot-Myawaddy-Moulmein and to consider building of the second and maybe the third friendship bridge on Moei River. He will propose construction of a road from Maesot-Myawaddy and Kohkareik township 28 kilometres in length with a budget of 872 million Baht [26.4 million US$].

Early last month, Thailand‘s cabinet approved the project with the aim of developing a border economic zone in Mae Sot district of Tak province, bordering Myawaddy township in Burma.

The first project is to build the second Thailand-Burma Friendship Bridge on Moei River to cater to the increasing need for transportation of goods through the border. In addition, it would serve the scheme of the East-West Corridor economics. The development plan includes building Special Economic Zones, logistics centres and warehouses near the border of Mae Sot district.

The economic zone in Tak Province project was started three years ago with the objective of boosting trade and it was expected to stop workers migrating to big cities such as Bangkok or nearby provinces by providing more job opportunities near the border.

According to the Ministry of Commerce, in 2008, the trading on the border of Thailand and Burma accounted for 144,000 million Baht [4,363 million US$], in Myawaddy alone. Mae Sot accounted for about 20,000 million Baht [606 million US$]. It is expected that the new economic zone would push it up to 40,000 million Baht [1,202 million US$], excluding income from tax and other investments.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Handcuffing of Burmese-American in court protested

by Mungpi
Friday, 27 November 2009 22:18

New Delhi (Mizzima) – The lawyer of detained Burmese born American, Kyaw Zaw Lwin (alias) Nyi Nyi Aung, said he had objected to handcuffing the accused during the trial and had submitted an objection letter, but it was rejected by the court.

Kyi Win, one of the defence attorneys of the Burmese-American, on Friday told Mizzima that Kyaw Zaw Lwin has been handcuffed during the court sessions, which he said was against Burma’s law.

“I have submitted an objection letter, but it was rejected and he [Kyaw Zaw Lwin] continues to be handcuffed during the session,” said Kyi Win, adding that Kyaw Zaw Lwin was handcuffed on Friday, where five prosecution witnesses were cross-examined at Rangoon’s notorious Insein prison.

According to the veteran lawyer, who earlier this year co-defended detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s law does not permit an accused to be handcuff unless there is any special exception.

“Besides, the Presidential decree 4/77, which is known as the handbook for the courts, also prohibits such practice,” Kyi Win said.

While there are no technical complications in handcuffing the accused during the trial, Kyi Win said, it indicates the level of rule of law prevailing in the courts in Burma.

“It’s not that there is any problem in handcuffing Kyaw Zaw Lwin, but it looks odd for the court and the whole proceeding. Since there is no threat of his [Kyaw Zaw Lwin] escaping, as the proceedings are being conducted inside the well-guarded prison, they should simply abide by the Presidential decree,” he added.

The Judge of Southern District court in Insein prison, after hearing five witnesses on Friday adjourned the court fixing the next hearing of prosecution witnesses for December 4.

Kyaw Zaw Lwin, a naturalised American citizen, was arrested on September 3, and charged under provisions of the Burmese law related to fraud, possession of counterfeit documents, and failure to declare money on customs forms.

The U.S embassy in Rangoon told Mizzima that it is following the case closely as it takes seriously the obligation to safeguard the welfare and interests of Americans abroad.

An official at the embassy said, it has repeatedly made clear to the Burmese government that they must respect Kyaw Zaw Lwin's rights and the international conventions concerning the treatment of foreign prisoners.

“We will continue to do all we can to assure that Kyaw Zaw Lwin is treated fairly and well,” said the official, adding that so far they have been granted regular access to the detained Burmese-American and had met him five times.

The Burmese-American, as a student had actively participated in the nation-wide 1988 protests led by students. He was forced to flee to neighbouring Thailand along with fellow students following the junta’s crackdown.

He was later resettled in Maryland in United States, where he was naturalised as a citizen.

Both his mother and sister were also arrested and are currently serving time in Burma’s prisons, for their activism.

Some information provided by Salai Han Thar San

Increased drug threat due to instability in Burma: report

by Mungpi
Friday, 27 November 2009 21:25

New Delhi (Mizzima) - Political instability in Burma could lead to an increase in trafficking of illicit drugs and may result in the shifting of clandestine manufacturing facilities across the borders of neighbouring countries, a new report by the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime said on Thursday.

The UNODC, in its report “2009 Patterns and Trends of Amphetamine-Type Stimulants and Other Drugs in East and South-East Asia”, said the unstable political situation in Burma in 2009, could serve as a push factor to the current illicit drug production and trafficking dynamics in the region.

With ongoing hostilities between the government and ethnic armed groups, who had a ceasefire agreement, the political situation in Myanmar in 2009 is turbulent.

“This instability could affect the current illicit drug production and trafficking dynamics in the region. There is a likelihood that these changing conditions will serve as a push factor for increasing the trafficking of illicit drugs and could result in the relocation of clandestine manufacturing sites across the border,” the report, released on Thursday in Bangkok, said.

Besides, areas along Burma’s border with Lao Peoples Democratic Republic and Cambodia could experience increased trafficking activity with the possibility that clandestine laboratory operations may be established in these areas.

The report said, “Illicit manufacture of Methamphetamine, primarily in pill form (Yaba), continues, particularly in the Shan, Wa, and Kokang autonomous region.”

The report, which analyses the trends of production and trafficking of Amphetamine-Type Stimulants (ATS) and other Drugs in 15 East and Southeast Asian countries, said though Methamphetamine still remains the third most used drug in Burma following Heroin and Opium, increased use has been indicated every year since 2003.

However, the report said, Methamphetamine seizures declined by 34 per cent in 2008 compared to the previous year, while Heroin seizures increased by 29 per cent.

“Preliminary data from the first two quarters of 2009 suggest that trafficking is increasing for both Methamphetamine pills and Heroin,” the UNODC said in the report.

The report, produced under the global Synthetics Monitoring: Analyses, Reporting and Trends (SMART) programme, said a recent estimate of injecting drug use prevalence in Burma between 15 and 64 years of age is between 0.18 per cent and 0.27 per cent, accounting for about 60,000 to 90,000 people.

“The HIV prevalence among IDUs [Intravenous Drug Users] has been estimated to be very high at 42.6 per cent,” the report said.

The report contains detailed findings on 15 countries - Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Japan, the Lao People's Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Myanmar, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, the Republic of Korea, Thailand and Viet Nam.

The report said, during the past five years, while much of clandestine synthetic drug manufacturing facilities have been dismantled in East and South-East Asia, they have been replaced by the larger, industrial-size operations.

“Discovery of "meth" manufacturing facilities in recent years in South Asia may indicate the intent by organized crime groups to base their manufacturing and trafficking operations in the region,” the report said.


Burmese cultural troupe to perform in northeast India

by Mithu Choudhury
Friday, 27 November 2009 20:13

Guwahati, Assam (Mizzima) - A 15-member cultural troupe from Burma is to arrive in India’s North-eastern region on Saturday to showcase their country’s traditional art and culture, officials said.

During their 10-day, (November 28 to December 7), visit to three North-eastern states — Nagaland, Manipur and Assam — the Burmese cultural troupe will perform various traditional dances at capitals of the three states - Kohima, Imphal and Guwahati, a Manipur government official said.

The official told the local media on Friday, "The Union Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER) has been advocating closer cultural and trade ties between North-eastern states and neighbouring countries as part of the ‘Look-East Policy’."

According to Rajkumar Kalyanjit Singh, an expert on northeast art and culture, archaeological evidence shows an Indian influence on Burmese dance and there are some similarities between traditional dances of northeast India and Burma.

The cultural exchange programme has been taken up by the Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER) in coordination with the Indian embassy in Rangoon, Burmese embassy in New Delhi, Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR), North Eastern Council (NEC) and the three North-eastern state governments.

The cultural troupe, which arrived in Kolkata on Friday and will reach Kohima on Saturday, will stay in Nagaland’s capital for four days and perform at the inaugural function of the ‘Hornbill Festival on December 1.

Hornbill Festival is a state-sponsored festival where more than 14 tribes living in the state showcase their cultures, with an objective of greater unity among the tribes.

Some of the highlights of the festival include, Traditional Naga Morungs Exhibition and sale of Arts and Crafts, Food Stalls, Herbal Medicine Stalls, Flower shows and sales, Cultural Medley - songs and dances, Fashion shows, Beauty Contest, Traditional Archery, Naga wrestling, Indigenous Games, and Musical concert.

Edited by Mungpi

The faces of two HIV positive patients

by Phyu Phyu Thin
Friday, 27 November 2009 07:58

Mizzima News – I would like to tell you the stories of two hapless and vulnerable HIV patients in Burma.

The first is a female farmer hailing from Magwe Division. She contracted the deadly virus from a blood transfusion after being admitted to a hospital for a miscarriage. Not knowing how she contracted HIV, she accused her husband of having unprotected extra-marital sex. She did not accept her husband's protestations and continued with her accusations against him.

The truth only set in once two visitors appeared at their home with frail bodies covered with sores. They had come to apologize and disclose that they had donated blood to the hospital before learning of their own HIV positive status. Both husband and wife were shocked and stunned. Our network member, Ko Parlay, then visited them and provided counseling services. After that, they were sent to me.

In this way, this lady reached me in Rangoon. She had no place to stay. Staying at a monastery was not convenient, so she was sent to a home owned by my father and to the AZG clinic run by Medicines Sans Frontier (MSF) – where she was provided with ARV, an HIV medication.

Initially, the medicine drove her insane. She would run through the streets naked.

At the time of the blood transfusion she received six bottles of blood. The hospital charged 20,000 kyats (US$ 20) for a screening test per bottle. So, she had to pay a total of 120,000 kyats to the hospital for this service.

"I can't understand. I can't understand the virus infected me through the blood transfusion. You said the virus infected me through a blood transfusion. It means I bought this disease with my 120,000 kyats," she told me.

Unfortunately, as I came to learn, the tainted blood was in a 'window period' with no detectable anti-bodies at the time of the screening test.

The second story I wish to relate involves a little child. He was only five when I met him, and had also contracted the virus through a blood transfusion. He was so lovely. His father is a Lance Corporal and his mother a school teacher. He had been admitted to Mingaladon Military Hospital with dengue fever.

His blood donor was a friend of his father’s and an individual donor on some 60 previous occasions. But no one knew he had unprotected sex with a sex worker before he gave his blood to this little child. The blood donor did not reveal the incidence to the doctors on duty, and the blood of such a well-known and regular donor was assumed to be safe.

A blame game ensued between the child's father and doctors. The hospital claimed the parents had infected the child.

I rushed with the parents to the National Blood Test Centre in order to protect them from an incorrect blood test report by the hospital. The subsequent blood tests came back negative.

I assisted them in suing the doctors and lodging a complaint with a child rights organization.

Eventually, his nun grandmother took him from us, saying everything that had happened to him was due to his pre-determined destiny. I was taken aback by the passivism of our people.

These stories are but two of the multitude of cases that have been brought to by attention.

(The writer is a member of the National League for Democracy (NLD) and a leading member of an HIV/AIDS awareness program)

Burmese pro-democracy activists brief Indian intellectuals

by Salai Pi Pi
Friday, 27 November 2009 01:12

New Delhi (Mizzima) – A group of Indian intellectuals and Burmese pro-democracy leaders in exile on Thursday held a brainstorming seminar on the possibilities of democratic transition in Burma and the role of its giant neighbours – India and China.

Speaking at the seminar, titled “The Paranoia of Unpredictability: Is democracy possible in Burma/Myanmar?” held in Jamia Millia Islamia University, speakers discussed Burma’s current political scenario, the ruling junta’s 2008 constitution and the planned elections in 2010.

While a minister for the Burmese government in exile – the National Coalition Government of Union of Burma (NCGUB) – Dr. Tint Swe explained the stand of Burma’s main opposition party the National League for Democracy, other Burmese speakers talked of the role of women, ethnic nationalities, and the urgent need for humanitarian assistance in the Southeast Asian nation, which has been plagued by decades of civil-war.

Dr. Tint Swe, a vocal critic of India’s ‘Look East Policy’, said India seems to have set its focus on China in dealing with Burma.

“We are calling on India not to focus too much on China when it comes to its policy on Burma,” Dr. Tint Swe said.

Explaining the nature of the junta’s planned 2010, Dr. Tint Swe, who is a Member of Parliament elected in 1990 from the NLD said, his party has demanded that the junta amend its 2008 constitution, release political prisoners, including party leader Aung San Suu Kyi and initiate a dialogue.

“The NLD is a pro-democracy party. Therefore, we do not directly oppose the 2010 elections but will contest only if the regime fulfils the demands,” Tint Swe said.

The seminar organised by Centre for Northeast Studies, Academy of Third World Studies (ATWS) was also attended by Burmese pro-democracy leaders including Harn Yanghwe, Director of the Brussels-based Euro-Burma Office (EBO), and Dr. Lian H. Sakhong of the Ethnic Nationalities Council (ENC), an umbrella group of ethnic nationalities of Burma.

Indian intellectuals including Prof. Veena Sikri, former High Commissioner to Bangladesh, Rajiv Sikri, Former Secretary of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, and Lt. Gen. (Retd.) V R Raghavan, Director of the Delhi Policy Group and President of Centre for Security Analysis in Chennai, also spoke on India’s current policy on Burma.

India, which was once a strong critic of the military junta in Burma, changed its policy in the early 1990s and began engaging the military dictators under the aegis of its “Look East policy”.

Swiber bags US $ 77 million contract

by Mizzima News
Thursday, 26 November 2009 20:03

New Delhi (Mizzima) - Singapore’s Swiber Holdings Ltd. has bagged its first offshore pipeline installation contract in Burma.

In a press release on Thursday, Swiber said it has been awarded a US$ 77 million Letter of Award (LoA) for laying 150-kilometres (93 miles) of subsea gas pipelines by the state-owned Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE).

“The six-month project is expected to commence in the 1st quarter of 2010 with the date of completion targeted for the 2nd quarter of 2010,” the press release said.

Preparatory work for the project will begin in December 2009, Swiber said.

Swiber Holdings provides offshore engineering, procurement, construction, installation and commissioning (EPCIC) services, offshore marine support services, as well as shipbuilding and repair.

Burmese PM pats USDA on the back

by Mizzima News
Thursday, 26 November 2009 19:03

New Delhi (Mizzima) - Burma’s Prime Minister Lt-Gen Thein Sein on Sunday had a word of appreciation for leaders of the pro-junta civilian organization – the Union Solidarity and Development (USDA) – and encouraged them to continue with their social services for the community.

Thein Sein was speaking at the inauguration of the USDA annual meeting, which was attended by about 700 USDA representatives across the country. It is being held at Lewe Town in central Burma.

Sources in Lewe township USDA office told Mizzima that the organization , during the meeting, re-affirmed its pledge to carry out ‘Orders’ given from ‘Above’, without explaining what the ‘Orders’ were and who the ‘Above’ meant.

The USDA led by the junta’s Minister for Agriculture and Irrigation Maj-Gen Htay Oo, will conclude the annual meeting on Friday following a dinner.

“Snr Gen Than Shwe is expected to attend the dinner party on Friday. He has not shown up yet,” the source said.

Though there has been speculation of the USDA being transformed into a political party, the source said, the meeting, attended by township and divisional level secretaries, did not have it on the agenda.

“There was no discussion on transforming into a political party in the meeting. And so far we have not received any ‘Orders’ to do so,” said the source. However, he added that it is not impossible to transform, if there is an order from above.

While he refused to explain further about the ‘Orders’ and ‘Above’, the USDA has been known as a puppet organization of the military government that implements orders by the regime.

Burmese activists in exile have predicted that the USDA, whose Secretary General is Maj-Gen Htay Oo, is unlikely to transform into a political party to contest in the junta’s planned 2010 elections.

But many believe that the USDA while remaining a social organization and carrying out social services, would back a pro-junta party in the elections.

The USDA, formed by the junta supremo Snr. Gen Than Shwe in 1993, has a membership of over 20 million people of the 50 million population in Burma. And its patron members include Snr Gen Than Shwe, Vice-Snr Gen Maung Aye, General Thura Shwe Mann, Prime Minister General Thein Sein, Secretary-1 Lt-Gen Thiha Thura Tin Aung Myint Oo.

The USDA was used as a vital tool by the junta in suppressing the September 2007 protests, which was triggered by a sudden and sharp rise in the price of fuel. During the protest, members of the USDA blocked roads, harassed and arrested civilians, who were marching on the streets.

Members of the USDA were also reportedly deployed by the junta to attack the motorcade of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was on a political tour, near Debayin town of Upper Burma in May 2003.

Reporting by Salai Han Thar San, writing by Mungpi

Aid trickles in despite desperate need of Nargis victims

by Larry Jagan
Thursday, 26 November 2009 16:06

Bangkok (Mizzima) - Eighteen months after Cyclone Nargis, which killed at least 140,000 people, hundreds of thousands of survivors remain in desperate need, according to the United Nations.

More than 170,000 people are still without adequate shelter, while the vast majority of the farmers in the Irrawaddy Delta devastated by last year’s cyclone, are slipping into enormous debt, the head of the UN operations in Burma, Bishow Parajuli told Mizzima on Wednesday.

“There is an enormous funding gap, between the acute needs of the people on the ground and the financial support available from international donors for reconstruction programmes,” he said. “But work is going on, building is going on, though more needs to be done.”

Recovery takes a long time the UN resident humanitarian coordinator warned, after the Post-Nargis and Regional Partnership Conference in Bangkok pledged more than $88 million dollars for the priority areas identified by in the Tripartite Core Group – which includes ASEAN, the UN and the Burmese government.

This fell well short of the total appeal launched at the conference for $103 million for the revised Action Plan. “This is the single most important challenge we are now facing, the lack of funding,” Mr Parajuli stressed.

The level of commitment from the international community has fallen well short of the amount of funding that was made available for Indonesia after the enormous Tsunami disaster in 2004, relief workers point out. Burma has received less than 10 percent of what was allocated there.

Each international appeal that has been made has fallen far short – even the original UN flash appeal for the immediate rescue and recovery stage. Less than 70% of the $477 million required, was forthcoming.

“There is no doubt that the international community’s generosity has been tempered by the regime’s political position, particularly the continued detention of the opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi,” Surin Pitsuwan, the ASEAN general-secretary admitted to Mizzima.

Earlier this year the ASEAN-led TCG launched its Post-Nargis Recovery and Preparedness Pan (PONREPP) that estimated more than $ 690 million was needed in the next three years (2009-2011).

After only a fraction of the projected needs were committed, the ASEAN foreign ministers at their summit meeting in July in the Thai resort of Phuket suggested that a priority action plan should be prepared for the six months period up until June 2010 – when in fact the TCG is scheduled to be wound up. This appeal is part of the original one launched in February, but failed to attract any real interest from the international community.

So far more than $ 88 million has been promised by donors who attended the Bangkok meeting on Wednesday. The pledges came from Australia, Denmark, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, the Netherlands, the European Commission, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, the United Kingdom and the United States.

These funds will be used to provide 17,800 new houses, 40 new schools, 16 cyclone shelters, support livelihood programmes for a million people, and provide water and sanitation for 800,000 people.

This will also cover building education facilities for 35,000 students and providing 900,000 individuals with health services.

“The cost of underinvestment is huge,” said Dr Noeleen Heyzer, Under Secretary General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), “and failure to provide adequate funds will create greater and deeper poverty for the people who survived the cyclone.”

“While much has been done, there are many affected communities across the Delta who are still highly vulnerable and require urgent continued humanitarian assistance, especially in the areas of shelter, livelihoods, water, sanitation and hygiene, education and health,” Dr Surin told a press conference on Wednesday.

The work in the Delta is virtually endless, Mr Parujali told Mizzima in an exclusive interview. Even with the funding, more than 150,000 people are still without shelter. Only a fraction of the schools damaged or destroyed during the cyclone have been rebuilt. “This means many children are not at school and missing out on education, which will limit their future employment chances,” he said. Health facilities in the area are totally inadequate, with 90% of mothers giving birth at home,” he said. “This is unsafe and unacceptable, but at present there is no alternative.”

Politics should be separated from humanitarian issues, according to Mr Parujali. There are bureaucratic problems, the UN head admitted. “But we cannot give up for the peoples’ sake. We must build trust and confidence, and demonstrate by example.”

“I wish it was easier, I wish we could do more, I wish the trust and confidence was greater.”

“But much has been done over the last 18 months,” Mr Parajuli insisted. “We have been able to effectively, transparently and accountably deliver substantial aid and assistance to those in need.”

Many of the donors agree. “Relief operations have been effective and timely, and aid delivery has been transparent and accountable,” said David Lipman, Ambassador and Head of Delegation of the European Commission in Bangkok. The EU has been one of the largest contributors to some of the post-cyclone appeals.

But some analysts believe aid and development to Burma, while the military regime is in control, is a total waste of money. “Almost all the virtues necessary for aid to be effective - accountability, transparency, political and humanitarian 'space', mechanisms for speedy delivery, and so on -- are missing in Burma,” Sean Turnell, a Professor of Economics at Macquarie University told Mizzima.

“On top of all of this, is the question of to what extent aid really reaches those who in need, and what proportion just helps prop up dysfunctional and repressive power structures.”

The massive indebtedness of farmers in the Delta is fast becoming an insurmountable obstacle to recovery in the cyclone-hit areas. “Large landowners have had their holdings reduced, cannot afford agricultural inputs like seeds and fertiliser, and can no longer employ day labourers,” said Dr Heyzer. “Some have even become day labourers themselves.”

As a result unemployment and indebtedness are growing alarmingly in the Irrawaddy Delta. “Micro-credit is fundamental to recovery,” Mr Parajuli said. “The lack of credit is crippling the revival of the Delta,” said Mr Parajuli. “Money lenders are charging exorbitant interest rates of over 5 per cent per month, and often it is unavailable even at this high cost.”

“The extent of rural indebtedness in the Delta is truly alarming,” said Professor Turnell. “Resulting not just in hardship and the widespread alienation of land, but also it having an impact on agricultural productivity -- as many cultivators are cutting back on critical inputs (such as fertiliser) they can longer finance.”

Many economists agree that Burma is doomed to increasing poverty as long as the generals stay in power. “There is not a single country in the world that has achieved economic development via aid, or without economic reforms that incorporate at least some measure of reasonably secure property rights and freedom to trade,” Turnell told Mizzima.

In May 2008, Cyclone Nargis hit Irrawaddy delta, one of the rice bowls of Burma, killing 140,000 people and destroyed 450,000 houses.

Fear of migrants joining anti-Thai government protests

by Usa Pichai
Thursday, 26 November 2009 12:04

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Apprehensive that Burmese migrant workers may join anti-government demonstrations, Thai officials have imposed restrictions along the border.

Lt Gen Thanongsak Apirakyothin, Commander of the Thai Third Army said on Wednesday that the army has ordered officials along the Thai-Burma border in Northern Thailand to impose restrictions. The directives follow a report that migrant workers from neighbouring countries may join anti-government demonstrations likely in Chiang Mai and Bangkok against Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejajiva. The PM is scheduled to visit Chiang Mai on Saturday to attend the annual Thailand Chamber of Commerce meeting.

Lt Gen Thanongsak, however, dismissed a rumour that former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra may enter the country illegally through the northern border at the end of this month, according to a report in Thai News Agency’s website.

Suthep Thaugsuban, Deputy Prime Minister said he felt the PM should avoid going to Chiang Mai because the red-shirts there had past records of resorting to violence. He feared that the red-shirts in Chiang Mai and Bangkok were cooperating to incite unrest and instigate violence.

However, if Abhisit insists he should go, Suthep said he would propose the Internal Security Act be imposed in Chiang Mai without inconveniencing people there. He said he was more concerned about the red shirts inciting unrest. He was confident security agencies could protect the PM.

"A small clash can snowball into a big issue. I have been assigned to monitor the situation closely and cooperate with local authorities because the PM would like to go there since he believes it would help in restoring the confidence of the private sector,'' he said.

However, the leader of the red-shirt group announced on Wednesday that the protests in Bangkok will be postponed. The announcement seemingly follows fugitive former PM Thaksin Shinawatra suggesting it was not the right time to assemble. However, officials will still increase surveillance for any unseemly incidents.

The government will impose the Internal Security Act in Bangkok from Saturday November 28 to December 14 even though the red shirts said yesterday they will defer their planned rally indefinitely.

Jeerasak Sukonthachart, Director of Thailand’s Department of Employment said that the authorities have warned employers to prevent their migrant workers from joining political demonstrations because it is illegal.

According to Thai law, migrant workers could join demonstrations if they are not linked with politics or national security. If they are found among red-shirt demonstrators they would be repatriated to their country and the employer will face trial.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Violence against women rampant under junta: WLB

by Eint Cherry
Wednesday, 25 November 2009 22:22

New Delhi (Mizzima) - An umbrella group of Burmese women on Wednesday said it is joining hands with several activists groups to bring Burma’s military rulers to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for their crimes against Burmese people in general and women in particular.

Women’s League of Burma (WLB) in its statement on the ‘International Stop Violence Against Women Day’ said women in Burma are victims of the ruling junta’s systematic rights violations, including sexual harassment.

“Unless there is genuine democratic change in Burma, there can be no justice. Therefore, it is important that Burma has democratic change and we urge the international community to increase pressure to bring a democratic system in the country,” Thin Thin Aung, a Presidium Board member of WLB, said in her speech at the event held in New Delhi, India.

Lum Nan, in-charge of the women’s wing of the Kachin National Organisation (KNO), said there has been widespread violation of women’s rights particularly sexual harassment by soldiers of Burma’s armed forces in remote areas of the country, inhabited by ethnic minorities.

“In our Kachin State, we received reports of widespread sexual violence committed by members of the Burmese Army. Especially, women living in villages along the railway lines are vulnerable. Often women, who are raped, are also killed by their perpetrators,” Lum Nan said.

She said, despite reports to higher authorities, the perpetrators often get away with their crime and go unpunished.

Though Burma is a member of the United Nations and a signatory to the Convention on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the ruling junta continues to systematically abuse the rights of women, said WLB, calling on the international community to increase the pressure on the junta to end such practices.

In the light of increasing rights violations and violence against women in Burma, WLB called on the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to stop its constructive engagement with the junta and to re-assess its policy.

Systematic rights violations including sexual violence and violence against women in Burma are the outcome of the ruling junta’s reluctance to politically resolve the country’s long-standing political imbroglio, WLB said.

Though Burma’s ruling junta said it is implementing change through its roadmap to democracy, its 2008 constitution does not guarantee the rights of women, instead enshrines the military’s role.

“Therefore, we express our strong opposition today on the junta’s planned 2010 election that will give life to its 2008 constitution,” WLB said in its statement.

Observing the ‘International Stop Violence Against Women Day’ New Delhi-based Burmese women activists along with human rights activists in New Delhi on Wednesday urged the United Nations’ Special envoy to investigate violations of women’s rights in Burma, that have been ignored.

In 1999, December 17, the 54th United Nations General Assembly in its 83rd resolution declared November 25 to be observed as the ‘International Stop Violence Against Women Day.’


Aung San Suu Kyi allowed repairing her home

by Nem Davies
Wednesday, 25 November 2009 20:20

New Delhi (Mizzima) - Aung San Suu Kyi, detained Burmese opposition leader has been permitted to repair her lakeside home on Rangoon’s University Avenue, Nyan Win her party spokesperson said.

The Rangoon municipality has granted the Nobel Peace Laureate permission to repair the balcony of her lakeside home, following a request about three months ago, Nyan Win told Mizzima on Wednesday.

“The permission was granted about two weeks ago. Now Daw Suu is in discussions with engineers and the Special Branch of the police about bringing in workers to repair her house,” Nyan Win said.

“The repair work will start by this week. Daw Suu is also scheduled to meet her [engineer] friend and other engineers who will oversee the work,” Nyan Win added.

Authorities, according to Nyan Win, have set February 2010 as the deadline to complete the repair work.

But Nyan Win, the spokesperson of the National League for Democracy, said he does not believe that the permission to repair the house, where Aung San Suu Kyi has spent most of her 14 years in solitary confinement, is an indication of relaxation of her house arrest.

Following the devastating Cyclone Nargis in May 2008, authorities allowed the Burmese pro-democracy leader to repair the roof of her house, which was blown off and damaged.

The Burmese democracy icon is currently under house arrest serving an 18 months suspended sentence. She was convicted by a special court in the notorious Insein prison in August, on charges of allowing an American, John William Yettaw, who paid a secret visit to her lakeside home and stayed for two nights in May.

Junta’s priority is elections, not easing sanctions: Win Tin

by Salai Han Thar San
Tuesday, 24 November 2009 21:49

New Delhi (Mizzima) - The Burmese military junta’s priority is to get on with its planned 2010 elections rather than looking at easing western sanctions, leaving little chance of the junta supremo Snr Gen Than Shwe responding to detained opposition leader’s latest proposal, a senior member of her party said.

Win Tin, a Central Executive Committee (CEC) member of Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), on Tuesday told Mizzima that the chances of Than Shwe responding to the Nobel Peace Laureate’s letter, requesting a meeting with him, is slim as the military clique seems to be far too preoccupied with its planned elections.

On November 11, the detained Burmese democracy icon, through her party spokesperson Nyan Win, sent her second letter to Than Shwe requesting a face to face meeting to follow up on the work to help ease western sanctions.

Nyan Win on Tuesday told Mizzima that Than Shwe has not responded to the letter, which also requested permission to allow the pro-democracy leader to pay her respects to aging party leaders and to allow her a meeting at her home with the party CEC.

The senior opposition leader on Tuesday said, Burma’s military supremo Snr Gen Than Shwe is unlikely to respond to the detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s proposal sent earlier this month, as the junta’s priority is its elections rather than easing sanctions.

Win Tin said, the military clique is unlikely to responds to the proposal as the 2010 elections are on the top of its agenda, compared to looking at easing western sanctions and engaging with the United States.

“Sanctions do not constitute real problems for them [junta], as it does not hurt them much but creates slight difficulties in their relationship with the international community. But the elections are very important to them,” Win Tin said.

Aung San Suu Kyi on September 25 sent her first letter to Than Shwe offering to cooperate in easing sanctions. The junta responded to her proposal by granting her request to meet diplomats from the United States, European Union and Australia.

Besides, the junta also allowed the detained Burmese democracy icon to meet the junta’s Liaison Minister Aung Kyi and also the visiting US high-level delegation led by Assistant Secretary for Asia Pacific Affairs, Kurt Campbell.

The letters and the meetings came following the United States’ announcement of a new policy of engaging the generals in Burma while maintaining existing sanctions.

Nyan Win, while saying that so far there was no reply, said he is optimistic that something positive will turn up.

But Win Tin said, “This election will guarantee the rule of the military because it will be held based on the 2008 constitution. And the new Parliament and the new government will be controlled by this constitution that will guarantee the military’s rule for many years to come in Burma.”


Thai officials rescue Burmese workers

by Usa Pichai
Tuesday, 24 November 2009 19:38

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Fifty four Burmese workers believed to be victims of human traffickers were rescued after Thai officials raided a frozen seafood factory in Trang Province, southern Thailand.

On Monday, Thai officials from Bangkok and Trang province, led by Pol Lt Col Taweep Changtor, from Thai Immigration Police Office, raided a factory of the J.D.P Co. Ltd. a big dried fish producer and ice distributer in Kantang district of Trang Province.

The raid followed information that Burmese workers were detained and face threats in the factory and were believed to have been trafficked. The police found 32 Burmese workers in a house in the factory compound. Another 24 were found in boats anchored near the area. Some of the workers had work documents while most did not.

“Immigration police were tipped off by Burmese workers who fled from the factory. They said that there were workers, who were being forced to work and some are beaten up by the head worker of the factory. The workers are taken to work by a fishery boat captain who acted as an agent searching for migrant workers. Some of them want to return to their country but are forced to work and are detained,” Pol Lt Col Taweep was quoted in a report in the Thai newspaper Manager.

The police said that the owner of the factory denied the accusation and claimed that the workers had work documents in keeping with the law. Some of them who did not have documents are fishermen, who worked for others boats and had no links with the factory.

The officials found out that the factory applied to the Ministry of Labour to hire more than 600 migrant workers.

However, the officials are investigating and following leads on agents, who might be human traffickers.

According to a recent report by The Mirror Foundation, a non-governmental organization working on the human trafficking issue in Thailand there are four provinces in southern Thailand which are blacklisted. They are Songkhla, Chon Buri, Samut Prakarn and Samut Sakorn all located on the seashore. It was felt that more provinces have the same problem. There are several trafficking networks that are active in the area because of the high demand for workers in the fishery industry.

Earlier, Issara Somchai, Minister of Social Development and Human Security said that Thailand has the biggest number of fishing boats in the lower part of Asia and many are using illegal labourers from Burma and Cambodia to work on the vessels.

AI urges Int’l donors to pressurize junta

by Salai Pi Pi

Tuesday, 24 November 2009 15:42

New Delhi (Mizzima) – The Amnesty International on Tuesday urged international donors, meeting in Bangkok this week, to pressurize Burma’s military junta to put a halt to harassment of activists helping survivors of Cyclone Nargis and ensure that sufficient aid reaches the affected.

Benjamin Zawacki, AI’s Southeast Asia Researcher, told Mizzima on Tuesday that Burmese authorities continue to intimidate activists, who are helping survivors of the deadly cyclone, which lashed the country’s Irrawaddy delta in May 2008, leaving more than 140,000 dead and missing.

He said international donors will be holding a meeting of the Tripartite Core Group (TCG), a group formed to spearhead relief and rehabilitation in Burma’s Cyclone devastated delta region, on November 25 in Bangkok to discuss the ongoing post-Nargis relief situation.

“We are urging the donors to apply pressure on the regime to stop arresting political activists involved in Cyclone Nargis relief efforts,” Zawacki said.

The TCG was formed with the United Nations, Burmese government representatives, and representatives of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and is chaired by Burmese former Deputy Foreign Minister Kyaw Thu.

In October, Burmese military authorities arrested at least 10 political activists and journalists for accepting relief donations from abroad, according to AI’s press release on Tuesday.

“All of them are members of the Shining Star Group [Lin Let Kyae] and were undertaking programmes in Myanmar [Burma] devoted to relief and social activities,” Zawacki said.

The ten arrested political activists were among at least 41 dissidents detained last month as part of a broader crackdown by the Burmese regime and their whereabouts and the charges against them are still unknown, the AI said.

The AI also called on the donor community to continue providing humanitarian assistance to meet the critical needs of survivors.

“More than 18 months after the cyclone, survivors still require critical support from the international community,” said Zawacki.

Extra funding is still required to build new houses, cyclone shelters, for livelihood programmes, water, sanitation and education facilities, and health services for the people in delta areas, AI said.

“[Burmese] authorities are denying Nargis survivors the assistance that they desperately need and have the right to receive,” Zawacki said.

The TCG is set to hold a Post-Nargis Assistance Conference (PONAC) in Bangkok to raise $103 million to address the critical needs of the people in cyclone affected areas.
Monday, November 23, 2009

Chin assembly opposes junta’s elections

by Salai Pi Pi

Monday, 23 November 2009 21:44

New Delhi (Mizzima) - While opposing the Burmese junta’s planned 2010 elections, the Chin National Council in exile on Monday said it will urge voters to selectively vote for pro-democracy candidates, should the regime continue with the polls despite widespread opposition.

The Council, comprised of Chin political parties, armed group, students, youths, civil societies, women’s group, and intellectuals, said the elections, which will be based on the 2008 constitution, does not reflect the peoples’ desire. It will not bring any kind of change and will only legitimize military rule.

But if “the regime continues with its planned election, we urge the people of Burma to selectively choose whom they should vote for and avoid casting votes for the pro-junta groups,” Ral Hnin, General Secretary of the CNC, told Mizzima on Monday.

Ral Hnin said the Council’s stance was discussed during the second Chin National Assembly held at a location along the India-Burma border from November 18 to 20.

He added that the Assembly, attended by Chin leaders from across the world including United States, Canada and Sweden along with civil society groups, students and youths, and women’s group, supports the stand taken by the National League for Democracy (NLD), Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, on the junta’s elections and its roadmap as a whole.

The Council, in its Assembly resolution said, the junta would be held accountable for the consequences if it continues with its planned elections without taking into consideration the NLD’s ‘Shwegondine Declaration’ in April.

The NLD, in its Shwegondine Declaration said, it is willing to participate in the elections in 2010 if the junta releases political prisoners including party leader Aung San Suu Kyi, amends the flawed 2008 constitution, and allows a free and fair electoral process that can be monitored.

The Council also said it supports the stand of ethnic ceasefire groups, which rejected the junta’s proposal to transform their armies into a Border Guard Force, to be controlled by the Burmese Army.

Ceasefire armed groups such as the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and United Wa State Army (UWSA) have rejected the junta’s proposal.

“Our commitment is to achieve self-determination, not to be transformed into border guard forces,” said Ral Hnin, “That’s why we support their response to the regime.”

During the Assembly, Ral Hnin said, the Council also expanded its core members from the previous four groups to accommodate students, youths, civil societies, and women.

The Council was formed in 2006, during the first Chin National Assembly held in ‘Mount Sinai’ in India’s North-eastern state of Manipur. The CNC’s core groups include the Chin National Front (CNF), Chin National League for Democracy (CNLD), Mara Peoples Party (MPP) and Zomi National Congress (ZNC).

While the CNF is an armed group formed with students and youths following the junta’s brutal crackdown on student-led nationwide protests in 1988, the CNLD, ZNC, and MPP are political parties, which won Parliamentary seats in Burma’s last elections in 1990.

The Chin National Council is also a member of the Ethnic Nationalities Council, an ethnic umbrella group representing the seven states of Burma - Arakan, Chin, Kachin, Karen, Karenni, Shan and Mon.

Editing by Mungpi

Burma to commission ‘Ye’ hydro-power project in December

by Kyaw Thein Kha
Monday, 23 November 2009 21:36

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - The Burmese Ministry of Electric Power (1) will commission the Ye village hydro-power project in December, billed as the biggest in the country.

“We will begin operating one turbine of the four for hydro-electricity. We will begin in December and run the turbines one after another in the following months. We are still unsure of the exact date but it might probably be the end of December,” Aye Aye Thant, Director Hydro-Electricity Department of the ministry told Mizzima.

For the commissioning of the hydro-power-project, several engineers from the engineering department were said to have reached the hydro-power plant.

The hydro-project on the Myittha River, located between Ye-Yamann villages, about 31 miles southeast of Mandalay city, is being constructed by the Department of Hydro Power Implementation (DHPI) No. (2) of the Ministry of Electric Power (1).

According to the ministry’s press release, the project cost is over US $ 600 million. While the US$ 200 million was taken as loan from China, the ministry has borne the rest.

According to Burma River Network, a Thailand-based activists group that monitors Burma’s hydro-projects -- Hydro Power Generation Enterprise along with China International Trust and Investment Co. (CITIC) and Sinohydro Corporation signed an agreement in 2004 for the project and was later joined by five other Chinese companies.

The initial design of the project was by a Japanese company Nippon Koei. For details of the design and construction the Burmese government signed an agreement with a Swiss company Colenco Power Engineering in 2003.

The hydropower plant is 2264 feet wide and 433 feet high. It will produce an estimated 790 megawatts.

The project, once completed, is expected to supply electricity throughout the country through Kyaukse, Meikhtila, and Mandalay towns via 230 KV (Kilo Volt) cable lines.

Currently the Ministry of Electric Power (1) operates over 15 hydropower-projects located across the country’s Kachin, Shan, Kayah, and Karen states.

However, rights activists have expressed concern over the appalling human rights violations including forced relocations of villages, forced labour, and environmental degradation. Besides, campaigners also expressed fear of a possible break in the dams and its consequences for inhabitants and residents downstream.

According to a report by Xinhua, Burma’s current electricity generation is 1684 megawatts, and the statistics of the government shows that Burma consumed 6.62 billion kilowatts in 2008-2009.

However, Burmese, including urban residents of Rangoon and Mandalay say they are facing problems as electricity supply is inadequate. Residents of Rangoon and Mandalay, the two largest cities in Burma, said they receive electricity supply for only six to seven hours a day.

Australia to provide $15 million as Nargis aid to Burma

by Salai Pi Pi

Monday, 23 November 2009 15:59 (New Brief)

New Delhi (Mizzima) - Australia will provide further assistance of $ 15 million to Burma as humanitarian aid for recovery work in the Cyclone Nargis affected delta region, according to the Australian Foreign Ministry.

Stephen Smith, Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs on Saturday said the government will pledge a further $ 15 million as follow up humanitarian aid to help Burma’s delta region devastated by Cyclone Nargis in May, 2008.

“This continues to be Australia’s desire to be of assistance to the people of Burma where it can,” said Stephen Smith in a Press conference held in Perth, Australia last Saturday.

“It underlines, as well, the need for continued access by the international non-government organisations, to Burma, for reasons of development and humanitarian assistance,” Smith added.

The minister said that the pledge will be formally made at the ASEAN Post Nargis and Regional Partnerships Conference in Bangkok on 25 November in which key international donors and ASEAN member countries are to participate.

Australia is one of the largest international donors to the recovery effort in Burma after Cyclone Nargis killed around 140,000 people and left over two million homeless. It has already provided $25 million (US Dollar $23.5 million) and 31 tonnes of supplies to Nargis affected areas in Irrawaddy delta.

“Eighteen months after the disaster there are still critical needs in cyclone affected areas particularly in sanitation, education and livelihoods,” said the Foreign Ministry’s a press release.

The assistance package included $7 million over two years to address the water and sanitation needs, $4 million for food security of farmers and fishers, $2 million for education services for children, $1 million for essential maternal and child health services and $1 million for ASEAN’s management and coordination work for relief efforts, according to the ministry.

The Tripartite Core Group, which comprises high-level representatives from the United Nations, Burmese military government and ASEAN, will hold a Post-Nargis Assistance Conference (PONAC) in Bangkok to raise $103 million to address the critical needs of the people in cyclone affected areas.

Burma UN Resolution 2009: A paper punch

by Dr. Tint Swe
Monday, 23 November 2009 13:28

Mizzima News - (Commentary) Passing a resolution on Burma in an international forum is an annual routine practice, which can embarrass the ruling military junta but as that cannot make a change in the country it does not impress the severely oppressed people of Burma. There have been over 30 resolutions already passed unanimously and later by voting at the UN bodies such as the UN General Assembly and UN Human Rights Commission. It is because none of them is binding and the condemned junta just says a few words of anger after the resolution is passed.

However at the 64th UN General Assembly the document of 19th November on the situation of human rights in Burma has something to be noted by serious observers. The Assembly again strongly condemned the systematic violations of human rights and fundamental freedom of the people of Burma.

Nonetheless even a paper jab is not an easy job. One month ahead of days for Burma at the UN, the Burmese government in exile has the annual task of holding a series of meetings with foreign missions in New York. The National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB) although composed of duly elected Parliamentarians has no mandate to represent the people of Burma not only in their national Parliament but also at the United Nations. The UN is the largest body of the governments no matter elected or not. So the people’s representatives have to approach the missions from friendly nations. Within a month, they have talks with 30 to 40 approachable missions asking for sponsorship of the draft resolution and the important points to be included in it.

Obviously EU countries are champions of Burma resolutions at the UN. This year 47 countries including one from Asia, Republic of Korea sponsored the resolution on Burma of the Third Committee Agenda item 69 (c). In the UN documents, the language is important and critical. The sponsor countries have to bargain the language in the document with the friends of the Burmese military junta. The ASEAN countries which recently established a human right body in their own bloc are native defenders of human rights perpetrator, the regime of Burma.

In this year’s UN document there are five welcomes, five urges, five strongly calls upon and simply calling upon for eight times. It was mixed with three deep concerns and one strong condemnation.

There was only one “note with appreciation” followed by two “expressions of grave concerns”. One of which said, “Expresses grave concern at the recent trial, conviction and sentencing of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, resulting in her return to house arrest, and calls for her immediate and unconditional release; Expresses grave concern at the continuing practice of arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances, rape and other forms of sexual violence, torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and strongly calls upon the Government of Myanmar to allow a full, transparent, effective, impartial and independent investigation into all reports of human rights violations, and to bring to justice those responsible in order to end impunity for such crimes.”

The Third Committee passed the motion by voting with 92 in favour, 26 against with 65 abstentions. Those countries opposed or abstained took their position on voting based on their policy on country specific resolution, not on the situation in Burma.

The ambassadors from Israel, Sweden and Japan gave sound-bites to Burmese language radios. The people of Burma learn that about 10 countries namely China, Russia, Libya, Sudan, Syria, Egypt, Zimbabwe, Venezuela, Cuba, and Libya are aggressively on the side of the military regime of Burma.

The second-line countries such as Indonesia, Brazil, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Bangladesh took the floor to express their disagreement to the resolution but most of the neighbouring countries either abstained or opposed expressed their support to the effort of the UN Secretary General in their deliberations. This year the mandate of the UN Secretary General has been spelled out in detail and strengthened.

Most of the condemnations and concerns are more or less the same as those of previous years. But the fresh noteworthy paragraph is focused on the election to be held in 2010. It said, “The UN strongly urged the Government of Myanmar to ensure the necessary steps to be taken towards a free, fair, transparent and inclusive electoral process and calls on the Government to take such steps without delay, including by enacting the required electoral laws and allowing the participation of all voters, all political parties, and all other relevant stakeholders in the electoral process.”

The world body is changing. Year by year, it becomes more difficult to maintain a country specific resolution. This year there are only three-country specific resolutions: Burma, Iran and North Korea. Developing countries attempted to wipe out the country specific resolution given the reasons that naming and shaming can't improve the HRs situation of a country and they want Universal Periodic Review (UPR) mechanism in place where a country specific situation should be scrutinized.

The other important development at the UN is the call for independent investigation on violations of human rights and humanitarian law and to end impunity. It may lead towards the direction of the Commission of Inquiry.

As the previous President had promised to Senior General Than Shwe of Burma in March 2006, India keeps assuring and defends at the UN and also at the ILO. It is a coincidence that on the same day the International Labour Organization also took a decision on Burma’s widespread and documented forced labour practice. ILO has charged Burma of using forced labour since 1998. ILO criticized Burmese authorities for failing to abolish forced labour and called for the release of imprisoned people who have complained about forced labour.

The people of Burma are not excited after listening to news from the UN. They realize very well what the UN is and what the military rulers of Burma is all about. As long as the junta is in power the UN bodies have to do their annual rituals.
Saturday, November 21, 2009

UN Committee condemns Burma’s rights violations

by Mungpi
Saturday, 21 November 2009 22:03

New Delhi (Mizzima) - Burma’s ‘systematic and widespread’ human rights violations came in for severe condemnation by a special committee of the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday, which urged the junta to begin a process of genuine political reforms.

The 192-nation world body’s Third Committee focusing on Human Rights, on Thursday approved a resolution on Burma by a vote of 92 in favour to 26 against, with 65 abstentions.

The draft resolution condemns Burma for its systematic violation of human rights and fundamental freedom of the Burmese people, expressing grave concern over the recent trial, conviction and sentencing of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to another 18 months of detention.

The resolution, while welcoming the recent release of more than 100 political prisoners, urged for the immediate and unconditional release of the more than 2,000 political prisoners languishing in prisons across the country, including Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

The resolution also strongly urged the Burmese Government to lift restrictions on freedom of assembly, association, movement and freedom of expression -- including for the media -- by ending censorship.

It also stressed on the importance of national reconciliation through genuine dialogue with Burmese democracy icon, Aung San Suu Kyi, and expressed appreciation of the recent contacts between the government and her and all other stake holders including ethnic groups.

The General Assembly resolution also called on the Burmese junta to take necessary steps to ensure a free, fair, transparent and an inclusive electoral process.

Defending Burma’s position, Burma’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Mr Than Swe, said the resolution presented by Sweden on behalf of the European Union (EU), was “anachronistic and flawed.”

The Burmese ambassador said, the resolution was glaringly deficient and patently subjective and has only repeated allegations that “invariably emanated from exiles and insurgents without noting the formidable challenges faced by the government and people or the vast transformations taking place in Myanmar [Burma] today.”

Than Swe said, Burma had approved a new constitution and is preparing for general elections to be held in 2010 and assured that the election would be free and fair.

“It was unconscionable for the European Union to turn a blind eye to those positive developments,” Than Swe said.

He added that EU’s concerns were misplaced and the draft resolution was a means to maintain pressure on Burma in tandem with sanctions.

“Political pressure and the denial of development aid were unjust and immoral,” he added.

Burma’s close allies such as China and Russia along with several other countries, however, disagreed with the resolution saying such a resolution could be counterproductive to political dialogue and national reconciliation in Burma.

China’s representative to the UN said, China believes in constructive dialogue and cooperation as the only way to promote human rights.

“Finger-pointing would not help,” said the Chinese ambassador.

Similarly, the Russian Federation’s delegation said, it did not agree with the practice of one-sided, selective resolutions on the human rights situation of individual countries and therefore would vote against it and urged other countries to do so.

The West led by the United States, has maintained sanctions as a means of punishment for the Burmese military junta’s appalling human rights violations, and their unwillingness to implement democratic reforms.

However, China and Russia, along with Burma’s neighbouring countries, including India and the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have a different view and maintain good relationships and even allowed Burma to be a member of their grouping.

While Burma’s military rulers claim that it is making efforts to improve the human rights situation, rights activists including the United Nations rights envoy to Burma said human rights violation in Burma is still rampant.

According to the Thailand-based Thailand Burma Border Consortium (TBBC), a group providing humanitarian assistance to Burmese refugees along the border, military campaigns by the Burmese Army in remote areas where ethnic minorities live has created thousands of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and led to a great number of refugees to flee to the camps along the border.
Friday, November 20, 2009

US hopes Suu Kyi’s proposal will pave way for political dialogue

by Mungpi

Friday, 20 November 2009 21:13

New Delhi (Mizzima) - The United States on Thursday said it is aware of detained Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s proposal to the ruling junta supremo Snr. Gen Than Shwe and hoped that it would lead to a dialogue between the two.

“We’re aware of the letter that she’s written to the senior general, and we hope that this will be the beginning of a dialogue that will lead to her release,” Ian Kelly, spokesperson of the State Department said during a regular press briefing on Thursday in Washington.

Kelly was referring to Aung San Suu Kyi’s letter sent to Than Shwe by her party spokesperson on November 11.

The detained Burmese Nobel Peace Laureate, in her letter, proposed a meeting with Than Shwe in order to further discuss activities that will benefit the nation. She also requested to allow her to pay homage to aging party leaders at their homes and a meeting with her party central executive committee.

This was the second letter that the Burmese pro-democracy leader has sent to Than Shwe. The first letter in September met with a positive response, where she was allowed to meet diplomats from the United States, European Union, and Australia as she had requested.

Opposition leaders, including ethnic politicians, have expressed hope that the correspondence between the military chief and Aung San Suu Kyi would lead to positive developments.

Aye Thar Aung of the Committee Representing Peoples’ Parliament, a group formed with various political parties, earlier told Mizzima, “I think Aung San Suu Kyi’s proposal is the right choice and is a smart move. But this needs to take the direction of national reconciliation.”

The United States, since announcing its new policy, has begun meeting Burmese officials, with a high-level delegation visiting the Southeast Asian nation in early November.

The new US policy, which for the first time in over a decade opened a channel of engagement, demanded that Burma’s military rulers improve human rights situations and implement political reforms, before it can lift sanctions, which are still in place.

Kelly said, the US has begun “a very focused” dialogue with Burma’s military regime. The dialogue is focused on the need for the Southeast Asian nation to open up its political system for more debate and discussion.

“And I think one of the best steps that they could take to show that they [the junta] are willing to open up their system is to release political prisoners. There are over 2,000 of them. And of course, we’ve called, in particular, for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi,” Kelly added.

Burmese commanders arrive in Naypyitaw for quarterly meet

by Salai Pi Pi

Friday, 20 November 2009 20:31

New Delhi (Mizzima) - Commanders of Burma’s military commands arrived in the new jungle capital of Naypyitaw, as the ruling junta is set to commence its year-end quarterly meeting.

Sources close to the military establishment in Naypyitaw told Mizzima that the junta supremo Senior General Than Shwe had directed the Commanders to reach Naypyitaw by November 20 for the quarterly meeting, scheduled to begin in the coming week.

The quarterly meeting, according to the source, is likely to come up with a reshuffle among high ranking officials including re-appointment of cabinet ministers and allow old ministers, who are to contest the 2010 elections, to retire.

In the wake of the meeting, the junta is likely to form a political party, which will contest for office in the 2010 elections. The party will be backed by the junta’s civilian organization - the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) - whose patron is the junta chief Than Shwe.

Aung Kyaw Zaw, a Burmese observer on the Sino-Burma border said the ensuing quarterly meeting will be more significant than previous meetings, as it will mainly focus on the details of next year’s elections.

“In this meeting, they will not only review the tasks they have accomplished this year but will also discuss matters related to the election,” Aung Kyaw Zaw told Mizzima on Friday.

He also said the agenda on transforming cease-fire groups into the Border Guard Force will be included in the meeting.

“They will possibly decide on how to deal with groups like KIO and UWSA, which refuse to transform into BGF,” Aung Kyaw Zaw said.

While agreeing that there would be some changes following the meeting, Win Min, another Burmese analyst in Thailand said he did not expect that there would be a major reshuffle among the Generals but there is a likelihood of a few division commanders being promoted.

“I don’t think there will be a major change in the Burmese Army. It is possible that some division commanders with Major-General tags will get promoted to Lieutenant General,” said Win Min, but said he is unsure who will get promoted.

Meanwhile, the pro-junta social organization USDA is also set to begin its nation-wide conference on Monday at its head quarter in Dakhina Thiri Town near Naypyitaw.

“I also heard that some of USDA’s candidates will contest the elections,” Win Min said.

Editing by Mungpi

Spirit of Panglong in Kolkata Court

by Nandita Haksar

Friday, 20 November 2009 12:32

Mizzima News - (Commentary) For the lawyers practicing at the city sessions court in Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal Thursday, November 12th, 2009 was just another busy day. They passed by the court of Ms Kalpana Dey without as much as a second look. For them the scene was familiar - lawyers dressed in their black gowns, the court clerks sitting at the table and the judge dictating to the stenographer.

The curiosity of some lawyers was aroused when they heard some passionate arguments and they may have drifted into the room in the hope of hearing some interesting point of law. The Public Prosecutor was telling the Judge that foreigners could not be allowed to depose without proper summons. He argued that summons for foreigners had to be served in accordance with the proper procedure laid down under the Code of Criminal Procedure.

A look at the large wooden cage at the back of the airy courtroom held 34 men.

Most of them were too tired to stand and were squatting on the cold stone floor. In any case they could not understand English or the intricacies of the legal points being debated. There were, however, some men who were holding the bars straining to listen to the arguments. Anxiety writ large on their faces.

On the last of the three rows of chairs in the large court room sat two men, looking calm and unperturbed, but listening carefully.

Finally the lawyer for the 34 men inside the wooden cage had persuaded the judge to allow him to call his witness. The lawyer informed the Judge that the first defence witness was Mr Harn Yawnghwe.

Mr Yawnghwe stood up and walked to the witness box. The other person sitting next to him was requested to go out of the court. The rules did not allow the defence witnesses to listen to each other before they themselves had deposed.

Harn Yawnghwe stepped into the rickety wooden witness box and was told to take oath and was ready to depose. The men in the wooden cage could not hear him but his dignified presence and his calm demeanor commanded respect. The Bengali stenographer‘s struggle with Burmese names and unfamiliar accent lent a slightly comic air.

Harn Yawnghwe was born in Burma 62 years ago. Both his parents came from Shan aristocracy and that was evident in his bearing. In quiet, measured words he told the Court that his father had been the first President of the Union of Burma in 1948. However, when Gen Ne Win staged a coup his father was imprisoned and died in jail. His older brother was executed by Gen Ne Win. These tragic circumstances had forced his family to take refuge in neighbouring Thailand and after that Harn got asylum in Canada and was a Canadian citizen.

It was not only his parentage but his professional qualifications that were impressive. He was a trained mining engineer and financial analyst, living in Canada. But all his life he had been involved in the movement for the restoration of democracy in Burma.

Harn Yawnghwe had traveled all the way from Canada to testify in the court. He told the Judge that the 34 Burmese being held inside the wooden cage at the back of the court were genuine freedom fighters. He also told the court that he was now the executive director of the Euro Burma Office with its headquarters at Brussels. The Euro Burma Office had released funds for the costs of the trial. There was no way that such funding could be given if there was even a suspicion that the 34 were gun runners involved in violating Indian security interests.

After he finished his deposition he stepped down and the second witness was called. The second witness was Dr Tint Swe. Dr Tint Swe told the Court that he was a professional doctor and had practiced for 15 years before resigning from his job and joining the National League for Democracy, the party of the legendary Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. The doctor stood for election in 1990 and won. But the military junta refused to hand over power to the democratically elected representatives of the people. Instead they sentenced Dr Tint Swe to 25 years of imprisonment and he had to leave his home and country by walking six days and five nights to reach Mizoram, India.

Dr Tint Swe told the court that he knew that the 34 Burmese accused were framed by an Indian military intelligence officer called Lt Col Grewal. He told the court that he knew Grewal personally and he had been instrumental in deporting 11 other Burmese in 1996. Dr Tint Swe conveyed to the court that the Prime Minister of the Government in exile (National Coalition Government of Union of Burma) had wanted to depose in the court but he had not been given a visa.

That afternoon Mr Harn Yawnghwe and Dr Tint Swe were given permission to meet the men in the cage. Each of them shook hands with all the 34 freedom fighters, Arakans and Karens.

At that moment it seemed that Gen Aung San’s spirit descended in the court. Here were the leaders of the Burmans and ethnic nationalities working together for the release of Burmese freedom fighters. The 34 Burmese were Arakans and Karens, Harn Yawnghwe, a proud Shan, representing the Ethnic Nationalities Council (ENC) and Tint Swe, a nationalist Burman, representing the NCGUB. Was it the Spirit of Panglong that had come alive in the Kolkata court?

The majority of the Burmese media had failed to fully grasp the relevance of the moment, capture the poignancy of the handshakes. For 47 years the Burmese military has justified itself by following Buda-batha Myanmar-lumyo policy. The military has denied the people democracy and sought to obliterate the memory of Gen Aung San’s vision of a democratic and federal Burma. And that vision came alive in a Kolkata court.

In defiance of the Myanmar Junta the representatives of the Ethnic nationalities and the Burman majority community had come together to fight for the lives of 34 Burmese freedom fighters.

Indian human rights activists and Indian media were both absent. There was neither a sense of solidarity with the Burmese peoples’ struggle against the most brutal regime in the world, nor were they outraged by the fact that democratic India had kept Burmese freedom fighters in jail for more than 12 years. Indians could have learnt important lessons on the Panglong spirit and the need to build an inclusive democracy based on federalism.

As I walked out of the court that day I knew that the Panglong spirit had touched the court and perhaps the 34 Burmese freedom fighters would be free soon. But I felt an overwhelming sadness that we, Indians and Burmese, had missed an opportunity to learn a lesson from the moment in history when the Panglong spirit came alive in the court in Kolkata.

The author is a prominent Indian human rights lawyer and a writer. She had taken up the case of 34 Burmese freedom fighters since 1999. Her latest book “Rogue Agent: How India's Military Intelligence Betrayed the Burmese Resistance Movement” reveals that an Indian Military Intelligence officer named Lt. Col V.S. Grewal as the man masterminding the plot to betray the Burmese freedom fighters.

-nandita haksar:

Burma continues to fail to eliminate forced labour: ILO

by Mungpi

Friday, 20 November 2009 19:28

New Delhi (Mizzima) - The International Labor Organization’s (ILO)’s Governing Body on Thursday said Burma’s ruling military junta has failed to implement recommendations made by the Commission of Inquiry in eliminating the use of forced labour.

The Governing Body’s decision was made on the information presented by the ILO’s Liaison Officer, and the statement made by the Permanent Representative of the Government of the Union of Myanmar (Burma).

The decision notes that Burma has so far failed to fully comply with the Forced Labour Convention, No. 29 (1930), the implementation of recommendations made by the Commission of Inquiry and the complete elimination of the use of forced labour in the country.

The decision recalls past conclusions and urges the Burmese authorities to issue a statement against the continued use of forced labour and the need to respect freedom of association.

The Governing Body also urges the Burmese government to allow cases of forced labour to be reported and to consistently follow-up so that the practices cease and the perpetrators are prosecuted and punished.

“Particular attention should be paid to monitoring infrastructure projects such as oil and gas pipelines,” the resolution said.

The ILO and Burma in February 2009 extended the Supplementary Understanding that provides a mechanism for Burmese citizens to lodge complaints of forced labour through the ILO Liaison Officer in Rangoon.

The agreement retains the provision that ensures freedom from harassment and retribution for complainants and other persons, who support the operation of the complaints mechanism.

Despite the agreement between the ILO and the Burmese government, Human Rights activists said forced labour persistently continued to be practiced in the country.

The Governing Body on Thursday also called for “the immediate release of all persons currently detained, who are complainants, facilitators and others associated with the Supplementary Understanding complaints mechanism, as well as for the unconditional release of all imprisoned political and labour activists.”


Obama leaves Asia empty-handed but raises hopes

by Larry Jagan

Friday, 20 November 2009 18:38

Bangkok (Mizzima) - (Analysis) The United States President, Barack Obama’s has left Asia empty-handed on all the key issues facing the White House. There was little movement on the intractable problems of Burma and North Korea, while thorny bilateral issues with China, Japan and South Korea fared little better. But at least Washington was able to tell Asia’s leaders first-hand that the US approach to the region has changed.

More critically, the new American administration clearly demonstrated it wants to re-engage with South East Asia after eight years of President Bush’s hesitant attitude. The first-ever US-ASEAN summit last weekend in Singapore was another high-profile example of this trend. But it is the shift in policy towards Burma which is the most significant change of all. Analysts and activists alike though are now questioning whether this new strategy is going to produce any concrete results - or fail like all previous international efforts to mediate between the junta and the pro-democracy politicians and parties seem to have.

In recent months the US has begun to talk directly with the generals, which previous administrations had shunned such a move. There has been a series of meetings between senior US diplomats and Burmese government ministers, including the Prime Minister, Thein Sein - in Burma, New York and elsewhere. The most critical meetings were when Assistant Secretary of State, Kurt Campbell visited Burma in early November.

Many expect him to make a follow-up visit before the end of the year. He told members of the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by the detained opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi that he would be back in Burma very soon.

So far there are no real signs that this is going to happen, and western diplomats in Rangoon are skeptical that a return visit is on the cards in the near future. The main problem is that Burma’s top military leader Than Shwe seems to have cooled on the idea of rapprochement with Washington.

“The ball is now very much in the Burmese court,” said Sean Turnell a Burma expert at Macquarie University in Australia. “Obama's hand has been extended - will they respond in kind or with the clenched fist,” he told Mizzima.

The US position is crystal clear - previous US policy which relied almost exclusively on sanctions and isolating the regime has failed miserably. It is now time for a new approach, the US secretary of state Hilary Clinton boldly announced earlier this year, one where sanctions were maintained but supplemented by a dialogue with Burma’s military leaders.

There are some observers who believe that actually the US may have misjudged the regime’s interest in cooperating with Washington, while others feel the US is still too absorbed with the fate of the detained opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi to be able to have a meaningful dialogue with the generals. The real underlying issue now, is what Washington sees as its end-game.

“The US must decide whether their intervention is to free Aung San Suu Kyi, or help make the situation for the vast majority better than it was,” a senior editor in Rangoon told Mizzima on condition of anonymity. Scot Marciel, the deputy US assistant under-secretary for Asia and Ambassador to ASEAN, who also accompanied Campbell to Burma a few weeks ago, told Mizzima in Bangkok after the visit: “We feel that there are more than 50 million people in the country who deserve the efforts of the international community to try to help bring about progress and we’re very committed to that.”

“Dialogue is not an end in itself,” Marciel stressed. “There has to be concrete results.”

This is where all previous efforts to engage the regime have come unstuck. Far too often the key aim seems to have been to free Suu Kyi from detention, with some lip-service being given to releasing all political prisoners. The UN envoy to Burma, Razali Ismail, still sees the Nobel Laureate’s release in May 2002, in which he played an instrumental role behind the scenes, as the pinnacle of his mission.

If the US consciously takes the same view, their efforts to start a dialogue between Suu Kyi and the generals will fare no better than the numerous attempts, largely led by the UN, in the past two decades to do the same. “The two sides are on entirely different wave-lengths and there is a huge amount of mutual distrust,” said Thant Myint U, a former UN official, now historian and author of the award-winning book on Burma, “A River Of Lost Footsteps”.

“At best we're at a confidence-building stage,” he told Mizzima. “If we aim for a break-through on the most difficult issues - such as relations between the junta and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi - I'm afraid we're bound for a big disappointment.”

He believes the international community must take a much longer-term approach, in the interest of bringing about real improvements for the ordinary Burmese people. But time is running out - elections will be held next year no matter what, and changes to the constitution, approved in last year’s sham referendum, are out of the question. And unless there are significant incentives for the junta leaders to appease the Americans, it may be too late to influence what happens in the coming months.

“Than Shwe may feel there is no need to make any concessions, unless he wants to please the Americans,” according to the former British ambassador to Thailand and Vietnam, and now Burma watcher, Derek Tonkin. “It could now be only six months to the elections,” he warned.

The joint statement after the US-ASEAN summit last week, in which neither Aung San Suu Kyi nor political prisoners were expressly mentioned, is a good yard-stick of the new international consensus that has merged with this new American tact.

The statement emphasized two things: that the 2010 elections must be conducted in a free, fair, inclusive and transparent manner in order to be credible to the international community; and urged junta “to help create the conditions for credible elections, including by initiating a dialogue with all stakeholders to ensure that the process is fully inclusive.”

All Asian leaders and Washington are now singing from the same hymn book. ASEAN leaders, led by Thailand’s Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva (as the current chairman of the regional grouping), have repeatedly advised the junta leaders that the elections had to credible.

China too is on board with this approach. “China adheres to the principle of national reconciliation and unity, by promoting political dialogue and consultation between the Government and the opposition,” said the Chinese academic and Burma watcher, Dr Li Xuecheng at the Chinese Institute of Strategic Studies. “China is willing to work together with all the relevant parties, including opposition political parties, to make the 2010 elections a success,” Li told Mizzima.

But while there seems to be general agreement that national reconciliation and inclusive elections are essential if Burma is ease its international isolation, there is no blue-print for what that means in reality. “The Obama administration has yet to spell-out what they mean by free and fair elections,” David Steinberg a professor at Georgetown University in Washington and author of numerous books and academic articles on Burma told Mizzima.

“Does that mean Aung San Suu Kyi being allowed to run or campaign? The NLD being able to contest the elections? Fair campaigning and the open printing and distributing of campaign literature?” he asked. “Unfortunately everything still remains open to interpretation.”

For years Suu Kyi has said her freedom was far less important than establishing a genuine dialogue between the pro-democracy movement and the junta. The US may now have also signed up to this approach. But words alone are not enough. “Senior General Than Shwe will never reveal his hand, he will never disclose his wish list,” said a senior Burmese academic. “Rather, it is up to Daw Aung San Su Kyi to imagine what he wants so she will not hurt his strategy for the future,” he said.

For her part Suu Kyi continues to try to coax the reclusive generals into talking directly to her. Her latest letter to Than Shwe asking for a meeting was a sincere offer for talks to explore ways she might be able help the national conciliation process. “It shows she has changed and is prepared to compromise and not constantly take the high moral ground,” said Justin Wintle, the British writer, who wrote the biography of Suu Kyi, “Perfect Hostage”.

“This process, encouraged by the US change of policy, is the most exciting thing to happen in Burma for years - there is now a real possibility of dialogue,” he added.

But others are less sanguine. “Daw Suu's latest letter is unlikely to mollify Than Shwe all that much,” Tonkin warns. “It is set at the ‘we are equals’ level where Than Shwe unfortunately has all the power and is operating from a position of strength, not weakness.”

Many analysts inside Burma fear that the process may prove to be dead in the water unless Suu Kyi is able to offer Than Shwe something tangible which would allay his fears that she was not intent on disrupting the forthcoming elections. There are some who say she should resign from the National League for Democracy as a gesture of goodwill - and perhaps follow the approach of Nelson Mandela in South Africa, or Xanna Gusmao in Timor Leste.

But there is an alternative - the Sonia Gandhi syndrome. The Italian-born wife of the assassinated Indian Prime Minister and leader of the Congress party refused to become Prime Minister or take a ministerial post in the Congress government when it won the national elections a few years ago. She did so to avert a bitter and protracted constitutional wrangle with the opposition Hindu-fundamentalist party the BJP. But she remained the leader of the party, and so a powerful influence behind the scenes - later she became a back-bencher.

This is an option Suu Kyi could take now - assure the senior general that she did not want to contest the elections or be considered for political office. She could offer her services to help the transition to a civilian government. There is little doubt that Than Shwe will not let her run anyway or even be involved in the campaigning.

“I would say she will not be allowed to campaign before the elections, and under the constitution she cannot run, and I see no way the junta will change that constitution in any provision prior to the new Hluttaw [parliament] being seated,” Steinberg told Mizzima.

The future is likely to become clearer in the next few weeks - after the State Peace and Development Council [SPDC] quarterly meeting and the United Solidarity and Development Association [USDA] Congress in Naypyidaw next week. The USDA is expected to announce the formation of its political party, and the electoral law is expected to be rolled out in the coming weeks. An interim cabinet - which has already been dubbed as the interim government -- is also to be announced before the end of the year, according to Burmese government sources.

During this time the international community and Asian leaders in particular, will be watching to see what signs there are, if any, that the opposition will be involved in the process. At the very minimum Suu Kyi must be allowed to meet all the other NLD central executive members, as requested in her latest letter to Than Shwe. But the only clear sign that the regime is taking any notice of the US and ASEAN’s concern on board, would be a meeting between her and Than Shwe.

“The ball is firmly in Than Shwe’s court,” said the economist and Burma specialist, Sean Turnell at Macquarie University in Australia. “But it was a blow that he avoided seeing the US delegation earlier this month.”

“He's using various underlings to keep the music playing in the hope he can get away with doing nothing beyond entrenching his power, legacy and his family's security,” Turnell told Mizzima. “I think he wants to have nothing to do with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi - but may be prepared to go through the motions if it buys him time.”