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
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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.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

ဇူလုိင္ ၇ ႏွစ္ ၅၀ ျပည့္ေန႔ အစီအစဥ္ ရန္ကုန္တြင္ က်င္းပျပဳလုပ္
ဇူလုိင္ ၇

ရန္ကုန္ျမိဳ႕ ၈၈ မ်ဳိးဆက္ ေက်ာင္းသားမ်ား ရုံးခန္းတြင္ ေတြ႔ရေသာ ျမင္ကြင္းမ်ား ျဖစ္ၾကသည္။ (ဓာတ္ပုံမ်ား – အ့ံဘြယ္ေက်ာ္/Facebook)

Activists Detained Ahead of July 7 Anniversary

88 Generation leader Min Ko Naing speaks at an event commemorating the 50th anniversary of a crackdown on student activists. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

Student activists in at least three cities in Burma were taken into custody by local authorities on Friday to prevent them from going ahead with planned events to mark the 50th anniversary of a major crackdown on student protests by the country’s armed forces.

Sources said that around 14 activists were rounded up in Rangoon, Mandalay and Lashio, Shan State, on Friday night, and that security forces are on the alert today against protests to mark the killing of dozens of students by Burma’s former dictator Ne Win on July 7, 1962.

Ant Bwe Kyaw, a leader of the 88 Generation Students group, said that the detained activists in Rangoon, including De Nyein Linn, Sithu Maung, Phyo Phyo Aung and Ye Myat Hein, were released at around 11 am on Saturday. It was not clear, however, if the activists in Mandalay and Lashio have also been freed.
Sources said that around 20 police arrived at the Rangoon office of the 88 Generation Students group at about 10 pm on Friday looking for Kyaw Ko Ko and James, the organizers of a planned July 7 anniversary ceremony.

The police officials said they were “worried” about the planned event and that their superiors wanted to talk to its organizers, according to another member of the 88 Generation Students group.

Despite the restrictions, the 88 Generation Students held an event in Rangoon at 9 am today. About 200 activists, including leaders of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), attended.
The authorities checked the ID cards of attendees and photographed the event but did not try to stop it, said sources.

Leaders of the 88 Generation Students group, including Min Ko Naing, Ko Ko Gyi and Kyaw Ko Ko, were speakers at the event. The ceremony finished at about 11 am. A separate event also took place in Mandalay despite the arrests.

Kyaw Ko Ko told The Irrawaddy on Saturday that the total number of student activists who were arrested was around 20, including students in smaller centers such as Shwebo and Myagyan.

He added that the move was an obstacle to democratic reforms and could even signal the beginning of a return to the old system of military rule.

The 1962 crackdown came just months after Ne Win seized power in a bloody coup, inaugurating an era of authoritarian rule that lasted half a century. A day after troops fired on students who protested the military takeover, the army dynamited Rangoon University’s historic Student Union building. It has never been rebuilt, and Rangoon University has remained closed since 1988, when a massive student-led pro-democracy uprising forced Ne Win out of power, only to be crushed by a new military junta.

In previous years, activists held low-key ceremonies to commemorate the occasion. This year, however, in a test of nascent reforms under the quasi-civilian government of President Thein Sein, some activists have openly campaigned for Rangoon University to be reopened and the country’s outlawed student union to be legalized.

Friday, 6 July 2012

ဇူုလုိင္ ၇ ရက္ အခမ္းအနား ပိတ္ပင္မႈ မင္းကုိႏုိင္ေဝဖန္
ႏွစ္ (၅၀) ျပည့္ ဇူလုိင္ (၇) အေရးေတာ္ပံု ႏွစ္ပတ္လည္ အခမ္းအနားကုိ ေနရာ အသီးသီးမွာ ပိတ္ပင္ ခံထားရေပမယ့္ ရန္ကုန္ျမိဳ႕ ၈၈ မ်ိဳးဆက္ ေက်ာင္းသားမ်ား ရံုးခ်ဳပ္မွာ က်င္းပသြားမွာ ျဖစ္တယ္လုိ႔ အဲဒီရံုးခ်ဳပ္မွာ ဒီကေန႔ မနက္ပုိင္းက ျပဳလုပ္တဲ့ သတင္းစာ ရွင္းလင္းပြဲမွာ ေက်ာင္းသား ေခါင္းေဆာင္ေတြက ထုတ္ေဖာ္ေျပာၾကား ပါတယ္။
Photo:88 Generation Student Face book
၈၈ မ်ဳိးဆက္ ေက်ာင္းသားေခါင္းေဆာင္ ကိုမင္းကိုႏိုင္ (ယာ)ႏွင့္ ကိုကိုၾကီး (ဝဲ)တို႔ျဖစ္ပါသည္။
ႏွစ္ ၅၀ ျပည့္ ဆဲဗင္း ဇူလုိင္ အခမ္းအနားေတြကုိ ေတာ္၀င္ႏွင္းဆီ စားေသာက္ဆုိင္အပါအ၀င္ ရန္ကုန္ျမိဳ႕က ေနရာတခ်ိဳ႕မွာ က်င္းပဖုိ႔ ေက်ာင္းသားေခါင္းေဆာင္ေတြက စီစဥ္ခဲ့တာရွိေပမယ့္ ရန္ကုန္တုိင္း လံုျခံဳေရးနဲ႔ နယ္စပ္ေရးရာ၀န္ၾကီး ဗုိလ္မွဴးၾကီး တင္၀င္းက က်င္းပခြင့္ ပိတ္ပင္ထားတယ္လုိ႔ သိရပါတယ္။
ဒါ့ျပင္ မႏၱေလး နည္းပညာေကာလိပ္၊ မႏၱေလး သြားဘက္ဆုိင္ရာ ေဆးတကၠသုိလ္၊ ေက်ာက္ဆည္ နည္းပညာ ေကာလိပ္ စတဲ့ နယ္ျမိဳ႕ေတြမွာလည္း ဆဲဗင္းဇူလုိင္ အခမ္းအနားေတြ က်င္းပခြင့္ ပိတ္ပင္ထားပါတယ္။

အာဏာပုိင္ေတြရဲ႕ အခုလုိ တားဆီးပိတ္ပင္တဲ့ လုပ္ရပ္ေတြဟာ ျပည္သူေတြကုိ လမ္းေပၚ မထြက္ထြက္ေအာင္ တြန္းပုိ႔ေနသလုိ ျဖစ္ေပမယ့္ မိမိတုိ႔ ေက်ာင္းသား ေခါင္းေဆာင္ေတြအေနနဲ႔ ႏုိင္ငံေနာက္ေၾကာင္းျပန္လွည့္မယ့္ လမ္းေၾကာင္းကုိ ေရြးခ်ယ္မွာ မဟုတ္ဘူးလုိ႔ ၈၈ မ်ိဳးဆက္ ေက်ာင္းသားေခါင္းေဆာင္ ကုိမင္းကုိႏုိင္က အခုလို ေျပာပါတယ္။

"အမွန္တကယ္က ဒီမိုကေရစီကို တကယ္ယံုၾကည္လို႔ သြားတယ္ဆိုရင္ ဒီမိုကေရစီ အေလ့အထ ျဖစ္တဲ့ အဲဒီအခမ္းအနားေတြ က်င္းပတာကို ခြင့္ကို ခြင့္ျပဳရမယ္။ အဲဒီအခမ္းအနားေတြက ကိုယ္နဲ႔ သေဘာခ်င္းတူခ်င္မွတူမယ္။ မတူရင္လည္း မတူဘူး။ ဒါက အေရးမၾကီးဘူး။ ဒီမိုကေရစီဆိုတာ ျပိဳင္ဖက္ကို ရွင္သန္ခြင့္ေပးရတာ။ အခုက လမ္းေပၚထြက္မဲ့ ကိစၥလည္း မဟုတ္ဘူး။ အမိုးအကာေအာက္မွာ ေအးေအးခ်မ္းခ်မ္း လုပ္မဲ့ကိစၥကို လုပ္လို႔မရေအာင္ မူလက ရည္ရြယ္ထားတဲ့ ေနရာမွာေပါ့၊ ပိတ္လိုက္တယ္၊ တားလိုက္တယ္ ဆိုတာဟာ လမ္းေပၚကိုတြန္းပို႔သလို ျဖစ္ေနတယ္"

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Kachin army captures 30 gov’t troops as fighting intensifies

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Published: 5 July 2012
Kachin Independence Army troops sit on the side of a road in Laiza, Kachin state. (Ryan Libre)
The Kachin Independence Army has captured more than 30 Burmese Army prisoners of war and deserters as fighting heats up in the year long conflict.

The KIA’s spokesperson La Nan told DVB that the captives were primarily of the private and sergeant rank and were being handled in accordance with international standards concerning the treatment of POWs.
“Regardless of how they ended up being captured, we treat the enemy’s soldiers humanely,” said La Nan.
However, such claims are hard to independently verify.

He said some of the POWs and deserters were unwilling to be handed back over to their Burmese Army battalions in fear of being punished. The issue of returning POWs was raised during an unofficial meeting with the Burmese government’s Peace Making Work Committee’s Deputy Chairman Railway Minister Aung Min in June.

According to La Na, KIA POWs who are being held by the Burmese army are often subjected to torture and even extrajudicial execution.

“In May, seven of our soldiers were captured alive during a skirmish in Pangwa. After they surrendered, six of them were shot and killed and the only one kept alive was sent to Myitkyina,” said La Na.

“Also, a soldier from our Brigade-4 in northern Shan State’s Nam Hpak Ka region was tortured after they captured him alive. They pinched a hole in his nose with a knife and put a nose ring [used on cows], then dragged him along in a village,” said La Na

The Burmese army has also reportedly been arresting people fleeing conflict zones in Kachin state and charging them with unlawful association.

Lahtaw Brang Shawng was arrested on 17 June and was tried in accordance with the law.
According to his attorney Marhka, Lahtaw Brang Shawng was severely tortured while incarcerated.
“He said he was losing hearing in his left ear and he seemed terrified,” said Marhka.

“He wasn’t allowed to see anyone initially after the arrest so he was feeling hopeless. It is a serious human rights violation to arrest someone and torture them for days to force a confession out of them.”

During a court hearing on 28 June, the judge discovered that the Lahtaw Brang Shawng had a recording device hidden under his clothing presumably so that the military would be able to monitor his testimony.
While reports of POWs and arrested civilans continue to surface, combat operations are said to be intensifying Kachin state, where unverified reports claim heavy fighting is erupting in Laja Yang near the KIA’s headquarters in Laiza.

Minister Aung Min and KIA leaders are tipped to hold another round of unofficial talks later this month following the reshuffling of the government’s paramount negotiating team in May that sought push out hardliners.

The government initially proposed to hold the meeting in Kachin state’s Bhamo, but the KIA turned down the request citing the intense fighting that is taking place in the region.

The KIA previously met twice with the Kachin State’s government led by Colonel Than Aung, three times with the Minister Aung Thaung’s led peace delegation and five times with Minister Aung Min’s delegation.
-Ko Htwe provided additional reporting.

Ethnic Conflict Key to Rebuilding Nation: Thein Sein

Burma President Thein Sein delivers a speech in Naypyidaw in April 2011. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

Burma’s President Thein Sein says that ending ethnic conflict is the key to rebuilding the nation, and the benchmark that will denote the transition from the old administration to the new one.

Speaking in Naypyidaw on Tuesday at the first meeting of the Union-level Peace Committee, Thein Sein addressed some top government officials including Vice-president Sai Mauk Kham, Lower House speaker Shwe Mann, Upper House speaker Khin Aung Myint, and the commander-in-chief of the defense service, Vice-Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing.

“The transition should lead in a political and economic direction as this is the foundation of the country,” said Thein Sein, adding that a failure to end the war in ethnic areas would be an obstacle to economic development, and that the continued presence of ethnic armed groups in the country weakens the rule of law in building a democratic process.

“That’s why the efforts being made to end the conflict with the ethnic armed groups is the key foundation to peace-building in the country,” he said.

Under the government sworn in 15 months ago, ceasefire agreements have been signed between Naypyidaw and 10 ethnic armed groups. However, ethnic leaders have reiterated that the ceasefires is just the first step of a process that must include political solutions.

Despite the ceasefires, clashes and skirmishes have been reported on a regular basis in Shan State, Karenni State, Karen State and most notably in Kachin State where the human cost of the conflict is being felt the most. The Kachin rebels have not reached a truce with the government’s Peace Committee despite several rounds of negotiations.

Shan sources said that government troops launched an offensive against the Shan State Army-North (SSA-North) in southern Shan State over the weekend, just eight days after state-level peace talks were held between the two sides in Mandalay.

On June 29, deadly clashes—five government soldiers were reported killed—broke out between government troops and the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), which signed a peace agreement with the government in June.

Speaking with The Irrawaddy on Wednesday, Maj. Sai Lao Hseng, the main spokesperson for the Shan State Army–South (SSA–South), which signed a ceasefire with the government in December, said that Naypyidaw is responsible for implementing the ceasefire by directing its troops on the ground. He said that until it does, the ceasefire is “worth no more than a piece of paper.”

He added: “We agreed that the end of ethnic conflict is the key in peace-building. That’s why we accepted the government’s offer, the ceasefire,” said Sai Lao Hseng.

“The government wanted to start with a ceasefire. So we signed it. But the ceasefire is just an agreement on paper. We think it doesn’t yet reflect the reality,” he added.

In the Burmese capital, Thein Sein said that it is necessary to create equal political and economic opportunities for the ethnic groups in order to end the ethnic conflicts.

James Lum Dau, the deputy chief of foreign affairs in the Kachin Independence Organization, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that the Burmese army should represent the reforms initiated by the president.
He said that there are still ethnic conflicts on the ground because the Burmese armed forces have ignored the government-initiated reforms. The armed forces still launch attacks against the ethnic groups while the president himself has given orders several times for the army to stop military offensives, he added.
“We believe that President Thein Sein shares empathy with us. If the armed forces follow his reforms, things will go smoothly,” he said.

The armed conflict that erupted on June 19 last year in Kachin State between the KIO and the government troops has displaced over 60,000 people in northern Burma—24, 000 in government-controlled areas and about 40,000 in KIO-controlled regions, according to UN figures.

In May, the government reorganized its peace team, dividing it into two groups—the central and working committees—to deal with the armed ethnic groups through peace negotiations. Its members include government ministers, heads of divisions, MPs and military officers.

Meanwhile, the Burmese government officially announced a cabinet reshuffle on Wednesday. Upper House speaker Khin Aung Myint announced the retirement of ailing Vice-president Tin Aung Myint Oo, who was reputed to be one of the hardliners in the government.

Speculation exists in Naypyidaw that Lower House Speaker Shwe Mann will replace him. Other names suggested include Election Commission Chairman Tin Aye, Gen Min Aung Hlaing and Htay Oo, who is the secretary-general of the ex-junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party.


Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Political Prisoners Released in Amnesty

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma) in Mae Sot, Thailand, set up a mock prison cell to demonstrate conditions to visitors. (Photo: James Mackay/

Burma’s state-run media has reported that 80 prisoners, including at least 22 political prisoners, were granted amnesty on Tuesday under a presidential decree.

According to a report by The New Light of Myanmar on Tuesday, the figure of 80 released prisoners includes 34 foreigners who were subsequently deported.

The report stated that, in accordance with Section 204 (a) of the State Constitution, amnesty was granted to 46 Burmese prisoners—37 male and 9 female—with a view “to ensuring the stability of the State and making eternal peace, national reconciliation, enabling all to participate in political process.”

According to Bo Kyi, the joint-secretary of the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), only six political prisoners were so far included the government amnesty.

Sources named them as: Than Zaw from Thayet prison; Aung Aung Oo from Kathar prison; Aung Kyaw Moe from Myitkyina prison; Phyit Phyo Aung from Pyi prison; Aye Aung from Kalay prison; and Dr. Kyaw Kyaw from Myingyan prison.

Sources close to Insein prison in Rangoon contradicted that report, saying that at least 12 political prisoners were released form Insein prison on Tuesday.

And Pyone Cho, a leading member of 88 Generation Students Group, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that at least 22 political prisoners were included in the amnesty. However, he could not confirm the names of those released.

According to New York-based Human Rights Watch, at least 659 political prisoners in Burma have been freed over the past year. It says that some 200 to 600 political activists remain in detention across Burma.


‘Protect the People,’ 88 Gen Tells Shwe Mann

Burma’s Lower House speaker Shwe Mann (5th from left) poses for a photograph with Min Ko Naing (4th from left) and other 88 generation representatives in Rangoon on July 1.(Photo: 88 Generation Students group)

Burma’s speaker of the Lower House of Parliament, Shwe Mann, met on Sunday in Rangoon with representatives of the 88 Generation Students group, including former political prisoner Min Ko Naing, in a first show of recognition by the new government for the dissident organization.

Shwe Mann, a former military general who is now believed to be one of the leading reformers in the government and a close confidant of President Thein Sein, told the 88 Generation leaders that Naypyidaw faces many challenges during this transition from military to civilian government, and that it did not yet have much experience in democracy.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Monday, Min Ko Naing said they discussed issues of law with Shwe Mann—how to unburden the people of unjust and unnecessary laws, and how to replace them, within a timeframe, with laws that support civil rights.

“Shwe Mann said that it is difficult to change things in Parliament where so many lawmakers are from the military and are only used to listening to orders,” said Min Ko Naing. “Shwe Mann said that MPs needed to work harder for change, and that there was a great number of issues to be dealt with in Parliament.

“We will take many positive things from our discussion with Shwe Mann,” he said. “We like him and can see he has an open mind. It is important to know how sick our country is in order to find its treatment.”
The 88 Generation leader said that although the government says it is making progress and has changed certain laws, the ordinary people still do not feel any benefits.

He said that draft laws were taking too long to process in Parliament, and that events on the ground could continue in the vein as under the previous military junta because the relevant laws have not been overturned.
“The 88 Generation Students group is working to promote strong civil institutions in Burma,” said Min Ko Naing, “and as such, we do not intend to run as a party in the 2015 elections.”

Monday, 2 July 2012

After 50 years, will the Fighting Peacock rise again?

(Commentary) – Fifty years ago on July 7, 1962, Burma’s military took control of Rangoon University and dynamited the student union building, shattering a historic symbol of the Burmese struggle for freedom. Many students leaders went underground and became the staunchest opponents to the military dictatorship to this day.

It was in this dark shadow of authoritarianism that the next generation of student leaders was born, and grew up to lead the ’88 democracy uprising in Burma. This generation also gave Burma a second chance at independence, by inviting Aung San Suu Kyi to enter the democracy movement in 1988.

Today, as Suu Kyi prepares to enter the military-led Parliament, all eyes are on Burma. And there
is a glimmer of hope that the political differences in Burma might soon be settled through open and honest debate instead of guns.

But even before Suu Kyi begins her career as an elected leader, the cynicism of real Burmese politics is already heating up over the issue of the word “Burma,” the name by which the country has long been known in the English language, until recently. By changing Burma to Myanmar, the military government tried to rewrite Burmese history without the consent of the people.

That’s probably a factor in why the opposition communities have refused to use the military’s preferred word, Myanmar, so far. Now, it will depend on Aung San Suu Kyi, as a member of the Parliament and her partner, President Thein Sein, to decide on what to do next.

But another word “Rohingya” (people) – like Myanmar (country) – is also a recent English usage given to themselves by those who have lived on both sides of the border of Burma and Bangladesh. Now, after a few decades under a military government that has caused a great exodus of native Rakhine, and back and forth border crossing of Rohingya Refugees, the two communities have exploded in great violence. And a media firestorm followed the blunt rejection of the term and the people called Rohingha by a prominent ’88 generation student leader, Ko Ko Gyi, on June 8.

The term ‘Rohingya’ was still quite new even when Martin Smith first wrote in 1986 that “500 heavily armed Rohingya Mujahid guerrillas surrendered to the government in, 1961.” In 1986, Rakhine along the Naaf River, and the former President of the Rohingya Patriotic Front, told him that there was a real danger of community strife the like of which Burma had never seen.

It is a fact that not only Burma, but also most Asian nations, are prejudiced against the Rohingya. At a time when a much greater number of other Burmese nationals themselves are suffering like the Rohingya as stateless aliens and are exploited and unwelcomed in foreign countries, Ko Ko Gyi’s position has unsettled many supporters of his political cause.

This only seems to reveal the superficiality of the international media that is more interested in a sound bite than the truth behind it all. For, in reality, the army still remains the sole power in Burma and has complete control of the local authorities in Rakhine, where violence, forced displacement, and a lack of security has greatly increased the resentment against the new comers, the Rohingha, whom the locals view as foreigners and a threat to their well-being.

In Rakhine, all levels – state, districts, townships, and line Ministries – are controlled by the Police and Special Branch units under the Ministry of Home Affairs, along with the Frontier Forces (Na Sa Ka) of the Tatmadaw, and Immigration and Custom officials. Additionally, government agencies such as Military Affairs Security (Sa Ya Hpa), under the Ministry of Defense, with military reserve units, village militias, and a web of police informers, still maintain a tight grip on inhabitants, by using arbitrary detention and various methods of harassment.

With massive growth of the army garrisons, usually on land confiscated from farmers or local businesses, Rakhine State today, unfortunately, is home to many anti-democratic forces and civil conflicts.

Meanwhile, an extraordinary level of natural resources are being extracted by external investors and trading partners, while politics are immersed in issues of ethnic and kinship-based cleavages and loyalties. Additionally, large concentrations of economic resources such as oil, gas and coastal access, especially in the contexts of attempted market reforms and the weak rule of law, create powerful forces with strong interests in influencing and controlling the political process.

This leads such actors to invest in politics of oppression with or without violence. In such a climate, political parties in Rakhine and throughout Burma, are at risk of becoming pawns of these oligarchic actors.

According to a study, “Political Authority in Burma’s Ethnic Minority States,” most of the populations of northern Rakhine are disenfranchised, as the powers that oppress and exploit are working directly for the government. The networks of government agencies that constitute Nasaka regulate all aspects of the economy, while deeply penetrating most of the informal economy as well. Throughout the border states, regional commanders wield vast power with impunity. In northern Rakhine State, and in parts of Shan, Kayah, Karen and Kachin states, the SPDC, the Tatmadaw, and other state agencies constitute dominant and oppressive occupying authorities that give very limited access to the humanitarian agencies.

In northern Rakhine State, as well as in areas with ongoing, active combat in Kachin State, populations live under the thumbs of rulers unchecked by any alternative sources of authority.

Even Suu Kyi, while on the whirlwind tour in Europe, was asked to justify her reticence on the subject of the war in Kachin State. But the truth behind the war and peace, or even the initiation of large projects such as gas pipelines, microwave stations, universities, and hydroelectric dams, is that citizens are neither invited nor have any say at the bargaining table.

In searching for peace, it is also important to realize that no one, including the omnipresent and all-powerful military, is yet able to get the upper hand and achieve national supremacy in Burma. In this situation, nothing that Aung San Suu Kyi could say, without inflaming the already explosive conditions on the ground, would comfort the Kachins who are obviously fighting for their lives. At the end, it will all depend on whether her position as an elected member of the parliament can help change Burma for the better.

Today, by example, Suu Kyi has inspired hope and peace for ethnic people, and the ’88 students have taught the next generation of leaders to never give up the struggle for freedom. The ’88 generation student leaders including Min Ko Naing, Ko Ko Gyi, Ko Htay Kywe, and Ko Mya Aye, like the Peacock generation before them, have proven that they will remain a bulwark against the inhumanity and injustice in Burma.

After 50 years in captivity, there is no longer any doubt that, like before, the peacock of the Students’ Union, a symbol of freedom, will soon rise again.

The only hope is that this time it will rise for all of Burma, not only for those who speak the same language, or share the same appearance.

may-ng-sMay Ng frequently writes commentary articles on Burmese issues for Mizzima. She was born in Shan State.

‘Myanmar’ or ‘Burma’ usage welcomes Suu Kyi home

Crowds at Yangon International Airport greeted Aung San Suu Kyi’s return home on Saturday, capping a non-stop, triumphant tour of five European cites, where she spread the word, encouraging responsible development in Burma.
Hundreds of supporters crowd around Burma's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, center, upon her arrival at Yangon International Airport on Saturday, June 30, 2012, after her five-nation European tour. Photo: AFP
Hundreds of supporters crowd around Burma's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, center, upon her arrival at Yangon International Airport on Saturday, June 30, 2012, after her five-nation European tour. Photo: AFP

Crowds also lined the roads, waiting to catch a glimpse of her return, before she will soon be plunged into her newest role as the most prominent member of the Burmese Parliament, which will reconvene on Wednesday.

During her two-week trip, Aung San Suu Kyi met political leaders in Switzerland, Norway, Ireland, England and France.

The trip’s highlight was a moving recollection of her house arrest when she accepted her long-deferred Nobel Peace Prize, delayed because of her 15-year detention by the former military regime.

Upon her return, Suu Kyi was greeted by a semantic kerfuffle on Friday when governmental authorities for the second time suggested – or tried to order – her to use the word "Myanmar" instead of "Burma" when referring to her country. The colonial name of the country was Burma. The military regime changed the name to Myanmar 20 years ago, which some linguists say more closely reflects the national heritage. Many countries – and the U.N. – use Myanmar; others –such as the U.S. and Britain – prefer Burma, at least for now. The military regime said the term Burma is a legacy of British colonialism.

“It is announced that the commission ... has again informed the NLD to write/address the name of the state as prescribed in the constitution ... and respect the constitution,” the state election commission said, in an article in the state-run New Light of Myanmar.

“Again, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi called Myanmar 'Burma' in her speeches during her Europe tour,” it said.

NLD spokesman Nyan Win said the National League for Democracy (NLD) has received warnings from the government, in an interview with Southeast Asia Real Time, about using the name Burma. “For centuries we have called the country Burma in English. It is not against the law,” he said.

Win Tin told Radio Free Asia in an interview that the party objected to the warning, saying that it was important to use the term foreign countries had always been familiar with when referring to the country in English.

“We at the NLD don't accept this, because when we say it in Burmese we say ‘Myanmar,’ and in English, we use the term ‘Burma’ as it is known to the world,” he said. He noted that people use the word Japan, but Japanese within the country use Nippon.

Suu Kyi and her NLD party have opposed the name change.

The flap began after her first tour abroad to Thailand in May, when the election commission released a statement, saying, “As it is prescribed in the Constitution that ‘The state shall be known as The Republic of the Union of Myanmar,' no one has the right to call [the country] Burma.”

“Daw Aung San Suu Kyi called Myanmar 'Burma' in her speech to the World Economic Forum in Thailand on 1 June, 2012,” the statement noted.

It’s not clear, at this point, how the NLD will handle the issue, which could become a point of contention during parliamentary sessions if NLD lawmakers continue to use Burma as their preferred name.

Meanwhile, Nyan Win said Suu Kyi, 67, has asked for a leave of absence from Parliament which convenes on Wednesday because she needs to rest after her 17-day European tour. “She plans to attend on Monday, July 9,” he said.

Speech of General Aung San