Sep 30th, 2010
MYANMAR – UN
AsiaNews.it – Ban Ki-moon says elections a sham without the release of Aung San Suu Kyi
The UN secretary general says the vote “will not be credible” if the Nobel Peace laureate and other political prisoners are not freed. The appeal comes at the end of the “Group of Friends of Myanmar” meeting, whose members call for “greater participation, transparency and representation.” Insubordination among soldiers who do not receive food or pay.
Yangon (AsiaNews / Agencies) – The November 7 general election in Myanmar will not be “credible” without the release of political prisoners, including opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. So says Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary general, after a meeting two days ago in New York with members of the so-called “Group of Friends of Myanmar”. He added that the group calls for a “greater presence” in the vote, through a ballot that is “participatory and transparent.” In Myanmar, meanwhile, incidents of insubordination among the soldiers continue, who refuse to perform assigned duties in protest against the scarcity of food and non-payment of wages.
The November 7 vote is part of the “road to democracy,” trumpeted by the Burmese military regime, in an attempt to legitimatise itself in the eyes of the international community. International experts and domestic opponents argue that these elections are a “sham”, exploited by the junta to maintain power and quash the minority that is fighting for a true democracy. The UN secretary general and ministers from countries members of the “Friends of Myanmar” – after a meeting behind closed doors – stressed the need for an electoral path characterized by “greater participation, transparency and representation.” “This is essential – added Ban Ki-moon – for the election to be seen as credible and contribute to Myanmar’s stability and development.”
The “Group of Friends of Myanmar” consists of Australia, United Kingdom, China, France, India, Indonesia, Japan, Norway, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, United States, Vietnam and the European Union. The meeting – held on the sidelines of UN General Assembly – was not attended by leaders from Myanmar, whose government declined to respond to comments by Ban Ki-moon. However, on 26 September U Nyan Win, Myanmar’s Foreign Minister, met with UN Secretary General at the United Nations headquarters in New York. In recent days, sources close to the junta said that Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the democratic opposition, may vote, but will not be allowed to leave the house where she is being held. The Nobel Peace Laureate is serving a sentence of 18 months of house arrest , whose terms expire shortly after the election.
Meanwhile, incidents insubordination among the soldiers in Myanmar. They are refusing to perform the daily tasks assigned to them in increasing protest against unpaid wages and scarce food rations. A series of interviews by the BBC shows that for weeks the soldiers have not received their rations, officers have blocked the payment of wages and access to savings, held in a bank.
by Rob Bryan – Tue Sep 28, 11:55 pm ET
YANGON (AFP) – Housewives huddle over jewellery counters in Yangon’s bustling Chinatown, but fashion is not foremost on their minds. This is banking in Myanmar’s dysfunctional economy.
On nearby Shwe Bontha Street, the heart of the gold market since colonial times, Nyan Tun is more than just a trader: he is an unofficial banker in the military-ruled country.
“Normally, the major buyers are farmers. They will buy gold with a little bit of extra money to sell before the next harvest,” he said. “Second are the housewives, who love to buy jewellery as savings.”
The global economic crisis may have reignited suspicion of banks worldwide, but in isolated Myanmar such distrust has long run deep and savers have no desire to put their money into the backward banking system.
Not that people have much to spare: decades of economic mismanagement by the country’s rulers, plus international boycotts and sanctions, have generated a population struggling to get by and facing soaring consumer prices.
Between 2005 and 2009 the annual inflation rate in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, averaged 20 percent, according to the Asian Development Bank.
“If you want to catch up with inflation, you buy gold. If you save money in the bank you lose money,” said Nyan Tun.
“People have much more trust in gold as a store of value,” added the trader, whose name AFP has changed at his request. In military-ruled Myanmar, saying anything seen as critical of the junta can have serious consequences.
Nyan Tun said the value of a gold “tical” — about half a troy ounce — had increased more than 30-fold in the local currency, the kyat, since his early days as a gold trader in the late 1980s.
Sean Turnell, a specialist in Myanmar’s economy at Macquarie University in Sydney, said rampant increases in consumer prices were largely a result of the government’s habit of simply printing more money to fund its spending.
An abundance of natural treasures — including gold, gas, teak, oil, jade and gems — could make the country a rich nation as it once was before coming under military rule in 1962.
But Myanmar remains one of the world’s least developed countries, with nearly a third of the population living below the poverty line, according to World Bank figures, as the junta and its associates exploit these raw materials for their own benefit.
“The fiscal situation should be good,” said Turnell, on the basis that earnings from gas supplies should fund government spending.
“But they (the military rulers) don’t bring money they get from gas properly into public accounts,” he said. “These funds are not recorded.”
Few believe Myanmar’s controversial first election in 20 years, due on November 7, will bring about much-needed economic reform, as the polls are widely expected to simply cloak military rule with civilian clothing.
“The ruling class will still be the same, so there will not be big changes,” said Nyan Tun, now in his 50s.
However there have been some shifts in the economic landscape ahead of the election, with the junta instigating a spate of privatisations of state firms and properties.
Along with these sell-offs of assets including ports, factories and cinemas, four conglomerates on international sanctions lists and run by junta-friendly tycoons have been given licences to start up new banks.
Turnell said the cronyism apparent in these recent developments suggested the country was “drifting in a really strange direction away from a totalitarian system into one that works like a semi-criminal economy”.
For the average Myanmar citizen, there is still no economic stability, or decent alternative to their trustworthy treasure.
“Gold has been the ultimate reserve asset, the ultimate insurance against bad government policy. It goes back to the colonial era — it’s seen as being dependable and independent of the state,” said Turnell.
With the precious metal playing such a key role, the regime keeps a close eye on its trade. Nyan Tun said plain-clothed special branch police lurk on Shwe Bontha Street and pressure traders to stop selling when prices go up.
“Maybe the government thinks inflation is due to the price of gold, but actually it’s the other way round,” he said.
“The gold price is the index of inflation to citizens,” agreed a business editor in Yangon who did not want to be named. “People don’t know how else to judge inflation. The government gives no explanation.”
Myanmar’s banking system has never really recovered from a major crisis in 2003, which saw three banks completely collapse and was exacerbated by the policies of the Central Bank, such as recalling loans from borrowers.
People have also been hit hard in the past when the authorities scrapped certain currency units as legal tender.
A mass uprising against the military in 1988, which was brutally crushed, escalated from protests over a major episode of demonetisation by the regime.
“That wiped out the savings of a huge amount of people,” said Turnell. “I have never come across a single Burmese person who saves money in the banks.”
For now gold remains the safest haven in Myanmar — the reason why a fishmonger will wear her savings around her neck.
“Gold: this is the only thing people trust,” said the business editor.
Tue Sep 28, 3:25 pm ET
UNITED NATIONS (AFP) – The Myanmar junta on Tuesday shrugged off international criticism of an upcoming election after a UN ministerial group demanded the release of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Foreign Minister U Nyan Win told the United Nations that the military government was committed to a “free and fair” election, in a speech that criticized “interference in internal affairs and attempts to impose domination.”
“The people will exercise their democratic right to elect the representatives of their own choice who can serve their interest better,” the minister said.
He spoke a day after the UN group — which included ministers from China and India, Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia as well as Britain and the United States — “clearly reiterated the need for the election process to more inclusive, participatory and transparent,” UN chief Ban Ki-moon said.
“Members called for steps to be taken for the release of political detainees including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
“This is essential for the election to be seen as credible and to contribute to Myanmar’s stability and development,” Ban told reporters.
No Myanmar government representative was at the Friends On Myanmar meeting. Ban said he met U Nyan Win on Sunday and “conveyed my strong wish and expectation that this election should be conducted in a fair, transparent and inclusive manner.”
He also pressed for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, who has spent most of the past two decades under house arrest.
Myanmar has banned her National League for Democracy and nine other opposition parties from taking part in the November 7 election, Myanmar’s first in two decades. The opposition has said the vote will be a sham.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s party won a landslide victory in the last election in 1990 but the junta never let her take office.
The junta has said however that Aung San Suu Kyi will be allowed to vote.
Ban said the runup to the election will be “critical” and that the ministerial group called on Myanmar to take “a more constructive and forward-looking approach” with the international community.
The United States and European Union have sanctions against Myanmar. But China has shielded Myanmar from UN sanctions while India hosted Myanmar junta leader Than Shwe on a state visit in July.
“At this critical stage in Myanmar’s transition, it is all the more important that the group, and especially Myanmar?s neighbors, encourages Myanmar to engage meaningfully with my good offices,” Ban said.
The UN chief has expressed mounting frustration with the Myanmar junta in recent months. The government has even refused a visit by his chief of staff, Vijay Nambiar. “I expressed my regret about that fact,” Ban told reporters.
The secretary general has also urged the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which includes Myanmar, to take a tougher line on the junta over the elections.
U Nyan Win told the UN General Assembly that more than 3,000 candidates from 37 parties would take part in the vote for 1,171 parliamentary seats.
“Such a large participation made it crystal clear that the elections become virtually inclusive,” the minister said.
He made no mention of Aung San Suu Kyi, but told other countries: “With its ample experiences and lessons learned in holding multiparty general elections in the past history, Myanmar is confident in its ability to conduct the elections in an orderly manner.”
“Whatever the challenges facing us, we are committed to do our best for the successful holding of the free and fair general elections for the best interest of the country and its people.”
Sep. 29 2010 – 09:58 pm
By – Zin Linn
Burmese military backed-militias operating in Shan State are now the key players in the drug trafficking, in accordance with new end result by local Shan analysts, Khuensai Jaiyen of the of Shan Drug Watch explained during a the press conference at Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand (FCCT) on 29 September.
Nawdin Lapai of the Kachin News Group and Lway Aye Nang of the Palaung Women’s Organization also explained the Burmese army’s involvement in the narcotics trade. As said by the panelists, Burmese military junta intentionally allow ethnic young generation using drugs so as to weaken the strength of the ethnic rebels.
The latest Shan Drug Watch newsletter, issued today (29 September), details how the Burmese regime’s War on Drugs has fallen way behind schedule, with 46 of Shan State’s 55 townships still growing opium. According to ‘Shan Drug Watch Newsletter’ there is no evidence of constant effort by Burmese military regime to do away with opium. Opium farmers throughout the state are being taxed by the Burmese military troops.
This is approved to the Burma Army’s reliance on taxation of opium, and its policy to allow numerous proxy local militia to deal in drugs, including methamphetamines, in exchange for controlling against the opposition activities.
46 out of 55 townships in the region are poppy-growing areas where the Burmese army’s existence in Shan State has enlarged up to 150 battalions, five times bigger than combating with Chinese-backed Communist rebels between 1970s and 1980s.
As a soldier’s earning is just $22 per month, troops live on the opium taxation and backing militias to carry out the work, including the methamphetamine trade into Thailand, which has more than tripled in the past year, according to statistics from Thailand’s Office of the Narcotics Control Board.
The favored status of the militia has enabled them to overtake ethnic ceasefire groups as the main drug producers in Shan State. Most ceasefire groups, including the United Wa State Army, have faced increased military pressure and restrictions after refusing to come under the regime’s control as Border Guard Forces.
“The junta’s militias are stepping into the vacuum left by the Wa and setting up new drug refineries along the Thai-Burma border,” explained Khuensai Jaiyen of Shan Drug Watch. “They are being rewarded for their political allegiance to the regime.”
Maps of militia areas, refineries and details of militia leaders’ close relations with Burma Army personnel expose the growing influence of these previously ignored drug operators. There are estimated to be about 400 different militia groups in northern Shan State alone.
Ethnic militias implicated in the drug trafficking, indeed, try to trade as much opium, heroin and methamphetamine as possible to purchase weapons, beforehand of a Burmese army assault, notion to be imminent after the voting, as states by the ‘Shan Drug Watch Newsletter’.
Distinguished narcotics bosses of Shan State, Myint Lwin and Kyaw Myint were made known today at press conference in Bangkok as who will stand for the junta’s proxy party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party, in the upcoming polls. Zah Kung Ting Ying, a former New Democratic Army-Kachin leader, will run for election as an independent, as said by Kachin journalist Lahpai Nawdin.
Aftermath of the polls, a number of drug lords are so likely to take some seats in the military sponsored-parliaments in Burma.
Wed Sep 29, 5:01 am ET
YANGON, Myanmar (AP) – Myanmar’s prime minister warned citizens to protect the country’s image during November elections and to prevent anyone from derailing the first polls in 20 years, state media reported Wednesday.
The Nov. 7 vote is a keystone of what the military-ruled country says is a transition to civilian rule after five decades under the army, although many see it as a means of prolonging its dominance.
“The success of the election is a matter of national dignity and concerns every citizen. Thus, it is necessary to prevent those who are trying to disrupt the election,” Prime Minister Thein Sein was quoted saying in comments carried by Myanma Ahlin and the two other state-run newspapers.
State media often accuse “terrorists” or anti-government groups of plotting to disrupt the vote. It was first such warning from a senior official.
Thein Sein did not elaborate on any alleged threat, though the junta’s biggest perceived threat is detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Her National League for Democracy opposition party is boycotting elections and Suu Kyi has said through a spokesman that dissatisfied voters have the right not to vote — stopping short of calling for a voter boycott.
The Nobel Peace Prize winner and governments around the world say that restrictive rules governing the elections show it will be unfair and undemocratic.
Suu Kyi’s party won the country’s last election in 1990 but the junta refused to let the party take power. Suu Kyi has been in jail or under house arrest for 15 of the past 21 years.
Thein Sein also urged voters to choose “patriotic persons and those who will prevent the Union (of Myanmar) from disintegration” when casting ballots. He made the comments at the opening ceremony of a hospital in the Irrawaddy Delta, the area hardest hit by Cyclone Nargis in May 2008, which left 140,000 people dead or missing.
Thein Sein is the leader of the junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party which was formed in April after he and 26 other Cabinet officials resigned their military posts to make them eligible to take part in politics.
The USDP is widely expected to win the most votes in the election because its ties with the junta give the party access to easy funding and a nationwide presence.
12:44, September 29, 2010
The Myanmar Union Election Commission has dissolved one more political party, which has been already granted permission for set-up, for failing to apply for registration as a political party to the commission within the prescribed period, an official daily reported Wednesday.
The disbanded party was listed as Myanmar New Society Democratic Party, said the New Light of Myanmar.
A total of 37 political parties are qualified to run the coming election set for Nov. 7, according to the official figures.
The commission designated 330 constituencies for parliamentary house of representatives election and 12 constituencies for parliamentary house of nationalities election in each region or state across the country in running the election.
It also designated two constituencies for each township for election of parliamentary representatives in each region or state and one constituency for election of parliamentary representatives for each ethnic minority in each region or state.
The constituencies are scattered in townships in Kachin, Kayah, Kayin, Mon, Rakhine, Shan and Chin states, Sagaing, Tanintharyi, Bago, Magway, Ayeyawaddy, Yangon and Mandalay regions.
Parliamentary candidates are preparing for 1,157 seats, including 494 seats in Myanmar’s Union Parliaments (parliamentary house of representatives and parliamentary house of nationalities), 663 spread among 14 regional parliaments.
English.news.cn 2010-09-29 13:47:47
YANGON, Sept. 29 (Xinhua) — Myanmar health experts are urging more local private sectors to increase HIV funding and to take a more active role in fighting HIV/AIDS and other related diseases, said the local Myanmar Times Wednesday.
High HIV prevalence could delay the development of the country as infection is most prevalent among those aged 15 and 49, it said.
The joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, better known as UNAIDS, estimates 237,684 people were living with HIV/AIDS in 2009, with 17,566 estimated AIDS deaths and 17,101 new infections that year, said the report, quoting Dr.Myo Lwin, a freelance consultant for HIV/AIDS awareness-raising programs.
Of the almost 238,000 people with HIV, about 74,000 required antiretroviral treatment (ART).
In 2009, the organization had 241 international and 25 local donors, and this has risen to 280 and 30 respectively so far in 2010.
According to the earlier report, Myanmar is to regain a global fund to fight three diseases — HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis (TB) and malaria in January next year.
Finalization is underway to resume the aid to Myanmar after the Global Fund, an international institution that finances globally for life saving, suspended its assistance to Myanmar in August 2005.
However, after the 2005 pull-out of the Global Fund, a new Three-Diseases (3-D)Fund, which was developed in 2006 as a compensation by a group of six donors
A four-member mission of the Global Fund, led by William Paton, Director of Country Programs, made a four-day visit to Myanmar in February last year and sought the possibility to re-engage with its aid efforts in the country for fighting the three diseases.
The Straits Times – Reaping benefits of drug trade
BANGKOK – MYANMAR’S armed forces are cashing in on the thriving illicit drug trade rather than trying to suppress it, striking deals with some ethnic militias growing opium near the border, according to a report on Wednesday.
The report from Shan Drugs Watch, a project led by the Thai-based Shan Herald Agency for News, follows a study by the United Nations in December which showed an increase in opium growing in northern Shan State.
That area produces 95 per cent of the poppy grown in Myanmar, the world’s second-largest opium producer after Afghanistan.
Myanmar’s military government has used the drug trade as a reason to attack rebel groups that have enjoyed decades of de facto self-rule and are resisting demands by the junta to disarm and take part in a general election next month.
Analysts say an increase in opium cultivation by ethnic Chinese rebels, like the United Wa State Army, was to generate cash for weapons in anticipation of a conflict with the government over their refusal to join the political process.
But Wednesday’s report casts doubts on the government’s commitment to stamping out a lucrative trade it had vowed to eradicate by 2004.
Thu, 2010-09-30 01:02 — editor
London, 30 September, (Asiantribune.com):
Nirj Deva, Conservative MEP for South-East England, will host the launch of the first-ever biography of Burma’s dictator Senior General Than Shwe, by CSW’s East Asia specialist Benedict Rogers, at the European Parliament on 30 September.
Benedict Rogers will give evidence of the Burmese military regime’s crimes against humanity at a hearing on Burma by the European Parliament Sub-Committee on Human Rights ahead of the book launch.
His book, Than Shwe: Unmasking Burma’s Tyrant, tells the story of one of the world’s most brutal dictators, and of the suffering of the people of Burma under his rule. Drawing on his own personal travels to Burma and its borders, and on interviews with Burmese defectors and international diplomats, Benedict Rogers explores the life of Than Shwe, his developing nuclear programme, links with North Korea, arms sales from China, the new capital, Naypyidaw, his skills in psychological warfare and his belief in astrology, and the war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated by Than Shwe’s regime.
Than Shwe: Unmasking Burma’s Tyrant is published by Silkworm Books and was first launched at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Bangkok on 1 July. The UK launch was hosted by the Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow at Speaker’s House in the Houses of Parliament on 14 July. Former Czech President Vaclav Havel wrote the foreword.
Nirj Deva MEP, Vice-Chairman of the European Parliament’s Development Committee and a member of the Sub-Committee on Human Rights, said, “I am delighted to sponsor this book launch as an important opportunity to draw to the attention of the European Parliament, once again, the plight of the people of Burma suffering so much under Than Shwe’s brutal rule. Than Shwe is one of the worst dictators in the world, presiding over a regime that is perpetrating crimes against humanity.”
He added, “This book documents Than Shwe’s crimes vividly and powerfully, and is a valuable contribution to the case for a UN Commission of Inquiry to investigate Burma’s war crimes and crimes against humanity. The time for action on Burma is long overdue, and I hope by hosting this event I will help motivate others in the EU and beyond to support the people of Burma in their struggle to end impunity and win their freedom.”
Benedict Rogers said, “I wrote this book in order once again to turn the spotlight on Than Shwe’s brutal regime in Burma and help the world understand the nature of this tyrant. I hope that in some way this will be a contribution towards galvanizing international opinion for the establishment of a UN commission of inquiry to investigate the regime’s war crimes
By Marwaan Macan-Markar
BANGKOK, Sep 29, 2010 (IPS) – Dustbins in a university toilet rarely elicit a second look, but those at one of the oldest universities in Burma’s Kachin State do offer reason to pause. The bins, after all, collect a special form of garbage disposed of by students – hypodermic needles and syringes they have used to inject themselves with heroin.
The special bins were introduced to Myitkyina University as part of a humanitarian gesture by two non-government organisations – the French-based Medecins Du Monde (MDM) and Holland-based Artsen Zonder Grenzen (AZG) – with the aim of reducing injuries that students often get from stepping on used needles and syringes strewn around the campus.
It is normal to find “discarded bloody syringes, needles, and syringe packets (that) are littered in latrines, under stairwells and bushes, and even scattered on the football field”, according to the Kachin News Group.
It is these details, which expose the alarming level of heroin addiction in the university of some 3,000 students, that Nawdin Lahpai of the Kachin News Group cites when painting a grim picture of “the future leaders of the Kachins being destroyed by drugs”.
“The drug addiction was not as high as it is now in the university, which is located in the capital of the Kachin State,” the editor of the news organisation, based in Thailand’s northern city of Chiang Mai, told IPS. “It has changed since 2004. Now heroin is easily accessible everywhere.”
Some estimate that over 50 percent of the male and female students seek a narcotic fix. “Students can be seen openly purchasing drugs in shops, cafes, billiard centres and houses near the university,” with sales beginning as early as 8 a.m. in some places, states a brief study released Wednesday by Nawdin’s media group.
The leaders of the Kachin, an ethnic minority that has, like other ethnic groups, been persecuted by the Burmese military, place the blame for this situation of drug abuse squarely on the country’s junta.
They accuse the regime of promoting the narcotics trade to further torment the country’s beleaguered minorities – and weaken their social fabric.
“The military government must bear responsibility for this spread of drugs into the communities,” Col James Lum Dau, deputy chief of foreign affairs of the Kachin Independence Organisation, said in an interview. “But the students being addicted to drugs also need to discipline themselves.”
Such concern about heroin use in Burma, also known as Myanmar, is shared in both the Kachin and the neighbouring Shan State, home to the ethnic Shan, near the Chinese border. Both provinces are where most of the opium – a thick paste extracted from poppy to make heroin – is grown in the country.
The Kachin and the Shan are among the 130 ethnic communities in Burma, majority of whose more than 55 million people are with the Burman ethnic group.
Currently, 46 of the Shan State’s 55 townships are growing poppy, Khuensai Jaiyen of the Shan Drug Watch told a press conference here on Sep. 29 to launch the Chiang Mai- based organisation’s 2010 report. “This is attributed to the Burma Army’s reliance on taxation of opium, and its policy to allow numerous proxy militia to deal in drugs.”
“Most of the poppy-growing areas are under control of the Burmese army and the Burmese army’s local militia,” he added. “The Burmese army needs the drug trade to feed its own troops.”
The continuing presence of poppy fields in the rugged, mountainous corner of Burma over a decade after the regime announced it was determined to eradicate the drug trade by 2014 troubles the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
In a December 2009 report, the U.N. agency revealed that the area under poppy cultivation had increased 50 percent since 2006 to 31,700 hectares. “More than one million people are now involved in opium cultivation in Myanmar, most of them in Shan State, where 95 percent of Myanmar’s poppy is grown.”
In fact, “2009 saw the third successive annual increase in cultivation,” said Gary Lewis, head of the UNODC’s East Asia and Pacific office, in an interview. “Our assessment convinces us that we need to remain very concerned about the extent of opium cultivation in Myanmar.”
This trend marks a reversal of the dramatic drop in Burma’s opium production in the mid-1990s, when it enjoyed the notoriety of being the world’s leading opium producer. The 1995-96 harvest season saw poppy cultivation peak at an estimated 163,000 hectares, producing 1,760 metric tonnes of opium, says the UNODC.
“At that time these figures were the highest in the world,” said Lewis. “By 2001-2002 however, domestic cultivation had declined to 81,400 hectares and estimated opium production had decreased to 828 metric tonnes.”
The Burmese regime’s 1999 announcement that it would eradicate the drug trade in 15 years saw the country give way, in 2000, to Afghanistan as the world’s largest heroin supplier.
But the junta’s continued support of opium production convinces the likes of Khuensai that the regime’s ‘war on drugs’ is a “charade”. “This is evident from the junta’s local militias emerging as the new drug lords in Burma.”
The easy access to drugs in Kachin State exposes the junta’s plans “to profit at the expense of the ethnic groups,” adds Nawdin. “It is almost like a Cold War to destroy the young.”
By Mon Mon Myat
NYAUNG SHWE, Burma, Sep 29, 2010 (IPS) – Monsoon rains might have brought welcome relief to the inhabitants of Inle Lake, but concerned Burmese groups – both government and non-governmental organisations alike – are rallying to preserve Burma’s second largest lake from drying up again, as it did from earlier this year due to prolonged drought.
At 900 metres above sea level, Inle Lake is a national heritage site in the southern part of Shan State in Burma, also known as Myanmar, and home to more than 170,000 people in over 400 villages. The lake is also a major source of hydroelectric power for southern Burma, raising the stakes for this South-east Asian country to keep the lake afloat.
In June to August, the lake’s water level fell to record low levels, drying up the area and curtailing businesses, water transport and residents’ everyday lives. This was of such concern that two workshops about the lake’s rehabilitation were held in July, in Burma’s capital Naypidaw and in Taung Gyi, Shan State, in July. Burmese Prime Minister Gen. Thein Sein also visited Inle Lake on Aug. 9 to survey the situation.
While the rains have eased somewhat the decline in Inle Lake’s water level, residents have been keeping a close watch on it, especially because October marks the time they hold a pagoda festival and a boat race on the lake.
“Water level is now above 1.2 metres and we hope that would be enough water to hold regular boat races in the lake like in previous years,” remarked an Inle resident who used the join the boat race every year.
But academics and government officials warn that the double threat of declining water quality and shrinking water mass could see Inle Lake vanishing in the near future.
According to a June 2010 report by Burma’s fishery department in Shan State, pH levels of water collected from different areas in the lake range from 8.4 to 9.6, reflecting an above-average alkaline content that is killing fish and causing them to migrate in search of safer habitats.
Meanwhile, Inle Lake is shrinking rapidly due to soil erosion, sedimentation and deforestation in the watershed area. According to official statistics released in 2010, Inle Lake is now just 70 square kilometres wide, less than half of the 163 sq km it spanned just three years ago.
Experts say water and soil conservation as well as forest preservation need to be ramped up in the lake’s headwater and watershed areas in order to save the lake from further damage. U Ohn, general secretary of the Forest Resource Environment Development and Conservation Association, a Burma-based group dedicated to environmental preservation, takes heart from the fact that 300 people, including officials and local residents, “sat together and discussed openly and sincerely about lake preservation issues” in the Shan State seminar on Inle Lake.
Elderly Inle native Tun Yin says he has never seen the lake face a worst crisis in the 80-odd years that he has lived in the area. “We could always row a boat to go from place to place in the lake, but this summer we faced a big trouble for transportation as water routes were blocked (due to the) lack of water,” he says.
Long periods of drought and record-high 43.5 degrees Celsius temperatures during the summer months saw Inle Lake’s water level drop to its lowest in 50 years, with dried-up waterways forming new land routes in several areas.
“We couldn’t use boats; we couldn’t walk because of marshland. Even water for drinking and household use, we had to go far to fetch it,” says Tun Yin’s eldest daughter.
As water levels fell below 1.2 metres for the first time in five decades, Inle Lake residents built makeshift bridges in their villages as they could no longer travel by boat. Needless to say, the majority of the residents, comprising fishermen and farmers, were badly affected.
One of Burma’s most popular tourist spots because of its beauty and the many ancient pagodas and monasteries around it, visitor arrivals to Inle Lake also slowed to a trickle, putting at risk local businesses including hotels, weaving factories and goldsmiths that survive on tourist traffic.
Some hotels built on stilts around the lake had to cease operation during the summer, as boats were unable to access the buildings. Other business owners hired dredgers to remove the build-up of silt that had blocked water passages leading to their shops.
Experts say commercial floating firms, who do agriculture on “floating lands”, are the main culprits behind water pollution – which compounds the problem for Inle Lake – because of their excessive use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides.
Floating lands are thick layers of seaweed and water hyacinth that have piled up and hardened, on which vegetation can be grown and houses can be built. These floating lands can be cut up and moved around across the water, and are even traded like normal plots of land.
Yet, environmentalist U Ohn says, many farmers using these floating lands are “not aware of (the environmental degradation that) is happening in the lake”.
“This is their livelihood. We can’t disturb their livelihood but we might need to use law enforcement to certain extent (to protect the environment),” says U Ohn. “We can’t just ban chemical fertiliser and pesticide usage. We have to replace them with biofertiliser and give (the farmers) incentives and (better) practices to follow.”
The Daily Star, Bangladesh – 4 Bangladeshi fishermen abducted by Myanmar force
A Correspondent, Cox’s Bazar Myanmar border security force Nasaka abducted four Bangladeshi fishermen and their fishing boat from the Naf River at Teknaf of Cox’s Bazar yesterday.
The fishermen are Noor Hossain, 26, of Boroitoli, and Anwar Hossain, 25, Ali Johor, 35, and Nur Mia, 24, of Naitangpara.
BDR sources said the four fishermen went fishing on a boat in the Naf River around 6:00am.
At around 7:00am, Nasaka captured the four fishermen at gunpoint and took them to nearby Maungdaw of Myanmar, they added.
Lieutenant Colonel Muzammel Hossain, commander of Teknaf 42 Rifles Battalion, said a written complaint was received from kidnapped Noor Hossain’s family at sadar BDR camp in this connection.
Earlier, on September 27, Nasaka took away two fishing boats near from Saint Martin coast throwing 15 fishermen in the Naf River.
BDR sent a letter to Nasaka protesting the incident and demanded immediate handover of the fishermen and the boat.
by Brian Merchant, Brooklyn, New York on 09.29.10
Travel & Nature
The world’s largest tiger reserve was recently put into place in the Kachin state in Burma, news which conservationists and champions of the fast-declining species cheered. But it looks like the cheering came too soon — reports have surfaced that a Burmese real estate corporation is continuing to clear-cut the forests throughout the reserve anyway. It plans on using the land for harvesting crops in a gigantic 200,000 acre monoculture operation, regardless of the declaration by the government that the land was to be used as a reserve.
Such declarations from the ‘government’ of Burma — truly a brutal ruling military junta — are clearly not to be trusted. The real estate firm reportedly has close ties to the junta, and it seems doubtful that it will step in to halt the clear-cutting. Yale 360 has more:
A coalition of organizations promoting sustainable development, the Kachin Development Networking Group, says in its report that Yuzana Company is still bulldozing trees to establish sugar and tapioca plantations and plant jatropha to be used as biofuel. The chairman of Yuzana is U Htay Myint, a prominent businessman with close ties to the government of Burma, also known as Myanmar. “Today, a 200,000-acre mono-crop plantation project is making a mockery of the reserve’s protected status,” the report says.
According to the report, local farmers are being forcibly removed from their land to make room for the plantations.
While I noted that the initial news of Myanmar (the name the nation’s military rulers use for Burma) was surprising, this latest development is anything but. The military junta is renowned for ruling with an iron hand, driving its citizens into forced labor, and not allowing free press or assembly. That it would put the profits of a major corporation it has ties to before an endangered species or the local populace is par for the course.
Hopefully, further international attention to the issues — both conservation-related and humanitarian — will help to discourage this kind of behavior. It must be said, however, that so far it has not.
September 29, 2010
Burma’s drug policy is a sham as authorities relies on taxes that derived from the illicit substances and the ethnic armies that have come direct command of the junta continue to conduct the illegal trade.
In a 24-page report released Wednesday, the Shan Herald Agency for News (SHAN) said Burma’s so-called war on drugs “has fallen way behind schedule. The report pointed to the 46 of Shan State’s 55 townships still growing opium.”
“This is attributed to the Burma Army’s reliance on taxation of opium, and its policy to allow numerous proxy local militia to deal in drugs, including methamphetamines, in exchange for policing against resistance activity,” the report said.
The status has enabled the pro-junta militia to overtake other ethnic ceasefire groups that continue to enjoy some degree of self-rule as the main drug producers in Shan State.
Most ceasefire groups that refused to come under the junta’s chain of command, including the United Wa State Army, have faced increased military pressure and restrictions after refusing to come under the regime’s control as Border Guard Forces.
Thai military intelligence on the Thai-Burma border said they are concerned that the dispute between UWSA and the Burmese junta could lead to an all out war that could push hundreds of thousands of villagers into the country.
Chinese officials monitoring the Sino-Burma border echoed the same concern and added that the Beijing government have been using quiet diplomacy to convince the Burmese junta to look for a peaceful solution between them and the cease-fire groups that refused to come under their chain of command.
Groups such as the UWSA has strong historical ties with the Chinese. Many of their foot soldiers today were once member of the Chinese-backed Communist Party of Burma, an outfit that fell apart in 1989.
“The junta’s militias are stepping into the vacuum left by the Wa and setting up new drug refineries along the Thai-Burma border,” said Khuensai Jaiyen of Shan Drug Watch. “They are being rewarded for their political allegiance to the regime.”
SHAN estimated about 400 different militia groups in northern Shan State alone.
Despite increased acreage of opium in Shan State during the past 2009-2010 season, overall output was reportedly down due to adverse weather conditions, particularly the unusually dry winter, the report said.
Published on September 28, 2010
A kind-hearted amputee taxi driver has returned a purse left in his car with US$6,500 and Bt26,000 in it to a Burmese passenger, Police Radio FM 91 station executive Jaiton Sriwangpol said yesterday.
After giving a lift to customers in the Sukhumvit area and finding the purse in his taxi, Duan Sosarn, 34, whose right hand was amputated, gave the purse and cash to the radio station on Sunday evening to try to find the passenger, who the station then located as Myo Htut, from Burma.
Duan said although he had to work hard to pay school fees for his nine-year-old son, he would not have felt right if he had kept the cash forgotten by the customer. He wanted to use the money he earned and be a good example to his son.
National Police Chief Pol Gen Wichean Potephosree praised the cabbie for his action and said the police would present him with a shield of honour on October 13, National Police Day.
By FRANCIS WADE
Published: 29 September 2010
Several weeks after the body count from 2008’s cyclone Nargis had topped 100,000, an article in the Burmese state-run New Light of Myanmar led with the headline, ‘The enemy that is more destructive than the cyclone’, and posed the riddle: “The enemy that is worse than thieves and robbers is fire. Who is the enemy that is more destructive than Nargis?”
Lo and behold, the article wasn’t a lament of the rampant cholera that swept across the delta, turning thousands of survivors into statistics, nor the countless bloated bodies that still littered towns and villages weeks, even months, after the storm. It was about foreign journalists – in fact a single broadcast by a single radio reporter – who painstakingly unravelled the horror stories that emerged from one of Asia’s worst recorded, but most underreported, natural disasters, one that eventually claimed 140,000 lives and left 2.4 million destitute. It was these scenes that undercover video reporters had secretly documented, knowing full well the ramifications for anyone caught with a video camera in the country. But as the article explained, in Burma, and perhaps only in Burma, what is worse than countless square miles of submerged towns, farmland and families is a foreign or exiled journalist.
The venom with which the junta continues to attack media workers – particularly Burmese who act as a counterweight to the government propaganda spouted on state-run outlets – is quite shocking: one DVB reporter who spent the latter half of 2008 filming a group of children for Channel 4’s award-winning ‘Orphans of Burma’s Cyclone’ documentary was tracked by Burmese intelligence and is now serving a 13-year jail sentence. He joins 26-year-old fellow DVB video journalist Hla Hla Win, who last year began a 27-year sentence after she was caught with video interviews of monks critical of the junta – the two bring the number of journalists in prison to around 15.
The monks had perhaps told Hla Hla Win about their memories of the September 2007 uprising, whose three-year anniversary was marked by the generals on Monday with a mass cyber-attack on exiled media websites, paralysing perhaps the only window into Burma for the outside world. Their weapon of choice is DDoS, or distributed denial-of-service, which they drag up to the ramparts on politically sensitive dates and pepper so-called ‘subversive’ outlets, extinguishing any ‘foreign meddling’ or ‘sowing of hatred among the people’, as it’s branded. The same attack was launched in 2008 on the one-year anniversary of the uprising, overloading websites with information requests and thus crashing them. Ironically, the only major non-state Burmese news website still standing on Monday was the BBC’s service, highlighting how despicable the threat of its closure by the UK government is.
While the BBC’s defensive walls are considerable, those of exiled media’s are not, and as Burma’s first elections in 20 years loom it’ll be the technically savvier and resource-rich side that triumphs. Unfortunately, this may not be ours. The consequences of a blackout are hard to grasp in much of the Western world, where access to comparatively objective news is a given, for while in Downing Street and elsewhere the debate over the BBC is essentially one of balancing finances, its repercussions 5000 miles away will be intensely personal.
What Monday’s cyber attacks demonstrate is both the threat that independent media is to the paranoid rulers of Burma – and thus its fundamental importance in the push for democratic transition – but also the realisation that media operating within and along the borders of closed countries around the world is an extremely fragile and vulnerable industry, its fate pinned to the draconian mindset of those it challenges. Moreover, the tactics and abilities employed in cyber warfare are strengthening, and in Burma the art is being refined by training programmes for its Information Warfare (IW) troops in Russia, China, Singapore, and perhaps elsewhere.
So the counterweight also needs support, otherwise it will fall victim to the many obstacles littering the road to the 7 November elections, another politically sensitive date where “the enemy that is more destructive than Nargis” will again “rear its ugly head”. The free flow of information within and outside of Burma is not an option for the junta, and a crackdown on media is expected by all, with Monday marking the latest step in a move to lock the country’s physical and virtual borders.
The silencing could well be brutal, for again – perhaps only in Burma – the laws of the land are reversed and journalism becomes a heinous crime, the video journalist forced to plan his escape from a filming session like that of a drugs or gun smuggler. Another cameraman for ‘Orphans of Burma’s Cyclone’ who fled to Thailand described how at the end of every period of filming they had to disassemble their cameras, hide each part in different locations around the town, and assign several people to carry the individual part back to Rangoon, sometimes weeks apart from one another to avoid suspicion. It is only a camera, you may say, but in this day and age the camera is mightier than the gun, and for a hermit regime like the one cowering in Naypyidaw, you shoot the truth, and it hurts.
Unfettered access to media becomes a human rights issue in a closed country, and what Burma does not need, especially now, is the closing of one of these lifelines because a government on the other side of the world cannot bridge the gap between an abstract scenario and the cutting of a drip feed. The economic recession is also biting, and funding is being pulled in crucial areas in exiled media around the world; not just for Burma, but for Zimbabwe, which is also facing the spectre of elections, and a raft of other countries.
That observers are eyeing the coming polls with the same cynicism that they now look back on cyclone Nargis with speaks volumes for the state of affairs in the pariah: an election becomes a time when the generals draw the veil over Burma and shrink back into their secretive capital, their henchmen left to scour the streets for the camera or pen-wielding warrior. It’ll be a flashpoint, no doubt, and with that the game changes for media and the risks heighten exponentially. But it’ll also be a test of how innovative journalism in the 21st century has become, and what weapons it can deploy itself to evade decades in a jail cell.
By FRANCIS WADE
Published: 29 September 2010
A series of cyber attacks this week on websites belonging to exiled Burmese media have gained strength, with a second, and far more intense, assault yesterday hitting DVB.
Speculation as to the timing of the DDoS, or distributed denial-of-service, attacks – which began on 27 September on the three-year anniversary of Burma’s 2007 monk-led uprising – has in fact centred on the looming elections. Media workers believe the Burmese junta is carrying out a test run, and fear more attacks are on the way.
At around 7.30pm UTC yesterday, an attack of 4.5 Gbps (Gigabites-per-second) – or 30 times larger than Monday’s attack – hit the DVB website. The attackers also targeted the infrastructure of DVB’s carrier in Norway.
The attack is technically known as a ‘RESET flood attack’, better described as a “denial of voice” attack, according to a Europe-based cyber-security expert who asked to remain anonymous. He added that the attackers “are taking advantage of legal havens”, and that its persistence and scale “is rare and serious”.
Two other exiled Burmese websites belonging to The Irrawaddy and Mizzima have also been brought down. The Irrawaddy claimed yesterday that its attack had originated from China Telecom. A seperate, but less serious, attack on the DVB website on 20 September used equipment in Russia, Georgia, Vietnam, Israel and Kazakhstan, amongst others.
Speaking to DVB today, The Irrawaddy’s editor-in-chief, Aung Zaw, said that its attack has now been suspended but a new one “could be imminent”.
“We’ve been trying to move to a new server – the Burmese intelligence knows we are a vulnerable website so they can come and attack us at any time,” he said, adding that its origin in China Telecom “doesn’t surprise me, but I don’t think Chinese officials are involved”.
Cyber-criminals are known to build their own attack infrastructure, or otherwise hire one, meaning that top-level Chinese officials may be unaware of their existence in the country.
The attacks bode ill for the looming elections in Burma – the ruling generals fired a warning shot for media earlier this month when they stopped the visa-on-arrival scheme, widely believed to be a ploy to keep journalists and observers out of the country during the polls.
Aung Zaw said there were “major concerns” about media security during the elections, adding that “the regime wants to silence all information pipelines”. It has already banned election monitors from entering, while critics have derided the polls as a sham aimed at cementing military rule.
Burma already has some of the world’s most draconian media laws, and ranked 171 out of 175 countries in the Reporters San Frontieres (RSF) Press Freedom Index for 2010. Out of the 2,150-plus political prisoners in Burma, around 15 are journalists, and the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) last year branded Burma “the worst country to be a blogger”.
By ALI FOWLE
Published: 29 September 2010
Burma’s sizeable drugs industry is now largely being controlled by militias working under the auspices of the Burmese junta, experts claim.
The hand played by the once-dominant ethnic armies, such as the United Wa State Army (UWSA), is diminishing, said Khuensai Jaiyen, head of Shan Drug Watch, who was speaking at a forum in Bangkok today.
He added that refusals by groups such as the Wa to transform into Border Guard Forces have weakened ceasefire agreements with the junta, and a clampdown on its drug production and mobility in Burma’s opium-rich Shan state would likely follow.
“The policy against the Wa has begun to change: they used to move freely but now they can’t pass through any checkpoint without being checked,” Khuensai said. “The Wa have to pay the militia to transport their goods.”
Burma once held the title of the world’s biggest heroin producer until Afghanistan ramped up its production in the mid-1990s. In the place of a diminishing heroin trade has come methamphetamine, which is trafficked mainly to neighbouring Thailand.
Powerful individuals involved in some of the militias, which have begun setting up refineries in the border regions, are also running in the 7 November elections, Khuensai said.
He accused candidates of the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), Myint Lwin and Kyaw Myint, who are both running in Shan state, of being involved in drug-producing militias.
But the phenomenon isn’t just confined to Shan state. Nawdin Lahpai, editor of the Kachin News Group, said that militias in Burma’s northern Kachin state, which borders China, were sharing profits from drugs sales with the Burmese military, from troop level to Naypyidaw officials.
He added that junta officials allow the drugs trade to flourish and hand militias business favours and military protection in return for them helping to control ethnic groups.
Shan Drug Watch also reports that the Burmese regime’s alleged drugs eradication programme “has fallen way behind schedule, with 46 of Shan State’s 55 townships still growing opium”.
It attributed this to the army’s “reliance on taxation of opium, and its policy to allow numerous proxy local militia to deal in drugs, including methamphetamines, in exchange for policing against resistance activity”.
By KO HTWE – Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Ashin Pyinnya Sara, the monk and researcher of Arakanese history accused of sexual misconduct and other crimes, was sentenced to 8-years, 3 months imprisonment and fined kyat 10,000 (US $10) by Sittwe District Court on Wednesday.
“The court sentenced the ‘Sayadaw’ [a revered monk who is a senior teacher] at 10 a.m. this morning” said Khin Pyi Soe, secretary of the Rakhin Nationals Development Party speaking to The Irrawaddy from Sittwe, capital of Arakan State.
“His lawyer will appeal the conviction,” he said.
Ashin Pyinnya Sara was sentenced 5-years and 3 months under Act 292, which covers possession and distribution of obscene material, Act 295, which covers destruction, damage, and defilation of a place of worship or sacred object with intent to insult the religion and Act 406, which covers criminal breach of trust.
The 3-year sentence and fine was given for offenses under Act 24(1) holding foreign currency and Act 61(c) municipal act.
“The venerable’s sentence is the maximum possible for each offense. He was forced to be his own witness as police pressure prevented 34 witnesses from giving testimony in defence of the Sayadaw at court,” said a lawyer speaking anonymously.
Abbots of 14 monasteries in Arakan State have addressed a letter to the commander of the western regional military command in the state expressing dissatisfaction with Ashin Pyinnya Sara’s case but have not received a reply, according to a source close to the monk.
Ashin Pyinnya Sara, 57, who is abbot of Mahamuni Buddha Vihara Monastery in Sittwe, was arrested on July 27. He founded an orphanage school in the monastery in 1990 and about 150 children lived there at the time of his arrest.
Following the closure of Mahamuni Buddha Vihara Monastery on Aug. 2, the orphans were sent to Magway and Mandalay Divisions.
According to the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), of 2,183 political prisoners currently held in Burmese jail, more than 25o are monks.
General and Than Shwe confidant to head military-run conglomerate
Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Former Coastal Region Command chief Khin Zaw Oo, who is on Britain’s financial sanctions list, has been appointed to head one of the top two military-controlled conglomerates.
Major General Khin Zaw Oo, promoted to the post of adjutant general in a major military reshuffle last month, also took up the position of chairman of Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (UMEHL), the state-run newspaper New Light of Myanmar reported on Sunday.
The group’s former chairman, Lieutenant General Tin Aye, has retired from his military position, but was still a member of the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), the junta’s name for itself.
Khin Zaw Oo was a graduate of Rangoon University and also of the Officer Training School (OTS) in Hmawbi Township, one of Burma’s old military academies. Brigadier General Khin Maung Htay has taken over Coastal Command.
According to a 2004 report by Burma Campaign UK titled, “The European Union and Burma: The Case for Targeted Sanctions”, UMEHL and the Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) are the two major industrial conglomerates controlled by the military, dominating key economic sectors.
The former’s shareholders were limited to the military establishment, the report said. According to a leaked UMEHL 1995-96 annual report, two of its main objectives were “to support military personnel and their families” and “to try and become the main logistics and support organisation for the military by gradually establishing industries”, in a manner akin to Haliburton’s services to US forces, the report said.
UMEHL has gained monopolies in a wide range of businesses in Burma, such as export of consumer goods, gems, agricultural products, timber, rubber and import of staple foods and cars.
Moreover, the state-run business of Bo Aung Kyaw Port terminal and Burma’s Five Stars Ship Company had been privatised under UMEHL. The group had also bought the building that housed state-run People’s Department Store on Pansodan Street, Rangoon, and renovated it to be reopened as the Ruby Mart shopping centre.
UMEHL also owns Bandoola Transportation Company Limited (a passenger bus and freight firm), Myawaddy Bank and Myawaddy Trading Limited.
Khin Zaw Oo was a close confidant of junta leader Than Shwe, which was the reason for his choice as chairman of UMEHL, a former military officer in exile said.
The Burma Campaign’s 2004 report also said UMEHL had been managing the military armed forces’ pension funds, giving it a ready source of financing.
By 1999, the group had also established nearly 50 joint ventures with foreign firms.
The US State Department’s 2008 investment climate statement on Burma said that to set up a joint venture, foreign firms had reported that an affiliation with UMEHL or MEC proved useful to help them receive the proper business permits.
The report warned however that “entering into business with UMEHL or MEC does not guarantee success for foreign partners. Some investors report that their Burmese military partners are parasitic, make unreasonable demands, provide no cost-sharing, and sometimes muscle out the foreign investor after an investment becomes profitable”.
Even so, dealing with such organs that provide material support to the repressive Burmese regime is illegal in the United States as many of such companies, their leaders and families are subject to EU, US and British sanctions.
Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Lithuania has joined the growing list of countries supporting calls for a UN commission of inquiry into the Burmese junta’s documented cases of human rights abuses, after France and Ireland in the past week.
The call came in a statement the Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent to Mizzima.
“Lithuania is deeply concerned by the situation in Burma/Myanmar, especially by the situation of human rights and by the detention of political prisoners, pro-democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi among them … [The] Lithuanian Government supports the launching of the UN commission of inquiry into war crimes and crimes against humanity in Burma,” it said, using the Burmese female honorific, daw, to refer to the Nobel Peace laureate, whom the junta continued to detain under house arrest.
“Having in mind the gross and systematic nature of human rights violations mentioned in Special Rapporteur Quintana’s report last March, the situation must be properly investigated,” it added.
It was referring to the UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Burma, Tomas Ojea Quintana, who in March submitted a report to the UN Human Rights Council stating that in Burma there existed a pattern of “gross and systematic” human rights abuses that suggested the abuses were a state policy that involved authorities at all levels of the executive, military and judiciary. The report also stated that the “possibility exists that some of these human rights violations may entail categories of crimes against humanity or war crimes under the terms of the [Rome] Statute of the International Criminal Court”.
Lithuania said it supported the initiation of such an inquiry with a specific fact-finding mandate, stating that it would be one of the best ways to evaluate the nature and scope of the human rights violations committed in Burma.
London-based rights advocacy Burma Campaign UK welcomed the country’s backing of such an inquiry. The organisation’s international co-ordinator, Zoya Phan, commended Lithuania’s decision. “I am grateful to the government of Lithuania for listening to the voice of the people of Burma, and standing by us in our struggle for justice and democracy.”
Lithuania is the 7th country in the European Union to offer its support for the inquiry and Zoya Phan hoped this addition would signal the beginning of work towards official support from the European Union.
With the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s recent evasion of comment on the commission of inquiry proposal after the Group of Friends of Myanmar (Burma) meeting in New York on Monday, immediate substantial progress is however clearly some way off.
Mizzima also questioned Lithuania on its stance regarding the widely reproached general election due on November 7.
“We must also admit with regret that the elections planned on the 7th of November… do not meet the criteria of a free, fair and democratic electoral process and cannot be accepted as such,” the ministry statement said.
It also condemned the military regime’s decision to formally dissolve Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy.