Under sanctions, Myanmar's economy crumbling

31 December 2007

Sunday, December 30, 2007 12:39:45 PM Oman Time

YANGON –– Myanmar's already battered economy is groaning under the weight of new sanctions following a crackdown on dissent, business leaders say, fueling concerns that the hardships could spark more protests.

The United States, the European Union and Australia slapped tougher sanctions on Myanmar's military regime in the wake of the bloody suppression of pro-democracy protests in September.

A UN investigator found that at least 31 people were killed when soldiers opened fire on the peaceful protests, which were led by Buddhist monks in Yangon and other cities around Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.

The country has been under a patchwork of sanctions for years, but the latest measures have blocked access to US financial institutions and made it more difficult to export Myanmar's highly desired teak and precious stones.

The US sanctions have targeted specific companies and business leaders, noteably the flamboyant tycoon Tay Za, who is close to the top military leadership.

Tay Za has bitterly complained that the sanctions have crippled his Air Bagan airline, and warned that he would be forced to pass along his own economic pain to his employees.

Other business leaders have echoed that sentiment. Some say that they are struggling to stay in business only to support their employees, and that the current situation could soon become unsustainable.

"These sanctions pose problems for us. If the government suffers, we, businessmen have to suffer. If we suffer, the workers have to suffer," said one top business leader in Yangon, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The original protests were sparked by the economic hardships facing Myanmar's impoverished population, after an overnight hike in fuel prices on August 15 left many unable to afford even a bus ride to work.

The Yangon business leader said that he and other factory owners quickly negotiated deals with their workers, who had threatened their own protests over the fuel prices.

"The protests actually started with factory workers in industrial zones in August, because of their economic hardship," he said.

An ordinary factory worker earns about 30,000 kyats (24 dollars) per month. Low-level government workers earn even less, about 25,000 kyats (20 dollars) per month.

A typical Myanmar meal of rice and pork curry for one costs about 500 kyats (40 cents).

Even before the energy hike in August, business leaders at 87 factories in Yangon, mainly in the garment sector, raised salaries to help workers deal with the sky-high fuel prices.

"It was quite lucky that the protests in the factories finished before the monks' protests began. Otherwise, they would have gotten mixed up together," the Yangon business leader said.

"The country's economic development depends on the political situation. We cannot say yet what could happen next year. Right now we are running our business at a loss, just to keep our workers employed," he said.

Myanmar's fledgling tourism industry has also taken a blow, as the country saw an almost total drop-off in foreign arrivals after the bloody crackdown.


In Burma, Fever of War

View full article and comments here

By Robert Semeniuk
Published: December 26, 2007

"Sweat runs off the faces of the two boys, 17 and 20 years old, who crouch in the front trench with us. After each shell hits, they strain their eyes to see through the dust, and over the logs piled in front of the trench to prevent grenades from rolling inside of it, and shoot blindly down the hill, where the Burmese soldiers are. After the chaos and paralyzing panic comes the eerie silence between artillery barrages and machine-gun fire. This morning, five Karen soldiers were killed and nine injured."

I wrote this in 1988, after walking for days in the jungle, up and down steep hills, with a group of young Karen soldiers heading to fight the Burmese military.

We slept on the ground and ate only rice and fish paste. The nights were freezing and the days humid and hot. We passed groups of people carrying small children and whatever little else they could, wrapped in little bundles on their heads. They were heading to the relative security of the border, away from their destroyed village, which we walked through days later. Nothing was standing, everything was charred.

Another day, we met a group carrying a boy swaddled in a bloody sling hanging from two bamboo poles. He had stepped on a landmine while running from a village shelled by the Burmese military.

I saw the boy a few weeks later in a clinic near the border where a Karen doctor had successfully amputated his leg. Now he was being treated for malaria. So was I. I had contracted it from sleeping too many nights in the jungle with no net, and not enough smoky fires. It was gruelling. I was exhausted and sick, and I had only been on the move in the jungle for a few weeks. The Karen have been here either resisting the dictatorship or running from them, since 1948. The young landmine victim died of malaria. I never knew his name, but I've never forgotten the young doctor who treated us.

Cynthia Maung was freshly out of medical school and on the run from a government in Rangoon that was imprisoning and killing democracy activists. Her mission was to give emergency medical attention to fleeing students.

Today, Dr. Cynthia is called the "Mother Teresa" of Burma. She is internationally acclaimed for her enduring dedication to human rights and helping the displaced people on the border. She is the director of the multi-department, 120-bed Mae Tao Clinic that sits on the outskirts of Mae Sot, Thailand, five kilometres from the Burmese border. Last year, with a staff of 300, the clinic treated 8,000 malaria cases and over 100,000 patients. This is only a small portion of the estimated 1.5 to 2 million political and economic refugees uprooted by the world's longest civil war, its darkest dictatorship, and an unbearable economic disparity.

Burma's biggest killer

It is prenatal day and scores of mothers and children quietly wait to have their blood tested for malaria parasites and to have their babies weighed. If malaria is diagnosed early it can be treated in 24 hours. The sound of children crying is barely audible over the chirping and whistling tropical birds that populate the courtyard trees. I can't hear the mosquitoes, but they are here. The jungle is their perfect habitat and this battlefield is home to the planet's most drug resistant plasmodia parasites and the most lethal strain of malaria, "falciparum plasmodium."

Despite widespread human violence, malaria, transmitted by the female anopheles mosquito, is Burma's biggest killer.

It is the rainy season, mid-July, not yet 9 a.m., and two new malaria patients have been admitted to the clinic. One woman is unconscious. The plasmodia parasite population is exploding in her blood stream. The attending medics, all trained here, explain that she needs an immediate blood transfusion, or she will die. They gather around her, needles ready. They cannot find a vein because she is too dehydrated and anemic. She is one of the 350 to 500 million people in over 100 countries ravaged by this sophisticated parasite that multiplies and mutates and hides from the immune system.

"If they make it to the hospital, they almost always live," says a medic when I ask about her chances of survival. At least one million people die from malaria every year -- some estimates go as high as two million -- with half the fatalities being children under five years old. The number is increasing because of lack of treatment, drug resistance and mosquito persistence. Warmer temperatures, deforestation, increased travel and indiscriminate anti-malarial use are expanding the mosquito habitat. The fear is the world's fastest killing malaria will find its way to Africa and the temperate zones.

The other new patient is barely conscious. There are no vacant beds, so they lay her on the floor. She is already connected to an IV. Twenty-six years old, very thin, delicate features, beyond pain, she looks innocent and bewildered. Then her head sways back and forth like it is too heavy for her neck. The whites of her eyes roll and her arms flail over her head uncontrollably, like a possessed rag doll. Fever and delirium come in waves. It means the parasites are reproducing, bursting the red blood cells before they return to the liver and the cycle begins over again.

Her father carried her here, a five-day journey, with the help of members of the Back Pack Health Worker Team. This group of medics, trained at the Mae Tao Clinic, trek for months in the Karen and Shan States, at great risk and with meagre resources, to deliver emergency and primary health care to an estimated 140,000 internally displaced people.

Millions adrift

The total number of internally displaced people, or IDP, along the eastern border of Burma is estimated to be between 500,000 and 600,000.

Many of these people are always on the run. Their communities have been systematically destroyed by soldiers. They are denied land, education, healthcare and freedom of movement. They live in the jungle, often without the basics of food, clothing and shelter. Malaria and malnutrition statistics among the IDP in eastern Burma rival the worst in the world.

Then there are the refugees on the Thai side: 160,000 of them are registered and live in 10 UNHCR camps. The rest, over a million of them, are undocumented migrants, with no legal status. Other than drugs, these migrant workers are likely Burma's biggest export. The Thai Government is attempting to ID and register some of this huge, cheap labour pool. Until then, no legal acknowledgment means migrants are vulnerable to extortion, arbitrary arrest and deportation, abuse from employers and police, torture and poor health, especially malaria.

They are smuggled around Thailand to wherever there is work. They find it in the sex industry, construction sites, restaurants, farms or in one of the hundreds of sweatshops hungry for cheap, obedient labour. The migrants work long hours for miserable wages and living conditions. I met Win, 23, and Sony, 26, (I asked her name, she said "just call me Sony") at a shelter run by the Burmese Women's Union located about a half-hour motorcycle ride outside Mae Sot. I got there through an introduction from a medic at the Mae Tao Clinic. I was given a phone number and a name, Rebecca. Not her real name.

I'm not surprised, because many people don't want their names used. Administrators at Dr. Cynthia's clinic suggested I not publish patients' names. "It is illegal for anyone to leave Burma without proper documentation. The human rights work I do here is seen as anti- state activities to the Junta. For most of us, it is better to remain anonymous," Rebecca says, while translating as Win and Sony tell me about working in sweatshops.

They currently work in a garment factory, but they have also worked in a sweatshop that made electronic components. They often work seven days a week, for a minimum of 12 hours a day, and sometimes up to 18 hours a day. They pay their employer "security fees" (for payoffs and work permits that often never arrive) and an allowance for food (they eat rice) and "accommodation" (they live in the factory). Their take home is $30/month. Or it would be if they had a home and they took it. "We send it all back to our families in Burma," they say.

'Modern slavery'

They look tired beyond their years. Their faces are resigned to the utter lack of control they have over their lives. I ask the older one how long she's worked, eaten and lived in sweatshops. She says "nine years" -- washing her clothes and dishes in the same water and sleeping on crowded shelves stacked four high. "If you are too sick to work, they fire you" she says. Neither one smiles. They have experienced too much. Or too little. "It is modern slavery" a doctor at a clinic remarked.

The low pay is no deterrent for people struggling to feed their families in Burma, where unemployment is 80 per cent. More and more migrants and refugees stream across the porous border. At the bottom of the ladder are 200 migrants that live on the Mae Sot garbage dump, and the hundreds of "illegals" that end up, every week, in the holding tank behind the police station. The latter are herded into a caged truck and hauled back to the border, only to return again another day. They have no legal rights on either side of the border.

The increasing number of dislocated people reflects the elevated suppression, and isolation of the dictatorship. Elite cadres get rich on booming trade with China, Thailand and India, but the masses remain dirt poor, disenfranchised by decisions that affect their lives. Persecution is rife in Burma, where secrecy, fear and systemic corruption rule the day.

The Burmese government does not want foreign eyes witnessing its brutality or the plight of its people. Organizations like the Red Cross and MSF have pulled their missions out of Burma because of increased restrictions imposed by the dictatorship. The United Nations Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria was forced to withdraw its five-year, $96 million dollar grant agreement with Burma.

Disease, an oppressor's ally

Without the backpackers, the internally displaced people would have no medical care and there would be no documentation of the link between poor health and human rights abuses. Through use of epidemiologic tools, field observations and surveys, the Back Pack Health Worker Team estimates that malaria accounts for half the deaths among internally displaced people and that at least 12 per cent of the IDP population is infected at any given time. Infant mortality is twice as high among the internally displaced population as it is in stable households.

Households that suffer theft or confiscation of food, physical abuse or forced labour at the hands of soldiers are many times more likely to suffer from malnourishment, diarrhea, night blindness, malaria and landmine injuries.

In Mae Sot, I arrange to meet "Eh Kalu," a leader of the Back Pack Health Worker Team, at their office off the highway on the way to the "Friendship Bridge," which is the only official border crossing.

"We don't call it an office, it is a house. Because of our illegal status in Thailand, we are not allowed to have offices, only houses," Eh Kalu tells me, as he shows me around their two crowded rooms. In one corner are bales of mosquito net material. A huge map detailing their operations covers one wall. "Most of the time, a curtain is rolled down over it," he says.

Ten or 15 young people, mostly in their 20s, sit at computers, working on tasks including the creation of training manuals and medical hand-out sheets, funding applications and record keeping -- budgets, logistics, statistics and maps. He tells me "there are hundreds of unofficial places to cross the border, and they change depending on the security in the area." He means military clashes near the border and the periodic clampdowns by Thai border guards.

'Backpackers' risk death to heal

I learn there are 300 backpackers in 76 teams. They have 284 health workers inside Burma and they have trained over 7,000 village health volunteers, including more than 500 traditional birth attendants.

They do their work in the face of overwhelming difficulty. How can they not be overwhelmed? Their home is the jungle path. They have been beaten and shot by soldiers who confiscate their medicines. They distribute medicine knowing that soldiers who find it will beat those they are trying to help -- or worse.

Since 1998, when Dr. Cynthia helped establish the organization, eight backpackers have stepped on landmines. But they are not overwhelmed. They walk on alongside a frightened father, helping him carry his delirious malaria-stricken daughter five days to a crowded clinic. And their research is chronicling how and why the Burmese government is making people sick, and contributing to the spread of infectious disease.

When freedom is denied, the vulnerable become invisible and human rights are held with little respect. Burma spends two to three per cent of its budget on health and 40 per cent on its 400,000-strong armed forces. The dictatorship has created a new capital 460 km north of Rangoon: a fortress with boulevards, new buildings, highways and apartments, carved out of virgin jungle.

This is a regime that aims to be isolated.

In the meantime, millions of people suffer, mostly from malaria, but recently from a 500 per cent increase in cooking gas prices. And the world sits by.

Robert Semeniuk, a veteran photojournalist based in B.C., has covered war and injustice around the world for a quarter century. This article was made possible with the support of the Canadian International Development Agency. Semeniuk's latest, newly published book is Among the Inuit.


September Massacre in Burma

26 December 2007

[Original Source - MoeTheeZun's blog]

The brutality of Burmese junta can be seen in this video taken during the crackdown on the recent September uprising where many people lost their lives.


A Journey from Rangoon to Mae Sot on the Thai-Burma Border: Burma is Not Back to Normal

25 December 2007

[Original Source Link]

A small Buddhist Peace Fellowship delegation went to Burma to bear witness to the suffering of the people following the brutal crackdown by the Burmese military at the end of September on monks and the people of Burma. We wanted to communicate the support and solidarity of the international community with the people of Burma, and to be a voice for the voiceless by sharing with our communities on return. Our communities had expressed their concerns and given generously, and we offered the donations to various groups to let them know that the rest of the world deeply cares about Burma. We wanted to explore channels for future further support inside Burma, as well as finding ways to support the monks in exile.

The participants included two people from Thailand including a socially engaged Buddhist monk, Hozan Alan Senauke, a Zen priest and from Buddhist Peace Fellowship USA, and Jill Jameson from Buddhist Peace Fellowship, Australia. Jill has worked with people from Burma since 1994 facilitating grassroots leadership training, peace building and conflict transformation.

Inside Burma and on the Thai-Burma border we met with activists, monks, students, orphans, Western diplomats, and ordinary people in teashops and restaurants. We listened to their stories about events of the last several months, and how they are continuing to work both for the liberation of Burma as well as for their survival and that of their families. Wherever we went, people were very happy to meet with us, and welcomed the opportunity to share their stories.

The generals want the international community to believe that everything has returned to 'normal', that Burma is safe again for tourists, and that the disorder from the protests is over. But the 'normality' for Burma under the military regime is a state of fear and repression. This verbal whitewash from the regime was very different from what we learned from the people we met.

Neither army, police or beggars were evident in downtown Rangoon, but we heard from 'Aung Myint' that beggars and the homeless had been taken to detention centres, and that some of the army were dressed as monks at Shwedagon Pagoda, and others were in plain clothes. Our group was investigated on one of our visits to a monastic orphanage by plain clothes police and fortunately, giving out packets of noodle soup to the children had not been a crime.

People are suffering very deeply. They suffer the consequences of a failed state which spends according to IMF: 0.5% of GNP on health, 0.4% on education and 40% on defenceon controlling their own people. 'Dr. Win' told us that many people just outside of Rangoon can only afford one meal a day, and that with fuel increases some people cannot afford the bus fare to go to work. We visited several Buddhist monastic schools and orphanages. At one of these there were 500 students, and often there was not enough food, only a little rice. Large classes of children sat at cramped benches, and the large dormitories smelt of neglect. During our visit, a health worker was lifting shirts to reveal ulcers and extensive ring worm, which were dabbed with a sulphur cream. Malnutrition, over-crowding and limited staff to care for the children surely exacerbate the problem. The families of children at such an orphanage as this cannot even afford the low fees of a government school. In the Rangoon Division alone we heard there were 162 such Buddhist orphanages. There are also many run by Christian denominations. 'Betty' who visits orphanages in other states, said there could be 'be hundreds of thousands of orphans'. Often, she said, the child's father was a soldier who had been killed, and mother may have been injured by a landmine gathering food in a forest. We also heard these children referred to as the 'scrap children' where many families are too poor to feed all their children. And their future? Many have no option but to join the army, or, to become a monk. And monks and soldiers are about equal in number. But many children are also forced conscripts to the army. Recent reports of child conscripts as young as 10 years have reached the international media. The regime's response to this we heard from 'Stephen' was to fine either the child or its parents, anything to avoid responsibility being taken by the generals.

We had heard how one prominent monk responding to the food shortages had set up a food station to produce low cost boxed meals to distribute through downtown shops and in rural areas. The Venerable was very reluctant to talk about this and fear was palpable. We had hoped to be able to contribute to this program but suspect the program may have been suspended.

People are controlled not only by military force but also by fear. This is all pervasive. People often speak in code to avoid being overheard by unknown security people in plain clothes, or by informers so poor and desperate for basic survival that they will inform on anybody. We also touched this fear, with our antennas out on stalks, hyper-alert with our main concern for our friends not to suffer the consequences of talking with us. But there was also an increase in anger and urgency since last I was in Burma. San, a gentle elderly man confided he would like to get rid of the leaders somehowfor the greater good of all. Sitting at tea shops, people would approach us with a common theme; 'life is so difficult now', and ' 90% of the people are against this regime, and please do tell the international community' and ' do take our message to the Security Council'. All we could do was listen. And as Buddhists, this is a valuable practice. So many people had a deep need to talk and share, to tell the whole story so often in all its violent and brutal detail ­ interspersed with jokes. Impossible to understand other than in terms of fear and power, and possibly history. Aung San Suu Kyi, the democratically elected leader of Burma threw some light on this back in 1991.
"It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it."

Since September people are suffering deeply from the brutal onslaught on the highly revered monks in a country where 90% are Buddhist, and where respect for monks is deeply imbued in their culture and way of life. Many monks we heard had been forcibly disrobed so they could be tortured. And it was not 2% of the monks as claimed by the generals who marched, but nearer 30% were involved in the protests. They were compassionately drawing attention to the recent dramatic increases in rice and fuel costs. They knew intimately of the people's plight ­ their begging bowls providing an indication. Despite their poverty people still however gave a little rice to the monks.

We heard from 'Stephen' that there were four categories of people in the protest There were those who were guilty by looking, those who clapped, those who offered water and those who marched. Only the first three categories were released after a month's interrogation, and then only if they signed that they would never again protest. The forth category are probably still in detention. 'Stephen' also shared with us that his college friend who was now a colonel, had revealed details of invasion of a monastery while drunk, and that he was under orders to beat up monks when questioning them. These are very concerning humanitarian aspects, and we need to keep asking where are the monks and the people detained? We further heard from 'Stephen' that soon after the protests ended, that the crematorium had been running at the unusual hour of 1-4am.

'Peter' a reliable source, indicated numbers killed were much higher than given by the regime, and would seem to be higher than in the report by the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, Paulo Pinheiro, 7 Dec. 2007. We heard that 30 monks were killed in Yangon and more than 70 people were killed in detention after the demonstrations had stopped. Piheiro reported that 31 monks had been killed and a further 74 listed as missing, and up to 1000 still detained - 106 of these were women, of whom six were Buddhist nuns. We heard on a visit to one monastery, that the nuns from nearby had left, and that they miss their chanting in the mornings. What has happened to other nuns in Burma?

An English teacher monk at a monastic school and orphanage for 500 children said there were now 15 monks, 35 novices, 12 teachers and 80 resident children. Prior to September, there were 200 monks and novices who have not been heard of since their participation in the 'revolution' and who had fled. They were to make contact but nothing has been heard. It is feared they are in detention or worse.

On the Thai-Burma border there are many local organisations, such as the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. There were photos of political prisoners around the walls and a prison model exhibition, depicting the forms of torture employed. And yet speaking with 'Myint,' a survivor of torture and 15 years of prison, including several years in solitary confinement, we were left in no doubt about the extraordinary courage and ardent commitment for democracy, freedom and dignity of many of the activists.

So how is the military crackdown impacting on Buddhism? On the one hand, many monks have gone from being revered to now being treated as criminals. On the other, meditation practice would seem to be strong. Some political prisoners we met, have survived long incarceration and torture and overcome deep depression through their meditation practice. Some monasteries such as Maggin in Rangoon have been closed and the HIV/Aids patients it cared for have been dispersed. There are 3,000 Buddhist monasteries throughout the country which provide accommodation, food, care and education for many children, and we could not get answers who is now taking responsibility for the children.

On the Thai Burma border we met with three different groups of monks who had managed to flee. Their number is surprisingly low given the 100, 000 monks who actively participated, leaving grave concerns for the safety of those still in Burma. We heard that some monks from Mandalay had fled in terror to the border, disrobed and are now working as migrant workers. Other monks who have fled are living in 3 safe-houses set up for 51 new arrivals from September. Despite being out of Burma, they have great difficulties. They have been forbidden refuge in Thai temples ­ 3 police cars were seen outside one temple keeping watch ­ they have no travel permits and if caught, may be very heavily fined or sent back to Burma. UNHCR is also no longer registering asylum seekers. On the other hand, resettlement of refugees in third countries such as Australia and the United states, is having a de-stabilising effect on border communities. Those people with some level of training, such as health workers and teachers are being given priority causing hardship for the local communities whose resources are already severely over-stretched.

Despite the fear, the poverty and with little hope of change, people we met demonstrate huge generosity, a great sense of humour and deep caring for their country, which was once the rice bowl of Asia, and with many highly educated people. Many have found ways to survive, of finding opportunities in the cracks between conflict and possibility, of taking one step at a time. There is a refusal to give up ­ people rising up again and again in full awareness of the consequences and risks to their lives and those of their families. Their message is very clear ­ and urgent ­ enough is enough, and it is time for freedom.

There is a growing movement with resonances of pre-independence India led by Gandhi. This mostly underground democracy movement inside Burma has strong links with a developing civil society and local organisations on the borders, linked with increased awareness and strength of an environmental movement. But it would seem that unless international community intervenes little will change for the people of Burma. Now is the time.

So, I feel a deep responsibility to speak out, to share as widely as possible, that life in Burma is 'not back to normal'. People have been disappeared. Far too many. Where are they, and what has happened to them? The intense and pervasive fear and gross human rights abuse contravene international conventions. Even those not in official detention are in effect in detention in a place called Burma. There were pleas from many we met not to allow our Asian neighbours to accept this 'normality', and a warning not to accept what the generals say will change. It is not evident that they care one scrap about the people they control. We in Australia should support the broad based democracy movement and the people inside Burma with a passion for freedom, on the need for dialogue and reconciliation. There are no easy solutions and the wounding has been long and deep but the question now that we have all seen the pictures and heard the cries for help, how can we continue to respond? I feel we must prioritise the freeing of political prisoners including Aung San Suu Kyi, and encourage dialogue and reconciliation. There is also a great need for healing and humanitarian support.

Jill Jameson is a member of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship. This is an account of her visit to Burma in early December.


Exiles Considering Formation of New Government in Exile

24 December 2007

By Wai Moe
December 21, 2007
[Original Source - Irrawaddy]

Some opposition leaders in exile are said to be planning to form a new exile government or to reform the current exiled government, the National Coalition Government Union of Burma (NCGUB), according to exiled opposition sources.

Opposition sources on the Thai-Burmese border told The Irrawaddy on Friday that two approaches are being considered: one reforming the current NCGUB, which has a headquarter office in Rockville, Maryland in the United States.

It was founded on December 18, 1990 when the National League for Democracy and other opposition groups elected Sein Win, a first cousin of Aung San Suu Kyi, as the NCGUB's prime minister.

Sein Win recently told The Irrawaddy that his government in exile supports the continuation of the initiative and mediation of the UN special envoy to Burma, Ibrahim Gambari.

However, NCGUB led by Sein Win is not highly regarded in Burmese community in and out of Burma.

The former university professor is, political observers say, sincere but lacked charisma and political vision thus unfit to lead the government in exile.

“Many people in exile politics have argued that the NCGUB is currently irrelevant to leading the exiled opposition movement,” said a source who asked to remain anonymous.

A second concept is to form an exile-based "federal government," sources said, to be led by the National Council Union of Burma (NCUB).

According to the source, there have been many debates over the two approaches. Some suggested a new "federal government" should be formed under the old NCGUB title. But most people opposed that idea, according to the source.

The NCUB is an umbrella organization in Burma including ethnic minority groups. It was founded in September 1992 and is based on the Thai-Burmese border. The Democratic Alliance of Burma (DAB), the National Democratic Front (NDF), the National League for Democracy (Liberated Area) (NLD-LA) and the Members of Parliament Union (MPU) are members of the NCUB.

“People who disagree argued that it is not time to talk about creating governments in exile, but time to think urgently about how to endorse dissident movements in Burma,” said a politician in exile who asked for anonymity.

Some politicians also expressed doubts about whether governments in exile could make common ground and decisions for the dissident movement abroad. Other voiced concerns that forming exiled governments could lead to more problems for pro-democracy forces inside Burma.

People who lobby for a new exiled "federal government" argued that it could lead to more a legitimate opposition movement in exile, and could be a more effective lobby group, said sources.

If formed, the new exiled government would include 15 ministers and include ethnic representatives.

San Aung, a member of the current government in exile, the NCGUB, on Friday denied there were talks about reforming the government.

“We are standing for the democracy movement,” he said. “If it is necessary, we could dissolve the NCGUB.”

Political sources in exile believe that Maung Maung, General Secretary of the NCUB, is lobbying to form a new government. Maung Maung is controversial political figure in exile. San Aung said, “You (The Irrawaddy) should ask the NCUB about it, because the rumors spread from it.”

Many lives have been lost in the democracy struggle and people should think carefully before rushing into the political arena, said San Aung.

The National League for Democracy (NLD) announced its opposition to the formation of a new government in exile in February 2006.


Lessons of Burma Uprising 2007

BY: Richard, Editor,
Burma Dialogue (www.freesuukyi.org/blog )

While we sit back and watch the junta predictably jump back and forth concerning the NLD and Aung San Suu Kyi’s level of involvement (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/7150488.stm) in the masquerade they call a “road to democracy” we can at least say those who stood up will be remembered in the back pages of Time’s internet pages (http://www.time.com/time/specials/2007/personoftheyear/article/0,28804,1690753_1690758_1693514,00.html).

Once again ASEAN, the UN, the US and the EU all seem to be under pressure to bring the regime under grand consequence, or the future will simply have no hope for us humanitarians. If my sarcasm is not obvious let me point it out for you. Negligence is the statue in which we embark to resolve. Though we have done one thing I suppose. The United States passed a Bill (http://uk.reuters.com/article/oilRpt/idUKN1962807620071220) ending financial support for the flow of Burmese rubies and timber. China will be happy to oblige. The real Burma timber market is going to China anyways. The always reliable Telegraph (yes, more sarcasm) stated that in 2007 blogs (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml;jsessionid=FXQWANC3XA4L3QFIQMFCFFOAVCBQYIV0?xml=/news/2007/10/01/wburma201.xml) helped the Burmese revolution.

They stated three, only one of which is actually a blog. What the uprising of 2007 has taught me is that, it is not the action or inaction of any government or institution that plays any real role in the fight for freedom for the people of Burma. It is the individual, inside or outside of Burma that makes the case for his and her own freedom according to that which they are prepared to lay down. I have done a little here and there. I would like to do more. But no one has done as much as those in Burma, who were seen publicly, had their pictures taken and their names put on a list for questioning and imprisonment as thoroughly as the Nazi’s did it.

But Time hides such human courage in the back pages, and names Putin, one of the junta’s largest supporters “Man of the Year”. It is clear we are on our own in this fight. I’m not saying anything new. Others know and are simply waiting for the right….Time.

(The End)


Letter to Irrawaddy

22 December 2007

Dear Editor,

I refer to Ups and Downs in 2007 [Commentary] by Aung Zaw in Irrawaddy. I have always followed Ko Aung Zaw's commentaries closely as I always find his opinions sensible and reasonable, his flow of thoughts strongly coherent.

Again, in this article, he has done a good job of summarizing the past significant happenings in Burma for 2007. In particular, below quote strikes me as something of utmost importance for us to consider in our future plans:

It is inevitable that change will come from within Burma. However, it is better if we can influence change in a peaceful way without bloodshed.

So far, I have heard of many people saying that, though they wish to do their bit for Burma, they fear for the safety and livelihood of their loved ones. In a country where poverty is already prominent, and the lives of people are heavily controlled by SPDC, the people seem to want to avoid any act to further aggravate the situation for the sake of their survival as well as their loved ones. Such fear has been systematically driven into the mindsets of burmese people by the junta over the years. We all know that mindsets cannot be changed overnight. Neither can fear be erased overnight. However, we need to change all this in our people in order for change to come from within Burma.

In the meantime, we also need to take into account of how much influence international community is having over SPDC. The following facts that SPDC was able to

1. reject Mr. Gambari's proposal to address the leaders at Asean Summit,
2. act nonchalant towards international sanctions and UN condemnation on its actions,
3. continue its crackdown on students, monks and political members by arresting them amidst international pressure to call for political dialogue and to respect international human rights

do not really give much hope for us on the role of international community to "influence change in a peaceful way without bloodshed".

Looking forward to 2008, in my humble opinion, we seriously need to plan for the following:

1. How do we encourage our burmese people so that "change will come from within Burma"?

* In my honest opinion, though proposals and analysis on future of Burma serve their purposes in some ways, those definitely cannot be used to reach out to ordinary citizens who cannot fully comprehend the intricacies of political analysis.
* Though different forms of campaigns create awareness within the targeted community, those also seem insufficient.
* Hence, especially the prominent groups of democratic movement, such as NLD, NCGUB, etc should seriously come together to plan on how to reach out to every Burmese person.

2. How do we garner support from international community so that they can "influence change in a peaceful way without bloodshed"?

* The governements of certain countries are reluctant to influence change on Burma as they do not wish to jeopardize their own economic gains.
* However, I feel that every government cannot survive without the support of its people.
* Hence, we can consider driving towards the global movement by "people-for-the-people" kind.

Lastly, I would like to say that a lot of sacrifices have been made and it seems inevitable that more has to come before Burma can be liberated. However, how much more? The answer is within our hands. No matter what, we cannot fail again. Our enthusiasm must not wane regardless of how much struggle we may have to face. So my wish for year 2008 will be to see Free Burma without much bloodshed.

With solidarity,
-Thway Ni-
(Burmese Bloggers w/o Borders)


Ups and Downs in 2007

By Aung Zaw
December 20, 2007
[Original Source: Irrawaddy]

The year 2007 brought high hopes to the Burmese people when protesters led by monks took to the streets demanding democratic change. But the hopes were short lived. The brutal crackdown unleashed by the military regime killed not only innocent people but also the people’s hope for change.

However, the people of Burma, tired of their life under a repressive regime, have pressed the fast forward button for change, and I believe they won’t let up that pressure.

Regional players and allies of the regime have failed to back this indefatigable will for change. They have also seen many ups and downs since Burma joined Asean in 1997.

Just before the start of November’s Asean summit in Singapore, China sent its special envoy to Naypyidaw, where he met senior leaders including Snr-Gen Than Shwe. Beijing backed UN efforts on Burma and asked the junta to speed up reform. But the Burmese leaders were unyielding.

At the Asean summit, disappointment and frustration were shared among leaders of member governments.

Burmese Prime Minister Gen Thein Sein, who led his country’s delegation to Singapore, rejected a proposal by UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari to address the summit on his missions to Burma. Gambari’s visits were a domestic Burmese issue, Thein Sein argued, before going on to sign the new Asean charter.

At that point, the credibility of the regional grouping hit zero.

Burma’s leaders had again successfully shown they intended to follow their road map with no interference from the international community.

At home, Aung San Suu Kyi broke her long silence by issuing a short but well thought-out message through Gambari. She said she is willing to cooperate with the regime, supports the role of the UN to facilitate dialogue and will continue to pay serious attention to voices and opinions of ethnic leaders and minorities.

Since October, Suu Kyi has been taken three times from her lakeside home to meet the newly appointed minister for relations, retired Maj-Gen Aung Kyi. But are the generals who form the junta really serious about talking with the Lady? Many observers remain doubtful.

The generals have met with her before; they have dined with her. But they also came near to killing her when junta-backed thugs ambushed her convoy in Depayin in May 2003, an outrage in which several of her supporters died.

It is disheartening to watch the generals fail to seize the opportunity when it is again put on the table, preferring to stick to their guns.

The failure of diplomacy, the regime’s intransigence, the lack of effective action from the international community and the brutal suppression of Buddhist monks and their supporters, combined with the country’s economic difficulties, will only create more unrest on the streets and more bloodshed. The regime and status quo in Burma are unsustainable.

It is inevitable that change will come from within Burma. However, it is better if we can influence change in a peaceful way without bloodshed.

Yet it’s to be feared that more blood will flow and more lives will be lost before we see a better Burma. Burmese who have seen many ups and downs in the country will continue to resist and confront the regime in many ways. But the price will be high.

Than Shwe is hoping for the best and preparing for the worst. He will continue to resist change and will fight until the end. Flanked by hard-liners and some “moderates” in the ruling council and in the armed forces, the general is returning to his shell and installing his own style of military monarchy.

The junta leader knows he has no shortage of overseas friends and allies who only care about themselves. They also continue to preserve the regime. But the truth is it will be too late to repair Burma within the next 20 years.

The year 2007 offered us some hope as well as cause for deep thought and depression on seeing a country that was once the rice bowl of Southeast Asia further descending in the ranks of the world’s failed states.

A Burmese proverb says the night cannot get darker after midnight. After many midnights, the Burmese deserve to see a new dawn.


Crisis on the Burma border

By Ashley South
December 20, 2007
[Original Source: Irrawady]

Civilized people have been shocked by the images of Buddhist monks and other civilians being arrested and killed in Rangoon and other cities.

Understandably, revulsion at the actions of the SPDC regime has led to calls for firm action to be taken against the generals who have mismanaged Burma for nearly half a century (since the military takeover of 1962).

The challenge facing the international community is how to persuade the junta to better respect the human, civil and political rights of citizens. Whether this requires reform of the military government—and some kind of gradual transition to democracy—or a more abrupt form of regime change is debatable. What is clear, however, is that Burma needs change—and soon.

In the meantime, for people in rural areas, not much has changed. Communities continue to be subject to a range of abuses committed by the Burmese military and government, and sometimes by armed non-state groups. The situation is especially difficult for ethnic people in areas affected by armed conflict, or who are threatened by the construction of large-scale infrastructure projects such as dams, and whose livelihoods have been undermined by natural resource extraction (logging and mining), or because their land has been confiscated by the army or other powerful actors.

It is of the utmost importance that the international community does not forget the plight of these people. Today in Burma, more than 500,000 internally displaced people (IDPs), most of whom come from the Karen, Karenni, Mon, Shan and other minority groups, are among the most oppressed and needy people in the country. Also of concern are 150,000 refugees living in ten camps in Thailand, as well as some two million migrant workers in the kingdom (most of whom also come from Burma).

In recent weeks, some international donors have responded to the situation in Burma by committing additional money to humanitarian projects inside the country, implemented by international and local agencies working in government-controlled areas. This is an entirely appropriate response. Burma receives much less foreign aid per capita than other countries with similar development and poverty indicators. I have long argued that more aid should be targeted at needy groups in Burma, and that assistance projects should be implemented in partnership with local civil society networks, and - where appropriate - with some state agencies, such as the departments of health and education.

However, foreign aid to Burma should not be seen as a zero-sum game. Assistance to vulnerable groups inside the country should not be provided at the expense of communities in the border zones. Refugees and IDPs in eastern Burma and Thailand remain in need of international protection and assistance. However, the international NGOs which have for over two decades supplied the refugee camps in Thailand, and directed international awareness of the plight of IDPs in Burma, are currently experiencing a serious funding crisis.

The Thailand Burma Border Consortium (TBBC) is the main NGO responsible for providing food and shelter to displaced people from Burma. Over the past few years, the TBBC and other NGOs have worked with the refugee communities to ensure a greater degree of participation in the governance of the camps, on the part of women and various minority and non-elite groups. Today, the refugee regime on the border stands as an example of "best practice": the various communities represented in the camps enjoy a degree of ownership over administration and the distribution of relief supplies, which is unusual in refugee situations around the world. However, these achievements are in danger of being undermined, as the TBBC is being forced to cut supplies to the refugee camps due to a chronic lack of funding.

The donors who have for so many years supported the TBBC and other NGOs working with refugees along the Thailand border should continue to do so. With increasingly large numbers of refugees taking up the "durable solution" of resettlement in third countries, the camps may be closed within a decade. In the meantime however, thousands of people still flock to the border every month—although the Thai authorities are making it increasingly difficult for them to gain access to the refugee camps.

Since the late 1990s, the civil war in Burma has entered its final stage. The few remaining armed groups still at war with the SPDC are facing a desperate situation, and the civilian populations living in areas under their influence or control are more vulnerable than ever. Given the dire humanitarian situation along the border, IDPs and refugees in and from Burma deserve our continued support. Now is not the time to abandon the long-suffering people of the borderlands.

[Ashley South is the author of several books and reports on Burma. This article appears on Thailand's English newspaper The Nation on Thursday.]


New Blood of Fighting Peacocks

Translated by Thway Ni (BBWOB)
[Original version in Burmese by NZ]

Is it a bloody storm
Accompanied by merciless army and smoke of gunpowder?
With perserverence,
Our peacock flag is flying high.
Our blood is forever rejuvenated
Even if we have to die on our feet.

For my wounds,
Do not shed your tears
For, only my body has vanished, not my blood.
Do not hesitate even upon exhaustion.
When you are weary,
When you are thirsty,
Quench with my blood.
Do not anguish over my death.
Strengthen yourself with my blood.
For our new generations,
Peacocks will stand defiant.
My friend,
Our people are weeping.
For their tears,
We, fighting peacocks, should dare to die.

(NZ composed the burmese version of this poem in memory of the last words of his friend who lost his life during a peaceful protest in Burma)


Images of the monks' peaceful protest in September

Translated by BBWOB
[Original Source in Burmese]

University of San Francisco recognized the efforts of the burmese monks by giving out an honorary award for their role in September peaceful protests. We, burmese people, feel very proud and happy for our monks.

To further honour the sacrifices made by our monks, the collection of various pictures of the monks during the September movement are presented below.

Below picture shows the senior monk, who is 83 yrs old, giving a speech on 25th September, to the crowd regarding why we had to carry out peaceful protests.

Below pictures shows the monk who was injured on the back by a bullet on 27th September.

We should respect and honour the sacrifices made by the monks.

Receiving the award from University of San Francisco

Let us continue to move forward till Burma gets its freedom.


May I Suggest - Bo Bo Kyaw Nyein

20 December 2007

Friday 26th Oct 2007 21:25 (Myanmar time)
Translated by BBWOB (with the help of MMM, TL)
[Original post in Burmese]

Last month, the courageous Burmese people protested against the hike in petrol prices as they could no longer endure the poverty under the repressive military regime (SPDC). The peaceful protests led by the monks commenced from a small town called Pa-khok-ku. However, the military regime that believes in holding onto power through the means of violence, beat up, arrested, killed the monks and people and also raided monasteries.

During this September movement, due to the advancement of internet technology, the military regime could no longer hide their atrocities from the international community like what they did during the 1988 demonstrations in Burma. Pictures of soldiers shooting into the crowds and a dead body of a monk in the stream were featured widely in all the international media almost instantly.

As a result, the international community became aware of the atrocities that the military regime had committed against the peaceful demonstrators and they lent their voices urging their governments to do something to help the Burmese people. As a result, UN had to step in and send Mr. Gambari to Burma as a UN representative for discussions with the military junta. Though the military junta was reluctant to meet Mr. Gambari, they eventually had to agree under the pressure from international countries and UN.

Looking back at the past events in Burma, the military junta seized power after 1990 elections instead of giving way to the winning party, National League for Democracy (NLD). They also arrested the national leader, Daw Aung San Su Kyi (DASSK). For the past 18 years, the military regime has been lying their way out to escape from any form of political dialogue. Instead, they have drawn up their own version of one-sided Road Map without much intention of achieving true democracy in Burma. In fact, their discussion with Mr. Gambari was full of pretence from their side. It is their ploy to deceive the international community by offering conditional acceptance/ offer without any sincere intention for true political dialogue.

Honestly speaking, I was one of those people who felt rather frustrated at DASSK’s non-confrontational policy. In my opinion, DASSK has never encouraged any form of confrontation to work towards democracy for Burma. Therefore, by demanding her not to carry out any form of confrontational role, the military junta is purposely trying to drive her to a corner. Likewise, economic sanctions by other foreign countries come about purely because they cannot tolerate the atrocities that the military junta has committed on the people of Burma. Hece, the junta should not claim unfairly that DASSK is the driving force behind such economic sanctions.

It is rather clear that all these groundless demands were made by the junta with the sole objective of depriving DASSK from any role in Burma’s political future.

It is also a political trap by the junta to leave DASSK and NLD that have been asking for a political dialogue for the past 18 years, with little choice. If they do not agree to the demands from the junta (regardless of how groundless those demands may be), some people will accuse them of letting go of the chance to end the sacrifices made in the struggle for the freedom of Burma. If they agree to the demands in order not to have more lives being lost, they will be deemed as weaklings. It is a big dilemma for them to decide whether to accept or reject. Based on the emotions for the sacrifices made so far, there is no way they can accept such demands from the junta. Therefore, some members from NLD refused to accept the pretentious offer from the junta for reconciliation.

From a professional view, this opportunity should be exploited. A Shan ethnic leader said during an interview that we should accept the demands. But he failed to discuss the most difficult part; that is how we should accept.

It is believed that DASSK and NLD also have a hard time deciding and thus, they have not announced their views officially. Therefore SPDC put pressure through the press. As the time goes by, Gambari, China and India may also add to the pressure.
There is no need to be afraid to play the politics as long as we take caution and think one step ahead. It is a political twist so it should be accepted with reservation and the rest has to be rebuffed.

Acceptance with reservation

I never agreed with head-on confrontation. Economic sanction is not just my demand. It is fair to say that they come about due to SPDC's unfair and oppressive control over its own people.

No matter what, we should accept these unfair demands for the sake of our country. If SPDC agreed not to use force or gun down innocent civilians and monks in the future uprising, we, who uphold non-violent ideology, will accept the demands.
In that way, we are throwing the knot back to SPDC.

There is no way for these power-hungry military generals to accept this statement because they know that they would be considered liable if they do not keep to their promise. If that is the case, we just have to start from the beginning.

In addition, United Nations and Gambari will also have to be more involved in discussion.

Let's discuss under the light

There might not be documented record during the last meeting. There was no improvement after the lunch meeting between DASSK and SPDC leaders. They delayed the process by giving many hopes. This time, the middle person should take good record of NLD's views, meeting agenda and outcomes. Otherwise, SPDC will delay even longer with the excuse of misunderstanding.

Every meeting needs to describe goodwill gesture. It should be demanded that SPDC should lift the control over DASSK and free all NLD leaders including U Win Tin for meaningful discussion.

NCGUB (National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma) has been writing proposals outside of Burma for the past 18 years. Given their long experience in writing analytical proposals, they should also consider writing one that includes the analysis on NLD’s stand, the outcome of the dialogue, expectations for Burma’s political future, current obstacles, matters that need to be reconciled between NLD and SPDC, etc. The prime minister of NCGUB and his general secretary can then publish the paper so that NLD, Burmese and international audiences will become aware of their stand as NCGUB. The suggestions and ideas from all the educated Burmese people who are currently staying all over the world should also be taken into consideration when deciding for the future path for Burma. Afterwards, DASSK and NLD can decide which one will be the best to present to the world as the future path for Burma. By doing so, everything is out in the open and SPDC can no longer trick their way around.

To hold meetings outside Burma at the same time

Actually, SPDC looks like a bully and we need to stop them from having their own way. America should lead the international meeting with SPDC by inviting China, North Korea and all the other countries. If so, international countries can monitor and control SPDC to conduct a real dialogue with NLD. Dr. Htun Kyaw Nyein, Ko Moe Thee Zun and Dr Sein Myint have already presented 8-page proposal for international meeting policy. It can be found at this link - http://www.mizzima.com/MizzimaNews/MizzimaForum/01-July-2007.html.

If we put pressure on SPDC from both inside and outside of Burma, they will be compelled to get involved in true dialogue.

Many lives have been sacrificed for this dialogue. It is not enough by saying that we support DASSK and NLD. It is not a dutiful act. Every body should involve in every step whenever and in whatever way that they can. It is not fair to put all the responsibilities on only DASSK’s shoulder.

When General Aung San was fighting for Independence, he led Pha-Sa-Pa-La very well with the support of Tha-Khin Mya, Tha-Khin Nu, U Kyaw Nyein, U Ba Swe, Tha-Khin Chit, Tha-Khin Than Htun and Ko Ba Hein. Those people were reliable and qualified leaders. Nowadays , we have U Win Tin and U Tin Oo. But they have been arrested together with DASSK. The people inside Burma are waiting for the release of DASSK and many people outside Burma seem to be only urging others to take action. In my opinion, if we love our country and DASSK, we ourselves should take some serious actions.

Three-Way Strategy

SPDC will not come to the dialogue on own accord.

In fact, the recent Saffron Revolution has pushed them to start a dialogue.

DASSK and NLD must try to get a real resolution out of SPDC through the dialogue.

The whole world should monitor this dialogue carefully so that SPDC will not have a chance to dilly-dally any further in their commitments to bring about democracy in Burma.

Hence, we need the following three factors as our strategy:

1. People Power [ People Protest / Uprising ]
2. Discussion between DASSK and NLD
3. International Pressure

Therefore, every body has a duty to perform. If SPDC try to deceive everyone again, we should prepare in advance for another uprising to be able to show our people’s power and desire.

May our revolution succeed.

May our people obtain freedom.


Myanmar refugees face wretched existence in Malaysia

18 December 2007

[Re-post from this source]

A stenciled cardboard placard announces the presence of a refugee camp for minority ethnic Chins from Myanmar, hidden in the jungle on the fringes of an urban development in Kuala Lumpur, in October. Living in a secret mud hut camp within minutes of one of Kuala Lumpur's ultra-rich neighbourhoods, over 100 Myanmar refugees who have escaped religious persecution in their country are on the verge of death from starvation.

(AFP) - Living in miserable camps not far from the glittering Petronas Twin Towers, Myanmar refugees in Malaysia are some of the most wretched of the hundreds of thousands who have fled their homeland.

"We are living here like prisoners, we cannot go out anywhere because we are frightened," says 35-year-old James Munerlian, a Christian pastor from Myanmar's Chin state who fled persecution by the military regime.

Munerlian is the leader of a 100-strong group of men, women and children who live a precarious existence in a secret encampment in one of the patches of jungle that still remain among Kuala Lumpur's suburbs.

The half-hour trek there takes a visitor past an almost completed luxury housing project, over hilly and mosquito-infested terrain, through an illegal rubbish damp and across a riverbed reeking with sewage.

In a clearing, the Chin refugees huddle into eight huts made with sheets of zinc and cardboard, and draped with pieces of plastic.

They escaped Myanmar on foot in the hope of finding a better life, but instead are exploited by unscrupulous employers and harassed by Malaysia's controversial volunteer security corps which hunts down illegal migrants.

Michael Boak Tun Thang, a 26-year-old farmer from northern Chin state, came to Malaysia in early 2006 and has been hiding in various jungle camps ever since.

"The junta came to my village with rifles. Because there were only a few men, they ordered all the boys and also the women to become porters and carry their foods and boxes," he says.

"They raped all the women, even my sister, but I could not do anything. We carried the heavy things but they never paid us or gave us any meals."

Late one night, Tun Thang was freed by men from a nearby village, but the last time he saw his sister she was a walking skeleton and he has not heard from her since.

Refugee advocates say the camp is just one of hundreds in the capital and around the country that have sprung up in patches of jungles, near agricultural plantations and on the fringes of coastal villages.

Some luckier ones have managed to find cheap housing, and live packed a dozen to a room.

"Malaysia has become one of the worst places for Burmese asylum seekers because of the way the government and its enforcers have brutalised and abused refugees," says Debbie Stothard from human rights group Altsean Burma.

"Large groups of refugees are in hiding around the country and they are penniless and desperate," she adds, using Myanmar's former name.

United States data in 2006 listed Myanmar as the world's third largest source of refugees after Afghanistan and Iraq, with at least 700,000 people having fled the country.

"Ten years ago, Burmese refugees were unheard of in most Asian countries with the exception of Thailand which shares a very porous border with the country," Stothard says.

"But today, the situation is so bad that there are large numbers of refugees escaping to China, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia and Malaysia.

"Many of these refugees end up being illegal migrants because the Burmese government does not provide passports to most of its people and refuse to recognise them as citizens if they leave the country illegally."

The Malaysian government says there are about 25,644 Myanmar asylum-seekers in the country but refugee groups believe the real figure is more than double that.

The majority are Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar's Rakhine state while the rest are Christian Chins, Karens and Shan.

In the Chin jungle camp, they knew nothing of the massive September street protests, led by Buddhist monks, in Myanmar's main city Yangon which were violently suppressed by the regime, triggering international outrage.

Chin Refugee Centre coordinator Paul Lian says most Myanmar refugees in Malaysia work illegally on building sites or plantations and face beatings, extortion and exploitation from employers.

"The groups are in very bad shape as they have no money, no food and fear for their safety," he says, adding that as they have no rights they are either not paid at all or given a pittance.

Another camp dweller, 43-year-old Peter Thant Tum who has been on the run for the past three years, just wants a chance at leading a normal life.

"If the Malaysia government has consideration, please give us legal documents and allow us to work, to earn money and eat, our lives will be more happy," he says.

However, Malaysia is already fending off a mass influx of Indonesian workers -- both legal and illegal -- and has no intention of allowing Myanmar refugees to make their home here too.

"The impact on our country in many terms will be great if we open our doors and declare these foreigners as refugees," Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs Ahmad Shabery Cheek was quoted as saying recently.

"If we provide illegal immigrants... with jobs, our own people will lose out in employment opportunities."

Crackdowns on illegal migrants are carried out by the volunteer RELA corps, a notorious uniformed brigade accused of rampant human rights abuses.

"We don't have any security, our brothers they go to the market but then the RELA men, they stop us and they demand money," Thant Tum says.

"They don't want to arrest us because they know they will have to feed us and take care of us so they only demand money from us and beat us very badly."

Just days after speaking to AFP, Thant Tum says RELA officers stopped him at a market and demanded the money he had on him -- 100 ringgit (30 dollars) -- which was the camp's weekly food budget. He refused and was beaten senseless.

"It is outrageous and tragic that many of these refugees who fled brutality and torture in Burma should now have to put up with extortion from RELA. How can we accept this?" asks Stothard.

RELA's Kuala Lumpur director Mohammad Aminuddin Mohammad Yusof says the force does not condone acts of brutality and corruption.

"Our men are there to help immigration authorities detain illegal immigrants and overstayers so our first duty is to detain these individuals, not extort money from them," he told AFP.

"There might be such cases of abuse because RELA is a volunteer force but give us evidence of these corrupt acts and details and we will investigate and prosecute the offenders."


Change of guard or political reform? Only time will tell

16 December 2007

Dr. Sein Myint
Mizzima News (www.mizzima.com)

[Original Source]

December 13, 2007 - A rumor of the ill health of State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) Supremo, Senior General Than Shwe, has recently been reported in the exile Burmese news media. The question that is on peoples' minds, especially to Burma experts and observers living outside the country is, whether this is true, and if it is, then how will this effect Burma's current political landscape and its "Seven Point Road Map", the political process that the SPDC has embarked upon?

Burmese people are quite used to such rumors since the Ne Win era, where numerous rumors of the death of the late dictator regularly circulated, some purposely by the dictator himself, possibly on the advice of astrologers, making Yadayar to ward off any bad omen cast upon him. This could be another Yadayar by the Senior General, as he has already instructed the planting of "Sunflower or Nay Kyar," meaning 'long stay' in Burmese, possibly with an eye to extending his rule over the "Fourth Burmese Empire".

However if the rumors turn out to be true, then there could be many possible political outcomes and effects upon the current political landscape and on the livelihood of millions of Burma's citizens. Whether in absolute monarchy systems of the past centuries or in modern dictatorships, the death of the ruler or the dictator had little impact on ordinary citizens if power was passed on to a chosen successor. From time to time, however, disputes over the chosen successor led to bloody contests among elites and their lay followers.

Will there be a dispute about succession to the SPDC helm if Senior General Than Shwe dies? It depends upon when, and the time factor will decide who will succeed him. As for now, the lineage seems to be simply in line with military hierarchy. Obviously, Deputy Senior General Maung Aye should be the natural successor, as he is also the Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Defense Services, Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Deputy Chairman of the SPDC. However, in reality, many analysts and experts are not certain of Maung Aye's prospects to become the next Chairman of the SPDC.

Many have predicted that the current No. 3 of the SPDC, the reserved Than Shwe loyalist, General Thura Shwe Mann, could become the next Commander-in-Chief of Defense Services. He's the current Joint Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces. Others have placed their bets on a dark horse, the current Military Intelligence Chief, Lieutenant General Myint Shwe, another Than Shwe hand picked loyalist.

Since the current Head of State is the Chairman of the SPDC and Commander-in-Chief of Defense Services, whoever becomes the Commander-in-Chief of Defense Services will be the Chairman of the SPDC. He will also be the Head of State, under the current military and political power structure, as Senior General Than Shwe undisputedly holds all three positions.

However, it is difficult to say whether the status quo will hold for the next incoming Chairman of the SPDC. Again, the power structure could be different if General Than Shwe outlived the completion of the Seven Point Road Map. Then according to the current SPDC draft constitution, the Head of State would not necessarily be the Commander-in-Chief of Defense Services, but must have extensive military experience. If they decide to replace the SPDC with another military supreme council ---with members consisting of the top military brass with the Commander-in-Chief of Defense Services at its head--- the Head of State would not necessarily be the head of the military council.

Thus, the division of power between the military and political structures could become more separated. They could be vested in two portfolios instead of the one as it is now. Once the Road Map is completed, resulting in a military-controlled elected parliament or assembly, and all key positions are filled with top military personnel from the current SPDC, it is highly likely that Senior General Than Shwe, if he is still alive, would relinquish the title of Commander-in-Chief of Defense Services, and only take up the Head of State post.

Then the question of who will become the next Commander-in-Chief of Defense Services is a matter of succession by military hierarchy. As of now, the No. 3, General Shwe Mann, would be the next in line after Deputy-Senior General Maung Aye. It has been proven in military history that there is no guarantee who will become No. 1. Once No. 1 decides to remove No. 2 and bring up No. 4 or 5, inevitably pushing No. 2 or No. 3 to break rank with the existing military hierarchy, then all bets are off the table. Once there is a dispute in the military succession process, with multiple camps trying to grasp power, then the political structure cannot sustain control over power without military support in the assembly where, as stated in the proposed constitution, 25 percent of representatives are to be from the military.

Moreover, if No. 1 dies before the completion of the Road Map, the succession issue will become more acute and critical. The consolidation of both military and political power in one person would certainly raise the stakes within the SPDC, just like the complications stated above would with respect to military succession. But it would be more complex for a combined political and military succession. Similar parables can be applied here for hierarchical succession processes. Since the stakes are higher to attain, equal to absolute power, a bloody and violent confrontation could ensue if any group or groups decide to break rank with the military hierarchy and go for the top prize.

So far, the SPDC Supremo has managed to hold the military court in order under his command by sharing out power and privileges. Certainly, whoever in the current SPDC line-up assumes the top post, keeping other members in line waiting their turn could prove problematic. The next critical question is: will the next Commander-in-Chief of Defense Services meet with the democratic opposition leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and embark upon a genuine national reconciliation process? Only time will tell.

Dr. Sein Myint serves as Director for Policy Development with Justice for Human Rights in Burma (JHB).


Support For Burma Saffron Revolution

10 December 2007


Aung Way’s Review - “The way to win the power within one year”

09 December 2007

Original post in Burmese
Translated by Burmese Bloggers w/o Borders (with the help of MMM & TL)


This review is from a poet for Burma Democracy Revolution. The poet has tried to mention his personal point of view on the Democracy Revolution. Hence it is named Aung Way’s Review. The main objective of this review is to win back the power within one year.


The Burmese people demonstrated in 1988 as the first time after 26 years of army regime. It was led by students. And then military junta took advantage on that demonstration and seized the power from the people and declared martial law under SLORC (State Law and Order Restoration Council). It has been 19 years since then. Hence, in September, the Burmese people again demonstrated against the military regime which has ruled the country for almost 20 years. The Monks took the lead in this peaceful demonstration. This time, (State Peace and Development Council) SPDC is trying to take advantage of the situation in Burma to tighten their power.


It is very clear. SPDC can no longer ignore the people’s peaceful protests. They end up having to arrange for a dialogue with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Actually this dialogue is what all monks, students and people have been requesting through the peaceful protests. The fact that SPDC had to start talking about dialogue that they previously did not give serious consideration about, is the greatest achievement of this 2007 September movment. However, as usual SPDC is very tricky and they will try to hold on to the power as long as possible by pretending to make dialogue with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. We, Burmese People, need to be aware of their trick , which plays an important role in successfully destroying the dictatorship forever on our land.

Therefore our Burmese people should not wait and expect much from this pretentious dialogue. We need to speed up our revolution to be able to win back the power within a short period of time.


We, Burmese People, need to arrange The Third and The Last Democracy Revolution. There are some do’s and don’ts in such revolution to be able to win.

There are two facts to avoid. These are policies of non-violence and compromise.

Everyone knows that the military junta (SPDC) brutally cracked down on the monks-led peaceful protest. If the burmese people wanted to continue in the same peaceful way, the junta would surely carry out the same kind of brutal suppression against them. It would be as if we are sacrificing our lives unncessarily. We don’t want that to happen again.

Each and every protestor for democracy has their own right to defend for themselves. These people who are demonstrating peacefully must be protected under the law. But there is no such law in Burma.

Therefore, the protestors have to defend themselves from the brutal crackdown without affecting the main aim of the revolution.

The second one is the policy of compromise. This is akin to surrendering to the enemy and we must avoid this strategy. There were numerous records in Burma’s history that once the enemy gave in just a little bit, some politicians and activists would end up combining forces with the enemy and betrayed the public.

These are two factors that everyone, who is fighting for democracy, must avoid at all cost regardless of whether they are leaders or supporters.

The revolution that the Burmese people are conducting is not merely a protest just to reduce the prices. We all must bear in mind that this revolution has been going on for the last 45 years with the aim of ending the entire dictatorship and must prepare to continue our fight till we win.


Important facts to keep in mind during this struggle

1) "Three sons" (meaning monks, students and soldiers) have to be united
2) In order to increase the momentum of the current protest, connection has to be made between struggles within and those outside Burma.

Students played the leading role during the protest for Democracy in 1988 while monks were the leaders in 2007. For coming 2008, during the third and final protest, soldiers will be persuaded to join with the civilians and fight against the brutal military generals. Then, we will definitely have an ideal movement of "three sons" joining hand in hand, with the soldiers leading the movement. It is indeed of utmost importance for activists fighting for democracy to cleverly pave the way for such ideal movement to happen.

The second fact, increasing the momentum of civilian participation, will need to be done as follows.

First of all, all the organizations (be it “undergroud” or “non-underground”) should come together to form a united front. The organizations include the National League for Democracy (NLD, which won nationwide landslide election in 1991 but was denied to take office by the military regime), All-Burma Monks Association, students' organizations, nonviolence, triple-colored and CNG youths, political activists, professionals, elected officials, workers, farmers, etc. All these non-underground forces need to form Mass's Alliances for Democracy.

As for the underground forces,there are also seventeen armed groups who signed cease fire agreement with the military government and student leaders, political activists and religious leaders, who have gone into hiding. These underground forces need to be linked with those non-underground forces.

As for the forces outside Burma, there are two different groups: armed and unarmed. The armed groups are mainly made up of KNU with its force (KNLA), and KNPP (including ABSDF, Karen Ni, Rhakhine, Shan, Chin, etc). Organizations, unarmed but outside Burma, consist of international organizations such as NLD (LA), NCUB, NCGUB, DAB, FDB, etc.

As civilian protests within Burma increase their intensity of protests, political activists along the borders, abroad and from the international community will have to work towards having more attention from the international community on the progress of Burma so that they can place more pressure on the military government for reforms. At the same time, armed groups also need to increase their pace in their fights against the military junta.

There are 17 armed ethnic groups who have Gentleman's agreement with the government to cease fire. They cannot go out and protest with the civilians. And they also cannot go back to the arm struggle against the government. Our democratic forces need to use this situation very carefully. The important thing is that these ethnic armed groups should be in synchrony with the aim of the civilians’ movement. Therefore, a good strategy is neded for every battle.


First of all, it is important to analyze the situation between the enemy and ourselves. There are 3 types of situations in every battle.

1) Having a defensive strategy on our side
2) Having an equivalent situation for strategy on either sides
3) Having an offensive strategy on our side

Currently, in Burma, the civilians can be considered as being in the offensive mode. The fact that the military government generals are restlessly negotiating with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, indicates the junta having to adopt a defensive mode.

Now that we are in the offensive front, what strategy should we uphold to finish the battle? In other words, what are the goals of the final battle? The following 3 demands should be our goals.

1) All political prisoners including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi should be set free.
2) There should be immediate triangle-meeting among opposition political parties (NLD, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, etc), military government representatives and ethnic armed groups.
3) The short-term government led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi should be organized immediately.

In short, all political prisoners should be freed, the triangle-meeting should be held and the short-term government should be organized. These 3 statements should be carried out within a year and they are the basic of the battle.

What tactics should be used in this battle? How should the battle formation be shaped up? The form of the civilian protest is clear. For example, Mass's Alliances for Democracy, can lead and open an uprising centre at the Shwedagon Pagoda. Then, the peaceful demonstrations on the streets should follow, chanting the slogans to take over the military government's center "Napyidaw". Discipline shapes up the battle. Burmese and foreign bloggers and media, burmese people outside Burma, and buddhist monks can make up the other forms of the battle.


The Burmese people should also threaten the followers of SPDC by confronting and obstructing their actions so that they will not dare to remain in their assigned townships. The Burmese people in Burma should be united in carrying out whatever possible offensive action against the SPDC followers.


Without the belief for revolution, there will never be a revolution. Likewise, without a good leader, the revolution will not be successful.

The three demands mentioned above should be the goals of our revolution.
Mass’s Alliances for Democracy should take lead in this revolution.

In addition, I would like to add the following firmly:

- Do not blindly hold on to the policy of non-violence.
- Never compromise with the enemy.
- Must form a united, disciplined front who stands up for the truth.
- Never betray Daw Aung San Su Kyi and the revolution.
- Must win the revolution within a year.

Aung Way
[ From a temporary hiding place ]