Saturday, July 31, 2010

Thai state energy giant buys 30 years of gas from junta

Saturday, 31 July 2010 09:05 Perry Santanachote

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Thailand’s sole purveyor of natural gas, PTT, in Naypyidaw today signed a 30-year gas sales deal with affiliate PTT Exploration and Production and the junta-run Myanma (sic) Oil and Gas Enterprise, the Thai energy minister told a press conference in Bangkok.

Activists however continue to call on firms to pull out of providing such material support to the Burmese regime, which engages in widespread human rights abuses.

PTT Public Company Limited (PTT) signed the agreement with its subsidiary PTT Exploration and Production (PTTEP) for gas from the Zawtika field at the offshore Block M9 and part of Block M11 in the Gulf of Martaban, 185 miles (300 kilometres) south of Rangoon. State-controlled PTTEP will begin extractions in 2013, Thai Energy Minister Dr. Wannarat Channukul told a press gathering on Thursday.

The Institute of Developing Economies (IDE), a non-profit research group based in Japan, reported that natural gas exports in Burma amounted to US$2.5 billion in the fiscal year 2007-2008, which was 40 per cent of the country’s total exports. The increase in foreign reserves that same year amounted to more than US$1 billion. The export of natural gas to Thailand in 2007 was estimated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to account for 55 per cent of the military junta’s revenue.

PTTEP was expected to supply an initial 240 million cubic feet per day (mmscfd) to Thailand and another 60 million mmscfd to Burma, according to Wannarat. The field has an estimated reserve of 1.4 trillion cubic feet.

Wannarat said the increased output would raise Thailand’s gas imports from Burma to 1.2 billion cubic feet per day and plans were under way to lengthen the Trans-Asean gas pipeline by 137 miles. He also stated the new supply would help reduce imports of bunker oil by about 2.4 billion litres a year and save the country about 400 billion baht annually.

“This is good news for Thailand as PTT has succeeded in finding an overseas energy source to ensure energy security for the country,” he said.

PTT currently buys natural gas under 10 agreements onshore and offshore in Thailand and two agreements from Yadana and Yetagun in Burma. The offshore gas fields in Burma have an output of 400 and 565 mmscfd respectively.

Thailand’s consumption of natural gas has seen steady yearly increases. Thais used 3,564 mmscfd last year, more than double the amount in 1999, the Energy Policy and Planning Office said, and paid Burma 84.2 billion baht (US$2.6 billion) for 30 per cent of it.

International campaigns continue to call on foreign companies to withdraw from Burma because of the ruling military junta’s human rights violations, which research shows the companies are complicit in because of tax revenues paid to the military government.

The Free Burma Movement, a coalition of human rights, pro-democracy and corporate responsibility advocates, particularly targets oil and gas companies.

Earth Rights International, the NGO most famous for using American courts to sue Unocal (now Chevron) for its complicity in murder, rape, torture, and forced labour during the construction of the Yadana gas pipeline in Burma, released a new report early this month linking the huge profits the Burmese regime received from gas projects led or managed by Total, Chevron and PTTEP to the junta’s secretive nuclear activities.

Last year Earth Rights International (ERI), citing confidential sources, accused the Burmese regime of using secret bank accounts in Singapore to hide of billion dollars in revenue it had received from the gas projects. ERI said early this month that that revenues from the gas project continued to be kept in Singapore and were neither included in Burma’s normal budget nor spent on the Burmese people.

Referring to allegations made by a prominent defector from the military’s weapons programme reported by DVB last month that the Burmese regime had sought nuclear and missile technology from Kim Jong-il’s increasingly isolated regime in North Korea, ERI said that instead of being used to pay for education and health care the funds had “enabled the country’s autocratic junta to maintain power and pursue an expensive, illegal nuclear weapons programme while participating in illicit weapons trade in collaboration with North Korea, threatening the domestic and regional security balance”.

Using documents released as part of ERI’s lengthy legal battle with the multinational firms operating in Burma and the latest market prices for natural gas, ERI stated in the new report titled, “Energy Security: How Total, Chevron, and PTTEP Contribute to Human Rights Violations, Financial Secrecy, and Nuclear Proliferation in Burma”, that from 1998 to last year the Burmese regime had received nearly US$5 billion (around US$416 million per year) from the multinational gas project, which it pointed out were led by two western firms, France’s Total and American Chevron.

Reports such as this and awareness campaigns by advocacy groups such as the Free Burma movement had attained some success in shedding light on the human impact such business involvement and gas purchases have, Nicky Black, author of Blood Money: Corporate Citizenship and the Oil and Gas Sector in Myanmar, said.

“Divestment campaigns have been highly successful at raising the international profile of the democracy movement in Myanmar [Burma],” Black said. “Through powerful, strategic public campaigns, they have made it illegal, through their role in encouraging formal sanctions, or reputationally untenable, for the majority of Western companies to invest in Myanmar [Burma].”

The Free Burma Movement has been less successful in discouraging investment by companies from Asian countries. Black’s report states that in 1999 an equal number of companies from the West and the East were involved in oil and gas development. Last year, 27 of the 30 companies involved were from Asia and Russia.

Mark Farmaner, director of rights advocacy group Burma Campaign UK, said the circumstances and political will that propelled Western companies to bend to social responsibility were almost non-existent in Asia.

“In Western countries questions of corporate social responsibility are well known and there is strong public, political and media interest in them,” Farmaner said. “In many Asian countries you don’t have this interest or strong civil society groups engaging in these issues, so companies in Asia don’t feel that pressure.”
Friday, July 30, 2010

MDC chief looks ahead to ask when military will quit parliament

Friday, 30 July 2010 12:18 Khaing Suu

New Delhi (Mizzima) – Party leader, poet and author, Wei Mhu Thwin, says the problem with the upcoming elections was not that 25 per cent of parliamentary seats were reserved for military personnel, but that no one knew when they would quit parliament.

Myanmar Democracy Congress (MDC) general secretary Wei Mhu Thwin, aka Kaung Htet, added the main problem for his own party was to collect funds to meet requirements set out under restrictive electoral laws. “The functioning status of the electoral laws is weak”, he said.

MDC, which comprises mainly young people, was on July 5 officially allowed to form as a political party by the junta’s electoral watchdog, the Union Election Commission (UEC), which gave it registration number 34. Although the party intends to contest seats of the People’s and National parliaments in all constituencies, it was still trying to recruit the number of candidates required by the junta’s electoral laws.

The party headquarters is at Shwegondine Tower, in Bahan Township, Rangoon Division, and the party was still preparing to open branch offices across the country, he said.

Wei Mhu Thwin said Burmese people wanted a government elected by the people, but that obstacles to allaying their fears over the process persisted.

He was opposed to some clauses in the 2008 constitution, but hoped that they could be modified in parliament. “Let me give you an example of what I mean. We will try to enact a law that a citizen must not work in more than one ministry”, he said.

The general secretary then revealed some policy intentions. “If the party [MDC] wins in the forthcoming election and can form a government, it will try to be a trustworthy government.”

Other MDC leaders are chairman Kaung Myint Htut (a former political prisoner jailed in 1988), vice-chairman Taung Aye (a Chin politician and businessman), Kyaw Kyaw Min, and former politburo member Kaung Myat Thu (who lives in Britain and writes all the party’s statements).

Biographical notes on Wei Mhu Thwin

Kaung Htet, aka Wei Mhu Thwin (pen name), was born on February 13, 1978 in Pyay in Pegu (Bago) Division. His parents are Maung Maung Ni and Kay Thi Aung, who run a warehouse and a cooking-oil mill. He has a Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy from Dagon University in Rangoon.

Burma Campaign urges Cameron to press India on Burmese issues

Friday, 30 July 2010 19:11 Kyaw Mya

New Delhi (Mizzima) – Burma Campaign UK has called on British Prime Minister David Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague to raise Burmese issues in meetings with their Indian counterparts during their three-day visit to India, according to the rights group.

Among those travelling with Cameron are finance minister George Osborne, Business Secretary Vince Cable and senior British business leaders, who arrived India on Tuesday as the Burmese junta’s entourage of more than 80 ministers and their wives led by Senior General Than Swe concluded its five-day tour of the country.

Zoya Phan, international co-ordinator at Burma Campaign UK told Mizzima: “We have asked the British Prime Minister David Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague to raise Burma issues with the Indian Government to urge … [it] to promote human rights and democracy in Burma.”

She added “We do not know exactly what they will be talking about but I hope that Cameron prioritises the Burma situation with the world’s largest democracy, India”

Burma Campaign UK director Mark Farmaner said, “We understand that William Hague and David Cameron will both be raising the situation in Burma in meetings with the Indian government, which is very welcome.”

“The British Government is very clear that they do not agree with the approach that India is taking and that [London ] … sees that there should be increased pressure on the dictatorship and that they don’t see the Indian approach as being one that is effective in bringing about any real change in Burma,” he said.

Cameron’s coalition entourage flew in to Bangalore in the southern Indian state of Karnataka, where many leading British firms have offices. They visited India’s state –run Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL), the Infosys campus at Electronic City, an Indian Ministry of Defence manufacturing unit and met the governor of Karnataka before flying to New Delhi yesterday.

Barclays, Vodafone, SAB Miller and English Premier League bosses are among the business delegation while Cambridge and other academics and sporting figures, including 2012 Olympics chairman Lord Coe, also made the trip.

While in Bangalore, the youngest of British prime ministers on Wednesday presided over the signing of a contract worth a total of £700 million (US$1.09 billion) between BAE Systems – the biggest defence contractor in Europe – and Rolls Royce, and HAL, to build 57 BAE Hawk jet trainers under licence.

The Cameron government’s delegation met Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh yesterday and held separate talks with President Pratibha Patil, Vice-President M. Hamid Ansari and External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna.

Meanwhile, the entourage of Burmese head of state Than Shwe, the leader of the State Peace and Development Council of Burma, the junta’s name for itself, was yesterday winding down a tour that had seen India open its arms with the signing of a range of bilateral political, economic, security and cultural pacts on Tuesday.

According to the Burma Campaign’s Mark Farmaner, India was concerned about the growing clout its rival China was wielding in Burma, citing the warm welcome for Than Shwe. The junta’s entourage began its visit to the country on Sunday by offering prayers that day and Monday at the Mahabodhi temple, scene of the Buddha’s enlightenment, in Bodhgaya in the eastern state of Bihar.

Farmaner told Mizzima: “India is trying to get closer to the dictatorship mainly because it wants to counter Chinese influence in Burma … India’s policies towards Burma are a disgrace and without any principle and brings shame to the country, and it will damage India’s reputation worldwide,” he added.

“India main concern is about Chinese influence in Burma, but India is making a mistake because they will never be able to compete with China, diplomatically and economically,” he said.

Farmaner further asserted that India in the long term was backing the wrong horse.

“The strategy it has of moving closer to the regime will fail and so it would be more sensible for India to support Burma’s democracy movement because the generals will not be in charge forever. And India is making a mistake by being such a strong supporter of the dictatorship in Burma.”

“I think they will look back on it [signing of pacts with the junta on Tuesday] as a day of shame in their history,” Farmaner said.

Than Shwe and Singh signed deals for co-operation between their nations’ security forces to tackle terrorism and strengthen teamwork along India’s northeastern border with Burma. They also settled on a road map for closer economic engagement.

The neighbours share a 1,020-mile (1,640-kilometre) unfenced frontier, which allows militants from northeast India to use the adjoining country as a springboard for hit-and-run guerrilla strikes on Indian soldiers.

The Indian foreign ministry outlined the deals in a statement on Tuesday. They are a “treaty on mutual assistance in criminal matters, a memorandum of understanding regarding Indian grant assistance for implementation of small development projects, an agreement for co-operation in the fields of science and technology, a memorandum of understanding on information co-operation and a memorandum of understanding for the conservation and restoration of the Ananda Temple in Bagan [Pagan]”.

India has also offered US$60 million in finance for a revamp of the 140 mile Rhi-Tiddim road connecting Mizoram State and Burma, considered a lifeline for boosting trade and commerce. It has also announced a grant of US$10 million for Burma to buy agricultural machinery from India and US$6 million to upgrade the microwave link between Moreh in Manipur State and Mandalay.

In response to India’s apparent disregard for the brutality the Burmese regime represents, former leftist Samata Party president Jaya Jaitly, expressed anger at New Delhi’s entertainment of Than Shwe. She had this week protested against his visit with Burmese refugees in the capital.

“I feel very angry with what India is doing; India is showing itself not to be big but to be even smaller than a dirty military dictatorship,” she said.

“Today everybody wants trade and selfishness is convenient. Also the big arms dealers likes to give guns to the [Burmese] military; this is a shame particularly for a country that calls Mahatma Gandhi the father of the nation,” she continued.

The critics of India’s acquiescence to the Burmese regime say New Delhi has forgotten its role as the world’s largest democracy and its historic support for Burmese pro-democracy forces.

The junta’s laws governing elections scheduled to take place later this year in Burma have effectively banned Novel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who was also honoured by India with its equivalent humanitarian prize, the Jawaharlal Nehru Award in 1993. Her National League for Democracy party had its landslide victory in Burmese elections in 1990 unceremoniously rejected by the ruling military junta.

Britain meanwhile is one of the strongest supporters of Burmese political reform after the United States and has sanctions against the military regime and a global arms embargo. It is also a strong proponent for a United Nations commission of inquiry on the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the Burmese dictatorship.

UWSP thwarts rival party canvassing in Wa-controlled special region

Friday, 30 July 2010 23:08 Myint Maung

New Delhi (Mizzima) – The United Wa State Party is refusing to let political parties with close ties to the Burmese ruling junta to carry out party organisational work ahead of this year’s national elections in areas under its control, observers yesterday.
The Wa Democratic and Wa National Unity parties sought permission from the United Wa State Party (UWSP) to conduct party organisational work in Panshang, Mengmawm, Panwai and Naphang townships but senior UWSP leaders rejected their request.

“UWSP did not allow these parties to conduct their canvassing works in their controlled area. They just replied that they could not yet allow to do these works when contacted these Wa leaders”, Sein Kyi, editor of the Shan Herald Agency for News, told Mizzima.

spdc-uwsp-areaThe 20,000-strong UWSP army has five battalions deployed along the Thai-Burmese border and three battalions on Sino-Burmese border. The junta has demanded that the Wa army bring its forces under its command within the so-called Border Guard Force (BGF) and contest in upcoming general elections, but the Wa party, in line with its long-time goal of autonomy for the unofficial state within Northern Shan State, rejected the order.

The UWSP reached a ceasefire agreement with junta in 1990 and the regime granted them a Special Administrative Region but two other townships mainly inhabited by Wa, Hopan and Pan Yang, were left out of the area. Four townships lie within the special zone.

Observers said it was unlikely that this UWSP-controlled area would be included in the junta’s electoral process.

Lope Paung, a senior leader of the junta-allied Wa National Unity Party (WNUP), which accepts inclusion in the junta’s Burmese union, refused to answer questions over whether the UWSP ban on WNUP canvassing work was design to avoid a head-on collision between the rivals.

“We can’t get to the mountainous areas this monsoon season. We recruited the minimum requirement of 500 new party members in urban areas and [their names] had been sent to Naypyidaw,” Lope Paung said. “We are organising people with close links to us and can’t yet get in to the mountains as there are difficulties in road transport.”

The Wa Democratic Party and UWSP, well know for their drug production and trafficking activities, were unavailable for comment, but both parties based in Lashio would contest mainly in Lashio, Hopan, Tarsan, Taungyinwa townships, they announced.

“Both parties are puppets and compradors of the Burmese military regime”, Aung Kyaw Zaw, an analyst based along the Sino-Burmese border, said.

A source from Naypyidaw has told Mizzima that the areas controlled by ethnic nationalities that have rejected the junta’s BGF demand will be omitted from the electoral process for the upcoming polls. Holding elections in the Wa area was in doubt, the source added.

Naypyidaw wanted the UWSP to register with the junta’s electoral watchdog, the Union Election Commission, and stand in the elections but the party had refused, observers said.

Tension was rising between the two armies. The 318th Brigade of the party’s United Wa State Army and junta forces exchanged fire on July 17 in Panlong and Hopan on the east bank of the Salween River in Northern Shan State, near the Sino-Burmese border. The clash killed Wa soldier, military observers said.

Suu Kyi, NLD leaders confident of her release in November

Friday, 30 July 2010 09:34 Salai Han Thar San

New Delhi (Mizzima) – Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy party’s leaders expect the term of her house arrest to expire in November and her release at that time, her lawyers said on Wednesday.

Lawyers Nyan Win and Kyi Win were permitted to meet Suu Kyi from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Wednesday at her ageing lakeside villa on University Avenue, Rangoon.

“Her prison term will be due to end in November. Legally there is no reason for the junta to continue her prison term as she did not commit any offences. So she said that she expected to be be released at that time,” lawyer Nyan Win told Mizzima.

Rangoon Northern District court sentenced her to a three-year jail term with hard labour on August 11 last year under section 22 of the 1975 Law Safeguarding the State from the Danger of Subversive Elements, for harbouring and “entertaining” US citizen John Yettaw, who had twice swum across Inya Lake and entered her house uninvited.

However, amid international pressure, junta leader Senior General Than Shwe commuted her sentence to 18 months and ordered that the remainder be served under house arrest.

NLD central executive committee member Win Tin said he believed the sentence could not be extended as it had in the past because it was passed by the trial court.

“This time Daw Aung San Sui Kyi’s house arrest term is not classified as a political case as she was punished with an ordinary offence, so she must be released when her house arrest term is due. So I do believe she will be released by that time”, he said.

Party central executive committee member and spokesman, lawyer Nyan Win, also said, “I absolutely believe she would be released by that time or even earlier. It depends on the order that will be issued by Senior General Than Shwe.”

Meanwhile, the authorities responsible for security at her house told Suu Kyi she must complete renovations under way by the end of this month. Plastering the walls, painting and replacing broken glass was as yet unfinished, he said.

“We’ll do our best to complete the work in time but it still needs three more weeks. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi instructed her engineering team to plan the work and carry out thorough estimates and resubmit their proposal,” Nyan Win said.

Also discussed was Suu Kyi’s special appeal case over which she instructed the lawyers to write their arguments clearly. They filed her appeal against the Rangoon High Court’s ruling but the court has yet to provide a date to hear legal argument from both sides.

Win Tin said Suu Kyi firmly believed the people of Burma would enthusiastically rally around and follow her when she was released.

“The people cheered and clapped their hands when other prisoners including me were released. But our release was like the watering of a plant that could refresh and replenish only that plant,” he said.

“But the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will be like the heavy rain that can green an entire forest and all the flowers will be blooming. The whole picture of political atmosphere in Burma will be drastically changed and the people of Burma will be mobilised and will extend their welcoming arms to Daw Suu,” he said, using the Burmese honorific for a woman.

“I firmly believe the people of Burma will enthusiastically follow the political leadership of Daw Suu”, he added.

Child presumed dead after flood hits ward of northwestern Kalaymyo

Friday, 30 July 2010 00:44 Salai Tun

New Delhi (Mizzima) – Floods in the northwestern Burmese division of Sagaing resulting from torrential rains that lasted six hours early on Tuesday swept away a grade-one pupil on her way to school and inundated at least 50 homes.
Six-year-old Ram Kip Zing slipped into a flooded mountain creek that flows east from the Chin Hills while walking to No. 13 State Primary School, in Taungphila Ward, northwest of Kalaymyo in Sagaing Division. She is the daughter of Kawl Lian Sum and Har Hlei Thiam but searchers have failed to find her body.

“Taungphila creek had burst its banks and the road to her school was under eight inches of water,” Maung Hla, who lives near the creek and saw what happened, told Mizzima. “She slipped on the road near the creek … and no one could do anything to save her as the current dragged her away. It all happened so quickly.”

Catholic young people had been searching for Ram Kip Zing but hope for her survival was slim, a member of the search party said.

“We searched all along the creek until we reached the outskirts of Kalaymyo but we couldn’t find her. We’ll call off the search if we can’t find her this evening,” Za Lian, a member of the local Catholic Church told Mizzima.

“We shall hold a funeral service for her at our church … Her parents are satisfied with our efforts”, Za Lian added.

About 50 houses were inundated in Taungphila Ward, between Taungphila and Taungtha creeks, waterways that run into the Myittha River, a tributary of the Chindwin. The creeks overflowed after heavy rain fell incessantly between midnight and about 6 a.m. on Tuesday, residents said.

“My home is five houses away from [one of] the creeks. I’d collected firewood for the whole year but all of it was lost in the rain. The water level reached the window pane of some low houses,” flood victim Byet Lian Thang told Mizzima.

“If it had happened at night, the death toll would have been much higher, but the flooding took effect in the early morning so we could flee our houses to the safety of high ground. Everything we’d stored under our houses has been lost,” Byet Lian Thang said.

Local authorities failed to launch any relief operations, provide temporary housing or send aid, forcing flood victims to take refuge in the homes of relatives and friends until the waters receded. The residents returned yesterday to clean the mud and debris from their homes.

State Primary School No. 13, where Ram Kip Zing had studied, and another primary school north of Taungtha creek were closed during the flood and reopened today.

“We could not open our schools in knee-deep water. There was a high risk of the children drowning but we reopened … today. But … we’re not letting the students go outside classrooms because the land is too muddy,” a teacher from No. 13 school told Mizzima. “We ordered our students to wash their feet before entering.”

Residents have blamed earthworks by the local authority for causing the flooding, saying that the creeks had not overflowed during the last monsoonal rains, which too were often heavy and incessant, a resident said.

Taungphila Ward Peace and Development Council chairman Khua Tin Thang had blocked a storm-water drain beside the creek and another similar drainage ditch was diverted, which the resident said was behind the disaster.

“If the creek is windy and the water level gets high, it will overflow. He [Khua Tin Thang] blocked the drain because he said it was troublesome to build bridges over the drainage ditch. And another drain was diverted to Taunghatha creek,” the villager said, requesting anonymity. “In this way, our village was inundated. We’ve never seen anything like it, even when it’s rained for a week. The drains would fill up but would never overflow.”

Last October, a resident of Kalaymyo was swept away and died in floods that also swamped more than 2,000 houses, and forced thousands of residents to flee to higher ground.

N Korean foreign minister meets junta PM Thein Sein

Friday, 30 July 2010 23:12 Mizzima News

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - The North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Ui-chun met Burmese Prime Minister Thein Sein to discuss some secret issues in Naypyidaw today, according to a source close to the junta’s secluded capital city.

Pak was leading a three-member delegation, which attended private talks with the prime minister at 9 a.m. and later, with Burmese Foreign Minister Nyan Win. He will meet with Information Minister Kyaw Hsan tomorrow, according to the source..
Thursday, July 29, 2010

USDP in memo accuses NLD of wrongdoing in 1990 election

Thursday, 29 July 2010 20:01 Mizzima News

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – The Burmese junta-sponsored Union Solidarity and Development Party has accused the National League for Democracy party of rigging votes in the 1990 general election through “biased” polling booth officials, a copy of its directive to USDP branches obtained by Mizzima says.

The comprehensive guidelines include a statement expressing confidence that the party led by Prime Minister Thein Sin will win in upcoming national elections, the first since the NLD won an overwhelming parliamentary majority 20 years ago. The junta rejected the results and refused to hand over power to the Burmese people.

“As there is no major opposition party in the upcoming election, as other smaller parties do not have enough preparation in all aspects to compete with our party, as our party is well organised and strong, and as our party is winning support from the broad masses of the people, our party will definitely win in this upcoming 2010 general election”, the party directive claims.

Though it omitted the name of the “major opposition party”, the directive was clearly referring to the main opposition force, the NLD, which refused to meet a May 6 deadline to re-register as a party – a move that would have forced it to expel leader Aung San Suu Kyi – and opted to boycott the vote. The NLD and other critics of the junta say the vote is a sham designed to legitimise the junta’s 50-year grip on power.

The junta-backed party instead chose in its directive to dismiss the NLD’s historic broad-based popularity with its first direct attack on the party’s 1990 poll win.

In the first documented accusation of electoral impropriety levelled by any party or individual against the NLD, the directive claims the party was involved in vote-rigging at the polls 20 years ago, and accuses electoral officers of bias.

“We should learn lessons from the 1990 general election in which the main NLD party won a landslide victory in collusion with polling booth officials biased towards this party”, it says.

The party is further directed to organise the “thugs and lumpen (the Marxist term for the lowest level of the working class)” to help win the election for the USDP, an offshoot of the often-violent nationalist group, Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), established by the junta 17 years ago. The party is led by senior military officers turned “civilian” party officials.

“Thugs and lumpen who are outcasts in the local community shall be organised and kept in touch with our party”, it says.

The directive explains that recruitment of the so-called lumpen is a precaution against other parties and individuals taking advantage of them. The basic principle of the party with its “Lion” logo, it says, is to organise mainly workers and peasants.

Campaigning should be aimed at influential persons in the community, the directive says, and party candidates are urged to provide financial assistance to the party.

Members are also instructed to report the actions of “anti-party persons” to party higher officials, but are warned not to criticise competing parties on fears of a public backlash against the USDP – that the party would bring the people together against it as a “common enemy”.

They are also ordered to take photos and video on polling day and to keep watch, it says, to prevent vote-rigging and partiality in polling, furthering its claims of past malfeasance in the 1990 elections.

In its labour policy, the directive promises the party will amend laws to broaden labour rights and strive for a better social-welfare system in the country. It says the minimum wage will be increased and claims migrant workers in foreign lands will be protected.

In its agricultural policy, the directive claims farming will be free of government intervention and that there will be a free market for produce.

North Korean FM visits Burma

Thursday, 29 July 2010 12:49 Mizzima News

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Ui-Chun kicked off his four-day official visit to Burma after arriving in Rangoon on Thursday.

The North Korean delegation led by Mr. Pak Ui-Chun, who attended a Regional Security meeting in Hanoi, arrived in the former capital on a Thai Airways flight. The delegation will also visit Naypyidaw, the seat of the military government.

Sources in Naypyidaw have confirmed the meeting between North Korean Foreign Minister and his Burmese counterpart Nyan Win. Another source said that the visiting Foreign Minister may also meet the regime leader Senior. Gen. Than Shwe.

This is the first ever high level visit by a North Korean delegation to Burma since the normalization of diplomatic relations three years ago.

The Burmese government severed diplomatic ties with North Korea in 1983 when they attacked a delegation led by then South Korean President Chun Du Hwan at the Martyrs Mausoleum in Rangoon. The bomb blast killed 21 people including several South Korean ministers. However as both North Korea and Burma have come under pressure from Western countries in recent years, the two sides began restoring diplomatic relations silently in 1999. Moreover North Korea has become an important supplier of arms and technical assistance to Burma.

Following news reports about Burma's plans to acquire nuclear weapon technology from North Korea, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton criticized military supplies and assistance provided by North Korea to Burma at the Asia Regional Forum held in Vietnam.

Before proceeding to Naypyidaw on the 30th of this month, the North Korean Foreign Minister will first visit Shwedagon Pagoda and the National Museum in Rangoon. After Burma, Pak will go on to visit Laos and Indonesia.

SPDC chief Senior Gen. Than Shwe who is currently on a state visit to India will arrive back in Burma today.

Tension between North and South Korea is high following the torpedo attack on a South Korean naval vessel in March this year which killed 46 sailors. The international investigation team has accused North Korea for the attack.

North Korean Foreign Minister arrives in Rangoon

Thursday, 29 July 2010 14:15 Mizzima News

Following the diplomatic thaw between North Korea and Burma, a delegation led by North Korea’s Foreign Minister Pak Ui Chan arrived in Rangoon by a Thai Airways flight on Thursday morning. This is the first such visit following diplomatic ties being re-established between the two countries since 2007.

North Korea’s Foreign Minister, who is staying in Sedona Hotel in Rangoon, visited the Shwedagon Pagoda and the National Museum on the first day of his four-day visit.
Wednesday, July 28, 2010

700 Karen refugees from junta attacks need emergency aid

Wednesday, 28 July 2010 23:23 Myint Maung

New Delhi (Mizzima) – More than 700 war refugees in Karen State who fled into the forest towards the Thai border after junta army units shelled and burned down their villages, one of them a Christian centre, now need emergency food and medical aid, a Karen leader has said.

The Burmese Army’s Light Infantry Battalions 370 and 361 bombarded a Christian village with about 40 mortar shells on July 23, damaging at least 50 homes, a church and a middle school, the Karen National Union (KNU), which is waging armed struggle against the military regime, said.

“We had no engagement or clashes with them. They shot and bombarded only this village. The villagers had to hide in the forest. According to the latest fugures we received, there are more than 700 refugees who have taken flight from their villages”, KNU vice-chairman David Tharkapaw said.

“They had to flee with no spare clothes and food. Especially in this monsoon season, the fever and common cold is endemic and the shortage of food is serious. We can’t as yet provide with them with emergency food and medical aid”, he added.

A report yesterday on the website of the Independent Catholic News service, which has correspondents on the Thailand-Burma border, supported Tharkapaw’s assessment, including the numbers of homes shelled and burned, and named the bombed village, Thadahder.

“It is the rainy season in Eastern Burma and those in hiding are in desperate need of shelter, food, medicine and security. Lack of clean water and the prevalence of disease-carrying insects in the jungle are of particular concern,” the report said.

A local former military officer said this village was regarded as one hidden in a black area, though the attack could not yet been independently verified, apart from the ICN report.

“Black area means all the persons found in this area will be assumed [by junta troops] as friend or foe only, no neutral people”, he added. “They can burn all the houses found in the black area. They can kill anyone found in this area.”

“They can also plant landmines … These activities will not get them in any trouble. They can be even promoted for … strictly obeying orders given by higher authorities”, he added.

The junta’s Chief of Staff office had standing orders for all its forces to destroy all “hidden villages” found in such “black areas” by burning them down, he said.

The Burmese Army is infamous for such blatant violations of human rights against ethnic nationalities.

With news of impending Burmese Army offensives in Karen State, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), which has been operating under a ceasefire agreement with the junta, has been under increasing pressure to bring its troops under the junta’s Border Guard Force (BGF), an “offer” some DKBA factions have rejected.

The KNU however had recently stepped in to offer Colonel Saw Lar Pei, a prominent leader of one such faction, armed support when the junta attacks, Tharkapaw said.

“He doesn’t want to join the BGF so SPDC [junta] forces have been putting pressure on his force. When their pressure tactic doesn’t work, they [SPDC troops] plan to launch an attack … in co-operation with some pro-junta DKBA factions,” Tharkapaw said.

“We plan to give military support to Colonel Saw Lar Pei when the junta attacks his force,” he said, adding that “we will receive him back if he [chooses to] rejoin his mother organisation, the KNU.”

Shwedagon Pagoda monasteries sealed after monks, students evicted

Wednesday, 28 July 2010 21:56 Kyaw Kha

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Three monasteries in the Shwedagon Pagoda compound lie dormant on order of the pagoda’s junta-controlled board of trustees, which sealed the scripture houses this week after evicting resident monks, temple residents and monks said. The evictions have forced the monks to break their Buddhist lent rule against travel.

The board alleged the monks at Daw Hla Sin Pitakat Taik, Shwe Hin Thar Pitakat Taik and Nyaung Done Pitakat Taik were living with laymen at the monasteries and ordered them to vacate the premises no later than June 30. It then extended the deadline to Sunday. Devotees and laymen were also told to move out.

The monks facing eviction sent letters to the chairman of the Central Committee for All-round Renovation of the Pagoda and Rangoon Command deputy chief Brigadier General Kyaw Kyaw Tun, denying the allegations, stating their residence complied with secular and Buddhist Canonical rules. The authorities ignored the explanation.

“No monks are at these monasteries and they are locked. We don’t know to which place they moved but there are no security forces deployed [to prevent their return],” a resident near the Daw Hla Sin Pitakat Taik told Mizzima. “We feel unhappy to see these monks moved to other places as they had lived here for many years without any problems.”

Sixteen Dhammasaryiya candidates – usually monks studying for a degree to teach laypeople Dhamma, or teachings of Buddha that lead to enlightenment – who had also lived in the shuttered monasteries, are now living at Thumingalar monastery in Kyaukmyaung Township during the current Buddhist lent period.

The letter to the Rangoon Command deputy chief by monks evicted from Daw Hla Sin Pitakat Taik, obtained by Mizzima, says, “We feel very sorry to be evicted from our monastery despite living here in accordance with the secular and Buddhist canon laws”.

It also says the stern eviction order that demands immediate vacation of the monastery is a black mark on the history of the Buddhist Sasana (the religious community in Burma).

The activist All Burma Monks’ Alliance (ABMA) appealed to senior Sayadaws (abbots) in the State Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee (the junta-sponsored Buddhist monks’ organisation) on July 23 to intervene in the case, citing the great inconvenience the evicted monks would face.

The ABMA is a religious and social NGO comprising Burmese Buddhist monks who fled after from the 2007 “saffron revolution” protests. It supports refugee monks inside and outside Burma, and has offices in locations that include Mae Sot, Thailand; New York and Malaysia.

Other Pitakat Taiks (monasteries originally known as scripture houses) in the Shwedagon Pagoda compound are Shwe, Ye, Karen, Daw Ngwe Nyunt, U Ohn Khin, U San Chein and the Land Record and Settlement Department. Daw Hla Sin Pitakat Taik is more than 76 years old.

“This act is an abuse of power that should not be applied even to laymen but now they [the authorities] have misused their power against members of the Sanghas, who are sons of the Lord Buddha,” an abbot at a monastery still allowed to operate in the compound told Mizzima.

“Every Buddhist knows monks can’t travel during the lent period. But they [the authorities] don’t care about it. Now these monks will face a lot of troubles,” he said.

A board of trustees’ member told Mizzima the board would answer questions at a press conference to be held at a later date.
“We must press them to move if they don’t comply with our order as we have already paid them three million Kyats. Now the laymen have been involved in this case and it will be inglorious in the eyes of the people. The persons [those affected] can’t see this point”, the trustee said.

The trustee also blamed Burmese news services in exile for raising awareness of the situation, alleging a role of instigating dissent.

However, a monk living near these monasteries suggested the junta was harassing monks in the wake of the street protests against fuel-price increases in 2007 known as the “saffron revolution”. The protest marches were led by monks but thousands of Burmese participated before a violent crackdown by the army and junta officials left hundreds, perhaps thousands of people including monks dead or missing.

“Since 2007, the authorities have targeted these monasteries for alleged assembly and getting involved in the politics. They delayed their action not to make waves”, the monk said.
Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Censorship rule puts electoral laws, constitution off-limits, editors say

Tuesday, 27 July 2010 22:57 Phanida

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – The new regulation imposed by the junta’s censor board that bars domestic journals from misquoting the constitution or electoral laws has cowed journalists, who say they dare not write anything on the subjects.

The July 20 directive issued by state censor, the Press Scrutiny and Registration Board, which is administered by the Ministry of Information, calls for “correct and complete quoting of the constitution, electoral laws and its rules”. It also warns domestic journals that stern action could include loss of publishing licences for breach of the directive.

“Publishers and editorial boards of the journals concerned are obliged to take serious [care in] editorial works quoting the provisions mentioned in Constitution of the Republic of Union of Myanmar [Burma], and in articles and news reports with excerpts related to electoral laws and rules issued by Union Election Commission,” the directive says.

“Any misquoting will be dealt with stern action up to revocation of publishing licences,” the directive adds.

“The terms within the laws are incomprehensible to the general public so we have to elaborate on them in our news reports and articles related to the constitution and election matters,” a senior journalist from a weekly journal told Mizzima. “Now it is impossible for us. Though we have to explain these terms in good faith for our readers, it could now give us a lot of trouble so we have started to avoid this subject.”

The directive follows the two-week suspension of The Voice journal after its “Concept and Process” article on constitutional issues written by Aung Htut appeared in issue 34, volume six.

The state censor had cleared the article after routine vetting but the Supreme Court intervened over its alleged misquotation of constitutional provisions, and the suspension followed.

“The laws are complicated in their subject matter, which make them incomprehensible to the average reader,” a news journal editor said. “We need to elaborate on the legal terms used … for readers’ convenience but [with the new rule] this has become very difficult.”

Similarly the Supreme Court sent a protest note over the “Legal Issues” section of the Flower News weekly journal in last week’s issue, forcing the journal to drop the section and print a “correction”, an editor close to the journal said.

Journals were also being required to announce their own suspension of publication when ordered to do so by the censor board, which observers said was a calculated pretence to say the matter had nothing to do with the censors.

Journalists in Burma usually refer to the censors as the “Press Kempeitai”, named after the Japanese secret police in Burma during the Japanese occupation.

Former censor board director Major Tint Swe has been promoted to the post of deputy director general and will soon be transferred to another department under the Ministry of Information.

He was replaced in May by naval Lieutenant Colonel Myo Myint Maung, who has tightened censorship on articles related to the election and electoral laws, and on interviews, articles and news reports on some political party leaders.

Also during his tenure the journals Envoy and Popular were suspended one week for printing portraits of actresses in dresses allegedly in a manner “counter to traditional Burmese culture”.

Myawaddy-Mae Sot border trade takes a hit

Tuesday, 27 July 2010 13:06 Usa Pichai

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – The closing of the Myawaddy-Mae Sot border, initiated by Burmese authorities earlier this month, has drawn the concern of businessmen regarding the impact the action may have on the lucrative border trade.

Banpot Kokiatcharoen, Chairman of the Tak Chamber of Commerce, told Mizzima that the border closing has obviously had a negative effect on trade and worries to what extent trade may be further hampered.

“Thai officials have ordered construction to stop on the controversial wall on the Moei River [separating Burma from Thailand], which is likely the main cause of the closing, but any other reasons are still unknown,” he said.

Border trade and transportation between the two countries was halted on July 12 after Burmese officials shut the border at the Thai-Burma Friendship Bridge connecting Myawaddy on the Burmese side with Mae Sot on the Thai side, as well ordering the closure of over 20 other trading posts along the Moei River.

The closing also means Burmese cannot enter Thailand to buy goods as well as a number of students being stranded on the wrong side of the international boundary.

A trader in Mae Sot said last week that the situation had caused a drop in the number of Burmese people and traders buying products in Thailand.

“If the closing continues for much longer my business will be in trouble, especially as the economic situation in Thailand is also not well because of the recent political situation,” the trader explained, referring to the ongoing standoff involving the current government and supporters of former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Moreover, the number of tourists to Mae Sot has also dropped as a result of the border closure, with it no longer being possible to extend Thai visas by crossing over to the Burmese side.

Thailand’s Deputy Minister of Commerce, Alongkorn Ponlaboot, visited Mae Sot last week to discuss the issue and hopes to have the issue solved as soon as possible.

Alongkorn said the bilateral relationship between Thailand and Burma is in a good situation, with exports from Thailand to Burma this year so far totaling about 23,000 million baht [710 million USD], a 40 percent increase from the same period last year.

“We’re coordinating with the Tak Chamber of Commerce and Myawaddy authorities to re-open the checkpoint because many products are waiting for export,” he said, according to a report on the National News Bureau of Thailand website last Tuesday.
According to the Mae Sot Customs Office, the closing is costing border trade about 100 million baht [3 million USD] a day.

Thai export products heavily hit include cooking oil, Monosodium Glutamate (MSG), instant coffee powder, medicine and electrical equipment. Imported products from Burma include seafood, wooden furniture and agricultural products.

There has been confusion between Thai and Burmese authorities in the past over the controversial Moei River wall, with Burmese officials protesting that it violates a previous border demarcation agreement between the two ASEAN countries.

In December 2009, local officials ordered the temporary cessation of the project after Burmese authorities submitted a letter requesting Thai officials stop construction. However, construction was later restarted before again being brought to a halt one week ago.

The wall is intended to solve a rainy season problem, as strong waters have caused the riverbank to repeatedly collapse, thereby redefining the international boundary between the two countries.

Meanwhile, an official from the Prime Minister’s office confirmed on July 21 that Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has postponed his planned visit to Burma. His trip has yet to rescheduled.

However, Panitan Wattanayagorn, acting Thai government spokesman, said the postponement has nothing to do with the continued closure of the Thai-Burma border in Tak Province, insinuating that it is rather a matter of neither Head-of-State being free at the original time.

Abhisit earlier said he would visit Thailand’s westerly neighbor in early August, ahead of Burma’s first general election in two decades, anticipated in either October or November of this year.

Burmese activists in Delhi label Than Shwe a war criminal

Tuesday, 27 July 2010 13:04 Myint Maung

New Delhi (Mizzima) – Instead of rubbing shoulders with Indian leaders, Burma’s military strongman should be on trial at the International Criminal Court for crimes committed against his own people, contend members of the Burmese Diaspora community in New Delhi.

More than 300 Burmese activists in India’s capital yesterday protested against the visit of Burma’s military leader, Than Shwe, who arrived in News Delhi on Monday.

The protesters waved banners reading “Than Shwe get out of India”, “Wanted: Than Shwe for crimes against humanity and war crimes”, “Please support an ICC referral for General Than Shwe” and “Than Shwe go to hell”.

Senior General Than Shwe and his party arrived at the ITC Maurya Hotel in New Delhi at around 7 p.m. on Monday and will today meet with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, President Pratibha Patil and other ministers, according to the Foreign Ministry of India.

On Wednesday, the Senior General and his party are scheduled to travel to Hyderabad, capital of Andhra Pradesh and home to a TATA motors factory.

“India is trying to seek stronger business ties with Burma. We worry for that. Under the military dictatorship, even if international trade and foreign investment in Burma are increased it may not affect the lives of the Burmese people,” Dr. Tint Swe, a minister with the exile-based National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB) said.

Protesters insist they will continue with their campaign until the Burmese delegation leaves India. Than Shwe and company are scheduled to return to Burma on Thursday.

“We stuck posters that read ‘Wanted: Than Shwe for crimes against humanity and war crimes’ on trees. We will put up the posters on walls in downtown Delhi. We will also stick them up on the walls of the hotel where the junta is staying,” voiced Thin Thin Aung, a protester and board member of the Women’s League of Burma.

Indian political activist Jaya Jaitly agrees with the stance of the Burmese activists and insists India should not invest in Burma.

“I want to urge TATA not to invest in Burma, especially in information technology. Burmese people including Aung San Suu Kyi don’t have the right to freely express themselves. Under the circumstances, if we invest in information technology in Burma it’ll be a crying shame,” emphasized Jaya Jaitly.

Senior General Than Shwe and his party, more than 80 in all, arrived in Bodhgaya on July 25, where they visited the popular temples prior to moving on to the Indian capital.
Monday, July 26, 2010

New Kachin party to contest in Kachin State

Monday, 26 July 2010 13:46 Phanida

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – A new Kachin party with established links to the military regime and business enterprises in Kachin State is preparing to contest this year’s upcoming elections.

The Unity and Democracy Party of Kachin State (UDPKS) consists of Kachin, Shan and Burmese ethnic nationalities, being established in June in the Kachin State capital of Myitkyina.

According to locals, former pro-junta Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) members formed the party following the urging of Ministry of Industry No. 1. Aung Thaung and Communication Minister Thein Zaw.

The party, which intends to contest all 18 townships in Kachin State, submitted its application to the Union Election Commission (UEC) on the 2nd of July and received the commission’s approval on the 16th of this month.

The 19-person party Central Executive Committee (CEC) consists of elders in Myitkyina, retired government officials and businessmen.

Party Chairman Khet Htein Nan resigned from the USDA to assume the post of Chairman in the new party.

However, Khet Htein Nan, denying allegations of receiving financial support from the military regime, says he formed the party as a necessity for the Kachin people in Kachin State after he learned an election application submitted by the Kachin State Progressive Party (KSPP) had not been accepted.

“All Kachin parties have not been granted registration by the UEC. I formed this party as a necessity for the Kachin people in Kachin State,” he told Mizzima.

The UDKPS is the only one of four Kachin parties to be approved by the UEC.

In the era of the Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP), Khet Htein Nan served in the BSPP Youth Wing in Ingyan Yan city, Kachin State. He is currently a Central Committee member of the Myitkyina-based Kachin Traditional Cultural Committee and owner of Aung Shwe Kabar Company, which is concerned with gold and jade mining.

Party Vice-Chairman (1) Khin Maung Lat is a retired senior assistant teacher and elder brother of Communication Minister Thein Zaw.

The party will campaign on a platform of building peace, democratic rights and development in Kahcin State, party Chairman Khet Htein Nan explained, including fulfilling the rights of the population in matters of education, health, language, culture and agriculture in addition to pursuing the eradication of narcotics.

“We will join hands with all like-minded parties which maintain a similar policy with us. We will not compete with these parties like in parliamentary democracy ages of the past. We will not spread gossip about other parties. We will not fight with them. We shall cooperate with all these parties,” furthered the Chairman.

CEC member Daw Sha Dawn Khaun Taun is the wife of famous jade mining company owner Ywap Zau Khau, while Pau Lu is a representative of Kachin religious leader Sabwe Jun, who served as the intermediary in peace talks between the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and junta and maintains links with ceasefire groups who have agreed to the Burmese military’s Border Guard Force proposal.

The other three Kachin parties denied acceptance by the UEC are the Kachin State Progressive Party (KSPP), Shan State North Progressive Party and United Democracy Party (Kachin State).

The junta-backed National Unity Party (NUP) and USDP, the political spin-off of the USDA, will also contest in Kachin State.

UDPKS CEC members

1. Khet Htein Nan (Kachin) – Chairman

2. Khin Maung Latt (Burmese) – Vice-Chairman 1

3. Sai Aye Kyaw (Shan) – Vice-Chairman 2

4. Phau Lar Gam Phan (Kachin) – Secretary

5. Sha Daung Khaun Taung – member

6. Lawyer Labya Gam (Kachin) – member

7. Pau Lu (Kachin) – member

8. Phone Ran Ku (Rawan) – member

9. Yein Saun (Lashi) – member

10. Inn Lan Zau Khau (Kachin) – member

11. Mar Khau (Lisu) – member

12. Lawyer Dwe Bu (Kachin) – member

13. Win Myint (Burmese) – member

14. Kyaw Nyin (Burmese) – member

15. Ah Lay Par (Lisu) – member

16. Teacher Daw Jar Nan (Kachin) – member

17. Kan Sii Tuu Aung (Kachin) - member

Dictator’s tour group arrives at five-star hotel in New Delhi

Monday, 26 July 2010 23:03 Mizzima News

New Delhi (Mizzima) – Burmese junta leader Senior General Than Shwe and his entourage arrived at the five-star luxury ITC Maurya Hotel in New Delhi last night at about 6:50 p.m., according to a manager at the hotel, on their five-day official visit to India which started on Sunday.

The dictator’s delegation of more than 80-members includes junta ministers and their wives, on Sunday and yesterday took in holy sites – Bodhgaya in Bihar State, where Buddha had achieved enlightenment under the Bodhi tree, and Varanasi in the state of Uttar Pradesh, where Buddha gave his first sermon – before flying to the Indian capital.

“They arrived at our hotel this evening at about 6:50 p.m. Their delegation has more than 80 members”, a senior manager at the hotel in New Delhi told Mizzima.

The hotel has five-star facilities and is situated in the Sardar Patel Marg district of New Delhi.

The senior general had offered Wazo robes, eight prescribed articles for monks and cash to 27 abbots at a Burmese monastery in Bodhgaya yesterday morning. He also donated US$2,200 to abbots invited from Burmese monasteries in Rajgir, Savrasati, Varanasi and Kolkata.

“I think he spent a lot of time in Bodhgaya to earn merit and this is the main purpose of this visit especially at the time of his twilight years, so he came here to offer meritorious deeds during his last days, for his afterlife”, a Burmese monk who is studying in Bodhgaya told Mizzima.

The entourage stayed at the three-star Royal Residency hotel near the Bodhgaya international airport. “They checked in to our hotel at about 10:30 a.m. yesterday [Sunday] and checked out today [Monday] at about 12:45 p.m. The total number of guests in their team is 84”, a senior hotel manager said.

Than Shwe was scheduled to meet Indian President Pratibha Patil and Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh today, a high-level official from the Indian foreign ministry told Mizzima.

The entourage will also fly early tomorrow morning to Hyderabad in the state of Andhra Pradesh, where India’s biggest industrial company, the Tata Group, is based.

Junta leaders visit Bodhgaya temple to pray, donate funds

Monday, 26 July 2010 20:23 Mizzima News

New Delhi (Mizzima) – Junta leader Senior General Than Shwe and his entourage took a chartered flight yesterday to the revered Buddhist site of Bodhgaya, where they offered prayers and gave cash donations at the Mahabodhi Temple today, during an official visit to India, according to Indian media reports and monks.

The chairman of the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), the Burmese military junta’s name for itself, Than Shwe, at the head of an 81-member delegation, visited Bodhgaya, the site attributed as the location of Siddhartha Gautama’s (Buddha’s) enlightenment, last night and this morning.

burma-army-chief-thanshwe1sThey arrived at the temple beside which stands the Bodhi tree under which the Buddha meditated, at about 5 a.m. today, offered prayers and meditated for about five hours, then presented the temple with a donation of US$11,282 and 6,000 Indian rupees (about US$128), a monk said.

“They made prayers and practised meditation in the temple for five hours”, a monk named Chalinda, one of the temple’s board of trustees, told Mizzima. “We have received three envelopes which contain money. The first was donated by Senior General Than Shwe, and the others were donated by the general’s colleagues.”

Than Shwe and his wife Kyaing Kyaing, recited Buddha’s first sermon, the Dhammacakka Sutta at Mahabodhi Temple on Sunday, a Burmese novice monk in India told Mizzima.

Despite being the subject of a boycott since 2007 by some monks at home and abroad whereby they have refused to accept offerings from members of the military government or their families, the junta couple also offered food to monks in a Burmese monastery in Bodhgaya on Monday morning.

The delegation comprises 81 people including SPDC members General Thura Shwe Mann, SPDC Secretary-1 General Thiha Thura Tin Aung Myint Oo, Lieutenant General Min Aung Hlaing of the Ministry of Defence, Adjutant-General Lieutenant General Thura Myint Aung, and their wives, state-run newspaper New Light of Myanmar reported.

Moreover, Minister for Industry-2 Soe Thein, Minister for Foreign Affairs Nyan Win, Minister for Information Kyaw Hsan, Minister for Commerce Tin Naing Thein, Minister for Science and Technology Thaung, Minister for Health Dr. Kyaw Myint, Minister for Religious Affairs Myint Maung, Posts and Telegraphs Minister Thein Zaw, Minister for National Planning and Economic Development Soe Tha, were part of the delegation.

After Bodhgaya, the entourage planned to visit Varanasi, where Buddha preached his first sermon, before flying to the Indian capital New Delhi tonight, Indian newspapers reported.

The delegation landed in New Delhi at 6:30 p.m. and had checked in to the ITC Maurya five-star luxury hotel, according to the hotel manager.

Some Burmese monks, both inside the country and in exile, declared a religious boycott against the SPDC from September 18, 2007 after junta suppression against their protests over fuel price increases led to a nationwide uprising. The monks have rejected donations from any SPDC members or their families.

Security forces beat protesting monks in Pakokku Township, Magway Division, on September 5, 2007, over which the monks called for an apology from the junta. The rejection of that plea for an apology for the violence resulted in the widespread protests against the junta in 2007 known as the “saffron revolution” led by monks but joined by thousands of Burmese across the country.

India urged to press Than Shwe for rights, democratic reforms

Monday, 26 July 2010 16:56 Mizzima News

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – As Burmese military leader Senior General Than Shwe continues his five-day state visit to India, pressure is mounting on New Delhi to supplant near-term economic and military interests with support for Burma’s pro-democracy opposition.

Human rights activists and Indian parliamentarians are calling for the Indian government to take the opportunity of Than Shwe’s visit to press the junta leader for democratic reforms in Burma.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement today: “India should emphasise respect for human rights during the state visit by Burma’s Senior General Than Shwe,” adding that, “Economic and security interests should not displace concerns about protecting the Burmese people’s fundamental freedoms.”

The sentiment was echoed in an open letter over the weekend to Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh from the Indian Parliamentarians’ Forum for Democracy in Burma (IPFDB).

IPFDB members wrote that they “are deeply disturbed by the government’s decision to welcome the state visit of the Senior General Than Shwe of Burma at this point of time in India. Burma is at a critical juncture now, as the military junta is preparing for the first general elections in two decades. Sadly, the planned elections will be neither free nor fair under the prevailing conditions”.

Citing India’s common rallying call as the world’s largest democracy, opponents of New Delhi’s state policy argue that the country’s placement of economic interests above the plight of Burma’s democracy movement directly refutes its proud tradition as a regional and global standard-bearer for democracy.

“Conjuring up political parties and fixing their victory while the opposition and dissidents remain imprisoned or silenced is no democracy,” Human Rights Watch Asia division acting director Elaine Pearson said of the existing conditions set by the Burmese junta for its upcoming elections. “India should demand the same standards of free and fair voting in Burma that it applies to itself.”

Moreover, Human Rights Watch said that not only was India prioritising the wrong aspects of state policy, but was failing in its pursuit of an incorrect policy.

Despite New Delhi now being Naypyidaw’s fourth largest trading partner, and a major investor in natural resources and infrastructure in Burma, India was said to be losing the race with China for access to Burmese markets and resources.

“Even as it loses out in its efforts to counter China’s influence, India has mortgaged its voice on political and human rights issues in Burma,” Pearson said. “Than Shwe may think that a trip to New Delhi will be all about business and military relations, but Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should make a point to publicly voice principled criticism over the rigging of Burma’s electoral laws and continued restrictions on basic freedoms in Burma.”

Rehashing opposition to Burma’s 2008 constitution, activists and lawmakers assess that anticipated polls elections in Burma this year offer little to no hope for change in the country’s governance and its responsibility to its citizens. As such, a reversal of policy is sought to more accurately reflect the democratic spirit of India.

“Indian leaders should be profoundly discomforted to find themselves in the same company as chronic human rights abusers like North Korea and China furnishing weapons to Burma,” Pearson said. “By supporting real democracy and respect for human rights in Burma, New Delhi can reverse a flawed – and failed – policy of cynical engagement.”

In the mid-1990s New Delhi began to re-evaluate its foreign policy regarding Burma, which had hitherto publicly supported the pro-democracy movement spearheaded by Aung San Suu Kyi. However, Indian leaders, as part of the country’s “Look East” policy, opted to ramp up relations with Burma’s military authorities in an aim to reap economic and security benefits.

Than Shwe is scheduled to depart India on Thursday.
Saturday, July 24, 2010

Washington renews Burma sanctions

Saturday, 24 July 2010 01:13 Mizzima News

(Mizzima) – U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration on Thursday renewed sanctions against military-ruled Burma for an additional year, the move premised on concerns over the regime’s continued record on human rights and democratization as well as alleged ties to North Korea and nuclear proliferation.

The Senate voted 99 to 1 to support the sanctions.

Senate Committee Finance Chairman Max Baucus said in a statement, “As long as the Burmese junta continues to oppress its people and violate human rights, the United States should continue to join our trading partners in standing up for the Burmese people.”
The Burmese Freedom and Democratic Act of 2003 imposes a ban on importing to and exporting from Burma unless it is certified that the country has taken steps to reform and help in combating international drug smuggling.

“The sanctions we renewed today will continue to pressure the Burmese junta to end human rights abuses and finally allow the Burmese people to choose their leaders in a fair election,” Max Baucus announced.

Obama’s administration has voiced concerns over Burma’s election, the first in two decades, desiring the release of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has spent the better part of 20 years under house arrest.

The National League for Democracy (NLD), led by Aung San Suu Kyi, has opted to boycott the upcoming polls.

Mitch McConnell, the top Republican on the committee and a co-sponsor of the bill, said, “The United States must deny the Burmese regime the legitimacy it so craves and await the day when its own people will be permitted to govern their own affairs.”

The U.S. Campaign for Burma welcomed the news as a clear message that Congress will not support the 2010 election unless the regime takes steps to negotiate with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and release political prisoners.

“It’s a clear message that the United State Congress will not support the regime’s election and will not recognize any outcome of the 2010 election,” assessed U.S. Campaign for Burma policy director Aung Din.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, presently on an Asian tour, raised concerns about Burma’s military cooperation with North Korea, after a Burmese defector recently disclosed his secret work in a clandestine nuclear weapons program.

“We are concerned about the report that the regime is seeking assistance from North Korea with regards to a nuclear program and we also know that a ship from North Korea has recently delivered military equipment to Burma,” Clinton said in a press conference on Thursday in Vietnam.

Burma’s ruling junta denies allegations of its alleged involvement in obtaining nuclear weaponry.

Diplomatic relations with North Korea had been previously severed after a North Korean agent attempted to assassinate South Korean President Chun Doo-hwan during his visit to Burma in 1983. Relations were only again normalized in April of 2007.

Burma is a signatory country to both the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) and ASEAN’s Nuclear Weapons Free Zone agreement.

Cautious optimism greets Burmese minister’s overtures on labor rights

Saturday, 24 July 2010 01:03 Kyaw Kha

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Burmese migrant workers responded with cautious optimism to the words of Burma’s Deputy Foreign Minister yesterday, in which he urged the Thai Labor Minister not to arrest and prosecute Burmese migrant workers in Thailand.
Deputy Minister Maung Myint voiced his concern, as reported in Burma’s state-run New Light of Myanmar, while meeting with his Thai counterpart on the 15th of this month in the town of Pretcha Chirikan in Thailand.

A five-member Burmese delegation headed by the Deputy Foreign Minister was visiting Thailand at the invitation of Thailand’s Ministry of Labor for senior level talks running from the 14th to 16th of this month.

The Migrant Workers Affairs Department, under the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB), welcomed the news, with In-charge Thet Khaing referencing the occasion as the first ever compassionate discussion on Burmese migrant worker issues on the part of Burmese authorities with their Thai counterparts.

“We welcomed it because this is a first ever recognition by the junta’s minister of his own citizens. Previously, they saw migrant workers as traitors who betrayed the country, and the workers were bullied and exploited in various ways,” Thet Khaing told Mizzima.

Thai Prime Minister Aphisit Veijjachiva had issued an executive order dated June 2nd to “suppress, arrest and prosecute” illegal migrant workers. Accordingly, Thai officials have arrested illegal migrant workers daily, said Thai Action Committee for Democracy in Burma (TACDB) Section Director Myint Wei.

Kyaw Thu, a Burmese migrant worker, said he is glad to hear of negotiations and discussions on migrant workers affairs by the two governments and wants to see the issuance of temporary Burmese passports with reduced fees. Moreover, he would like to see the Burmese government open passport issuing offices in Thailand.

“We welcome this sort of discussion, but the procedures adopted by the Burmese government are too complicated. It should be better than it currently is. They should expedite the passport issuing process by opening new offices at the places where the workers are living,” another migrant worker, Zeya, concurred.

Temporary passports have been issued on the Thai-Burma border since early this year in an effort to legalize migrant workers and eradicate human trafficking.

“If they made this move with the intention of vote canvassing for the upcoming election, it will not work,” warned Thet Khaing. “The workers will not vote for them, [they] see the junta as pushing them to this hard life, struggling for their livelihood in foreign countries.”

“We should demand the governments extend documents, streamlining the process. Moreover, a better process and procedure on granting bail to arrested workers should be established and better medical care given. These can be achieved if the two governments work in tandem and in sincerity with good intentions,” he added. “Migrant workers have much benefited Thailand. And both sides will benefit if side effects such as human trafficking can be eliminated.”

Human rights and labor organizations estimate that only 900,000 out of over 2 million Burmese migrant workers in Thailand hold a valid residential permit. And according to official figures released by junta, out of nearly one million Burmese migrant workers in Thailand, only 90,918 have been issued temporary passports as of May 26th.
Friday, July 23, 2010

Floods wash away homes in Phakant

Friday, 23 July 2010 22:35 Myint Maung

New Delhi (Mizzima) – Following heavy downpours resulting in severe flooding, houses in a region of Kachin State famous for its jade mines have literally floated away, according to local residents.

Heavy rain, which started on the evening of July 20th, inundated the Ngapyawtaw, Myoma, Ayemyathaya and Mashikataung quarters of the village of Nantmaphyit in Phakant District, washing some five houses away. Only Mohang quarter, situated on high ground, was spared damage, residents said.

“The main road is 150 feet (46 meters) away from the Uru Stream. The flood reached the main road. My shop is about 90 feet (27 meters) away from the Uru Stream. Its height is about 10 feet (3 meters) from the ground. But, the water level reached my knee in my shop,” a tailor, who lives near Uru Stream, told Mizzima.

A resident from Ayemyathaya quarter related, “Many houses have been flooded. We can see flooded fields near Kanbawza Bank in the Ngapyawtaw quarter of Phakant. The water level has increased about six inches (15 centimeters) since yesterday evening. The water level has reached 20 feet (6 meters) above the stream level. It reached my waist in the ground floor of our house.”
Despite the damage, no deaths have thus far been reported.

The state-run newspaper The Mirror stated that as a result of heavy downpours in Phakant, the flooded Nammayang and Uru streams breached the 10 by 10 foot dyke near Gaday Village.

The newspaper also stated that local authorities, soldiers, Red Cross, police and social organizations helped victims to be evacuated from their homes following the floods.

But, a resident from Ayemyathaya contended, “I have not heard that the authorities helped the victims. They gave a boat, which can carry about five people, to each quarter in our area. But, it’s not effective. So, we have difficulty in sending our children to school.”

Another resident from Ngapyawtaw further said, “I think the authorities should arrange food for the victims. It’s not a burdensome task for them. But, they don’t. For me, it’s no problem because I’m from the middle class. But, there are many poor people in our area. The grassroots people from the nearby area of Phakant and Uru Stream are encountering many problems.”

According to observations recorded at 9:00 a.m. yesterday by the Department of Metrology and Hydrology, the amount of rainfall recorded was 2.05 inches in Myitkyina and 1.57 inches in Homemalin, according to the state-run media.

Five jade mining companies, including Max Myanmar and Ever, previously dumped earth from mines into the Nammayang and Uru streams, exacerbating the consequences of the rainfall, according to local residents.

On July 4th of last year, 30 people died as a result of mudslides near Uru Stream, with another 20 killed by mudslides following heavy rains in late July 2008.

Over 4,500 refugees in need of anti-malarial drugs

Friday, 23 July 2010 17:36 Kyaw Kha

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Forced to flee their homes with little more than the clothes on their backs and seek shelter in Burma’s dense jungles, Karen villagers trying to escape Burmese government military offensives are being exposed to malaria carrying mosquitoes at an alarming rate.

According to the Thai-based Committee for Internally Displaced Karen People (CIDKP), over 4,500 war refugees hiding in the forests east of Taungoo District in Pegu Division are in desperate need of medicine to combat malaria.

The refugees account for some of the estimated 7,500 persons recently forced to leave their homes in Htantapin and Thantaung Townships in Taungoo District.

"We found out that seven out of ten refugees were malaria infected when we conducted medical check-ups. This means 70 percent of them are infected with malaria. Some also died of this disease,” CIDKP Information Department In-charge Saw Eh Wah Thu told Mizzima of one recent inspection.

"Thantaung is a mosquito infested area. We cannot eradicate them. We cannot even sleep because of them. The mosquitoes bite us the whole night, from dusk to dawn. So the malaria is endemic in this mosquito infested area," he added.

CIDKP, the Backpack Health Workers Team (BPHWT) and Karen National Union (KNU) are providing medical treatment to malaria patients. However, they warn that new cases continue to come to their attention, as there is little hope of controlling the spread of the disease.

"They have no stable dwelling place in their hiding places and no mosquito nets and blankets, as they have to constantly move, fleeing the junta's military operations," BPHWT Director U Man Man explained to Mizzima.

The refugees, also referred to as internally displaced persons (IDPs), are forced to live in makeshift bamboo huts deep in the forest, increasing the likelihood that mosquitoes will bite them during the present wet season, which provides ample breeding grounds for the insect.

Infantry Battalions (IB) 102, 250, 261 and Light Infantry Battalions (LIB) 336, 421, 424, 424, 425, 426 and 427 under the command of Military Operation Command No. 7 and led by Brigadier General Myo Aye are operating in Taungoo District. The forces reputedly set hundreds of plantations owned and operated by local Karen people on fire, CIDKP told Mizzima.

"Most of these war refugees are fleeing from villages which were set on fire by the junta’s forces. Some of the villages were left unburned, but they dare not go back to their homes as junta forces have planted many landmines there. Many people are being killed by enemy gunfire and landmines when trying to go back to their homes," Saw Eh Wah furthered.

The Thai-Burma border-based BPHWT counts more than 50,000 war refugees spread across four districts – Taungoo, Nyaunglaybin, Phapon and Thaton – with the number of malaria and dengue cases affecting the population in question still being compiled.

A total of 701 malaria cases, with no fatalities, have been reported since January of this year in all of Taungoo, according to the District Health Department. However, government figures do not account for IDP communities.
Thursday, July 22, 2010

India to keep silent on 2010 election, opposition says

Thursday, 22 July 2010 12:43 Khai Suu

New Delhi (Mizzima) – The Indian government will be tight lipped regarding the upcoming 2010 Burmese general election, possibly preferring to focus on their own economic interests, according to pro-democracy activists in New Delhi.

The assessment comes as a senior Burmese delegation is preparing to visit India.

During his scheduled visit to India from the 25th to 29th of this month, Burmese Head-of-State Senior General Than Shwe will meet with Indian Presdient Pratibha Patel, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other cabinet ministers. He will also visit Hydrabad, capital city of Andhra Pradesh and a major car production center for India’s biggest industrial house, TATA.

“After Senior General Than Shwe’s visit, TATA will enter the Burmese market. This visit might pave the way for it. India will get its economic interests and the Senior General will be satisfied with India’s silence on its upcoming general election. So this visit will satisfy both India and the Senior General,” National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB) Minister Dr. Tint Swe told Mizzima.

“After adopting their engagement policy with Burma, India will never partake in any activities which will irritate the Burmese military clique. Though they know the Burmese election will not be free and fair, India will not see it as negative. So they will not say anything on the election which will provide a nuisance for the Senior General,” voiced All Burma Student League (ABSL) Chairman Kyaw Than.

“The Sino-Burma relation is not as good as before. It has become cold. Instead of a return visit to China [in the wake of a recent Chinese delegation to Burma], Than Shwe will make his next visit to India, which suggests a warmer and closer relation with India than with China,” he further speculated.

Lobbying for Indian support for the Burmese general election is one of the major purposes of this visit, but at the same time a major focus might also be economic issues, Federation of Trade Unions of Burma (FTUB) Joint General Secretary Dr. Zaw Win Aung said.

“They possibly come here to win support by India on their election, but focusing on economic issues is more likely. TATA is eager to make a huge investment in Burma, so I think it might be the major talking point during this visit,” he said.

TATA wants to sell its Nano car in bulk quantity in Burma at the price of 100,000 rupees, or 3 million kyats, with a final price tag of 4 million kyats following taxes. However, the junta reportedly wants to reap more profit by charging more taxes and other costs, which would effectively raise the final price tag to some 15 million kyats.

Some Burmese observers suspect the visit could further be viewed as an opportunity to solve obstacles in fixing the price on the model.

“TATA wants mass production at a cheap price. They have been negotiating with the Burmese junta on this issue for a long time. After this visit, the Senior General will win the support of the world’s largest democracy on his upcoming general election and TATA will get all its problems resolved,” expanded Kim from the Burma Centre Delhi (BCD).

He regards TATA as exploiting this visit by extending support toward its own interests while the international community is focused on putting pressure on the Burmese junta and their planned election.

TATA is the fourth biggest truck manufacturing company in the world and second largest in passenger bus manufacturing. It is implementing its low priced People’s Car program under the slogan of ‘A car for each family in India’. India is said to have a population of 1.2 billion.

Following the launch of the Nano in India in 2009, the model has drawn international attention – beyond its cheap price tag – when two vehicles caught fire seemingly of their own accord in 2010, while there have also been three reported cases of the steering wheel spewing black smoke. TATA contends it is working to prevent any such further mishaps.

The Burmese junta is currently earning hundreds of millions of dollars annually from French oil giant TOTAL, and how much profit they can earn from an investment made by TATA must be watched, the Burmese opposition in New Delhi argues.

“India can do many things to facilitate the restoration of democracy in Burma. They should play the role model in this regard too. And also India can provide much technical assistance to Burma to make the upcoming election free and fair. But I don’t think India will do this work. As a good neighbor and good friend, India should give good advice to Burma,” Dr. Tint Swe said.

“India should point out the unjust and unfair matters in this election. The India Election Commission once provided logistical support and technical assistance to Bhutan in its first ever multi-party general election. Similarly they extended their support and encouragement to Nepal and Sri Lanka too. Only in the case of Burma do they keep silent and keep tight lipped. A country like India, which is very proud of being the largest democracy in the world, is much obliged to speak on these issues,” Kyaw Than furthered.

Burma’s political opposition in New Delhi is planning large-scale protests to coincide with Than Shwe’s visit.

NLD urges Canada to probe Ivanhoe over sanctions, driver

Thursday, 22 July 2010 12:46 Thomas Maung Shwe

A National League for Democracy member of parliament elected in Burma’s annulled 1990 election and labour minister in Burma’s exiled government, the National Coalition Government for the Union of Burma, has formally asked the Canadian government to investigate Canadian firm Ivanhoe Mines for violating Ottawa’s sanctions against Burma.

The Vancouver-based mining company led by controversial chairman Robert Friedland stands accused by advocacy group, the Canadian Friends of Burma, of secretly selling its 50 per cent stake in the joint venture that operated Burma’s Monywa copper mine to cronies of the Burmese regime linked to Chinese weapon’s firm Nornico and mining giant Chinalco.

khun-myint-tunThe NLD MP, Khun Myint Tun, who is also a trained geologist, last week sent a detailed letter to the Canadian government urging it to immediately subpoena Ivanhoe executives to determine the ownership of the firm’s 50 per cent stake in Myanmar Ivanhoe Copper Company Limited (MICCL), the joint venture created by Ivanhoe and the Burmese regime to run the Monywa mine.

He told Mizzima: “The matter of Ivanhoe’s apparent departure from Burma must be thoroughly investigated by the Canadian government. I’m deeply disturbed by reports that Ivanhoe has allowed cronies of the Burmese regime to obtain the firm’s 50 per cent stake in Monywa on behalf of the Chinese weapons firm Norinco.

“Reports that Norinco will give Burma’s regime howitzers in return for copper from Monywa are also deeply disturbing, we ask that Prime Minster [Stephen] Harper’s government force Ivanhoe to publicly reveal the shady business deals that transpired,” Khun Myint Tun said.

If Ivanhoe’s 50 per cent stake in MICCL was indeed sold or given to cronies of the junta this would violate Canadian sanctions against Burma. Canada’s financial and investment restrictions targeting Senior General Than Shwe’s regime were significantly strengthened following the crushing of the September 2007 popular uprising led by Burmese monks.

In February 2007, Ivanhoe placed its 50 per cent stake in MICCL under the direction of an ostensibly “independent trust”, which was given the task of selling Ivanhoe’s Burmese assets. Despite repeated requests from media and human rights groups Ivanhoe has so far refused to disclose the individuals or firms that operate or oversee the trust.

Ivanhoe declared on the firm’s website on July 6 that the “independent trust” had not in fact sold its stake as Mizzima had reported May 27 in a story titled: “Chinese arms maker’s copper mine deal raises queries over Canadian stake”.

The Mizzima article quoted an anonymous source and declarations made in filings with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) by former MICCL employee Gerald Nugawela, who stated that he had brokered a sale of MICCL, appeared on June 27 and was followed three days later by a second Mizzima story revealing that the regime was trading copper from Monywa in exchange for howitzers from Chinese weapons maker Norinco.

Ivanhoe’s statement titled “Attempts by anti-Myanmar activist to link Ivanhoe Mines with reported Monywa Copper Mine developments are dishonest and nonsensical” also contradicted reports from The Wall Street Journal, the Canadian Friends of Burma and the Democratic Voice of Burma that Norinco had become involved in the Monywa copper project Burma’s largest mine.

According to Ivanhoe’s statement “Unfounded allegations and speculation have been distributed in recent days as part of a discredited, long-running disinformation campaign by the Canadian Friends of Burma non-governmental organisation, assisted once again by the India-based Mizzima News Agency”.

While Ivanhoe was unable to be reached for comment to elaborate on the specific nature of the “disinformation campaign”, Tin Maung Htoo, executive director of the Canadian Friends of Burma, did respond. The exiled democracy activist told Mizzima that he was not surprised by Ivanhoe’s response and said that “on several occasions over the years in their open letters and statements Ivanhoe has called me an anti-Burmese instigator of a disinformation campaign targeting them. I had nothing to do with a statement posted on Norinco’s own website about their involvement in Monywa nor did I have anything to do with The Wall Street Journal report on the Norinco press release. Ivanhoe is really just trying to hide the fact that their illegal deal with Burmese junta cronies has been exposed.”

Khun Myint Tun, a Thailand-based exile regularly vilified by the Burmese regime, told Mizzima that Ivanhoe’s insistence on referring to its critics as anti-Burmese was shameful. “Ivanhoe’s despicable characterisation of its critics … as anti-Burmese echoes the kind of paranoid angry language used by Burmese state-controlled media, which regularly smears Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and all those who in stand in the military’s way, of being anti-Burmese and under foreign influence.”

Tin Maung Htoo accused Ivanhoe of using the anonymous independent trust to shield the firm from US and EU sanctions that blacklist MICCL. He added that Canadian sanctions would also prohibit the firm from selling its stake in MICCL to those connected to the Burmese regime. “Ivanhoe is using the so-called independent trust to avoid western sanctions targeting the Burmese regime; that’s why Ivanhoe won’t disclose any details about this secretive trust and that’s why they stoop so low as to call me anti-Burmese. It’s really quite shameless.”

The Ottawa-based activist told Mizzima that, “either Ivanhoe’s stake in the 50 per cent joint venture that runs Monywa has been sold as we at CFOB believe or it hasn’t been sold and Ivanhoe still owns it by way of the trust. Ivanhoe’s insistence on suggesting that nobody owns the stake is increasingly ludicrous.”

NLD also asks Canada to investigate case of jailed Ivanhoe driver

In his letter, Khun Myint Tun also asked the Canadian government to investigate the December 2003 arrest of Ko Thet Lwin, a driver employed by Ivanhoe Mines who was jailed after his boss Andrew Mitchell, a senior Ivanhoe geologist in Burma, demanded to be driven to Aung San Suu Kyi’s home.

After driving to Suu Kyi’s lakeside residence both Ko Thet Lwin and Mitchell were detained by the soldiers who act as her jailers. Mitchell, a British national was quickly released however Ko Thet Lwin, according to his family, was sentenced to seven years in prison for doing what his superior had foolishly ordered him to do.

Apparently, Mitchell wanted to see the world’s most famous political prisoner to give her some sort of present and he wrongly believed his position with a foreign firm engaged in a joint venture with the Burmese junta gave him the authority to go where he pleased.

In response to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners Burma taking up Ko Thet Lwin’s cause, the New Light of Myanmar, the junta’s official English-language newspaper defended his jailing, reporting that the man it described as a driver employed by Ivanhoe Mines had been high on drugs and kidnapped his boss, a charge his family and the AAPPB denied.

When rights activists in Canada wrote to Ivanhoe in 2004 asking the firm to explain what had happened to Ko Thet Lwin, a senior executive coldly responded that no such individual was employed by Ivanhoe Mines in Burma. In fact, both Ko Thet Lwin’s family and the New Light of Myanmar described Ko Thet Lwin as being a driver working for Ivanhoe Mines.

It was not until five years later that Ivanhoe Mines, in an open letter last year to CFOB, admitted that it was familiar with the fate of Ko Thet Lwin’s while maintaining the regime’s version of events that Ko Thet Lwin had been on drugs and had kidnapped his boss.

In his letter to the Canadian government, Khun Myint Tun condemned Ivanhoe for taking more than five years to even acknowledge that it was familiar with the case. A political prisoner from 1996 to 2003, Khun Myint Tun told Mizzima “had Ivanhoe been more forthcoming with what happened to Ko Thet Lwin immediately following his arrest, it is very likely he and his family could have been spared great suffering, the way Ivanhoe has dealt with this case is criminal.”

“I’m particularly disgusted that last year when Ivanhoe finally chose to acknowledge they knew Ko Thet Lwin, they validated the regime’s ridiculous charges that Mr. Mitchell had been kidnapped by a drug-crazed follower of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.”

Ivanhoe driver’s whereabouts unknown, he is feared dead

AAPPB reported that in early 2004, Ko Thet Lwin, after being sentenced to seven years in prison, was sent to the Taungzun Labour Camp in Burma’s eastern Mon State and that his family had contacted the International Committee for the Red Cross to try to help him. According to AAPPB’s contacts, Ko Thet Lwin was later sent to Burma’s Insein prison following international interest in his case. The CFOB learned that Ko Thet Lwin was in Insein prison until at least early 2008.

CFOB’s Tin Maung Htoo said: “We have not been able to contact Ko Thet Lwin’s family to find out his condition or present location. All we know is that he was in Insein prison until just before Cyclone Nargis in May 2008. We fear that Ko Thet Lwin died the night of the cyclone when the much of the jail’s roof blew off and overwhelmed guards shot and killed at least 36 inmates and injured 70 others in a violent attempt to maintain order at the overcrowded facility.”

Even if Ko Thet Lwin did survive the prison massacre, the survival rate in Burma’s prisons is extremely poor. AAPPB and Amnesty International report that prisoners are routinely sent to remote malaria-infested jungles areas to perform forced labour for the Burmese army, where they are worked like slaves until they literally drop dead.

Ivanhoe’s controversial Mongolian mine boosted by Canadian state support

Ivanhoe Mines reported on Monday that Canada’s state-owned international financing agency, Export Development Canada, had agreed to provide vital low-interest loans for Ivanhoe’s deeply contentious Mongolian Copper/Gold Project at Oyu Tolgoi. The massive project launched in partnership the Anglo-Australian firm Rio Tinto will reportedly be one of the world’s largest mines and has been strongly opposed by a large segment of the Mongolian population.

Tin Maung Htoo said he strongly opposed Ivanhoe Mines receiving Canadian government support while serious questions regarding its Burmese mine remained unanswered. “Ivanhoe Mines does not deserve to have their operations in Mongolia subsidised by the Canadian taxpayer at a time when the firm refuses to tell the truth about the ownership of its stake in Monywa and the circumstances surrounding the illegal arrest of their Burmese driver Ko Thet Lwin at Suu Kyi’s residence.

“Ivanhoe chairman Robert Friedland is a multi-billionaire and if he wants to build a mine against the wishes of the Mongolian people let him pay for it himself. EDC’s decision to hand millions over to Ivanhoe really undermines Canada’s commitment to international corporate accountability. I urge EDC’s CEO Eric Siegel to immediately rescind all support to Ivanhoe Mines and its band of unaccountable corporate bullies,” Tin Maung Htoo said.

In April 2006, Ivanhoe chairman Robert Friedland was burned in effigy at a protest against Ivanhoe Mines in the Mongolian capital, one of the largest protests in the nation’s history.