July 12, 2007

What to do with Burma?

The following article was written by Dr. Rosalia Sciortino, part of a monthly column called Mekong Currents appearing in Imaging Our Mekong. The article has been posted in full with permission of the author. See end of post for author bio.

Mizzima News, a news agency run by Burmese exiles from India, reported on May 4 that the Asian Development Bank (ADB) denied having provided direct financial backing to developmental efforts in Burma (also officially known as Myanmar) under the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) cooperation framework.

Responding to inquiries by the human rights group EarthRights International (ERI) about its role in large-scale development projects allegedly marred with abuses and having negative social and environmental impacts, the Manila-based ADB stressed that no direct loans have been provided to this country since 1986. The article quoted the ADB's e-mail reply to ERI thus: "There is no connection of the ADB, either bilaterally or through GMS, with any government project the Government of Myanmar may be implementing, including the Tasang dam and the East-West Corridor highway in Myanmar". The ADB's financial support to Burma as a member of the GMS consists of "rather nominal" amounts in technical assistance funds for facilitation of regional meetings and other relevant events, it added.

A few days later, on May 10, ‘People’s Daily Online’ of China presented additional insights on the construction and financing of the Burmese section of the East-West Corridor. According to the article, work has started on the Thingan Nyainaung - Kawkareik section, in between the just-completed segment from Myawaddy and the to-be constructed final section to the Mawlamyne deep-sea port on the Bay of Bengal, thanks to aid from Thailand. In particular, this construction is made possible by collaboration between the Ministry of Construction in Myanmar and the Department of Highways of Thailand under the Neighbouring Countries Economic Development Fund, managed by the Thai Ministry of Finance. When finished, this long-awaited road would link the Indian and the Pacific oceans, greatly facilitating intraregional transportation and trade. It would also bring a step closer to realisation the vision of the Asian Highways, a pan-Asian network of roads stretching from Europe to the Far East.

The hesitance by the ADB and the contrasting willingness by neighbouring governments, to provide financial support to Burma under the same GMS scheme are emblematic of the unresolved position of this regional bloc toward its most 'controversial' member state.

The military regime of Burma (with the euphemistic name of State Peace and Development Council or SPDC) is widely condemned for its repressive rules and economic mismanagement, which have led to decades of political stagnation and to the country’s financial collapse. International pressure is mounting on the SPDC to set a democratic process in motion through political reform and national reconciliation.

Continue reading "What to do with Burma?" »

June 4, 2007

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's sentence extended another year

One thing can be said, the junta's predictable move to extend Daw Suu's house arrest seems to have gained more international attention then in the previous few years. Perhaps we can thank those who international figures like Desmond Tutu, who are always at the forefront, for reminding the rest of the world, and leading to the call for her release from leaders around the world.

There was also a significant movement in Burma in the last few months, as DVB states

Even though Daw Suu has not been released, some small steps towards the type of momentum that moved her into a position of power in the 1990s have started. And the end of her latest period of detention has provided the opposition with a rare rallying cry.

A great increase of reports have flooded Burma related websites over the last 3 or 4 months concerning public prayers, small demonstrations and the usual detentions. The NLD capitialized on that momentum through out the month of May to encourage the public to gather behind the demand for her release. Many have noted the clear change in the atmosphere.

I have noticed some reports are questioning her relevance while others to respond,

"I believe she is still very much relevant - the junta obviously does too, or they would let her out," a Rangoon-based diplomat said.

"She is the only person who could pull together a broad array of forces, and the only person who in the long term could broker a deal with the military, which would see the generals able to bow out with the level of security they would need," he said.

Perhaps now is not a time to point out international hypocrisy, while the world calls for Daw Suu's release and for human rights in Burma they also move to build closer financial ties with the junta.

Perhaps now is just a time to notice those inside who spoke out, and the rest who heard.

May 19, 2007

An Official Nuclear Burma

News sites like S.H.A.N. have been reporting for the last year that the Burma military have been working on such a project, well now it is quite forwardly official, with the assistance of Russia. This cooperation with Russia will help aid the growing international cooperation with Burma so they are no longer the daughter of China, and more of a legitimate investment for the international community. You can see my last post for a few opinions on how that is happening.

The U.S. State Dept. deputy spokesman Tom Casey stated semi-resolute disapproval of the plans citing lack of accounting and security

This is clearly a huge development, one wich will certainly introduce most of the world to Burma
but it is of very little surprise to the those of us who follow developments in Burma.

Reports state,

a 10-megawatt light-water research reactor will be built and that 300 to 350 specialists will be trained to run the nuclear center, which will be located in the “central Burma township of Pwint Phyu in Magwe Division” and is “protected naturally by the Arakan mountain range to the west and the Irrawaddy River to the east".

Some are maintaining a calm approach to the matter,

One thing to keep in mind: Talks over the reactor are "only preliminary."

I would say such hopes show a lack of familiarity with the junta.

The week Bush expressed his intentions to extend sanctions on Burma for another year. This looks more and more to me like a cyclic permissiveness. (see last post for explaination).

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's current term of house arrest ends May 27 with still no word from the junta on what they will do. More that 50 world leaders have united in a call for her release.

May 12, 2007

Trade, Sanctions, and Daw Suu Kyi

I have put off writing this post for a couple of days, because quite frankly it is a mouthful. Many issues will be taken up regarding Burma in the coming days and weeks and everyone has their hand in the pot; UE, UK, US, ASEAN and perhaps the UN. On the immediate surface these issues may not sound completely related but I would argue they are, all the while hoping I don't sound like a paranoid activist who has completely lost faith in the democratic establishment. I may seem to drift a few places, but I will try to bring it all together.

Let's start with trade.

The EU has agreed to hold FTA discussions with ASEAN as a bloc. The Burma junta will take part in these talks.

Trade between the two groupings amounted to nearly 140 billion dollars in 2005.

The EU is maintaining that they will not deal with Burma directly. But it could be argued that the door has been opened. Clearly there is opposition,

"The cause of Burma's political dilemma is that the military is still ignoring the role of representatives chosen by the people in democratic elections," Dr San Aung, an exiled member of the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB), told The Irrawaddy. "We need a coordinated policy from the international community to push Burmese generals to create more democratization."

The same week, the UK has reopened the debate on sanctions. For the most part, they are in line with what many activists have been saying for some time.

The British sanctions policy was not targeted specifically at the regime, the committee found—and, as a result, “hits the economy generally and consequently hurts the ordinary Burmese people.”

The committee thought sanctions “may even be counterproductive when a target regime responds by increasing its internal control over resources.”

So does this mean that the UK will make greater effort for a more constructive and dynamic approach which does target the junta? I have decided I am against the current sanctions, for the reasons stated. The junta is only empowered by their isolation, and that isolation is dwindling as others, such as India, follow China's lead and invest and arm the Burma military. China is important, a year or two ago the EU came under a storm of criticism when they moved to drop the arms embargo against China. This only confirms what China wants, to be Accepted as the dominant power in SE Asia on an international basis, this brings in trade. Money is more powerful than morals and there is money to be made in Burma, China and India are demonstrating just that. Despite the inaccuracy of currency rates the Burmese Kyat is almost equal to the U.S. dollar right now, a few thousand times more valuable then a couple years ago, though that may fluctuate dramatically.

And U.S. support for sanction makes no sense when our largest trading partner (also our largest trade deficit) is China which is the life line to fanatical oppression.

Still, it's true, sanctions are not effective. Does that mean the international establishment will become more productive or exploit that fact to cash in on SE Asia? I personally feel that has been China's strategy for some time now, lure in Europe. They are not slow to build up an international base to legitimize such actions. No one is aggressively engaging with Africa like China.

Also, It seems more to me like it is so easy to support sanctions just because no one has any better idea's. But it also seems like that makes sanctions an easy way for the US to stand behind ideas of Democracy without it affecting our wallet - regardless of the actual outcomes.

What is the U.S. up to right now? They have dipped their toes into the matter just enough to get the small-pond-like ripples in the media...with the obvious.

The State Dept. has released a statement just ahead of the end of Daw Suu Kyi's current sentence under house arrest - Human Rights Experts Urge Release of Aung San Suu Kyi. Plus the new U.S. Ambassador to the UN is saying the U.S. is not done taking the issue of Burma to the UNSC, despite the fact that the last attempt was perhaps one of the most futile in UN history. We all knew Russia and China would veto, but we try to stay optimistic and take advantage of any movement as a reason to discuss the issue. I'm sorry I have lost my "cup half full' outlook for this post.

So the final question is, with everything going the junta's way, will they feel more confident extending Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's sentence, or, might they just release her in hopes of gaining more of what their are getting, authentication.

May 5, 2007

Double veto on Burma gives Junta open window to crackdown on dissent.

88 student leaders are stating that the double veto by China and Russia at the UNSC has emboldened the junta to go after human rights activist. Though, it may be said, that the last few months have seen an increase in protest demonstrations and it is always difficult to measure the full extent to which the junta is enforcing censorship in the closed off nation.

“It is like China and Russia have encouraged the military junta to rampantly suppress democracy activists. So, it is high time that the international community raises the question to the two veto wielding countries, and how they intend to solve the problems in Burma,” Min Ko Naing added.

U Myint Thein, the NLD spokesperson also said the junta, following the double veto by China and Russia at the Security Council, has enforced a violent crackdown on activists.

However, the Rangoon based self-styled nationalist, U Win Naing said, “The junta’s stepped up crackdown on activists and political dissidence are not the results of the Russia, China veto at the Security Council but the junta’s fear of a public uprising due to the present circumstances that the people are facing.”

“As Burma’s socio-economy scenario deteriorates day by day and poverty increases, an uprising or unrest among the people is possible. The junta fears this, so, they are using power to violently crackdown on dissidents,” added U Win Naing.

A few weeks ago two men were attacked by a crowd of what clearly looks to have been orchestrated by the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), which are local extensions of the junta. Members and their families receive the benefit of not being so easily subject to sporadic searches, charges, extortion and forced labor.

Another incident in March demonstrates how rule of law is nonexistent, when a 65-year-old man, who does not appear to be identified as a known activist, was imprisoned for "defacing a copy of an official government newspaper". U Thein Zan was denied bail,

despite testimonies from two government officials confirming U Thein Zan posed little threat to the community.
U Thein Zan reportedly wrote "Are you sure, Maung Kalu", a common headline on pro-military propaganda articles, over the top of a copy of the state-run Myanmar Ahlin newspaper he had stuck on his wall after becoming enraged by recent commodity price rises.

In a case of belligerent targeting of human rights activist, in March

Human rights activists Ko Aung Kyaw Soe, Ko Aye Lwin and Ko Yin Kyi were reportedly arrested by the Burmese authorities yesterday in relation to charges of violating guest registration laws.

Despite all this a Free Daw Suu campaign is reportedly picking up steam as May has been declared a month of campaigning by the NLD. The end of May will mark the 4th anniversary of the last sentence to house arrest, which the junta referred to as "protective custody" after a failed assassination attempt.

April 7, 2007

World Labor Unions band together to free Aung San Suu Kyi

Though there are very little details available, labor unions interest in Burma is nothing new. The ITUC has had a long running Burma campaign, the ILO has been one of the most vital international organizations in fighting for change in Burma, and basically, it is common on any labor and trade organization website to see a report on the suffering of women, children and ethnic minorities in Burma.

Here is a page which overviews past efforts by unions.

This meeting took place in Kathmandu and was initially disapproved of by India, for years these meeting took place in Thailand until they were banned.

The meeting was led by the International Trade Union Federation, International Labor Organization and Global Union Federation as well as dozens of other organizations from around the globe.

The draft declaration condemned the continued detention of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and all other political prisoners. The first draft condemned the growing support for the junta by India and China particularly, but it was (perhaps wisely) decided direct blame might lead to further confrontation so a general appeal to stop supporting the military junta was put in place.

The labour campaign will especially target multinationals operating in oil, gas, mining, dams and infrastructure and ask financial institutions to terminate lending.

It is also asking insurance companies to terminate their coverage in Myanmar.

Priority will be given to forming parliamentary caucuses on Myanmar, especially in the SAARC region.

Unfortunately there is no central website that I can find to keep up with work and outreach conducted on the behalf of the unions. Perhaps sometime in the future, a formal draft of the declaration will be published.

April 2, 2007

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi receives Netaji Subhas Award

Among growing interest and cooperation between the Indian and Burma government's there are still outcries for peace. The Netaji Subhas Foundation presented their first award to a representative of the National League for Democracy, Ramjeet Verma. Watch the video.

B.B. Nandy, who worked for several years on the Burma desk of India's external intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing, said honouring Aung San Suu Kyi is welcome but the All India forward Bloc, which is the main sponsor of the Netaji Subhas Foundation, should raise a question on India's policy towards Burma.

"They should raise the question why the government of India is not becoming more pro-Burmese people. And should persue the cause of Aung San Suu Kyi And the cause of the Burmese people [to the government of India]," Nandy told Mizzima.

Subroto Bose, treasurer of the Netaji Subhas Foundation, however, said the Foundation is a non-political body and is not concerned with today's politics.

"We know, as Indians, that the government of India now has diplomatic relations with the government of Burma. But this award has been chosen on an individual basis and the foundation has no political opinion of its own," Bose said.

"It has nothing to do with political affairs and I don't think that should affect Indo-Burmese relationship in anyway," he added.

It seems a politcal statement will accompany this award regardless of it's intent. The question is, will the Netaji Subhas Foundation directly ask Indians to look at the governments relationship with Burma, and the answer to that seems to be, No. Or is it?

Debabrata Biswas, Secretary General of the Netaji Subhas Foundation stated,

"Aung San Suu Kyi is the symbol of the democracy movement and by this award we want to draw the attention of the Indian people about the problems of our Burmese friends,"

For more see Burma Review; India Honours’ Daw Aung San Suu Kyi with Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Deshprem Award 2007!

March 28, 2007

Women's League of Chinland releases report on military rape in Burma

The WLC released Unsafe State: State-sanctioned sexual violence against Chin women in Burma (pdf) this month. The 38 page report goes into great detail, accounting for the sytematic use of rape by the Burmese military.

“These horrors are being sanctioned by the state in Burma,” said Cheery Zahau, a spokesperson for the Women’s League of Chinland. “How can the civilised world accept this junta among their ranks? And how can countries like India and China be arming these rapists?”

There are many disturbing but vital testimonies from victims. The report documents 38 cases from the last five years and offers some insight on what life is like dealing with such abuse.

This is an incredibly significant report. For many years now the annual State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices ( 2006) has failed to offer much detail and has at times, even seemed to insinuate that the use of rape by the military might be better categorized as allegations without concrete evidence. One can hope this report may help clear a few hurdles of political semantics.

March 11, 2007

Burma Documentary- Inside the Secret City

The timing of this documentary couldn't be better as US report on Human Rights ( report on Burma ) has just been released and it echoes what the video demonstrates, that things are getting worse by the day.

The video, Inside the Secret State, takes us into the new capital of Naypidaw via hidden cameras. They offer some insight on the move into the jungle, most know some of the factors, such as distancing themselves from the Embassies in Rangoon, as well as astrological superstition, but also the location is desired to be linked to a upscale 'hotel-town'. In nearby Pyinmana it is believed the military is building an extensive network of underground bunkers.

They also interview journalist Ludu Sin Wein who says he believes the situation in Burma could implode at any moment.

The documentary speaks with a mother of three with HIV who is organizing an effort to promote awareness in her area. Though she is receiving treatment now, they say that program will expire in two years and it is unclear as of now if there will be any other options for treatment available.

March 1, 2007

ILO gets access to investigate forced labor in Burma.

Burma's military government has apparently agreed to allow the International Labor Organization to send representatives in the country, allow them to travel freely and has promised they will not punish (imprison) those who speak out on abuses.

I really find all this hard to believe. I've been watching the ILO struggle with Burma for years and I will not be surprised if there are sudden changes to this agreement in the not so distant future. I am not sure exactly what generals are hoping to get out of this cooperation but I highly doubt they will stand by as a detailed, legitamate case is being built against them, which is exactly what the ILO will do. I am surprised that the ILO's preparation to refer Burma to the International Court of Justice at The Hague has made an impression. From what I have read, most assumed the ICJ would have no jurisdiction. It seemed in character for the junta to disregard the move, but then again it is not out of character for the junta to do something that just leaves people scratching their heads.

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