Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Monks boycott minister’s offering

by Ko Wild
Monday, 29 June 2009 12:50

Chiang Mai (mizzima) - Several monks on Saturday refrained from going out to collect swan offering in Myingyan town in Mandalay division, following a visit and offerings made by junta’s Minister of Industries (1) Aung Thawng.

Monks in Burma, who usually go out at dawn for food offerings from devotees, on Saturday refused to go when they came to know that the visiting Industries Minister Aung Thawng would also make offerings to the monks.

A local monk told Mizzima that ‘Ponya Thaharya’, the group that regularly organises food offerings for monks in Myingyan town, usually makes swan offerings to about 700 monks in town, but on Saturday only about 300 monks turned up.

“We did not want to go. Only new comers, who do not understand and younger novices, went. But when we made the offering it was attended only by about 250 to 300 monks. Most of the monks who understand did not go,” the monk told Mizzima.

The organisation mobilises donors or devotees who wish to offer food to monks’ everyday. It was declared that Aung Thawng would be the donor for Saturday’s offering. The monks after hearing about the donor boycotted the offering.

The offering ceremony is usually attended by monks from monasteries in Myingyan town and other neighbouring towns and villages.

Aung Thawng, who is a native of Wei Laung village in Myingyan Township, on Friday also called a mass meeting and summoned villagers in the township to listen to his speech in Myingyan’s High School No. (1). But locals said despite being called only a few attended the meeting.

“Aung Thaung arrived on Friday and called for a meeting. Local authorities went from village to village and made announcements about the meeting. They threatened that those who do not attend will be fined Kyat 1,000 (USD 1). But despite the threat only a few turned up. Not more than 15 people each from one village turned up,” a local resident said.

During the meeting, Aung Thaung explained about the ongoing trial of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the American man John William Yettaw. He also introduced Kyaw San and Win Myint, who have been nominated as candidates from Myingyan Township for the 2010 general elections. He also warned the people not to get involved in any possible future anti-government protests.

Residents of Myingyan town have been carrying out a photo campaign for opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.


High Court rejects appeal over Suu Kyi’s defense witnesses

by Salai Pi Pi
Monday, 29 June 2009 17:24

New Delhi (Mizzima) – Burma’s High Court on Monday rejected an appeal by legal counsels to reinstate two allegedly key defense witnesses in the ongoing trial of Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Nyan Win, a lawyer of Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi – who is being charged for allegedly violating the terms of her previous house arrest – said the High Court had rejected a final appeal for the reinstatement of the remaining two defense witnesses, Tin Oo and Win Tin, who were earlier disqualified by a lower court in Insein prison.

“The High Court announced the rejection at 10:00 a.m. today,” Nyan Win told Mizzima on Monday.

However, Nyan Win said he was as yet unaware of any justification given for the verdict.

The trial against Aung San Suu Kyi has sparked global and domestic outrage along with repeated calls for her release.

Originally, only one of four defense witnesses was accepted by the court sitting in Insein prison.

However, upon request of the defense team the Rangoon Divisional Court allowed a second defense witness – Khin Moh Moh – to testify, while still rejecting both Win Tin and Tin Oo.

On June 24, the High Court heard arguments by defense lawyers to allow the remaining two defense witnesses to testify.

The special court in Insein prison on Friday adjourned the hearing of the testimony of the second defense witness until July 3.

Nyan Win said because of the ruling by the High Court the defense team is forced to confront several weaknesses in its case defending Aung San Suu Kyi.

“By rejecting the defense witnesses, around whom we had prepared to defend Aung San Suu Kyi, we our not fully enjoying the rights to defense ourselves,” Nyan Win added.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Burma reports detecting A/H1N1

by Mizzima News
Monday, 29 June 2009 11:50

Chiang Mai (mizzima) – Burma’s state-owned radio on Saturday announced that the first case of A/H1N1 influenza has been detected in the country.

A young girl aged 13 was brought to hospital on Friday after she reportedly suffered symptoms of the flu. It was later found that she was suffering from A/H1N1.


Thailand burns six tons of drugs

by Usa Pichai
Monday, 29 June 2009 15:02

Chiang Mai (mizzima) – The government of Thailand burnt six tons of narcotic drugs on World Drug Day on June 26, even as UNODC tries to raise awareness among young people, the high risk group relating to drug abuse.

Wittaya Kaewparadai, Minister of Public Health presided over the function to burn the drugs which were seized in 4,426 drug related cases in Thailand. The drugs were worth about 9,300 million baht (282 million US$).

The drugs destroyed were mainly Marijuana - 2,980 kilograms,
Methamphetamine - 2,737.75 kilograms or 30 million tablets, Heroin
- 228.32 kilograms, Ecstasy (or Yaa Ee) - 10.48 kilograms and Cocaine - 9.23 kilograms.

Wittaya said the drugs were burnt by using high temperatures, which did not cause air pollution. “The Ministry of Public Health operates 5,628 clinics for treating addicts. In 2010 the government will increase its budget to rehabilitate more addicts,” he added.

According to a statement from the ministry in 2008, there were 86,477
drug addicts treated in the ministry’s clinic of whom 90 per cent were men, 8 per cent were addicted to methamphetamine and 8 per cent addicted to Marijuana. The largest age group was between 8 and 24 year olds accounting for 40 per cent, followed by 25 to 29 year olds accounting for 23 per cent.

The main production areas are in Thailand’s neighbouring countries, particularly Burma which shares a border with the northern part of the country.

The burning of the drugs was held on the occasion of World Drug Day on June 26. The United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called for help for people suffering from drug addiction. He also urged reduction of the number of dangerous places on this planet where drugs are produced, trafficked and consumed.

In his message on International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit
Trafficking, Ban said, "Drug abuse can be prevented, treated and controlled. I urge member states to upgrade their preventive intervention and integrate drug treatment into public health programmes. The World Health Organization and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime continue to work with governments and other partners to scale up drug treatment world-wide".

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, as part of its world drug
campaign, on Friday released a new public service announcement (PSA) which follows four young people as their health deteriorates and they suffer the ravages of drug abuse.

The PSA called on young people, who are particularly vulnerable to drug use, to face the truth about drugs. The prevalence among the young is more than twice as high as that among the general population. Peer pressure to experiment with illicit drugs can be strong and self-esteem is often low. Also, those who take drugs tend to be either misinformed or insufficiently aware of the health risks involved.

In addition, UNODC also released its annual report on Wednesday, which says Burma’s share of global opium production has roughly been steady over the last year, according to a 2009 drug production report.

Poppy cultivation in Burma marginally increased to 28,500 ha (hectares) in 2008 from 27,700 ha in 2007, with the total potential value of opium production rising only by three million dollars, to US$ 123 million, in 2008.

U2 to launch tour with Suu Kyi in audience

by Mizzima News
Monday, 29 June 2009 16:39

Mizzima News - Internationally acclaimed Irish band U2 is poised to commence their latest tour tomorrow, with attendees encouraged to don Aung San Suu Kyi masks during the playing of 'Walk On'.

"U2 believe the world must not be allowed to forget Aung San Suu Kyi and on the 360 Tour fans are being invited to wear the mask when the band play 'Walk On', which was written for her," explains the iconic pop/rock band on their website.

Dedicated to Burma's detained opposition leader, a portion of the lyrics for 'Walk On' read:

And if the darkness is to keep us apart
And if the daylight feels like it's a long way off
And if your glass heart should crack
And for a second you turn back
Oh no, be strong

The band, and front singer Bono in particular, is well recognized for their interest and social activism in politics and humanitarianism across the world.

"U2 wrote the song Walk On to honor this amazing woman," elucidated Bono in a 2004 article written for Time Magazine's 100 Heroes and Icons, "who put family second to country, who for her convictions made an unbearable choice — not to see her sons grow and not to be with her husband as he lost his life to a long and painful cancer. Suu Kyi, with an idea too big for any jail and a spirit too strong for any army, changes our view — as only real heroes can — of what we believe to be possible."

At the height of the crackdown against protesters in Burma in late September 2007, Bono remarked, "When you are a monk in Burma this very week, barred from entering a temple because of your gospel of peace ... well, then none of us are truly free."

Originally released as a single in 2001, 'Walk On', off the 2000 album All That You Can't Leave Behind, went on to win record of the year at the Grammys.

The mask is available for download on U2's website, www.u2.com. The reverse side contains a brief quote by Aung San Suu Kyi: "Fear is a habit. I am not afraid."

Opening tomorrow in Barcelona, Spain, the 360 Tour is scheduled to visit 14 European and 16 North American cities en route to its finale in Vancouver, British Colombia, at the end of October.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

News updates on 9th day of Aung San Suu Kyi's trial

Interview with Ohn Kyaing (NLD Information department)
Thursday, 28 May 2009 19:07

“U Kyi Win testified for about two hours. It took quite a long time because there were a lot of cross questioning. According to U Nyan Win, who was briefing reporters, there are two points in U Kyi Win’s testimony.”

“The first point is, the prosecution insisted that the restriction imposed on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi refers to the restrictions of the fundamental rights, as defined in the 1974 constitution. They tried to prove their point. And the defence witness Kyi Win said, if it is true that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi had restrictions imposed based on the 1974 constitution, then the case is wrong because the constitution is legally not effective anymore.”

“The 1974 constitution is no longer effective because Senior General Than Shwe is his Military-day speech in 1991, clearly said that the 1974 constitution is no more effective. So, the 1974 constitution is no more legal.”

“The second point is that according to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s restriction law, she is not allowed to contact anyone outside. The law specifically used the term ‘Outside’. In this case Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has not made any contacts with the outside, world but it is Yettaw who came by his own will. He crossed the security and came in his own way. So, to speak in legal terms, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has not committed or violated the restriction law and she is innocent. The responsibility lies only with the person who has come in. In the law it states ‘Aung San Suu Kyi, who had restrictions imposed on her cannot contact anyone outside’, if we are to define word by word it would divert the essence. But the prosecution lawyers argued on his point. But Kyi Win made his point clear and strong.”

“The court has announced June 1, as the final date for the submission of appeals by the lawyers.”

“We are sure that we will win the case legally. But we don’t know because since the very beginning, the law has not been able to stop them. Aung San Suu Kyi in her statement yesterday had also said that she is innocent. It is the security guards that are responsible.”


Follow up on solo protest
Thursday, 28 May 2009 18:18

The normally heavily guarded segment of University Avenue where Aung San Suu Kyi’s house is located is currently nearly void of security personnel. Only a single policeman could be seen. The solo protester, who walked up and down the street for a brief period of time, has now vacated the scene.


Demonstration in front of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s house
Thursday, 28 May 2009 17:41

A man wearing a white shirt reading ‘Free Aung San Suu Kyi’ is currently conducting a solo protest in front of the residence of Aung San Suu Kyi on Rangoon’s University Avenue.

A Mizzima undercover correspondent, on the scene, said the man is standing in front of Aung San Suu Kyi’s house in protest with his sign but is not shouting any slogans.

The protest is the second on Thursday. Earlier a retired military man, Zaw Myint, held a solo protest in front of Insein Prison before being arrested by authorities.


Police ask Yettaw to reenact his transgression
Thursday, 28 May 2009 17:25

Police on Thursday afternoon took John William Yettaw to University Avenue and asked him to demonstrate how he swam across Inya Lake.

As a result, University Avenue was blocked from 2:30 p.m. (local time) to 4 p.m. During the demonstration Yettaw told police that he accessed Inya Lake via a small drain on University Avenue at the entrance to Than Lwin Street.


Protester is a retired army man
Thursday, 28 May 2009 16:22

The solo protester, who held aloft banners of 'Free Daw Aung San Suu Ky', in front of the Insein prison at 1:20 p.m. (local time) has been identified as, a 56-year old retired Air Force officer Captain Zaw Nyunt.


Final appeal to be furnished latest by June 1
Thursday, 28 May 2009 16:21

Sources said, june 1, has been fixed for the final submission of appeal by the lawyers of both parties in the trial against Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.


Interview with Win Tin (Central Executive Committee member of the NLD)
Thursday, 28 May 2009 16:19

“Today might be the last day of the trial. Even if it is not the last day, there is only one defence witness, Kyi Win that the court has to examine. So I don’t think it would be anything strange.”

“Like other days, people are waiting in groups here and there just talking to each other. There are also five or six police vehicles. And the road blockades and barricades remain in place. Nothing is new and the weather is also not too bad. There is no rain, but it is a little cloudy. The people are just waiting.”

“If the court wants to end the case and pronounce a verdict, and if there are no appeals, then everything could be over by 1 p.m (local time) because there is only one person left. If the court asked both sides to submit their appeals, they will submit. Nyan Win has already prepared an appeal if it is necessary.”

“Kyi Win will be examined today as the last person. Even if the court asked both lawyers (defence and prosecution) to submit their appeals, it could be given immediately and it will be over. And even if the court wants to give the verdict tomorrow, it will only take about half an hour or an hour.”

“And the rest is normal. It is all the same. Residents nearby gave us food, water and some edibles as usual. I don’t know the situation in other areas. Because we do not have communication as the roads are blocked. The roads are blocked from about a mile away from the Insein prison. So, once we have reached this side it is quite difficult to get back. People came from other townships like Hmawbe, Einme, Pathein etc. Many youths also came, it is just like other days.”


Solo protester outside Insein prison demands Suu Kyi’s release
Thursday, 28 May 2009 15:49

Authorities arrested a man on Thursday for staging a solo protest in front of Rangoon’s notorious Insein prison and demanding the release of Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Zaw Nyunt (50), a former political prisoner, held aloft a banner saying ‘Free Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’ and stood in protest in front of the prison gate for a brief five minutes. He was immediately taken away by security officials.

An eyewitness told Mizzima that the protester held a banner with slogans like “Release Our Mother Daw Suu” and other writings.

The eyewitness account…

At about 1 p.m. (local time), a man staged a solo protest in front of the Insein prison. He held a white banner on which he had written his demands.

His demands were written with a soft-pen. The protest was only for a brief five minutes. He held his hands high. But I could not read the letters on the banner properly. He was taken away by the security officials to the upper storey of the Insein Bazaar.

He was taken away a few minutes ago by about 20 officials including the police, Special Branch (police), members of USDA. He was taken away from the place where we are sitting to the upper storey. It looks like the police were standing by.

They seemed to have got orders from above. Police with arms could be seen everywhere. There are about a hundred of them and they seem to be troubling the people who are waiting.

Another eyewitness…

The people are fine and everything is good. The security personnel seem to be finding fault with them.

Currently, there are three police vehicles and two prison vans standing by. They are not positioned only at the barricades but are scattered. There are also about 70 people in front of the fire brigade. They all seem to be in a standby mode. Today there are a lot of intelligence personnel too.

Now they have taken the protester outside the Insein bazaar.


Yettaw’s testimony disturbs judges
Thursday, 28 May 2009 15:33

Though the court had initially thought of giving a verdict on the trial against opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on Friday, May 29, the testimony of Yettaw on Wednesday, where he said he had met security officials guarding the residence of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi during his visit, made it difficult for the judges in deciding on the case, sources in the police told Mizzima.

Yettaw, in his testimony said he was not troubled by the security guards. Due to his testimony, the judges found it difficult in giving a verdict on Friday and were reportedly forced to prolong the trial until next week, a senior police officer told Mizzima.

Yettaw, in his testimony, said during his first visit to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi he met armed security personnel on his way out but they did not trouble him except asking a few questions. And during his second visit, he met five armed security personnel but they only threw stones at him and did not troubled him further.

He added that he had gone to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s house because he had a vision that a group of terrorist is about to assassinate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and God had send him to inform her and the Burmese government.


Interview with Aye Thar Aung (Secretary of Committee Representing Peoples’ Parliament)
Thursday, 28 May 2009 15:30

“In 1988 people had demonstrated their desire to transform the country into a democracy. People fought and sacrificed. But until today, the junta has not changed. Initially they pretended to be following the peoples’ desire by allowing formation of political parties and to contest the election. But when they did not win in the election, they did not honour the 1990 election results. Instead the junta continued to repress political activists and put pressure on them by arresting and sentencing them to long prison terms. So, looking at these actions, we have seen the military government’s lies and that they have lied again and again in order to sustain their rule.”

“Now in the case of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, she was supposed to be freed yesterday [May 27], but the junta planned to send her to prison. This is clearly the junta’s way of sustaining power.”


Junta rejects UN Security Council’s demand
Thursday, 28 May 2009 13:40

Despite the United Nations Security Council urging implementation of an all inclusive political dialogue including Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and other stake-holders and initiate reconciliation, Burma’s military government has said it will continue with its planned 2010 election as part of its roadmap to democracy.

Following the trial against Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the UNSC issued a statement on May 22 expressing its concern over developments in Burma. In response to the UNSC’s statement, the junta, in the state-run newspaper on Thursday, said Burma now has a new constitution and under its guidelines will hold a multi-party general election in 2010.

The UNSC, in its press statement, called on the junta to create necessary conditions for a genuine dialogue with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and all concerned parties and ethnic groups in order to achieve an inclusive national reconciliation with the support of the United Nations.

The UNSC also called for the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and all other political prisoners.

But the junta, in the newspaper said, charging and conducting a trial against Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is a part of ensuring the rule of law in the country and will not have any political impact.

The junta said, Burma has approved a new constitution, which is drafted by over 1,000 representatives of the people. And as the fifth step of the roadmap, Burma will hold a general election.
Saturday, June 27, 2009

Tenasserim hydropower project under survey

by Ko Shwe
Friday, 26 June 2009 15:45

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - Thai surveyors and Burmese authorities are surveying the Tenasserim River, in Burma’s southernmost Tenasserim Division, for a potential dam site to generate electricity for export to Thailand and Singapore.

Sources in the area said Thai authorities have placed a representative in Tenasserim Division to observe river levels and to record water levels both during the rainy and summer seasons.

A source, recently arrived on the Thai-Burmese border from the area, said, "They [Thai authorities] have hired a person to monitor the water level of the river in different seasons and pay him about 50,000 baht per month.

“They also leave water-measuring equipment to keep a record of the water level. In the hot season it is measured once a day and in the rainy season it is measured every hour,” he added.

Sources said Thai surveyors and Burmese soldiers on December 25 and 26, 2008, visited the proposed dam sites and collected sample stones and sand from the areas for examination.

According to an official with the Karen National Union (KNU), based in the area, it is the second time that Thai and Burmese authorities are conducting such a survey with the aim of implementing a Tenasserim hydropower project.

The first survey, conducted in 2007, saw KNU officials confiscate the survey equipment, including a Global Positioning System (GPS), cameras and other materials.

Villagers in the area said the survey group has marked two potential dam sites on the river. One in Ler Pa Doh village, called the upper potential dam site, and another near Muro village, called the lower potential dam site. The upper and lower potential dam sites are about three hours distance apart by boat.

Burma has already signed an agreement with Thai and Singaporean companies to provide the two energy hungry nations with electricity from the hydropower project.

According to the New Light of Myanmar, a state-run daily newspaper, a signing ceremony for the Tenasserim hydropower project was held on October 9, 2008, between the Burmese Ministry of Electric Power No. 1, the Italian-Thai Development Public Co. Ltd. of Thailand and Singapore's Wind Fall Energy Services Ltd.

The paper said, the propose hydroproject will produce an estimate of 600 Mega Watt.

Sources said following the agreement two Burmese Army battalions have been stationed in the vicinity of the potential dam sites – in the villages of Ler Pah Doh and Thay Baw Nah, respectively.

Locals said there has never been any consultation on the proposed dam with residents from the more than 11 villages likely to be affected by any construction.

A KNU official, who requested not to be named, added, “We will keep an eye on the development of the dam project and related surveying in this area.”


Ashin Gambira’s prison term reduced by five years

by Phanida
Friday, 26 June 2009 16:17

Chiang Mai (mizzima) – Monk Ashin Gambira, arrested and sentenced to 68 years in prison for his lead role in anti-junta protests in September 2007 has had his prison term reduced by five years by a district court in Insein prison on Thursday.

The western district court reduced the sentence of Gambira, leader of the All Burma Buddhist Monks Association by five years. He was charged under the Electronics Act. The reverend monk, who was charged on 16 counts, will now have to serve 63 years in prison.

The Electronics Act 33 (a) stipulates that using the internet without the permission of the authorities is an offence and is punishable. The law became a tool for the authorities to sentence the reverend monk, who took a lead role in the September 2007 monk-led protests.

Lawyers of the monk, who is 29, and is currently detained in a prison in Kalemyo in Sagaing division, have appealed to the district court. The court said the appeals were late and rejected appeals for seven counts.

The legal counsels have now, submitted appeals on the other nine counts, and the court has scheduled a session on June 29.

Ashin Gambira, however, denied appealing but the lawyers have been acting on the request of his parents.

Authorities have also arrested the monk’s elder brother Aung Kyaw Kyaw and sentenced him to 14 years in prison. He is currently detained in Tuaggyi prison in Shan state. Similarly, his younger brother Aung Ko Ko Lwin and brother-in-law Moe Htet Lian were also arrested and sentenced to five years each and are respectively in Kyuak Pyu prison in Arakan state and Moulmein prison in Mon state.


Court adjourns Suu Kyi's trial to July 3

by Mungpi
Friday, 26 June 2009 18:41

New Delhi (mizzima) - The special court in Insein Prison on Friday adjourned the hearing of the testimony of a second defense witness in the trial against opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to July 3rd, as the country’s High Court has yet to rule on an appeal to allow the remaining two defense witnesses.

Nyan Win, a member of Aung San Suu Kyi’s legal team, said the court on Friday convened at about 10 a.m. (local time) and adjourned about thirty minutes later with the judge scheduling the testimony of Khin Moh Moh, the second defense witness, for July 3rd.

“Since the decision from the High Court has not yet been announced, the lower court cannot go ahead with the case,” Nyan Win iterated.

Earlier in the week, the High Court heard arguments by defense lawyers to allow the remaining two defense witnesses – Tin Oo, Vice-Chairman of the National League for Democracy (NLD), and Win Tin, a veteran journalist and Central Executive Committee member of the NLD – to take the stand.

On Thursday, Burma’s Chief of Police, Khin Yi, told journalists and diplomats at a rare news conference in Rangoon that Aung San Suu Kyi is responsible for the secret visit by the American man, John William Yettaw, as she failed to immediately report the incident to the authorities concerned.

Khin Yi accused the detained Nobel Peace Laureate of delaying notification of Yettaw's initial visit at the end of 2008 by four days, putting authorities in a difficult situation to trace the case.

He added he suspects a mastermind behind Yettaw’s visit to the Burmese democracy icon’s house on the shores of Inya Lake in Rangoon, and that authorities are still trying to find out which group is responsible for the breech in security.

But opposition groups, including the NLD, have accused the junta of using the incident as a pretext to continue detaining Aung San Suu Kyi in order to remove her from the public realm prior to and during their planned election in 2010.


UN special envoy begins visit to Burma

by Mungpi
Friday, 26 June 2009 20:10

New Delhi (mizzima) - United Nations Special envoy Ibrahim Gambari on Friday arrived in Burma’s former capital city of Rangoon and has reportedly headed for Naypyitaw, the new capital, to meet with officials from the ruling junta.

During the trip Gambari is expected to meet with senior generals of the junta as well as with opposition party leaders from the National League for Democracy, including detained leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

However a UN spokesperson in Rangoon declined to explain further details of the envoy’s trip, which has been reported as a forerunner to determine whether the UN chief, Ban Ki-moon, will make his second visit to the military-ruled country in early July.

According to a spokesperson for the Secretary General in New York, Gambari, following his visit to Burma will report to Ban on his trip before the Secretary General leaves for Japan next week.

“The Secretary General has not yet announced when he would go to Myanmar [Burma],” Michele Montas, the Secretary General’s spokesperson said.

The Nigerian diplomat is on his eighth visit to the military-ruled country since he was appointed as the special envoy to Burma in 2006. But his visits have thus far failed to ignite talks between Senior General Than Shwe and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The current trip has attracted criticism as the UN has maintained a strange aura of secrecy over the visit, unlike Gambari’s earlier sojourns which were announced well in advance.

Win Tin, a veteran journalist and Central Executive Committee member of the NLD, said the low profile visit could be because the UN wants to persuade the junta against sidelining party leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

“Now it is obvious that the junta is trying to sideline Aung San Suu Kyi from mainstream politics. So, it seems that the UN wants to silently persuade the junta against sidelining her. This is what I think of the low profile visit,” Win Tin said.

He added that the NLD welcomes Gambari’s visit as well as the UN’s initiatives but reiterates that the UN must push for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and facilitate a meeting between her and Senior General Than Shwe, the junta’s head.

“Though we are calling for national reconciliation, it cannot kick-start unless the two of them start meeting,” Win Tin added.

Currently, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is facing trial in a special court in Insein prison under charges of breaching her previous terms of detention and could be imprisoned up to five years if found guilty.

Win Tin said the trial is an obvious move by the junta to sideline the Burmese Nobel Peace Laureate from mainstream politics and to exclude her from the junta’s planned 2010 elections.

“We want to urge the UN to first secure Aung San Suu Kyi’s release before talking about the 2010 election. The UN should also urge the constitution drafted by the junta be amended,” he further stipulated.
Friday, June 26, 2009

World Refugee Day observed in Mae Sot

by Usa Pichai
Friday, 26 June 2009 16:20

Chiang Mai (mizzima) – The United Nation High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and related organizations have held activities in honor of World Refugee Day in Mae Sot, a Thai-Burma border town, with the aim of raising awareness and understanding among the Thai population of the vast Burmese migrant and refugee population in the area.

Yoshimi Saita, head of the UNHCR field office in Mae Sot, said in her opening remarks on Wednesday that there is a continuous flow of refugees crossing from Burma into Thailand, particularly, at the moment, those fleeing ongoing fighting in Burma's Thasongyang District. “We thank the Thai government for not forcing those villagers to return home,” he said, according to a report in the Thai newspaper Komchadluek on Thursday.

An NGO worker in Tak told Mizzima that activities were organized for two days, June 24th and 25th, with various activities to raise awareness and understanding of local people about refugees.

Tak Province, which includes Mae Sot, is home to some half-dozen refugee camps, servicing primarily a Karen population. The camps are home to over 100,000 people.

The events also aimed to provide information about the organizations that work with refugees about what they do and how they operate. Additionally, there was a photo exhibition on the conditions and problems refugees are facing.

Recently, an Assumption University poll found a lack of knowledge on the part of the Thai population concerning the refugee problem and the role of organizations such as the UNHCR in addressing the situation.

The study, conducted in June, 2009, found a majority confused about the status of refugees, with nearly three-quarters believing refugees are like illegal migrant workers, compared to barely over 20 percent who understood they are people who have fled from war or other risks and recognized by international refugee organizations.

Dr. Noppadol Kannika, Director of the Assumption University Poll Research Center, said that a majority of those sampled are of the opinion that the Thai government, ASEAN and UN are not acting effectively enough to address the refugee problem.

Noppadol added: “It is about 60 years now that Thailand has not signed the UN Convention on Refugee Status, causing refugees in Thailand to not fully receive their basic human rights, such as education and health services and the right to find a job. In contrast, illegal migrants have more rights than the refugees, prompting many refugees to flee from the camps, with some ending up as victims of human traffickers."

He recommends that the Thai government, ASEAN and the UN raise the profile of refugees during the next ASEAN meeting and seek to construct a practical strategy to confront the problem.

First observed in 2001, World Refugee Day falls on June 20th.

Authorities hold rare press briefing

by Mizzima News
Thursday, 25 June 2009 14:31

New Delhi (mizzima) - Burmese authorities are today holding a rare press briefing for journalists and diplomats concerning the case of John William Yettaw, an American currently standing trial for sneaking into pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s home in early May.

The press conference is being held at the Drug Elimination Museum in Rangoon’s Kamayut Township. In attendance are reporters for both local and international media outlets along with several foreign diplomats.

Mizzima will report on the details of the briefing, currently in process, as information becomes available.

Mizos call for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi

by Salai Pi Pi
Thursday, 25 June 2009 19:39

New Delhi (Mizzima) – Scores of Mizo and Burmese activists on Thursday held a sit-in protest in Aizawl, capital of India’s northeastern state of Mizoram, calling for the release of detained Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

With banners declaring ‘Mizoram for Aung San Suu Kyi’ the protestors held a one-hour demonstration at Aizawl's Temple Square. The protestors expressed concern for the Burmese Nobel Peace Laureate, who is currently facing a trial under charges stemming from the trespassing of an American man into her home in early May.

“We want the Burmese junta to release Aung San Suu Kyi, that is the main purpose of today’s demonstration,” said Ruata, Secretary of the Mizoram Committee for Democracy in Burma (MCDB), the group that organized the protest.

The sit-in demonstration, in support of Aung San Suu Kyi and democracy in Burma, is the second such action organized by MCDB, which was formed in October 2007 following the junta's crackdown on the Saffron Revolution.

Speaking to Mizzima, Ruata said the organization will also send a letter to India's President, Pratibha Devisingh Patil, and Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, through the Mizoram government, urging them to do everything India can in order to secure the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, past recipient of India’s Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding.

“We urge the Indian President and Prime Minister to put pressure on the Burmese regime to release Aung San Suu Kyi as the trial against her is not fair,” Ruata said.

“We also call for the restoration of democracy in Burma and urge India to review its current foreign policy toward the Burmese regime,” he added.

Meanwhile, Ko Htwe, a Mizoram-based member of the Burmese Social Welfare Association who spoke at the protest on Thursday, said the protest was also a show of solidarity for Burma.

Joining the protest were prominent Mizoram political leaders, including those from the Mizo National Front (MNF), Zoram Nationalist Party (ZNP), Bharatya Janata Party (BJP-Mizoram), Mizoram Peoples Conference (MPC) and Mizoram Pradesh Congress Committee (MPCC), as well as representatives from Mizo non-governmental organizations.

Zothankimi, General Secretary of the Women's Wing of the MPCC, speaking at the protest, said it is shameful and cowardly of the Burmese generals to try and suppress an unarmed, single woman.

Similarly, Ruata, condemning the continued military rule in Burma, said the impact of rights violations by the junta have caused thousands of Burmese people to flee their homes for foreign lands, including Mizoram.

“A lot of refugees have come to Mizoram. That’s the impact of military rule in Burma,” explained Ruata, showing his sympathy towards the Burmese refugees in Mizoram.

He further encouraged Mizoram authorities to show sympathy to the Burmese and not to harass or deport them, as they are merely seeking shelter in Mizoram state.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Police Chief says Suu Kyi tardy in contacting authorities

by Mizzima News
Thursday, 25 June 2009 17:51

New Delhi (mizzima) - Burma’s Chief of Police, Khin Yi, on Thursday accused opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi for having not adequately informed police of the details of the first visit by American John William Yettaw, who is currently standing trial for his visits to the detained pro-democracy leader's Rangoon residence.

Khin Yi, during a rare press briefing at the Drug Elimination Museum in Rangoon’s Kamayut Township, told journalists and diplomats that the detained Nobel Peace Laureate had not informed concerned authorities in a timely manner as to the details of the first visit by Yettaw in November 2008.

As National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi only informed the authorities of the visit four days after the event on December 4, 2008, it was difficult for authorities to trace the incident and thus hampered attempts to uncover the truth, Khin Yi added.

Rejecting rumors that the accused suffers from a mental illness, Khin Yi said Yettaw is instead a highly intellectual person.

Aung San Suu Kyi, on trial in Insein prison along with Yettaw and two live-in party members, is charged with breaching her detention regulations by accepting Yettaw, who allegedly swam approximately two kilometers across Inya Lake, into her home and providing him with food and shelter. If found guilty, she could face up to five years imprisonment.

But the pro-democracy leader has pleaded ‘not guilty’ to the charges, saying the security around her home is instead responsible for the break-in.

Khin Yi, during the briefing, said the government believes that Yettaw’s visit was pre-planned by a group working behind the scenes, but failed to identify the group, saying only that authorities are still working on the case.

But opposition groups have in turn accused the junta of using the incident as a pretext to continue detaining the Nobel Peace Laureate in order to keep her out of the public realm in the run-up to the planned 2010 general election.

Burma restricts reportage on North Korean vessel

by May Kyaw
Thursday, 25 June 2009 20:46

Chiang Mai (mizzima) - Burma’s Censorship Board has restricted local journals from reporting on the progress of the North Korean vessel, Kang Nam.

The restriction came after a local journal, Pyi Myanmar, in its international section, printed an AP story on the North Korean vessel, which is believed to be heading towards Burma.

“I think if we run the story like today’s edition of the New Light of Myanmar, we might get permission. But others will not get it. I have heard that the Censorship Board failed to check on their story, that is why it was published,” a local journalist in Rangoon, told Mizzima.

The Pyi Myanmar journal published on June 25, carried a translated version of the AP story, which said that the United States on June 19, had sent a naval destroyer to monitor and to check on the North Korean vessel, which is suspected of carrying illegal weapons.

The global media has reported that a 2,000 ton weight vessel called Kang Nam, left a North Korean port on June 17, and was heading towards Burma.

However, Burma’s state-run newspaper, New Light of Myanmar, on Thursday reported that the North Korean vessel was MV Dumangang and is a cargo vessel carrying rice, from India.

According to the paper, the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea owned MV Dumangang cargo ship, is due to arrive in Burma, from India’s Kolkata on June 27, to load 8,000 tons of rice.

Besides, the paper revealed that the Burmese military government had no information regarding the Kang Nam as reported by the international media.

NDAK ready to turn into ‘Border Guard’ force

by Phanida & Myo Gyi
Thursday, 25 June 2009 21:20

Chiang Mai/Ruili – The ethnic armed group, the New Democratic Army – Kachin (NDAK), which has a ceasefire agreement with the ruling Burmese junta, has consented to the regime’s proposal of transforming its army into a ‘Border Guard’ force.

NDAK Chairman Zahkung Ting Ying in an interview to Mizzima on Thursday said it had accepted the junta’s proposal to change its army into a border guard force during a meeting with the junta’s Northern Military Commander Brig-Gen Soe Win on June 24 at the NDAK headquarters in Pang Wa.

“We had the meeting in our headquarters. We discussed transforming our army into the border guard and we agreed to do it. We believe we will be able to transform our army,” Zahkung Ting Ying said.

“We are ceasefire groups. We are not armed rebels fighting against the country. We want to transform our army to be able to continue guarding our region,” he added.

The meeting, held in the Sino-Burma border town, was arranged by the Burmese junta. The junta’s delegates was led by Northern Commander Brig-Gen Soe Win along with several other officials, the NDAK was represented by Chairman Zahkung Ting Ying and several other officials.

Zahkung Ting Ying said, the group will form a political party and contest the 2010 general elections. They have demanded that the junta give the right of self-governance to Kachin ethnics.

“At this stage, we are only at the level of demanding special privileges as an ethnic group of the country. But after transformation, the armed groups will be different and those without arms will need to restart our lives again,” he added.

The NDAK is one of the first armed ceasefire groups that the junta wanted to transform into a border guard force. Other groups such as the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) and United Wa State Army (UWSA) have rejected the proposal.

Sources close to KIO said leaders of the KIO during a meeting with Brig-Gen Soe Win in Myitkyina, capital of Kachin state on June 20, rejected the proposal.

Similarly, the UWSA, during its meeting with the junta’s Military Affairs Security (MAS) Chief Lt-Gen Ye Myint on June 7 in Panghsang, rejected the junta’s proposal. Following the rejection, fresh tension was triggered between the groups and the junta. This has resulted in the junta reinforcing its troops based in northern and eastern Burma, an official of the UWSA told Mizzima.

Both the UWSA and KIO, though they have rejected the proposal, said they are willing to hold talks with the new government that will be formed after the election in 2010.

The Zahkung Ting Ying led NDAK is a splinter group of the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO), which was formed in 1961 to fight for self-determination of the Kachin people. The NDAK was earlier the 3rd Brigade of the Kachin Independence Army, the armed wing of KIO, which was set up in Pang Wa region in 1968.

Later the NDAK joined the Burma Communist Party’s (BCP) as the 101 military region but broke off with the BCP and on December 15, 1989 the group signed a ceasefire peace pact with the ruling junta.


For some, poppy cultivation continues to offer only hope

by Solomon
Thursday, 25 June 2009 21:30

New Delhi (mizzima) – Burma’s share of global opium production has roughly held steady over the last year, according to a 2009 drug production report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

The report, released on June 24, says poppy cultivation in Burma marginally increased to 28,500 ha (hectares) in 2008 from 27,700 ha in 2007, with the total potential value of opium production rising only three million dollars, to US$ 123 million, in 2008.

Opium production in Burma continues to be dominated by the eastern part of the country, with Shan state accounting for 89 percent of national production and the remaining 11 percent split between Kachin and Karenni states.

Khuensai Jaiyen, editor of the Thailand-based Shan Herald Agency for News, confirmed that eastern Shan state continues to be the hub of the country’s opium production and speculates a further rise in the region’s production is to be expected.

“There will be a further increase in poppy cultivation in the future because people have no other choice for their livelihood than this business,” said Khuensai Jaiyen.

He added that local people in Shan state are facing heavy taxes with the additional deployment of 100 Army battalions in the region.

“Only poppy cultivation can possibly give them enough to pay taxes to the Army, so they have to do this job,” explained Jaiyen.

Without the increased Army presence, elaborated Jaiyen, the people could survive on paddy cultivation. But with the further imposition of the military in the region and the corresponding hike in taxation, no option is left to local farmers.

“Except for weapons, they [the Army] do not receive much support from their headquarters, so they are trying to fend for themselves any way they can,” said Jaiyen, an assessment consistent with a now decade-old directive from the Army’s leadership calling for local units to become as self-sufficient as possible.

The business is said to be largely conducted by local armed groups backed by the military junta, according to Jaiyen. “Those who want to cultivate poppy or buy opium need to get permission from them [local armed groups].”

He further added that the recent eradication of poppy fields by the government was only for show and not effective, destroying fields just to create a favorable public image.

According to the junta, 2008 witnessed the eradication of 4,820 ha of poppy.

“Some people are forced to cultivate poppy for a good reason, such as our people,” prospered Jaiyen. “However, we hope there will some day be an effective policy for controlling drug production around the world.”
Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Thai government urged not to repatriate Karen refugees

by Usa Pichai
Wednesday, 24 June 2009 18:17

Chiang Mai (mizzima) – The government of Thailand has been urged by Asian lawmakers and activists not to repatriate Karen refugees, who recently fled to Thailand in the wake of fighting along the border.

Kraisak Chunhavan, chairman of the Asean Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC) expressed concern over the situation on the Thai-Burma border where the fighting between the Burmese Army and an ethnic armed group is on, resulting in several thousand Karen villagers fleeing for shelter on the Thai side.

Kraisak insisted that the Thai government should provide humanitarian aid to these villagers and AIPMC will propose to the Thai government, as the current chairman of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), to work with member countries to promote democracy and sustainable peace in Burma.

“We are worried because the situation is still vulnerable. Many more refugees are coming to Thailand and we believe that the Thai government will not send these people back while the fighting continues because it is the principle of the Asean Charter to protect the rights of the people,” Kraisak said.

On Monday, the Karen Women’s Organization (KWO) released a statement expressing concern over the current situation of repatriation of families who recently arrived in Thailand in Tha Song Yang of Tak Province.

KWO said these women, if repatriated, will be vulnerable to abuses including sexual harassment and the children are already exhausted from running. Evidence of two Karen teenaged girls raped and killed is proof of a well founded fear of women being abused if they return. The group called on the international community to do whatever they can to stop possible repatriation by the Thai Army.

The group said, the Thai government and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) should urgently chalk out a procedure to obtain proper consent from the villagers, over the possibility of returning to their villages or to ask if they want to take refuge in Thailand. They should not be forced back in keeping with respect for international law.

"The Thai authorities should at least wait and observe the situation. Forcing back these people during the rainy season and to the place where they still have every reason to fear for their lives is inhuman and a violation of their rights," said Dah Eh Kler, the Secretary of KWO. "These people just fled to the border a few weeks ago from fear and fresh memories of attacks."

Similarly, Action Network for Migrants, a network of migrant workers activists and organization also in a statement urged the Thai government and related organizations to reconsider the policy that will not register new refugees to live in refugee camps along the borders. The authorities should allow non government organizations to provide education for the new comers children, which is a basic human right.


High Court hears Aung San Suu Kyi’s lawyers' arguments

by Mungpi
Wednesday, 24 June 2009 19:26

New Delhi (mizzima) - Burma’s High Court on Wednesday heard defense arguments for allowing two more witnesses in the controversial trial against pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, but did not make any ruling on the matter.

Nyan Win, a member of Aung San Suu Kyi’s legal team, said the defense team argued it is in accordance with the law to allow the remaining two witnesses – Tin Oo, Vice-Chairman of the National League for Democracy (NLD), and Win Tin, a veteran journalist and Central Executive Committee member of the NLD.

“The High Court doesn’t make immediate decisions and will take some time before announcing their decision. And we don’t know when that announcement will be,” Nyan Win said.

However, Nyan Win added that the High Court judges told them it might be impossible to accept Tin Oo as a witness as he is currently under house arrest.

The judges further explained, according to Nyan Win, that as Win Tin has given several interviews to the exile-based Democratic Voice of Burma, BBC and Radio Free Asia, in which he demonstrated a distinct difference of opinion to that of the authorities, he may not qualify either.

But Kyi Win, Aung San Suu Kyi's primary lawyer, said the law prescribes that in finding the truth even criminals serving a death sentence can be brought as witnesses.

“My instinct told me that this will be the kind of excuse they would use to reject Tin Oo. But the law permits the accused to call anybody as a witness, as long as the witness has relevance,” Kyi Win said.

He added that during his experience as a lawyer he has seen judges order a commission be sent to prisons to hear the testimony of prisoners claimed as witnesses for the accused.

With regard to the judges' complaint concerning Win Tin, Kyi Win elaborated that everybody has the right to have their own opinion and having a different opinion to the government is not a crime.

“What we are fighting is for equal representation in front of the court and since the lower court [at Insein prison] has not mentioned any reasons for rejecting the defense witnesses, it is against the law [to exclude the candidates],” he added.

The Insein prison court where Aung San Suu Kyi is facing trial originally scheduled the hearing of the second defense witness– Khin Moh Moh – for Friday. But Kyi Win said there would be no hearing until the High Court makes the decision on whether to allow more witnesses.

The Burmese Nobel Peace Laureate, who has been under some form of detention for more than 13 of the past 19 years, is currently facing trial under charges of breaching her previous term of detention by ‘harboring’ an American man for two days at her lakeside home in early May.

Observers and opposition elements believe the trial, which could see Aung San Suu Kyi sentenced to up to five years of further imprisonment if found guilty, is a pretext to continue detaining her in order to further clear the way for the junta’s planned 2010 general election – the country's first since the military annulled a 1990 ballot, which saw the NLD emerge the clear winner.

Palpable tension between junta and ethnic armed groups

by Solomon
Wednesday, 24 June 2009 21:35

New Delhi (Mizzima) – The Burmese Army has significantly increased its military presence in northern and eastern Burma, where ethnic ceasefire armed groups are based, following their widespread rejection of the junta’s proposal to transform to a border guard force.

An official of the United Wa State Army (UWSA) told Mizzima on Wednesday that they have witnessed the Burmese Army relocating more troops along with arms including mortars in bases near their controlled areas in eastern Shan State.

“We have seen the Burmese Army moving in more troops, in what seems like a preparation for a war,” the official said.

He told Mizzima that the junta is likely to mount more pressure on them after they rejected the proposal to transform their army into a ‘Border Guard’ force.

“Changing our army’s name is not a problem but if we accept their proposal, we will lose our forces, so it’s not possible for us,” he said.

In late April, the junta proposed to ceasefire armed groups to change their armies into a ‘Border Guard’, which will be supervised by the junta. According to the junta’s plan, each battalion of the border guard will consist of 326 soldiers out of which 30 soldiers from the Burmese Army will be included.

However, most of the ceasefire groups including the UWSA have reportedly rejected the junta’s proposal, triggering renewed tension between the Burmese Army and the rebels.

But the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), an ethnic Karen rebel group which split from the mainstream Karen resistance army – the Karen National Union, have not rejected the junta’s proposal.

“We do not anticipate war, nobody wants to fight, we are still open to talks with them [junta] but we need to defend ourselves, so now, we have alerted all our troops to be ready,” the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, added.

UWSA controls two special regions in northern Shan State, bordering China and eastern Shan state, bordering Thailand.

Meanwhile, sources said, the Burmese junta has also increased its military presence in northern Burma’s Kachin State in areas controlled by the Kachin Independence Organization/Army (KIO/A).

Awng Wa, an activist working inside Kachin state said, troops have been reinforced in the Burmese Army, based near the KIO’s main headquarter in the Sino-Burma border town of Laiza.

“More soldiers have arrived in battalion 2 at Daw Hpum Myang [which is close to Laiza],” said Awng Wa.

He said the junta has reinforced the army battalions with more troops since they began proposing the transformation of the KIA into a border guard force.

“It looks to me that a conflict might break out between the KIO and the Burmese Army anytime soon,” he added.

An unconfirmed report received by Mizzima said, leaders of the KIO including Vice-President (1) of the KIO Lt-Gen Gauri Zau Seng, during a meeting with a Burmese junta official in Myitkyina of Kachin state last week, rejected the proposal.

But when contacted by Mizzima, Gauri Zau Seng declined to clarify the matter and referred to the KIO’s spokesperson Colonel Gun Maw. But Col Gun Maw, however, could not be reached for comment.

Sources said, the KIO has been holding meetings within the organisation to discuss the junta’s proposal and had formed a seven-member committee to deal with the issue and to negotiate with the junta. Lt-Gen Gauri Zau Seng is the leader of the team.

As part of its preparation, KIO in turn has stepped up recruiting new cadres and has called back old comrades. They are also returning into the forests, sources said.

Similarly, the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S), which has not signed a ceasefire agreement with the junta, said the Burmese Army has also been expanding its presence in eastern and northern Shan states.

Major Long Sai of the SSA-S told Mizzima, that it is the fallout of rejecting the junta’s proposal by ethnic ceasefire groups and the military junta is likely to launch stronger military operations.

“They [junta] are despatching more artillery battalions,” said Long Sai. “They always regarded us as their enemy but we are only fighting for our rights and freedom,” he added.

“I want to call on all ceasefire groups to continue trying what we want and we all have the same goal,” said Long Sai.

Since the beginning of June, the Burmese Army along with their allies - the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) – launched a military offensive against the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), the armed wing of the KNU.

In the operation, which forced thousands of Karen villagers to flee to Thailand, the joint forces of the Burmese Army and the DKBA overran the bases of KNLA’s 7th Brigade.

But a Sino-Burma border based analyst Aung Kyaw Zaw told Mizzima that so far there is no sign to indicate that the junta will conduct a fresh military offensive against the ceasefire armed groups. Not until the junta completes its planned elections in 2010, he said.

Police patrol Rangoon, security tightened near Insein prison

by Myint Maung
Wednesday, 24 June 2009 22:16

New Delhi (Mizzima) – There is heightened security in Rangoon with at least 30 army trucks with uniformed riot police personnel, patrolling the city on Wednesday.

The army trucks are each carrying at least 20 policemen and are patrolling various townships of Rangoon, eyewitnesses said.

“We can see about 30 to 40 army trucks carrying uniformed policemen patrolling the city. It looks like they are on high alert. They also have machine guns mounted on the trucks. They came to our township at about 3 p.m. (local time),” an eyewitness from Insein Township told Mizzima.

“Earlier, when they patrolled like they are doing now, the police would carry shields but today they had a policeman standing on the truck with a machine gun mounted on the hood,” he added.

Another local resident said he had seen about three army trucks, full of riot police, patrolling downtown Rangoon near the City Hall, which is one of the busiest places in town.

“They had the trucks covered with shields and had batons and guns in their hands,” he said.

A source near the Insein prison told Mizzima that the riot police No. (8) have been relocated and repositioned near the Insein prison.

Some of the townships, where eyewitnesses saw army trucks patrolling include San Chuang and Dagon South.

The reason for the sudden tightening of security, however, remains unknown but some believe it could be because of the United Nations special envoy Ibrahim Gambari, who reportedly is planning to visit the country later this week.


Thai authorities urge refugees to return: aid workers

by Solomon
Tuesday, 23 June 2009 15:12

New Delhi (mizzima) - Authorities in Thailand are allegedly encouraging ethnic Karen refugees recently arrived in the wake of fresh fighting in eastern Burma to return to their homes, according to humanitarian aid workers along the Thai-Burma border.

Iris, Coordinator of the Committee for Internally Displaced Karen People (CIDKP), a group working to help internally displaced persons inside Burma, told Mizzima on Monday that Thailand’s border security forces have urged Karen refugees to return to their homes, assuming the fighting to be over.

“The authorities are urging the refugees to go back but the situation back home is not yet conducive with the fighting still unabated. Nobody is daring to go back home, because their lives are not safe there,” explained Iris.

She said in June the Burmese Army killed three internally displaced persons in Karen State, a pregnant woman and two teenage girls as they were hiding in the forest.

“They [refugees] face a danger to their lives,” reiterated Iris.

Since early June, the Burmese Army and its military ally the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) have launched a military offensive against the Karen National Liberation Army, Burma’s longest surviving ethnic armed resistance group and the armed wing of the Karen National Union (KNU).

The fresh conflict has forced thousands of Karen villagers to flee their homes and cross into Thailand seeking refuge.

According to the CIDKP list, thus far 3,447 refugees have fled to Thailand and more than 1,000 have entered refugee camps, while over 2,000 remain waiting outside the camps.

“At this moment the safest place for them [refugees] is the camps,” said Iris.

David Thaw, a central committee member of the KNU, confirmed that Thai border security personnel have been attempting to persuade refugees to return home as they believe the fighting has ceased.

“They [Thai authorities] said since the fighting is over, it would be safe for the refugees to return home. But it is not a strong pressure, rather it is like a suggestion, as the refugees have no proper accommodation in which to live [along the border],” David Thaw told Mizzima.

According to him, while some refugees are squeezed into existing camps, the rest are left to live outside the camps where there is no proper shelter or regular food supply.

Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Tuesday told Mizzima that they are not aware of any government order to repatriate the Karen refugees and directed Mizzima to contact the Ministry of Defense, which was not immediately available for comment.

However, Zoya Phan, International Coordinator for Burma Campaign UK (BCUK), said since June 16th at least three families have been forced back into Burma by Thai authorities.

“They [refugees] fear for their lives if they return home. They cannot stay there until the military operations stop,” said Zoya Phan.

“We urge the Thai government to accept these refugees, and allow them to stay in their country and help them,” she added.

Meanwhile, David Takarpaw, Vice-Chairman of the KNU, said to date minor battles continue across the border in Karen State.

Last week, the Burmese Army and the DKBA overran one of the KNU’s strongest outposts, the 7th Brigade.

He said civilians were compelled to flee because they fear not only the Burmese Army but also the DKBA, who force people into military service and collect money from them if they refuse.

“They fear both the DKBA and Burmese Army, so they have no choice but to flee,” emphasized Takarpaw.


Suu Kyi’s trial internal affair of Burma: Russia

by Salai Pi Pi
Tuesday, 23 June 2009 20:58

New Delhi (Mizzima) – While urging the regime to conduct a fair trial of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the Russian Foreign Ministry on Sunday said the issue is an internal affair and does not warrant the attention of the UN Security Council.

The Russian Foreign Ministry’s information and press department on Sunday said it rejects any attempts to bring the Burma issue to the United Nations Security Council saying it is an internal affair and does not pose a threat to peace and security of the region and the world community, according a report by Moscow-based the ITAR-TASS News Agency.

“Moscow opposes attempts to internationalize the internal situation in Myanmar [Burma], because it does not endanger peace and security in the region and the world at large,” the report quoted Kremlin’s Information and Press department as saying.

While the press department said, “We see no reason why the UN Security Council should discuss Myanmar [Burma],” it also urges the Burmese generals for greater openness and cooperation with the international community, including the mission of Ibrahim Gambari, the UN Secretary General’s Special envoy to Burma.

Russia also expresses its expectations of a fair trial of the Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is currently facing trial at Rangoon’s notorious Insein prison on charges of violating the terms of her house arrest by ‘harbouring’ an uninvited US man, John William Yettaw, to her lakeside home in early May.

“Russia hopes that the trial of Myanmar [Burma] Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi will be unbiased, strictly comply with national laws and humanitarian standards, and take into account the international opinion,” the Foreign Ministry added.

Aung Naing Oo, a Burmese observer based in Thailand pointed out that Russian’s call to the junta to conduct a fair trial of the Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi is unusual.

“It is a little surprising that Russia is talking about Burma’s political issue for the first time. It is also interesting,” he said.

But he said he is not optimistic that the Burmese regime will pay any heed to the call made by Russia, one of the junta’s major supporters.

“There is no effective and pragmatic work plan in Russia’s statement. For the Burmese regime to act, talks are not enough,” he added.

Nyo Ohn Myint, in-charge of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National League for Democracy – Liberated Area (NLD-LA) in exile said, the Russian call probably came after the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN) pressurized the Burmese junta to release Aung San Suu Kyi and to restore democracy in Burma.

“Russia seems to have made the call after ASEAN urged Burma to release Aung San Suu Kyi,” Nyo Ohn Myint said.

Following the junta’s charge and trial of democracy icon, activists across the world have condemned the junta and called on neighbouring countries as well as Russia to pressurize the junta.

Russia along with China had vetoed a draft UN Security Council resolution on Burma, sponsored by US and UK, in 2007.

“In our opinion, the political and economic pressure on that country [Burma] is counterproductive, as it enhances isolationist feelings of the Myanmar [Burma] military and exacerbates the socioeconomic position of citizens,” Russia said.

“We are confident that this negotiating mechanism is useful in building mutual understanding and confidence between Myanmar [Burma] and the world,” added the department.

Moreover, Russia has agreed to build a nuclear research centre, which includes a 10MW light-water reactor and facilities for processing and storing nuclear waste in Burma.

“Because of its economic connections and increased diplomatic ties, I don’t think Russia will press the Burmese regime to make political changes in the country,” Aung Naing Oo remarks.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Suu Kyi thanks supporters for birthday wishes

by Phanida
Tuesday, 23 June 2009 12:56

Chiang Mai (mizzima) - Burma’s opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has thanked the thousands of people both at home and abroad who wished her a ‘Happy 64th Birthday’ on June 19, which she spent confined in Rangoon's Insein Prison.

The Burmese pro-democracy leader, during a meeting with her lawyers on Monday, conveyed her sincere gratitude to all supporters and well-wishers for remembering her on her birthday and wishing her good health.

Nyan Win, one of her lawyers as well as her party’s spokesperson, relayed the following message on her behalf, “As I am in no place to personally reply to all those who wish me well on my birthday, please convey my gratitude to all on my behalf.”

On Friday, June 19, as the Burma’s democracy icon turned 64, supporters, activists and well-wishers both inside Burma and abroad held various activities to mark her birthday and to call for her release. Birthday activities ranged from simple protests rallies to solidarity concerts and internet messaging.

World leaders including British Prime Minister Gordon Brown as well as celebrities including David Beckham and Julia Roberts sent a 64-word birthday message through the website 64wordsforsuu.com, created explicitly for the occasion.

The birthday wishes and activities calling for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi came as the Burmese opposition leader is facing trial in Insein prison under charges of breaching her detention law, which could find her spending another five years under detention if convicted.

On Monday, her legal team of four lawyers – Nyan Win, Kyi Win, Hla Myo Myint and Daw Khin Htay Kywe – was allowed a meeting with her in Insein Prison for about three hours to discuss the case and ongoing trial.

Nyan Win, however, declined to explain further details of their discussion.

Last week, the High Court accepted an appeal by her lawyers to review an earlier ruling to bar two out of the four defense witnesses. Arguments for the inclusion of all defense witnesses are scheduled to be heard tomorrow.

Meanwhile, the case against Aung San Suu Kyi is currently set to reconvene on Friday with the testimony of the second defense.


Burma lingering on the cusp of "failed state" status

by Mizzima News
Tuesday, 23 June 2009 15:49

Chiang Mai (mizzima) - Warning that the global recession could lead to more failed states, the 2009 Failed States Index lists Burma as in critical danger of state collapse due, primarily, to the misuse of power by the country's ruling military government.

Though holding steady at number 13 in the global rankings, Burma's cumulative 2009 score deteriorated by an additional 1.2 percent from a year previously, according to the latest rankings released earlier this week.

The study, a joint undertaking by Washington D.C.-based Foreign Policy and the Fund for Peace, argues Burma is failing "because their government is strong enough to choke the life out of their society."

Meanwhile, the Fund for Peace classifies each of five critical indicators – leadership, military, judiciary, civil service and police – as "poor" in the case of Burma.

The architects of the findings contend that few countries fail by chance, though admitting that foreign intervention, such as through the supply of arms, can contribute to a state's instability. Presently, there is concern that a North Korean ship laden with arms and possible missile technology is en route to a Burmese port.

Burma's worst categorical scores came in "Uneven Development" and "Delegitimization of the State", while the best of the poor scores were achieved in the areas of "Human Flight" and "External Intervention". The findings point to an isolated state decaying from within.

However, the report's authors contend it will be impossible for the world's stable governments to come to the assistance of all countries in danger of state collapse, arguing that the final decision on which nations to help will be based on geopolitical implications.

Specifically, the question "Which failed states are global security threats and which are simply tragedies for their own people?" is said to lie at the center of a country's assessment when determining where to focus a nation's limited resources in assisting states on the brink of failure.

If the report is in any way indicative of the approach to be taken by the United States government, the Middle East and West Asia will draw the most attention from Washington regarding combating the prospect of failed states.

Additionally, drawing on the impact of global warming, the study warns that cataclysmic flooding in Bangladesh could force tens of thousands of Bengalis to seek refuge in Burma. Bangladesh, like Burma, is on the Fund for Peace "alert" list.

Of Asian countries west of the Urals, only Mongolia, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Malaysia are said to not at least be in "danger" of state failure.

Fellow ASEAN members the Philippines, Laos and Cambodia join Burma in the bottom 60 in the index.

At the top of the list for the second straight year is Somalia, which is defined as "too failed even for al-Qaeda".

The study has been published annually since 2005.


Suspect DPRK frigate continues southerly course

by Mizzima News
Tuesday, 23 June 2009 17:37

Chiang Mai (mizzima) - A North Korean ship suspected of carrying illicit weapons and possibly en route to Burma was plying the waters off Shanghai on Tuesday morning, as regional military officials and a U.S. destroyer continued to keep a close eye on the vessel's movements.

South Korea's YTN said the ship was travelling in waters 200 nautical miles (230 miles, 370 kilometers) southeast of Shanghai at a speed of about 10 knots per hour.

However there is still uncertainty regarding the final destination of the ship and its cargo. Pyongyang is thought to have previously sold ballistic missiles, and perhaps nuclear technology, to Syria and Iran, and some observers are concerned a stopover in Burma could signal a similar delivery.

The Kang Nam is the first North Korean vessel monitored under new U.N. Security Council sanctions aimed at punishing Pyongyang for last month's nuclear test.

The resolution calls on U.N. member states to inspect North Korean vessels if they have "reasonable grounds" to believe that its cargo contains banned weapons or materials. But it must first get the consent of the North Korean ship.

Failing permission, under the terms of the resolution, the U.S. warship is supposed to attempt and direct the intercepted ship to a nearby port without the threat or use of force.

With North Korea unlikely to allow any boarding of the Kang Nam, inspection on the high seas seems unlikely, according to Hong Hyun-ik, an analyst at the Sejong Institute, a think-tank outside Seoul. U.S. officials also acknowledge that they are largely powerless to stop and search the Kang Nam.

Singapore is the largest maritime service and refuelling port in the world, situated as it is at a crossroads of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. If the Kang Nam needs fuel it would probably stop in the Lion City.

"Singapore takes seriously the proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), their means of delivery and related materials," a spokesman for the Singaporean Foreign Affairs Ministry said Tuesday on condition of anonymity according to ministry policy. "If the allegation is true, Singapore will act appropriately."

According to the Associated Press, Senator John McCain, who lost the 2008 presidential election to Barack Obama, said Sunday that the U.S. should board the Kang Nam even without North Korean permission if hard evidence shows it is carrying missiles or other cargo in violation of U.N. resolutions.

"I think we should board it. It's going to contribute to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to rogue nations that pose a direct threat to the United States," McCain is reported to have said on CBS' 'Face the Nation'.

On Monday, a spokesperson from the United States State Department told reporters in Washington that there was no new information available on whether or not the United States would seek to board the Kang Nam.


MWJA office in-charge commits suicide

by Phanida
Tuesday, 23 June 2009 19:27

Chiang Mai (mizzima) - The office in-charge of the Myanmar Writers and Journalists Association (MWJA), Myint Lwin, committed suicide on Tuesday by jumping off the three-storey office building, colleagues said.

Myint Lwin, (65) a resident of North Okklapa Township jumped out of the window of the MWJA office in downtown Rangoon’s Merchant Street in Kyauktada Township on Tuesday morning. He died instantly.

“He arrived in the office at about 10 a.m. (local time) and was arranging seats and tables for a regular meeting. After finishing what he was doing he got up and jumped out of the window,” a colleague, who attended the meeting, told Mizzima.

Another colleague, who also requested anonymity said, “He [Myint Lwin] left a note on the table, which read -- ‘I am responsible for failing to maintain and for the loss of public property’.”

“He left a wrist watch, a ball point-pen, two currency notes of Kyat 500 and took off his sandals,” added the colleague.

An official at the MWJA office, when contacted by Mizzima, refused to make an official statement saying, “Please do not ask me. We are now in a meeting. I have no right to answer your questions. Please do not ask me about it, I request you not to ask.”

The Myanmar Writers and Journalists Association is a group formed under the aegis of the Burmese military junta’s Ministry of information.

Myint Lwin’s body was taken to Rangoon General Hospital for autopsy.

He leaves behind a son, a daughter and his wife.

North Korean vessel exposes Pyongyang-Naypyitaw axis

by Mungpi
Monday, 22 June 2009 20:01

New Delhi (Mizzima) - As the United States continues to track a North Korean frigate off the coast of China, analysts are calling for closer inspection of the vessel in order to confirm suspected military to military ties between the two estranged Asian nations.

A Burmese military analyst said today the United States should request permission to search on board the North Korean ship, the Kang Nam, tracked by the US Navy since shortly after leaving port in its home country on Wednesday.

Htay Aung, a researcher at the Thailand-based Network for Democracy and Development (NDD), remarked, “If the vessel is confirmed to be the Kang Nam, then it should be searched as it is highly likely to carry weapons meant for Burma.”

Htay Aung, who has closely followed earlier incidences of the Kang Nam harboring at Rangoon’s Thilawa Port, said North Korea and Burma maintain a secret arms trade at least partly facilitated by the travels of the Kang Nam.

The U.S. Navy destroyer U.S.S. McCain is tracking the North Korean freighter, suspected of carrying missiles and related material, and has reportedly requested permission from headquarters to conduct a search of the ship.

North Korea, which recently conducted a missile test as well as a May 25th nuclear test, is under revamped United Nations sanctions which includes a complete ban on the import and export of weapons and allows ships suspected of carrying arms to be stopped and requested for permission to be searched.

On Sunday, a South Korean News Agency, YTN, citing unidentified intelligence sources, reported that the Kang Nam vessel is heading towards Burma, which is also subject to a U.S. and European Union’s arms embargo.

Htay Aung said the Kang Nam, one of five similar ships North Korea uses in its weapons trade, has been previously spotted at Burmese ports.

In May 2007, Burma’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement which they circulated among diplomats and embassies in Burma saying a North Korean vessel, the Kang Nam I, had been allowed to harbor at Rangoon’s Thilawa Port on humanitarian grounds.

The statement said the vessel was allowed to harbor on humanitarian grounds as the vessel developed engine trouble while in Burmese coastal waters.

Inspection by Burmese authorities later reportedly found nothing suspicious, the statement added.

Similarly, Burmese authorities permitted another North Korean cargo ship, the MV Bong Hoafan, to anchor at a port in November 2006 under similar circumstances. Burmese authorities also announced then that they had conducted an inspection and "found no suspicious material or military equipment" o­n board.

“If the Kang Nam reaches the Burmese shore, the junta will make a similar statement as earlier made. But we know that North Korea and Burma have secret relations,” Htay Aung said.

Citing sources within the military establishment and civilians close to the military, Htay Aung said he has been aware that the Burmese junta is secretly working for the development of a nuclear arsenal.

Though it might be still a long way off for the Burmese regime to reach the stage of weaponry in their nuclear development, Htay Aung said with countries like North Korea assisting the regime, it might not be impossible.

“North Korea is already mostly isolated and they are looking at Burma as a regime of their own kind. So, it might not be too difficult for the regime to get the necessary expertise from North Korea," he said, adding that the continued thawing of Naypyitaw-Pyongyang relations is quite alarming.

In April 2007, North Korea and Burma restored diplomatic ties after a break of 24 years following an assassination attempt in Rangoon by North Korean Agents targeting visiting South Korean President Chun Doo-Hwan.

But analysts said both countries have been working to restore relations for some time now, with former Burmese Foreign Minister Win Aung, purged along with Military Intelligence Chief and then Prime Minister Khin Nyunt in November 2004, both secretly paying visits to North Korea.

According to an email message from Roland Watson, who closely monitors Burma’s defense developments for the U.S.-based Dictator Watch, the United States has fair knowledge about the Burmese regime’s nuclear ambitions and their activities but has withheld information.

“By identifying the Kang Nam and its cargo of missile components, the United States has demonstrated that it is well informed about these relationships,” he said.

He called on the U.S. government to reveal the information they have on the Burmese regime’s nuclear ambitions and their secret activities in trying to develop a nuclear weapon.

Under Section 10 of the Tom Lantos Block Burmese JADE (Junta's Anti-Democratic Efforts) Act of 2008, the State Department is required to prepare a report on military and intelligence aid to Burma. Subsection 3 of the Act covers weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

This report, under the terms of the Act, should have been made publicly available by the end of January, but the State Department has to date failed to come up with the report, Watson explained.

Meanwhile, Htay Aung said unless the frigate is thoroughly checked before it arrives off the Burmese coast, its cargo may never be known for certain.

Sanctions enacted against North Korea, though, specify force may not be used to board a vessel on the high seas in order to inspect its cargo. Consequently, if the Kang Nam is able to reach Burmese territorial waters without stopping en route then it may prove impossible for the United States to conduct an inspection without violating international law.

However, if, as some analysts suspect, the Kang Nam is due to call on port in Singapore prior to visiting Burma then the United States can request Singaporean authorities to conduct a search of the boat prior to permitting the vessel's onward travel.


Activists call on India to release jailed ‘Freedom Fighters’

by Mungpi
Monday, 22 June 2009 22:32

New Delhi (Mizzima) – Twenty-one Burmese activists were briefly detained by Bangladesh police on Monday for holding a demonstration in front of the Indian Embassy in Dhaka demanding the immediate release of 34 Burmese rebels currently lodged in an Indian jail and facing trial.

The activists, who were later released in the evening, call on the Indian government to immediately release the 34 ethnic Karen and Arakanese rebels as they are ‘Freedom Fighters’ and not insurgents or gun-runners.

“We were calling for the release of the 34 Burmese Freedom Fighters in front of the Indian Embassy. We were shouting slogans but the police came and took us away,” Kan Myint, Secretary 2 of the All Arakan Student and Youth Congress (AASYC), the group organising the protest, told Mizzima from the police station.

The protest rally was conducted as part of the ‘Global Day of Action’ for the release of the 34 Burmese rebels, who were arrested by Indian authorities in February 1998. As part of the campaign, activists held demonstrations in Thailand, Bangladesh, Australia, Germany, Sweden and the UK.

The 34 Burmese rebels, members of the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) and National Unity Party of Arakan (NUPA), armed groups fighting against the Burmese junta, were arrested on Landfall Island of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands by Indian authorities during a joint military exercise known as “Operation Leech” in February 1998.

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), acting as the prosecution, has charged the rebels for gun-running, but the rebels say they were tricked by an Indian intelligence officer who promised them a base in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in return for monitoring Chinese naval activities.

They were subsequently detained on Andaman Island for more than eight years without any legal charge-sheet filed. But in October 2006, after an appeal by human rights lawyer Nandita Haksar, the Supreme Court ordered a transfer to Kolkata and the conduct of a day-to-day trial.

On Monday, the court in Kolkata was supposed to have resumed the trial but Akshya Kumar Sharma, one of the defense counsels, said the judge instead adjourned court and fixed the next hearing for August 3.

According to the defense team, the 34 rebels, if found guilty, could be further detained and face deportation. Moreover, even if they are proved innocent, since they are foreigners they are still vulnerable to deportation unless granted asylum under the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and accepted by a third country for protection.

Activists and campaigners have expressed concern that if they are deported to Burma it would be like sending them to the gallows to meet their end, and call on the Indian government to immediately release them and allow them to resettle in a third country.

“This global day of action is to call on the Indian government to end the trial, release the freedom fighters and allow them to resettle in a third country,” May Pearl Tun of the Karen Community Association UK said in a statement.

“Laws concerning terrorists should not be used against these people who have engaged only for their right of freedom for their country. This case is damaging India’s reputation. Today’s day of action is the start of a new global campaign for justice,” said the letter submitted by activists to Indian Embassies in six countries.

The Czech Republic and East Timor previously expressed their willingness to accept the freedom fighters into their countries.

Additional information contributed by Salai Pi Pi & Niang Boi
Monday, June 22, 2009

Army enlists youths as porters in Mandalay

by May Kyaw
Monday, 22 June 2009 21:50

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - At least 50 youths hailing from central Burma’s Mandalay division were forcibly enlisted on June 1 by the Burmese Army to work as porters to carry military material such as rations and equipment, local villagers said.

Youths, from at least seven villages in Mandalay division’s Thabeikkyin region, known for its gold mines, were forcibly enlisted to work as porters to carry army paraphernalia on the evening of June 1.

“The youths were whisked away in five army trucks. The young men here use to relax at night in teashops. The troops arrived suddenly and took them away,” a local told Mizzima over telephone.

Another local resident revealed, “We have never seen anything like this here in Thabeikkyin town. This is the first time such a thing has happened. But people said those taken away came back by shelling out 100,000 kyat (USD 100) each. About five have reportedly come back.”

While it is still not clear which battalion of the army had taken them away to wok as porters, locals believe that it could the Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) 148, based near Kyuak Hlebe village in Thabeikkyin Township.

Thabiekkyin Township is well known for gold mining activity and it attracts businessmen as well as people from other townships including Wutlet, Ayardaw and Thantse. Many come and work in the mines.


U.N. envoy en route to Rangoon ahead of boss's visit

by Larry Jagan
Monday, 22 June 2009 17:01

Bangkok (mizzima news)- United Nations Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari is scheduled to arrive in Burma later this week to pave the way for the proposed visit of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon in early July.

The U.N. diplomat’s trip is expected to start on Friday, according to a Burmese government official. “It will be a short visit to discuss the national reconciliation process and make arrangements for Mr. Ban’s visit,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

U.N. officials, when contacted, were not prepared to discuss the visit, only saying that nothing can be confirmed at this stage. Other sources, though, said Gambari’s trip was already being planned and was very likely to go ahead as scheduled. Several diplomats in Rangoon told Mizzima that while nothing is yet confirmed, they expect to see the U.N. Envoy arrive towards the end of the week.

“If Ban Ki-moon is coming to Burma in July then Gambari – as his Special Envoy – would have to lay the groundwork for the visit,” a Western diplomat in Rangoon told Mizzima, declining to be identified.

Asian diplomatic sources believe that Ban will travel to Burma from June 30th to July 2nd immediately after his scheduled visit to Tokyo to meet government leaders and leading business people. His itinerary after that is undecided but a visit to Burma is a "possibility," U.N. spokeswoman Michelle Montas told journalists in New York on Friday.

Publicly, U.N. officials will only confirm the Secretary General has yet to make up his mind. Privately, however, many diplomats who have good contact with Ban have told Mizzima over the last two weeks that he is very keen to go. The UN chief has been invited to visit Burma in July, according to Burmese government officials who say they have yet to receive a reply to the invitation.

It is expected the U.N. Envoy is going to be carrying the formal response with him – in the form of a letter from Ban Ki-moon to General Than Shwe, the junta’s top general. As yet it is unclear whether Gambari will meet the senior general this time – as on many previous visits the junta leader has refused to see him.

The U.N. boss is unlikely to go to Burma without some kind of offer from the top general. Most diplomats in Rangoon believe the Secretary General’s expectations will be laid out during Gambari’s trip. Two weeks ago Ban Ki-moon told journalists at U.N. headquarters in New York: "When the time is appropriate and conditions are ripe, as I said many times, I'm ready to visit Myanmar [Burma]. I'm working on that now."

Ban Ki-moon last visited Burma in late May 2008 in the wake of the devastation caused by Cyclone Nargis and chaired the donors’ meeting in Rangoon which provided crucial aid for Burma’s cyclone victims and the country’s subsequent reconstruction plans.

During that visit the U.N. Secretary General had a one-hour meeting with Than Shwe in which there was reportedly a frank and friendly discussion, according to Burmese military sources. Officially, Ban Ki-moon has insisted that only humanitarian issues were discussed during that trip as that was the precondition for the visit.

However during their talk Than Shwe asked the UN chief what he thought about the country’s “roadmap to democracy.” And the Secretary General seized on the opportunity to urge the junta leader to make the national reconciliation process transparent and inclusive – iterating that the National League for Democracy must be allowed to contest the elections in 2010 for them to be credible. He also told General Than Shwe that all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, should be released as soon as possible, according to U.N. officials close to Ban Ki-moon.

As the discussion came to an end, according to someone at the meeting, Than Shwe slapped his thigh and said this was the best and most frank conversation he has ever had with a foreigner. Ban Ki-moon is hoping that he will be able personally to build on the rapport that was established between the two men during their exchange last May.

Apart from personally taking his boss’s response to the generals, Gambari also now has the monumental task of preparing what he often in the past has called the “modalities of the visit.” Ban Ki-moon of course has already made the key issues clear: "Promoting democratization, including the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners, has been one of my top priorities and it will continue to be my top priority," Ban recently told journalists.

Of course both Gambari and Ban are likely to be visiting Burma during the ongoing trial of detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, also scheduled to resume on Friday. She has been charged with breaking the terms of her house arrest last month by allowing an American to swim across the lake behind her house and permitting him to come inside and providing him with food and drink. If convicted she faces five years in jail.

Her fate may decide whether Ban does continue on to Burma after Japan. Gambari is expected to discuss this with the junta’s leaders on this visit. He is also likely to be looking at the upcoming general election, the first since 1990, scheduled for next year. Another regime concession may be publication of the crucial electoral law. “We expect Gambari to be the first to be shown the document that has been drawn up months, if not a year, ago,” said a Western diplomat based in Rangoon.

Gambari will fly on to Tokyo early next week after his short visit to Burma to convey the junta’s response to the U.N. chief, according to U.N. insiders. While this may be Gambari’s eighth and final visit to Burma as the U.N. Special Envoy to the troubled Southeast Asian country, it may yet prove to be his most crucial.

Burma pulls down ASEAN

by Nem Davies
Tuesday, 22 July 2008 21:56

New Delhi - Burmese Foreign Minister, Nyan Win has reportedly hinted at Burma's opposition to empowering a Southeast Asian human rights body with investigative powers. This is a move seen by critics as a sign of stopping the regional bloc from progressing.

Following Burma's ratification of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) charter on Monday, a high-level panel began a sitting to draft the Human Rights body's future makeup, role and powers that will be presented to a summit of ASEAN leaders in Bangkok in December.

But during a closed door meeting, Nyan Win told his counterparts that the rights body should uphold ASEAN's bedrock principle of non-interference in each other's affairs, according to an AP report.

Debbie Stothard, Coordinator of the Alternative ASEAN network on Burma, an advocacy group lobbying for democracy and human rights in Burma, said the Burmese military regime has never tried to put a halt to the violation of human rights that it has committed and is dragging the ASEAN along with it.

"For a long time now, Burma has dragged down ASEAN. Every time ASEAN wanted to move forward, Burma pulled it down by opposing the basic reforms of ASEAN," Stothard said.

Reports said Nyan Win made it clear to his counterparts that his government is opposed to the idea of empowering the ASEAN human rights body with monitoring authorities on rights violation.

As ASEAN members had already agreed that the rights body will not be empowered to impose sanctions or prosecute violators, if Burma's objections are considered and honoured, the body will be less effective.

"ASEAN should no longer be allowed to be hijacked by Burma," Stothard added.

Nyan Win's opposition on empowering the rights body with investigative and monitoring powers came after he signed Burma's agreement to honour the ASEAN charter on Monday.

Critics, however, said on Monday that they doubt whether Burma's commitment to abide by the charter will hold water because it also includes a human rights mechanism.

David Scott Mathieson, Burma consultant Human Rights Watch on Monday said, signing the charter does not call for 'congratulation', the Burmese junta must abide by the principle.

"Burma being a member of ASEAN in the past has weakened it," he added.