Sunday, 9 December 2012

Dear brothers, sisters and friends of Burma,
You are cordially invited to attend the protest in front of the Burmese Embassy on 10th December 2012 to mark for the International Human Rights Day.
Across the globe, people mobilize to demand justice, dignity, equality, more participation to defend and protect the rights, enshrined in the Universal Declaration throughout the year. However, sadly, in our country, the most basis of globally recognized civil and political rights are not yet respected by the government. The continued detention of political prisoners and the numerous human rights violations on ethnic minorities, committed by the Burmese army, are ever escalating over time.
Even though the Thein Sein government enacted a few steps of limited political and economic reform after it came into power 2 years ago, all these serious issues of human rights violations has not been addressed as a matter of priority. Tomás Ojea Quintana, the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, highlighted  in his statement issued on 5 August 2012, “Myanmar needs to tackle serious human rights challenges for democratic transition and national reconciliation to succeed.”
We are going to stage a silent protest to call on the Burmese government to;
1)     Put an end to Human Rights abuses in all the ethnic’s areas in Burma;
2)     Ensure genuine general amnesty and unconditionally release of all the remaining political prisoners in Burma;
3)     Stop attacking the Kachin Land and all the ethnic’s areas across Burma immediately;
4)     Hold immediate peace talk and seek durable political solution with all the ethnic groups;
5)    Increase engagement with political parties and implement genuine national reconciliation
We would like to invite you to join hands with us, to strongly condemn the on-going systematic violations of human rights and long lost fundamental freedoms and our rights in every aspect.

 Program details are as follows:
Date: 10.12.2012 ( Monday )
Time: 12:00 to 1:00PM
Venue: Burmese Embassy
19A Charles Street
London W1J 5DX
Yours respectfully,
 88 New Generation Students (UK)

Dear brothers, sisters and friends of Burma

You are cordially invited to attend the protest to condemn the oppressive Burmese regime’s brutal crackdown on a peaceful protest against the Letpadaung mine project, which will be held on 3rd December 2012.

Just last week the Burmese government forcibly evicted local residents from villages in the vicinity of the Letpadaung mountain range and illegally confiscated land and lay down steps which have ensured the seeds for the destruction of the natural habitat of these mountainous areas, as a result of the ongoing mining project.

With growing worry regarding these changes to the local community and environment by the mining project, local farmers, human rights, later joined by Buddhist monks, voiced their concerns by means of a peaceful protest asking for the government to suspend the project.  The Thein Sein regime’s (lauded for their so called ongoing reform process) security forces responded to the peaceful protesters with  tear gas, smoke bombs, and fire, leaving a number of  protesters including Buddhist monks injured, severely burnt.

The Burmese government’s aggressive response to the peaceful expression of opinions included, directly targeting protesters with flare guns and chemical weapons. This is further evidence of the Burmese government’s oppressive crackdown on the basic human right, of freedom of expression. It is acts like this, which have always been the reason why, we the Burmese population have always doubted the true intentions of the government and tried the trust that we put in their so called democratic reform process.

We therefore call on the Burmese government to immediately

1)      Completely shut down the mining project

2)    Facilitate an independent investigation of the crackdown, by a team which includes international experts to provide justice for the innocent victims

3)     Ensure that urgent and appropriate steps be taken to end such horrific offences against the people of Burma

It is crucial that we stand by our people at home and show our solidarity in the fight for our basic human rights.

In this regard, we would like to invite you to join hands with us, to call for human rights and justice for our people in Burma.

Programme details
Date : 03.12.2012 ( Monday)
Time: 12:00 noon to 1:00 pm
Venue : In front of Burmese embassy, London

Sincerely yours
Democratic Burmese Community (UK)

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Suu Kyi Receives Congressional Gold Medal

Burma's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is presented with the Congressional Gold Medal at the US Capitol in Washington on Wednesday. (PHOTO: Reuters)
Burma’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is presented with the Congressional Gold Medal at the US Capitol in Washington on Wednesday. (PHOTO: Reuters)
Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was bestowed with the Congressional Gold Medal— the highest civilian award of the US Congress—on Wednesday at the Rotunda of the US Capitol.
“This is one of the most moving days of my life, to be here in a house undivided, a house joined together to welcome a stranger from a distant land,” Suu Kyi said moments after receiving the Congressional Gold Medal in the presence of top American lawmakers.

Very rarely bestowed to a foreign leader, Suu Kyi on Wednesday joined the group of small world leaders such as Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama who have received the Congressional Gold Medal.

“This is a moment for which I have been waiting for many years,” an emotional Suu Kyi said. “The great honor that you have conferred to me will be a lasting memento of the steadfast support of the United States Congress for the democratic aspirations of my people. From the depths of my heart, I thank you, the people of America, and you, their representatives, for keeping us in your hearts and minds during the dark years when freedom and justice seemed beyond our reach.

“It has always been my opinion that democracy offers the best balance between freedom and security for all of us. To be a full human being, we need both security and freedom. Without security, we cannot rest in the peace necessary to discover the world to be the beautiful place that it can be. Without freedom also we will be deprived of the many opportunities that would make us more human and more humane,” Suu Kyi said.

To the surprise of many, the event was joined by Aung Min, representing the Burmese President ‘s Office, and the new Burmese Ambassador, Than Swe, reflecting the changing times in Burma.
“It’s almost too delicious to believe, my friend, that you are here in the Rotunda of our great Capitol, the centerpiece of our democracy as an elected member of your Parliament, as the leader of the political opposition, the leader of a political party,” Clinton said in her remarks. “I am so deeply moved by what she has stood for and what she has represented, first and foremost for the people of her country, but for people everywhere who yearn for freedom, whose voices deserve to be heard. But I am also very impressed that she was not satisfied upon the release from house arrest to remain an advocate, a symbol, an icon,” she said.

“So as we honor her, a time that many of us feared would never happen. It’s good to recognize that one phase of her work may be over, but another phase equally important is just beginning, and that the United States will stand with her, with the President of Burma and those who are reformers in the executive branch and the legislative branch, with the activists, with civil society as they fan the flickers of democratic progress and press forward with reform. And we wish them all Godspeed,” Clinton said.

Laura Bush, a strong supporter of Burma and Suu Kyi during the previous Bush administration, said that the transition in Burma, like past events in South Africa or Eastern Europe, shows that history has a hopeful direction. “It’s capable of miracles. There is a part of every soul that longs for freedom. And any government built on oppression is built on sand,” she said.

One of the most repressive governments on earth attempted to isolate and silence one woman. It must have seemed an easy task. Instead, the regime encountered an immovable object and its legitimacy broke against here character, Bush said.

“Daw Suu became a symbol of courage, perseverance and defiance—a symbol that integrity was still possible in Burma, and this symbol became an inspiration for activists, monks and millions around the world,” she said.

“When her long isolation ended, some of us have finally met Daw Suu in person and found not a symbol, but a women of tremendous humor, honesty and grace. And that’s only increased our admiration,” Bush said, adding that Suu Kyi’s contribution to Burma is decades-old and just beginning.

“Today we celebrate Ms. Suu Kyi’s steadfast commitment to democracy, civility and human dignity, and we do so in a manner worthy of these ideals. After all, it was a House led by a speaker from the Democrat Party, Nancy Pelosi, that initiated this measure awarding this medal, and a Republican president, George W. Bush, who signed it into law,” said Joe Boehner, speaker of the US House of Representatives.

Congressman Joe Crowley, the sponsor of the Congressional resolution to award the Gold Medal to Suu Kyi, said it was an incredible day. “Who would have thought that when this bill was introduced in the House in 2008 when Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was still under house arrest that in a few short years she would be standing here with us on US soil receiving this honor and as a member of the Burmese parliament,” he said.

Earlier in the day, Suu Kyi met top US lawmakers and discussed the current situation in Burma and the progress being made under the reforms.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

More protestors arrested at copper mine demonstration

Twelve women demonstrators were arrested on Monday in northwestern Burma, prompting a larger demonstration calling for their release. The women were arrested during a prayer ceremony in a pagoda.

The women planned to protest at the Monywa Copper Mine, located in Sagaing division’s Sarlingyi Township, according to one of the women.

The project developers are Wan Bao Co., a subsidiary of state-owned Chinese arms manufacturer North China Industries Corp. (Norinco), and Burma’s army-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holding.

“After we paid homage to the Buddha, about 30 security police followed us,” one of the women told Radio Free Asia (RFA), in an article published on Monday.

Among the 12 held was Thet Thet Win from Wetmhe village, who is a leader of the movement against the copper mine project.

Last week, hundreds of security forces stormed the copper mining site in search of land rights activists who helped organize earlier protests by 10,000 villagers demanding the return of land seized for the project.

The police arrived at the Monywa mine late in the evening of Sept. 6 but were fended off by hundreds of demonstrators armed with sticks and knives who were guarding the area.

Villagers say the mining companies have illegally confiscated more than 8,000 acres (3,237 hectares) of farmland from 26 villages in Sarlingyi since 2011, said RFA.

Tensions have risen in recent weeks since Wan Bao has continued digging at the site and dumping waste soil on the confiscated land despite a request to suspend work and enter negotiations.

Villagers have been protesting near Wan Bao's offices since August to demand adequate compensation, the return of confiscated lands, a stop to forced relocations, the reopening of locked monasteries, and an end to the dumping of waste on their fields.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Firm steps needed to protect children from military recruitment


Last month, two ethnic armed groups in Myanmar – the Karenni National Progressive Party and the New Mon State Party – signed a ‘deed of commitment’ with an international NGO, Geneva Call, pledging to end the practice of underage recruitment and protect children in armed conflict.  The agreement with the two armed groups came close on the heels of the Joint Action Plan (JAP) agreed between the UN and the Government of Myanmar, which aims to bring an end to recruitment and use of child soldiers in Myanmar’s armed forces.

 This JAP, which was the culmination of five years of negotiations between the UN and the Myanmar military, incorporates a wide range of specific measures to be implemented by the government to prevent underage recruitment and to ensure the recovery and reintegration of children in the ranks of the armed forces. It marks a significant step forward, though effective implementation will be the true test of its significance.


The signing of the JAP came about in part because of the listing of Myanmar’s armed forces and armed opposition groups in ten successive reports of the UN Secretary-General. Recruitment and use of children by all parties to armed conflict has been a recurrent feature in Myanmar’s post-independence history. As is the case in other countries where children have been recruited and used in conflict, a range of factors, including socio-economic inequalities, insecurity and culture, have made children in Myanmar vulnerable to involvement in armed conflict.

Many of these drivers of underage recruitment in Myanmar are still in place. For the armed forces these include the continued expansion of the army and the high rates of attrition; the existence of a widespread but unofficial system of incentives for military recruiters to achieve recruitment quotas and punishments for those who do not, which has spawned a system of unofficial civilian brokers; and practices by which an individual wishing to leave the armed forces must identify one to two new recruits to replace them. Unaccompanied children are especially vulnerable to the pressure of these forces because of the absence of effective age verification procedures and lack of independent monitoring and accountability.

Effective implementation of the JAP is crucial because the recruitment and use of children by the military and other armed actors in Myanmar continues to occur despite the dramatic and welcome pace of other changes in the country over the past year. Information available to Child Soldiers International and others shows that the Myanmar military and other armed groups have militarily recruited children in 2012.

The UN and other agencies have evidence that the Myanmar military routinely falsifies ages, and in some cases the identity, of recruits to hinder parents or guardians from locating them. Trickery and bribery, along with threats and force are widely used to recruit children into the Myanmar military. Most children are recruited by military personnel (ranging in rank from privates, corporals, sergeants) who pick up unaccompanied children and take them to recruitment centres, while in a few cases recruitment continues to be conducted by civilian brokers. Civilian or military brokers are paid around MMK30,000 [$35] and a bag of rice or a jerry can of kerosene for each recruit.

This all occurs in spite of the fact that underage recruitment is illegal in Myanmar. The Myanmar authorities have begun to make efforts to enforce the law, for instance by punishing military personnel for breaches of the forced labour and underage recruitment laws. But over the past five years, most of those punished have been non-commissioned officers (NCOs) – sergeants, corporals and some privates – rather than more senior officers who may sanction illegal practices.

However, most of the action taken has been disciplinary; criminal investigation and prosecutions of perpetrators are very exceptional, with only one civilian broker being referred to the criminal court. Limited measures such as these have clearly failed to act as a real deterrent to those pursuing underage recruitment. Indeed, Child Soldiers International has found that the consequences for failing to meet recruitment targets are usually more severe than the disciplinary penalties applied in instances of underage recruitment.
To translate the commitments contained in the JAP into tangible progress, there needs to be effective implementation coupled with independent monitoring. To achieve this, the UN and other independent humanitarian actors need access to military sites and conflict areas to monitor, verify and release children recruited by the military and armed opposition groups in Myanmar. The JAP is a real opportunity to end military recruitment and use of children in the country. But that will only happen if concrete legal, policy and practical measures are implemented and effectively monitored.

-Richard Clarke is the director at Child Soldiers International.
Editor’s note: At the author’s request, Myanmar has been used in this article rather than Burma.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

88-generation students’ guitar most expensive in Burma

Rangoon (Mizzima) - A guitar, with a painting by three 88-generation student leaders, was sold for 58.8 million kyat (US$ 66,627) at a fund-raising music concert in Rangoon on Saturday – making it the most expensive guitar in Burma.
The '88 Student leaders guitar, which was sold to the highest bidder at a fund-raising concert in Rangoon on Saturday, September 1, 2012. Photo: Hein Htet / Mizzima

The picture, on the back of the guitar, jointly painted by Min Ko Naing, Htay Kywe and Pyone Cho, depicts the background of Rangoon University. The front of the guitar bears the phrase “The 88 Generation.”

Myanmar Football Federation chairman Zaw Zaw, who heads Max Myanmar, and Win Naing, the general manager of the Sky Net TV Channel, bid for the guitar. Finally, Win Naing made the highest bid.

88-generation student leader Pyone Cho, a former political prisoner who spent more than 20 years in prison, said, “After we were released from prison, we did the artistic work. Thanks for bidding for it to keep it as a memorable item.”

Youth sing the opening 88 Peace song composed by 88 leader Mya Ayeat at a fund-raising music concert in Rangoon on Saturday, September 1, 2012. Photo: Hein Htet / Mizzima

During the concert, 80 musicians entertained and 88-generation student leaders recited poems composed in prisons. The music concert took in more than 300 million kyat.

A woman attending the concert told Mizzima TV that earlier it would have been impossible to hold such a concert. “It was difficult to mention their [88-generation student leaders’] names,” she said.

Sixty million out of the 300 million kyat will be donated to flood victims, refugees in Arakan State and war refugees in Kachin State

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Returned exiled lawyer serving six-month prison sentence

An exiled defense lawyer who returned to Burma under the olive branch offered by the new government has been jailed for a previous sentence in absentia, and is now in Insein Prison.

The lawyer, Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min, is a human rights defender and a former leading member of the National League for Democracy youth wing.

It is the first sentencing of an returned exile for a previous offense and it shows that “when it comes to human rights, the government of Burma still cannot be trusted,” the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma (AAPP-B) said in a statement on Thursday, calling for his release.

Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min, 32, was originally accused of contempt of court while he and two other defense lawyers were defending 11 NLD clients in an October 2008 judicial proceeding, said the AAPP-B.

When another defense lawyer failed to appear in court, the judge forced a defendant to question the prosecuting police officer by himself.

To protest the unfair process, three of the defendants turned their backs to the court.

Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min was charged with contempt when he refused the judge’s order to reign in his client’s behavior, and said: “We don’t want to forbid our clients from doing anything…We are defense lawyers, and we act according to our clients’ instructions.”

Fearing imprisonment, Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min fled to Thailand in October 2008, where he continued to promote the rule of law in Burma.

He was sentenced in absentia under Section 228 of the penal code and sentenced on Aug. 29 by the Rangoon Northern District Court.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Ethnic Peace Vital for Strong Democracy: 88 Gen


The 88 Generation Students at the 62rd anniversary of Karen Martyrs’ Day in Kawkareik Township, Karen State, on Aug. 12. (Photo: 88 Gen)
The 88 Generation Students at the 62rd anniversary of Karen Martyrs’ Day in Kawkareik Township, Karen State, on Aug. 12. (Photo: 88 Gen)
Members of the 88 Generation Students group met ethnic political leaders in Karen and Mon states during a recent visit and agreed to work together towards developing peace and a strong democracy in Burma.
Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Friday, Mya Aye, a leader of 88 Generation, said that his group agreed that an ethnic conference should be held in the near future during discussions with senior Karen National Union (KNU) representatives.

“We found from our trip that ethnic people have the capacity to work for the development of their states,” he said. “And now there can be an even larger number of well educated people there as they have a chance to study abroad.”

Several 88 Generation members attended the 62rd anniversary of Karen Martyrs’ Day in Kawkareik Township, Karen State, on Aug. 12 after being invited by the rebel group.

The KNU is one of the highest profile ethnic armed groups in Burma and has fought for autonomy and Karen rights for 63 years—the longest running armed revolution in the country.

The 88 Generation is currently working on open community projects with the aim of developing a strong democracy. Group leaders stress that Burma must have nationwide ceasefire in order to forge a permanent peace in the country.

Without peace there will be no democracy or protection of human rights, said Mya Aye, adding that abuses occur most in ethnic areas where there is fighting between rebel armies and the government.
“There must be equal rights for ethnic people in order to be able to achieve nationwide peace and stop the fighting,” he added.

Similarly, the 88 Generation Students discussed safeguarding civilian rights during a meeting with ethnic leaders in the Mon State capital Moulmein on Aug. 13.

Min Zay Ya, an ethnic Mon leader of the 88 Generation from Kamarwat Village in Mudon Township, discussed labor rights and protection against illegal land confiscations with representatives of the Mon Democracy Party (MDP) and All Mon Regions Democracy Party (AMDP).

Around 15,000 acres of land used for rubber plantations have been confiscated by government troops locally.

Nai Ngwe Thein, the chairman of the AMDP, said, “I emphasized the issue of land confiscations at the meeting. [The 88 Generation Students] also agreed to help with this. So we will meet again soon to discuss more about how to work towards this goal.”

Nai Soe Myint, an executive committee member for the MDP, said that all relevant groups agreed that tackling the issue of land grabs was a priority.

“We are going to collect lists of the people in Kyaikmayaw Township who have had their lands confiscated by the Zay Kabar Company,” he said. “From our two-day trip, we found a lot people in Yebyu Township have had land confiscated.”

Under the previous military junta, the ethnic states of Burma have faced poverty and stunted development as well as human rights abuses due to five decades of civil war.

“The time is to let [ethnic people] create their fate and their own rights—the right for freedom. So there will no longer be poverty in ethnic states,” said Mya Aye.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Karen leaders warn of renewed conflict

Published: 13 August 2012
The DKBA commemorates Martyrs' Day on 12 August 2012
Karen rebels commemorate Martyrs' Day near Kawthoolei on 12 August 2012 (Hanna Hindstrom)
Karen leaders have warned of renewed war in Burma’s border regions unless the government begins to pursue politically meaningful negotiations with ethnic groups, during their 62th annual Martyrs’ Day celebrations in Kawthoolei on Sunday.

Marking their first open Martyrs’ Day at their rebel headquarters near the Thai border, the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA) insisted that durable peace remains a distant prospect for the conflict-torn region.

“On the political level, there is no Karen state in the constitution,” Chairperson of the DKBA’s political wing, the Klohtoobaw Karen Organization (KKO), Mahn Robert Bazan told DVB in an interview. “Not only Karen, all ethnics need a unitary state. So the future is not good. We want genuine peace. Unless they solve the national problems, there will be war here.”

DKBA leader General Saw Ler Pwe (also known as Na Ka Mwe) told DVB that the government must take concrete steps to address ethnic grievances, including equality and self-determination, or discussions will stall.

“The DKBA will not agree to a peace deal until we believe that it is genuine,” he said. “We need to wait and see.”
Addressing a packed crowd of soldiers and villagers, a KKO representative read out a statement by Karen National Union (KNU) President Saw Tamla Baw slating the government’s peace efforts, in a symbolic display of solidarity with the fellow rebel group.

“The government is engaged only in superficial and apparent activities of peace building with emphasis only on business matters, and without any political essence,” said Saw Tamla Baw. “There is no dispute that the peace aspired to by the Karen people and the one the government in power wants to give are as different as heaven and earth.”

Both the DKBA and KNU have signed tentative ceasefire agreements with the government in the past year, but relations remain volatile as clashes between rebel and government forces continue. The exploitation of the state’s vast natural resources and the controversial 2008 constitution are key sticking points.

The KNU also issued a call for ethnic unity to mark the death of their first national leader Saw Ba U Gyi, as part of ongoing efforts to reconcile the two rebel factions.

“I would like to urge the entire Karen people to work together with the KNU, so that there can be no mistake in every phase of the political dialogue,” said President Saw Tamla Baw.
It follows a deal signed in March, where the two groups agreed to coordinate with each other before negotiating with the government.

The DKBA split from the Christian-led KNU over religious divisions in 1994 to join forces with the military regime, but a faction led by General Saw Ler Pwe took up arms against the government again in 2010 after refusing to transform into a Naypyidaw-controlled Border Guard Force. The DKBA has since sought to repair its relationship with the KNU, including changing its name from “Buddhist” to “benevolent” army to downplay religious differences.

“The next step of the process will be to cooperate with the KNU by building up trust and honesty,” said Saw Ler Pwe. “This conflict is not about religion, it is about equality.”

While refugees have been returning to the areas surrounding Kawthoolei, which were razed by Burmese troops in 2010, many Karen are skeptical that the ceasefire will last.

“I think they are playing a game with us,” said 41-year Nawah, who works on the Thai border. “They won’t give Karen people a true peace deal.”

The KNU is set to hold their next round of negotiations with the government at the end of this month, but it is unlikely to deliver substantial progress.

“We will not have political talks at this meeting. We will just talk about a code of conduct to regulate their troops,” Vice-Chairman David Tharkabaw told the Irrawaddy last week. “They should stop activities, especially rights abuses. If they violate the code of conduct, we will withdraw our ceasefire agreement.”
The DKBA is yet to set a date for their next round of talks with the government.

Kachin youths arrested in connection with KIO

Kachin youths in Myitkyina and other major cities in Kachin State have been arrested for making contact with KIO in the past. Those arrested have previously attended “Education and Economic Development for Youth”, a training course administered by KIO’s youth department during 17-years of ceasefire with Burmese military government.
Lahtaw Tang Gun (age 23) of Dapkawng quarter, Htingraw La Sam and Gum Ring of Sanpra quarter, have been arrested by Burmese government authorities from their homes in Myitkyina on Aug 4. They have been accused of making contacts with KIO and telling Burmese army’s movement to KIO, said a local.
KIO’s youth department had conducted a series of training sessions aimed at educating Kachin history, promoting awareness of local roots and economic development for Kachin youths during ceasefire period.
Whereabouts of Kachin youths who have been detained by the authorities are still unknown. A local Christian minister said that they can’t even sleep well at nights because of government’s suspicions and arbitrary arrests.

From Kachinland News Media

A strong democratic front needed in Burma

(Commentary) – The 24th anniversary commemoration of the 1988 uprising on Thursday by Min Ko Naing and the 88-generation students was a remarkable event in the healing for both the 88-students group and the government.
Left to right, 88-Generation student leaders Jimmy, Hla Myo Naung, Htay Kywe, Min Ko Naing, Ko Ko Gyi, Mya Aye, Min Zaya and Aung Thu at a press conference in Rangoon in January 2012. Photo: Mizzima
Left to right, 88-Generation student leaders Jimmy, Hla Myo Naung, Htay Kywe, Min Ko Naing, Ko Ko Gyi, Mya Aye, Min Zaya and Aung Thu at a press conference in Rangoon in January 2012. Photo: Mizzima

Again, President Thein Sein has shown an enormous capacity for reconciliation towards the generation of students who were jailed for a quarter of a century, ran to the ground, driven out of the country and regarded as public enemy No. 1 by the military dictatorship.

The president dispatched two state ministers to deliver a check to the 88-student group, to help fund the commemoration ceremony held in Mandalay.

It is an extraordinary turn around for the general-turned-head of state of an emerging democracy like Burma.

It is a good day whenever national healing takes place between the military-backed government and the one-time student dissidents.

When healing takes place, trust follows as a natural consequence. When trust develops, then true reconciliation can take place.

When President Thein Sein first invited Suu Kyi to Naypyitaw prior it was likened to a Mandela-moment by the world press. Now with the president handing an olive branch to the powerful group of leaders of the 88 uprising, one cannot help muse about whether this moment has a potential for the student leaders to create something like the ANC (African National Congress) in South Africa. It was the powerful ANC together with Mandela who negotiated a pact with de klerk to work on a transition to genuine democracy.

Maybe the 88 student leaders could draw all the democratic and ethnic parties in Burma together to form a collective democratic front like the ANC in South Africa and build up a powerful political bloc. If any group can achieve it, it will be the 88 student leaders.

However, the balance of power in Burma right now is too lopsided for genuine reconciliation to happen.

Unless all the democratic parties big and small can coalesce behind a single collective front, there can be no genuine reconciliation to come about in the near future.

Min Ko Naing and his group of student leaders are in a perfect position to be the catalyst in networking and bringing together all the stakeholders among the democratic elements, large and small.

They have the gravitas, the energy, the verve and the political clout to do so. One can only hope that Min Ko Naing can bring about the Burmese version of the ANC and together with Suu Kyi build up a powerful democratic bloc before the 2015 election.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

KNU Doubts Govt Peace Efforts


Railways Minister Aung Min, far left, meets KNU representatives in Pa-an, Karen State, on Jan. 11. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

The Burmese government is avoiding real political dialogue despite claiming that it wants to build peace with ethnic armed groups, claims the Karen National Union (KNU).

KNU Chairman Tamla Baw released a statement to commemorate Karen martyrs’ day on Aug. 12 which highlighted the fragile nature of the current ceasefire that was first signed in January.

“Though the government claims to be building peace with armed ethnic nationality forces, it is my analysis that, in practice, it is working with an emphasis only on business matters, rather than dialogue for peace with a political essence,” he said.

“There is no doubt that the peace our Karen people want and the peace [the government] wants to give our people are not currently aligned.”

David Takapaw, the vice-chairman of the KNU, told The Irrawaddy that the Burmese government cannot be attacking Kachin rebels on one side while simultaneously making peace with other ethnic armed groups.
He said that the Karen people faced a similar situation to the Kachin in the past when the government made peace with the other groups while still waging war against the KNU—part of a long-term strategy to eliminate ethnic armies one-by-one.

Political issues have always been the cause of ethnic conflicts in Burma, said Tamla Baw, adding that fighting will only cease after real political dialogue. He added that the Karen people’s revolutionary resistance has lasted for 63 years but still remains a “national liberation movement” as its goals have not yet been reached.
“We have learned bitter lessons a number of times in our national liberation movement because of the sowing of division and discord,” said Tamla Baw.

The KNU vowed to continue the four principle of group founder Saw Ba U Gyi—surrender is out of the question; the recognition of Karen State must be completed; we shall retain our arms; we shall decide our own political destiny.

Tamla Baw said that as the current government gained power in the 2010 general election, which was based on the widely-condemned 2008 Constitution, there was still a need for further political reform. He said that many of the recent changes were simply to appease the international community.

The KNU signed a peace agreement with government negotiators on Jan. 12—the first in a 63-year struggle against the Burmese regime. The adversaries are due to hold a third round of peace talks in the Karen State capital Pa-an on Aug. 27-29.

“We will not have political talks at this meeting. We will just talk about a code of conduct to regulate their troops,” said David Takapaw. “They should stop activities, especially rights abuses. If they violate the code of conduct, we will withdraw our ceasefire agreement.”

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Min Ko Naing’s 88 Uprising Video Tribute

Min Ko Naing in his video tribute to mark the 24th anniversary of the 1988 democracy uprising. (Photo: 88 Gen)
 Min Ko Naing in his video tribute to mark the 24th anniversary of the 1988 democracy uprising. (Photo: 88 Gen)

“Today is the day when we came out among the explosives and cheered our slogan. We were beaten by the butts of guns and batons on the street during our demonstration,” Min Ko Naing, a leader of 88 Generation Students group, said in a video speech to mark the 24th anniversary of the popular uprising.
“Sometimes when we walked down the street, our flag fell down when we were challenged. But we picked it up again and displayed it in the rain. We had to struggle very hard for the last 24 years.”

Min Kon Naing was a 26-year-old zoology student at Rangoon Arts and Science University during the mass demonstration on Aug. 8, 1988. He helped lead the student activists and spent many years in prison as a consequence, while at least 3,000 of those who took part were gunned down by the then-military junta.
Min Ko Naing recollected the events of that fateful day during a broadcast to highlight the current political changes underway and prospects for national reconciliation.

“A lot of flashes from cameras hit us today unlike over the past 24 years,” he said. “Today, we put up our flag on the wall and even put our full flag on the carpet at our office.”

The anniversary of the 88 uprising was marked in Mandalay, Burma second biggest city, where Min Ko Naing and other leaders of the 88 Generation Students joined hundreds of democracy activists.
Railways Minister Aung Min, Naypyidaw’s chief peace negotiator with ethnic armed groups, donated one million kyat (US $1,250) towards the occasion. Aung Min met group leaders in Mandalay on Tuesday and said that his visit was conducted with the blessing of President Thein Sein.

The 88 Generation Students viewed the donation as a contribution towards national reconciliation in recognition of their activities.

“There is a big political change in our country. It is a historic change. If we had to ask, who made this change? The answer is the people,” said Min Ko Naing. “We want our people to remember that there is political change because of them. They wrote this history. We want the people to consider what more they can do in the future.

“Regarding national reconciliation, the president said that he wants all-inclusive politics. But there are our comrades who remain behind bars. There are also ethnic people who are behind bars for feeding one meal to the rebels. There should be no political prisoners.

“Burma’s Parliament is tightly controlled by military uniforms, but despite this there has been change as there was a single party Parliament in the past. Yet today there are many political parties in Parliament.”

Regarding the life of factory workers, Min Ko Naing said, “If we look at our sisters who work in textile factories, they suffer from poverty and a lack of education. If we look at their packed lunch, they do not have even one egg for a meal. This is how they have to struggle in their daily lives.

“There are educated people who stay abroad and ask us if they need to come back. We are constructing roads. If you want to walk on a smooth road, the time is now to cooperate with us. To be able to sing a song of victory beside the Irrawaddy River, we all need to cooperate to write the words.”

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Political prisoner beaten at Insein


Published : 2 August 2012

Officials at Rangoon’s Insein prison beat a political prisoner, who was being transferred from Arakan state’s Sittwe prison to Pegu’s Tharawaddy prison, during a brief stopover at the facility on 31 July.
An Insein official Maung Maung Gyi along with prison guards assaulted Aung Thu, a political prisoner

 who was among 170 inmates moved from Sittwe prison, when he questioned them about seizing the transferred inmates’ food, reported the victim’s father Kyaw Thin.

“So he asked them about seizing the items and Maung Maung Gyi and the guards dragged him like a dog and beat him up. They told him ‘you layabouts are making a business out of politics’ and cursed him,” said Kyaw Thin, who was able to speak to his son by phone.

“He said he was handcuffed to a pole and beaten up. He sounded like he was crying.”
Kyaw Thin said he would file a lawsuit against the perpetrators who attacked Aung Thu.
Htun Kyi, spokesperson of Former Political Prisoners Organisation, said the group strongly condemns the official’s mistreatment of Aung Thu.

“Now the country is in the process of a peaceful transition. However, prison authorities, even after transition into a civilian government, are still treating political prisoners in the same way they did under the previous military junta and we strongly condemn this,” said Htun Kyi.

Earlier this week, about 200 inmates from prisons across Arakan state were transferred to different locations across the country, including two political prisoners Aung Thu from Sittwe prison and Aye Min Phyo from Butheedaung prison.

Aung Thu was a first-year university student when he was arrested in 200 and sentenced to 15 years in prison after being charged for violating a plethora of laws including the immigration and unlawful association act.

According to statistics by the FPPO, there are more than 300 political inmates behind bars in prisons across Burma.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

UN human rights expert asks to visit strife-torn Arakan State

The UN expert on human rights in Burma will visit the country for four days starting on Tuesday, at the invitation of the government.

quintana-speaks-to-media-2sSpecial Rapporteur Tomas Ojea Quintana will tour the country, said the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in a statement on Wedneday.

Quintana has requested to visit Arakan (Rakhine) State and Kachin State and will report his findings to the UN's Human Rights Council, OHCHR said.

However, it was unclear if Quintana would be given permission to visit Arakan State in western Burma where widespread sectarian violence has claimed up to 78 lives and where thousands of homes and businesses were burned in June. There are reports of continued unrest in the area, and human rights groups have called for an independent investigation by a credible group.

In a statement released by OHCHR, Quintana cited “ongoing human rights challenges, including ... recent violence in Rakhine state, as well as continuing armed conflict, particularly in Kachin State.”

Quintana will meet with government officials, politicians, the National Human Rights Commission and civil society groups in Naypyitaw and Rangoon, according to the Geneva-based agency.

He said that there has been “significant progress on reforms (in Myanmar), which I hope will culminate in the creation of a peaceful and vibrant democracy that respects human rights and upholds the rule of law”.

A press conference is planned at Rangoon International Airport at the end of his mission on August 4.

Kachin Refugees Face Extreme Food Shortages in Pangwa

These children are IDPs sheltering at Jegau Camp in Kachin State. The Pangwa camps are reportedly much more spartan and are located high in the mountains. (PHOTO: THE IRRAWADDY)

MAI JA YANG—Local aid workers in eastern Kachin State say more than 1,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) face extreme food shortages in a makeshift camp located in government-controlled territory south of the town of Pangwa.

The IDPs, who are predominately farmers, fled when heavy fighting broke out earlier this year between Burma’s government forces and the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) in the area surrounding Pangwa, a town on the Sino-Kachin border northeast of Myitkyina which was once the stronghold of the New Democratic Army Kachin (NDAK), a now defunct ceasefire group.

A Kachin aid worker who visited the isolated camp last week described the conditions as “extremely poor.” He said, “There isn’t enough food, medicine or shelter, and the people are suffering immensely.”
A smaller temporary refugee camp has also been established on the Chinese side of the border, but conditions are similarly poor, he said.

No relief supplies have arrived at the camp from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN Organization for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) or the World Food Program (WFP).

Although the UN agencies have been able to make regular visits to camps located in and around the KIO-controlled town of Mai Ja Yang over the past few months, UN agencies have yet to visit the camps located south of Pangwa.

Only once in the past year has the UN been able to visit camps in the Laiza area, the de facto capital of the KIO, currently home to more than 20,000 people.

According to the Kachin aid worker, both camps south of Pangwa are overcrowded. The camps’ high elevation in the mountains means the temperatures are cold which, combined with the seasonal wet weather, has exacerbated health problems.

Most of the camps’ residents are from Waimah Township and are predominately from the Lachik (also known as Lashi), Lawngwaw and Lisu ethnic Kachin subgroups who populate the local area. Many of the displaced families do not speak the dominate Jinghpaw Kachin dialect let alone Burmese which has further complicated efforts by outsiders to help them.

Aba Awng, a spokesman for Relief Action Network for IDPs and Refugees, a local group that has sent humanitarian aid supplies to these camps, told The Irrawaddy that he is gravely concerned about conditions in the Pangwa camps. “It is very cold and the displaced families need better shelter, clothes and medical care,” he said. He mentioned that no education facilities exist for the children.

Barbara Manzi, the head of mission in Burma for OCHA, confirmed that the UN is aware of the camps near Pangwa and that the concerned UN agencies want to help.

“We are trying our best to reach all IDPs, regardless of where they are located,” she told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday.

However, local sources said that while fighting has eased in the area somewhat since June, it will remain very difficult for the UN to reach these IDPs because of their remote location and lingering political issues.

Tensions between the UN and Burmese government authorities have risen considerably over the past month due to the humanitarian crisis created by the turmoil in Arakan (Rakhine) State, and specifically the arrest of three local UNHCR staff who were charged with “stimulating” riots. The three continue to be held despite a visit to Burma in early July by UNHCR head António Guterres. An additional seven to nine staff from other international NGOs were also detained in Arakan State.

It remains to be seen whether the UN’s troubles in western Burma will complicate its efforts to deliver humanitarian aid to civilians caught in the ongoing conflict in Kachin State.

Suu Kyi Calls for Ethnic Rights in First Debate

Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi speaks to MPs in the Lower House on Wednesday. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi called for laws protecting the rights of ethnic minorities during her first parliamentary debate in Burma’s Lower House on Wednesday.

The National League for Democracy (NLD) chairman supported a proposal of Ti Khun Myat, the MP representing Shan State’s Kut Khai Constituency for the ruling military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), to enact laws to protect minority groups.

Protecting the rights of ethnic minorities is a complex issue and more than simply preserving their culture and language, said the Nobel Laureate.

“It also cannot be detached from the Panglong spirit which is based on equality and mutual respect,” said Suu Kyi. “Keeping this in mind, we, all of us parliamentarians, must work together to amend the laws as necessary to be able to protect ethnic rights as well as to develop a truly democratic nation.”

The proposal to protect the rights of minorities applied mainly to ethnic languages, literature and culture, and some MPs criticized the current wording for lacking provisions for equality, autonomy and human rights.
Ba Shein, a Lower House MP for the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party, said he supports the proposal but it also needs to include guarantees of ethnic equality.

“There needs to be many amendments to make in order to have equality for the ethnics as well as to build the federal union which the ethnics consistently want to establish,” he said.

Nine MPs including Suu Kyi discussed the proposed legislation during Wednesday’s session of the People’s Parliament after it was first introduced as a topic on Tuesday.

Two other NLD members—Min Thu from Naypyidaw’s Ottarathiri Constituency and Ohn Kyaing from Mandalay’s Maha-Aung-Myay Constituency—joined Suu Kyi in the debate.

The democracy icon also raised the issue of the term “ethnics” as the controversial 2008 Constitution does not contain a specific definition. According to the 1982 citizenship law, an ethnic group must have been living permanently on Burmese soil since before 1823 to be eligible for citizenship.

Suu Kyi also highlighted poverty in ethnic states as well as their underdeveloped condition due to a continuous cycle of civil wars. Burma’s highest poverty rate is in Chin State at 73.3 percent with 43.5 percent in Arakan State and 37.1 percent in Shan State, she said, noting that the national average was 25.6 percent.

Her speech was broadcasted live on Burma’s SkyNet channel which offers live coverage of parliamentary debates.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Fighting intensifies in Kachin and Northen Shan State 

Kachin Land news 23/07/2012

With a political solution still far from sight, fierce fighting continues between Kachin Independence Army and Burmese Army. About 1650 battles have been fought since renewed fighting began on June 9, 2011. KIO delegates have asked at least in three meetings to withdraw Burmese troops from KIO territory. But Burmese army has increased troop deployment in order to escalate its offensive war and fighting has intensified in Kachin and Northern Shan State.

A fierce fighting between KIA’s 38th Battalion under 4th Brigade and Burmese Army’s Kutkai-based 241st LIB under North Eastern Regional Military Command took place at Bang Lum hill near Pang Sai in Northern Shan State on July 19 at 4 am, reported a frontline source. Another battle took place between KIA’s 12th Battalion under 3rd Brigade and Burmese army’s 99th LID near Kai Htik on July 19 at 5 am. KIA’s 24th Battalion under 5th Brigade has fought against Burmese army’s 387th LIR under 21st MOC at Bum Sawn hill on July 19.

KIA’s 24th Battalion under 5th Brigade encountered Burmese Army’s soldiers under 21st MOC between Bum Sawn hill and Daw Hpum on July 20 at 10:45 am.

At 10 am on July 21, a battle took place between KIA soldiers under 5th Brigade and Burmese army’s 142nd LIB at Ban Kawng Mu village. On the same day, another fighting took place between KIA’s 23rd Battalion and Burmese army’s 40th LIB near Laja Yang.

As of July 21, battle continues between KIA’s 24th Battalion and Burmese army’s 387th LIR near Bum Sawn hill. A battle took place between KIA’s 15th Battalion under 3rd Brigade and Burmese army’s 317th LIR near Law Mun located between Kadaw and Namhpak Hka village on July 21 at 6 pm.

At least 3 Burmese soldiers and one KIA soldier have been killed in a battle fought between a KIA’s mobile battalion and Burmese army’s MOC-3 near Gang Dau on July 22.

Mitchell says US keeping some sanctions

Derek Mitchell, the new US ambassador to Burma, has reaffirmed the importance of keeping some US trade sanctions in place to encourage further and quicker reforms.

Derek Mitchell speaks at the US embassy in Rangoon on Friday. Photo: Mizzima
Derek Mitchell speaks at the US embassy in Rangoon on Friday. Photo: Mizzima
“We have said in the past, and I have said, that we endorse continuing to keep in place many of the authorities – the sanctions authorities – in Congress,” Mitchell said during a press conference on Friday in Rangoon. He is the first US ambassador assigned to Burma in more than two decades.

The US Congress is expected to extend trade and certain other sanctions this week, after removing key investment sanctions on July 11.

Keeping key trade sanctions, said Mitchell, is “an insurance policy for the future in case things reverse.”

“We're talking about a rapid process. It's only really been a little over a year and there are still some questions about the future,” he said, adding that the trade import ban could be revisited later if the reform process continues.

A US Senate finance committee on Wednesday backed a three-year extension on the ban on importing goods made in Burma. President Obama has the power to rescind the sanctions if events warrant, officials said.

Mitchell said that suspension of investment restrictions is “done according to traditional US corporate principles and values” and could serve the long-term interests of the Burmese people by establishing the values of transparency.

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi lobbied key US Sen. Mitch McConnell last week to work to remove more sanctions to aid the Burmese people.

Derek Tonkin,writing on the Network Myanmar website, said: "The news that the Senate Finance Committee is recommending the renewal for three years of the total ban on imports from Myanmar undermines recent statements by US officials that the US was moving away from 'blunter' generalised sanctions to more 'targeted' measures. Over 80 per cent of Myanmar exports in the run-up to the ban imposed by the 2003 Burma Freedom and Democracy Act were in the labour-intensive industry of garment manufacture. Suu Kyi is known to support such industries and it remains to be seen whether her recent contact with Sen. Mitch McConnell, who had earlier claimed rather improbably that she supported the renewal of the ban, will have any effect."

However, Suu Kyi has warned foreign companies to be cautious in investing in the oil and gas industries, which would require working with the state-run Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE), which she said lacks accountability and transparency. Doing deals with MOGE is the only way to gain access to energy resources. It just announced it was offering exploration rights for oil and gas in more than 20 offshore blocks, and many foreign companies are now expected to take part in energy development.

Recognizing concerns over corruption, transparency and human rights abuses in Burma, the Obama administration said it would require U.S. companies that invest in the country to give detailed reports on their investments to set a standard for transparency.

The administration has stipulated that U.S. companies must file regular reports on their investments in the country. Any U.S. legal person, which includes individuals and entities, engaging in investment that total more than $500,000, will have to report annually to the State Department on their investment. Further, the reports will be required to include information on any payments totaling more than $10,000 to Burmese government entities, including state-owned enterprises, said a fact sheet.

Aid to Kachin State slowly increases

Humanitarian aid from the international community to refugees in Burma’s Kachin State totaled US$ 16.7 million at the end of May, according to domestic media reports.
The U.N. distributed rice to Seng Mai Pa IDP camp in KIO-controlled Mai Ja Yang in March. Photo: KNG
The U.N. distributed rice to Seng Mai Pa IDP camp in KIO-controlled Mai Ja Yang in March. Photo: KNG

The UN has calculated that a total of $21.9 million would be needed to support a population of around 40,000 refugees in camps across the state, an article by the Eleven News Group said on Monday. Some groups say refugees' numbers far exceed that estimate.

“We’ve so far received 16.7 million of the expected amount. But the problem is that number of refugees has doubled,” a member of the Kachin Peace Network, which works with refugees, was quoted as saying. The private group successfully delivered a small amount of aid to the area this month.

Money and material has been donated by Australia, Germany, Britain, Denmark, the U.S, France, the UN, the World Food Program, UNICEF and other donors, said the newspaper.

On Friday, Ambassador Derek Mitchell said that the U.S. will donate US$ 3 million to the Food and Agriculture Organization to buy 3,400 tons of food, which is enough for six months for 55,000 refugees in Kachin and northern Shan states.

UN convoys and private groups have been successful in reaching the camps in recent months, following a period when the Burmese government or the Kachin Independence Organization denied access to the refugee areas.

Significant aid is also coming from area residents and church groups, officials said. Reports say there is a shortage of food, shelters, health care and a lack of teaching aids.

Clashes between the government and Kachin Independence army renewed in June 2011 and have continued even as peace negotiations are ongoing, although they have made little headway in resolving the political issues behind the fighting.

Villagers have fled to refugee camps in Kachin and northern Shan states and along the border inside China

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Human Rights Groups Slam US Sanctions Waiver

IDPs sheltering in Nam Kham, by the Sino-Burmese border in Shan State, after being displaced by ethnic conflict. (Photo: TSYO)

The suspension of US sanctions on Burma to allow investment in its controversial military-linked oil and gas industries will have dire consequences for human rights in the country, claim humanitarian groups.
The Obama administration announced on Wednesday that it will allow US investments and financial services in Burma just as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is due to address the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Cambodia
The new policy does not restrict US companies from partnering with Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE), Burma’s state-owned oil company and the main source of revenue for the previous military government, and instead only requires that they inform the Washington government within 60 days of new deals.

This comes despite opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi—for decades the principle guide for US policy on the former pariah nation—calling last month on governments to block investments with MOGE until it meets international standards of transparency and accountability.

“The US government should have insisted that good governance and human rights reform be essential operating principles for new investments in Burma,” said Arvind Ganesan, business and human rights director at Human Rights Watch.

“By allowing deals with Burma’s state-owned oil company, the US looks like it caved in to industry pressure and undercut Aung San Suu Kyi and others in Burma who are promoting government accountability.”
The US issued general licenses to allow companies to operate in Burma while still keeping sanctions laws on the books. At present, Chevron is the only American company exempted from the sanctions and holds a 28 percent stake in the Yadana pipeline project, which is operated by French firm Total.

But the US oil and gas industry pressed the Obama administration for a wholesale removal of the investment ban without any limits on partnering with MOGE, citing potentially lucrative investment opportunities when Burma opens up additional oil and gas blocks for exploration later this year.
The new policy, initially billed as a “framework for responsible investment,” permits American companies to invest in all sectors of Burma’s economy—but not to directly partner with the military or those on the Treasury Department sanction’s list.
“President Thein Sein, Aung San Suu Kyi and the people of Burma continue to make significant progress along the path to democracy, and the government has continued to make important economic and political reforms,” read a White House statement on Wednesday.

“As we indicated in May, the armed forces and Ministry of Defense-owned entities will not be covered by these general licenses. In addition, US companies will be asked to report on their activities in line with international corporate governance standards.

“This order is a clear message to Burmese government and military officials: those individuals who continue to engage in abusive, corrupt, or destabilizing behavior going forward will not reap the rewards of reform.“
Nevertheless, human rights groups have been quick to remind the US government that the situation on the ground does not reflect this new-found optimism.

A statement by Freedom House on Wednesday admitted that foreign investment in Burma was necessary to alleviate the poverty of ordinary people, but added that “suddenly funneling money into the country’s opaque, scandalously corrupt business environment is no way to help Burma progress economically or politically. This is all the more true when the main investment goal is the exploitation of natural resources.”
Similarly, a recent joint letter by nine advocacy groups—comprised of AFL-CIO, Freedom House, Human Rights Watch, Institute for Asian Democracy, Open Society Foundations, Orion Strategies, Physicians for Human Rights, US Campaign for Burma and United to End Genocide—called on the White House to continue restrictive economic measures until ongoing concerns are addressed.

“Despite holding by-elections and taking other positive steps, the government has yet to institute the reforms necessary to move Burma toward democracy, and basic political power remains with the military,” said the coalition. “It is imperative for the United States to retain its leverage until real reform occurs.”
The European Union similarly suspended economic sanctions against Burma, although without any monitoring requirements on companies, in April despite protestations from human rights groups.


Serious Abuses Still Rife in Burma: UK Govt

Kachin refugees flee fighting between KIA and Burmese government troops. (Photo: Jinghpaw Kasa Blog)

While welcoming positive political developments in Burma, a new report from the UK government has raised serious concerns regarding ongoing human right abuses in ethnic areas where armed conflicts continue to rage.

The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office published “Human Rights and Democracy 2011” on Tuesday which highlights entrenched humanitarian crises in Burma just as local sources in Kachin State accuse the Burmese government of arbitrarily detaining and torturing civilians suspected of links to rebel groups.

“2011 was marked by some unexpected and positive political developments in Burma, although significant long-term challenges remained,” said the report, detailing the case of 30,000 houses from seven villages in Shan State which were razed to the ground in March last year by government troops.

And many serious human rights violations were also documented in northernmost Kachin State where a 17-year ceasefire broke down in June last year. The report detailed accusations of civilians being tortured, raped and killed by government troops while the rebel Kachin Independence Army (KIA) also allegedly used forced porters, child soldiers and land mines.

After Burma began a program of political reform, Conservative MP William Hague became the first UK foreign secretary to visit the military-dominated nation in 57 years to signify a new level of engagement between the two countries. This was followed by the European Union suspending economic sanctions in May.

“We acknowledge that there is more work to be done to address the serious human rights concerns that remain. In 2012, our human rights objectives will build on the progress in 2011,” said the report, adding that many of Burma’s existing laws are outdated, contradictory and in need of amendment.

Rebel peace brokers told The Irrawaddy that ongoing human right abuses in Kachin State remain serious, with suspected KIA supporters detained at Myitkyina refugee camps by the local authorities. This is despite article 17/1 of the Unlawful Associations Act, which states that it is illegal for anyone to have contact with an outlawed organization, apparently being suspended on June 21.

The constitutional law, which dates back to British colonial times, has been used for decades to justify the arbitrary arrest of anyone suspected of supporting anti-government organizations or ethnic armed groups.
And despite apparently being repealed, San Aung, a peace broker in the Kachin capital, said that 49 ethnic Kachins were detained for being KIA supporters or sympathizers last month, of which 29 are currently being prosecuted.

Instead of finding a political solution through peace talks, the government continues to use its armed forces to attack the KIA, claims another peace broker Lamai Gum Ja, adding that an end to hostilities remains far out of reach in the war-torn state.

Lamai Gum Ja told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that three more people were reportedly detained in northern Shan State on July 3 for suspected links to the Kachin rebels.

More than 1,500 Kachin people took part in a protest in Myitkyina Township on July 6 that demanded the release of Lahtaw Brang Shawng who was detained and faces trial in Myitkyina for being member of the KIA.

He was beaten and tortured during interrogation by the authorities and forced to confess to the crime, according to his supporters.

KIA spokesman La Nan said that Railways Minister Aung Min, Naypyidaw’s chief peace negotiator, is not a man who can be trusted as many people are still being detained and tortured under article 17/1 despite his assurance that it was dropped.

Even though several rounds of negotiations have taken place between the Burmese government and KIA, no settlement has so far been reached. More than 70,000 civilians, including many women and children, have been forced to flee to temporary camps by the Chinese border due to the year-long conflict, according to humanitarian groups.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Authorities release activists after brief detention

Published: 9 July 2012
template large
Demonstrators gather outside of the 88 Generation Student's headquarters in Rangoon on 7 July 2012. (DVB)
Burmese officials arrested and temporarily incarcerated 20 activists before the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the military’s crackdown on students in 1962.

The All Burma Federation of Student Union’s General Secretary ABFSU said she and three other members of the group were taken into custody on 6 July in Rangoon and detained over night at the Ministry of Home Affairs.

“We were taken to the Ministry of Home Affairs but there wasn’t much questioning and such,” said Phyo Phyo Aung. “They asked us what time the event was scheduled to be held the next day and told us to go sleep.”

According to the general secretary, ABFSU members were taken into custody in Rangoon, Mandalay, Myingyan and Shwebo, and Shan state’s Lashio on 6 July but were released the following day.
“When you look to a democratic nation – the constitution allows freedom for formation of associations, but we feel like this law is unreachable to us. We don’t feel the law can provide us safety,” said ABFSU member D Nyein Linn.

According to the AFP, about 300 people gathered in Rangoon despite the arrests to commemorate the brutal assault on students protesting against military rule at Rangoon University five decades ago.
The detention of the activists comes days after the government granted amnesty to more than 40 prisoners on 3 July.

Arrested student activists freed

Up to 20 Burmese student activists arrested on Friday were freed one day later, after an avalanche of criticism from human rights groups.
Phyo Aung, second from left, one of the student activists leaders who was arrested ahead of the 50th anniversary of the destruction of the the Rangoon University Student Union building in 1962, speaks at a press conference after her release in Rangoon on Saturday, July 7, 2012. Photo: AFP
Phyo Aung, second from left, one of the student activists leaders who was arrested ahead of the 50th anniversary of the destruction of the the Rangoon University Student Union building in 1962, speaks at a press conference after her release in Rangoon on Saturday, July 7, 2012. Photo: AFP
The student leaders were detained in Rangoon, Mandalay, Lashio and Shwebo as they were planned to hold ceremonies to mark the 50th anniversary of a deadly 1962 army attack on Rangoon University.

Among those detained was the secretary of the All Burma Students Union, 23-year-old Phyo Phyo Aung, who had been released as a political prisoner last year.

Some prominent student activists said the arrests showed confusion and misunderstanding on the part of some officials in the current government, who still distrust and fear student activist groups.

Dozens of students died during a 1962 army attack on the student union building at Rangoon University.

A delegation from Asean's Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus, (AIPMC) currently visiting Burma, called the arrests a repressive measure which gave the impression that “the old ways are still in effect” despite recent democratic changes.

“This act of oppression has given us the impression that the old ways of practice are still in effect, despite all the positivity for change that we have been hearing,” Cambodian lawmaker Son Chhay, AIPMC's vice president, said in a statement.

“If they are even going to arrest people before any crime has taken place, this shows that they continue to use fear and intimidation to repress.”

Bo Kyi, joint secretary of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), said authorities were nervous every year over celebrations to commemorate the 1962 tragedy. The authorities should have “more trust” in the new generation of political activists, he said.

The new generation of Burmese activists is trying to cooperate with the government, he said, and did not have any intention to conduct a demonstration.

On Saturday up to 300 people marked the anniversary despite the arrests and the presence of plainclothes police.

Debbie Stothard, a spokesperson for rights group, the Alternative Asean Network, said the arrests raised doubts sincerity toward democratic reforms.

“If the country was really moving towards reform people shouldn’t be rounded up on the eve of any anniversary of importance,” she said. “We hope that this serves as a wake-up call to part of the international community that has been euphoric and over optimistic about the pace of reform and the commitment to reform in Burma. There’s no point dismantling sanctions when the authorities are clearly not in a hurry to move forward to greater freedom.”

The detentions came just days after authorities freed more than 20 political prisoners.

Speech of General Aung San