Sunday, January 31, 2010

Burma has nuclear ambitions: report

Saturday, 30 January 2010 15:57 Mungpi

New Delhi (Mizzima) - Burma’s military junta nurses nuclear ambitions, though there is insufficient evidence to prove the regime is building a secret nuclear reactor or facilities, a leading ‘Think Tank’ from the United States said.

David Albright, Paul Brannan, Robert Kelley and Andrea Scheel Stricker, well-known experts of proliferation of nuclear weapons, in a report said the Burmese regime’s suspicious links to North Korea and Russia’s agreement to sell a nuclear reactor to Burma in 2001 has led to suspicion of the junta’s nuclear intentions.

The report published by the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) on January 28, 2010, said “Although evidence does not exist to make a compelling case that Burma is building secret nuclear reactors or fuel cycle facilities, as has been reported, the information does warrant governments and companies adopting extreme caution in any dealings with Burma.”

The authors of the report said, suspicions about Burma’s nuclear intentions came after the junta reached an agreement with Russia to sell a research reactor in 2001 and the resumption of a formal military relationship between North Korea and Burma in 2007 intensified.

Though information available is incomplete, US officials are concerned that the Burmese regime’s relationship with North Korea could possibly extend to nuclear cooperation, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton saying, in July 2009, “We know there are also growing concerns about military cooperation between North Korea and Burma, which we take seriously.”

Philip J. Crowley, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, on Thursday told reporters in Washington, “We - in our discussions with Burma, do have concerns about certain activity and the potential - that create risks to the global non-proliferation agenda.”

The report, titled ‘Burma: A Nuclear Wannabe; Suspicious Links to North Korea; High-Tech Procurements and Enigmatic Facilities’, said certain equipment, which could be used in a nuclear or missile programme, went to isolated Burmese manufacturing compounds of unknown purpose.

Evidence on Burma and North Korea’s relationship supports that the two countries have discussed nuclear cooperation, “but is not sufficient to establish that North Korea is building nuclear facilities for Burma’s military junta, despite recent reports to the contrary,” the report said.

“Nonetheless, no one can ignore the possibility of significant North Korean nuclear assistance to this enigmatic, military regime,” said the authors, giving the example of North Korea’s secret sales of a reactor to Syria, which went unnoticed even by the world’s best intelligence agencies until late in the reactor’s construction.

The authors also urged governments and companies to be vigilant in examining Burma’s enquiries or requests for equipment, whether via Burmese governmental entities, Burmese trading companies or other foreign trading companies because Burma is buying a wide variety of suspicious dual-use goods internationally.

“Companies should treat enquiries from Burma no differently than those from Iran, Pakistan, or Syria,” the report said.

Another evidence, leading to suspicion of Burma’s nuclear ambition is the reported presence of officials from Namchongang Trading (NCG), a North Korean trading company that has sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), the authors said.

While the nature of cooperation between Burma and NCG, which also reportedly assisted Syria’s reactor project, remains largely unknown, the NCG was said to have sold equipment to Burma or provided some type of technical assistance.

Though there is no concrete evidence of North Korea supplying Burma a reactor, the report said, “Any involvement by NCG in Burma is bound to increase suspicions about such a sale.”

The report also analyses the possibilities of Burma using North Korean trading entities to acquire overseas sensitive nuclear and nuclear dual use goods.

“Its military cooperation with North Korea has increased over the last several years, fuelling concerns about nuclear cooperation. North Korea could also supplement Burma’s own foreign procurement networks, and it could sell nuclear goods made in North Korea,” the report said.

The authors said, given the evidence, there remain sound reasons to suspect that the military regime in Burma might be pursuing a long-term strategy to make nuclear weapons. However, contrary to public reports, the military junta does not appear to be close to establishing a significant nuclear capability.

“Information suggesting the construction of major nuclear facilities appears unreliable or inconclusive,” the report said.

Although Burma and North Korea appear to be cooperating on illegal procurements, who is helping who cannot be determined with the available information, the authors said.

“Nonetheless, the evidence supports that the regime wants to develop a nuclear capability of some type, but whether its ultimate purpose is peaceful or military remains a mystery,” the report said.

The authors, while concluding, suggest that the outstanding questions about the regime’s activities require that there be more scrutiny of Burma to ascertain if there is an underlying secret nuclear programme.

“A priority is to establish greater transparency over Burma’s and North Korea’s activities and inhibit any nuclear or nuclear dual-use transfers to Burma. A related problem is ensuring that Burma is not helping North Korea acquire nuclear and other military goods illegally,” the report suggested.

Indian tourists to visit Burma on land route

Saturday, 30 January 2010 15:53 Mithu Choudhury

Guwahati (Mizzima) - A group of Indian tourists are geared to visit military-ruled Burma, through the border gates of the two countries in Manipur state, India on March, organisers of the package tour said on Thursday.

The Indo-Myanmar Fraternal Alliance (IMFA), an NGO based in Manipur state’s capital Imphal, on Thursday told journalists at the Guwahati Press Club in Northeast India’s Assam state that they are arranging a package tour from the Northeast India to Burma’s ancient capital of Mandalay.

R.K.Shivachandra, President of the IMFA, said the tour is coming about after six years after the Burmese junta lifted travel restrictions from Manipur to Burma. The tour will begin from Moreh on the Indian border town, without having to go through the hassles of obtaining passports and visas from Kolkata.

Shivachandra said the IMFA is organising this trip in collaboration with Diamond Palace Tourism Company in Burma, and at least 70 people from Manipur and Nagaland states in Northeast India have already been booked for the package tour.

“Meities [Manipuris] have their own blood and brothers in Myanmar [Burma]. The same holds true for the Nagas. We appeal to the people of Assam to also join us as Tai Ahoms have very close links with the Shans,” Shivachandra said.

“Media persons can come too but they have to book themselves as tourists, else they will not be allowed to travel inside Myanmar [Burma]. In all we are expecting around 200 to 250 members to register for this trip”, he added.

It is rare for the Burmese junta to provide visas to foreign journalists, as information flow is on a leash.

The IMFA President said, the trip will begin from Imphal town and travel through Burma’s bordering town of Tamu, Kalewa and Monywa and finally to Mandalay city.

It is a seven day trip, at the cost of Rs 12,000 per head would include food, 3 Star hotel accommodation, cruises and entertainment.

“But if there are demands then from Mandalay we can arrange a day long trip to Psipaw (250 kms from Mandalay), the place of the Shans for our Assamese brothers," he added.

Shivachandra said this initial tour will be a sort of root-tracing trip, as there are several roots to be explored in Burma reaching right up to Yunnan in China.

"A strong friendship and trade and economic relations can be fostered between NE India and Myanmar and neighbouring countries like Thailand and Yunnan in China through people to people movement, understanding and collaboration. Opening of border tourism will pave the way for this understanding," he said.

IMFA has also appealed to the Manipur Government to allow Buddhist tourists from Burma and other Southeast Asian countries, wishing to go to Bodh Gaya in Bihar to come through Moreh-Imphal on the land route via Assam for their destination.

"We are not saying this but huge pressure is actually being applied by the Buddhists from the neighbouring countries to make this a reality. Countries like Myanmar are not exactly rich and it costs a religious tourist to Bodh Gaya around Rs 45,000 [Approximately USD 1,000] for air travel via Kolkata. The same will come down to Rs 15,000 through Imphal. The affordability will also increase the volume of tourists,' said the President.

IMFA has also appealed to allow patients from bordering Burma like Tamu town to undergo treatment in Imphal, which is at a distance of 100 kilometres, rather than moving to Mandalay around 500 kilometres away.

"This will not only be convenient but will also bolster friendship and ties," said Shivachandra.

The IMFA, a group formed in 2004 to boost relationship with Burma, has organised periodic tour packages to Burma for North Eastern Indian people. During 2004-2005, the IMFA organised about 15 tour packages to different tourist destinations in Burma including former capital Rangoon, ancient city of Mandalay and hill station Pyin Oo Lwin.

Burmese workers in thousands throng Ranong concert

Saturday, 30 January 2010 15:49 Usa Pichai

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - In the midst of tight security, Burmese migrant workers in thousands attended a concert by Burma’s top singers in Thailand’s Ranong province bordering Kawthong in Burma on January 28 and 29.

Gen. Wipas Tansuhat, Chairman, Thailand-Burma Economic and Cultural Association, the organizers of a charity concert ‘Culture without Border’ said that the concert was aimed at fostering a good relationship between Thailand and Burma. Part of the money from sale of tickets will be used for charitable activities.

“Regarding security concerns of the local authorities the organizers cooperated with the local police and the army to check for arms, drugs or other illegal items being carried into the concert. We have experience in organizing this concert in several provinces in Thailand such as in Tak and Kanchanaburi and we had no problems,” he was reported as saying by a Thai news website Manager on Thursday.

Earlier, it was being said local officials in Ranong were concerned about security because there was a chance that a large number of Burmese workers, who attended the concert, could become unruly and urged revision of permission for the concert.

On Friday, a Burmese, who attended the concert on Thursday, told Mizzima over telephone that such was the interest among Burmese workers in Ranong, that tickets were sold out.

“It was a good opportunity for us to join a live concert of our favourite singers. Part of the money is to be donated to charity and for a temple construction,” he said.

The ambience at the concert was great despite the officials being strict in carrying out checks on the audience. “It was crowded but we focused on our favourite singers,” he added.

Last week, their CD was sold in Ranong. Besides, before the concert started on Thursday afternoon, the organizers took the singers to the migrant community in Maung district to meet fans, increasing interest among Burmese workers in the area.

The concert was held in two districts of Ranong -- Kraburi and Maung on January 28 and 29 from 6 p.m. to midnight. About 3,000 tickets were sold for each stage [two rounds in each place]. There were several Burmese singers, particularly Arzarni and L Sai zi, the main singers at the concert. They are immensely popular in Burma.
Saturday, January 30, 2010

Plight of political prisoners deteriorates in 2009

Friday, 29 January 2010 23:16 Mizzima News

New Delhi (Mizzima) - The political prisoners population in military-ruled Burma increased to 2,177 over the course of 2009, with over 120 are reportedly suffering from illness due to deplorable prison conditions, claims a new activist group report.

The Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma (AAPPB), in its annual report, said while the ruling junta released a few hundred political prisoners it also arrested several more, resulting in an overall increase of 15 concerning the number of those imprisoned for their political beliefs as compared to a year previously.

The report also said that at least 48 political prisoners in 2009 reported fresh symptoms of illness, bringing the total number of ill health political prisoners to 129.

Bo Kyi, Joint-Secretary of AAPPB, on Friday said the increase in the number of political prisoners suffering from ill health is mainly due to poor prison conditions and a lack of proper medical treatment.

“Like in Kham Htee, most prisoners suffer from malaria, and when the illness is not given timely and proper treatment, the illness gets severe. Many political prisoners have now reported having neurological problems as well as poor eyesight,” Bo Kyi said.

AAPPB said 2009 was a very difficult year for political prisoners, with torture, prison transfers, and denial of medical treatment continuing unabated.

The transferring of prisoners to remote areas far from their families makes it more difficult for prisoners to receive care packages from families, as it is often too expensive or too far for families to visit their loved ones.

“As part of the junta’s widespread crackdown on political dissidents, prison authorities systematically denied numerous political prisoners their right to family visits,” the report said.

“In many cases authorities denied family members the right to see their loved ones even after they had travelled hundreds of miles to remote jails at great expense, leading to psychological hardship for both prisoners and their families and additional health problems, as political prisoners rely on family members for supplementary food and medicines,” found AAPPB.

“Healthcare is only done in namesake, political prisoners are not given timely medical care. For example, those requiring an operation would only be granted such a procedure after the illness has well passed the operation stage,” one family member of a political prisoner told Mizzima.

The AAPPB said comedian and activist Zarganar was perhaps the most high profile of prisoners denied regular access to their family in 2009.

Meanwhile, 88-generation student leader Min Ko Naing, detained in northern Burma’s Putao jail, is suffering from high blood pressure and Ko Ko Gyi, imprisoned at Mai Sat prison in Shan state, is suffering from Hepatitis B.

In January 2009, as a result of inadequate medical treatment, 23-year old Kay Thi Aung suffered a miscarriage in prison, according to the political prisoner watchdog group.

Similarly, U Gambira, leader of the All Burma Monk’s Association during the September 2007 protests, suffered from various illnesses during 2009 as a result of torture and two prison transfers, the group said.

The venerable monk, after staging a hunger strike, contracted malaria in November 2009, further adding to his health woes.

The AAPPB reports that ethnic Shan leader Khun Htun Oo, detained at Putao prison in northern Burma’s Kachin state, suffered from hypertension, complications stemming from diabetes, bladder distention and a peptic ulcer throughout the year, but was still denied medical attention outside the prison.

“A majority of prisoners in remote prisons are suffering from malaria, and the overall conditions of the prisons have contributed to the further health deterioration for many detainees,” concludes the AAPPB.

Reporting by Myint Maung, writing by Mungpi

ILO releases book promoting domestic worker rights

Friday, 29 January 2010 21:28 Usa Pichai

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - A guidebook to promote recognition of domestic worker rights was released Thursday at a press conference in Bangkok by the International Labor Organization.

The book, entitled ‘Domestic Work - Decent Work’, published in seven languages including Thai, Burmese, Lao, Shan and Karen, will be distributed through the Labor Ministry and labor advocacy groups. A total of some 17,000 copies are available.

Thetis Mangahas, the ILO's regional migration specialist, said in the press conference at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand (FCCT) that domestic workers such as maids, nannies, drivers, security guards and gardeners should receive fair pay regardless of nationality, ethnicity or gender, according to a report in Friday’s Bangkok Post.

Additionally, Thetis said the aim of the guidebook is to help domestic workers so they do not fall into labor exploitation traps, while simultaneously empowering them with the necessary information about their rights.

According to an ILO report, ‘Domestic workers in Thailand: their situation, challenges and the way forward’, released on January 20th 2010, among all registered domestic workers in 2009, the majority (101,509 persons) were from Burma. There were 107,777 registered female domestic workers and 21,490 registered male domestic workers - with most male domestic workers serving as gardeners.

“The demand for and number of migrant domestic workers from Burma, Laos and Cambodia has been on the rise, since their salary is lower than that of Thai domestic workers. However, migrant domestic workers are more vulnerable to exploitation than Thai domestic workers, especially those below the age of 18,” finds the report.

The reports authors added that some migrant domestic workers who have lived and worked in Thailand for a longer period might be in a better position, as they are able to speak Thai and have developed support networks. According to research, the situation and working condition of migrant domestic workers differs between those living and working in border provinces and those in bigger cities.

While distributing the booklets at the FCCT, the ILO also took the opportunity to promote its conference on domestic workers scheduled for June in Geneva.

Anantachai Uthaipattanacheep, director of the Labor Ministry's legal department, said there might not be clear-cut laws to protect domestic workers, but the 1998 Labor Protection Act does provide some safeguards.

While the ministry is planning to review legal standards to better protect domestic workers, labor advocates are not happy about the time it is taking.

Anantachai added that the ministry has established two help hotlines for victims of labor trafficking and those dealing with issues related to contracts and work permits.

Tibetan MPs urge junta to hold free and fair elections

Friday, 29 January 2010 21:26 Salai Han Thar San

New Delhi (Mizzima) - Mrs. Dolma Gyari, the Deputy Speaker of the Tibetan Parliament has urged the Burmese military junta to hold free and fair general elections in 2010.

She said this while talking to Burmese democracy activists on January 25 during their three-day tour of Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh in India, the seat of the Tibetan government in exile. The Burmese activists were visiting Dharamsala at the invitation of Tibetan students.

“Elections are crucial for a democratic State. So, we would like to urge the military junta to ensure free and fair polls. The regime ought to give its people a chance to elect leaders they like,” Dolma Gyari told Mizzima.

But given that the junta is a repressive regime, it might manipulate people’s votes by pressurizing them, Dolma Gyari added.

“The Tibetan people and Tibetan parliament believe in free and fair elections. The people have the right to vote for the party they want to without fear. They have the right to choose. And the regime known to be repressive should not force the people to cast their vote in fear,” she said.

MPs of the Tibetan Parliament were elected by the popular vote of the Tibetan people in exile. Dolma Gyari was elected the first woman Deputy Speaker in 2001 and re-elected in 2006. The tenure of the current Parliament is from 2006 to 2011.

Min Ko, a Burmese youth delegate said, “For a free and fair election, the regime must free all political prisoners including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and allow them to contest the 2010 election”.

New Delhi based Burma Centre Delhi (BCD) organized the trip by the Burmese team comprising of 16 people including two Buddhist monks from Burma. They visited Dharamsala from January 24 to 26 and met Tibetan political leaders, MPs, members of Tibetan women’s organizations and student organizations and discussed Burma affairs.

They showed the Burma VJ documentary video film to the Tibetan people including students. This film reveals how the junta brutally cracked down on the 2007 saffron revolution led by monks and how Burmese "underground" reporters exposed the brutality to the world at large.

The junta is yet to announce its electoral law and the law related to registration of political parties till now, though they announced that elections would be held this year.

However, pro-junta and junta backed organizations like the National Unity Party (NUP), Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) and some political parties, who have a good rapport with the junta are conducting election campaigns since the end of last year. Political parties like Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy are not being allowed to campaign yet.

After the Chinese government occupied Tibet, Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama led a section of Tibetan people and left for India in 1959. The Indian government settled them in Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh. The Tibetan people are now struggling for self-determination in Tibet.

The Tibetan population in exile accounts for over 140,000 people and most of them live in India. Some are living in other countries, according to a statement issued by the Tibetan government in 2009.

(Edited by Ye Yint Aung)

Will junta focus on agricultural reform?

Friday, 29 January 2010 18:25 Salai Pi Pi

New Delhi (Mizzima) - A United Nation’s report recently urged Burma to prioritize its agricultural sector in the fight against poverty, as it has considerable growth potential. However, economic experts have cast doubts that agricultural reform can be feasible under dictatorial rule.

The Myanmar Humanitarian Partnership Group meeting, held Wednesday in Burma’s former capital of Rangoon, was attended by over 70 experts, including heads of UN agencies, diplomats and aid workers, and highlighted the crucial need of promoting the agricultural sector to address the economic challenges faced by Burma.

“Economic growth and poverty alleviation will depend on improvements in productivity and growth of agricultural crops, fisheries and livestock,” said Shafique Rahman, UNDP Policy Advisor, in a UN statement, adding, “Over 70 percent of the population lives in rural areas, and all indicators suggest that the agricultural sector has considerable growth potential.”

The Myanmar Humanitarian Partnership Group meeting is a monthly meeting attended by UN agencies, non-governmental organizations, donors and other members of the humanitarian community in Burma to discuss developmental and humanitarian issues ranging from education and health to agriculture.

The call for promoting the agricultural sector comes after Nobel Laureate Professor Joseph Stiglitz visited Burma last month, advising the Burmese regime to reform its rural credit system, invest more in education and open up to political participation in order to sustain its economy.

The recent meeting also focused on Stiglitz’s economic policy and programmatic responses related to areas like rural credit, market access, non-agricultural economy and infrastructure.

Sean Turnell of Burma Economic Watch and Australia’s Macquarie University agrees with the need of developing the agricultural sector in addressing Burma’s economic challenges, but said it is impossible without boosting overall economic growth.

“The key word is 'potential' of course. The agricultural sector has always been the source of Burma's prosperity, and for the last four decades has been operating well below its potential,” Sean Turnell told Mizzima.

“It’s all part of a bigger process of greatly needed economic reform. Just about every conceivable reform needed for Burma's agricultural sector strikes at the heart of the country's broader political economy,” he added.

With a total area of 676,500 square kilometers, Burma was once known as the rice bowl of Southeast Asia and Asia’s largest rice exporter. However, the country’s status was reduced to being one of the poorest in the world after the former military regime, led by General Ne Win, introduced the Burmese Way to Socialism.

The country’s present military rulers announced the adoption of a market economic system after the people uprising in 1988 and started to make small inroad in reforming the agricultural sector.

Recently, Burmese economist Dr. U Myint, echoing the advice of Stiglitz, suggested that Burma’s rice industry should try to again become a major exporter worldwide in order to tackle poverty among farmers in the country.

According to official statistics, rice accounted for nearly 47 percent of Burma’s export receipts in fiscal year 1938-39. However, by 2007-08 the corresponding figure had sunk to less than two percent, with earnings totaling a mere 1.2 percent of the global sum.

Turnell said Burma's agricultural sector is presently starved for capital as the military government has taken the lion's share of the country's economic and financial resources and used them for funding the expansion of military might.

“To totally re-capitalize Burma's rural economy [supply farmers with sufficient credit to buy critical inputs like fertilizer] would cost a maximum of about $1billion,” calculates Turnell. “Yet, these funds are not supplied - and instead the SPDC (junta) spends nearly $600 million on MIG 29 Fighters.”

Meanwhile Aung Thu Nyein, a Thailand-based Burmese economic researcher from the Vahu Development Institute, said despite farmers needing money for cultivating crops, between 70,000 to 100,000 kyat (US$ 70 to 100) per acre, the government only provides loans in the range of 7,000 to 8,000 kyat per acre.

“Because of the lack of sufficient loans, farmers borrow money at high interest rates, reaching 180 percent per year. In this situation, there is no profit for them,” Aung Thu Nyein told Mizzima. “If the regime does not go for further reform in agriculture, the country cannot escape poverty.”

According to the UN’s statement, millions of rural poor in Burma resort to high cost loans from moneylenders, resulting in increased indebtedness, as microfinance provided by international organizations including the UNDP and banks meet only ten percent of the potential demand.

Demand for microfinance in rural areas of Burma, according to the UN, ranges from US$ 340 million to US$ 470 million.

Aung Thu Nyein said another factor holding back Burma’s agricultural sector is the Burmese government, which continues to procure crops from farmers at less than the market price as well as procuring rice for state rations.

Yet, despite experts calling for prioritizing the agricultural sector, Aung Thu Nyein has no optimism that the Burmese regime will take any immediate action, as its priorities are elsewhere - in the completion of Naypyitaw, the modernization of the army and nuclear power.

Turnell also does not expect to see any meaningful reform of the agricultural sector, contending that the distribution of land to favored cronies seems central to the junta’s continued grip on power.

After assuming state power in 1988, the Burmese regime is planning to hold an election this year as part of its seven-step road map to so-called disciplined democracy, which critics suggest will only entrench military rule in the country.

Dissidents want Suu Kyi released before election

Friday, 29 January 2010 14:22 Myint Maung

New Delhi (Mizzima) - The release of detained Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi before the 2010 election along with the initiation of a dialogue for national reconciliation is the talk of local political dissidents.

The response follows a speech by Major General Maung Oo, Minister for Home Affairs, in Kyaukpadaun, Mandalay, on Thursday, saying she would be released in November this year.

“According to Maj. General Maung Oo who said that the release would happen in November, it means no release before November. We demand they release her before November and to start a dialogue as demanded in our Shwegonedaing Statement. The dialogue is necessary,” Win Tin, one of the leaders of the National League for Democracy (NLD) told Mizzima.

NLD party representatives issued the Shwegonedaing Statement in late April 2009.

Win Tin said Burma’s political crisis could be overcome if dialogue between Aung San Suu Kyi and army leader General Than Shwe was commenced. But he also believes there is no chance for dialogue if she is released only after the election.

Veteran politician Thakin Chan Tun added it would be difficult to consider a fair election if she were released after the fact.

“It is necessary to release (Daw) Aung San Suu Kyi and allow her to participate in the election as well as to release all political prisoners,” said Thakin Chan Tun.

“Daw Suu is aware of ethnic affairs. She has had experience in working with ethnic nationalities. She has been a coordinator between ethnic communities and the NLD. Besides, she’s the person who has support from international community. So, if she is released earlier, the international pressure can be reduced,” furthered Win Tin.

Cho Cho Kyaw Nyein, Secretary General of the United Democratic Party (UDP), shares the same attitude.

“If Ma Suu (Aung San Suu Kyi) is released tomorrow, I’ll be pleased. If today, I’ll be pleased more. I want all political prisoners to be released. I don’t want them to stay one more day in prison. She has started to offer the Senior General her cooperation. I am aware of the fact that she will cooperate as much as she can for the sake of our nation,” Cho Cho Kyaw Nyein told Mizzima.

Aung San Suu Kyi previously sent a letter to Burma’s military leader seeking a face-to-face meeting and offering her assistance in the lifting of Western sanctions. To date there has been no positive response to the request.
Friday, January 29, 2010

Indian activists to brainstorm Burmese junta’s intentions

Friday, 29 January 2010 00:18 Mithu Choudhury

Guwahati (Mizzima) - Activists and journalists in Northeast India are preparing to hold a symposium on the planned elections in Burma scheduled for later this year.

Burma Center Delhi, a group comprising Burmese and Indian activists, along with journalists from Forum of Assam, are to hold a consultation meeting to discuss probable implications stemming from the general election in Burma.

Though the Burmese junta has announced it will hold a general election this year as part of its seven-point roadmap to democracy, it is yet to announce a date, leaving observers and critics to speculate that the junta wants to give minimum preparation time to opposition candidates.

The symposium will be held on January 30th at the Press Club of Guwahati, capital of India’s Northeastern state of Assam. Burmese activists including Members of Parliament elect from the exile-based National Coalition Government of Union of Burma (NCGUB) will join the discussion.

The constitutional referendum held in May 2008 as part of the junta’s seven-step roadmap to democracy was widely ridiculed as a sham by critics after a reported 90 percent of voters registered in favor of the document.

M. Kim, a Burmese among the prospective discussants said “a referendum or election without basic civil rights and political freedom is unfair.”

“It is unrecognizable unless political parties are allowed to freely exercise [their rights], political prisoners are released and there is a cessation of systematic human rights abuses and criminal hostilities against ethnic groups,” he put forth.

As the junta has yet to announce an electoral law, many political parties are discouraged from participating, claiming they will face an unfair time constraint.

With the junta apparently turning a deaf ear to such pleas, critics speculate it plans to use the election to legitimize their role and cement their rule.

As such, activists and journalists in Northeast India are forced to think of the probable implications that the junta’s election could have for them and India.

Organizers said the theme of the consultation meeting is to better understand the junta’s constitution and election, to strengthen people to people relationships and create space for generating dialogue and action amongst concerned peoples of the region.

Editing by Mungpi

Thailand concerned over agricultural smuggling from Burma

Friday, 29 January 2010 00:16 Usa Pichai

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - Thailand has increased surveillance along the Thai-Burma border since the ASEAN Free Trade Agreement (AFTA) came into full effect early this month, over fears of agricultural smuggling, particularly rice, entering the Kingdom.

“The Ministry of Agriculture has asked cooperation from related authorities near the border with neighboring countries to raise surveillance on illegal low-quality rice that may be smuggled into the country that would effect the rice price in Thailand,” said Apichat Jongsakuk, General Secretary of Thailand’s Office of Agricultural Economics, according to a Thai government website.

The flooding of the Thai market with low-quality products from Burma negatively impacts Thai farmers in driving down the costs of their products

China’s Xinhua news agency reported on Thursday that over the first nine months of fiscal 2009-2010 Burma expanded its rice market by exporting to Russia, Ukraine, Australia and South Korea.

According to official figures, Burma's rice exports over the said period totaled over 1.2 million tons. Additionally, Burma is making efforts to export high-grade rice to the Middle East, African and European Union countries.

According to official statistics, Burma’s rice surplus is about 5 million tons yearly.

With a total area of 676,500 square kilometres, Burma had been the world's largest exporter of rice as recently as the 1930s, but rice exports fell by two thirds in the 1940s, with the country never again reclaiming its dominant status in the international rice trade. Thailand and Vietnam now lead the world in rice exports.

A rice trader in Mae Sot in Thailand told Mizzima that demand for imported Burmese rice has nearly doubled since AFTA came into effect, even though the quality is lower.

According to Thailand’s Office of Agricultural Economics, Thailand earns approximately 102 billion baht [3.4 billion USD] in agricultural trade with ASEAN.

Solar energy coming to Burma

Thursday, 28 January 2010 23:26 Sai Zom Hseng

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - According to company officials, OK Myanmar Co. Ltd. will commence employing solar energy in the near future.

The plan is mainly intended to provide service to microwave communication towers and remote areas in Burma with no electricity, said a company official.

“This solar energy plan is mainly for microwave communication towers, river water pumping stations and street lamps,” added a company engineer.

The service is to utilize Japanese manufactured Sanyo equipment and employ Japanese technical experts.

The project is intended to generate from 10 to 20 megawatts of electricity annually and comes with a 20 year guarantee. However, the cost of the service has yet to be fixed, stipulated a company employee.

OK Myanmar Co. was established in 1992 and conducts an export-import business supplying electrical equipment to government projects. They operate Daewoo and Sanyo showrooms in Rangoon, Nyapyitaw and Mandalay.

The company will showcase Sanyo solar energy products at the second annual ‘547 Trade Fair’ to be held in Rangoon from the 10th to 14th of next month.

However, despite being eco-friendly, analysts say the solar energy project carries a negative factor in that it comes with a high investment cost.

Neighboring Thailand has been using solar energy since 2003 and solar energy is consistently gaining traction throughout the industrialized world.

The world’s largest solar energy plant is in the U.S. state of California and generates 354 megawatts of electricity annually.

Burma to have first ‘Sculpture’ village

Thursday, 28 January 2010 23:24 Min Thet

Rangoon (Mizzima) - The Rangoon division commander has decided to set up the first ‘Arts and Sculpture’ village in the division to promote arts and culture, including sculpture.

Khin Maung Aye, Chairman of the Central Co-operative Society, a group that has been exhibiting sculptures as part of fund raising for post Cyclone Nargis recovery, said Rangoon division Commander Maj-Gen Win Myint approved the idea of an ‘Arts and Sculpture’ village during the 10-day sculpture exhibition in Rangoon.

“We plan to have all the sculptures in one particular village and to promote the art form. The village would also source sculptures for export,” Khin Maung Aye told Mizzima.

During the January 25-to February 3 sculpture exhibition, Maj-Gen Win Myint agreed to designate Dagon Myo Thit and Seikkan Township to be the first ‘sculpture’ village in Burma.

The village will boast a collection of all types of sculptures from roughly hewn pieces to finished, sculpted statues, and will also be a tourist attraction site, sources close to those planning the village said.

The sculpture exhibition, which showcases sculptures crafted from trees in Rangoon that were felled during Cyclone Nargis, is being jointly held by the Central Co-operative Society of the Ministry of Co-operatives and Kaung Myanmar Aung Company Ltd. with the blessings of the Burmese junta supremo Snr. Gen Than Shwe.

Khin Maung Aye, quoting tourists and visitors to the exhibition, told Mizzima that the exhibition, being held at Saya San Road Rangoon’s University Avenue, is the largest in the world.

The exhibition showcases myriad sculptures including Buddha statues, animals, prince and princesses, of heights ranging from 12 to 16 feet.

The more than 2000 sculptures at the exhibition were crafted by over 400 sculptors from Rangoon, Mandalay and Pegu divisions from trees in Rangoon and Irrawaddy delta, which were uprooted during the 2008 Cyclone Nargis.

Despite having begun sculpting the trees a month after the cyclone, sculptors said there are still plenty of trees to work on. Faced with difficulties in finding a suitable place to work, sculptors requested Rangoon division commander to earmark a place for them to work, Khin Maung Aye said.

On May 2, 2008, Cyclone Nargis lashed Rangoon and Irrawaddy delta flattening trees, houses, and buildings and left about 140,000 people dead or missing and over two million homeless.

Rangoon, Burma’s former capital was known for its greenery but nearly 75 per cent of the trees in the city were uprooted by the cyclone, recorded as the worst natural catastrophe in the history of modern Burma.

Despite efforts by the government, international and local non-government organisations, United Nations agencies, and other humanitarian assistance groups, recovery work still remains incomplete after nearly two years.

The exhibition, has so far, attracted foreign tourists accounting for 75 per cent of the total visitors. Most visitors were reportedly interested in sculptures of a Pagan Lady, Legendary Warrior Kyan Sittha, Legendary Pyu Saw Htee, and Crabs.

Besides, a general invitation to the exhibition, organisers also extended special invitations to local and foreign journalists and media personnel, along with diplomats based in Rangoon.

“We are delighted to have our sculptures showcased at an international exhibition. But as a sculptor, I would like to tell the people to respect sculptors as we are artists and put a great deal of effort into our work,” said a sculptor from Pegu division, whose works are being showcased at the exhibition.

The exhibition, open to people without any entry fees, was inaugurated by Burmese military junta officials led by Lt-Gen Myint Swe of the Ministry of Defence on January 25.

In April 2009, a similar exhibition, showcasing over 1000 sculptures was held in Rangoon. Organisers said another such exhibition of sculptures and Burmese arts would be held in Beijing in April 2010. Order letters have also been received for the exhibition.

Edited by Ye Yint Aung

DVB reporter sentenced to 13 years

Thursday, 28 January 2010 21:43 Phanida

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - Reporter Ngwe Soe Lin of the Norway-based opposition radio station Democratic Voice of Burma was sentenced to 13 years imprisonment yesterday by the Rangoon Western District Court sitting inside Insein prison, close associates said.

According to confidants, Ngwe Soe Lin (28), who lives in Rangoon’s South Dagon Township, was charged under the Electronic and Immigration Emergency Provisions Acts, receiving associated terms of ten and three years imprisonment, respectively.

“Ngwe Soe Lin was yesterday given ten years in prison under the Electronic Act and another three years under the Immigration Act’s section 13(1),” his sister-in-law, Aye Mee San, told Mizzima.

Aung Thein, a legal counsel of the accused, said, “We heard that he was interrogated and sentenced to imprisonment yesterday at about 4 p.m. with cases charged under section 33(a) of the Electronic Act and section 13(1) of the Immigration Emergency Provisions Act. He was given a total prison term of 13 years.”

Ngwe Soe Lin, a DVB video reporter, was honored with the the Rory Peck Award for his work in documenting orphan victims of Cyclone Nargis, which struck Burma in the first week of May 2008.

The London-based Rory Peck Trust seeks recipients from across the world based on bravery in covering news. The award is named after British reporter Rory Peck, who was killed by a gunman while reporting from Moscow, Russia, in October 1993. Friends and his wife established the trust in 1995.

Giving a long term prison sentence is unjust, DVB (Thai) Bureau Chief Toe Zaw Latt iterated.

“This is an unjust case. I think they would like to give a clear message to other reporters that if they do same, they will be given similar punishment. However, we will expose what’s going on in Burma,” he told Mizzima.

Ngwe Soe Lin was arrested on the 26th of June last year as he was leaving an internet cafe in Kyaukmyaung, Tamwe Township.

Aye Mee San told Mizzima that Tamwe Township Special Branch (SB) police, ward level Peace and Development Council (PDC) members as well as a police major came to their home and seized a video camera three days later on the 29th.

She added that an appeal would be filed against the verdict.

Ngwe Soe Lin was arrested along with NLD Youth member Ngaing Ngan Lin, but the latter was later released on August 29th, noted Aung Thein. After being interrogated for over two months Ngaing Ngan Lin was sent to Insein prison and allowed to see family members only after three-and-a-half months. He is suffering from beriberi disease and taking neurotropic drugs, according to his sister-in-law.

Aung Tun Myint, elder brother of Ngwe Soe Lin, was also arrested for allegedly taking photographs of a polling booth in Rangoon’s Hmawbi Township during the 2008 constitutional referendum. He was given three years imprisonment, which he is currently serving in western Burma’s Arakan state.

According to the Burma Media Association (BMA), at least 14 Burmese journalists were arrested and sentenced in 2009 after the 2007 September Saffron Revolution, in which monks chanted a sutra of ‘loving kindness’ in protest against the junta.

Mother pleads for release of forcibly recruited son

Thursday, 28 January 2010 18:33 Kyaw Kha

Mizzima News - A mother of a 14-year old boy persuaded to join the Burmese army speaks of her family’s ordeal with Mizzima. Sandar Win, the mother, says her son, Maung Kyaw Min Tun (alias Kyar Min) was recruited on the 19th of this month and is being kept at the army’s Light Infantry Battalion 83 based in Michaungye in Taungdwingyi township of Magwe Division.

According to her, she journeyed to the barracks to try and bring her son home, but officials at the gate denied her request. The incident happened soon after Burma's military government renewed a one-year agreement with the International Labor Organization to stop the conscription of underage youth into the army.

Here is Kyaw Kha’s interview with the Sandar Win.

Can you tell me your son’s biography and briefly of your family life?

My son’s name is Kyaw Min Tun. His date of birth is December 20th, 1995. Now he is 14 years old. He is a student of first standard at Myo-U primary school. Though he’s still enrolled, he was not attending school at the time, as I could not afford to send him. We live in Aung-zay-yar quarter in Taundwingyi township.

My name is Sandar Win. My husband passed away when my son was five. I have to earn money by selling watermelons. I have suffered from cancer. When we could not get by with this job alone, my son had to stop going to school and start selling boiled quail eggs. He suffers from vomiting blood and his hand was once broken.

When and how did he go missing? How did you know that he was missing?

He went missing around 4 p.m. on the 19th of this month. When I returned home from my business, neighbors told me about it. At the time, he was visiting a friend at the back of our home.

Sergeant Naing Win, who is used to visiting our home, sent a boy to call my son to see him in a teashop. Naing Win and his wife, Ma Thida Tun, live in our same quarter. Some people from our quarter found that Naing Win took my son on his motorcycle after offering my son alcohol and dressing him in an army uniform. When they asked my son where he was going, he said Naing Win was taking him for a moment. From that day on, he has been missing.

Which military division is the boy in now? Did you complain about this incident to the authorities?

Naing Win, who deceived my son, is a lieutenant sergeant from LIB 83 based in Michaungye between Magwe and Taundwingyi. His ID is Ta/231478. It is known that after deceiving my son he transferred him to Captain Zaw Lin Tun of the same battalion. I have not complained to anyone yet. Supposing my son was at the place (LIB 83), I went straight to see him there.

How did you know if your son was there or not?

A boy who escaped from being recruited into the army told me. His name is Ko Phyo and he is about 19 and a student of 9th standard. We live in the same quarter. Like my son, he was asked to drink alcohol and taken for recruitment. When I asked him, he said he had escaped after showing his hospital record and the signature of our quarter chairman. It cost him 40,000 kyat (US$ 40).

Did you go to that Division? And did you see your son?

When I arrived at the gate, officials told me they could allow me to see him only after training. They said they could not permit me to see him then no matter what I would do. I was so heartbroken that I begged them with tears to let me see my son. But it was in vain. At that time, Naing Win was also inside and I requested to see him, too. My request was again rejected.

Regarding your son, what else did Ko Phyo tell you?

Ko Phyo, who was just released from recruitment, told me what to urgently do if I wanted my son released. This month, newly recruited boys will be sent for medical check-ups in Magwe’s 88th Division. They [the army] are threatening the recruits with guns during meals and even in the toilet. I came to know from him that my son was crying hard and could not take his meals or do anything.

What do you plan to do next?

I am feeling very bad. I have only this son. A mother and a son is our solitary life, we have to struggle for our living. Please help us. If my son can return home now, it will be enough. He is too young, just over 14.


Opium production rending the fabric of ethnic communities

Thursday, 28 January 2010 14:58 Larry Jagan

Mizzima News - Opium poppy cultivation in Burma is surging again in areas controlled by the country’s military, according to a report just published. More alarmingly, drug addiction is skyrocketing in areas where opium is now being produced while the cultivation of poppy is also killing the traditional tea industry in parts of northern Burma.

The amount of land being used to grow opium poppy in Burma’s northern Shan State has jumped five-fold in the past three years to more than 4,500 hectares, according to the report released by the Palaung Women’s Organization (PWO), a rights group based in Thailand. The group’s report focuses on two areas, Namkham and Mantong in Shan State near the border with China, which are predominantly Palaung and firmly under the control of the Burmese army.

The findings in “Poisoned Hills”, based on field assessments and interviews over the last two years, supports other recent research, including reports from the UN’s own anti-drugs agency, United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC) which suggests that Burma is re-emerging as the world’s second largest producer of illicit opium.

“The notorious Golden Triangle is back with a vengeance,” Luway Daug Jar, the research coordinator, told Mizzima. “And it’s the ordinary villagers who are suffering,” she added.

Shan State is a multi-ethnic area dominated by Chinese ethnic groups, including several rebel armies. It borders China to the north, Laos to the east and Thailand to the south, making it the center of the renowned Golden Triangle.

The PWO also accuses Burmese authorities, army leaders and pro-government militia of encouraging the boom in opium cultivation so they can extort funds from the farmers in order to maintain the army and prepare for this year’s planned elections.

The government tightly controls the price of tea, deliberately keeping it low and preventing any increase in the price, according to the Palaung organization. “This forces the farmers to turn away from growing tea to opium poppy cultivation,” explained Luway Daug Jar.

“Palaung people growing opium have to pay a massive tax to the local authorities, so that the soldiers leave their crops alone,” said Lway Nway Hnoung, the report’s principal researcher.

“Today, the regime's troops and militias are everywhere. The army completely controls the local economy,” she told Mizzima.

During the 2007-08 poppy season more than 37 million kyat was collected in bribes from the 28 villages in the area, according to the report. “Families in these villages have to pay-off the soldiers regularly to leave them and their crops alone,” said Lway Nway Hnoung. “Some families paid as much as 200,000 kyat over the year,” she told Mizzima when pressed to substantiate these figures.

According to the reports’ claims, the families growing poppy in these villages are paying on average 30,000 kyat each a year to the soldiers or the equivalent of US$ 30. “The poppy farmers are paying anything from 50,000 kyat [$50] to 4.8 million kyat [$4,800],” according to field research in Poison Hills. “The people not only have to pay money, but have to provide food - including precious chickens and pork - to the soldiers who come to inspect the poppy fields,” said Luway Daug Jar.

It all places an increased burden on poppy farmers who do not earn a massive income from their crop.

In the Wa areas, before opium cultivation ceased in 2005 most poppy farmers earned less than US$ 300 a year from the opium resin they produced, according to hundreds of poppy producers interviewed by Mizzima at the time. And they needed that money to purchase rice in the period before the harvest, buy clothes for their families and procure medicine. Precious little cash was left at the end of each year. So the new burden of taxation on these poppy farmers is likely to only push them to continue to increase the area under cultivation.

“It’s a balloon-affect,” Kuensai Jaiyen, editor of the Shan Herald Agency for News and expert of drug production in northern Burma, told Mizizma. “The increase militarization in Shan State is encouraging an increase in opium cultivation everywhere the Burmese army is in control,” he said.

This recent reported increase in opium cultivation follows a period of dramatic decline in heroin production, after the main ethnic rebel groups involved in opium production all ceased cultivation under pressure from both the Burmese and Chinese authorities. Most of them entered ceasefire pacts with the Burmese some twenty years ago and at the time had been given permission to pursue their illicit trade for a few years as an incentive. But under international pressure in the mid-nineties the junta began to try to curb opium cultivation.

The two bigger ethnic groups, the Kokang and the Wa, stopped poppy production in 2002 and 2005, respectively, after a Chinese crackdown on heroin smuggling because of the enormous leap in drug addiction and HIV infections in China’s southern provinces bordering Burma.

But poppy cultivation has re-emerged elsewhere in Shan State, according to both the Palaung group, UNODC and other informed sources. “Opium cultivation has sprung up in areas that were previously poppy-free,” said Kuensai. “The level of poppy cultivation has returned to the old levels in Shan State,” he said. It is flourishing in northern and southern Shan State, spreading to Kachin State and further west to Arakan and Chin areas, according to Kuensai.

The reports’ most frightening revelation though was its exposure of the increase in drug addiction in areas that have recently turned to opium cultivation.

In the villages surveyed in Mantong, more than three out of every four males over the age of 15 was addicted to either opium or heroin. For Mantong as a whole they an estimated 85 percent of men are drug addicts - nearly doubling in the last three years. Curiously, they found that very few women, only or tow, are addicts, Lway Nway Hnoung told Mizzima.

In Namkham, drug addiction was reported to be less than 50 percent but has still increased nearly four-fold over the last three years.

“As long as this military regime remains in power, drugs will continue to poison people in Burma and the region,” said Lway Nway Hnoung.

Thailand to deport Karen refugees in phases

Thursday, 28 January 2010 03:31 Usa Pichai

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - Activists have urged the Thai government to postpone repatriating hundreds of Karen refugee families, currently sheltered in the Kingdom, claiming it is still unsafe for them to return.

Lt Gen Thanongsak Apirakyothin, Commander of Thailand’s Third Army, accepted that there was a resolution at the meeting between Thai officials and the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to repatriate Karen refugees, who fled to Thailand’s Thasongyang district of Tak Province since June 2009, in the wake of conflict between the Burmese Army and ethnic armed groups.

“We will send back all the newcomers who came last year because there is no more fighting on the Burma side,” Thai News Agency on Tuesday said.

Gen Thanongsak said that the government had no policy to provide additional temporary shelters to the refugees, saying it has decided to gradually send them back to Burma.

Surapong Kongchanteuk, a Human Rights Committee member of Thailand’s Lawyer’s Council told Mizzima on Wednesday that the Thai Army has sent soldiers into the area to talk to villagers and to persuade them to go back home.

“However, Thai officials insisted on sending them back to Burma ‘voluntarily’ which still needs to be inspected by the related rights body. We are discussing the case with the Human Rights Committee of the Thai Senate,” he said.

“Besides, there are some refugees, who returned to Burma, but stepped on landmines, which are still found in the area. So, we are trying to urge the [Thai] government to postpone the repatriation,” he added.

Surapong said the Thai government gave the green signal to the army to deport Hmong refugees from Lao. More than 4,600 Lao Hmong refugees and asylum seekers were repatriated on December 28, despite international outcry including by UNHCR and the UN Secretary-General.

According to Surapong, 730 refugees from 146 families will be repatriated in February to Burma’s Karen State, near the Thailand border after thousands of them had already returned. The Thai Army claimed that they have reached an agreement with the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), an ethnic ceasefire armed group, to guarantee safety of these asylum seekers.

Rights activists have also urged the Thai government and the UNHCR to 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 refuge in Thailand.

They [refugees] should not be forced back in keeping with respect for international law, activists said.
Thursday, January 28, 2010

U.S. wants Burma to reach out to ethnic communities

Wednesday, 27 January 2010 21:43 Mungpi

New Delhi (Mizzima) - The United States on Tuesday said it would like to see Burma opening up its political process and reaching out to various the ethnic communities as the Southeast Asian nation gears up for a general election later this year, its first in two decades.

Philip J. Crowley, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, told reporters in Washington, “We’d like to see Burma open up its political process.”

“It’s important for the Government of Burma to reach out not only to those who wish to be politically active, but also to the various ethnic communities within Burma,” Crowley added.

But in response to news reports of the possibilities of detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi being released when her sentence expires in November, Crowley said, “We have long demanded the release of Aung San Suu Kyi. We think that that should still be done and as quickly as possible.”

Media reports earlier this week quoted Burmese Home Minister Maung Oo as having said the Burmese Nobel Peace Laureate would be freed in November, and the Vice-Chair of her National League for Democracy party, Tin Oo, in February.

But observers interpret the junta’s plan could be to release the Burmese opposition leader only after or immediately prior to the general election, the fifth step in the junta’s seven-step roadmap to democracy.

“I think the idea that her release will conveniently come after the election is unfortunate, but we will continue to press the Burmese Government for her release,” Crowley added.

The U.S., since adopting a new policy toward Burma in 2009, has begun direct talks with junta officials, sending Assistant Secretary for State Kurt Campbell to Naypyitaw late last year, while continuing to maintain existing sanctions.

Villages burnt, Karen villagers hide in jungles

Wednesday, 27 January 2010 21:40 Kyaw Kha

Chiangmai (Mizzima) - Villagers are being killed and houses being burnt to the ground in Karen state by the Burmese Army to occupy territory and to divert the attention of people opposing the proposed 2010 elections in Burma, the Karen Nation United (KNU) alleged.

On 17 January, 13 houses were burnt down and two villagers killed in Khae Dae village, Nyaung Lei Pin district, in eastern Pegu Division allegedly by Burmese soldiers of the Light Infantry Battalion 367 under the Military Operation Command.

Major Saw Hla Ngwe, Secretary I of the KNU told Mizzima that "KNU opposed the 2008 constitution and is determined to oppose the planned 2010 elections. It is our duty to oppose the elections. The Burmese junta is diverting the attention of the people so that they cannot oppose the elections".

The KNU is Burma's largest and longest continuing insurgent group fighting the Burmese regime.

"More than 1,000 Karen residents from 10 villages including Khae Dae villages have been displaced and are hiding in the jungle," he added.

The Free Burma Rangers (FBR), a volunteer relief organization working to help the displaced villagers in Karen State, said villagers, who fled to the jungle without extra clothes, are mired in difficulties.

Baw Phoe, a member of FBR told Mizzima that shelter, food and health conditions are terrible. They are not getting enough and are making do with some aid from FBR.

Saw Steve of a Karen relief group, the Committee for Internally Displaced Karen People said "we will be helping along with Free Burma Rangers refugees, who have been hiding in jungles, prioritizing those whose houses were gutted."

In Nyaung Lei Pin district, there are clashes between the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) and Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) jointly with the Burmese Army. The KNU has accused the Burmese Army and DKBA of attacking villages in the area.

The KNLA is the military wing of the KNU. The DKBA broke away from the KNU in 1994 and has a ceasefire with the junta.

Burmese Army's Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) #363 and (LIB) #367 are operating in Kyaung Kyi Township in Nyaung Lei Pin district. (LIB) #365 and (LIB) #370 are based in areas of Mone Township.

There are about 4,000 refugees currently taking shelter in seven refugee camps in Tak Province, Thailand along the border with Burma after they fled exploitative abuse following joint military offensives by the DKBA and Burmese Army against the KNU forces in June last year.

The troops have been operating near the Ler Per Her camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Dta Greh Township, Pa’an District, according to a report released today by a Karen Human Rights Group. The group said that refugees continue to face serious obstacles in safely returning to their villages.

Secretary of Mongla-based ceasefire group assassinated

Wednesday, 27 January 2010 20:38 Myo Gyi

Ruili (Mizzima) - The Secretary of the Mongla-based ceasefire group National Democratic Alliance Army-Eastern Shan State (NDAA-ESS) was assassinated by unknown assailants on Wednesday morning.

NDAA-ESS Secretary Min Ein (a.k.a. Lin Hongshen) was shot by unknown gunmen at about 6:30 a.m. (local time) while walking in Mongla with a companion, sources said.

While Min Ein died on the spot after sustaining seven gunshot wounds, his companion was critically injured and is currently undergoing treatment at a hospital on the Sino-Burmese border.

The Mongla area, Special Region #4 as officially called by the Burmese regime, is controlled by the NDAA-ESS opposite Daluo in China.

Confusion reportedly arose within the ceasefire group following the assassination.

The source, who is close to the NDAA-ESS, told Mizzima some members of the group have speculated the assassination was carried out by soldiers who hate the Burmese junta and people close to them.

“He [Min Ein] is the key person among the top leaders in dealing with the junta, so some thought the assassination might have been done by NDAA-ESS soldiers who are hardcore in opposition the junta’s plans. He is thought to be pro-junta,” the source elaborated.

The NDAA-ESS has yet to agree to terms with Burma’s ruling junta concerning the contentious transformation of their army into a Border Guard Force under the administration of Burmese military authorities.

Min Ein, age 57, hailed from Bhamo in Kachin State. He joined the armed resistance movement in northeastern Shan state in 1978, where the former Communist Party of Burma (CPB) maintained its headquarters in opposition to the then Burmese military administration of Ne Win.

Later, he served as military advisor and political commissar in the CPB Northern Bureau’s military training school.

When the CPB disintegrated in 1989 he moved to Mongla, later denoted as Shan State (East) Special Region No. 4, following the culmination of a ceasefire agreement between the NDAA-ESS and junta.

Since that time he had acted as Secretary of the NDAA-ESS.

MNA stops providing Suu Kyi pictures

Wednesday, 27 January 2010 20:08 Phanida (Media Alert)

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - The State-run Myanmar News Agency (MNA) as of January has stopped providing photographs of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to publications, editors of local journals in Rangoon said.

The MNA is a government-controlled agency under the News and Periodical Enterprise of the Ministry of Information and Publicity. It has exclusive rights to produce photographs of top-level government activities and also acts as an agency releasing the government’s news and information.

The MNA unlike the Press Scrutiny and Registration Board does not censor the contents of publications but collects information and releases them on behalf of the government.

As the sole agency with the right to take pictures of government arranged events including meetings of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and government officials, local weeklies in Rangoon rely on the MNA for pictures to be carried with their stories.

“The MNA stopped providing pictures though the censor board allows us to use it. I think they have been instructed not to do so,” an editor of a local weekly in Rangoon told Mizzima.

“Since we are unable to get new pictures, we have to use old (file) photos. So far there has been no notice restricting the use of pictures,” another editor said.

While running a story on the latest meeting between Aung San Suu Kyi and junta’s Liaison Minister Aung Kyi on January 15, The Voice Weekly, in its latest issue had to do without any photographs.

Earlier, for meetings between the Burmese opposition leader and visiting US delegates or the government’s Liaison Minister, the MNA provided photographs to the weeklies.

The Weekly 11 journal in its latest issue published on January 16, also carried the story of Aung San Suu Kyi’s meeting with Aung Kyi but used a file picture, as the MNA stopped providing fresh photos.

Meanwhile, with the Burmese censor board filtering and censoring publications and weeklies from publishing information critical to the regime along with politically sensitive issues, the Myanmar Football Federation (MFF), chaired by one of junta’s business cronies Zaw Zaw, has begun restricting local weeklies from covering football tournaments by limiting the number of journalists allowed into official briefings and into the stadiums.

A source close to the MFF told Mizzima that it started restrictions because Burmese media in exile has have been reporting frequent fights and brawls among football players or among fans.

The MFF has announced that weekly journals interested in covering MFF events would be allowed to register only one reporter and a photo journalist at their office. The journalists must seek prior accreditation with the MFF.

The MFF’s move in restricting journalists is coming in the way of freedom of expression, a veteran journalist Win Tin said.

“The MFF is also restricting journalists’ freedom. Sports are also important for the media. I fear that in future there will be more restrictions in politics, and in the socio-economic sector,” Win Tin added.

“We were told that limiting the number of journalists covering MFF events was because the media in exile are publishing and broadcasting frequent fights and brawls on the football ground. I think the government wants to hide what is happening on the ground,” a Rangoon-based journalist told Mizzima.

On January 17, a fight broke out during the match between the Burmese business tycoon Tayza owned Yangon United and the current Myanmar National League (MNL) Champion Yadanabon Club. Authorities were compelled to deploy over 100 security forces to quell the disturbances.

While local weeklies in Rangoon were restricted from reporting the incident, the Burmese media in exile had a field day reporting it widely.

Imprisoned Burmese journalists recognized for reporting truth

Wednesday, 27 January 2010 19:23 Salai Pi Pi

New Delhi (Mizzima) - Two imprisoned Burmese journalists have been named this year’s recipients of an award in honor of a Japanese journalist killed during the 2007 monk-led protests in Burma.

Tokyo-based Japanese News Agency together with Burma Media Association (BMA) on Tuesday announced they had selected imprisoned Burmese journalists Hla Hla Win and Win Maw, arrested by Burmese military authorities for sending information and reports to the Oslo-based Democratic Voice of Burma, as recipients of the 2010 Kenji Nagai Memorial Award.

“We decided to honor them in recognition of the sacrifice they both had made in sending out information on what really happened in Burma to audiences across the world," Son Moe Wai, Secretary of BMA, told Mizzima on Wednesday.

Son Moe Wai said the Burmese regime arrests and suppresses journalists with the intention of creating an information blackout across the country.

“I think they detained them unnecessarily as they did not commit any crime. They just practiced freedom of expression in the country,” he added.

The Japanese News Agency and BMA established the Kenji Nagai Memorial Award in remembrance of Japanese journalist Kenji Nagai, killed by a Burmese soldier while covering protests in Rangoon in September 2007. The honorees of the award will share a US$ 1,000 cash prize and crystal trophy this year.

A ceremony to acknowledge the winners of the second annual Kenji Nagai Award will be conducted during BMA’s upcoming conference, to be held this February in Thailand.

Toru Yamaji, a representative of Asia Press Front (APF), told Mizzima on Wednesday that he congratulated both Kenji Nagai winners, saying, “ They are working for the future of Burma and for the Burmese people who want to get peace in the country.”

Hla Hla Win was recently sentenced to 27 years in prison under the charges of violating Burma’s Electronic Act and for riding a motorcycle without a license, while Win Maw was given 17 years for breaking the Electronic Act.

Meanwhile Win Myint, father of Hla Hla Win, said he felt proud of his daughter who selflessly worked for the Burmese people.

“I feel really proud of her. She is a hero,” Win Myint told Mizzima, adding, “But I think it is too much for her being given a seven year sentence for riding a motorcycle [without a license] while thousands of motorcycles [without licenses] are brought into the country from different corners.”

The inaugural Kenji Nagai Award in 2009 was presented to Eint Khaing Oo, a female journalist detained for covering Burma’s delta area after it was devastated by Nargis Cyclone in May 2008. Eint Khaing Oo was released from jail in 2009.

Toru Yamaji, in the joint statement with BMA issued on Tuesday, expressed its distrust concerning the Burmese military regime’s planned election for later this year, questioning whether it can truly be held in a free and fair manner.

He encouraged Burmese journalists to cover the reality of the ground situation in the forthcoming general election.

“I don’t think the regime’s upcoming election will be fair. However, the people have to decide for a change as the election is likely to be inevitable and come to happen,” said Toru Yamaji. “Journalists have a responsibility to reveal the truth on what the people have decided and the nature of the election.”

The face of Burma’s non-violent resistance

Wednesday, 27 January 2010 17:43 Brian McCartan (film review)

A new documentary by two Canadian filmmakers highlights the continuing, non-violent resistance to Burma’s dictatorial regime by political and humanitarian activists who do so at great risk.

The film, Breaking the Silence: Burma’s Resistance, was shown for the first time to an English-speaking audience at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand (FCCT) in Bangkok on January 22nd. The 75-minute film had previously been screened in a French language version late last year in Canada.

Filmmakers Pierre Mignault and Hélène Magny had previously filmed in Burma in 1999 while producing a documentary on Buddhism in the country. The trip allowed them to see first-hand the situation within the country and the plight of its people.

Last year they returned, this time travelling to the Thai town of Mae Sot on the Thai-Burma border and later crossing clandestinely into the Karen area of eastern Burma. Instead of concentrating on the suffering of victims of the regime or only the democracy movement or ethnic struggle, Pierre and Hélène intended to show how ordinary Burmese had organized to resist the regime. About his film, Pierre said at the FCCT, “The focus of this film is the resistance rather than only democracy.”

Its release follows that of the critically acclaimed Burma VJ, which was released last year and documented the efforts of Burmese journalists to expose the regime’s crackdown on monk-led protests in 2007. Breaking the Silence, however, aims to look at the resistance in a much broader context. Nonetheless, the Democratic Voice of Burma’s journalists, some of whom provided the footage seen in Burma VJ, are featured in this documentary as well.

During the eleven months it took to research and get the footage they wanted, they interviewed members of the pro-democracy movement, ethnic Karen “backpack medics”, exile journalists and former political prisoners. Individual interviews featured in the film include Dr. Naing Aung and Khin Omar of the Forum for Democracy in Burma and Bo Kyi of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners -Burma (AAPPB).

In Mae Sot they were taken to safe houses to see how future pro-democracy activists from inside Burma are being trained in non-violent resistance methods by veteran political activists. They were also shown how exile media organizations such as the Democratic Voice of Burma document the situation inside the country, including the 2007 Saffron Revolution. The work of the AAPPB in publicizing the plight of Burmese imprisoned for political offenses and in assisting recently released political prisoners is also profiled.

Across the border, Pierre and Hélène were able to witness the results of military-led policies in ethnic areas. Accompanying medical workers and escorted by soldiers of the Karen National Liberation Army they travelled to hiding sites for internally displaced villagers and collected testimonies from people displaced by military operations and human rights abuses.

That trip was made shortly before a combined Burmese Army and Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) offensive in the area in June sent many of the same villagers fleeing again and destroyed at least one of the sites they visited.

At the heart of the film is an effort to show that despite the brutality of the military regime in Burma, there are people willing to stand up to it. In the face of enormous risks that ordinary Burmese take in resisting the regime, they find the courage need to face an Army with only one’s convictions and possibly a pen or a video camera.

Breaking the Silence provides a broad picture of the resistance movement wherein political activists, medical aid workers and journalists do their own parts to work toward a better future for Burma. In doing so, it provides an alternative to an often widely perceived view of Burmese as victims passively resigned to their situation.

Indian Supreme Court halts University de-recognition move

Wednesday, 27 January 2010 18:50 Salai Pi Pi

New Delhi (Mizzima) - The Supreme Court of India staying the Central government’s move to de-recognize 44 ‘Deemed Universities’ has come as a balm to students, including Burmese monks studying in Nalanda University in Bihar state.

Indasara, a Burmese monk studying at the Nava Nalanda Mahavihara Deemed University, told Mizzima on Tuesday that most students welcomed the Supreme Court’s order on Monday staying the Centre from trying to strip the deemed status of 44 universities across India.

“We are pleased with the SC’s decision as they [heads of universities] found time to put in place the necessary number of professors, which was the main reason for Nalanda being put in the list by the Centre,” said Indasara.

Indasara said the students in Nalanda University, which is a popular learning centre for Buddhist doctrines and Pali in India, are awaiting the re-opening of the university, which was closed since the Central government last week announced its plan to strip it off its ‘deemed’ university status.

On Monday, a bench of Justice Dalveer Bhandari and Justice AK Patnaik of the SC issued a status quo, assuring several counsels of the 44 deemed universities, who argued that the government’s plan to de-recognize the ‘deemed status’ of universities will make the future of students uncertain.

"Nothing will happen to your institutions and your students till we dispose of the matter," Indian media reports quoted Justice Bhandari as saying.

The Supreme Court also ordered each of the 44 deemed universities to have its say on the issue and adjourned the matter till the next hearing on March 8.

The Human Resource Development Ministry of India last week wanted to de-recognize the deemed status of 44 Universities across India including Nava Nalanda Mahavihara University saying the institutions lacked infrastructure and expertise.

The Centre’s decision sparked widespread protests by nearly two lakh students from the 44 universities across India.

Last week, over 80 students, including Burmese monks in Nalanda University, held a protest rally in front of the office of the university accusing the Vice-Chancellor of failing to focus on the development of the institution and demanded his resignation.

Indasara said, “The future of Nalanda University depends on the work of the VC, who needs to fulfill the required standard of what the institution is committed to.”

Nalanda University has nearly 600 students including 97 Burmese studying mostly Buddhist religious doctrine and Pali language.
Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Treason convicts transferred to remote prisons

Tuesday, 26 January 2010 22:20 Phanida

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Prison authorities in Rangoon’s Insein prison have transferred three people tried and sentenced for leaking confidential documents to remote jails across the country.

Sources close to Insein prison authorities said retired Major Win Naing Kyaw was transferred to Tharyawaddy prison in Pegu Division, Foreign Ministry clerk Thura Kyaw (a.k.a. Aung Aung) to Shan state and Byan Sein (a.k.a. Ahsi) to Mandalay prison on January 23rd.

On January 7th the Northern Rangoon District Court sentenced Win Naing Kyaw and Thura Kyaw to death under a wide-ranging security law including the Emergency Provision Act, while additionally handing down 20 and 15-year terms, respectively, on charges of violating the Electronic Act.

Byan Sein, a civilian, was sentenced to 15 years for offences under the Electronic Act.

“All three were taken from Insein prison on January 23rd at about 1 p.m. (local time). They were transferred to jails in remote areas on the same day,” the source told Mizzima.

The three were arrested, tried and sentenced for allegedly leaking pictures and documents relating to overseas trips by senior Burmese officials, including visits to China and North Korea.

While China is among Burma’s stronger diplomatic allies, North Korea is also said to be supplying military hardware to Burma’s generals.

Defense counsels Tun Aung, Myo Aung and Khin Maung Myint are reportedly preparing to file an appeal over the death sentences handed down to their clients.

Opium cultivation in Burma surges

Tuesday, 26 January 2010 21:50 Salai Pi Pi & Myint Maung

New Delhi (Mizzima) – Despite the Burmese military junta’s claims of successfully reducing drug cultivation in Burma, opium poppy cultivation in northern Shan state has sharply risen over the past two years, estimates a report by a Burmese ethnic women’s group.

‘Poisoned Hills’, a new report released on Tuesday by the Palaung Women’s Organization (PWO), reveals that opium cultivation in Nam Hkam and Mantong Townships in northern Shan state increased nearly five-fold from 2006 to 2009, to almost 4,500 hectares.

The estimate differs significantly from the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) judgment, which calculated the area of cultivation at 1,600 hectares in 23 townships in Shan state during 2008-09.

Lway Moe Kham, secretary of PWO, on Tuesday told Mizzima that the UNODC’s estimates of areas of opium poppy cultivation is based on false data provided by an anti-drug team formed of Burmese police in Nam Hkam and Mantong.

The group alleges that the anti-drug team supplied police headquarters in Naypyitaw with false data, claiming they effectively eradicated the cultivation of poppy opium.

“They only destroyed about 11 percent of the poppy fields, which is easily visible, in the 2008-09 seasons,” said Lway Moe Kham.

The report, a result of field surveys conducted from 2006 to 2009, also contends the anti-drug team are involved in the cultivation of opium poppy by allowing villagers to grow the product in return for fees. The report documents bribes totaling at least 37 million kyats (US$ 37,000) collected by Mantong Township authorities during the 2007-08 season.

Furthermore, the expansion of local militias by the Burmese regime is also argued to have led to the increase in poppy cultivation in Shan state.

“The regime is allowing drugs to be grown in areas under their control, and allowing authorities to extort from growers and addicts. They are also in the process of expanding militia security units which are known to be involved in drugs,” adds the report.

Lway Nway Hnoung, the principal researcher of the report, in a statement on Tuesday said, "Today more of the regime's troops and militias are everywhere. For us this has meant more drugs and more addiction."

Researchers of the report said community assessments found addiction rates soaring in relevant areas, stipulating that in one village surveyed in Mantong Township, 85 percent of males over the age of 15 were addicted to either opium or heroin.

"In our area, if we don't marry a drug addict, we have no one to get married to because everyone is a drug addict. The only men who aren't using drugs are the monks who stay in the monastery," a woman interviewed for the report lamented.

The group said drug eradication cannot be effectively conducted unless there is a negotiated resolution to the political issues at the root of Burma's civil war and political reforms to address the drug issue.

"As long as this regime remains in power, drugs will continue to poison people in Burma and the region," said Lway Nway Hnoung.

Editing by Mungpi

Labour leaders sacked after strike in footwear factory

Tuesday, 26 January 2010 21:26 Sai Zom Seng

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - Four labour leaders, who spearheaded a strike demanding a wage hike at the Osaka footwear factory in Mae Sai, Thailand, across Tachileik in Burma, were sacked on Tuesday.

Despite work permits, the Burmese migrant workers do not get wages equal to their Thai counterparts. So all 72 migrant workers staged a walk-out demanding a wage hike to the tune of 10 Baht per day on January 23 afternoon. The four labour leaders were dismissed today.

Though Thai workers are paid up to Baht 130, Burmese migrant workers get only Baht 80 to 110.

The agreement with the employer states workers have to get three months’ salary as compensation if they are dismissed from work. But the workers were not paid the compensation. On the contrary the employer demanded Baht 160,000 as damages from them on account of the strike, which allegedly resulted in a loss to the business.

“They asked us if we would accept three months salary as compensation and pay Baht 160,000 as damages at the same time. The other option was that we do not demand three months salary and they would waive Baht 160,000 sought as damages. Then they drove us out of the factory premises without paying compensation,” one of the labour leaders, who was fired told Mizzima.

Despite repeated attempts to contact over telephone Osaka footwear factory management was not available.

Most workers in the factory are women migrant workers from Meiktila and Mahaling in Mandalay Division. Some of them have been working in the factory for about nine years.

The factory pays only Baht 10 to 15 per hour on account of overtime depending on the period of service. The senior Burmese workers get about Baht 3,200 per month as wages.

Some officials from Chiang Mai based MAP Foundation, which provides assistance to Burmese migrant workers, left for Mae Sai today to intervene in the dispute at the factory.

“We shall reach Mae Sai this evening. There is the BE 2542 Act in Thailand which stipulates that all workers are entitled to equal pay for equal work irrespective of their nationality and it does not matter whether they are documented or undocumented workers,” a MAP Foundation official said.

Though there are not too many factories in Mae Sai, the Osaka footwear factory is the biggest, it is learnt.

Thai government refutes HRW report

Tuesday, 26 January 2010 19:29 Usa Pichai

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Thailand’s Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has defended his government against Human Rights Watch (HRW)’s accusation of Thailand being a threat to principles of human rights in its annual 2010 report.

The premier during his weekly television and radio broadcast on Sunday said his government has always respected human rights principles.

He said the report published by New York-based HRW may have been written before “special mechanisms” were put in place by the government to oversee these issues. “I’m confident regarding protection of human rights (in Thailand), otherwise we wouldn’t apply as a candidate for UN Human Rights Committee, which the Cabinet has already approved,” said a report in the Thai News Agency website on Monday.

“We are concerned about human rights and the migrant worker issue, which is in the process of being re-managed, where national verification will be extended for another two years. However, migrants need to register with the government by end of February,” he said.

Recently, the Thai government announced that the period for Burmese migrants to apply for passports has been extended to two years from the earlier eight months because the number of migrants registering for passports is still extremely poor.

About Hmong refugees, who were repatriated to Lao, drawing strong criticism, he said that there is no report that they are in an unsafe situation. “We insisted that the process follows the bilateral agreement between Thailand and Lao.”

Thai Foreign Affairs Minister Kasit Piromya said he had not yet read the report and added that the reports by Human Rights Watch could be outdated and that the Foreign Ministry would “continue to clarify such charges” in future.

Last week, the HRW released a 612-page report, the organization's 20th annual review of human rights practices around the globe. It evaluated the situation in Thailand, and said that the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva had largely failed to fulfill its pledges to make human rights a priority.

Brad Adams, Asia Director of Human Rights Watch said while Prime Minister Abhisit had sometimes said the right things about human rights in 2009, his actions didn't match his words. "The government continually undermined respect for human rights and the due process of law in Thailand."

Abhisit's government blatantly flouted Thailand's obligations under international law to protect refugees and asylum seekers, the group alleged.

Burmese Air Force probes fighter jet crash

Tuesday, 26 January 2010 18:53 Khaing Suu

New Delhi (Mizzima) - The Burmese Air Force has formed a group to investigate the crash of a F-7 fighter jet last Friday that killed the pilot, sources in the Air Force said.

The group will consist of a number of officers, including an engineering officer (EO) of the Air Force Engineering Department as well as the commander of Rangoon’s Mingalardon Air Force base.

The source, requesting not to be named due to fear of reprisal, told Mizzima that the investigation process is currently in the pre-survey phase.

According to findings so far, the pilot, Captain Pyae Phyo Myo, was test flying the Chinese made F-7 jet and crashed due to the absence of any landing gear being deployed.

“It is possible that the pilot, when he was unable to deploy the wheels upon landing, might have pressed the eject button, as the button was pressed and he was found having a parachute tangled around his neck,” the source said.

However the source, an Air Force engineer, explained that the ejector seat for planes works only above an altitude of 5,000 feet, and with the parachute found as it was wrapped around the dead pilot’s body, it is likely that the eject button was pressed just as the plane was about to land.

The investigation process could take about a month to conclude, assessed the source.

The F-7 fighter requires full servicing after every 3,000 hours of flight time. As part of a deal, China provides technical training to Burmese Air Force officers for servicing the aircraft, added the source.

Captain Pyae Phyo Myo, age 31, was the son of a retired Major and a graduate of the Defense Services Academy (DSA) 42nd intake.

He leaves behind a wife and son.

Edited by Mungpi

Rangoon fire razes 13 homes

Tuesday, 26 January 2010 15:01 Min Thet

Rangoon (Mizzima) - Fire in a suburban township in Burma’s former capital of Rangoon on Monday evening destroyed 13 houses, according to fire officials.

An official at the Rangoon Division fire department told Mizzima that the fire started from an electric shock in the transformer of building number 142 in ‘Nga Htat Gyi’, home to a famous five-storey pagoda in Bahan Township.

“Hundreds of monks came to extinguish the fire because there are several Buddhist monasteries in the area. And the fire brigade could not immediately arrive at the scene, as they had to refill water tanks. About 30 fire trucks arrived later, but since the area was narrow the trucks could not enter and it complicated the situation,” an eyewitness told Mizzima.

The fire, which started at about 5 p.m. (local time), was extinguished by Buddhist monks and others after about half an hour, the eyewitness added.

A fire department official, who spoke with Mizzima on condition of anonymity, said at least 85 people have become homeless due to the blaze and temporary shelters are being built for them in the compound of a traditional medicine hospital in vicinity.

But some of the homeless told Mizzima they have yet to receive any assistance from the government, with only help from the neighborhood available.

“I don’t know, maybe it is because it happened suddenly that the authorities are not able to respond as yet. But locals in our neighborhood are extending their help,” a homeless man told Mizzima.

While the fire on Monday is the most devastating inferno in Rangoon this year to date, fire from electric shocks are not uncommon in the metropolis, according to an experienced Rangoon firefighter.

“One of the main reasons is due to the shortage of electricity. As electricity is often not available, people forget to switch off their switches when going out for work. But during their absence electricity will come back and the switches are on. Wires get shocked and sparks erupt with no one to tend to the situation,” explained the firefighter.

Earlier, on January 7th, five houses were burnt to the ground in the Rangoon suburban township of Hlaing. Similarly, another four houses were razed in Thuwana Township on January 10th.
Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Passports seized; Burmese performers postpone Japan trip

Monday, 25 January 2010 23:09 Sai Zom Sai

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – A traditional light dance troupe, known as ‘Ahnyeint’ in Burmese, led by popular comedian ‘Myatta’ were forced to postpone their visit to Japan after their passports were seized at the airport.

The ‘Tokyo Sakura Happy Ahnyeint’, who are scheduled to perform in Tokyo, have to postpone their trip as officials seized their passports when they arrived at the Minglardon International airport in Rangoon for departure on January 22.

“We are not sure when we can rescheduled for the performance. We have not yet cancelled the show and tickets can be refunded at the ticket counters where they have bought,” an organizer in Japan told Mizzima.

The group obtained visas from the Japanese embassy in Rangoon but the Immigration Department authorities seized their passports while they were filling up their ‘Departure Form’ (D Form) at the airport, Myatta said.

“We were taken to their office and told that they had to seize our passports as our visit to Japan was deemed unfit. We said that we would only go if authorities permit us, and would not go if they think it is not good,” he added.

But a lead comedian for the ‘Thee Lay Thee’ Ahnyeint troupe, Godzilla, who is in exiled, thinks that the government had purposely blocked Myatta’s troupe as they are afraid of being criticized by the comedians during the performance.

“The comedians are the voice of the common people. The government is afraid that these comedians would reveal their ugly faces,” he added.

‘Ahnyeint’ combines dances and performances including songs and dramas or short skids by a group of people, known as comedians or ‘clowns’, who also uses satirical dialogues that often mocks at government administration systems.

Organizers said it took them nearly a year to arrange for the performance and pledged that they would strive to make it happen but said they are sorry to their audiences for the current inconveniences.

With Japanese translation arranged, audiences including Japanese are keenly awaiting for the performance. A ticket for the show is being sold out at Yen 4,500, organisers said.

AAPP calls for release of poet Saw Wei

Monday, 25 January 2010 22:29 Myint Maung

New Delhi (Mizzima) – The Thai based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners - Burma (AAPP-B) has called for the release of poet Saw Wei at the earliest possible date, as his release was set for the 21st of this month.

Poet Saw Wei was arrested on the 21st of January 2008 after his poem entitled ‘February 14’ which cryptically included the stanza ‘Power crazy senior general Than Shwe’ appeared in the Love journal. He was later charged with committing disaffection to the State and sentenced to two years imprisonment along with his judicial custody term, AAPP-B said.

“In fact, his judicial custody term must be deducted from his prison term starting from the date of his arrest. But the court counted his judicial custody starting from the date of trial commencement. So, the previous three months custody means unlawful custody. In this way he is losing his lawful rights. We call for the immediate release of poet Saw Wei,” exclaimed AAPP-B Joint-Secretary Bo Kyi.

Lawyer Soe Min added, “The Insein prison special court judge pronounced his judgment to serve his sentence along with his custodial term concurrently. His custodial period started from the 21st of January when he was arrested.”

In hope of his being released, his wife Nan San San Aye visited Yemethin prison in Mandalay Division where he is being held, though authorities informed her she must return home.

Rangoon-based lawyer Aung Thein said, “The police and judicial custodial term does not start from the arrest date. They usually count the custodial period starting from the commencement of the trial. So there is a discrepancy in the custodial period resulting from a counting method. In fact, the Criminal Procedure Code clearly stipulates that the custodial period must be counted from the arrest date.”

Advocate Aung Thein, who has represented many cases involving political prisoners, has since had his advocate license revoked.

Nan San San Aye said that during her prison visit with her husband, she further learned that the poet is suffering from dysentery and eye disease.